A Short story by Gauri Mishra
She had never thought it would end like this. A chance meeting in a food trail which culminated in the lanes of Paharganj was quite an ordinary occurrence for Sagari. She considered herself a foodie and anything to do with eating captured her attention. Not that she minded any adventures…in fact just the thought of staying at home for a prolonged period of time depressed her. However, this particular day had a lot more in store than just a food trail…
She had been careful not to crush her crisp cotton dupatta when she boarded the metro in the morning. The shared auto ride till the station had messed up her hair a little but she liked that unkempt look. The bright pink kurta was a sign of her enthusiasm and complimented her dusky look. The kohl rimmed eyes were mysterious and honey-coloured giving her an air of aloofness. Just the prospect of meeting a whole bunch of strangers filled her with excitement.
The food trail had already begun when she joined the motley group of people, old and young including a gray-haired man who looked a little out of place with his crisp white shirt and dark trousers, a couple of middle-aged women whose idea of coming on a food trail had little else beyond food and a bunch of over-enthusiastic teenagers who couldn’t stop talking even while the others strained to hear what the guide was telling them about the sweet shop in Chandni Chowk.
The only other person who had come alone besides herself was a young man who had a quiet demeanor and reminded her of the lanky hero in those early Amitabh Bachchan starrers. He had noticed her immediately but seemed in no hurry to strike a conversation. She kept asking questions and the others looked disenchanted with her curiosity about the origins of dhabas (street side eateries) and their owners’ pride in hoarding family recipes. She loved everything about the walk and the little discoveries of secret recipes, the smells and the aroma of spices and the delectable food that filled her senses with a pleasure that was hard to resist.
The young man who had shown no interest in her so far intrigued her. His lack of enthusiasm acted as a trigger for her to take it up as a mission. The pattern was the same always, the more a man ignored her, the more interested she became in knowing how to get his attention. It is not too hard to decipher that she succeeded nine out of ten times. For her, this too was an adventure…unraveling the enigma behind the ordinary exterior and then getting to know the person.
The trail ended before time as the sun had already set and the cool breeze had lulled everyone into silence. The chaiwala (tea stall owner) at the corner of the street was definitely a temptation and she decided to walk up to him for a strong cup of tea. As if on cue, the young man followed her to the bench which didn’t seem too inviting and served more as an indication of the chaiwala’s existence. That is when she noticed the steady gaze which seemed to linger on her.
Immediately conscious of her hair, she made a cursory attempt to look a little more presentable. By then he had taken both their teas from the chaiwala and was holding on to them, waiting for her to reclaim hers from his hand.
“Thanks …you didn’t have to do this.”
“It’s all right, thought I’ll wait for you to finish.”
That is when she realized that her bag’s zipper had come undone and she was still struggling to close it.
Why do these clumsy things happen when you are in decent company? She thought to herself.
The tea had become inconsequential by now. It was almost as if they had both been aware of the ploy which had finally brought them this proximity.
By now, she had gained her composure. It was strange how naturally they both hit it off and the leisurely walk in one of the Paharganj lanes seemed like the most obvious choice of activity. Neither of them was in a hurry. On the contrary, the prospect of spending the next few hours in each other’s company was exciting enough. He kept listening to her incessant chatter about her little room in a shared flat and how it seemed insufficient for her adventurous mind with its creative thoughts and ideas.
She loved to go out, alone mostly and explore the city which had given her an identity. She seemed to know a lot about Delhi, considering the short span of her stay here. She looked eager, starting a new sentence before the first one had finished…laughing at the little jokes which he made with a straight face. Her eyes were full of the joy that comes from living your own life your way and there was no way he could not be fascinated with her charming figure which wasn’t slim but had an interestingly voluptuous look which his male imagination had assessed much earlier in the day.
They decided to eat, and a curiously winding staircase fascinated them into climbing up to a roof-top restaurant which had a quaint look and a wide terrace with stray benches strewn around giving it a strangely nonchalant air, as if the atmospherics were least interested to know who the occupants were. A plate of momos followed by a few beers were enough to make them comfortable with each other.
He cajoled her into a space where she just wanted to live in the moment. He was not the kind of man who looked threatening, instead he had an easy air about him, almost as if there was very little in the world that could jolt him out of his composure. She was equally relaxed, almost on the verge of putting her head on his shoulder, the beer making her feel lighter and happier. The wrought iron bench in the corner of the terrace, with an adventurous branch of the Neem tree winding up to it seemed to offer an invitation and they eased into it, both anticipating an interesting end to this day.
The very essence of this night was the silence around them…most of the people in the restaurant had left and there was nobody to check on them or even ask them to leave…it wasn’t that kind of a place where people intruded into your conversations to ask you to leave. It was the kind of place which let you be and trusted you enough to find your way out.
They talked about life, relationships, travails of living in a big city, and about their dreams which always seemed to be round the corner but remained elusive. She had never imagined she was capable of this. Talking through the night with somebody she had met a few hours ago.
It surprised her a little…her comfort zone and how easily she could treat herself to an adventure. In fact, when the dawn broke, and she took a cab home, deciding to drop him to the next metro station, he didn’t seem too averse to the idea. It was pretty clear to both of them that the romance of the night was over…the magical rapport they had felt with each other seemed to fade away in the sunlight. Their realities had shaken hands and said their goodbyes.
She was quite sure she wouldn’t see him again. What she couldn’t figure out was her own impulse and that carpe diem spirit which ruled her mind on most days.
This happened to her a lot and her consciousness berated her each time she thought about her seven-year-old relationship with her boyfriend who worked in the US. It seemed to her a minor factual detail in her bemused existence. It was almost as if she wanted to have a fill of her stray encounters with men, she found interesting. Was it her way of finding the truth about her committed relationship or just a series of casual adventures?
She had no clue and although these questions kept popping up like little droplets of water on a windowpane, there was never an immediate need to clear the surface and peep into her mind.
Life can be quite uncertain, she told this to herself often enough. The thought of marriage and moving to another country was going to happen at some faraway juncture.
For now, she was pleased with the way her career at this startup was shaping up, she was content to go on her solitary walks in this beautiful city, listen to her favorite melodies in the rain, enjoy her food trails and take innumerable pictures, read to her hearts’ content on lazy weekend mornings. If life had anything more to offer, she was in no immediate haste to get there. She told herself often…tomorrow is another day.
Dr Gauri Mishra is teaching as Associate Professor in the department of English at College of Vocational Studies, University of Delhi. She likes to dabble in poetry and short fiction from time to time. She is very passionate about teaching and also heads the placement cell of her college.
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