This story is inspired by the mindless craze for Salsa and Ballroom dancing here in UW among the desi boys. The conversations are real, because they have happened, sometimes many times over, mainly after consuming couple of pitchers of Spotted Cow. Infact these conversations have been repeated so many times that we have nothing much to add if it comes up. The story is imagination. Rajesh’s dialogue was inspired by this blog post by Arvind Iyer.
We were driving back to Stony Brook after a wonderful Diwali at my brother’s house, everyone except the driver, still reminiscing about the delightful Diwali spread that Manni managed to cook. Slowly, the conversation drifted to the cool dude that my brother keeps talking about, the dude who took Salsa classes and got himself the American babe. I was tired of their story, but for the other “makkal”, it was awe-inspiring. Having retold the story while chewing Paan after Diwali lunch, the “makkal” hope levels had like multiplied thousand times. If he could do it, we do stand a chance. iPhones were out and university listings for Salsa classes and Ballroom dancing, and plans were being hatched to write the most romantic of romantic stories.
Rajesh, navigating the interstates, instructing me on exits and speed-limits, turned back, and in the most philosophical of tones, stated the obvious. Everyone knew it, the iPhones and the planning was just the idea of some fun. But still, he rattled on, “So this is our plan? Our lives are so pathetic, that we plan laboriously about how we bump into a girl, but we are so incompetent at doing it that we don’t even plan for the eventuality that one of our coincidence trip actually works out”. The laughing stopped for a moment. Truth does that sometimes. And then, sitting right behind me, GK, let rip one of his stories.
Now, we have nothing against GK’s stories. Some are fabulous, some are rotten. He thinks some stories have a deeper meaning, but most of us at the end of it go “Ok, so what next”, and some he thinks are too funny, and he gets ready to let out a huge roar of laughter, and most of us don’t even understand it. We let him go on with is stories, as sometimes, it is the fodder with which we get to attack him back.
So GK continued, this reminds me of my cousin, Don’t you remember him, the guy who won $1000 at Roulette in Vegas. Anyway, this was long before he came to the US. He was just like most of us here, born and raised up in Madras, lived there all his life, took the long College bus ride to college, sat through boring lecture and tolerated the prison rules of college, yada, yada, yada. But, then, instead of getting a job at TIDEL park or even Electronic City, he managed to get one in Bandra-Kurla Complex in Bombay. That put all of his family members in a quandry. Bangalore is OK, but Bombay, he does not even know Hindi. Somehow, the pathetic job scene, you know, the dot-com burst and all, forced my dear cousin to go to Bombay.
Fortunately, there was one other Iyer paiyyan who had landed the same job, and those two together decided that they will take an apartment in Vashi. Now, Vashi is in New Bombay, and to get to BKC, arey, the Bandra Kurla Complex, one has to take the Harbour line train from Vashi to Kurla and then a bus to the workplace. You all know, how train services are in Bombay. So anyway, my cousin decides to go to Bombay, and peri-amma, in a fit of anxeity, hooks onto the Maami network, and finds the phone number of someone who knows someone who is related in someway to her. She gives my cousin the contact’s phone number and tells him that some relative who knows someone has told Sowmya in Mumbai about my cousin’s arrival, and that he should call her and not hesitate to take any help. My cousin diligently copies the number into his contact book and starts preparing for the journey.
Much like most of us, he also had the plans for a coincidental bumping into with his dream lady. His plan was to take a book to read wherever he went, and look for a girl reading the same book or the same author. Not that he liked reading. He would skim through some chapters and through some history of the author and just take the book along with him. And, he frequented the roadside book-kadai’s frequently, gathering data about popular books, so that he could be seen with one of those. You know, increase the probability.
So, anyway, he reaches Bombay, settles into his apartment, and on the first Monday to work, carefully selects a Sidney Sheldon novel, carelessly selects a shirt and pant that hardly match, and leaves to Vashi station. He acted immersed in the book, acted that he had been in Bombay all his life, acted that getting into a train with 1000 other people were second nature to him. But, he slowly, unwittingly walked and stood beside the location where the ladies coach of the 12-car train would arrive. He stole nervous glances from his, supposedly voracious reading, kept his eye hooked to a single word on the page, ears tuned to the lady announcing the trains, hand slipped into his pocket, holding the wallet tight. Amidst all this activity of looking cool, hiding fear, a girl tapped on his back. He looked back, saw her face, looked down at her hands, and saw the same Sidney Sheldon in her hand, let out a wry smile, managed to utter Same book and continued to stare at his shoes. The girl simply said, you are standing in the wrong place. This is where the ladies compartment will come. My cousin was totally embarrassed now, and continuing to stare at his shoes, slowly walked away to where the concentration of men seemed higher. Soon the train came, and he was off to his first day at work.
Slowly, his life fell into a pattern, and he would reach Vashi everyday, hoping to get a glimpse of his Book-mate. All the time, the Romantic story generator inside his head was spinning yarns and yarns of story. In a crowded city, everyone is not Madhavan to calculate probabilities.
By now, it had been a month since my cousin had shifted to Mumbai. His dream story had gotten complicated, and as he said to his Iyer paiyyan roomie, it was just a matter of another accidental meeting at the Vashi station. Amidst the excitement of Bombay, he had forgotten to call Sowmya, and as the news spread in the Maami network, all the someones were angry that the boy did not have the courtesy to even call her. To prove her point to my periamma, the someone Maami who was the source of the contact, instructed Sowmya to go meet my cousin. Sowmya reluctantly agreed.
One humid evening, as my cousin and the nice Iyer paiyyan were lamenting the lack of proper Tamil food in Vashi and debating over the yucky Madras Mess where they atleast serve some Sambhar or the cheap North Indian eatery down the road where they had to eat greasy paratha and paneer, the bell rang. My cousin, opened the door, and was pleasantly startled, to see the Sidney Sheldon girl and some dude waiting at their door. Tongue-tied, he barely managed to ask about them, when Sowmya replied that she was so-and-so’s daughter who knew someone who knew someone who knew your mother. He invited her in. Somewhere, deep inside his head, a smaller version of himself, did a nice jig, and my cousin thanked God for life’s wonderful coincidences, and assumed that such a meeting was a sign, like how Madhuri had thought about it in DTPH. The excitement was short-lived, as Sowmya, introduced the dude waiting with her as her husband. What followed was standard small talk, false promises of keeping in touch, a sugary milky tea, that the Iyer paiyyan made, and the silent noise of shattering of million dreams.
Thus, GK finished the story, that took up 15 exits. As usual, we went “What? Nice story, but what was the point?”
Rajesh quipped, “Exactly, what I was saying”.
Thankfully, we arrived in a few minutes, returned the rental and were off to our bedrooms, to sleep and dream.