“I know all about girls like you”, Vishy said. For a moment I wondered what does that mean anyways. What all does he know about me, forget girls like me, whatever that means?
Vishy is my colleague, my manager actually. Vishy thinks, or at least thought till this latest incidence, that I think of him as a good friend. No I don’t, and I never did. But then, Vishy doesn’t know that. That happens to me quite often — people assuming that I am close to them. I think that’s got something to do with this obsession with symmetry that people seem to have. Paresh included. Paresh said the same thing to me years ago. Well almost.
Paresh and I were going around, when I was in my junior college. The typical affair at that age: long conversations on phone about nothing, the trips to coffee shops or ice cream parlors, daily proclamations of love, the promises to love each other always, the Hallmarks and the Archie’s, the Valentine dates, red roses, dedicating songs in Call in Hour in Times FM … You know…
In other words, by social agreement, we were going steady. I liked Paresh. He was kind of cute. There was probably even more to it. He was a sensitive person, and we did get along really well, shared common interests.
It was Sarita who asked me one day, “Have you guys told at home?”
“Told what?”, I asked her.
“You know, about your plans?”
Sarita was my best friend. Yeah, that’s right — was. I lost track of her just after I left college. I don’t know what I would have to say to her if I meet her today. Probably we’ll re-live those moments we shared together. But I don’t know if I want to. I don’t identify with that part of myself, anymore.
Manas says that’s because I’ve grown snobbish now. He says it only in a half-kidding tone, never letting me be sure if he really means it. On one level I know he doesn’t, but I think there is a silent reproach somewhere, which is somewhat surprising, for as a rule Manas is doesn’t pass value-judgments that easily. I think the reproach has got something to do with him, for he still carries his old self within himself. He’s quite comfortable with that part of himself — his buddies back home, his relatives… His relatives are are kind of nice actually, but they are stuck in a completely different timezone, if you know what I mean.
“Do you really relate to them, Manas?”, I asked him one day.
By the way, he also works in my company. He’s junior to me, and reports to me. But that’s just, as he calls it, his chosen drudgery. His theory is simple, really. No matter what profession you chose to earn your daily bread, you’ll end up hating it — for choice is momentary and the consequences eternal. Yeah, he’s a budding philosopher, liberal humanist in the making etc. etc. “Yes and No!”, there you go. I was an idiot to even ask.
“Okay, so what’s a yes and what’s a no?”
“I don’t share their anxieties, their almost mundane troubles, their petty prejudices… But I know where they’re coming from. And in their own way, they are doing exactly what we are — trying to live their lives within their limits. We’re all limited, you know, by our exposure, by our innate ability to think. You look through that frame of reference, and you’ll see that within those constraints, they try hard”
“Manas, you claim to be rational, but you’re not. At least not when it comes to your family. You give them too much benefit of doubt… something you deny to others”
“I agree with the former, but not with the latter. I give others a benefit of doubt too, only that I don’t know them much to know where they’re coming from, so the account overdraft is smaller”
“Whatever… But exposure is not something that’s thrown at you. You have to have a craving for it. What most people want, including your relatives, is a pattern to fit into. Exposure can destroy those patterns, so they hate exposure”
Manas went back into his thinking mode. That typically happens when you drive a point home, for the time being at least.
Anyways, back to Sarita. Till she asked me that question, I had never thought about it that way. I mean, my parents knew about Paresh, and that we were going around. They didn’t think it important enough to warrant questioning. They really didn’t have time. And I didn’t think that love had anything to do with parents, so why bother telling them. But what Sarita’s question suddenly made me think was, was this the real thing? I said so to Sarita. I still remember the expression on her face.
“What do you mean?”, she had asked.
“I mean I am not too sure I want to spend my whole life with Paresh”
“I’m not saying I don’t, it’s just that lately, I have my doubts. Sarita, this is the age when we grow up so much. And what’s the guarantee that we won’t grow apart? Isn’t this too early?”
“But it’s unfair on him Disha”
“I know. And I am going to talk to him soon. But it’s unfair to take this any further, when I’m not sure”, I told her.
“I still don’t get it”
“Well there isn’t too much to *get* here”
I assumed Paresh would not be as clueless as Sarita. After all, when you love someone, you catch every change in her voice, every small facial movement, don’t you? I guess not. I mean Paresh wasn’t just clueless, he couldn’t see where I was coming from even after I told him.
“What do you mean? You want to break up with me?”
“I don’t want to break up. I am just saying that we should take it slow, and rethink the commitment bit for now”
“This is marvelous. After all these months, after everyone knows about us — my family, your family, all our friends — you want to go back on the commitment bit, whatever that means!”
“Paresh, try to understand. We’re too young …”
He laughed at that, cutting me off, “You weren’t too young to sleep with me, were you?”
“How is that even relevant?”
“You mean that was just a fling for you? Just a time-pass?”
“This is exactly what I’m talking about, Paresh — after all these alleged months of going steady and all that, how much do we know each other?”
“Oh I know you! You think you’re too good for me”
“You know what Paresh, you’re damn right!”, I snapped, tired of the pointless argument.
“Bitch”, he muttered but I could lipread easily. Then he said aloud, “I know girls like you very well!”
“Paresh, I’m glad I started this conversation. Before this I was feeling a little guilty about this all, now I just feel sorry for you. Try and think about it rationally after you cool down a bit. Call me if you want to talk about it. Right now we’re going nowhere”
“Oh, we were going somewhere, but you want to go nowhere. So go to hell”
I left it at that. There was no point.
“What happened to Paresh? He doesn’t come here anymore?”, my Mom asked, to my utter surprise.
“We broke up, kind of”
“What do you mean kind of broke up? I thought you guys were just friends”
“No, it’s little more complicated than that”
“And you dumped him?” there, what a confidence in her girl!
“It’s not like that. I told him we are going a little too fast”
“You mean… were you guys…”
“You know… you didn’t… like”
“Make out?”, it’s pathetic with Indian parents. They don’t mind if you’re heartbroken or something but you bodies must remain untouched.
“What? Should I say physical intimacy or something? The answer is still a yes”
“Disha! We gave you all this freedom and you abused it. What would your father say?”
“What are you angry about? That we broke up or that we were making out?”
“For god’s sake stop being so casual about it. You think it’s a game?”
“No mom, I don’t. That’s why I didn’t want to gamble my whole life on it”, would it have been okay if I hadn’t slept with him or something?
“Does anyone know about it?”
“What? The break up?”
“No! Everyone will know it anyways… I meant.. the other thing”
That’s my Mom. Educated, liberated, modern women; highly successful in corporate world. But even for her sex is the other thing. Breakups and affairs are okay, they are just matters of heart. Sex is, of course, entirely different matter.
“Yeah my friends know it. And I’m sure his friends know it too”
“That’s exactly what I was afraid of”
There we go again. Doing is okay, so far as no one knows it. I felt almost sorry for her. I knew what she wanted to ask me next — did we use proper contraception, only she wouldn’t.
“Don’t worry mom. I’m not pregnant or something”
“Disha!”, she cried, “I can’t believe you would be so shameless”
And here I was trying to help her! “At least don’t tell anything to your father. He’d have an heart attack. And for god’s sake learn something from this”
That was gratuitous, but I didn’t say so. I guess you give your parents some leverage at that age.
Manas and Vishy, they’re as different as two people can be. Vishy is this charismatic, dashing, aggressive guy, who knows nothing but winning. Manas has created a philosophy out of not even competing. Vishy cannot take defeat, Manas doesn’t believe in it, or victory for that matter.
Sometimes, the most casual of discussions turn into battlegrounds. Only not ostensibly. The battles are quite low intensity, but if you’re vigilant, you can pick up the signs.
I remember that day when we were out on a team party. Vishy took us out for celebrating the record quarter. The conversation started around movies in general and shifted to horror movies.
“I don’t watch horror movies”, Manas had said, in response to some question.
“You don’t like them?”, Ankita asked.
“No it’s not that. I get scared alone in my flat. I have nightmares”
Vishy laughed loudly at that.
“Come on be serious”, Ankita persisted.
“I can watch them in a graveyard in the night, alone”, Vishy insisted.
It was Manas who laughed this time.
“You don’t believe me?”
“Why do you think so?”
“You want me to prove it?”, Vishy had taken a couple of pegs more than he should have, I guess.
“What does that prove anyways? That you’re brave? Good for you”, Manas said with that disarming smile of his that you can’t really fight.
“Anyways, I’m ordering another round of Vodka. Anyone?”, Vishy asked.
“Count me”, I said.
“I’m done, long back”, Manas declined.
“Oh come on, Manas!”, Vishy insisted, “you had, like 2 pegs. Surely you can have another!”
“That’s my capacity, and I like to quit when I have this slight kick. That’s when it’s fun”
“You and your philosophy!”, Vishy said, with his characteristic scorn as he called out for the waiter.
We had tried to keep our romance hidden from the office crowd. It was difficult, of course. The chemistry they say is always visible. But with Manas its not so much of a problem — for he is so lost in himself most of the times, that people routinely ignore him. We could walk in into a room full of close friends after a passionate night and not a soul would suspect, looking at him: if they ever looked at him that is. I was the one who found it really hard.
“Why do you want to keep it private?”, he asked me one day.
“For it’s none of their business”
In all likelihood, he didn’t care. That I was uncomfortable with it was a good enough reason for him. But why was I uncomfortable? I don’t know the answer till date. And I’ve asked myself that question hundred times, especially after that day, when Vishy dropped us home after the party. Manas says it was probably because I wasn’t myself convinced that I was going around with someone who was reporting to me: on a subconscious level. I don’t buy that. I know he wouldn’t mind it even if that were the case, only it’s not. Maybe I was just not prepared for Manas’s world, the world without ambition and yet exciting. Maybe the reason why I managed the Paresh episode so casually, was that even if it had turned into a scandal, it wouldn’t have hurt my ambitions. With my career, I could take no changes. I couldn’t jeopardies it with a scandal. Frankly, I still don’t know. There is probably no one reason.
We dropped Ankita and Manas home, on the way to my apartment. I offered Vishy to stay in my apartment if he wasn’t feeling up to driving home in that state.
“Are you sure?”, he asked.
“Of course. Feel free, I don’t think you should drive all the way home like this!”
“I think I’ll take up on that offer. Right now, I don’t think I can drive even half a kilometer”
Vishy looked like he won’t be able to even walk a ten steps. Thankfully he managed a few till the lift. We entered our apartment. The hall was as disorganized as ever. I asked Vishy if he cared for some coffee or was he hitting the sack rightaway. He said he’d like some, and that he never slept that early anyways.
I cannot stay without music for long; plus the music in the restaurant was really pathetic. I pushed a Louis Armstrong CD into my system and went into the kitchen. Vishy always had his coffee black, so it was no work. Later, we drank our coffee over casual conversation.
Stars fade in, but I linger on dear
Still craving your kiss
If it weren’t for this party, and if Vishy hadn’t insisted on picking and dropping us all, probably Manas would have been here with me tonight. I missed him. For a moment I wanted to change the music, it reminded me of him more and more. Manas had gifted me that CD, last month.
“You like Jazz?”
“Oh, that’s just what Manas lent me the other day. I listen to almost anything”
“Manas, huh? You guys seem to get along pretty well”
“Yeah. He’s quite interesting fellow”
“I think he’s an idiot. I can’t stand him”
“Why?”, I tried to sound casual.
“He’s a loser, and makes a big philosophy out of it”
“He’s just different. He’s not made for the corporate world”
“Then what is he doing here?”
“‘Earning money’ is what he’ll say if you ask him that”
“Anyway, enough of Manas”
There’s never enough of Manas, I wanted to tell him. I felt ashamed of myself that I even bothered. Didn’t I know this will happen? Did I think Manas’s rejection is my rejection? But did it matter — being rejected by someone like Vishy? Was it for this reason that I had kept it all private? But Manas needs no defending…
“You like to dance?”, Vishy asked suddenly.
“Oh yeah”, I said without even thinking.
“Would you like to, now?”
Alcohol, music and dance! That’s exactly the kind of combination that is just too much for me to resist.
“Are you sure you can dance right now?”, I asked half-jokingly.
“Don’t you worry. Nothing like black coffee to get me all charged up”
That was true. I have seen him just start again at midnight, when it seemed like he was going to pass out there on his table.
Couple of slow dances later we were more comfortable with each other’s rhythms and bodies too. And then I sensed it, the unmistakable male touch.
“I’m tired Vishy. Can we stop?”
“Oh sure, if you want to”, he looked startled, “You know, I was just beginning to enjoy myself”, he said with a pleading smile. Then, without thinking about anything else, I slapped him.
“Disha! What’s the matter with you?”
“Vishy, don’t act innocent. We both know what’s the matter”
On another day, he’d have probably tried to deny it. Today, he was past the point where that instinct could control him.
“Don’t tell me this wasn’t on your mind when you called up here”
“Don’t act saintly, for god’s sake! As if you don’t know your reputation in the company?”
Now I was curious.
“Why don’t you tell me?”, I said calmly, surprising even myself.
“Oh come on now. If you sleep around with your subordinates there isn’t much left for imagination!”
“You and Manas, the whole office knows the story. Last year when you guys were out on the tour, he was practically staying in your business suite. God know who else has got your favors”
Manas? No Manas won’t leak something like that.
“Ankita was there. She was working for her previous company then”, he said looking at my puzzled face. “Where is your moral superiority now? So is that why you keep giving him good appraisals?”
“That’s enough Vishy!”
“But dear, why are you playing the game all wrong? You’re selling yourself real cheap. The idiot’s not worth you, and besides, what do you get in return?”
What would Manas do if he were in this position? He’d probably not bother to defend himself, or me. He’d probably say, “Well that’s what you think” and walk off.
“It would probably never occur to you, but I love Manas”
He started out laughing, real hysterically, at that.
“That kid? You love him? Someone so well qualified, so ambitious, so beautiful? You want me to believe that?”
“We’re getting engaged next month. I was going to announce it in the office after that”
His face went from stunned to expressionless. Then he laughed that scornful laugh again.
“I get it. You took the safe bet. An ego-less, spineless coward like Manas is no threat to your self-esteem. You want someone in your life that you can control. I know all about girls like you”
“Vishy. I think you should sleep. Do you need some spare clothes? I’ve got couple of Manas’s T-Shirts”
His smile vanished. For a moment I almost felt sorry for him. I wondered if Manas’s clothes will fit him at all.
“No I think I’ll leave now”, he said.
“Don’t be crazy. You’re in a worse shape than you were when we arrived here. Don’t worry about me, my ego is lot bigger than you can imagine”
He left anyways.
And when you kiss me,
heaven opens wide
And there you are inviting me inside
No wonder angels up there…have staring eyes
I thought about the morning. I knew I’d have to listen to a thousand apologies. That would be so typically boring. But then I was looking forward to Manas’ healthy laughter when I’d tell him. In that moment, I finally accepted Manas’s world.