Ethics of Unhappiness – Part I

She looked at him with exasperation. He was not childlike — as she used to believe, in the early days of their courtship, with the conviction that only those  who have just fallen in love seem to find a way to muster — but rather a complete child. How can he be happy about that, she wondered.

She could never be happy about such things, she knew. Was it her conscience? That cliched concept — invented and abused by society, which was responsible for banalities like “being able to look at oneself in the mirror” — was that the source of all this unhappiness she was carrying around? Unlike him, who could be shamelessly happy?

Was it better to be a good person and be unhappy, or be a horrible person and be happy?

“You can’t be happy if you’re not at peace with yourself”, she had tried to console herself with the pop wisdom many a times. Yet that peace was just peace with one’s conscience. But wasn’t this conscience itself cultivated? Or was it programmed?

As a child, she could remember being cruel,and happy. She remembered how she used to severe legs of ants, till they couldn’t walk, and would leave them out in the sun, till they died a painful death. Was she unaware of the pain? On the contrary, she was well  aware it. In fact, that pain was the leitmotif of the exercise. She never really believed in the mythical innocence of kids. Kids were cruel and happy. Just as he was (maybe, that ability to be naturally cruel was innocence, she wondered at times).

So was it better to be a good person and be unhappy or a bad person and be happy?

That bloody conscience, she thought. Should people who have an underdeveloped conscience actually bother developing it? What was the point, if unhappiness was all they could expect as the result of that development? If he were to be a better person, more circumspect, more aware of the moral context of his action, would he be childishly happy, like he is? And yet, was this shallow happiness really happiness? And who was she to judge?

Is conscience just a way for societies, and religions (or societies through religion), to make people conform to an idea of goodness? For societies won’t function without such a concept internalized by most members.

And what about the defaulters?

“What are you thinking”? he asked, as he lit a cigarette as they lay in the bed.

She hated that. She hated him smoking anywhere in the house, but she positively loathed it when he smoked in the bedroom. He, on the other hand, loved to smoke in bed — especially after sex. It was a kind of romanticism for him. It’s genesis, no doubt, was in teenage impressions; something he had watched his one time favorite Hollywood actor do in some movie. He had even offered her a smoke the first time they made love, knowing fully well she didn’t just not smoke, but hated smoking — the very idea of smoking.

In those early days of their relationship, he had stopped doing that when she told him how much it bothered her. He did not do it because he really cared about the fact that it bothered her, but because the fact that it bothered her killed all the romanticism of that imitation.

Now, however, it was the barometer of the health of their relationship — his doing or not doing it. Like today, for instance, it was so bad, that he needed to take refuge in his pulp romanticism.

“Nothing”, she said.

“You’re always thinking of nothing these days”, he said, trying to humor her in his post-coitus high. Something he didn’t bother with, anymore, otherwise.

“Well it’s better than thinking about some things”, she retorted, regretting it instantly. It sounded childish. And she had no wish to compete with him on that front, of all things.

She hated how he could always bring out the worst in her these days. But then had he ever really brought out the best in her? Even at the very beginning, she wondered, was it him, or was it her habit of living up to the best in her.

Whatever it was, it couldn’t be sustained for long. And now even she had resigned to the decay.

Maybe, I need the worst in me — it may let me be happy, she thought, turning her back on him — literally.

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Broad Brush Paintings – Episode 5

Chaitali had forgotten the art of enjoying a day off. She could not remember the last time she had a day ahead of her like this: without any plans, or agenda. Barring occasional sick leaves, and year ending holidays for travel, she rarely took leaves. When she did,  they were to tick off things from various ‘todo’ lists. As for weekends, they  were always busier than the weekdays — what with planning out the coming week, shopping, and sundry things.

Seriously, when was the last I ever wondered how should I spend a day?

Continue reading

Broad Brush Paintings – Episode 4

Note: Restarting the series I started in Oct, 2 years back! :). I guess, this must be first serial fiction which spanned two years for four parts. And by now, I’ve no hope of anyone following this. But what the hell. Writing is its own reward, consoles every failed writer. In a curious way, though, we are right.

To recap: Not much has happened in episodes 1, 2 and 3, beyond some thoughts by characters — about life, love, writing, and other petty things.


Chaitali was woken up by a jazzy ring tone she hadn’t heard before. Another quintessential V habit, she thought, changing the caller tune every other day. For a moment, she tried to think if she had heard the music before — it did sound very familiar, but she could not recall where she had heard it. Then she really woke up.

First thing she noticed was the room: she was not in the bedroom, but in the living room, slumped on the sofa, her neck somewhat stiff. The next thing she noticed was the bright sunlight in the room, unlike the semi-darkness that she was used to when she woke up every day. She sprang to her feet when it dawned on her that she had overslept! She went to the bedroom and found her phone; it had a few missed calls from the office. Only then did she notice V’s absence. She kicked the bed in rage. Continue reading

The Grammar of an Unknown Language

Notes:

1. The title is a tribute to Alexander McCall Smith — although the story has nothing to do with him, either in style or content. But I’ve been searching for a title for just about all the time I’ve been writing this, and none came to mind.
2. The story has been been written over some fifty odd sittings, over nine or so months, two countries, (at least) 3 cities. At times a few words, or sentences were added, or deleted. At time I just read and reread it to find a way to take it somewhere. Consequently, there is no flow. This has been, undoubtedly, the hardest story, in terms of effort I put in. Not that there is anything to show for it.
3. This is just an attempt to keep fiction writing alive, perseverance for the sake of it, mostly. And I suspect even the usual suspects are going to be disappointed. So read at your own peril, especially if you’re a first time visitor.
4. And still I’m happy, that it’s out. It’s finished, somehow. I’m going nowhere. And that, I believe is a good thing.
5. Kids, stay away. Has a bit of mature content.

Now all the disclaimers done, let’s start at the beginning, for a change.


I looked at Shivani as she gulped down another peg of scotch. She was dressed in a crimson colored sleeveless top, and a pale yellow skirt. In her late thirties, Shivani carried all colors well. But then she hardly looked her age. One had to look carefully to see a few graying hair (she, thankfully did not color her hair and they looked real), or watch her face from a close distance, to see inevitable signs of aging. Still, with two children and a job to manage, it was surprising that she managed to look that young. But one look at her eyes would have been enough for anyone to know that she wasn’t as young as she looked — her gaze was sufficient for that. That is, if you looked into her eyes and did not look away as she held your gaze. That night, though, she was looking almost schoolgirlish, as she kept on glancing sideways at Nirmal, her insane adulation for the creep visible to anyone who cared to look. But who, from the predominantly twenty something ‘we are the world’ generation would look at a women in her late-thirties with a gaze that told you to stay away? If you discount me, that is? Continue reading

A Sacred Need

“Don’t”, I whispered.

She looked at me with questioning eyes. In that bridal dress and makeup, she looked prettier than I had ever seen her. I was her best man, her best friend, while all I wanted to be was the man waiting for her at the civil court.

Vidya and I grew up together, almost. Our families lived just a couple of blocks away. Her father worked in the same company as my father, and we spent many weekends and holidays at each other’s homes. We grew up like cousins. Then one fine day, our parents decided that we were no longer kids. Lines were drawn, at times overtly, at times covertly.

I guess they were right about us not being kids anymore. Because we were not outraged by our parent’s behavior. We just laughed it off as silly concerns. Our friendship grew through the school years, and beyond. Then came the day when she told me she was in love with Nasir. I had waited for three months for the right words, the right time, the right mood, the right setting … waited to tell her that I loved her. And on that day, when things couldn’t possibly have gone worse, I said the right words – only they were right for the occasion. I said them in the right tone, with the correct expressions. Even Vidya couldn’t tell I was lying.

Her conservative family went berserk at the news. It was hard, trying to hide my sadist satisfaction, and a dark hope. Was I trying to get back at them for not trusting me with their daughter, even as friend? Or was I just being a good friend – thinking of her best interests. Whatever it was, I stood by her. I became the bridge between Vidya and her family, between two generations, between two world views. Nasir, I knew subconsciously, was a great choice for Vidya. I was the first one from her side to meet him, and his family. I was the one who accompanied him to Vidya’s place. I became his counsel, his ambassador, his translator – although I wasn’t exactly translating a language.

This, while I was nursing a deep wound, and blaming myself for wasting crucial time. Would it have made a difference, if I had said it first, I kept wondering. Hope does not know logic, and that is why I could gloss over obvious details: like they were going around for a while, or the way Vidya talked about him, or the way he looked at her. Yes, I had never picked up the signs. Was it because, I thought Vidya possibly couldn’t antagonize her family, and ruled out Nasir as any serious threat to me? Was it because I was complacent — secure in a knowledge that her family would accept me readily as Vidya’s husband, even though they didn’t trust me otherwise?

My confidence was not misplaced, as I realized later, when the tale took a bizarre twist, after Nasir met with her family. Her parents, finding nothing wrong with the guy, or his highly-educated, and liberal family, were left with no real reason to oppose the union — save the religious differences. Vidya’s father met me the very next day, looking weary and helpless. It was then that he asked me point blank: “Do you love Vidya?”. I looked at him aghast, trying not to let my eyes betray the truth. “Uncle, I’ve never looked at the relationship that way”, I lied.

Beta, I would have been so happy had it been you”, he said after what seemed like an eternity.

The vindictive part of me wanted to laugh a contemptuous laugh, and ask him what made him change his mind so soon. But I had never seen him like this: shoulders dropped, eyes lowered, spirits crushed. I didn’t say a word.

“There is still a chance, beta. I’m sure Vidya would be happy with you. You can talk her out of this, you know! No one but you can”, he added softly.

What do you do about such a proposal? I knew that Vidya won’t be able to go against the wishes of her family if it weren’t for my strong support. I knew that her father, looking helpless and resigned to his fate, knew that too, as he made the last gambit.

God, I wanted Vidya badly.

“Uncle… Vidya loves Nasir. I’m sure they’ll be happy together. Isn’t that the only thing that really matters?”

I looked at him, as the last shed of hope vanished from his already colorless face. He didn’t say much after that. I hope he didn’t watch the dark hope dying on my face, too.

*

“Don’t what, Ajay?”, she asked me, as I kept looking past her, lost in my own thoughts.

“Don’t trouble Nasir too much, the poor soul”, I told her as I patted her on the head.

“Shut up, whose side are you on, anyway?”, she said, as we started driving towards the civil court.

As I looked at Vidya, smiling and carefree, I realized what I had needed all along. I matched her smile.

[Slightly modified version of an old exercise for a writers’ group. The exercise was to write a story where the central character needs/wants something badly]

Broad Brush Paintings – Episode 2

Previous Parts:  Episode 1

“Why do you keep on writing in this same, crime thriller genre?”, V asked Rakesh.

Rakesh is the author of four highly successful crime thrillers. He makes quite a bit through the royalties, and generally spends his time sitting in one cafe or another talking to his friends — when he’s not writing something that is, which is seldom. He doesn’t have to put too much effort in writing, because all his novel have the same blueprint, with details varied. Besides, the accuracy of the details is not important to him. Or to his readers.

“Because it comes naturally to me. I don’t have to take efforts to write that stuff”, Rakesh answered, puffing on his half-burned Marlboro Light. Then, carelessly, he threw it out of the window of the dilapidated Irani cafe.

V looked at the wastage, annoyed, but then it occurred to him that it was better than wasting one’s lungs. He hated cigarettes. Normally, he wouldn’t sit with someone smoking, complaining that the smoke gave him asthma. But Rakesh was an exception. He had soft corner for Rakesh, despite his (what V called) pedestrian writing. Rakesh and he went to the college together, and he was one of the few friends from back then with whom V could still connect.

“But what’s the point? Aren’t we writers supposed to get out of our comfort zones?”

Rakesh looked at V quizzically. He wondered if he should pick issues with the phrase ‘we writers’. V, as far as he knew, had wrote nothing that qualified as writing, not in the world he inhabited at any rate.

“Have you ever done a honest day’s work as a writer?” he asked finally, looking out of the cafe window, at nowhere in particular.

“What do you mean?”, V asked, trying to sound nonchalant, yet his voice betrayed a tinge of anxiety. Or was it reproach?

“I mean, have you written a single page of prose, keeping in mind who will want to publish the shit?”

“You mean, honest work in this line means taking other people’s judgment of what’s right and wrong, or suitable/unsuitable for publishing, as one’s starting point?”, V said, his voice agitated. He waited for the answer to his rhetorical question. As he expected, no answer came. For a brief moment V held his pose, in every sense of the phrase, and added in faked nochalant voice, “I guess not”

“I thought as much”, Rakesh said.

“Why would I want to be a writer, if I were to accept that as a starting point?”

Rakesh sighed. He didn’t have time for V’s childish questions.

“The trouble with the world of art is that people come here trying to escape the hard right and wrong judgments, believing they can redefine right and wrong”

For all his faults, V thought, I can still talk to him, because he at least understands the fundamental questions of life. Not too many people these days had time for those fundamental questions. They were so lost in the mundane facts, and problems. It was hard to even talk to them.

What about Chaitali? He wondered …

Long back, when they were dating, he remembered he could talk to her. She understood. She even had answers that seemed to align with his. Or was he too eager to find an alignment? Like the Indian pundits who would fix up any horoscopes. Not that he believed in horoscopes, but wasn’t that cheating? And sometimes, both the parties would do it, each believing that the other cares for horoscopes. Or was it that they wanted the other party to think that they believed in horoscopes — thus establishing their ‘traditional’ credentials?

But what about Chaitali?

He shuddered. Maybe he had cheated himself? Even before he knew there was alignment on things that matter, he had stopped judging? How much more ridiculous was that? He who hated arranged marriages, had he arranged his own marraige by the same methods, in spirit? Nah, he said to himself. Chaitali was okay. She still understood the questions, and their importance. It’s just that her answers had changed over the years, while his had stayed the same. Was it because he never had to taste his answers, in the real world, as opposed to all the imaginary worlds that he tried to create, while she had to?

And Rakesh? He looked at Rakesh, who had lit up another Marlboro light, and seemed to be waiting for him to say something. Trouble was V had no idea what it was. Then he remembered the thread.

“And?” he decided question was the best option.

“And soon they realize that unless they’re genius, they are more constrained by rights and wrongs as defined by someone else — and there isn’t even a way to resort to objectivity. Hell, those are random rights and wrongs, that can never be defeated”

Trouble with those who can think through other people’s shoes, V thought, is that you can never judge. You always keep the case open, for further evidence. He loved Chaitali, so judging was now superflous. There was a time and date for it. He had done it. The case was closed now. If he reopened it, it will just stay open.

“Unless you’re a genius?”, he suddenly said, picking up the thread finally. This was getting interesting.

“If you’re a genius, you can escape them in your lifetime, yes. But down the line, you become another random set of rights and wrongs. In a sense, you lose to the system by being endorsed by it. And worse: you can’t even fight, because by then you’re long dead”

“Do you think you are a genius, V?”, Rakesh asked suddenly.

“Ummm?”, V said, half automatically, half deliberate.

Rakesh laughed. “You do, don’t you? You conceited, arrogant bastard!”

“Well I don’t know if I’m a genius, but I don’t think I’m ordinary, at least”

“No one thinks they’re ordinary, dear. Welcome to the club”

Broad Brush Paintings – Episode 1

Chaitali could not tell how long she was awake, or why she had woken up. She checked the clock; it was showing 2:30 AM. As far as she could recall, no nightmare had woken her up. Generally she was a sound sleeper, and wouldn’t wake up at all, till just a few minutes before the alarm was supposed to go off. The thought of being woken up by an alarm did not appeal to her. Alarms can never replace a gentle human call for wakeup because there is feedback loop involved, she thought. A person waking up another person, unless she’s a sadist, will start with stifled whispers first, and if need be, change to nagging, louder calls.

A thought of alarm clock reminded her of the old Swiss clock her grandfather had bought from chor bazaar for the precious sum of 10 rupees. It must have been quite a  pinch, then, she thought, wondering what will she get now for the same sum? A tea in a decent restaurant will be more expensive! But then, for all the pinch, her grandfather’s clock had been worth every single paisa, and more. It was an old style, mechanical clock, that needed winding, of course. And it had survived a full fifty odd years, through  her school-days, even college days. She would keep it by her bedside, when she wanted to wake up early in the morning to study. After the first few days, when she was jolted to a wide awakening due to the monstrous, steely alarm of that Swiss clock, she had rarely heard it. She didn’t want to wake anyone else in the house, not even her mom, who would get up anyway to prepare a hot cup of Bournvita flavored milk for her. Her scholastic success meant more to her mother than it ever meant to her, then or now.

It was that terror of the jolt, and the fear of waking others in the house, that had stayed with her till this day, when there weren’t that many people in the house to wake up, except for V (or Vedant, but no one ever called him that), who was as sound a sleeper as any she had known. Besides, the alarms these days tried to mimic human waking up, with the frequency and pitch going up, ever so gradually.

She looked at V snoring besides her, his back turned towards her. His legs were cuddled up, and he was sleeping almost in the womb position. Men, she thought, never really come out of the womb. Then she scolded herself for generalizing. I should say most men, she reminded herself.

No alarm, she knew, would ever wake up V, not even the one in her grandfather’s clock. Where is it now, she wondered. She made a note to ask her mom about it, the next time she called her. The thought depressed her. Lately her mother was getting impossible to talk to. How long can she keep on blaming it on her mom’s menopause and excuse her, Chaitali wondered. But then, lately, lot of things depressed Chaitali. V’s dead sound sleep hardly made it to the list.

Now that she was awake, she didn’t know what to do. She was so not used to getting up at such god-forsaken hours, that she couldn’t just go back to sleep. She was thirsty too, and the bottle she kept on the small bedside unit was empty. V had this (annoying she noted) habit of finishing off the bottle on her side too. Since she woke up only early in the morning, it didn’t bother her much, but it bothered her that he never refilled his bottle. She knew it was no use talking to him about it (as about anything else), for he’d just point out that she never drank water in the middle of the night, so how did it matter if he just drank from that bottle too?

She got up and dragged herself to the kitchen. Besides the sink, she saw a plate with crumbs of bread and left-over ketchup. V’s late night hunger pangs, she sighed. Was it the early dinner that was the problem, she wondered. After all, early dinner is only a good idea if you’re going to sleep early, like she did. But he had never complained, just as he rarely complained about anything. She knew he hated routine, and yet, it was routine that she excelled in. Her life was an endless progression of routine.

She sighed again. Her life looked like that of some extremely dissatisfied heroin in V’s numerous unfinished stories. Yet V seemed oblivious to it. She thought she might have been better off as some character in his stories. She’d at least get more attention. But then it wasn’t the routine that bothered her. It was routine that made her successful. It was routine that had brought her the security in life she was looking for. What is security if not another routine, she wondered. What bothered her, was that V wasn’t bothered by it.

She walked into the living room, and switched on the light in the corner. The room was illuminated by a dull, orange light, owing to the colour of the lampshade. She felt content. It was a long time since she had enjoyed such a peaceful space for herself. Not that V would ever encroach on her space. But he needed so much of attention, that she never got the space, and that too had become another routine in her life.

As she slumped in the couch thinking if she should just switch on the television, she saw V’s old writing folder on the coffee table. It was open. V must have been sifting through his early writings, she thought — something he did quite often. Wasn’t that also a routine of sorts, she wondered. How come he loves that so much, when he hates the routine? She picked up the folder, and started browsing. V, she knew, wouldn’t mind a bit. In fact, he would be delighted.

Then she saw the poem, again, after all these years …

Autumn
You left
leaving behind a trail
of crumpled leaves
fragments …
of memories

Autumns are never pleasant
they’re the premonition
of cold, merciless winter

The nature is kind
for the winter
however certain
ends too
certainly

The autumn
you left behind
is the final season

I fell for this? She wondered. This kitsch! She was no snob, and her exposure to literature, and especially poetry, was quite basic. But this? I’ve married a failed kitsch artist, she sighed!

Even V couldn’t have created a better failed heroine himself, she thought as she switched on the TV.

A Blind Date (Concluded)

The first time he really talked to her, he could feel heat building up in his body. It wasn’t even the sexual tension, although, with her around, that was always in the air (in his mind). All his googling about the impending encounter had proved useless in the first couple of seconds, as his body took over, and his mind went into reflexive mode. In the excitement of the encounter, and the sense of achievement he felt, he hardly noticed what was said. All he knew was that she had suggested (to his utter surprise and relief) that they meet for a Saturday brunch.

Now, trying to recall the conversation, he remembered it wasn’t she who had suggested brunch. It was he who had mentioned an early lunch or brunch. It suited his weekend rhythm. She had agreed, although he thought she was a bit baffled.

It was going to be lunch, at this rate, he thought, as he checked his watch again.

***

Just as he was sure that she had played an elaborate practical joke on him, he saw her sporty yellow car screech to a halt in the parking lot. She reversed the car into an empty parking lot making a guy jump off out of her path.

She smiled as she saw him.

“Hi”, she said, as he led her towards the cafe.

He tried to smile back, but all that came out was an awkward movement of the lips that was aborted, even before it could take shape of any meaningful human expression. Instantly, he felt hotness around his ears, and a blush spread on his face. He looked away, in panic.

“I said Hi”, she said, pouting her lips, and in mock anger.

He was glad that he wasn’t fair skinned, for the blush would have been impossible to hide then.

“Sorry”, he blurted out. “I mean, hi, how are you?”

She smiled again, as she answered, “That was cute. Blush and all!”

He desperately wanted to change the subject. She was late, he remembered. Should he ask her what took her so long? No apology had come, either, he made a mental note.

“Stuck in traffic?” he asked abruptly.

“Oh no. It was lovely actually, driving on empty roads. I should get up early more often”

He chuckled. So she was just late like that? he wondered.

There was an option of sitting outside, the waiter told them. The cafe had a small garden. He hated it, because it was on the roadside, and the noise there was significant.

“Yeah we’ll prefer that”, she said.

He looked at her aghast. She was already moving though, following the waiter.

They sat down, in a corner table. At least there is some privacy, he thought, looking at the well manicured bush that separated them from the next table.

She looked a little miffed, and he had no way of knowing if it was because of something he did or didn’t do. Should I have pulled out the chair for her, he wondered.

“It’s kind of late, should we order lunch right away?” he asked her.

She seemed not to take any hint, though. Still no apology, he said to himself.

***

“What are you humming?”, she asked, as they waited for the food to arrive. The small talk hadn’t survived the first few minutes. She had tried to go on her own, for a few more minutes, and then seeing not much response, she had also stopped talking. If she was irritated, there was no way for him to figure out. Her face seemed quite careless. The silence was awkward, but mainly for him. It was then that he had started humming. It was Jupitar again.

“Jupitar”, he said enthusiastically. Finally something to talk about, without leaving his comfort zone.

“Which group is that?”, she asked.

“Ummm. It’s Mozart’s 41st Symphony. The last moment”, he had said, his enthusiasm weaning as fast as it had built up.

“Oh! That orchestra kind of stuff?”

He felt a stabbing pain. Then he realized he was just wishing it. He wondered if he was overreacting. After all, it was, orchestra kind of stuff, literally. Thankfully, the waiter arrived with their orders, just then, and he didn’t have to answer her question.

What did she read, he wondered. Not Sidney Sheldon’s, he prayed. He was suddenly afraid to ask. She wasn’t.

“How come you eat this early on a Saturday?”, she asked.

“I like to stretch the day by cutting down a meal. I take an early meal, and then just pick up some book and read through the afternoons. Only on weekends does one get time these days”

That was the longest sequence of words he had spoken to any girl, in quite some while. Except for his sister, of course.

It was difficult talking to his sister, too. But for entirely different reasons. First chance, and she’d start listing the litany of her troubles. Household troubles, he sighed. Indisciplined kid, unconcerned husband, meddling mother-in-law … Doesn’t she understand I don’t give a damn, he wondered. And then it hit him again, the dread. Is this what my life would turn into? Is this what all this courtship was supposed to be for?

“Hello?”, her voice got him back.

He looked at her, puzzled.

“I was asking you what do you like to read?”

He wondered what should he say. For some reason, he didn’t want to sound too highbrow. That left out the Kafkas, the Manns, and the Joyces. But then, he wouldn’t allow himself to be seen as having anything to do with the populars. That left out the occasional Ludlum that he enjoyed, or even Richard Bach or Paul Cohello, that he did enjoy a while back.

He settled on Wodehouse. That was a safe bet.

She rolled her eyes. “I tried reading that once. Nothing happens in it!”

He looked away, trying to hide his disappointment in vain. Not because he did a bad job of it, but there just wasn’t much need to try. She wasn’t even looking at his reaction, when she said that.

“I like …”, he held his hand out for the waiter.

***

Why had she agreed on this date, he asked himself. The answers were hard to find. He didn’t have an inferiority complex about his personality, at all, but he knew he wasn’t the kind of guy that most girls will notice. And she might be extra-ordinary in her looks, but even as he was secretly charmed by her, he didn’t believe for a minute that she was any different. So how had this happened?

“I was surprised you knew me”, he said, as he took a sip of the Merlot. It wasn’t too good, and for a moment he thought of ordering something else. She seemed quite happy with it, though.

“This is lovely”, she said, “I rarely drink wine. “But I like this”.

He decided to endure the wine, too.

“Sorry, you were asking something?”, she said, finally.

“I was saying, I was surprised you knew me at all”

“Everyone knows you!” she said. “You’re our resident genius, after all”

For a moment he looked at her face, to catch a hint of derision or sarcasm. But she betrayed nothing but sincerity.

He frowned.

“I payed you a compliment, you know”, she said, her pout returning.

“I don’t know what to say! Thank you”

He took another sip of the wine. It wasn’t that bad, he thought. It must have been the aftertaste of the starters, that had spoiled the first sip.

***

“Are you free on Saturday?”, his friend asked, “Lunch at our place?”

“Ummmm”, he hesitated.

“What? You are not going on a date are you?”

He grinned.

His voice almost inaudible, he added, “a blind date”.

A Blind Date (Part I)

He waited impatiently for her. It was more than thirty minutes past the time she said she will come.

“I should have waited in the car”, he said to himself, as he wiped perspiration off his forehead. It wasn’t a particularly hot day, of course. It was just his anxiety. It had been a heroic effort for him to even talk to her. Words always seemed to fail him when she greeted him in the office canteen, or walked past him. He would attempt a feeble smile, and return the greeting, before walking away a tad too quickly.

She was beautiful, way beyond his league, he’d say to himself. She was tall, but not too tall (neither was he), strikingly fair (not that is really mattered to him that much), and had very prominent features. Her complexion allowed her to carry both dull and bright colors with equal ease. And she was always dressed almost perfectly (according to him): neither too casual, nor too dressy; just about right to make people take notice.

It all started with sideway glances. He was always aware of her presence nearby. Even when he was busy with his work (and he took it very seriously), he could pick up her soft voice, as she spoke with someone in the hallways. He would get up and walk to the water tap, even when he wasn’t particularly thirsty. But as he passed by her, his blood-pressure would rise suddenly, and his movements would become awkward — the way they typically become when one least wants them to.

At first he thought she never noticed him. He was so sure of the ordinariness of his looks that he thought he was invisible to her (and to most people, but that hardly mattered to him). A few times she caught him staring at her and looking away as soon as she looked at him. He tried to avoid her gaze, after such instance. But, the next time, he would spot her looking at him with mischievous expressions. He would look away in haste.

***

He looked at his watch, for maybe the hundredth time. To his surprise, it had hardly moved.

“I should have just waited in the car and listened to Jupiter“, he murmured. He started humming the movement of Mozart’s last symphonic work, from where he had left it. He thought about its intricate interplay between diverse themes, and their fabulous confluence near the end. He had got out just before the real interesting parts. He had, of course, heard it a hundred times. But it still made him irritated — leaving it unfinished like that …

Why was he there, he wondered. All these years, he had been happy alone. There was so much to do with life that he had never felt that his life lacked anything. Did he feel that now, he wondered for a moment? Or was it just his mom, and sister, and their pestering questions?

“When are you going to get married?”, his mom had tried to reopen the conversation — that he absolutely detested — the last time he’d called on her. It wasn’t as if he did not want to get married. He just hated the whole concept of arranged marriages. Did his heart long for a companionship now? Now that most of his friends were settled in their married lives? He was ready to acknowledge to himself (although he would never hint that to his mom, or his sister) that he did feel a longing — if that’s what it was, whatever that he was feeling. It was another matter, that he felt completely inadequate to do anything about it.

“Why don’t you try blind dating?”, a married friend had kidded him.

“What’s wrong with arranged marriages then?”, he had retorted.

“Who said there is anything wrong with them?”, the friend had asked, a little offended, he noted.

“I didn’t mean it that way”, he had said, “I’m sorry”.

Chod yaar“, the friend had said. Forget it, man.

“You’re too bloody serious in life”, the friend had added, as he excused himself to take his wife’s phone call.

[To Be Continued …]

Flash Fiction – The Cynic

The cynic gave a contemptuous laugh.

“That bad, eh?”

“You call this Flash fiction?”, he shook his head vigorously.

“Yeah? How about this for a flash-fiction?”, I said, as I took out my gun and shot him.

He gave another contemptuous  smile.

“It’s a flash alright, but fact not fiction”

Those were his last words.