The First Date
– a fact that I immediately decided to blame on my faulty upbringing by my mother – it didn’t mean that Vijay could go about always playing Mister Nice Guy and being all thoughtful about every little thing and making me look bad in comparison. It hit me that being cooped up in my guest house, waiting for Vijay to come back, had quite possibly addled my brain. A breath of fresh air would do me some good.
I was still in a contemplative mood as I slouched along Airport Road. Maybe Vijay’s acting all thoughtful and gallant was a scheme to trap me into marriage. Maybe he would start acting completely different once we got hitched. Well, I wasn’t just some naïve silly girl. I was a savvy woman of the world – and I wasn’t going to fall into any sort of trap.
I was so wrapped up in my thoughts that I stumbled on a loose slab on the pavement and nearly fell into an open manhole. After loudly cursing the civic authorities of Bangalore, I was reminded of how I had already demonstrated my clumsy side to Vijay on various occasions and had been saved at least twice from a sudden and imminent death on a busy road by his long, steadying arm. It was kind of nice to be with a man who continued to think of me as hot stuff despite prolonged exposure to my klutziness. Besides, my own personal survival rate would possibly improve simply by virtue of having that long, steadying arm around me. These were no doubt fairly useful qualities to have in a potential husband.
I finally reached the entry gate to the airport and negotiated my way past the many vehicles moving at a mere crawl, until I found myself at the Arrival gate. It was crowded to the hilt, as usual. I cleared my throat, tossed my hair back and gave a few of the local men haughty looks until they meekly shuffled aside. I then proceeded to occupy a prime waiting spot near the front where I could comfortably lean on the steel bars as I waited for Vijay to make his appearance.
Had it really been three months already? It seemed like only yesterday that we had gone out on our very first date.
When Vijay first suggested that we go out that fateful day, he did so in a deliberately casual manner. Determined to outdo him, I accepted in a manner bordering on careless indifference.
‘Oh sure. Whatever. I mean, I don’t care.’ For good measure, I even added something along the lines of ‘I go out with anyone who asks me.’
He looked at me appraisingly and I realized this hadn’t sounded too good, so I deftly changed the subject. ‘So where do you think we should go?’
He thought for a while and then, with a gleam in his brown eyes, he asked me, ‘Would you like to see ducks?’
This was a question I had never been asked before, but I decided to just go with the flow and said in the same casual manner, ‘Yes, of course.’
That afternoon, I found myself getting a little worried. I had no idea what to expect and was vaguely apprehensive that ‘seeing ducks’ was perhaps some sort of secret code for acts I was not yet ready for – or even worse, that he might be planning to take me to the Bangalore zoo.
That evening he picked me up from my guest house. I walked up to his car, a dark green Hyundai Accent. As I got in, he said, ‘Hey, you’re looking nice.’ I was congratulating myself for the wise but unusual decision of wearing a skirt and applying some lipstick when he added, ‘Nicer than you usually look.’ My smile froze on my face, but he looked like he hadn’t noticed anything amiss. I would learn later that Vijay usually said whatever popped into his head. This was always without any malice whatsoever, but still difficult for a slightly oversensitive person, like me, to digest. Right now, however, he appeared to be in a very happy, conversational mood, and I melted as it dawned on me that he was talking about making this a very special first date – he was planning to drive us two hours out of Bangalore to ‘see ducks’ at a little resort right on the Cauveri river. I settled back in my seat with a delicious feeling of anticipation, put on my seat belt and we zoomed off.
We finally reached and I was quite delighted by my first glimpse of the quiet, scenic place. It did give the impression of being rather dilapidated and I was dimly aware that at least part of its charm at the moment was the lack of sunlight, but for now, it was quite perfect.
The promised ducks were indeed there – all four of them – in a murky little pond in the resort gardens. After paying our respects to them, we proceeded to a table set by the river that sparkled in the moonlight. There was absolutely nobody else around and we were having a pleasant, quiet conversation and getting to know each other better. Therefore, I was taken aback when after a comfortable lull, Vijay leaned over, looked me in the eye and said, ‘Naam hain Vijay ... Deenanath ... Chauhan. Maalum?’
I had not the slightest interest in Hindi cinema till I met Vijay. Obviously, therefore, I did not know that this was a dialogue from the movie Agneepath, and that Vijay was trying to impress me with what he thought was an uncanny imitation of Amitabh Bachchan. I only wondered why he was suddenly whispering in a voice two octaves lower than usual. Out loud, I just politely remarked that I had always thought his last name was Sharma, not Chauhan, adding that Deenanath was a very interesting middle name, if a little old-fashioned. He was a bit demoralized by my reaction, but when he explained to me what he had been trying to do, I pretended that I had just been kidding and praised him for his unmistakable impression, possibly overdoing it a bit by saying he ‘actually sounded more like Amitabh than Amitabh himself.’
After we finished our otherwise uneventful, peaceful dinner, Vijay announced that he had organized for us to do some fishing, a thought that I was quite excited by. We settled ourselves comfortably on the cool stone steps leading into the river and a friendly resort bhaiiya handed us our extremely makeshift fishing rods – which were actually two thin bamboo sticks with strings, on the ends of which dangled little hooks wrapped in bits of atta.
There we sat, the two of us, holding our charming and only slightly sad little fishing rods, and the conversation now took a more serious turn as we quietly exchanged our many divergent views on the world at large.
It was clear that despite our mutual attraction, we had many differences – he referred to himself as a ‘simple man’ and was easy-going, good-humoured and even-tempered. He also was a small-town boy, had been brought up as part of a conservative family in Jaipur and had a distinctly desi flavour. I, on the other hand, was a ‘modern’ Delhi girl who had always had a bit of a hot temper and clearly favoured Alanis over Amitabh.
He had just finished telling me about how he had always been told that he was one of the calmest and most centred people around, when he suddenly felt a tug on his fishing rod.
‘BHAIIYA! BHAIIYA!’ His sudden panicked screams shattered the stillness of the night. I asked him to calm down, but he babbled on rather incoherently about being a brahmin and a vegetarian and how he had never thought these sticks would ever catch a fish and that he wanted to throw it back but couldn’t bring himself to touch it and anyway, he was afraid it would bite him and it looked so awful struggling there like that and so on. The friendly resort bhaiiya came back and laughingly rescued Vijay from the fish, tossing the latter back into the river whereupon it indignantly swam away. Vijay shuddered and said we should head back into town.
And that was our first date.
I was amused by this memory as I stood waiting for Vijay at the airport and couldn’t stop chuckling throatily while shaking my head from side to side, causing a couple of the local men standing around me to edge away warily.
And then I spotted a lanky figure that stood out head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd and my heart skipped a beat. And I suddenly remembered what for.
*** End of Chapter ***
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Also read: Chapter 1 and Chapter 3