I Meet a Guy
“Don’t be sceptical about this,” Mandakini kept warning. ‘If you go in with your usual cynicism it’s not likely to go well. Give him a chance: he might turn out to be nice.”
“He has to be a loser if he’s meeting women for an arranged marriage,” countered Miki.
“You’re going to meet him,” Mandakini pointed out.
“Yeah, well, I guess I’m a loser too,” said Miki dolefully. “That doesn’t mean I would like to marry one.”
So I wasn’t really expecting much from the meeting. Would it have changed how things went if I had?
“What about the lavender sweater?” Miki suggested once.
“No, I’ll look shabby in that!” Mandakini answered. “It’s almost frayed… What about the black one?”
“That needs washing.” I looked over at the heap of clothes in the laundry bag in the corner. “A pity: that would have worked well.”
I finally decided on a dark blue silk top and my work jacket on top of it. “I just hope it’s not too cold,” Miki said worriedly. The work jacket looked better, but wasn’t nearly as effective as the bulgy beige one I wore on weekends. And it was a gloomy, windy day, with the sun refusing to take a peek out.
“You can deal with a bit of cold,” said Mandakini dismissively. “It’s important to look good.”
I dressed and looked at myself in the mirror. The clothes did help me look nearly as confident as I wanted to feel.
“What will I talk about?” said Mandakini.
“Let’s think about that on the way there,” said Miki. “It’s already two.”
I rushed into the café, a little breathless, because it was a few minutes past three. I looked around. There was no guy waiting alone: there were one or two cosy couples, a few groups of young people… I walked to a table in the corner and sat down before digging my phone out of my pocket.
“Hi, Miki!” said Kaushik. “Oh, you’ve reached? I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
“Sure. I’m at the table at the corner, on the right from the door.” I settled down and tried to press my hair back down to my head. A waiter came over, and I asked for a latte. I was shivering after my long windswept bus and auto rides. Because I was running late, I had taken an auto down from the bus stop instead of walking the nearly two kilometres, as I had been tempted to do, to take some of the cold out of my bones.
My coffee came before Kaushik did. I looked up as he walked through the door, a stocky young man, with black hair that stuck straight up from his head. He had lovely almond shaped eyes – so dark they were almost blue. He was fair, and what looked like a two-day old stubble covered the lower part of his face. He looked around the café and then came towards me with his hand outstretched, and I fumbled to get up and shake it.
“Ma had said he was tall,” observed Mandakini, when I got up and realised that he was only a couple of inches taller than me.
“Well, Ma’s shorter than me. He’s tall enough for an Assamese guy.”
“So, Miki,” he said in his booming voice when we had both settled down again, “tell me about yourself.”
“What does he think this is, a job interview?” whispered Miki furiously.
“Lower your eyebrows,” said Mandakini frantically, “and smile!”
I smiled. “What do you want to know?”
"What are your hobbies, for instance?”
“My hobbies!” My lips curled into a sneer before I hastily pulled them back into a smile.
“No one’s asked me that since I was in school!” chortled Miki.
“Answer the question!” Mandakini cried.
“Well, I like reading,” I said aloud.
“Oh, that’s good. I read a lot of business and management books, too.”
I smiled politely while Kaushik told me about some management book he was reading. The waiter came over.
“I’ll have a chicken puff and a café frappe,” said Kaushik. “What about you, Miki?”
“Nothing more, thank you,” I pointed at my almost finished cup of coffee.
“Oh, but you must take something,” said Kaushik ingratiatingly. “To keep me company.”
It seemed easier to give in than to argue. “I’ll have a vegetable sandwich, please,” I said to the waiter. “And an Irish coffee.”
“Why veg? Are you vegetarian?” Kaushik asked as soon as the waiter left.
“Not exactly. I do eat non-vegetarian food, but I usually prefer vegetarian.”
“Why?” asked Kaushik again, looking determined to get to the bottom of the mystery.
“I don’t much like the taste of non-vegetarian food,” I confessed.
“What? Really?” He seemed incredulous.
“Why, is that so hard to believe?” I smiled.
“Yeah, you’re the first person I’ve ever heard say that. I, on the other hand, am a hardcore non-vegetarian. I can’t do without non-vegetarian food at any meal. Here in Delhi, of course, it’s mostly chicken or mutton… I so miss the fish curry my mom makes… Maybe I can come over to your house for lunch sometime.”
My attention, which had begun to drift, came back to earth with a thud. “You want me to cook fish curry for you?” I said slowly.
“Yeah, won’t you? Just as a friend, of course.” He simpered.
“Why don’t you cook it yourself? I’m sure you’d know better how your mom makes it.”
“Me, cook?” He laughed as if at a particularly funny joke. “That’ll be the day! Mind it, I can make a mean omelette now – all these years of living alone has taught me…”
“Do you live alone?”
“Yeah, oh, of course I have roommates… There are four of us – it’s a nice large house. And over weekends sometimes, Ray – he’s a Naga guy – he cooks chicken for us. Of course he wants to cook pork too, but we don’t let him…”
“Why not?” I asked politely.
“Oh, that’s not exactly clean, is it? The rest of us are Hindu…”
“You have a problem with others eating pork?”
“No, of course not. It’s just that I wouldn’t want it in my house… I’m sure you’ve never tasted any, have you?”
“Why would you think so?” I had stopped battling with my eyebrows now: they seemed to be in a permanent state of levitation.
“Oh, you have?”
“Indeed, I do. Not often – as I explained, I don’t like meat much, but I have no qualms about eating beef or pork…”
Kaushik’s eyebrows were now rivalling mine.
“Really? And I thought you were a nice Assamese girl…” He gave a little snigger.
“And nice Assamese girls don’t eat pork?” I smiled up at him sweetly.
“Well, most Assamese girls don’t, do they?”
“You must know very different ones from me, then,” I said politely.
The waiter arrived with our food, giving us a welcome break.
“Don’t be rude,” Mandakini was advising frantically. “Give him a chance.”
“I think I’ve given him enough chances already,” said Miki coldly. “But I won’t be rude, unless I can help it.”
“So,” said Kaushik, through a mouthful of puff, “do you like partying?”
I took a sip of my coffee before answering, “I suppose I would like it if I did any.”
“Oh, why don’t you? Don’t tell me you’re too busy. I work such long hours, but I make up for it by partying on weekends.”
“No, I don’t think I’m too busy at all. I used to go out a bit when I was in college in Delhi, but well, we were students then, so none of us had much cash… Since then… I guess I don’t have the right company.”
“But Gurgaon is the best place to party! I go there almost every weekend! You know what, I’ll give you a call next time we’re going to a nightclub there, and you can come along.”
“Sure,” I said politely, unable to think of an excuse right away.
There was an awkward silence as we both looked around the room.
“So, Kaushik,” I said, imitating him, before he could think of another question for me, “what are you looking for in a wife?”
“Oh, I’m not hard to please or anything. I want a nice, simple woman. Preferably good-looking, who doesn’t want that? But someone who’ll make my house into a home, you know. I have lived on my own for so many years… it gets to you. I want to settle down now, have a family. Of course, she can work – I’d totally support her career – but I want someone who’ll take care of the house, take care of me…”
“Cook you nice Assamese food,” I supplied.
“Yeah. Not every day, of course. But I want a woman who can, you know, hold a family together. A nice Assamese girl. That’s why—even though I’ve lived in Delhi so many years – I wouldn’t want to marry… you know, someone who’s not Assamese. I don’t feel she would actually understand me.”
“What about you, what are you looking for in a life-partner?”
“Much the same,” I said promptly.
“Well, not the Assamese part, of course. I don’t have any restrictions about a particular state or community. But I too would like someone who would make my house a home, who it would be nice to come home to at night…”
Kaushik laughed nervously, clearly unsure whether I was joking or not.
I waited until the waiter cleared our dishes, and then I looked at my watch.
“It’s already past four!” I exclaimed. “I have to leave.”
“So soon?” he said tenderly, leaning forward. His hand crept up the table. I hastily sat back and pulled both my hands off the table.
“I’m afraid so,” I said firmly. I pulled my wallet out of my jacket pocket.
“Oh no no no, I’ll pay.”
“Let’s go dutch.”
“No no, I’ll take this.” But I’d already put a couple of notes on the table.
“You don’t give in easily, do you?” he smiled.
I grinned back and shook my head.
“Come, I’ll drop you home.”
I stopped in surprise. “No, that isn’t necessary,” I said. I didn’t want to inflict more pain on my cheeks, which already ached with all the smiling.
“Oh, it’s no problem. Come on.”
“Let’s compromise,” I said, hanging back. “Why don’t you drop me off at the bus stop?”
He made more protests, but I was firm.
“So, what do you think?” he said when we got into the car. “Should we see each other again?”
“Well, let’s face it,” I said frankly. “I don’t think I’m the right woman for you. You want someone more… more of the domestic goddess, shall we say?”
He laughed nervously again, but didn’t contradict me.
“Let’s not get our hopes up unnecessarily,” I said kindly.
“We can still meet as friends, can’t we?” he said as he stopped the car near the bus stop. “I’ll call you when I next come to Gurgaon.”
“Sure,” I said, in an unconvincing voice.