I decided to read ‘A Different Shade of Purple’ that very night so that I could discuss it with Suryakant the next day.
“Though with my luck, he’ll probably never call,” said Miki dourly.
“He wouldn’t do that, he seemed so nice. If he suggested meeting, he must want to,” said naïve and ever-optimistic Mandakini.
“He had to be nice to me – I am a buyer,” Miki was as pragmatic as usual. “I shouldn’t expect too much.”
After a dinner of rajma-chawal left over from lunch, I settled down in my bed with the book. I opened it at the flyleaf to read again what he’d written.
Thanks for coming. I hope you like the book.
The handwriting was uneven and laboured – but that might just be because he had been writing standing up. The message was impersonal – he probably wrote that for everyone.
“Ah, but that was before he had really talked to you,” Mandakini pointed out.
I turned the page. The dedication was “To Adah, for having faith in me when no one else, including me, did.”
Adah. Just the name. Nothing about the relationship.
“Do you think she’s a relative?” asked Mandakini tentatively.
“If she was his mother, wouldn’t he have written, ‘To my mother, Adah’? Likewise if she was a sister?”
“Do you think… do you think she’s his wife?” suggested Mandakini fearfully.
“But then, wouldn’t he have written ‘My wife, Adah’?
“She must be his girlfriend,” Miki concluded. “Then it’s not a date he’s asked me on. He actually did mean… just a discussion.”
“Do you think... he might be cheating on her?”
“No!” said Miki. “He’s so smart, he writes so forcefully on his blog… He can’t be cheating so brazenly.”
“You don’t really know him,” said Mandakini reasonably. “You’ve only read his blog.”
“Yeah, and that tells me enough about him to know he can’t do something like that,” said Miki firmly. And before Mandakini could respond, she added, “No! I refuse to believe it.”
Mandakini went on quietly, “Then there won’t be a whirlwind romance, in which our one date tomorrow is followed by lots of phone calls, and meetings whenever he is in town, probably culminating in a wedding… I won’t get to kiss those full lips, touch that beautiful body…”
I shut the book and placed it next to my pillow.
While Mandakini grieved, Miki said, “This is a good thing, you dolt. You don’t want to get into another stupid immature romance. Which is what these relationships that start in dramatic meetings tend to be. You can have a friend instead. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a smart, mature friend? Someone you can discuss books with? Someone who actually reads more than umm, two books a year, unlike everyone else you know?”
I should listen to myself more. I actually made sense.
I picked up the book again.
The book was engrossing, and I read till well past midnight. Consequently, I was still sleeping when the phone rang at nine in the morning.
I glanced at the number – a local landline. It must be some sales call.
“Yes?” I croaked, my eyes pulling themselves shut again.
“Hello? Is this Mandakini?” a deep male voice spoke.
I opened my eyes a fraction. This voice sounded too refined for most telesales people I’d heard. “Yes.”
“Hi, Miki. It’s Suryakant.”
“Oh.” I jumped upright. “Hi. Good morning.”
“Good morning. Did I wake you up?”
“No. That is… I overslept. I didn’t realise it was… what time is it?”
“Just after nine. Shall I call you back?”
“No, no. I should have been up by now. Please go ahead.”
“Just wanted to ask if you want to meet up.”
“Of course! When? Where?”
“Well my flight’s at 3, so how about meeting for breakfast? Around 10.30?”
I did a quick calculation in my head. “Sure! Let’s do that. Where do you want to meet?”
“You tell me. You’re the native.”
“I live in Gurgaon, actually. I studied in Delhi, but I don’t go there often anymore.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t ask where you lived… Listen, if you’re in Gurgaon, why don’t I come over? I have a car at my disposal—and the airport isn’t far from there, so I can just go straight on instead of coming back to the hotel.”
“Are you sure it won’t be too much trouble?”
“Not at all… How were you going to get here?”
“Oh, I’d take the bus.”
“Please, don’t bother. I’ll come over. I’ve never been to Gurgaon, anyway. Where shall we meet?”
I gave him the address of a bistro I’d been to once with my work team. A small place where you could get sandwiches, coffee and cake. It was tucked away in a corner, and should be relatively quiet—unlike the big bustling malls—on a Sunday morning.
I had an hour and a half to get dressed and reach the rendezvous. At least I could be glad that I didn’t have to go all the way to Delhi. I had been so busy reading last night that I hadn’t bothered to think about what I would wear.
“What will I wear?” cried Mandakini, as I looked in my cupboard with trepidation.
It was a sunny day, even though a cold wind was blowing. Yesterday’s rain seemed to have cleared up the weather. I could wear something dressy, then, so long as I carried my jacket. I settled for a flirty chiffon skirt that reached down to my calves and a brown knit top that I picked after successively rejecting a black strappy number and a white see-through blouse. The brown top was dressy but demure, perfect for a special not-date.
“Adah might be his sister. Or old teacher,” Mandakini whined.
“Shut up,” said Mini. “I am not making a fool of myself again.”
I reached a few minutes early and settled myself at a corner table next to the window overlooking the street. I was wearing my nice heels and bag that I had discarded last night. There were still a few puddles in the street, though the sky was clear except for a few white clouds. I took a tissue and wiped the mud off my shoes and legs.
Just around 10.30, I saw a white car stop by the gate, and Suryakant got off. He was dressed casually, in jeans, a white tee and a dark canvas jacket. He carried some kind of leather bag – probably a laptop. He stopped for a moment and looked up, as if confirming that he was at the right place. My chest constricted a little when I saw how handsome he looked. He walked towards the café.
It was dark inside – even the windows were of dark glass, so it took him a second to get his bearings after he stepped in. He looked around and saw me waving at him, smiled and came over.
The meeting was all that I could have hoped for.
After the initial awkwardness, we started talking about his book. I told him how much I had liked it. I talked about what parts I had liked especially well, and what I thought hadn’t worked quite right for me. He explained his inspiration for the main character and talked about how the story had developed.
He explained which parts of his book were autobiographical, and we talked about his life. He talked about living in Bombay, about being a journalist, about quitting his job to write a novel. He talked about Adah, who was his girlfriend and had just moved to the USA to work towards a PhD. Funnily, the mention of this relationship didn’t make my heart beat any faster, and Mandakini remained silent in my head.
He talked about growing up in a small town – and I talked about my childhood too. We talked about books we had loved as children, and discovered a few common favourites.
By the end of two hours, we had become friends. We had also finished five cups of coffee, three sandwiches and a slice of cake between us.
“I should go,” he said, looking at his watch.
“Yes,” I agreed reluctantly. “You never know what the traffic’s going to be like. Better leave in plenty of time.”
“It was so great meeting you. Do you ever come to Bombay?”
I shook my head. “Never visited. I would love to, though. I have a couple of friends there.” Prabhu was in Bombay, and he still called me faithfully about once a month. Nomita, an old friend from Guwahati, lived there too, and often asked me to visit her.
“That’s a good reason to go. Do look me up if you ever visit.”
“Definitely.” I held out my hand. “All the best for the rest of your book tour. May you sell many more copies.”
“Thanks,” he grinned, looking a bit embarrassed again.
I walked all the way home, enjoying the exercise and the mild sun warming my face. I was exhilarated and a little confused. I was definitely attracted to Suryakant, to his dark eyes, the way he had of pushing his hair back from his forehead, his shy smile, his deep voice. And I had just had probably the best time I’d ever had with anyone (when the activities were restricted to conversation). But he was obviously deeply in love with someone else.
I wanted him as a friend. But I was afraid of falling in love with him.
“Do I avoid him, to protect myself from—potentially—much pain? Or do I be friends and try to not be attracted towards him?” Miki asked.
“Save yourself the pain,” answered Mandakini. “You don’t want another heartbreak.”
“Grow up,” said Miki. “He looks like he’d make for a great friend. Don’t give this up by acting like a hormonally-challenged teenager.”
I shook my head to clear it. I saw Suryakant again in my mind, gesturing animatedly as he criticised some book.
“I don’t care how attractive he is,” said Miki. “At least, I’ll try not to. He’s great to talk to. I like him. If he wants my friendship, I won’t step back.”
“Well, don’t get your hopes up.” Mandakini seemed to have taken on Miki’s cynical mantle. “You’ve only met him twice. You don’t know him well enough to predict you’ll be friends.”
But I knew I would try. I was tired of being lonely. If I had a chance of gaining a friend, I wouldn’t be stupid enough to let it pass.