Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Romance for the Pujas (and in the Rain)

"Well that's that then. I will get going."

She gathered her pallu and wrapped it neatly around her waist, grabbed her clutch and turned to leave.

"Yes, of course." He still sounded stunned.

She flinched, just for a moment, turned around to face him and smiled radiantly, "take care then."

He nodded mechanically.

As she turned and walked towards the door, he raised a hand to call her but could not call out to her.

She walked out of the room, down the corridor and into the sunlit courtyard.
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A few minutes later, Amrita found herself in the back seat of a ramshackle yellow ambassador taxi. She slumped back into the

seat and disinterestedly watched the sea of excited pandal hoppers outside the window.

She was sure she had done the right thing. Now she just needed to convince herself about it.

He was just not right for her. Her cousins snickered whenever they saw them together. Her aunts would sidle up her mother during family functions and tell her of the various "bhalo chhele" candidates they know, most of whom were settled abroad and all of whom earned huge 7 figure salaries! Her father was the only person who believed that a person could be an artist and a human being fit to live in society. Besides, he would often reason, what did we educate you for?

Her mother would scoff, "you are one to say! You've worked in a bank all your life! And what did you make out of it? Not even a car!"

She sighed deeply. She was 28 now, she wanted to make a successful marriage. She didn't need to stay in LA or Vancouver, but she wanted a secure home and a comfortable existence. She wanted a man who would take care of her and not expect her to lend money for his next set of paintbrushes!

Yes, this was a good decision.
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Prateek watched as the clouds started to gather. In a few minutes it started to rain. He wondered if Amrita was carrying an umbrella. The next minute, he berated himself "Why do you care?"

He had just been dumped. He shook his head as if to get rid of all thoughts of her.

As he watched the rain beat down upon the ancient paved stones of the courtyard, another thought came into his mind.

"Silly girl was just carrying a purse!"

He suddenly saw her-wet and shivering in her ruined red saree, under some unknown Gari-Baranda somewhere. He sighed.

No, she was not the sort of girl who needed rescuing - she would probably be  safe in some cab and cajoling the driver to

navigate his clunker into that labyrinth one had to cross before reaching her home. Still he worried. She was prone to all sorts of coughs and colds in all sorts of weather.

He wondered if he should call.
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The cabbie refused to enter her lane. It was just a few minutes to her house, she reasoned.

"Nahi didi - paani hain," he stubbornly insisted.

She counted out 38 rupees in exact change and ignored the cabbie's pleas for a puja bakshish.

"The nerve!"

She crept out of the car gingerly into the pouring rain, jumped a puddle and quickly ran for shelter under the portico of the

house in front of her. Her saree and chappals were now splattered with rain. She cursed herself for forgetting her umbrella.

Every Bengali worth his salt knows that it would rain during the Pujas and usually pretty hard... "Idiot!"
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He went back to the painting he was working on before she arrived. Perhaps keeping with the season, he had chosen to paint Durga. However it was not a festive Durga on his canvas, but a careworn one - like the idols flung into the river after Dashami. The bright colours gradually submerged in the murky background. The face poignant. The once bright ornaments had been swept away. The dirty green leaves of water plants swirled around her. The Goddess looked wet, lost and vulnerable.

He flung down his palette and quickly pulled on a shirt.
............................................................................

The rain showed no sign of abating. The drops came down hard and heavy. It was a ten-minute walk to her home. She wondered if she should call her parents and have them come out with an umbrella. Then she remembered that they would probably be at her uncle's place where he had organized Durga Puja this year. She resigned herself to waiting.

She was not the only one under the portico. There were a couple of drenched street urchins, a few pandal hoppers who had

given up the struggles with their umbrellas and decided to wait out the rain and a slightly familiar neighbour she had never spoken to. She felt a bit wary about the way he was staring at her. Prateek said she always imagined people stared at her. This guy however had a definite leer on his face, she decided to look the other way.

Suddenly she felt someone clamp a hand on her shoulder. She was about to scream when she turned around and saw him. Then she stared open-mouthed.
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"I got you an umbrella. I knew you weren't carrying any."

He wondered why she looked like she was about to scream.
.............................................................................
He was completely drenched. His shirt clung to his lanky frame and his glasses were fogged with condensation.

"Why did you get wet?" she almost snatched the umbrella from him and unfurled it. There was only a small hole at one corner and one of the metal ribs was bent. She grabbed his right hand and marched out into the street.
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It was now a little past 4 o'clock. It was still raining heavily. The odd ricocheting sound from the old fan was strangely comforting amongst the din of the drops hitting the ground.

He was now dressed in an over sized Kurta and a towel. His clothes were hung to dry in different areas of the room. His shirt danced merrily from a hangar clumsily hung from a hook while his trousers were spread out across the back of a chair.

She wore an old tee-shirt and a pair of jeans. Her hair was open and spread fan-like on her back. Her kajal was smeared giving her a beautiful haunted look. He could only stare.

"Drink your tea, it's getting cold," she admonished gently.

He gratefully took a sip of the ginger flavoured tea and sneezed.

"You are such an idiot! You had an umbrella with you! Couldn't you have opened it? And who asked you to play white knight all of a sudden?"

"Some knight."

They both started laughing.

A while later, their empty tea cups lay on the table. She turned to look at him sprawled familiarly on the sofa and whispered, "I am glad you did."

He looked up from the magazine he was looking at and said simply , "I always will."

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