White. A plain white shirt was always the safest colour to go with. He squinted in the mirror, tucking in his shirt into his jeans, as he patted down his hair. He had a good feeling about this one. He had known Veena for a few months now. He liked the way she looked. Not like the girls who seemed splattered all over Delhi, the ones who couldn't stop pirouetting and pouting like plastic playthings. He liked that she spoke her mind, though sometimes she could become unbearably bossy. But then which woman wasn't?
He counted the cash in his wallet and swore. Being jobless in Delhi was to belong to a strange class of people. The capital reeked of money and consumerism, its wicked temptations pursuing his weaknesses unabashedly. Friends made plans to go to the latest club he could ill afford, most girls expected him to pay for their coffee and those horrendously overpriced muffins they’d nibble a minuscule bit of and discard. “Women’s lib was such hypocritical hogwash. They still want you holding the door open and paying the bills but not have an opinion, for that would be biased”, he thought to himself as he wore his watch. He was in a mood he couldn't place, but it wasn't pretty. He felt uncomfortable, as if he had been holding his breath for too long and needed to exhale. Slowly. But there was no time for such things. “Need to run and catch the metro. Thank god she’s picking me up in her car.”
Gone were the days of enjoying the cool comforts of Delhi’s modern metro, applauded as the best transport system in the country, the answer to Delhi’s clogged roads and saviour of all things jammed. Now as he squeezed into the compartment, he instantly regretted wearing his white ironed shirt. But then he hadn't been out with a girl for so long now, the utter tragedy of that realisation alone demanded he wear his favourite white. He looked down at his worn out shoes and grinned in satisfaction. He didn't want to look like he was trying too hard.
|Painting from Marc Johns|
Looking around he heard some men grunt over the recent introduction of a ladies compartment in the metro. They thought it was unfair. At the other end of the compartment, two young boys stood preening themselves by looking at their reflection in the window panes. They could pass off as twins with their gravity defying spiked hair and gravity kissing jeans. They were wearing those colourful shoes that were suddenly all the rage. He looked beyond them, through the window and saw the gigantic Hanuman statue rush past. Comforted by its familiarity, and disgusted by the utter redundancy of the useless conversations around him, he took out his iPod. Plugging in the earphones, he let Metallica take over. The restlessness around him for the past few months was reaching a crescendo. He had gone home to Kanpur a few weeks ago but that had done little to calm him. His father had disapproved of his giving up the well paying job to ‘do something meaningful’.
His father, usually aloof and taciturn, had suddenly found a voice. “God knows what has happened to you youngsters these days. In our time we would get a job and stick to it. We would work hard to raise our family, send you kids to school, and pay for Dadiji’s medicines. Yes, we often got bored but we had to take of our responsibilities. Not like you, just getting up and leaving when things get slightly uncomfortable.”
His mother, who believed that everything could be cured with a good meal, hovered around him, carrying with her, an air of silent tragedy. Whenever he tried to talk to her about his plans of trying to figure out his ‘direction’, her eyes would threaten to turn moist and he’d hastily retreat into reticence. The only time she would become animated and verbose was at the mention of matrimony, a topic he had begun to abhor. Seeing no way of finding any space for thought at home, he had returned to the dusty cacophony of Delhi.
* * *
What was he doing here? Looking at the high ceilings and indecipherable artwork, he wondered how Veena had managed to get convince him to attend the latest exhibition at the National Gallery of Modern Art. She had gushed about circles and lines on the phone, how he would appreciate it if he really saw what the artist was seeing. Looking at the psychedelic patterns, he felt slightly cross-eyed and nauseous. Next, Veena wanted to pick up some books from Jain Book Depot. She ignored the broad counter with its bevy of somnolent salesmen, turgid with the ebbing heat of a summer evening, and made her way up to the little loft they had on top. He watched her as she gleaned through the bookshelves.
They chatted of common acquaintances and insignificant going ons. He looked at her and felt his brain implode. Sitting in front of her, he couldn't hear any words, her mouth moved rapidly and he was reminded of a disturbing short story he had read about a carnivorous Venus Flytrap. Shaking his head to get rid of these murmurs, he glugged down his rum and ordered another. He knew he could ill afford it but with a meltdown seeming alarmingly close, he needed something to soothe his senses. The music was too loud now and he was feeling hot around the collar. He decided to concentrate on the conversation and frowned in mock attentiveness.
“Oh I have been talking so much! Why don’t you tell me something about yourself? I heard you quit your job! Who does that yaar, especially in these times when jobs are so tough to get. That too in Ernst and Young! E and Y man, you've got to be kidding me!”
Slowly, her words registered on the shifting sands of his mind. He smiled at her and made no effort to answer. He picked up his glass and took a large gulp. Then he closed his tired eyes and let the music wash over him.
[Dug out from The Drafts of 2010/11. Inspired by marigold boy.]