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Sunday, July 13, 2008 

How Will He Know

“Blaupunkt”, I said, as she braked at the light, and she looked at me quizzically.

We both were in different wings of the same organisation. Passing acquaintances, casual hellos exchanged in corridors and an occasional conversation about inanities when we happened to meet over a cup of tea.

Then I went to another place on deputation for three months, and she came there a week later on transfer. Thrown together in a new place, we interacted more, though our official circles still did not intersect. I was relatively better off, having many old friends there, and I could introduce her to them.

We hit it off well: it was gratifying to have a pretty girl several years younger laugh at my jokes, and I enjoyed her company well enough. She was grateful at having somebody to break the ice in a new place, and for company walking up and down the hills.

We really started talking on those long walks. About the different paths our lives had taken. I told her about my worlds of books and music, she told me about how she had always marched in determined fashion through life. She tut-tutted about my haphazard method of letting life swirl around me, and I smiled (only, inwardly, though) about her earnest plans.

“Navi Mumbai, maybe, or Pune”, she said. “I don’t like Mohali”. We were talking one day about where one would settle after a lifetime spent shunting around according to the caprices of faceless puppeteers. “I’d like an independent house, even if it is very small, rather than a flat. I want a garden, and a swing for the kids”. I asked her if she had the colour scheme mapped out, and she seriously considered the question before seeing the smile in my eyes. “One has to plan”, she said crossly. I went ahead on the path, and looked out over the Ghats. “Door gagan ki chaaon mein”, I said. Or to quote another song, Somewhere, out there …. She again bemoaned my lack of definite plans, what she (adding with due respect) called my woolly-headedness.

We sat down, legs dangling over the edge. Life happens, I told her. And all your piety nor wit , etc etc. So it’s best to roll with the punches during the spats and dance when the music is on. No plans to encumber me, I said. I’m flexible. Throw a situation at me and I’ll face it. Or duck it, I’m no hero. I’m no fatalist, I said. But thinking about the future is not about making a map, but about packing your rucksack with wit and brains and a sense of humour, not to mention a healthy resistance to disappointment. Look at the present, see your needs and if they can be satisfied, hey, you’re happy for now.

Not at all, she said. And spouted the usual self-help book phrases about self-determination. Tcha, and I suppose you’ve got it all pat, I said. Two kids, and a house in Navi Mumbai, and you can come for lunch if you behave yourself, she rattled off. Don’t forget the swing, I said, and be sure that you have fresh lime for the vodka. Since you are all for the planned life, I said. She made a face, and we got up to return. She whipped out a snap. This is the gent I’m going to marry, she said. “Does he know yet ?”, I asked, and she smiled. “He will”.

That was one of the last times we went for a walk together; my spell there soon ended and I went on. We didn’t keep in touch, except for a sporadic (and unanswered) New Year e-mail or a Diwali one. Mutual acquaintances gave news about one to the other. She’d been through some very tough times, for a while her world seemed to collapse about her ;I arranged my life in a not-so-haphazard manner.

When I met her here, after the better part of a decade, she was reserved, and I was tentative, coming to a strange place in a state of flux. She was giving me a lift to the office, making small talk about the landmarks enroute. I pointed out where a kindly soul had taken me out to dinner the previous evening. So tell me about life, she said, suddenly. So yours worked out after all, I said. Even if the gent took some time. What do you want now, she asked, and I mused over the question in silence.

“Blaupunkt”, I said, and she looked at me. “ When I went out last evening, the guy received a call on his mobile, only it wasn’t on his mobile. His car stereo was Bluetoothed to the phone, and it cut off the FM and cut in the phone call, he spoke as he drove and then the radio resumed. I thought it was pretty neat. I want that car stereo and that phone”. She laughed then, and it was a signal of return to the old companionability. It’s probably Mohali now, she said. And probably only one kid, but soon.

I kept a straight face and asked, “Does he know ?”
“He will”, she smiled, and put the car into gear as the light changed.

I read this story on Caferati and wanted to comment on what a lovely tale it was- I do not think that I did.
This story is very very beautiful- of course I would have loved a "He knows" ending... but on serious thought, maybe not. It is a haunting story- very timeless, with just that hint of melancholy that makes one want to keep getting back to it.
And so I guess I will return here to re-read it.

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