“Where are you going?” Aai asked her. She did not reply.
“Tyala bhetayla? (To meet him?)“. Again no reply.
Aai resignedly said, “Will tell the driver to get ready ..”
She said, “Nako (Don’t)! Will take the train..”
Her mom looked as though she was about to say something, but changed her mind at the last minute. She scowled at her mom’s omniscience and shut the door behind her.
Rain was lashing Mumbai. She almost cancelled her plan, but decided against it. She had left things languishing for far too long. She waited on the street for the bus to Dadar station. The bus when it came, was relatively empty. She got in and saw a ladies seat empty. She plopped herself down on it. The window was down because of the rain. Through the dirt smeared plastic, she saw the sea. Haji Ali mosque stood like a lone figure enduring the swell of the enraged waves around it. The skies were grey. She lifted the window and felt the wind on her face. She breathed in lungfuls of it. Despite the unpleasant task lying ahead of her, a small smile played on her lips. Every day of her 28 year old life, she had been filled by joy after glimpsing the sea just outside her window.The bus took a turn. The view of the sea was lost. She became aware that her lap had become damp because of the rain water. She pushed down her window and immediately regretted it. With the monsoon breeze shut out, she felt claustrophobic. The bus trundled on towards Dadar. She felt irritated, the best part of her journey was over and the worst awaited her.
She stood on the platform at Dadar station. The downpour continued. A huge crowd of commuters milled around her.She felt good that she had a first class ticket. She saw the train pull into the station. To her dismay, the first class ladies compartment was overflowing! She barely made it into the train. As she got in, she got the wind knocked out of her by an umbrella. When someone stamped on her toe, her flimsy but fashionable sandals did not offer any protection. She stood awkwardly, in the throng of women getting squelched from all sides, her foot smarting. “This must be hell!” She thought. Stench of sweat made more putrid by being soaked in rain, seemed all pervading. She swore to herself, this was the last time.
Why had she liked him in the first place? Was it the good looks. Maybe. Was it to rebel against her mom? She remembered her mom’s words,
“Had he been living in Andheri, Vile Parle would’ve been acceptable. But he stays in god forsaken Virar!! How are we supposed to go there? You have grown up all your life in the town side and are used to a certain level of sophistication. Do you think you can adjust … there?”
How she hated it, her mom had been proven right. The worst part of the relationship, was the sickening commute. And 3 months ago, he had gone and gotten his foot broken playing gully cricket. (Her mom – “30 yr old man playing gully cricket?! How very LS.”) The last many Saturdays, she had been going through this gut wrenching commute, to spend a few minutes with him. Things had started to go downhill. The last few times, they always had had a fight, since she would always be in a foul temper after the horrendous train ride. Yet she had avoided taking her father’s car and chauffeur lest he feel insecure. Despite her attempts to make it work, she had failed, the relationship was a disaster. Today’s rain soaked journey was the last straw. She had to break up with him.
She jogged to the extent her flimsy shoes and umbrella allowed. She had to make it back by the 6:14 train and she was already late. She was angry.Their meeting had gone just as she had expected. There had been resentful words punctuated by hateful silences. But now she ran to catch the train that would take her away from Virar, for good, forever. Aghast, she saw the train beginning to pull away when she reached the platform. The ladies dabba was far away, she was going to miss the train!! Just then she had a brain wave, she hopped into the gents 1st class bogey. It was the opposite direction so there was little crowd. She stood a little inwards, to avoid the spray of the rain but outside enough to feel the wind in her hair. She was relieved that she had made it and her return had begun. A bespectacled man, stood facing her immersed in his phone humming a dated tune to himself. To her annoyance it sounded like a 90s Ricky Martin track.
Just then her own phone buzzed. Aai calling.
“Where have you been?” her mom began shrilly. “Do you have no sense of time? We have been worried sick. The train service is about to get cancelled! You have always been so irresponsible..”
She barked into the phone – “Aai, mi kukkula baal nahiye. I am not a baby anymore” and hung up.
Angry tears were flowing down her cheeks. The emotion of the day overwhelmed her, and she began sobbing uncontrollably. The more she tried to control the sobs, the harder she cried. The man in front of her looked alarmed. Through her sobs, she waved to him dismissively.
“Sorry, do not mind me, Just having a bad day, you know commuting to Virar during peak hours.”
He replied, “Aah! Livin’ da Virar local!”
He laughed sheepishly. “Just a forward I got in email. You remember the old Ricky Martin song Livin’ la vida loca? Someone has made a clever little play on it – Livin da Virar local”
Despite herself, she smiled.
The train came to a grinding halt at Andheri. The rain had abated, however the train service had stopped until the water receded from the tracks.
“Looks like we are stuck in Andheri for a while”. The bespectacled man said. “Ithe ek McDonalds aahe. Softie?”
She knew that he had overheard her conversation with her mom and so was talking to her in the same language that she spoke.
She mulled it over, then finally shrugged and said, “Ho Chaalel.(Yes, will do)” She hesitated then. “Umm. Aapla naav? (Your name?)”
He smiled and said, “Oh sorry, mi Shrinivasan Mulye.”
“Ho Baba Kobra. Aai Tamil. Matunga (Dad is Kokanastha brahmin, Mom Tamil)”
She laughed at that, and suddenly felt light and relaxed. Funny how a small but genuine laugh can brighten your day!
She enjoyed that evening with Shri. Strangely, she did not realize when she started calling him that. He was smart and funny. She smiled to herself when she thought about what her mom would say about him, probably would not be too happy about his Tamil mom and dark complexion. And Matunga, that was a stone’s throw away from where she lived. A very very convenient commute! She felt amazed at how well the day was about to end. The train service started. They got into the gents first dabba again to continue their conversation.
She asked him, “So are you getting off at Matunga?”
He said, “Oh we no longer stay in Matunga. I am just here visiting a few friends. We moved a long time back. I am getting off at Santa Cruz, to catch a flight back home. Hope its not cancelled in this dreadful weather. Had forgotten how Mumbai rains can be!”
She felt her heart sink. She asked him, her voice shaking, “So where do you stay?”
He replied brightly “In a town called Mysore in Karnataka. You should come visit sometime. There’s a beautiful palace there.”
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