It was a hot summer afternoon. I could feel the sweat trickling down my back as I walked to the bus stop. I was late. I didn’t enjoy the walk on that day. “Idiot!”, I muttered to myself. The man walking beside me gave a startled glance and walked away. I felt guilty and stupid.
The bus was on time, crowded as hell. It was a surprise how I got in and out everyday without breaking a single bone. 29C was easily the most crowded bus in the city. The footboard was brimming with people. The bus eerily resembled an overflowing milk can, only with humans. The older schoolboys on the footboard stepped down a moment before the bus came to a stop and ran along with it until it did. A good number of people got down as well.
I always had an unreasonable fear that once the people got off the bus, the driver would not wait for the rest of us to climb aboard. I usually run to the footboard and climb onto the bus like my life depends on it. Until now, I never thought of what that would’ve looked like to another person.
An old lady was getting up just as I got in and I scrambled to catch her seat. A few moments later, and a few shoves, I sat. A rare thing indeed. And breathed in the putrid hot air like it was fresh oxygen. Well it was. Technically. An old man was sitting next to me. I’ve seen him everyday on the bus. We nod and smile at each other before looking away. This was the closest I’d been to him. We nodded and smiled and looked away.
He then turned to me and asked, “So what is it that you do that you’re in such mad rush to take this bus everyday?” I didn’t know what to tell him. I just sat there, dumbfounded. Two things – he had spoken to me as if he had known me all his life, or rather, all my life. And I never realised the fact that my daily trip was indeed a mad rush. I was staring at him like a deer at headlights.
“You know, you keep your mouth open long enough, a big snake can go in”, he said, chuckling. I immediately shut my mouth and turned away, embarassed. Realising my stupid behaviour, I turned back to him. “I’m sorry. I was just tired from the walk, that’s all. I’m writing a script. For a movie”, I stated.
“Oh”, he said. He was silent for about five minutes before asking, “What kind of a movie is it?”
“You know, horror, romance, thriller, comedy or one of those commercial-entertainers-with-no-plot?”
“Oh. Actually I’m going to make a never-before-seen picture. In fact you can’t really fit it into a genre.”
“That’s what they all say”, he shook his head disapprovingly.
“Yeah I know”, I replied and sunk low into my seat. To tell the truth, I was suffering from writer’s block. I hadn’t written a word in over a month. All I had been doing was take the bus, wander about and take it back home.
“You should write a love story”, he said, suddenly, sitting up straight in his seat. He looked like what Archimedes would’ve looked like before he did, well, what he did.
“A love story?” I asked him incredulously. “Isn’t that overdone?”
“Of course not. If it were, people would’ve stopped making love stories years ago. Everyone wants a good love story with a happy ending. The single people watch it to feel better. The couples watch it to bring back the spark in their relationship and the older ones watch it just for, let’s call it, old times sake”, he said, with an air of finality.
I was gaping again. It was a full fifteen seconds before I shut my mouth, collected my thoughts and asked him, “But, don’t I need inspiration for a love story?”
“You need inspiration for any story.”
“Ok, probably a little more inspiration. But you surely have something to draw from, don’t you?”
“Ah I see! Lonely, are we? Tell you what, what do you do after getting off this bus?”
“Wander about”, I answered hesitantly. For a moment, this man was becoming intimidating.
“Good. Then I shall tell you a very nice love story.” I had no choice but to listen.
“It was the 1950s. About 1955 to be exact. Nehru was around then. I was working with ICF back then. Government job and all. Supposed to be quite good you know. Now, you all went running towards those IT companies and see what happened. Anyway, I was supposed to be married in a month. I hadn’t met the girl. I remember seeing a photo of her in a school play or something. She was standing next to a girl dressed as a queen. She was 15 years old. Now it might seem like it was very young, but back then it was a very normal age for girls to get married. Saroja was her name. Oh my name is Narasimhan, by the by.”
“The marriage happened as planned by both sets of families. But we didn’t speak for a whole month. I had never been around a woman who wasn’t my sister. She had been in the company of girls all along. She didn’t even have any brothers. The first few weeks were quite awkward. I would come back home from office and she would wash my feet and sit me down as the table as she served me tiffen. She had learnt to make very good coffee. My mother taught her. Of course, my mother’s coffee was a lot better. But she learnt very quickly.”
“My mother was very disturbed that we did not talk to each other. “Go and talk to her”, she would goad me. Then the speaking began. It wasn’t like young lovers or newlyweds these days. What is it that you call them.. ah, sweet nothings. Yes, yes. No. Nothing of that sort. I just asked her to make potato curry for me. Yes that was the first thing I said to her.”
“She nodded meekly and asked me, “Do you like it spicy or not?”. Her voice wasn’t anything exceptional. I’d heard during the wedding that she sang a bit. But I never bothered listening. “Spicy”, I replied. From that day onwards she made potato curry once a week, smiling shyly, each time as she served it.”
To be continued a.k.a Thodarum…
Part 2 is here.