Here are the links to the prologue and other chapters:
Chapter 1: The carefree me
Chapter 2: The first glance
The clouds opened up and started pouring. I was still on the bed, feeling sluggish due to the chill climate and seriously I couldn’t bring myself to spring from my cosy bed. ‘I have to get up. It’s a working day.’ I sighed and got up, tore the previous date from the bedside calendar, completed my morning chores, gulped breakfast, and sped off to school.
“Hey, Nimmi, the mint-green shirt guy….” I trailed off, fearing her reaction.
“Yeah, what about him?” She asked rather sternly.
“Four days ago, he played Chand Sifarish song while passing by my house.”
“Really? Does he come by your house every day?”
‘Thank God! I have her full attention now.’
“Yes, of course. He smiles, smiles and smiles. I just stare, stare and stare.”
“What the heck!” She yelled.
“Tell me, what should I do?”
“Well, get to know about him, Bhavana. And one more thing, why don’t you smile at him?”
“Nimmiiiii, I don’t want to be over expressive. By the way, who is he? A complete stranger. Then why should I smile at him? He would turn a stalker then.”
“As if he already isn’t. But we have been taught to smile back at anyone who smiles at us. Okay, leave that. Go and speak directly.”
“I don’t know how to initiate a talk with him. I think he is a North Indian. He might not understand Tamil. He resembles Salman Khan. Especially his eyes.”
“That’s so sweet of you to notice him so well.”
“How can’t I notice him? He comes by my house almost every day. He stares at me and talks to me with his eyes. I feel dumb when he looks at me like that.”
“Hmmm…Bhavana, there is no good or bad time in knowing about a person. Speak with him today itself and put an end to this. I feel bad about this. Something sinister is lurking. Talk to him today.”
“I’ll try.” That was all I could say. Well, Nimmi was sometimes bad in giving suggestions. Also, her imagination was running high.
I waited for the evening to dawn. After school, Aafreen and I headed back home together. As we were entering our street, the dance of the rains commenced. We didn’t have any umbrellas, so we took shelter in a nearby electrical shop. My eyes wandered to Vaishnavi complex which was situated at the other side of my street. The next second, I froze. My body stirred in the cold rain. I was horrified. My pulse rate went alarmingly high. Blood gushed throughout my veins. All those reactions happened simultaneously in my body. The reason: I saw ‘him’!
He was standing at the entrance of ‘Madhu Textiles & Readymades’, pointing at the rain and speaking to someone inside. Then, out of the blue, realization dawned upon me. He was a shopkeeper in that shop and he was the one who attended my mom when we purchased the blouse. I received the answers to my probing queries of that day. Definitely, he was watching me. When he came to know that it was I who was walking on the street, he had stealthily followed me and got to know my house. And it became easier for him to continue his ‘stare saga’, as those two kids studied in the school at the end of my street. At that moment, I jumped up, excited with my new discovery. And with that, my foot landed on Aafreen’s toe and she exploded.
“Aaaaaa! What is it, idiot?”
“Oops! I am sorry, I am sorry. I was just excited. I have told you about a guy who stares at me, right? He is working as a shopkeeper in Madhu Textiles & Readymades. And I am damn sure that he is a North Indian. Maybe, a Marwari. Look! Look over there!”
“Wait, wait, I will see, but why are you so excited? Anything going on between you both?” She asked with a wink.
“Hey, nothing’s on. I just wanted to know about him. That’s it.”
I cursed myself for showing off too much. The boy noticed me then. He came out of his shop and stood in the rain just to see me, smiling as usual. But I didn’t smile back. I just kept enjoying the rain, wondering why he chose me as his muse when there was a beautiful girl standing beside me. And I even double checked to make sure that he was staring at me and not at Aafreen. Otherwise in the following days, I would have died of self shame, demeaning my ability to understand boys and their stares. To my surprise, he started walking towards the electrical shop in which we were standing. As he was nearing, he took out the blaring Korean model mobile phone. He walked past me and played the song,
“Tum ko paaya hai tho jaise khoya hoon…
(I have found you and I have lost myself…)
Kehna chahoon bhi tho tumse kya kahoon…
(Even if I want to say something, what should I say…)”
I wondered what he wanted to convey through those songs. I never understood the meaning of those lines properly. And also I hated Korean model mobile phones. So, even if I were ever to fall in love with him, I would have first requested him to get a new mobile phone!
He walked over to the shop and pretended to speak with the shopkeeper, with his eyes fixed on me. He slowly started humming the song and smiled at me. Aafreen began her taunts.
“Hey, he is smiling at you, Bhavana. Come on, you too smile back.”
“The rain has stopped. Come, let’s go.” I pulled her without turning back to look at him. The song continued faraway,
“Main agar kahoon tumsa haseen…
(If I say that you are beautiful…)
Kaayanat mein nahin hai kahin…
(And cannot be found anywhere in the universe…)
Tareef hai bhi tho sach hai kuch bhi nahin…
(This compliment is nothing compared to the truth…)”
After narrating that incident, Nimmi spoke to me, “Oh! He is a shopkeeper? You are going to have him as your life partner, eh?”
“Stop it, Nimmi! You are going overboard. Who said that he would end up as my life partner? I might just be a passing cloud for him. God only knows! And you know about these guys who are transferred to South India from North as labourers or shopkeepers. They are purely local and they don’t know to behave properly. These are my assumptions,” I said, while thinking about all those guys and their notorious activities. Yes, sometimes I was downright judgemental.
“Well, jija-ji playing romantic songs for you? Maybe he is trying to tell you that he loves you. Maybe he loves you with all his heart and is not like other North Indian guys.”
“Why do you call him as jija-ji? I know that it means ‘brother-in-law’. I am not that bad in Hindi nowadays, okay?” I hissed, clearly irritated with her teasing.
“Arey, can’t you even enjoy a good piece of joke?”
“Holy cow! It’s not so funny.”
“Ha ha ha. Hey, I just got this idea. Why don’t you visit his shop on the pretext of buying something?” She immediately changed the topic, so that I’d cool down.
“Same pinch! I was just thinking the same. It would be nice to watch his reactions. I will take Aafreen along with me to the shop after school. And, yeah, it’s a half working day for us!” A sudden wave of enthusiasm washed over me.
I left my place and scuttled away to meet Aafreen. She was writing her incomplete homework. I went over and closed the notebook on which she was writing. She looked at me with creased eyebrows.
“What’s up, Bhavana?”
Then I told her about my plan. She asked, “So, what do you want me to do?”
“I just want you to accompany me to his shop today. You must go inside and enquire about the starting rate of salwar-kameez materials. I will wait outside and watch his reactions. Is it okay?”
“It’s okay, Bhavana. But I feel strange. I am the daughter of a textile shop owner and I am going to another textile shop to enquire about clothes. So funny!”
“I am sorry, Aafreen. Just for my sake, please.” I pleaded her. She agreed to it.
Hours elapsed. Soon the clock struck 12.30 p.m. My face gleamed with excitement. Along with Aafreen, I alighted in Shanthinagar. We reached Madhu Textiles & Readymades. I stood outside while Aafreen went inside and asked to that boy, “Anna, can you tell me the starting rate of salwar-kameez materials?” He didn’t notice me. He replied to her, “It starts from ₹150. Shall I show you some?” It was nice to hear him speak broken Tamil. And yeah, he was wearing the same old mint-green shirt, making me wonder whether he is working in a textile shop or something else.
“Yes, show me some,” replied Aafreen.
He bent down to take some materials. When he got up, his eyes fell on me. Immediately he forgot about attending to Aafreen and started admiring me. I controlled my expressions and just flashed him a blank look. He came towards the billing counter, staring at me. I was just outside the counter. There was only a small glass barrier between us. Looking at him at a hand’s length made me feel strange. I felt shy to look at him directly. I didn’t know why I was feeling so. I called out to my friend, “Aafreen, have you enquired?”
“Yeah, I am coming.” I wondered to whom she had enquired the rest while that boy was busy watching me.
I climbed down the two steps in front of his shop’s entrance, all the while feeling an urge to look back at him. I could not control and turned back. Then I did the unexpected – I smiled at him. My first ever smile! It was magical while smiling at him. I locked my eyes with his, staring at him as he had done the days before. I didn’t know what got over me. I was considered to be a rough and tough girl, but there I was, smiling away at a stranger (probably a stalker). Meanwhile, Aafreen was asking me, “Wow! What a smile! I don’t know how he could smile like that. I think I saw love in his eyes. What do you think, Bhavana?” I did not answer her as I was busy looking at him. He was surprised and almost jumped in joy. I smiled even more and turned towards my street. Only then I realized that Aafreen had asked a question. By then, she had confirmed that something was going on between us.
“Oh! Sorry, Aafreen. I didn’t hear what you asked. Repeat the question.”
“No thanks. I got the answer, Bhavana.” She smiled mysteriously at me.
I felt embarrassed and ran away to my home.
The next day, I got ready to participate in a quiz competition and I went along with my mom in a taxi. We reached the venue in no time. It started raining heavily. The competition began and I could answer almost all the questions. After that, there were many cultural performances. As it was raining continuously, we stayed back to watch the show. Even one of the boy’s faces in the dance show looked like ‘the mint-green shirt’ guy’s face. I slapped my forehead for unnecessary thoughts about him. In the evening, the rain eased a bit, so we hired a cab to reach Shanthinagar. As soon as we got down, my mom announced, “Here, take this umbrella and go home. I’ll buy vegetables and come back.”
I took the umbrella and walked forward. I thought, ‘My Ma is really sweet. Thank god! She didn’t take me along with her to the vegetable market’. I had a cunning plan in my mind. I stopped in front of Madhu Textiles & Readymades at a distance. I turned back to see whether my mom had gone to the next street. After confirming, I turned and saw inside the shop. There he was, sitting in the billing counter. I could see him through the glass barrier. All of a sudden, he turned and noticed me. I think there were vibes passing between us. He could sense my presence at any time. He jumped out of his shop and stood on the steps, smiling at me, and eventually getting drenched in the rain. With my facial expression, I told him to go inside. But he was not worried. He rested his head on the side of his shop’s entrance and admired me. I admired him, too. I didn’t know what was happening to me. The rain made the situation even lovelier. I kept looking at him until I turned towards my street.
I was overjoyed when I reached home. I changed into dry clothes and made some inane conversation with my grandma. But I was thinking about him all the time. I kept on recollecting the sequences which had happened from the first day I saw him. Even the song playing in the radio reflected my feelings.
Days passed by. We used to see each other almost every day and exchanged sweet glances. I didn’t know whether it was love or infatuation or momentary attraction. All I did was, I waited for him daily at 3.30 p.m. Waiting seemed so sweet, suddenly. During those days, I felt extremely happy. I started hearing a lot of Hindi songs and even developed a liking for my Hindi subject which I had initially hated. Though Internet was a rarity in those days, I used my uncle’s computer to visit translation websites which provided meanings for some Hindi songs. I tried to improve my spoken Hindi by conversing with Nimmi. I became more active in school and I was always exuberant and bubbly. I didn’t even know the boy’s name, but merely looking at him invoked different feelings inside me.
“You are hiding something from me, right?” asked Vikram, my best friend in Business Maths tuition which I was attending.
“Err – You are such an idiot, Vikram! You can read my mind always. I cannot even keep a single secret from you.” I playfully slapped his hand.
Vikram was brownish in colour and well-built. He had an aptly maintained physique and he could attract girls merely with his appearance. Since he was hefty, other boys kept away from him. They did not even consider befriending him and knowing about him. He was shunned at the first sight. But he was close to me. I confided in him for everything. He knew me very well and understood me even more than Nimmi. He was also over-protective of me. There were a few grumpy guys in the tuition who tried proposing to me. They were attracted to my friendliness and thought they could go to the next level, but Vikram prevented them from going any further. Well, I was lucky to have such a kind of friend in my life that could make me feel safe and secure. I narrated about the ‘mint-green shirt guy’ to him.
Immediately, I sketched out a plan along with him to find out that boy’s name.
“Why are you in a hurry to know his name?” asked Vikram.
“Hey, it’s November 19th. Almost a month has passed by without knowing his name. You know, I even had a dream in which I was trying out different names for him. So it’s time for me to know his name. I am now like Manisha Koirala in Bombay, singing Kannalane song, desperately wanting to know his name.” I replied.
“That’s strange! I never thought that you could blend each minute of your life with a Rahman’s song. It proves that you are a pure Rahmaniac.”
“Yeah, that’s hundred percent true; you know he is a gem…”
“Yeah, yeah, I know that. You need not explain. Tell me the plan.”
“After our classes get over today, we will go together. When we near his shop, I will walk in the front. You stop there and enter the shop. He is wearing a pink t-shirt. You find him and just ask him to show you some readymade shirts. Then, it’s up to you. Do whatever you want, but find his name. Then, on the pretext of asking some doubt, come to my home and tell what happened. Is it okay?”
“Everything is fine. But how do you know that he is wearing a pink t-shirt?”
“I saw him today in the evening.”
I impatiently waited for the class to get over, counting the seconds and fidgeting with my fingers.
Then, Vikram hissed under his breath, “Stop counting! Didn’t you hear the bell? Let’s go.”
I was happy. At the same time, I was nervous too. I was not sure whether my plan would work out. I didn’t have a plan B if that one failed.
As planned, I walked forward and Vikram stopped in front of Madhu Textiles & Readymades. He entered the shop and vanished inside.
I reached home, threw my bag to a corner, and began pacing from one end to another end of my room. After ten minutes, I heard a soft knock on the main gate. Before my mom could open, I sprung into action and opened the door to see who was at the gate. I was relieved when I saw Vikram. But I acted as if he had come unannounced.
“Hey, Vikram, what’s up?”
“I just had a doubt in Accounts. I want you to clear that.” He spoke loud enough to be heard by my mom.
She came out and spoke, “Hi Vikram.”
“Bhavana, don’t you know good manners? Call him inside and speak.”
Vikram replied, “No aunty, that’s okay. It’s a small doubt only. I need to reach home soon.”
“Okay Vikram, you both continue.”
We heaved a sigh of relief when she went inside.
Immediately I asked him, “What happened? Did you meet him? Did you ask his name?” I almost flooded him with questions.
“Please allow me to breathe, Bhavana.”
“Oh my god! I am impatient and eager. Tell his nameeee…” I hollered like a maniac.
“Wait, wait…” He inhaled and continued, “His name is Jairam.”
“What? What did you say?”
“Wow! Thank you soooooo much! I can never forget this good deed done by you. Really, thank you so much, Vikram.” I felt an urge to hug him, but there were people around us who would suspect that we were lovers and spread rumours in the locality.
“Mention not, Bhavana. Bye, I need to leave,” he replied calmly.
I went inside my room and locked it. I climbed onto my bed and started jumping. “Jairam! Jairam! Jairam! Woooooohoooooo….” Then, my mom shouted from outside, “Bhavana, what’s going on inside? Why are you yelling ‘Jairam Jairam’?”
“Nothing, Ma. I am just excited and chanting God’s name. Jairam! Jairam!”
“Mad girl! Stop shouting.” Saying so, she moved away. She would have probably thought that something was brewing between Vikram and me. That was way better than letting her know that I was eyeing a stranger.
Then, I fell upon my bed, breathless. I thought, ‘Wow! What a sweet name! Jairam. I love that. But what’s happening to me? Is this love? Why am I feeling like this upon a stranger? What’s the need for me to know his name? No, no, no, it can’t be love. How can I fall in love with a stranger? How can I just take the plunge without knowing him well? Oh my god! Please help me from this chaos. I am turning mad day by day. I need to understand myself. Please help me. Jairam!’ I closed my eyes happily and drifted off to sleep.
Yeah! The ‘mint-green shirt’ boy’s name is Jairam. And I have introduced Vikram, Bhavana’s another best friend. I would be posting only a couple more chapters, after which you’d have to wait for the book to come out. 😉