As a child I aroused envy among friends and fondness among the neighbourhood aunties for my fair complexion, chubby cheeks – mother put a king-size black dot on my forehead to ward off the evil eye – goody, goody behaviour and excellent grades in school exams, but in my adulthood, I remained singularly unlucky in the matter of love and romance.
As a result my youthful risk-taking capacity was fully excised from my personality. I could never believe the boldest and the most blatant hints thrown by girls. Ocular flirtation, or a pout or a coquettish smile was not enough to convince me that the turf was safe and I maintained a bland face, though inside me a cyclone of desire raged. Most of the girls turned away in disgust, but one punished me by tying rakhi on my wrist and talked about it gleefully. For many months, my friends would begin to trill, “Bhaiyya Mere Raakhi Ke Bandhan Ko Nibhana,” the moment they espied me.
Wearing a chastity belt, I continued to perform outstandingly in studies, went on to do C.A. and MBA from IIM, Ahmadabad and joined an American multinational as Finance and Tax consultant. Unfortunately, mother did not live to see my professional success. She succumbed to a sudden cardiac arrest after a few months of my joining the MNC. The hectic nature of the job, coupled with my type A personality -- always striving to be more than myself – had made me oblivious to the passing years and I suddenly found myself on the cusp of middle age. I had turned thirty nine!
It was then that I psycho-analysed myself, underlined the flaws which had landed me in the desert of romance, and decided to take corrective steps, pronto.
I observed the ways of Casanovas around me and distilled some golden rules: Be proactive and strike a conversation with fair sex on the slightest pretext, learn as many jokes as possible and spout them, even if they are PJs, pay undeserved compliments, look into a girl’s eyes while talking and smile invitingly, laugh at trivialities, and touch a girl casually while talking -- the best way being taking hold of the girl’s hand and offering to read it. Most of the girls fall for this ploy. Though rather late in the day, I learnt the A to Z of ambushing and resolved to put my knowledge to practical use at the first opportunity.
I was flying to Bangalore on official work. A pretty lady, in her mid thirties, with bobbed-hair walked up to my seat. Pointing to the seat beside me, I raised my eyebrows questioningly and she nodded. I promptly got up, lifted her oversized cabin baggage without being asked to and fitted it in the already nearly filled space and offered her my aisle seat, so that she wouldn't have to scrape past my legs. The reward was instant.
“Oh, thank you so, so much for everything,” she gushed in her musical voice. The prospects were bright!
“Please, don’t embarrass me.”
She bestowed on me honeyed smile as reward.
“Live in Bangalore?” I asked as an opening gambit.
“I am Ketan. Ketan Desai. A holiday in Bangalore?” I continued the inquest. It was a loaded question. It would get me the answer if she was single.
“No. I am a Gynaecologist and am going for an international conference on Obstetrics’ and Gynaecology.”
“Oh,” I said and rotating my neck towards her to look into her eyes I mischievously said, “So you are the culprits.”
“What do you mean?”
“You contribute to population explosion.”
She looked at me in a queer way for a split second and then said in mock anger, “Excuuuuse me! We save lives.”
Nothing better than starting a friendly quarrel to hasten closeness.“Are you attached to a hospital?”
“No. I have my own practice.”
“Where do you live in Delhi?” I asked.
“New Friends’ Colony.”“And you?”
When I told her I was in Maharani Bagh, she exclaimed, “Oh, we are next door neighbours, almost. Maharani Bagh is at a stone’s throw.”
“What’s so funny?”
“I would much rather you threw something softer.”
“Oh.” She coloured a little.
“What do you do?”
“I’m a Financial and Tax Director in an MNC. We’ve a branch office in Bangalore.”
She visibly brightened up at this information. We exchanged visiting cards when we parted. “Do give me a ring when we get back to Delhi.”
“Sure,” I said.
I got a pleasant surprise. Around 8 p.m. the same day, I got a call from her. “Sorry, did I disturb you?”
“A most welcome disturbance after a stressful day!”“Why, what happened?”
“Oh, no. Nothing of that sort. This is the nature of the corporate job.”
“Why don’t we dine together?”
“That’s a windfall.”
She gave me the address of her hotel. The dinner was enjoyable. “Why are all women so figure conscious? You pecked at the food.” I was lying. She was on the pleasantly plump side and she had eaten heartily.
“Don’t make fun of my obesity.”
“On my life, nobody can call you obese. Yours is the kind of figure many would die for.” I said and added, “Though I would like to live for it.” I was becoming bolder by the minute.
“Really, you’re a funny creature!”
“Creature is right.” We were moving fast.
“Sorry, I meant funny gentleman.”
“Don’t be cold after such delicious fare.”
“Omigod. You’re a tough nut.”
“Only ‘nut’ will do,” I grinned.
“What a pleasant surprise, Padmaja?” I sang into the phone.
“Thanks, Ketan. But I need your help.”
“At your service, Doc.” I wanted to say sweetheart. “What’s it?”
“My IT Return is in the scrutiny trap.” Had she calibrated her conduct to this end? A passing thought flashed in my mind.
“Not a happy situation. But not to worry. I’ll take care,” I told her reassuringly.
“When’re you coming?”
I went to her bungalow and she brightened up on seeing me. “A friend in need!” she said and shook hands with me. I held her soft, warm hand for as long as I could.
“Did you have any difficulty locating my place?”
“None. I was guided by my inner lights.”
She looked amused. “Yes, you can afford to joke. It’s me who is in the IT swamp.”
“Have you evaded tax?”
“Yes. All of us do. I mean every doctor does. The tax rates are absurdly high in India,” she pouted like a young girl. I wanted to tell her they are much higher in England -- about 40 per cent – and other countries.
“What will you have?”