Tuesday, September 23, 2008


The two of us met on friday nights.

Usually on the terrace of our dilapidated apartment building. After the last unsightly fragment of clothing had been taken off the washing lines that criss crossed around us. When the stars came out and it was dark enough for the week's leftovers to look like a feast.

I brought a board game. And a bottle of tomato ketchup. He brought pen and paper. He liked to keep score. And the last bottle of water from the fridge.

We tried to eat at first. But neither of us had an appetite. We tried to play but argued too much about the rules. So, we just lay back on the hard concrete and pretended to count the constellations. Sometimes he sang. Sometimes, I tried to.

A lit candle would have made the scene vaguely romantic. A few more people would have made it seem more like fun. But we did not intend those hours to have either a mood or a purpose. We just wanted to be. I picked at the concrete like it was wool and he fiddled with the ring on his finger. The silence we shared was rich. Powerful. And there was nothing we needed to say.

Soon, the last muffled noises of night time traffic faded away. The last television sets blaring in the distance were turned off. Lights went out in the windows of the high rises that surrounded us. And all the good people and all the bad people in the world seemed to have gone to sleep.

We felt a sense of victory. Like the only survivors of a daily holocaust. Or the King and Queen of whatever was left after the last war on earth. For a few minutes it seemed like even the breeze that wafted gently between us was an unwelcome third.

And then, it rang. I don't remember if it was my cellphone or his. At the first blast of polyphonic cacophony, I felt the rage rise in me. He looked fixedly at it as if something terrible was going to happen. And he was right. I felt my fingers clutch a stone, heard a dull thud that grated and screeched and suddenly, it was all over. The cellphone sat in a pool of its own debris. Its ringtone quelled by my act of provoked violence. We looked at each other, shaken. I was overcome with guilt. I broke into a cold sweat as he took charge. Disposing off the morbid remains with the calm of a serial offender. He took me into his arms and comforted me.

"We'll get you another one tomorrow, ok?"

I nodded, breathlessly.

"Now, let's go donwstairs and call your mother."

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Love story

Every morning, Y arrived at work with nothing in his hands except a red Tupperware container that kept his lunch warm, and a copy of a book he often flipped through but never read. If you tried to talk to him, he was pleasant enough. Sometimes, he was even funny. But though we did talk to him from time to time, it was his lunch that we were all really interested in.

It was not lunch. Not like the peanut butter sandwiches or store bought pasta that some of us revelled in. Not even like the 9 course south Indian jamboree that made our jaws drop and kept a few of us in perfect portly contour. Y’s lunch was, in one word, ….love.

Only love could explain the freshly cut vegetables, fashioned into exotic bird shapes, the multi coloured rice, steam rising slowly, the succulent spiced chicken that massaged our senses, the little glass bowl of dessert that stayed closed till the very end, making our mouths water as we waited. This was Love. Somebody’s love.

And while it would have been appropriate to raise a question to Y, we were more than happy just to raise our plates and partake morsels of the divine spread. He was very quiet, while he ate. We were too. It was after all, a sin to speak in heaven.

All the same, when lunch was done for the day, we floated back to our work stations, unsatisfied. Images of the Tupperware container flashed in our eyes, long after it had been stowed appropriately in Y’s top drawer. We lit our cigarettes and wondered. We whispered in the corridors and speculated. Who cooked for Y?

The women said it had to be his mother. Women! They were unfailingly wrong. I for one thought it had to be a mysterious catwoman. A sensual part time super model who found the prematurely graying Y irresistible and cooked his meals clad in leather while he snored in bed. Y, the lucky bastard obviously had a live in girlfriend of epic attractions. The less imaginative among us pointed out the possibility of a demure wife. A baby pink salwar kameez and sindoor clad version straight out of a K serial. A woman he’d picked off a matrimonial website and tutored into exhilarated submission. We laughed heartily. Further discussion highlighted the stomach churning possibility of a hairy, 40 year old male cook. We decided not to proceed any further on that particularly disturbing line of thought.

And so life went on for months. We got a little closer to Y. Over lunch, of course. We learnt that he had a bad knee and a Maruti 800. We heard him talk about the weather and the morning news, while we had our mouths full of flavourful butter naan and heart shaped dum aloo in a rich cashew sauce. Sometimes, we even listened.

But the day all hell broke loose. That was the day he walked in, eyes red from sleeping, either too much or too little, the smell of rum and coke on his clothes, a shadow of stubble outlining his gaunt face. And, no lunchbox. No lunchbox. Just the book. For the first time, we realized it was a well thumbed book of Indian recipes.

He made his way to his bare workstation. And before our eyes, proceeded to tear the book apart, page by page, till all that was left of it was a mound of paper. Then he sat down on his threadbare chair and broke down. We heard him sob for a while before he got a hold on himself, wiped his bloodshot eyes and turned on his PC.

At lunchtime, he followed us grudgingly to McDonalds. We let him pick at our French fries. We waited for him to talk. I even put my hand on his shoulder in what I hoped, was a gesture of reassurance. Finally, he spoke.

‘I couldn’t do it today. I just couldn’t.’ His voice trailed off and he covered his face with his hands.
We sat in shocked silence. Suddenly, we knew. He could not cook for himself any more.

Love was a terrible thing to lose.