Mornings are always a rush. Shweta hurried out of the house after a quick kiss on her baby’s cheeks and a quicker goodbye to her husband. Life is always difficult for a working mom and today seemed to be especially so. Clutching the brown hand bag with her right hand, and desperately trying to hold the flying dupatta with the other, she jogged down the street to its corner, the designated spot for pick and drop. Her mind lingered on the strong cup of coffee her husband prepared for her every day and she wished she could have had more time to enjoy it. Spotting the cab hurling down at full speed a few hundred meters away, she broke into a run and muttered a silent thanks to the man who woke her up every day on time. Her alarm clock, her husband.
After the regular hellos and smiles at the few others already in the cab, Shweta moved to her usual seat just behind the driver. Heaving a sigh of relief, she settled in for the next two-hour odd journey to her office in Whitefield. Leaning back against the dusty headrest, Shweta closed her eyes looking forward to the rest of the journey. Today would be interesting, she thought. Wonder what they will discuss? Will they be romantic and mushy or will they have their occasional tiffs? She couldn’t wait.
To while away the time before the duo got in, she took a thin book from her bag and stared at the cover for a moment. It was called “The billionaire’s ransom bride” and had an illustrated cover portraying a passionate lip lock between the hero and his bride. Blushing a little at the way the hero’s hand seemed to be clutching the petite lady’s bottom, she turned to the page where she had stopped yesterday to continue reading her dose of mills and boon for the day. She had always been a hopeless romantic and couldn’t tire of these 180-page books even after her marriage. You would think that the real thing would prove more exciting but for Shweta these books had always been more interesting than her own love life!
The cab continued on the route weaving its way through thick traffic like a drunken man running through a crowd. It stopped briefly a few kilometers away and Shankar from the IT support got in. Shweta immediately flopped her bag on the empty seat next to her and pretended to be engrossed in the book. After hesitating for a second, the guy reluctantly moved away into the back of the cab – he always looked forward to sitting with the pretty lady in the front seat but somehow she never seemed to want to! After ensuring that the flirt from support had moved to the back, Shweta snapped her book shut and returned it to the bag. It will just be a few more minutes now before their pick up point arrived. Tiny butterflies started dancing in her stomach and she tried to contain her excitement.
The girl got in first. She was dressed in a beautiful sleeveless white and pink chudhidar and loud accessories to match. In her hand, she carried two bags – one a beige handbag which can only be designer and in the other a Dora embellished bag like the lunch bags kids carry to school. Such a contrast, thought Shweta smiling sillily at the girl. The girl seemed not to notice and took the seat in line with Shweta’s on the other side. They always sat at the same place everyday which is why Shweta also always sought out the seat in front. She wondered if they belonged to the same project. The cab turned down a few more roads to the next pick up point and seeing that there was no one waiting at the spot, the driver pressed his feet harder on the accelerator.
The girl squeaked “Anna, wait maadiii…. bartha idare” (Wait, please…he is coming)
The cab driver braked hard to stop and after a nasty glance at the girl started drilling his hands on the steering wheel impatiently. The clock seemed to tick loudly and everybody waited looking out the windows and door. Suddenly, the girl started smiling, and gesturing to some one in the street. Like the hero in a movie climax, Shashank Gowda ran full tilt and jumped into the cab.
Grinning widely, Shanshank took the seat opposite Shweta next to the girl in pink and white.
“Hi Shweta” he said turning sideways to look at Shweta “Thindi aytha?” (Had breakfast?)
“No, no time!” Shweta turned to smile at Shashank. “Yours?”
“Oh yes” replied Shashank moving back to lean in his seat.
With another silly smile, Shweta turned back to the front and closed her eyes, pretending to sleep for the rest of the journey. If her ears twitched a couple of times to hear better, the couple seated a few distance away seemed not to notice.
“Hello madam….” Shashank murmured in a near whisper “How are we today?”
“I thought you were not coming….. You gave me a scare, the driver almost didn’t stop, you know?” said the girl ignoring his question.
“Oh sorry. I will call you tomorrow if I get late, ok? Then you can tell the driver before hand” Shashank replied.
“Hmm” she said moving slightly to adjust her dupatta. Her bare arms brushed against Shashank’s and both of them fidgeted a little conscious of their proximity in the small space that was supposed to be a two-seater.
“So Div, what did you prepare today?” questioned Shashank.
Oh, her name is Divya, thought Shweta opening her eyes. She had forgotten! Nice name…. Shashank and Divya went well…. didn’t they? She wondered if Divya will take Shashank’s last name if they get married. Divya Gowda…. how does that sound? Hmm, not that great. Hearing them continue, she scolded herself mentally for not paying attention and closed her eyes again.
“Tomato rice” Divya replied, “Want to taste?”
“No, its okay. You won’t have any left for lunch if I open that box now” Shashank said shaking his head.
“Oh” Divya said disappointed. “I thought you liked Tomato…. that’s what you said yesterday!”
“Oh yes, I love them. Ok I changed my mind. Give me the box.” grinned Shashank.
The smell of fried onions, cooked and ripe tomatoes mixed with southern masalas assaulted Shweta’s nose within a few moments making her mouth water. Can Divya cook well? Would she have used the easy pressure cooker method to make the Tomato rice or would have painstakingly cooked the gravy and rice separately? Nah, it must be the former. No one would have the time to prepare the elaborate way in the mornings! And looking at the way the girl dressed up with matching earrings, bangles and even bindhi to boot, she must have surely done it the easy way. Lucky girl, no kid and husband to manage….
“How is it? Like it”? Divya questioned.
“This is delicious, you cook so well” murmured Shashank flatteringly relishing the huge mouthful he had stuffed his mouth with.
Guys can be so crude at times talking with mouth full and all that. How unsightly it must look to Divya thought Shweta. Jeez, hope she doesn’t mind crass guys otherwise Shashank will never stand a chance of hooking her!
“Thanks! Glad you like it” Divya said blushing a little, “I will prepare it in another way and get it tomorrow. It will taste really different but still nice… and it is much faster – I would just have to pressure cook the rice, tomato, and masalas together…”
“Wow, you seem like an expert cook. Even I love cooking….. Though my mom never allows me inside the kitchen. She says I make a mess” Shashank said spooning another mouthful of the delicious looking tomato rice.
“Listen…. maybe you know…. we should kind of meet up a weekend and you can teach me how to make this tomato rice….? I would love to learn…. this is so delicious… my mom can never make anything like this” continued Shashank closing the by-now empty box and handing it over to Divya.
Just then the cab driver took a steep right turn without a leg on the brakes. Sometimes, he thinks of himself as a race motorist. The cab driver. Cursing him mentally, Shweta tried to steady herself from going out the window.
Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw Divya desperately trying to do the opposite clinging to the windows but momentum and gravity seemed to push her to lean hard against Shashank. Her right hand seemed to come up automatically and clutched Shashank and remained there just a bit longer than necessary long after the cab completed the turn.
Oooooh, God! Are they at the next stage already? thought Shweta trying to remember what that anthropologist Desmond Morris spoke of in his book “The Naked Ape” about the stages leading to copulation.
“Sure…..” Divya replied taking her box back from Shashank and keeping it in her lunch bag.
“Hey, new bag?” Shashank inspected the character printed on the bag “Who is this? New cartoon?”
“You don’t know? That’s Dora?” Divya proudly pronounced, “She is all the rage these days. Kids love her… and the monkey next to her is Boots”
“Wow, you seem to have learned all about them………… along with….”
Nice trick Shashank. But you need to be a little more subtle than that. I can spot your interest a mile away and Divya may find you too fast worried Shweta. She hoped not. Over the last few weeks, she had listened in on their conversations unashamedly and had come to look forward to the cab ride every morning. Her novel faded in comparison to the live love story that was developing in front of her eyes. And the desperate “happily ever after” seeker that she is, she imagined all their back and forths must be because of their interest in each other.
“Along with Kriya” continued Shashank “So how come you are carrying her lunch bag”
Hey, wait a sec. Who is this Kriya? Shweta had never heard that name mentioned before.
“Well, Kriya had to stay back at home today because she has a bad cold. My husband is looking after her…… so I took her bag! After all she takes my stuff all the time” answered Divya.
Shweta eyes popped open and she saw Shashank grinning down at Divya telling her something. They both laughed out loud. Shweta couldn’t believe her eyes or ears. She couldn’t believe her own stupidity. The loud honks from the traffic suddenly increased in volume and seemed to drown out every other noise. A bike screeched to a halt next to the cab that had just stopped for a red light. The pillion rider, a young girl, fell on the bike rider and immediately gave him a sound whack on his shoulder. Shweta could not hear what she said but she seemed to be affectionately chiding the guy in the front.
Dejected and disappointed, Shweta turned away and took out her mills and boon from the bag. She tried to muster up interest in the hot chemistry sizzling in the pages between the tall hero and his petite heroine. Well, at least these guys are predictable, she sighed.