The following is an extract from I Am Ahmedabad, a collection of short stories
Sabarmati flowing bank to bank; if only it could happen a couple of years earlier!
You know, this is almost a symbol of things. Here even the river with seven bridges is dry. Dry, that’s the word for Ahmedabad.
Yeah right, so why don’t you go back to your goddamn south Mumbai? Ahmedabad’s not happening, my foot!
Two years since, I still remember every detail of that last fight with Ritu. Though, time has ensured that thoughts about her no longer make me sad. I guess now they just add to the emptiness. Sounds funny doesn’t it, the more thoughts I have the more empty I feel!
Luckily, in our city people talk loud enough to shake anyone off his thoughts. And so did, what seemed, a newly wed couple while passing me by. I think I clearly heard the guy complain to his partner:
Badhi waar maarej kyam sharuvaat karvi pade chhe? Kyaarek tu aagad wadhi ne mane kiss nathi kari shakti? [Why is it that it’s always me who takes the lead; can’t you at times take charge and kiss me?]
You either want it or you get it. You can’t have both. I can never forget the day when my relationship with Ritu was, quite literally, sealed in public. Hugging a friend as a greeting was the norm with our group at CEPT, especially when meeting someone after a longish period. I’d just hugged Neha and Mamta and was about to hug Hanif when, suddenly, Ritu came from nowhere and kissed me full on my mouth. Amidst loud cheers and Ritu’s wicked grin, I was clearly at the receiving end of wits.
I thought today’s a nice day to go official with our thing – Ritu couldn’t help hide her glee on catching me off-guard.
Coming merely an year and a half after my falling for her from day one, I thought it was a bit too fast for me! But I guess she’d not only heard the first thud but had also come to know me well by then –
I don’t think you were ever going to do this, were you?
Of course not, you must be kidding! If only I could say even that much. But it wasn’t necessitated. Our thing was already, as she’d put it, official.
Unlike me, Ritu wasn’t unanimously popular at CEPT. Maybe because I was just a regular sports guy and kept my talking to a minimum while Ritu was the quintessential ‘you know, I think…’ kind. Now when I think about it, I suspect it might also have been because she never believed that she was ever going to stay back in the city.
Oh, the couple, by the way, has stopped just a few steps away from me, laughing, at some joke I guess. Seems they have already made up. They must be coming here everyday to share some togetherness away from the family. Whatever. But they look contented by the way they walk away, holding hands.
Thinking about me? [Ritu SMSes during a lecture]
Feel like having a walk out in the rain holding your hand. [I reply, thinking that was the first time anyone had ever told that to his girlfriend!]
Why do you always get stuck at holding hands? 😉
What have you got against holding hands?
Nothing, except that by the time your hand reaches my shoulder, it would be time to get married. 😉
So… then if we are in Ahmedabad, we would be sitting on a bridge or at a roadside paav-bhaaji stall or a multiplex, like one boring married couple. And yes, we would be holding hands ….
Things were getting increasingly agonising. Can’t spend the evening like this. I rush towards my Maruti 800 and almost dangerously start speeding towards Escape, the only discotheque worth its salt in the town. It was a favourite with Ritu. She had made weekends at Escape a habit for both of us. You should’ve seen how completely at home she’d felt amidst the disc’s partly global and largely ‘me too’ populace. But then, she’d felt comfortable even with me! All thought and dismissed, even I used to look forward to the weekends. Ritu’s company and music the way I like, loud, was a heady concoction.
But today it’s feeling so different. No satin to hold on to, no fragrance to breathe, no nectar to fill my years and no bliss for my lips. Today it is just a crowded place playing music that bounces off your ears. I look around to find a friendly face, in vain. Even the in-house DJ has changed. Back on the highway: I can’t help but think about the mails that Ritu and I have exchanged since our resolve to go separate ways. The last one was special. It carried the memoirs of our first date anniversary at the Science City, about 4 years ago. We had celebrated the day with the first ever show of an IMAX movie in Ahmedabad. The mail also recollected how she had first talked to my mom that day. And how we had almost broken off after I’d refused to streak my hair, in spite of her million requests.
And then suddenly the car engine stops humming – right in the middle of the bridge over Narmada Canal. I give a few futile shots to the ignition key. Damn! I get out of the car and kick the front wheel in despair. Not by any stretch of imagination, does it feel like the day when Ritu and I were stranded here three years ago. Of course, when you are in love, even getting stranded on a highway seems romantic. That day, we had walked down, along the side of the Canal. Those who’ve been to the Canal would know how the place hosts a few couples every hour of the day. As we walked further down, we crossed one oblivious couple after another, hugging, kissing and at times getting a little naughty.
When in Rome, do as Romans do. I clearly remember an excited Ritu’s nervous urge.
We went to the place many times after that. In fact, gradually we had found out all the possible places along the Sarkhej-Gandhinagar highway for a little intimate rendezvous under stars. But after tiding over the initial Everest of hormones, car breakdowns had become dangerously close to heartbreak.
There goes Ahmedabad’s favourite car again.
In those early days, I was too much in love with her to give any thought to such comments from Ritu. But soon, her contempt for anything Amdavadi became the crux of disagreements between us. And before we knew, heated exchanges had become a daily affair. Till we had that final big fight.
Pushing a car on a desolate, non-lit stretch of highway while thinking about a lost love, wow!
One look into the bonnet when under a street lamp and I realize that it is the same old carburetor. 11:30 PM, the car stereo clock tells me. Cursing my luck, I get down working on the darn thing.
It’s 12:30 AM. Moments ago I’d brought an end to a torturous evening. Not wanting to do anything is one thing and doing what you do anyway is quite another. So I get down to checking e-mails. Sure enough, I can see one from her.
Two years and 3 ‘happening’ boyfriends later, I’ve realized that while Ahmedabad used to invite me everywhere, Cuffe Parade wouldn’t Have … if I were different…. like you. And the truth is, after living out every fantasy, I’m finally becoming like you. I know I am … because my friends tell me that I’m no longer happening…
… I’ll be in Ahmedabad this Navaratri, wanting to start a new life for myself. Will you come to receive me … with that ring?
God! I immediately go for my trouser pocket; and take out my wallet. Yes, my God yes, it’s still with me. I had forgotten to throw the ring in Sabarmati today.