Friday, March 15, 2013


            Godavari is a mighty river, especially as it reaches its destination in the Bay of Bengal.  The river was flowing at its own lazy, placid pace unmindful of the teeming millions along its banks and their mundane problems.  The only good thing it did was to provide water and some cool breeze to the city sprawled on its left bank and sweltering in the sizzling heat of midsummer.  Rambabu is an MD and teaches Dermatology at the PGI in Chandigarh.  He was home for the hols and decided to enjoy himself, as usual, as best as he can.  That he moved from the frying pan in the north to the fire in the south did not matter since he does it every year and he is used to it.  He had a solution for it.

            It was to sit at the rear end of his classmate's sari shop, every afternoon.  At five in the afternoon, while the town outside was drenching its citizens in streams of hot sweat, the shop gave Rambabu a cosy sanctuary.  The choice was deliberate as it gave two advantages to the holiday boy.  Its air conditioning helped him beat the heat.  More interestingly, it gave him a glorious and unobtrusive chance to look to his heart's content at the women who came to buy saris.  He did not care for the massive mummies and the gawky kids who prattled all the time.  But the nubile young chicks were another thing.  With him, they were the thing.

            That afternoon was like any other afternoon.  But it became special a half hour after he ensconced himself in his usual cool spot.  A single girl walked in.  All by herself.   Meaning, devoid of protective mothers, aunts, grans, small brothers and various other kinds of chaperones.  His eyes widened and widened and kept on widening until the poor aching muscles gave up, unable to stretch any further.  She was tall, slim, fair and beautiful.  Rambabu might have been exaggerating a bit on each of her attributes, but essentially it is difficult to deny that she was tall, slim, fair and well, at least, pretty, if not outright beautiful.  She selected a free salesman and sat down in front of him.  The sari shop did not care enough for aggressive salesmanship to train its salesmen to go welcoming customers to them.  It is more common for the women customers to wait for someone to be free and go to him. In that small town it did not occur to anybody - owner, women customers and male salesmen - that all sari selling people were men, not any women.  The fact is, all over our country saris are sold to women by men. May be, the theory could be that women get attracted by handsome salesmen rather than sales girls.

            As she sat down Rambabu's eyes followed and his eyes changed direction to a lower angle to focus on her pretty face.  He was admiring her smooth skin and delightful complexion.  Narayan, the owner of the shop was amused.  Though married for some time and the father of two small children he never missed casting a good glance at every good looking female that came to his shop.  But he could always afford to have some fun with' a bachelor classmate who seemed to have been mesmerised by the girl that walked in.  

"She has a beautiful complexion, no?" Rambabu opened the commentary.

            "Yes, of course:" agreed Narayan who was himself a great admirer of that girl, who at twenty four failed to choose a life partner to the dismay of a lot of the town' s eligible bachelors.  With some, it was not merely dismay but positive distress.  As Rambabu continued to watch her without taking his eyes off her even for a moment, he noticed her running her hand up her cheek to pat a strand of hair into place.

            "Smooth fingers on smooth cheek." said Rambabu.

            "Relax, tone down." came the advice.

            "I wish that hand running up that cheek is mine."

            "Sure. You run your hand on her smooth cheek and put on an angelic expression on your face and get photographed."
            "Super.  The best idea you had ever come out with."
            "Then the Fair & Lovely chaps will use it to promote their skin creams."
            "Brilliant.  They might even want us to do a twenty second clip for the TV and ad films."
            "Sure.  You can give up doctoring and go modeling.  You 'II make tons of money."
            "Good idea.  I don't mind."
            "Yes, why will you mind?  Then lots of beautiful models will co-star with you.  Your life will be like that of Indra having all the apsaras around him."
            "Tcha, nye yaar, who wants all the apsaras.  This one girl will do."
            "Oh, it is so bad as that!"
            "What's so bad?" asked an innocent Rambabu.
            You are a gone case.  You know what will happen if you run your hand on her cheek?"
            "What will-happen? I'll get-a nice feeling.  I might even-get a thrill passing through my whole body."
            "If your hand touches her cheek, her hand will also touch your cheek."
            "How lovely." Rambabu closed his eyes to visualise and savour the moment.
            "Sure, only it will touch your cheek with a bang."
            "Shut up man.  I thought you are my friend.  Any way who is she?"
            "Information does not come cheap."
            "One dosa and coffee."
            "That's all?"
            "You bloody man if you don't tell me all about her, forget about the dosa, I’ll smash my fist onto your cheek."

All about her was that she was twenty four or twenty five, is an officer in the Central Bank, same caste, an M.Com. with a first class and her father does hardware business.  Is that all, queried Rambabu.  No, they recently moved into a brand new two storied modern house.
            "Does she have a name?"
            "Radhika, "
            "Oh, what a lovely name!"
            "Let me advise you.  Don't go after her.”
            “Why, will she bite?” Rambabu smiled.
            “She might.  You never know with her.  She is totally 'independent and self-confident and very self-assured. "
            "What does it mean?"
            "Don't you understand simple English?"
            "Oh, come on, don't start that again.  Okay, I'm dumb.  Alright I'll take care of myself."

            She bought a sari and was going towards the cashier at the front.  Narayan gave a shove to Rambabu and walked briskly and caught up with her.
            "Are you happy with the choice?" No preliminaries.
            "Oh, hello.  Yes, thank you." she said, turning half towards him.
            "You should come next week, I am getting my new stock.  I am sure you will like the new designs."
            "Good salesmanship.  Why din't you tell me before I bought this!"
            "You can always buy one more."
            "One more!  I only work in the bank, I don't own it."
            "I don't think you know this gentleman."  She shook her head.  "My classmate from my school days.  He is a doctor.  He works in some big hospital in Chandigarh." Turning to Rambabu “What is it?"
            "He never remembers.  I am Rambabu.  I work in the PGI, that is the Post Graduate Institute in Chandigarh. "
            "I see." said the lady, in a noncommittal tone.
            "Nice meeting you." volunteered Rambabu.
            "This place is not good enough for you, is it?"  Rambabu did not know what hit him.  He was nonplussed.  It took him a moment or two to recover his wits.
            "It is not like that.  I did my PG there and got a teaching job as there was a ready vacancy.  I did not even look for a job elsewhere."
            "Is that reason enough to deny your expert services to the people in your home town?  This is also brain drain."  Rambabu started wondering where the conversation was leading to.  He did not have to wonder for long.  It lead out the door.  Because the next instant she espied out of the corner of her eye the cashier holding out the bill and the balance cash.  She spun round, took the money and marched out of the shop saying bye to Narayan and pointedly ignoring Rambabu.  A thoroughly dispirited Rambabu asked his friend what he had done to deserve such a hostile treatment.  There was no immediate answer.  Finally,-Narayan saidYour interest in her was blatant."

            "What do you mean blatant?"
            "You were in such a hurry to butt in to start talking to her you did not even wait till I introduced you to her.  She must have thought you are too pushy for her liking."
            "Oh my gawd!"
            "She seems to be very parochial."
            "Perhaps she has a point."
            "You seem very reluctant to find anything wrong with her!"
            "Oh my gawd.  Is it so evident?"
            "Your face is your mirror."

            The next morning at eleven he walked into the Central Bank.  He could see her at a desk way behind the counters.  He mustered up enough courage to walk up to her. He looked at himself before moving his best foot forward.  The lovingly polished shoes on the foot were dust covered.  His shirt was wet and sticking to his chest with sweat. His face, already bathed in hot sweat, broke out in a fresh wave of cold sweat.  He marched in, regardless.  She was pushing pen on papers and sipping the eleven O' clock cup of tea in a reasonably dirty looking cup that banks seem to specialise in providing for their staff.  She sensed someone coming towards her and looked up and said "Oh", softly and  to herself.
            "Good morning." smiled the hero.
            "Do you need a loan?" she asked with a straight face.  Rambabu thought quickly.
            "What kind and how much?"
            "Your time, and ten minutes,"
            "Very clever. I do not like to be disturbed while I am at work."
            "Ok. I'll go, if you tell me when and where I can disturb you."
            "Very clever.  Will you have some tea?"  With a doctor's eye Rambabu had already noticed the less than sterile cup from which his dream girl was sipping tea and felt disappointed at her lack of interest in hygiene.  What he did not know was no matter what she did or said the bank .will not provide better cups, the cleaning woman will not wash any better and the tea-boy will continue to rush about spilling tea on to the saucers and the union will not even consider ticking off its members just because an officer who does not belong to their union makes a complaint.  Apart from being ignorant of the ways of bank unions he did not want to say 'no' to her at this delicate point and so said a weak 'yes'.  He decided to take some pills to sterilise his belly later, somewhat on the lines of a pious man sinning under compulsion and then taking a dip in a holy river to wash the sin off.
            "Please sit down."  At that Rambabu plonked his bottom heavily on the only hard wooden chair in front of her desk.
            "You were angry with me for some reason yesterday."
            "Yes, I believe we must help ourselves, not lend our talent to others.  Do you know what a shortage of doctors we have here?"  She did not wait for his answer.   "People like you either go away to America or if they cannot get in there, they go north or to big cities."  Rambabu squirmed in his chair because she relegated him to the type who is not good enough to go to the US.
            "What do I do if I cannot get a seat in a medical college here."  Out of nowhere a small, smudged cup only half full with dark strong tea, the other half having been spilled into the saucer, was banged down on the desk in front of him.
            "If you had studied hard enough to get a high percentage you would have got in here."  Rambabu's self esteem nosedived at her classifying him as a lazy fellow who did not study hard enough or .as a blockhead.  He looked at the disreputable cup, took it up and gulped the whole bloody contents in one shot, as though it was some poison.
            "I studied very hard and got good marks.  It is not easy to get into the PGl, you know"
            "I don't know.  I don't believe you are the studying hard type."
            "What makes you think so?"
            "You take too much interest in girls. You must be running after all the nurses and lady doctors in your hospital."  That was too much.  He got up-and stalked out.  Once outside the bank he regretted it immediately.

Five days later, he walked up to her desk again and left a small white card on her table and walked out.  She picked it up and read.  'New stock has come.  5-30 this evening.'  She turned it round and read 'Dr. A S. Rama Murthy MB BS., MD., Department of Dermatology' and the address.

            Five thirty in the afternoon made Rambabu feel hot under his collar in the chilled room of his friend Narayan.  Minutes were ticking by and his neck was getting hotter and hotter. Then she walked in.  He walked up quickly and said
            "You must be hungry.  How about a dosa and some decent coffee?"  And immediately he started walking towards the entrance.  He was pleased to sense, rather than see, her follow him out.  He slowed till she caught up with him.  Together they walked in silence the short distance to the popular idli-dosa joint that had a high priced air conditioned room at the back.  He ordered Mysore Masala Dosas and special coffee for both and looked straight and deep into her eyes.
            "Why did you bring me here?"  Her tone was commanding.
            "Because I want to get to know you."
            "Did it occur to you that I may not want to get to know you."
            "It did.  But your coming here tells me that you do want to get to know me."
            "Very clever."
            "Don't you have any other comment?"
            "What?"  Surprise was evident in her tone.
            "You seem to be slogging the 'Very Clever' bit a bit too often."
            "So now you want to teach me what to say when!"  Rambabu was fed up with her hostility.  He did not care anymore.
            "Can't you say anything nice to me?" he asked her.  She did not reply.  They ate their dosas in total silence.  Then, drank their coffee in the same total silence.  When he paid the bill, she thanked him, rose abruptly and walked out briskly.  AIl he could say was: What a woman!  Then he walked out slowly, determined to break her hostility towards him.

            Two days later, a Sunday, he went to see a movie with his old school pals and their  wives.  As usual they were fashionably late, with the men smoking their fags till the very last puff and got in after the show started.  When the lights went up for the intermission he found Radhika sitting with her friends in the row ahead of his, almost directly in front of him.  He was utterly surprised.  There was no way either he or she could have managed the 'coincidence' since the movie trip was a last minute decision of  his friends after they had lunch in a Chinese restaurant.  She walked out and he followed her into the foyer.  She showed surprise at seeing him but got over the surprise quickly and politely introduced him to the three girls who were with her.  He bought popcorn and Pepsis for them all.  Animated conversation took place.  When the time was up Radhika said just thanks while the others thanked him profusely and effusively. He came back with popcorn and Pepsis for the two couples with him and struggled back to his seat in the darkened hall.  After he passed on the packets and bottles, Nalini, who was sitting next to him whispered "Excellent choice.  She is the most eligible catch in town."  Nalini had not even stirred out of her seat during the break.  Is it so obvious, he wondered.
            "But she hates me."  He wailed in a whisper.
            "Does she, now?"
            "True."  He moaned softly.
            "How sad." was her unsympathetic comment.
            "Why, is she always like that, with every one?"
            "How should I know, she is not my pal.  I only see her when I go to my bank." she whispered.
            "Why don't you get her to talk when you go to the bank next.  Go tomorrow, I am sure you need cash."
            "If I draw any more cash your miser of a friend will kill me."
            "Please, please go."  Somebody from the rear row said a loud 'Ishhhh' and Nalini clammed up.

            Though Rambabu lost all hope of looking good in her eyes he chanced to meet her two more times before his holiday was up.  The last meeting, two days before he was to leave, also ended up in the usual dismal way.  It was time to say a sad goodbye.
            "I guess it is time to say goodbye.  It was nice meeting you and getting to know you.  I suppose I'll eventually get married.  I will be loyal to my wife.  But, still, you will always be here (he patted his chest over his heart) in some corner of my heart.  And, to be honest, I will miss you."
            "You'Il miss me!  What kind of a loyalty is it to your future wife?"  A pause.  "Do I mean so much to you?"
            "Yes, you do."
            "Oh come on, you men always make such tall claims."  She laughed.  Rambabu could not think of anything to say to reassure her.  A moment or two elapsed before she spoke again. .
            "Perhaps, then, instead of only a corner you can put me in the whole of your heart."  And smiled shyly looking at her toes.
            "Say that again" said a wide eyed Rambabu.  She din't say anything.  Raising her arms-to envelope him she pressed her nose to his heart.

            Psssst.  It helps when a classmate owns a sari shop, it helps when Nalini’s  sister-in-law is married to a bank manager.  When they all gang up where on earth does Rambabu have a chance for not falling for the lady?

DVR Rao (Nani)

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