Thursday, September 9, 2010

Just a few extra chilies?

She was setting foot in this city after a decade. The city that held some of her best memories and all of her worst ones as well. The city where she had met the love of her life and then lost him. The city she had sworn she would never return to.


And yet, here she was. The lure of meeting her classmates had made her come back. After all, she had spent 2 amazing and fun-filled years with them studying for her MBA. True, she had not been in touch with any of them in the intervening years, but when she read about the upcoming reunion in the papers, she couldn’t resist coming over.


Did she imagine it or was there really that small moment when everyone stopped doing what they were doing as she entered the party hall? “Oh my God! Look who’s here?” shrieked Seema as she welcomed her with a tight hug. Soon, there were more hugs and hi –fives, some smiles and some tears too.


Of course, there were questions. Where was she all these years and what had she been doing? And there were the recriminations. Why had she left without even saying goodbye? Why hadn’t she kept in touch with anyone of them – not even her closest friends?


She had known that there would be questions and recriminations, she had known that she would have some explaining to do – especially to those few friends she had been close to but she hadn’t realized how overwhelmingly difficult it was to talk about herself and the emotional upheaval she had been through. Moreover, it was never going to be easy telling her friends that she had spent a better part of the last 10 years in psychiatric care. So she just hemmed and hawed about working in the family business before steering the conversation back to her friends and their lives.


That wasn’t easy either. For while everyone would animatedly discuss their spouses and children with each other, conversations would come to an awkward end the moment she was in the group. And moreover, the big questions that she was sure were on everyone’s mind – whether she was married or whether there was anyone in her life – were never voiced. They stayed suspended in the pity-filled glances that were occasionally cast her way.


Wanting to get away from it all, she found herself a quiet corner at the bar and sipped on a Margarita.


“Hey Ankita…..mind if I join you? asked Akash. One of Raj’s closest friends. The one who always used to hover around Raj and herself. Kebab mein haddi, she used to call him. It infuriated her then, now the memory merely brought a smile to her lips.


“You didn’t keep in touch with me either”, he chided. “And I thought I was your friend too. But you cut me off from your life, just as you did your other friends. I looked for you….but even your parents were tight-lipped. Look Anks…..”


“Don’t you dare call me that”, she said angrily.


“Okay, okay just cool it. But this I will say - you’ve got to get over him. Move on, for your own sake”.


“Stop sermonizing Akash. Just let’s have our drink peacefully”.


“Ankita, look I don’t know how to say this but can you make me a part of your life? You don’t know this but I ….umm….have always loved you”.


That was the last straw – Akash in love with her?! She hadn’t come here for this!


“Akash, just leave me alone. Just get out of here before I scream and embarrass both you and me”, she said tersely.


She was now starting to feel suffocated and decided that she had to get away. When everyone started dancing to music from the 80s, she slipped away, once again without saying goodbye to anyone.


The night was cool and a light breeze had picked up. The traffic had died down and the streets were starting to get quieter. She started walking, aimlessly at first but soon found her feet leading her to the University chowk, that place where Raj and she had spent many of their evenings together. That place where Raj had left her that balmy May night.


She almost didn’t recognize the place. Where was the several metres high fountain? Where was the University circle? And where were the hawkers selling food? She stared at the place in absolute disbelief. Cities transform with time but here one of the iconic places had been razed to the ground!


She squeezed her eyes shut picturing the place as it used to be, as it was that night. The fountain and the milky white water that was spouting from it, the cacophony of horns around the roundabout and the many vehicles and two wheelers parked on either side of the road. People of all shapes and sizes and ages in groups or alone wondering what to eat – dosas, egg bhurji, vada pavs, chaat or Chinese food – they were spoilt for choice. The hissing of the stoves and clanging of spoons on the huge woks. The air redolent with the smell of food and more food.


At the far end and outside a slightly quieter Chinese food stall, Raj was waiting for her. With him, as always, was Akash. That day, something inside her had snapped and she grew extremely irritated at Akash's presence. She liked spending time alone with Raj but Akash never seemed to care about that. Almost involuntarily, she gave him one nasty look which made him scamper away without even touching the spring rolls he had ordered or taking that cola bottle he always seemed to have with him.


“Anks, he is my friend….can’t you be a little accommodating?” Raj said with a bit of edge in his voice.


“But he is always hovering around us. I hardly get any time alone with you”, she complained.


And they had gotten into a tiff arguing about every little thing till Raj finally burst out saying, “Just don’t talk to me”.


“You either”, she said.


Soon, the hawker came with their order of two hakka noodles and as was often the case, he too put the extra –spicy one in front of Raj while she was served the mild one. Why did people always assume that being a woman, she would be the one eating the mildly spiced noodles, she wondered. In fact, it was Raj who could not take chillies at all.


“Raj…”, she began wanting to swap the plates with him.


“I told you, DON’T TALK TO ME”.


Very well, she thought to herself. One bite and you will be yelping and I will watch the fun!


“What the hell….why didn’t you tell me”, he growled after the first mouthful as he reached for the cola bottle Akash had left behind. She started giggling at his discomfort from eating the spicy noodles and it infuriated him further. “Even this cola is tasting weird”, he remarked as he finished the entire 750ml. He then picked up his bike keys and started to leave. A small fight had taken an ugly turn.



She tried to stop him but he didn’t want any of it. Well, she wasn’t going to grovel either. She nonchalantly shrugged her shoulders and started twirling the greasy and spicy noodles around the plastic fork.


She hadn’t even finished swallowing her first mouthful when there was a loud screech of brakes…funny how sometimes you knew certain things without being told. She just knew that it was Raj who was lying beneath the wheel of the bus.


Even after 10 years, she was unable to erase that picture from her mind. She sank to her feet and wept….she had never, in her wildest imagination, thought that a few extra chillies in a plate of noodles could change her life forever. Everyone kept telling her not to blame herself, but she had never stopped feeling responsible for Raj’s death.


Somewhere else in the city, Akash was sitting on a lonely bench calling out Ankita’s name. How he wished he could take her pain away! In his hand was a bottle of cola that he kept taking huge swigs from. It was spiked with a generous amount of rum.


Just as it was that night 10 years ago.


His plan was to get teetotaler Raj completely drunk and watch him make a fool of himself in front of Ankita. But seeing her displeasure at his presence, he had rushed off, forgetting to take that cola bottle with him..…….



This is my entry to Of Chalks and Chopsticks that Jaya is hosting this month. Very graciously, she has allowed this very late entry. Thanks!


However, I do not have a recipe this time. Well no, I do have the recipe but don't have a photo to go along. So I will post it some other time, but in the meantime, you can hop on over to Soma's fabulous blog from where I made the Hakka Noodles that I wanted to post alongwith this story.





16 comments:

  1. Riveting story......loved reading it.

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  2. As usual, that was a very good read Aqua. Was it inspired by some event/ persons? Or was it all pure imagination?
    I am loving all the variety of stories I get to read every month. Thank you for thinking up such an interesting event.

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  3. Watch out Aqua, some Bollywood script writer/producer/director who is scouring the 'net for ideas may latch onto this and turn it into a blockbuster Indian movie! I like the "Akash" angle =)

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  4. ... and such is life and death. Difficult to accept, though!

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  5. Love the story Aqua, and you have written it very well ! Enjoyed the read :-)

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  6. A very well written story! I enjoyed reading it.

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  7. Priyanka, Jayashree, thank you for your quick comments.

    Jaya, people who have seen Pune before 2001 would recognise it as 'the city' in my story complete with the Univ fountain and hawkers. It was pulled down sometime back. Other than that, the story is all imagination.

    Ann, you think?! Maybe I should get a plagiarism post ready right away :)
    Glad you liked the Akash angle

    Yes, Sra sometimes life's twists are difficult to come to terms with, especially when there is perceived guilt.

    Usha and Rachana, glad you liked the story.

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  8. Ooh.. nice climax!! Very effective! :)

    Akash could have been so much more productive at the party if only he had told her the real story instead of the stupid i-love-u! Boys! :D

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  9. Hi,

    a great story...hope you win in the event!!

    Dr.Sameena@

    www.myeasytocookrecipes.blogspot.com
    www.lovelypriyanka.blogspot.com

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  10. I had come and read your story aqua.. did not leave a comment.It is beautiful. Don't know what inspires you to write so well.But i had totally missed the link of the noodles.

    I was hoping to see you version. Good and glad that you like it :-) Thanks!

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  11. SS, if Akash had told her everything at the party, then I wouldn't have had the end I did :)

    Sameena, thanks for visiting. This is not a contest, just an event where everyone gets to coax the writer in them. Hope you read the round-up (http://jayawagle.blogspot.com/2010/09/of-chalks-and-chopsticks-roundup.html), there are some awesome stories you can read.

    Soma, I didn't make too many changes to your recipe, just some to suit our taste. Will blog about it as soon as I take a picture.

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  12. That's true! It was a fabulous twist! :)

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  13. Aqua,
    That was a good read..just one moment and life changes with it..

    hugs and smiles

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  14. great read, particularly the ending.

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