19 January

Etcetra shows no signs of bucking the system that Sunday, and is happy enough to be at home, being pampered by Ogre and Dodo. Ogre is sweet to me too, but Dodo seems to have eyes and ears only for Etcetra. She looks so much like The Beautiful One that he has a softer spot for her in his heart than he has for plain, old me. Oh well! I hardly mind any more. But I do long to be really, really special for SOMEONE. Not just unassuming Appi, whom everyone likes, but no one really gets all worked up about.

I slink away into my room after lunch. Ogre has disappeared into her own room for her afternoon siesta. And Etcetra and Dodo are having a heart-to-heart, which does not seem to require me.

I am just wondering if I should indulge in a serious feeling-sorry-for-myself session, when High BP calls: “Hey, want to come out for High Tea at the Taj Land’s End?”

Me: “Impressive. And why, particularly?”

High BP: “No particular reason. Just particularly you.”

I don’t want to ask “Why particularly me?” because of course, he will have some smart answer to that too.

Me: “Oh, I am flattered. But sorry, I am otherwise engaged.”

High BP: “With your regular friend?”

Me: “No. At home.”

High BP: “How boring! Come on, surely going out with me is a better option than being at home on Sunday evening? Don’t tell me you are going to take an afternoon nap like an old woman.”

I speculate on why I do need to be at home. Ogre’s Family Sunday does not have much going for me as of now, and I don’t think I will be missed much by Dodo, Etcetra or Ogre.

So I say: “OK, yes.”

Ogre is still sleeping when I leave the house. Dodo gives me a preoccupied grin and a casual ‘Have fun’ and Etcetra just looks at me, amazed. But she doesn’t say anything, then. Though I am not so sure whether her silence will hold when she finds me alone in our room, later.

I run down the stairs, feeling cheerful. And free. Like I used to when I ran up the stairs to So-On’s house, as a little girl.

Perhaps it is because I am feeling a little lonely myself. Perhaps it is the vulnerable look on High BP’s face, when I first see him from a distance, waiting for me in the lobby of the hotel. He has not seen me, and he has not yet put on that cheerful, insouciant mask that he does for me. Or for most people, as a matter of fact.

It is as if he knows what people think of him, what I think of him, and he is happy to perpetuate that image instead of defending himself against it. And of course, why should he defend himself to me? Does a person like him really care what others think of him? But I am not sure anymore about what I mean by ‘a person like him’. I am not sure anymore, that I know him enough to be qualified to make these judgments of him.

I think High BP senses that something has changed in my attitude towards him, because for once he does not adopt that deliberately flirting, mischievous tone that he does with me. He touches my elbow lightly as he guides me towards the Coffee Shop. I am flabbergasted at my own acute awareness of his touch.

He sits me down at a sea-facing table, and goes off to pile on the goodies for me at the buffet table. I watch him while I try to calm my absurd fancies. I do not want to give him any excuse to think that I am as available as the countless females that he has encountered in his short, eventful life.

When he comes back to the table, for a while, neither of us talk; just eat greedily:

1. Buttered scones.
2. Cucumber sandwiches.
3. Jam cakes.
4. Mince pies.
5. Ham sandwiches.
6. Hot fruit buns.

A Very English High Tea. Later as we sip a cup of divine Darjeeling,

High BP says: “I had brought Pallo here once. She had sat quietly much as you are doing right now. I suppose she didn’t like me as you don’t.”

Me: “I don’t know about Pallo, but I don’t not like you. Not any more, at least. I wouldn’t have come out with you otherwise.”

High BP laughs: “I guess. Though you could have come for the High Tea. Like she did, I imagine.”

Me: “Who knows why she did come out with you? When I saw her the other day, I did not know what to make of her. Her eyes were so cold. As if she was hiding so much. Did you never feel it when you went out with her?”

High BP: “I don’t know. I think I was so sure of myself in those days. I could have any girl I wanted. So I never thought that a girl would say ‘yes’ to me when she really meant ‘no’. I just took all her silences for shyness.”

Me: “Hmm.”

High BP continues: “It was a good blow to my arrogance. But I didn’t deserve such a harsh lesson.”

Me: “Yes, I know. Unfortunately, there seems to be no connection between what one deserves and what one gets. You just need to spend some time at the Family Court to realize how unfair life can really be.”

I tell him then a little about 2x-y. It seems to do him good to hear about someone else’s problems, which in fact, are so much bigger than his own. He, anyway, can always decide to settle out of Court, the day he wants to.

But he continues to be adamant on that point.

High BP: “No, no, and no. I have always been too easy-going with my life. If I gave up this fight, and let Pallo walk all over me, I’ll be ashamed all my life. I have to do this for myself.”

Me: “But it’s not worth it. Believe me. These long drawn fights in the Court, what else do they bring except bitterness? Especially in a case like yours. It’s not as if you are fighting for some special rights.”

High BP: “And why is it that ‘special rights’ always means women, or minorities, or some such thing? Aren’t men too victims at times? And what kind of equality are you talking about if you are not able to see that? Don’t I deserve any consideration just because I happen to be a man, and young, and rich, and whatever else you deem me to be?”

I laugh: “Well, I don’t deem you to be a man, or young, or rich, as you ARE those things, whatever I may think about it.”

High BP: “You know what I mean. And you know I am right. Even if your lop-sided feminism won’t let you admit it.”

I am glad that he has recovered his sharp tongue, and we spend the rest of the evening in our usual banter.


6 Comments on “19 January”

  1. prachi says:

    Hi Batul

    Stumbled on your novel quite by accident and read up all at a go. You have a unique quirky style, I’ve become a fan! If this were a book, it would’ve been difficult to put down!

  2. desi-at-large says:

    `But I do long to be really, really special for SOMEONE. Not just unassuming Appi, whom everyone likes, but no one really gets all worked up about.’
    How many of us have thought this, but have never put it into words, so simply, like this.
    And I was just telling Bananarama, Dumbo’s sister, how cool it is to interact with the writer on a chapter-by-chapter basis. Dumbo can keep her summer reading and page-by-page annotations (annoyingly, in gel pen and not pencil – why let someone else enjoy the book in peace).

    • Banno says:

      Bananarama is a seriously cool name. Melodrama, panorama and bananas in one. Am wondering what she is like.

      As for Dumbo, let her make her notes in gel pen if she wants. As long as she reads. And I love books with other people’s notes. Oh well, not always. Only if they are not banal. 🙂 But I’m sure Dumbo’s reveal a world.

  3. desi-at-large says:

    Why Banno, thank you!

    Okay, I’ll stop grumbling about Dumbo’s gel pen annotations pronto. She loves reading and I should be glad.
    Bananarama is very tall (taller than Dumbo and me) for her 11 years and you guessed it – she loves bananas, reading, sudoku and is currently enjoying weaving (on a basic cardboard loom.)

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