By the time I reached the temple, I realized that I couldn’t take my bag inside: where you’d have to do a la’ Gandhiji and walk half-naked inside the Sreekovil (the inner recesses of the temple, where the idol(s) of the main deity reside) . I decided to deposit the bag in the house of a friend (he happens to be a descendant of the H.H. Sree Chithira Thirunal Ramavarma who ruled Travancore) who lived nearby. His ultra-religious mother was SO impressed by me DEVOTION that she began scolding her not-so-religious son, for not visiting the temple often. Meanwhile, Radhika; the quintessentially-punctilious girl was murdering my phone with a saga of calls and smses! I bade a quick good-bye to my friend and ran to the temple which was nearby, leaving his mother to comment about how polite and God-fearing I was! Little did she know that God was the last thing on my mind at the moment.
Depositing my chappals at a paid repository, I gingerly entered the temple through the main entrance that was flanked by a huge arch. As soon as I entered, my eyes almost instinctively began searching for a blue-salvar clad girl. Lo and behold!! Not one, no two, but THREE girls in blue salvars were praying with closed eyes and folded hands. 😦 Sadly again, each one had a resemblance to the pic Radhika had sent me (you see, I’m pretty bad at remembering faces)! Exasperated, I tried missed-calling Radhika, only to remember that the temple authorities were rather strict about banning mobiles. I was in a fix!
The only key was to pray. I felt like actor Jayaram in the mallu movie Summer in Bethlehem. The “Confusion theerkaname…”(Relieve me of the confusion) song came to my mind! 😀 One by one, the salvared girls, opened their eyes and went inside. I decided to move about the place. The fact that I was sweating profusely having had to run a lot prevented me from entering the Sreekovil. I stood outside and idly moved around the temple, hands folded, pretending a prayer. So near, yet so distant… “Paas ho tum, door bhi…”. I could feel my heart exploding in expectation! Where IS RADHIKA??
Almost as an answer to my question, the mobile vibrated in my chest-pocket. It was her. I picked it up unmindful of the mobile-ban:
“Where are you?”
A hushed-voice counter-questioned: “Are you inside the temple?”
“By God, I AM!!”
“I didn’t see you. Did you see me?”
“Where did those 2 other blue-salvared girls come from? I couldn’t…”
“Hey! That guy’s staring at my mobile. Wait, I’ll come out.”
The call ended. I ran around the temple to the entrance. Still no sign of her. I walked back, lips vibrating as I muttered a volley of abuses. Was this girl making a fool out of me?
The mobile vibrated.
“I just got out. Where are you?”
I turned around, and saw a blue-salvared girl talking on the phone, looking around.
It WAS Radhika!!!
She caught up with my eyes pointing an inquisitive finger at me, shifting her MotoRazr v3i from her ear. I could feel those expressive eyes question me: ‘Is that you?’. My face broke into a grin, pepped with sigh of relief mutely-affirming the authenticity of her guess. Her inquisitive expression altered and her face widened, revealing what would be one of the cutest smiles I’d ever …
Radhika ran to me!!
“Hello there, my best friend!!” beaming, she ran to me and almost snatched my right hand in a shake-hand; making all the passers-by stare at us as if we’ed French-kissed in public or something! Her hand had a unique feel about it. A softness that resembled velvet. Soothing, it was, even refreshing!!
“Hi!”, I replied weakly. I could feel something happen inside me. As if the energy of her shakehand overpowered me. A quick back-flip of my stomach and a quick weakening of knees. I thought I would lose my grip and collapse instantly.
“Hey, you’re cuter than you look in your pics. And, what beautiful eyes… Wow!! Still can’t believe you don’t have any girlfriends yet!” Radhika’s face careened, donning an expression of mischief. I was genuinely blushing! Cocking up my right eyebrow, I stammered: “Haven’t I told you my stories or rather, escapades?”
“Oh kay, loverboy!! My apologies!! Come to Bangalore and a guy like you will get any number of girlfriends… Oh, damn! I forgot we’re inside the temple!” she sheepishly smiled. “Let’s walk.” Radhika & I walked along.
There was something different about Radhika. I’ve felt it all through the time I’ve known her. She had altogether different perspectives; different points of view & varying schools of thought. She spoke of things other girls would never dream of and she argued against the conventional. She was, indeed, one of the most brilliant persons I’d ever known. And, she was gorgeous too. Her face was dazzling; her exquisite eyes often spoke before her mouth: they moved almost involuntarily as she spoke, probably conveying a coded message. The blue salvar matched her body, accentuating her curves. (I swore myself for staring at them! Damn!!)
We talked about each others’ lives as we walked our way visiting deity by deity, though we knew most details by rote. Most of our conversations were in English. But today, Radhika spoke in a heady mixture of stuttering Malayalam and English. I spoke of my mundane life, my problems with parents, Opdyne – my dreamchild, my aims of making it big at the IIMs et al. She spoke of her academics: How her lawyer dad was disappointed at not getting her admitted to NLSIU, and how he expected her to top her class, which, needless-to-say was sort-of a myth at the prestigious Christ’s. She spoke about her brother Anoop who was in the final year of his studies at NIT Surathkal, badly messed up with drugs and drinks, about her friend Archana, who has supported her through good and bad times, about her last boyfriend Anikth, a Delhiite, who try to lay her, albeit unsuccessfully, by making her drunk… By the time we’ed got out of the temple, I could see tears welling up in her eyes as she spoke of Ankith: “He was such a sweet guy. Never ever thought he would try to use me!! We had such nice times together!”
I felt genuinely sad seeing the plight of my friend:
“Rads, Haven’t I told you something? NEVER believe guys. And, that includes me. You’re an intelligent girl. You don’t need me to tell you how guys are. You’ve already had three failed relationships, if I’m not wrong. Then why?” Wasn’t that a bit too corny?
“Yeah, you’re right. But, you know something, Hari? I don’t have anyone to talk to. I need someone to lend me a shoulder. I want someone to love me, dammit!!”
Tears were flowing down her eyes. I have a queer problem. I can’t bear seeing anyone cry in front of me. Especially if that’s a girl who happens to be a buddy. Mortified, I pulled out my handkerchief and wiped the tears from Radhika’s eyes:
“Now now… You’re not in Bangalore. You’re with me now, aren’t you? You have ME to lend you a shoulder. I won’t allow you to be sad. Just forget that Ankith guy. You learnt he’s an asshole before it was too late, right? Cheer up!! We’re meeting for the first time, and I don’t want our first meeting to be drowned by emotions.” Way too corny again, I realized. But being corny just works out right in emotionally charged moments!
“Just forget it, Rads! Btw, you’re a pizza addict right?”
“Yeah, I am. And, I badly miss the pepperoni!” she said, forcing a smile on her tear-worn face.
“Now, that’s an excuse for a treat!! You know what, there’s a Pizza Corner in town. It’s just a couple of kilometers ahead. Why don’t we go there and have a bite? It’s my treat!”
“Okay!! I’d love to.”
I hired an auto and we went to the Pizza Corner at Statue.
I’m sort-of a regular at the PC. I have a cousin of mine who’s kinda’ addicted to Pizzas. But she’s afraid to go to the PC alone and can’t bring home deliveries fearing the wrath of parents. So, she forces me to come with her every time she goes to the PC, and that happens about four to six times a week! As we opened the door, the waiter recognized me and smiled.
It was about six in the evening and the place was brim-full. Thankfully, the waiter managed to clear out a couple who’d done with their pizzas for us, and gave us a cozy sofa-seat at the end. There was an LCD TV on the wall next to us tuned to MTV. Both of us ordered Pepproni and coke. I noticed that Radhika was back to her usual self. Perhaps the idea of having a Pizza cheered her up a lot. Or maybe, my ‘corny’ dialogues did work! I couldn’t be sure. A couple of minutes into our PC date revealed that a majority of the guys around us were ogling at Radhika, some even commenting about her ‘features’. Radhika too might’ve noticed, but she sat there chatting with me as if nothing had happened.
“The bloody mofos. Feel like kicking those buggers in their asses. Look at them staring at you.” I muttered, feeling harried.
“Ah. I don’t care, Hari. A girl in Bangalore must learn to live with this, you know?”
The pizzas arrived, and we devoured them merrily. I noticed that, like me Radhika too spared the spoon and fork while eating pizzas. Four slices later, full-stomached, we decided to leave the place. Realizing my shock at seeing the Rs 350-bill, Radhika offered to pay for the meal. Chauvinist that Iam, I protested! Despite my best efforts, I had to finally accept a toned-down offer of sharing the cost, partly due to economic concerns. As we were walking to the auto-stand, Radhika said:
“You know something, Hari? This was one of the BEST days in my life. Thanks for coming!”
“Aw! C’mon, what’s there to thank!! As someone said, ‘There’s neither sorry nor thank you in friendship’ (a line SRK would later steal in OSO!!) I’ll be there with you as a loving friend till my dying date” And, I meant it!
“So sweet… You ARE one of my best friends. Love you!!”
SHE HUGGED ME AND KISSED ME ON THE CHEEK!!!
God!! I was dumbfound!! I felt as if the entire public in statue junction was staring at me (actually, most of them were!). I could feel tears welling up my eyes, and my cheeks were almost pink! Radhika was almost laughing uproariously seeing my confused face.
“Oh GOD!! What a sight??!! At this rate, I would love to see your face, when you get your first kiss”.
I couldn’t speak.
Radhika clasped my hand and said:
”I know you care for me a lot. I know you’ve spent your valuable hours, making me happy, making me feel I’m wanted, just by being there. Here’s a small gift”
She opened her bag and gave me a neatly covered box.
“Don’t open it now, it’s a surprise!”
We walked for sometime until we reached the auto-stand. She got into an auto and left to her grandfather’s house at Jawahar Nagar. She kept waving back at me, until I was out of her sight. I thought I saw a tear in her eye.
As Radhika left, I gingerely opened the box. It was a beautiful greeting card titled “YOU ARE MY STRENGTH”. Inside, there was a small cover, with a 2 GB SD Card. (She knows I’m a geek. Heh.) As I was walking back, my phone buzzed again. Must be Radhika. Without checking the caller ID, I picked up the phone and said:
”Hey Rads, loved the card!! Thank you!!”
“Rads oo?? Enthuvaade ninakku vattaayo? Ambalathil poyavane oru manikkoor aayi kaananillathathu kondu vilichatha. Nee evideya ippo?” (What Rads? Are you mad? Didn’t see your for an hour since you left for the temple. Where are you?) It was my friend at whose place I’d left my bag.
“Nyaan daa varunnu. Oru 2 minutes.”(I’ll reach in two minutes). As I climbed into an auto, wondering what excuse I would say to my friend for being late, memories of my first date flashed past… What had begun with a kiss had after all ended up with a kiss.
Indeed, it was one of the best days of my life!!