Here goes, I am publishing the first chapter of my novel on my blog. This is the reason why I have been so irregular with the blog… Dying for some feedback 🙂
OneStop was a noisy place in the calm by-lanes of Bandra. People just poured in to buy groceries, clothes, make-up, jewellery, electronics, food, films and music or just to walk through the maze of shops, making wish-lists. The perfume section was the most popular section and everybody seemed to be fond of the witty young salesman, who could boast of a special talent. Rahul Rajgopal could tell people by their perfumes. Almost everyone coming to the mall was sure to succumb to Rahul’s charm and drift into his section and most of them almost always came back.
There was one person though, who in spite of being a regular shopper at the mall, had never ever come into his section. Not that he hadn’t tried, but she just never succumbed to his charm. She must have been living in the vicinity, because she came often and at odd times.
Today she was walking directly towards him. He shrugged it off….She might be wandering looking for some other section, she never bothers with this section, he thought as he started rearranging the perfumes on the counter.
“I am looking for a perfume for a 35-year-old man.”
A soft female voice said to him in a rather rude, uninterested way. He looked up and there it was; the face that had been intriguing him since a last couple of months. He couldn’t believe the hostility of the voice. “I am in a bit of a hurry so show me something quickly.” She said as she fiddled with her purse, trying to look for something.
“What sort of a perfume would you want, Ma’am?”
She looked up from her cell-phone, “I just told you; anything for a 35-year-old for his birthday.” Nobody spoke to Rahul in a rude way and Tanya was hurting his ego.
“Well there are these perfumes which suit most 35 year old men, this one,” he said spraying the perfume into her face, “is for calm, collected persons, while this one is for those who are sort of young at heart. Yes and this one here is for sporty sort of people and…”
“Just give me something for someone extroverted, funny and romantic.” Tanya interrupted before Rahul could spray another whiff on her face. She wondered why he wasn’t using the tester strips.
“How about this one? It might be perfect. It has an amazingly sharp whiff, which doesn’t shock people approaching the person wearing it, but calms them down. This perfume is for people who like to be with a lot of people.” He held out a strip for her as if he had read her mind. He watched her face as she took in the fragrance. There was a hint of a smile, but she opened her eyes and the smile was gone, as if it had never been there. “Good. Wrap it up. Fast” He took a box off the shelf and began wrapping it, still staring at her. Her choice of perfume had left an odd sinking feeling in his stomach.
As he carefully folded the wrapping paper around the box, he thought about the person the perfume was for. She really cared for this man. He knew enough from his experience that women bought this perfume for the men in their lives. Was this man her husband? Not possible, there’s no Mangalsutra or Sindoor , but then most Indian girls never wore it anymore anyway. No ring either. Probably just a boyfriend… His chain of thoughts was broken by her cold request.
“Write the card out for me, Happy Birthday, Ravi Bhaiyya .”
With a smile across his face he wrote out the card and as he handed her the box, he looked at her face, searching for a smile, but it remained expressionless, as she grabbed the gift and handed him her credit card before turning away starting a conversation over her cell-phone. He couldn’t understand why he felt relieved to know that the most important man in her life was her brother and he couldn’t understand why, he felt angry at her. Who the hell did she think she was?
Grabbing the credit card he glanced at the name; Tanya Kher, nice name he thought as he swiped the card and handed her the receipt. She signed it in one swift motion, grabbed the gift and walked off. He couldn’t believe it. No thank you, no goodbye? He wasn’t used to that kind of customer behaviour. He shrugged and went back to packing off the perfumes; after all he had had a busy day and there was a busier day coming up tomorrow…
As she stepped out of the busy mall, Tanya heaved a sigh of relief. Crowds always made her a bit dizzy. Her eyes searched frantically for a cab but there wasn’t a single one to be seen around. She started to walk angrily across the pavement towards a taxi stand. Nobody could have guessed looking at her that her high heel shoes were killing her toes. She walked as if she owned the world taking long strides, looking straight ahead as if she would crash down anybody coming in her way. Her business suit added to the no-nonsense attitude which made people turn around and look at her in awe, as she tick-tocked down the road. She finally saw a cab and made a run for it. “Cadell road!” She said as she sat in. Mumbai cab-drivers were used to being asked whether they would like to take you to wherever you wanted to go. He turned around and gave her a weird look. “Move it, I am getting late.” She ordered in her broken anglicized Hindi. The cab driver shrugged and put the meter down, “These modern pant wearing girls!” He muttered to himself as he sprung the rattling cab into motion. Tanya ignored him. She had better things to do than to pick an argument with a male chauvinist cab driver. She looked at her watch when she saw the shimmering homeward bound traffic. Tanya could imagine her sister-in-law, cursing her for being late.
Anita had called Tanya eight times at work to just remind her to leave her office on time. Once Tanya was out of the office, her cell-phone kept her busy with reminders to leave her home in time, which Tanya obediently did, but as she passed the mall, she remembered that she had forgotten to buy a gift, which had forced her to stop at the mall to buy a quick gift. She found herself wandering through the crowded mall clueless about what to get for a full quarter-hour before she had managed to buy a perfume from a rather enthusiastic salesman. ‘The mall has too many over-friendly sales people.’ She thought to herself. She hated going to the friendly neighbourhood grocer or the friendly neighbourhood boutique. She chose to make a trip to the mall for the smallest things she needed because it just had everything she needed. What she hadn’t realized was that she was stuck with a friendly neighbourhood mall!
As always her cell-phone’s boring tring-tring brought her out of the flashback. She knew who it was without even looking at the screen. “Anita I am getting there, I am so sorry, stuck in traffic.” She fixed her gaze on the red light as she heard her sister-in-law complain. “I am sorry! I’ll be there.” She clicked off the phone and looked at her watch. She was already half an hour late and it looked like she was going to take another half hour to reach her brother’s birthday party. She was right, the cab screeched to a halt outside her brother’s house at exactly half past nine. She threw the money at the cab driver without waiting for change, and ran into the lift, almost slipping off the marble floor in the lobby. She had to hit the button a hundred times before it closed, making her grow impatient and irritated. The doors shut, revealing a reflection of Tanya, with her eyes rolling in irritation again. Her straight long hair was completely out of place thanks to the jerky and windy cab ride. Tanya was very particular about how she wore her hair. She never experimented with length, colour or its style. She liked it long straight and brushed clear, falling over her shoulders. At times she wore it in a pony, but only if it was a hot or a windy day. Her grey-green eyes always had a stern look in them behind the rather expensive rimless glasses she had been wearing for the past 5 years; every year much to Anita’s dislike she bought the same frame, same colour, dull-gold. No experiments. She wore no make-up except for mascara and two lipsticks that she alternated according to her clothes, most of which were rather formal and business like. Rarely did you catch Tanya Kher in Indian clothes and almost never in casual clothes. In fact, her brother joked about how Tanya worked around the clock because she was dressed to hit the boardroom anytime.
Today, however, she had managed to pull out a bit of a fancy woolen bare shoulder top Anita had gifted her. She checked herself in the mirror, pulled down her top so that it fit well and didn’t give Anita another reason to bicker. She had just enough time to smooth the hair with her fingers when the elevator opened on the ninth floor. She got out of the lift and before she could reach the bell, Anita opened the door with a where-the-hell-were-you expression on her face. Unknowingly Tanya gave her the- you-know-me smile and shrugged. Anita nodded her head in an at-least-you’re-here-get-in expression and pointed to the living room.
The living room was full of candles and dim lights and she could hear glasses clinking and people laughing above the lounge music playing in the background. She saw many faces but the one she wanted to see was lost somewhere. She could hear his high-pitched voice from another corner of the huge living room. She moved through the living room, smiling reluctantly at faces, some drunk, some pretentious, some judging her, some appreciating her.
“Of course, he is going to be fired. He is a lousy coach, if we want the world cup we need someone more focused on the game rather than the media, you know what I mean? Tanya! We thought you would definitely make it by my next birthday.” Tanya looked down, embarrassed. She hated being in the spotlight and her brother always managed to put it right on her. “She’s a busy woman, my sister, so I am going to leave you guys for a moment to make the best of the time I get from her.” Ravi exclaimed as he put his arm around Tanya.
“Why do you always have to make a joke about me?” She scolded him as she handed him the box, “You are getting older but not any wiser.”
He took the box and plucked the card off. Holding it in Tanya’s face he complained. “It says Ravi bhaiyya. How many times did I say stop calling me bhaiyya? We aren’t 10 and 16 anymore okay? I don’t like it.” He frowned as he tore open the wrapping paper. The frown on his face disappeared as he saw the box. “Aqua Di Gio! Impressive. It’s a pleasant change from the gift vouchers you’ve been giving me. Somebody’s coming back into humans, huh.” He nudged Tanya in a playful way. “Met Anita yet? She was whopping mad at you.”
“Oh, she opened the door for me. You could say she’s okay now. I am going to go see if they need any help around the kitchen.” Tanya was about to make a dash for the kitchen when Ravi yelled out, “Oye, we have a caterer this time, so there’s no excuse to hide; these people are decent you know. They don’t bite.”
“I was just being nice.” She said walking off towards Gia, Anita’s friend from Delhi, who was one of the few people Tanya looked forward to seeing at her brother’s parties. She always had exclusive stories and gossip from the television channel she worked for. Gia’s constant jabber took all the socializing pressure off Tanya.
“Tano! Long time… Howdy!” She screamed with delight as she hugged Tanya, who knew instantly that Gia had had quite a bit to drink.
“You won’t believe it, but I am going to be shooting one of our shows at the Delhi branch of your firm, it is about these two models and blah blah. I was just thinking about you when we finalized things with your firm. I am so glad to see you babe!” She hugged Tanya once again.
“Oh! Really? That’s amazing. So which show is this?” Tanya asked sipping from a glass of wine she picked up from the passing waiter’s tray.
“Another new one! The boss thinks that the glamour, sex and high heels will get us the much needed TRP boost. Star is screwing our advertising revenues. Obviously you know that. Silly me.” She laughed out throwing her head back.
“Star is hot property as far as prime time slots are concerned, but this guy at your office is offering us great deals if we plan to advertise across all the channels. We are, as a matter of fact, recommending Zee, it is cost effective.” Tanya explained with a boardroom confidence.
“At least someone’s recommending Zee! Oh there’s Aneesh, he just broke up with his girlfriend and you know what nobody knows, she was cheating on him! Let’s go say hi!” Gia chuckled.
Tanya nodded along. She was always lost for words when Gia gave her all these bits of classified gossip. At the same time, she enjoyed the fact that she could just nod or smile or say a few words and kill time. It was better than standing in one corner, and then getting introduced to random people by Anita and Ravi.
So, Tanya spent the next few hours by Gia’s side as she chatted away with everyone at the party. She used her little knowledge about the television business all thanks to her position as a media planner to add bits and pieces to Gia’s stories, but she had to make a great effort which tired her out by the end of the party. She hated crowds and she hated parties. She wouldn’t attend a single party if it wasn’t for Anita and Ravi’s enthusiasm. They hosted a lot of parties and Tanya had to be there, not as a social obligation towards her brother and her sister-in-law but because she knew it satisfied them to see her mingle with people at their parties. That’s the least she could do for the two people she loved the most.