By Tathagata Mitra
“What are you writing?” asked Arpita as she appeared from behind Rahul without warning. She did that. It was her habit. It was also much like her to start a conversation without giving attention to formalities, as much as possible. The only time she would start a conversation by salutation was when she had nothing better to say. And Rahul knew well she always had something to say.
“Just a piece of conversation,” explained Rahul without standing up, while Arpita sat herself down. Like all people of their age they always found it suitable to spend time at the mall.
“What’s it about?”
“Two friends meeting at a mall. One of them turns up late. She appears out of nowhere and doesn’t even apologize for her timing.”
Arpita smiled a slow one. It was one of her mannerisms that Rahul knew she used while making up her mind over what to say next.
“I thought there was no sorry in friendship.”
Rahul slammed his pen and sighed, disappointed “Seriously? That’s the best that you could do?”
Arpita relaxed her tensed shoulders with a broad grin. She put her hands up. “Guilty,” she said, “Actually I have been stuck with a project with some idiots from college. Been beating around dullness for three days. Haven’t seen or heard anything funny or even remotely interesting recently. No inspiration.”
“That’s happened to me… like a thousand times.” said Rahul. “Sometimes it makes me think that in general we behave as an intelligent species, just turned dull by technology and vanity. But that mostly we’re just cats who’ve recently learnt how to play the piano.”
“You do think a lot.”
“It’s not conjecture if you know for a fact. Every time I say something, or somebody else does, sooner or later you end up making a line such as ‘sometimes it makes me think…’ it’s a thing with you. Ask anyone. Ask Palash.”
“Sometimes I think that you think about what I say too much.”
“Tell me truly though. Whatever I say when I start a sentence like that… is it ever wrong? Tell me honestly.”
“Well, sometimes you are funny. I mean, really. But at other times, what you say is utter bullshit.”
“Remember your sexist remark last week when you said you think some feminists are so lame that you compare them with the sort of needy women who just have to be in a relationship – doesn’t matter with who.”
“Oh come on! How is that bullshit?”
“It’s top to bottom bullshit. How is it not?”
“Think about it,” said Rahul in his usual abrasively challenging way. “you never think about it. That’s the problem with our generation. We never think about anything. We will laugh at anything on its face value. But we will never stop for a second to consider what it is that we are actually laughing at. I think Arpita. That’s why I daresay what I say. You may think there is no difference between me and the local goon who promoted himself to be the godfather-by-dint of his worldly bullshit. But there is every difference in the world. I know what I am saying, OK? We make fun of the overzealous Punjabi for lacking a brain and for thinking with his heart. What we are actually trying to conceal through these talented offensive jokes is our dispassionate nature. We wish we could be like them… But we can’t. Hence, let’s joke away. Same goes for the business-minded Marwari.”
“See? That’s bullshit right there. You are no better than anyone else Rahul.”
“I’m not saying better,” paused Rahul for quite sometime. “I’m saying smarter.” Arpita scoffed loudly.
“Why do you always have to do that?” asked Rahul.
“Do what?” asked Arpita.
“You always go out of your way to tell me I’m not smarter than the average man, while we both know for certain that that’s not true. What do you get out of it, I do not understand. It’s not like I put you in the category of the average woman… or man.”
“Oh, I’m deeply honored, Sir!” Even a child wouldn’t miss the sarcasm. “Why is it so important for you to know that you are smarter than everyone else?”
“Not everyone else. There are many who I find like myself. It is easy to spend time with them. But most people I meet are repulsive to the point that I wanna plug in my earphones in the middle of a conversation and listen to some Justin Bieber songs.”
“It cannot be that bad.”
“Oh really? Ten minutes before you arrived I asked a boy for a chair. I had a table and no chair. He had a table, and lot of chairs and also a girlfriend. You know, the uze… so I went and asked him if I could get his spare chairs.”
“So, he asked me why. He asked me why I needed a chair!” Rahul paused to see Arpita’s expression change into one more supportive of his point. “I wonder how he is going to get a job and support his family and all that, if he doesn’t even know what a chair is used for?”
“Well, did you tell him?”
“I was like…. You know… sitting. Relaxing my posture. Resting my buttocks and all that.” Arpita laughed again. “The worst part is he didn’t even understand I was insulting him.”
“This I will agree with you on totally. Sometimes people cannot take a hint.”
A minute passed. The two stared at each other keenly. The way that the two made eye contact was often as sparkling as their words. It was as though even when they weren’t talking they were trying to better the other. Their eye contact… unlike almost all others, never became weird, and often turned into a silent wrestling match of wits, where the two sat on opposite corners.
“You know Palash asked me out.”
Rahul stared at Arpita squarely for a second before breaking off laughing. This piece of information apparently made him laugh so much that for a second he completely missed out the fact that somebody wasn’t laughing with him. “You said yes, didn’t you?”
Arpita didn’t nod. Nor did she confirm it in any other way. “Why do I feel like you would have a problem with that?” she asked instead.
“Palash is a good guy,” Rahul said awkwardly and then he paused wondering what to say next.
“You don’t have to behave properly,” said Arpita. “We all know how awkward it is for you. Say what you have to say.”
Rahul frowned at Arpita. “Whatever. You know I thought you were going out with me.”
“Here she goes,” said Rahul loudly, but mostly to himself.
“Why would you ever think that?”
“Because you and I hang out all the time. Everyday. How is that not dating?”
“How is it dating?”
“Hey don’t do that. You know I assume stuff right. You don’t have to finish your sentences for me. I know what you want to say before you say it. If I can assume what you have to say – why can’t you do the same?”
“That’s the lamest argument ever, Rahul. Now I can’t hang out with anyone unless I’m wearing a T-shirt that says ‘THIS IS NOT A DATE.”
“First of all,” said Rahul. “That’s a pretty good idea for a T-shirt. Secondly, you are now comparing me to the average man, Arpita. At least you can extend me the same courtesy that I do you.”
“Courtesy?” Arpita asked, slightly agitated. “You want to talk about courtesy? You say our hanging out has been like dating to you, yes?”
“Then when have you ever treated me like we are on a date? You always come early. You never ask me what I wanna eat. You never pay for my food. In fact, sometimes I pay for yours. You never hold my hand, flirt or make any body language, from which you can understand that you wanna date me. You never compliment me, ever. Do not talk about courtesy, Rahul. You don’t deserve it.”
Rahul held his silence for a second. Even for him it was pretty amazing how Arpita would keep those details in mind. “There’s no need to overreact. I know you wanted me to ask you out on a date a few months ago. I didn’t because… well there is no other way to say it, because I didn’t want to. But then when we started hanging out regularly…”
“You thought that these were dates?” Arpita exclaimed, visibly infuriated. “These pathetic chat sessions at malls are dates? Am I so lame or you so cheap that you can’t afford a better place?”
“Do not drag this into a menial direction like you are some pathetic girl.”
“Maybe I am,” said Arpita. “How long have you known me? Six months? How do you know I am not pathetic?”
“A.) Because I judge people within five minutes and correctly. B.) Because I hang out with you. Do not wallow in self-pity.”
“I had a boyfriend when I met you,” said Arpita. “But thanks to you, I had to end that relationship.”
“What has that got to do with anything? Are you really gonna blame me for something that you are usually glad that I did when you are not busy being a bitch.”
“You constantly kept telling me that Karan was an idiot, all the time; with examples. It was only for so long that I could ignore you. After all, you are shameless, and always right.”
“He was not so much of an idiot, but a monkey with an acute fashion sense.”
“I broke up with him because of you.”
“Don’t take that tone with me. You know well what you did. And you’d have broken up with him on your own sooner or later. You’re no idiot. I know an idiot when I see one. I specialize in it.”
Arpita flared her nostrils in silent rage.
“I never come early,” continued Rahul. “I am exactly on time. Always. You are what they call fashionably late. But I never complain. I happen to enjoy waiting for you. I don’t ask what you want to eat because you waste ten minutes going through the menu. It’s not Pantaloons, it’s Pizza Hut. And what you end up deciding is always the same, depending upon what place it is. I don’t pay for your food, because you never ask me to. You only ever pay for my food when I ask or, when you are in a charitable mood. Truth is, I am never in a charitable mood. And you never ask.”
“Like these dates were implied? Let me finish. You say I never make “a nice body language” which suggests I am dating you. So when we make silent eye contact, what is that? Do you make eye contact like that with everyone? You don’t. In fact I don’t think you ever made eye contact like that with anyone ever. From an innocent bystander it must look like we are communicating telepathically. And can you say for sure that we are not? And as for what you said about compliments, I told you on our fifth meeting – if you remember – that you always look very pretty. As far as my knowledge goes, ‘always’ isn’t over yet.”
Arpita laughed unbelievably. “You are so smart, aren’t you? You always have an answer for everything. Wonder why you can’t get a date?”
“I was under the impression that I had one,” said Rahul. “While we are in the process of clearing doubts, let me also add why I never asked you to go out to a fancy restaurant, or something.”
“Yes, please do.”
“I never asked you out to a better place,” said Rahul. “Because there is no better place.” Arpita scoffed. “It’s true. Yes, there are better places in terms of food, lighting, well dressed waiters and what not. But they are nothing compared to this mall.”
Arpita stopped frowning for a second, slightly eager for what was to come next.
“Here, at the mall, you are at your best, you dress casually. In a fancy restaurant you would feel obliged to wear a dress and all through the evening you would wonder if the dress makes you look fat. It will be too formal. So formal, that you can’t be yourself. And what is the point of a date if you can’t be yourself. I have seen you burp here at the mall. I have seen other people seeing you burp. Your egotistic self at a restaurant would never allow that. You are at your best at the mall. You don’t care. You don’t look twice. You are not uncomfortable. The only place better than the mall for a date would be the bedroom.”
“You heard me.”
Arpita looked at Rahul while her eyes gradually grew in amazement.
“We are adults. We know what sex is. We are talking about the prospect of the two of us being a couple. Why shouldn’t we talk about sex between us?”
“Because there is no sex between us.”
“Nevertheless. To an idealist it exists in theory.”
“I am never gonna have sex with you,” Arpita half shrieked. A guy who was passing by stopped to stare. And he wasn’t very subtle about it.
“Move on,” said Rahul. “It’s a play. Shavian.” Turning to Arpita he resumed. “It exists as a topic of discussion.”
“People don’t discuss hypothetical sex between them when they are out on dates, Rahul. Think you should know that. With all your intelligence.”
“They ought to. It is more pertaining to them than Shah Rukh Khan’s next film.”
“Palash would never do that you know. He is such a gentleman. He always pulls back my chair for me when I arrive. Have you noticed?”
“I have. I keep reminding him it’s 2012. Frankly I think there is no worse way to insult you.”
“Yeah. Pulling back the chair for the woman is called chivalry by the gentlemen. But it is actually very insulting. It implies that a woman is either incapable of pulling back her own chair, or worse suggesting that even though she is capable of pulling back her chair, she is willing to let a man do it for her. It suggests weakness at a very basic level. Neither of which are qualities I like to associate with the woman. You are a feminist right?”
“Wow,” sighed Arpita.
“Palash is a nice guy, his noble aspersions aside. But he is no me. Mind you that.”
“I do. I don’t think there is any need to remind me explicitly.”
“I am sorry if my behavior hurt you in any way this evening,” said Rahul. “But you know I always tell the truth. I don’t think about what it may lead to much. Big Krishna fan on that. Your kind, the ‘womunkind’ as my friend calls, it eludes me. Even I, the quickest judge of people cannot judge you as a class in general. Maybe it’s a hint that I should stop trying to generalize. But, nevertheless, take this evening for example. You came late. I was under the impression we were dating. You informed me you agreed to go on a date with my friend. Which, technically speaking, meant you were cheating on me. Yet I’m the one who ends up saying sorry.”
Arpita grinned genuinely after a long time. “I can’t date you, Rahul.” She said, shaking her head, still grinning. “I could be in love with you. But I still couldn’t date you. Whatever you say, I agree.”
“And yet, you are drawn towards the hypocrisies of the upper-middle class. You like to have a man pull back your chair for you. Pay your bills for you. You need someone to remind you, you are a woman. And in a fashion, much unlike I do.” Rahul paused for a minute during which he stared hard at the table while Arpita kept staring at him, “I understand.”
“You need to understand one thing, Rahul. Even though I am a feminist, it doesn’t mean I would no longer accept help from a man for anything. That is not feminism. That is more like…”
“No. Women want as many rights as men. But they don’t want to be men. I mean, why would they?”
Rahul nodded. Arpita sighed and then started again slowly. “Don’t feel bad…”
“I wont,” said Rahul quickly. “I will regret the fact that we won’t be able to hang out more.”
“Why shouldn’t we?”
“Because to me, these were dates. I enjoy your company. You, mine. We make great conversation and hot eye contact. And I think about having sex with you from time to time. Don’t think I will be able to do that anymore.”
Rahul got up, ready to leave.
“That’s no reason not to hang out anymore. We could still do it as friends.”
“That would be awkward for me.” Rahul said.
“So are we never gonna meet again? Just like that?”
“Never is a strong word. I am sure we will meet again. But for me it will not be for the intention of meeting you.”
“That’s simple,” said Rahul as he started walking off. He paused and turned. “I believe this is somewhat new for you.
Most would rather have your company than accept that their romantic quest is of no avail. But not me you know.
Tathagata Mitra is a 21-year-old university student and blogger from Calcutta, West Bengal, India.