Calcutta, circa 1977;
the Loreto Fest was called Ankur.
The girls had to be gorgeous:
all dressed up in silks and chiffons,
adolescents who'd become ladies overnight.
You saw me outside the makeshift cafe
grinning at a poster which said:
"Come inside and get fed up."
"No, just fed up."
You giggled, I introduced myself.
"We all know you, Mr. Stephanite..."
"Stephanian...." I corrected.
"Debate, skit, just-a-minute, and what not...."
"No, no. I've just come to see Calcutta--
but there's nobody to show me around."
"Is that a proposition?"
"Only if you don't say “Pass.’"
We decided to meet at Flury's on Park Street.
I deliberately waited on the opposite side
to watch you as you arrived;
the subterfuge made me feel like a detective.
But you were there before time,
easily spotting me from the other side:
"For a moment I thought you'd ditched me!"
you exclaimed. "What if I had?"
"Then I'd have screwed you!"
Both of us laughed at your choice of words.
You had short, straight hair,
centre-parted, and a springy step.
You thought I was a Naxalite because
I carried a jhola and wore khadi kurtas.
You lived on Red Road in an old bungalow.
Your mother complained about servants
and the prohibitive costs of maintenance.
We walked all over the Maidan,
before going into the Grand—just to hang out.
You told me about your previous boyfriends
including the shippie who painted the town red.
"Those idiots think I'm an easy lay,
and then go and spread tales.
But I don't give a damn for such shits!"
But you explained why your family was so liberal.
"We're Brahmos. So I have plenty
of freedom to make my own friends."
You also told me that you were very ambitious:
"I turned down admission to IIT
to do English literature instead…. One day,
I'll become the Prime Minister of India!"
I didn't know if I was impressed or wanted
to laugh. You fed me beef kebabs at Nizam's;
I walked you to your house after eleven p.m.
"This is Calcutta," you boasted,
"here no one acts funny with women.
Look!" you demonstrated, as you flamboyantly
Traipsed across the street on an impulse,
dragging me, embarrassed, behind you.
To let us pass, the traffic at Chowringhee,
obediently screeched to a halt.
Then, inevitably, time to say goodbye:
"Thank you for giving me Calcutta."
I shook hands with you solemnly.
Later you wrote: "You're the first man
who treated me with such respect.
You never even tried to hit on me."
I didn't know whether it was a compliment
or a complaint.
Today, there's a
high-rise in place of that old house.
I had trouble finding your new address.
I walked through the by lanes asking
for your mother-in-law's building.
Everyone eyed me suspiciously.
Despite the mishtee you gave me,
our meeting wasn't really a success.
This was your second marriage. You'd put on
weight and looked older than thirty years;
nothing ages one like pain. No doubt,
you were a successful journalist, but far
from being the Prime Minister of India.
You were very busy and left as soon
as your husband arrived. Moreover,
you never dropped the official tone
you'd cultivated for the fourth estate.
I wonder if we should have met at Flury's instead?
|Copyright © 2005 - Makarand Paranjape|