It was at Carlton's in Kashmiri Gate
that we made out
without actually intending to.
Looking for a big tip,
the waiter led us to one of those partitioned cubicles
designed precisely for such shady encounters.
And before we knew it,
we were playing footsie.
As you picked at your pineapple pastry,
you said, “Don’t be embarrassed,
I’ve been with boys since I was thirteen.”
It was I who had to look away.
Then you leaned over, we kissed.
The icing, lipstick, and sweat,
all mingled, tasting funny--
but I had been taught to believe
that this was the best thing
that could happen to a seventeen-year-old boy.
Remember how I'd visit you after my workout,
jogging down the ridge to your college,
sweat-soaked, in my blue tracksuit?
I had to wait in the visitor’s room
after signing my name in the register.
On Fridays, the girls who had no dates
looked so forlorn that I was haunted
by the longing in their eyes as we left.
We'd go to the Mother Dairy booth
in front of your college
and guzzle down a litre of cold milk,
to the astonishment of the attendant.
That would be followed by a Chinese dinner
at the newly opened Moet's or at the outdoor
restaurant behind Ludlow castle.
When you found out that I was “seeing” other girls.
you called me a two-timing creep,
forgetting that it was I who'd told you
about them in the first place.
We went to Badkal lake
to sort things out,
but the urchins hounded us,
denying us a minute's peace or respite.
I breathed a sigh of relief
when we finally got on the bus to Delhi
relatively safe, you still unmolested--
every male on the way to the bus stand
seemed to strip you naked with his eyes.
Finally, you wrote asking to meet me
at your aunt's in Mayfair Gardens.
There, near the old tomb we sat.
You announced solemnly,
"I wish to talk to you."
"Of course," I replied.
You had trouble making a beginning:
"I hope what I'm going to say doesn't hurt you..."
I knew the script so quickly preempted you:
“Yes, let’s remain friends…” You smiled,
the relief on your face unmistakable.
The termination turned into an extension.
The last we met was at the Art Institute
in Chicago. You were studying cinema;
we’d come to see the paintings. The conversation
was strained, as you politely showed us around.
There was no way of reviving old intimacies.
We had one of those excellent lunches
in the cafeteria; I found out later that
people paid the entrance just to eat there.
I had trouble finding a vegetarian entree;
those days I was off even onions and garlic.
My wife looked at you, grimaced. We talked
about my fads for a while. When the waitress
took the order, you asked for separate tabs,
though I protested. When I tried to look at you
but my eyes found an unresponsive stranger
instead. As we parted, I thrust a box
of chocolate-coated cherries in your hand:
"Oh, you shouldn't have," you said,
but, for the first time that afternoon,
your face broke out into a smile.
|Copyright © 2005 - Makarand Paranjape|