The following is an excerpt (printed here with due permission from the publisher, Aleph) from the story, ‘Damsel In Distress’ by the author, from his book, ‘The Patna Manual of Style Stories’. Out now.
Truth be told I am attracted to big-breasted women and the girl sitting diagonally opposite me at Pindi Sweet House in Kilokri near Maharani Bagh had tits that would delight even the great Jogen Chowdhury. Not for me the size zero look that is all the rage these days. I like women who look like women and not boys in drag. The girl, who was wearing a red Sarojini Nagar Adidas windcheater over a blue polo T-shirt and bootcut stonewashed jeans, did not look more than eighteen and had a small black rucksack with Diesel emblazoned on the front kept at her feet. Pindi Sweet House was not a cafe where young unattended girls at 8.30 in the morning sat alone sipping a lukewarm cup of tea for fifteen minutes, while the two waiters kept staring and hovering around her yellow sunmica-topped table like hornets. The girl avoiding eye-contact with anyone kept looking at her thin gold-plated watch which was shaped like a bangle, and held on to her fast dwindling cup of tea realizing that the moment she would put the cup back on the saucer, it would be whisked away. She is waiting for an errant boyfriend, I decided, and even though I was getting a faint vibration of distress from her, promptly lost interest in her. Apart from the two of us, there were no other customers at that hour.
Pindi Sweet House is an old-style mithai shop, where at the front is the steel and glass-encased sweets counter, with rows of gulab jamun, rasmalai, kaju katli and laddus in aluminum containers, and at the back are six to eight tables with straight-backed plastic chairs where patrons through the day usually have bread pakoras, samosas, chhole-bhature, with piping hot cups of tea. Here young lower-middle class couples with names like Pinky and Rocky bond over a shared plate of gulab jamuns in the evenings. I come to the cafe at least once a day. Usually for breakfast before catching the Teevra Mudrika from the Maharani Bagh bus stop for Arts Faculty in DU where I am pursuing an M.Phil on the revenue system of Balban. I cleared my JRF-NET in the first attempt and now on the princely stipend paid by the government of India I manage quite well. I must admit that I am terribly bright. I stay in a barsati nearby and from my terrace you can have a grand view of the Ring Road, Ashram Chowk, the NAFED building and Mathura Road. At nights after consuming a quarter bottle of Old Monk, I sit and stare at the long line of inter-state buses and goods-laden lorries from every part of India that for a moment by their presence make my meagre universe larger. I feel like Kaikobad then, standing at the ramparts of his now vanished fort at Kilokri, staring intensely at the Yamuna, where he liked to disport with his concubines. Did he ever have a premonition that one day soon he would be wrapped up in a carpet with intricate Persian motifs of paradise and thrown into his beloved Yamuna, to be lost in its still water depths? Perhaps not, but looking at the neon-lit frenzy of the Ring Road I am sure to die by its side one day. I think of death a lot and I hate to travel. There are days when even this five-minute walk to the Pindi Sweet House from my room is an ordeal. I like to sit and stare.
I came to Delhi about six months back in May after my Masters from Vinoba Bhave University, Hazaribagh. Delhi is still a new place for me. I am still getting used to its rhythms but the mofussil slowness still clings to me like a burr. I wish I could shed it fast, this slowness, which when I observe my merry classmates, I feel is holding me back socially. For one it makes me excruciatingly shy, when it comes to women. I like women and instantly connect with them. I can hear their inner thoughts but try as I might I can’t seem to open myself up to them. When I see the women in my group, many of whom are in relationships, some longstanding, others ephemeral, I too want to enter their world, so full of lightness. I am bored with wearing my heart on my sleeve for so long, I want to wear a condom now, for a change.