(As told to Sheetal Choudhary)
He showed that he was interested in me, but…
He walked into my office. Being a senior lawyer at the law firm, I was entitled to a cabin, whereas all the probationers and young lawyers sat in the hall space outside. I used to keep the door to my cabin open, as there was always some or the other file required or reference needed. I happened to look up from the brief I was concentrating on, to find a pair of beautiful brown eyes appraising me openly.
He was unapologetic at having been caught. “Ma’am, I was sent to collect papers for tomorrow’s hearing in the ‘Sunita Pal’ case.”
All this time, his gaze did not waver one bit. I squirmed in my chair. The eyes were not stripping me, but I was not used to being scrutinised. I had worked hard to reach this stage in my career, and at the ripe age of 37, I was not going to have a young upstart disconcert me.
“What is your name, young man?”
“Arjun,” he replied, suitably deferential.
“Well, Arjun, I see you have collected the papers. Is there anything else?”
I was almost disappointed. But I shrugged it away: like I shrugged away my years in the gym. I had a reputation to guard, which included snapping at young probationers, networking with colleagues, sucking up to clients and nil social life.
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He kept showing up and I kept looking for him
After that day, he would appear regularly in my cabin or catch me in the corridors. Greet me and move on.
Almost a month passed. I found myself looking forward to meeting him daily. It was like a ritual. Then one day, I did not see him. That left me disconcerted. Next day I found myself walking past his seat. I casually inquired, “Arjun has not come in today?”
One of the others deferentially replied, “Ma’am, he is on leave for this week. He’s gone home.”
I nodded and went to my cabin. Something felt amiss. Here was this 25-something young man, about whom the only thing I knew was his name, and he had managed to get under my skin.
The week passed and I almost got used to his absence. Next Monday, there he stood waiting for me at my cabin door, looking sharp.
“Good morning, Ma’am. My colleague told me that Nidhi Ma’am was looking for me. Anything important, Ma’am?”
“Nothing important, Arjun. I just did not see you around, so I enquired. How are things at home?” I tried to sound casual, but was far from so.
“Things are all right, Ma’am. Ageing parents, unmarried sister, the usual middle-class story. I brought you some sweets, though. My mother makes them, I thought you would enjoy them,” he opened a box of yummy looking besan laddoos.
“Oh Arjun, you can tempt a god with these,” I said, eyeing the laddoos.
“Not God, Ma’am, only you,” he said.
I looked up sharply, but he was all innocence. Then a tiny smile began at the corner of his mouth.
“Arjun,” I said, trying to put the weight of my years in that one noun. But I did not succeed.
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People knew what was happening
Arjun continued to meet me daily on some pretext or the other, but I brushed it off as an infatuation. One day after having a couple of drinks with my colleagues, as was our weekly ritual, I heard one of them remark, “Nidhi, your puppy love is lurking outside.”
I turned to find Arjun standing outside the bar. Naturally I ignored him, though in truth I wanted to step out immediately to meet him. After a while though, he disappeared.
We finished our drinks and parted ways. I stepped out of the bar, simultaneously calling an Uber, when I felt a hand touch my elbow.
“If you don’t mind, I would like you to ride pillion on my bike today, please,” Arjun said, with a confidence I had not seen him exhibiting earlier.
“Uh, Arjun, I will take an Uber,” I replied haltingly.
“Nidhi, there is a cab strike today, you will not get any taxi. Please let me drop you home.”
Two things registered simultaneously. He had called me by my first name and he had followed me to the bar and waited because of the strike.
I agreed to the ride
I nodded my assent, climbed on the bike, thanking my stars that I had worn a pant suit, put on the helmet offered and tentatively held on to his waist as we rode past the business district. He did not ask me my home address. I relaxed on to the seat, apprehensive as well elated. This was a new chapter unfolding.
My subconscious kept nagging me: this young upstart wants to take advantage of your position, he wants to further his career. Besides, what have you to offer that a 20-year-old with long legs cannot?
Besides, what have you to offer that a 20-year-old with long legs cannot?
I tried to quieten the voice, but it simply grew louder. I took my hands off his waist and held on to the tail bar.
He reduced the bike speed at this gesture but then continued.
We reached my house. The genie of ageism sat firm on my shoulders. I got off the bike, then hesitated not knowing whether to invite him in or not.
He changed his job
“Don’t worry, Ma’am. I will wait for you to get comfortable. You are the person I want to be with. I’ve already applied at another law firm so your reputation is not marred. I know it is presumptuous of me, But if you will consider going out for coffee with me on any day you are free, I would be the happiest soul around.”
I stood there shaken, watched him rev up his bike and leave. But Arjun did not leave my thoughts. From that day onwards his daily greetings in the office had an underlying tone of caring which I began to notice. A fortnight later, he quit our firm. That night I got a call from him, “Ma’am, this is Arjun. I thought I could call you now beyond office hours, since I’m no longer employed with your firm.”
“Yes, Arjun,” I responded tentatively, not sure how to respond.
“Ma’am, please join me for a cup of coffee tomorrow at ‘Le Bistro’ to celebrate my new job.”
I could not turn down such a simple offer. “OK, I will be there at 6 pm.”
That was the first of many coffees and dinners that followed till we moved into each other’s space. My wardrobe has his clothes and on many mornings I am not able to locate a top as I have left it at his house.
What lies ahead?
What happens next, only time will tell. Yes, I have anxieties, but I’m learning to deal with them. It is not easy overcoming years of conditioning that frowns on relation between an older woman and younger man. I catch stares in restaurants questioning my presence besides my beau, or maybe it is my guilty imagination. I need to work more on unlearning the societal mores and focus on this beautiful relationship in hand, kyonki har baat ki khoj to theek nahin, is kisse ko yun hi rehne do; usse bhi to sauda mumkin hai, humse bhi jafa ho sakti hai. But for now I am content.