This was a question that kept haunting me right from the moment I stumbled upon the germ of a short story, ‘I love you* Conditions Apply’.
The basic premise was to weave a story around a free-spirited girl seeking true love with two simple conditions. Easier said than done. Writing like a woman proved to be an uphill task.
I bought a couple of female-oriented magazines right from Femina, Women’s Era, Cosmopolitan, to Sarita and Gruhshobha! Add to that, I found myself eavesdropping young girls and women in cafés, trying to get the hang of their style of conversing with each other. Finally, I could invoke my feminine side and finish the story at one go.
It has been over five years that ‘I love you* Conditions Apply’ got published in my short story collection, ‘Baker’s Dozen’, but till date, whenever someone happens to read the story, the most common compliment has always been: I can’t believe a man wrote this! So, without much ado, I’d like to share this story, which is loosely based on true incidents:
I Love You*
Once upon a time there lived a princess waiting to kiss her prince riding a horse with shining armour. That sounds like the beginning of a fairy tale – not my style. Well, leave that dark horse in the stable to mate, cut that messy salivary kiss and shove that shining armour up the guy’s pointed nose or wherever it fits best. And what remains is what I am looking for – love.
Hi. I am Meera Sharma. Age 29, born to rise and shine, and yeah wine and dine. Now don’t start writing me off as just another ‘diary scribbling Bridget Jones type! I am far different from those species, not messed up at all and much more organized. After all, I am a Marketing Manager with Inframax, an ‘infra’structure company with ‘max’imum potential. We deal in land acquisition, land buying, land selling, land documentation, land consulting, and yes, we even offer you a package deal where you get to see the best potential sites across the length and breadth of the state and choose the best one, at no extra cost! Neat, isn’t it? Here I go again, marketing my company. What else would you expect after muttering these stupid lines day in day out over the phone, tea, coffee, and over every conversation exchanged when the sun shines in Vadodara, Gujarat.
My parents live in Mumbai and I have just shifted to this slow-paced city. It’s a city meant for them, not me! But hey, I am not complaining. It’s better than those umpteen marriage proposals they used to torment me with while in Mumbai. I applied for this job to shift my base in Delhi, but those idiots shifted me here – in Banyan City with no banyans in sight and a dry city without pubs around. They say it’s Bapu Gandhi’s state, which means no alcohol. If Mahatma Gandhi is the father of the nation, then shouldn’t the entire country be a ‘dry nation’?
Coming back to my story, I convinced my parents that I wanted to live two years on my own before succumbing to the disease of seven vows. They agreed. They had to; else they knew I was smart enough to get what I wanted in my life. All the way, I kept wondering: why can’t a girl find true love without physical contact and violence? Is it too much to ask for from a guy? As such, he’s going to screw the girl’s life and her body all her life after tying the knot? He knows he’ll do it anyway. Then what’s the hurry all about? Can’t a guy simply try to talk sense? I don’t have a problem if he talks about sex, but is it the only thing he can converse on? Why not talk about romance – the cousin of erotica and love, the sister of lust? At the risk of sounding old-fashioned, I’d like to confess that I always wanted love, true love, as Elton John would like to put it.
Long before discovering the moony Mills & Boons and mushy Yash Chopra movies, where either a Sridevi is running around meadows wrapped in a chiffon saree or a Kajol dancing and pining for her imaginary lover, I had always been fascinated by the idea of being loved and showering love on the man in my life. I was smart enough to figure out that the way to a man’s heart isn’t through his stomach, but a little lower. And taking this route was precisely the strategy I had chalked out for myself.< When other girls in school slapped boys for passing lewd remarks on them, I used to turn around and ask what the word actually meant. Like, once I was passing by the school gate, and one of the boys from a group said, ‘Cute ass!’ With a straight face, I turned back and asked him to come nearer. He wore an expression which was a blend of blush and embarrassment. I looked in to his eyes and asked, ‘Do I look like a donkey to you?’ ‘Well, I didn’t mean that ass…’ ‘Then which ass?’ ‘That!’ he said pointing to my back. I turned back and said, ‘My school bag doesn’t have any cute ass on it!’ ‘No…you’re not getting me! It’s below the schoolbag…your backside…I mean your bum…sorry!’ The guy was visibly embarrassed and ashamed. It seemed like it was his first attempt at making a pass. ‘Oh, is that what you call ass? I’ve been hearing this word quite often, but never thought of pondering over its meaning…Well, what other words do you have in your lexicon?’ ‘Many!’ is all he could manage, as a desperate measure to put a brave face. He was a man, after all! How could he accept defeat, even if caught unawares by a silly girl like me? He couldn’t make out whether I was naïve or smart ‘ass’. ‘Many like what? Tell nah! I want to know…’ ‘But why?’ he asked, looking behind from the corner of his eyes. Having sensed trouble, his friends had already vapourised. ‘Because when a guy like you makes a pass at me, I should know which part of my anatomy is he singing praises to. Don’t you think it’s as important as those boring biology lectures replete with obscure diagrams?’ He simply nodded his head. I swore under my breath. ‘You said something?’ ‘Nah! Nothing. Why don’t we walk together to the bus stand and talk?’ I suggested with the intention of breaking the ice. ‘Yeah! Why not…let’s walk…’ His face brightened up. ‘We’re already walking, stupid!’ I said. ‘Where do you get these names from? Your friends taught them or what?’ I asked naively. ‘You want to know everything today?’ he asked, still blushing like I was asking him to sleep with me. We missed the school bus and ended up walking all the way. To be honest, he wasn’t as stupid and dumb as I’d assumed. Eventually, he got to touch every part of my anatomy, and even I discovered a male body for the first time. And yes, I confessed to him that I knew the meaning of those ‘obscene words’ and was just taking him for a ride. My first sex was as messy as the first kiss and I would rather not mention how filthy it was! You don’t want to know about it, isn’t it? We all have been there, done that – at some point of our lives. If you haven’t, then you’re blessed to be spared of the horror of a guy burping while kissing. See, I told you, it’s not worth recalling. But we still went around together even after my High School. Either I had no better choice in college or I never bothered to look around. I still couldn’t figure out the reason why I was with this dumb ass. After college was over, he shifted to the US for better prospects – both in career as well as girls. It was a rude shock for me. When I confronted him, he denied proposing to me and even being in a serious relationship. ‘It wasn’t just about sleeping around but much more than that’, I screamed. ‘More than that, my foot!’ ‘So, you won’t marry me?’ ‘Have you lost it or what? Why on earth would I marry a bitch like you?’, he growled.< ‘Mind your language!’ ‘You didn’t like ‘bitch’? How about whore?’ I slapped him as hard as I could. He moved ahead, pushed me, yelled the choicest of abuses and banged my head against the wall. As if that wasn’t enough, he kicked me hard on my butt. I fell, despite my begging him to stop. He came closer to me, uttered another filthy abuse and spat on my face.< ‘I would have pissed on a slut like you. Consider this as a warning.' Next time if you ever dare to meet me I am going to beat the shit out of you! And dare you tell anybody about this, you’re going to regret all your life.’ At that moment, my only wish was to see him walk away. I looked around the empty campus, hoping someone would rescue me, but silently thanked that no one was around to see me in this condition, lying on the ground like a rape victim. Well, I was a victim of love and learnt the most valuable lesson of life – to never trust a guy and offer your body, and never tolerate his abuses or physical assault. That guy flew off to the US the next day. I was too petrified to go against him and let him go away from my life as well as memory. Now it’s been two weeks I am here in Vadodara, and have already dated two duds, not dudes, mind you. Doesn’t this city have a single smart guy to share a coffee with? Each time you ask a guy out, all he can think of is SEX! The first one always insisted on taking me for a long drive on his bike and kept pressing the brakes. Until I had it enough and asked him if he wanted to ‘feel’ my breasts, then simply come clean and tell me, rather than bullshitting all the way.< The other one wanted to simply stand on a bridge over a river, hold hands and silently watch the setting sun. Now what makes a sunset so special when watched together without saying anything? I didn’t get his logic, but still relented. If I dared utter a word, he’d silence me and ask me to hear the song of birds! Now that’s something he could’ve done himself!< So, coming back to the track, I was trying to find my Mr. Right in those two idiots with two conditions – no sex, no violence in any form, which means no touching, no holding hands, no kissing or any kind of physical contact meant to arouse each other, and no verbal violence like abusing, slapping, pushing or hitting. ‘Is this a movie procuring a ‘U’ certificate or what?’ asked the ‘Bird Guy’. ‘The condition of ‘No violence’ is understandable, but no physical contact?’ wondered the ‘Brake Guy’. ‘‘I don’t know any other better way of finding true love,’ I meekly replied to both, at different points of time, of course. Eventually, unlike what I’d expected, the ‘Bird Guy’ ended up breaking the first rule of trying to force his moustache layered upper lip on my matt-finished lips with a foundation base of gloss lipstick and burgundy mixed with cherry red (that’s how I like it, just like Bond loves his Martini, shaken and stirred). On the other hand, the ‘Brake Guy’ muttered an unmentionable word while riding his bike ‘with brakes’. I had no idea whom he was talking to – himself, god or devil-but the word was so filthy that it stank miserably! I asked him to stop the bike, slapped him as hard as I could. ‘But what did I do?’, was all he could mumble. ‘I heard what you said. Two weeks are enough to understand Gujarati gaalis. For your information, before learning a new language, I am first curious to pick up the abuses. I deal with brokers every day, but never came across a pimp like you,’ I said, with special emphasis on the Gujarati word for ‘pimp’, and walked all my way to a distant rickshaw. I wanted to spit on his face and regretted not doing it. It suddenly occurred to me that I didn’t have a single female friend. All I could do with creatures of my gender was to bitch about them. I abhorred their company, as they were so ‘girly’. And heaven help if you sit and chat with a married woman. All she could converse on is how unhygienic and lazy her husband is, or what makes her mother-in-law a perfect witch. If you are patient enough to bear with her, she’ll go on wailing about her kids. Nevertheless, if I had a female friend, even I’d crib about men. I quit my job at Inframax and joined a media company ‘Third I Media’, as an apprentice. I worked in the daytime and studied till late evening at ‘Excel MBA Institution’ – ‘Learn while you earn’, proclaimed the tagline. It was my fourth day and Rashid Kadri’s first. I knew that he was ‘the one’ right from the word ‘go’. He was a poet and philosopher too. In fact, more of a philosopher than a poet, or maybe both in equal proportion…whatever! The cutest thing about him was his nose – small, yet pretending to be prominent. Maybe it had something to do with the way he craned his neck every time he’d feel self-conscious. He had these big black eyes that I envied – so feminine that even a guy can fall in love with them.< As part of his introduction, his friend Suresh proclaimed, “Folks, we have a shaayar among us and he’s going to recite something! Over to the poet, Rashid Kadri!” Rashid cleared his throat and said, “Hi everybody!” “Say salaam!” remarked Sheela Chitnis, the bespectacled and well- endowed or rather over-endowed princess of our office, belonging to the tribe of womenfolk who has a huge problem in keeping their bosoms covered. Either the pallu keeps slipping, buttons break, safety pins unhook, or it’s too hot despite the AC being switched on.< Rashid proceeded: “On a day like this, I should be reciting something pleasant, but let me recite a realistic poem of mine.” “Boo! Boo! Boo!” cried everyone in chorus. “But I promise tomorrow I will recite something romantic!” “Irshaad, Irshaad!” everyone egged him on. Rashid put up a brave face and feigned a smile. It was a strange look that he wore – making it hard to figure out whether he was trying to smile or urgently wanted to rush to the loo! I concluded that it must be his ‘nervous expression’. After an evocative recitation, everyone forgot to compliment Rashid on his poem. I simply couldn’t resist approaching him and patting his back. “You’re too good man!” was all I could manage. He looked at me and smiled a shy smile. I winked and glanced at him slyly. To my surprise, he winked back. I wondered if anybody had noticed. Sheela Chitnis almost pushed me back and offered him a better ‘view’ of her assets. I have no doubt that Rashid could recognize her in a crowd without even seeing her face. After all, his eyes hadn’t reached her face at all. How disgusting! Blame it on those sensory receptors. Damn them! The entire day, every creature in skirts, short kurtis, low-necked tops or blouses with missing buttons and safety pins (can’t help the climate is too hot for some people) T-shirts, formal short shirts, stretchable tight pants, sarees and salvaar kameez was hovering around Rashid, much to the chagrin of other species in trousers and ill-fitted denim trousers, smelly T-shirts, and formal shirts carelessly tucked in.< I wanted to be different, hence resisted the temptation of frequenting the much-coveted radius of his desk. The lunch hour was now on its way to become a mushaira session. Actually, I think Rashid had taken the last day’s mushaira session way too seriously. It was not a ritual, for god’s sake! I love reading and and listening to poetry, but they’re surely not for a lunch-break time-pass. He should have shown some respect for his creativity, which shouldn’t be reduced to such tamaashaas. Anyway, the poem that Rashid recited that day was way beyond light or mushy. ‘There he goes again!” I muttered under my breath. For the next few minutes, nobody uttered a single word. Unlike ‘we don’t want to hear senti stuff’ kind, this was a silence I had never noticed at ‘Third I Media’ in the entire four-and-a-half days. Nobody giggled, looked around, scratched armpits or crotch, read newspapers, picked noses, stole glances at Sheela’s assets, or burped. I felt as if I had lost the rhythm of my breath. This time it was me who was drooling, dying to kiss the rosy lips of the man with feminine eyes who was dripping honey with his every breath in the garb of words. Rashid was the guy I wanted to kiss, sleep with, marry, raise kids, educate them, read aloud poetry and train them to grow up as future poets and writers, marry them to the most beautiful women or handsome men if they were my daughters, and nurture their kids too – until I and Rashid were old enough to breathe our last together. I swear I’d suck his last breath too, so that he remained alive in me while I died along with him. My thoughts seemed so eloquent that I feared others would eavesdrop and make fun of my silliness. I hardly knew Rashid, and here I was – willing to marry him, raise his children and grandchildren. Who knows he might be already married, with perhaps two or four wives! Men like him must be born to such a religion that allows one to marry more than one woman. I was so desperate that I surely would not have minded being his fourth wife. But not all Muslims have four wives, and not every Rashid Kadri could love a Meera.< It didn’t take me much of an effort to allure the poet to me. In fact, it’s quite easy to hook a poet. Simply praise him to the skies and label him a genius, call his work a masterpiece, curse his current position and tell him he’s meant for greater things in life and yes, tell him the golden line – I have noticed that your poems hide a pain…something you don’t want to share with everyone and hence veil them in verses. Lo and behold! He’s your slave. Unlike what I’d assumed, Rashid wasn’t exactly the typical poet type. It was an image he’d put up on the surface, just to appear different, command respect, and attract attention with his long hair, thin moustache and loose clothes carelessly worn, as if with the sole purpose of covering his lean body. He wasn’t the one who’d fall for words of praise. He knew he was good and it seemed unimportant whether you praised or criticized him. He was the master of his own world and his worst critic. In fact, his indifferent attitude was his sex appeal.< He fell for me for the obvious reason of my being the most attractive girl in the office (at least I thought so – I was far better than the fair but mole-ridden Nirmala, slim but gawky looking Sushma, voluptuous but ‘too plump from behind’ Vinita, curvaceous but show-off queen Sheela, smart but unconventional Rosette). I stood 5’.7” tall, with a single mole near my upper lip, fair-complexioned, shoulder-length brown hair, well-manicured nails, black eyes, well-endowed body, and yes, an intelligence that can tell men from dogs. And I am quite articulate too. No wonder I won the ‘competition’ hands down. Rashid was that ‘coveted’ guy in office, for girls at ‘Third I’ often flirted just for the heck of it, or maybe for the novelty factor. Whatever the reason, I was sure nobody took him as seriously as I did. I was glad he reciprocated with equal gusto and fondness too. The initial days of our dating were spent in almost all the restaurants and cafes of Vadodara. I had made my conditions very clear to Rashid that if he wished to procure the censor certificates of my love, then he’d have to honour my two conditions - no sex, no violence. It turned out that Rashid was already married. His wife stayed with his parents in Lucknow. I was enlightened about this fact during his farewell party at our office. He had put in his resignation to join a radio station as RJ who’d host a program based on old Hindi songs. So, there I was, left alone to lick my wounds like a battered bitch. I never saw him after that day. I was so much in love with him, but dumb enough to see that coming. He had started ignoring me the day I confessed my feelings towards him. I should have read between the lines when he responded with a dull ‘I love you too’. The gap between ‘I’ and ‘love’ was too eloquent to go unheard. Love is blind, deaf and dumb too. I sulked for a few days, weeks and months - yeah it lasted that long. After all, true love lasts longer than Amaron batteries. I was reminded of my first heartbreak in Mumbai, where the sea roared in laughter every time I cried by its shore, the rear-view mirrors of taxis playing my past exploits in loop, local trains running on tracks I wished to evade. I started hating Urdu poems and yearned to bomb the mushaira sessions. Damn those poets, damn those phonetic traps and damn those ‘yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye to kya hai’ losers. The phone rang. It was mom. My parents had seen a guy for me and he happened to be in Vadodara. All she wanted from me was to meet him once. I thought of calling him up, but chose to SMS him and ask to meet up at Barista. 6 pm was the time we’d fixed up the next day. I kept staring at the clock. It moved faster than usual. I wondered whether he’d agree to my two simple conditions. What if he turns out to be like that ‘Bird Guy’ or ‘Brakes Guy’ or, as worse, the ‘shaayar’ guy? I tried allaying my fears by nurturing positive thoughts and listening to songs like ‘Don’t worry, be happy’. Bob Marley seemed to have made my day. Suddenly, the song’s rhythm evoked a strange feeling in me. I felt I was falling in love. It was a person I had always known, but sought him in others. Me. Just like a mystic finds God in himself, I found love in myself. I wanted the song to go on and on. I wanted to treat myself with a pizza and even an ice cream, buy a single movie ticket and enjoy a movie, go for a long drive all alone with a DSLR, travel across the world and write books on love, life and good living. My mobile buzzed for a while and gave up. It buzzed again and gave up. Until it accepted defeat and tinkled with an SMS from the ‘Mom’s guy’ asking: ‘Waiting for you at Barista…are we meeting up?’