I was throwing a party for around ten couples. A very dear friend, Jimmy, who was 60-plus but really debonair and dashing, was visiting our town and we really wanted to invite him home. He used to live in our city until he left for Mumbai many years ago.
The evening did not take off. The guests were not really mingling with each other. I knew I was to be blamed. The people I had invited did not know each other too well but still I thought they would try to talk to each other. Some evenings are fun evenings and some evenings are such a drag with guests waiting to leave politely as soon as possible and the host heaving a sigh of relief when the evening has come to an end and his turn is over. This evening seemed to be one of those dreary evenings, which would hopefully end soon, I thought.
The men hung around the bar making conversation about stocks and shares and how to make more money. The women talked to each other but they were not really close enough for hard-core gossip; they could only talk superficially about some sales in town or of the strange twists and turns in some television soaps. Most of them did not even try.
In walked my friend Suman a little late.
Suman is on the wrong side of 60, but she is so coquettish and flirty that she could put any teenager to shame. She has been single for a very long time…practically all her adult life. She had a disastrous marriage that lasted only two years. But she did not let that make her bitter. I knew as a close friend the kind of traumatic mental abuse she had gone through. But she always said she did not want to talk about it and give it more energy.
She was dressed in a tight salwar kameez. Suman is on the plumper side with slim arms and legs. The kameez’s neck was cut seductively low and her dupatta hung around her neck more as a fashion statement than for its actual purpose.
“Your cleavage is showing and a great deal, I could post a letter in that line which is so deep,” I whispered to her.
“I know,” she said airily, and, “I don’t care.”
“And maybe it is by design,” she added and smiled.
Suman had stopped dyeing her hair a long time ago. Her white short thick hair shone and her diamond bracelet gleamed on her thin wrist. The tiny diamond nose ring in her nose seemed to wink every time the light shone on her face. She had kajal in her eyes but otherwise her face was bare. She carried her age with panache.
Suman is a total party person. She makes interesting conversation, flirts and drinks a great deal, and laughs throatily or seductively as the scenario demands.
But that evening she seemed tired and not ready to mingle. She sat sulkily in one corner.
“God,” I thought, “I have cooked so much. And the dinner seems such a flop. Suman was my last hope.”
When the last of the starters was making the rounds, Jimmy walked in. Jimmy looked handsome with his salt and pepper hair – more salt, less pepper. He wore slim, well-fitted jeans and a white shirt.
We were happy to see him, and crowded around him asking how he was. Suman also knew him.
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Somehow the conversation veered towards old Hindi songs and the magic in them, which is missing in the songs now. We all badgered Jimmy to sing. He has a fabulous voice. He started with Ye nayan dare dare, ye jaam bhare bhare, an old-time favourite Hemant Kumar song.
And then Suman slid towards him and said, “Let us sing a duet.” At least Jimmy sang in tune. Suman sang loudly, hardly following the tune, but made up for it with a lot of gesticulation and actually getting up and dancing. She bent low, showing a lot of skin very unselfconsciously. Her dupatta slid off, which Jimmy gallantly picked up and put back on her shoulder. Then they sat down next to each other laughing and talking.
Jimmy had to get up and go out to talk on his mobile. But he told Suman, “See that no one sits here because I want to sit next to you.” Suman giggled, coyly fluttered her eyelashes and said, “Of course, Jims, no one can take your place.”
I just stared at him open-mouthed. But they both were in merry spirits and they seemed to have not a care in the world. Jimmy came back, and sat next to Suman. They sipped their drink from the same glass.
The evening had taken off. The younger lot joined in, trying to play antakshari. There was lot of clapping and foot tapping.
Jimmy sang the last song before dinner was laid. He looked deeply into Suman’s eyes and sang Ae meri zohra jabeen. Everyone stood up and clapped and joined in the chorus. The joy Suman and Jimmy spread was infectious. There was a lot of laughter and noise in the room.
Who says people get old? Age is just a number. That evening proved it. Suman was more alive than all those young women in designer clothes.
I knew there would be endless gossip about her the way she flirted with Jimmy, but what they did not know about was her tough life. She had brought up her daughter singlehanded, given her a good education and got her married. She had worked really hard all her life, coping with obnoxious bosses, and now that she was retired she wanted to live every moment.
The evening ended. The guests were leaving. We had to go and drop Jimmy at the airport. Suman came and hugged Jimmy.
“Thanks so much, I really enjoyed myself. I don’t know when I will see you again. Be happy and good luck,” said Suman and her eyes misted.
“It was lovely meeting you again,” said Jimmy. He tightened his arms around her and his voice broke.
And then he smiled and said, “I think it is a Fevicol hug. I can’t seem to detach myself.”
“I will be back soon,” he promised.
For the 100th time I wondered if there was more to their relationship than met the eye.
And I prayed fervently that I was right. Suman deserved it, so what if she was going to turn 70 in a couple of years! Age doesn’t matter in romance and love.