For the entire period of my association with Satyam as an employee, I had never – not even for a day – missed sticking my pen into the front pocket of my shirt. My romantic crush Preeti gifted me a pen – a silver Parker – and since then it became a much-loved, well-cared for badge of love that I had, admittedly, loved to show off.

Preeti Ranautra worked for a financial company dealing with credits, foreign exchange, accounts and sales and the lot. By virtue of her being a management graduate in Finance, her job necessarily entailed her to keep browsing loads of forex and securities files daily; deal with money coming in and going out; files of individual account holders and small and medium enterprises/businesses (SMEs) and the whole nine yards.

1998: A Personal History

My name is Arpan… Arpan Monalic and my courtship with Preeti literally began on the telephone. The romantic year of 1998 bears testimony to that fact. Preeti used to call our office to speak with Papita InTears, who was one of her mutual friends, on the direct line. On several occasions, when Papita was not in office yet, I got to informing her:

“Papita hasn’t come in yet and she’d be fashionably late again to office! But as soon as she pops in I promise that I shall entreat her to call you first thing… and by the way my name is Arpan”.

She’d at first laugh at the breathlessness with which I blurt out on the phone and say “and my name is Preeti”. And before hanging up, she’d say “thanks”.

Papita joined Satyam at TSR Towers along with me and Manpreet Jogi. I, Manpreet and Papita shared an enlarged cabin with three computers inside it – two at the front and one at the back. Most often, whenever someone called on the phone, Manpreet’s hands always rose first to get it. His quick reflexes were seen to be believed! If his ‘Hello’ is quickly boomed into the phone it only meant the conversation from the other side of the line better be clear and to the point! Everybody knew Manpreet’s hard-boiled booming yowl very well compared to my yell or Papita’s foxy howl. On occasions when he passed on the phone to me smiling his trademark cheesy smile it only implied that Preeti Ranuatra, my chui-mui (shy princess) girl, was on line for me. Manpreet, a blue-blooded sophisticate that he is, would never eavesdrop on our coochie-cooing, nope! And this way began one of the loveliest chapters being written on the storybook of my life.

Ms. InTears was also believed to be friends with the great Pommy Candel Fishsketcher (a.k.a. Pom), who worked with Preeti at her financial securities company situated on SD Road. Both Pom and Preeti were thick-as-thieves, always together, conjoined colleagues; only Papita (with her self-centered American dreams) was like a detached feather of the same flock, who, I presume, couldn’t possibly dare to handle a ‘Finance’ job and so scampered off to join a desi IT company instead. To me this very fact was no less than a God’s blessing (actually Papita’s accidental irony!) as it bequeathed in me my close companionship with Preeti. But, thankfully, that blessing stops there.

Strangely, my office colleague Papita, a tall and ghostly predator, flinched outright at the idea of Preeti and me getting romantically involved, and now this was completely unlike her chubbier and far more cheerful friend Pom who was absolutely cool about it. To me, Pom came across as a frank, candid and an amazingly fun-loving human being; I admired her. Her self-esteem was pretty impressive to get appreciative about. She had an exuberant beehive of a soul in her that basically throbbed with fun and lively humour; she’s delightfully pompous, solipsistic, socially gregarious, well-cushioned in appearance, forcefully animated, follows what her conscience says, and a little too chirpy in nature. At other times, Pom seemed like a plus-size Mother Superiorwho took it all on herself to throw in pieces of good-humoured “advice” at our way – never mind whether really required or not! Her voice had a tonal groan that carries into your ears an echoing, squirming intensity that can easily make you feel as if someone is orating away in all glory at Delhi’s Ramlila Grounds. Such was this original Delhi belle’s prodigious reputation. Undoubtedly, such select cognoscenti go on to become true friends, opposite to what Papita had been to anyone ever.

When Papita happened to know the previous day that Preeti and I are meeting up, she turned a beetroot red in her face and reprised her at once over the phone with her ill-bred caution. She chided Preeti: “Kya karr rahi hai tu… !”, only to be met with a bemused laughter. I never knew Papita being so wary of my friendship with Preeti until her clandestine phone call that ominous evening when I came in to relieve her from her shift ending at 3pm. She had made it all so rudely obvious for me to figure. It seemed that Papita had acute attitudinal malfunction that was most akin to the sly characteristics of a well-known, modern-dayLalita Pawar.

Ever since that day, I couldn’t help but think of her as a wretched human being. I distanced myself from her – just in case it pricks me to a needless confrontation with her, which I wanted to avoid by all means (because she wasn’t worth to be dealing with in the first place). Her droopy left eye-lid, which flutters ominously at you, surely is indicative of a mindset typically Machiavellian in nature. If one ruminates further on her aforementioned personality one would evidently find that she is an undisputed drama-queen of chugalkhori (sycophancy). Not having anything to do with questions of morality even when sometimes finding herself in judgmental positions is crushingly depressing of her. One finds her a crafty old slithering eel, and bitterly distasteful is her cunning appetite for indulging in unabashed sycophancy.

Why was she hell-bent on misunderstanding me on some headless account or the other? Why was it so inordinately necessary for her to be so fiercely vampish about my affair? Is it in her nature to live her life the way she lived – in accordance to her kind of social class and background she happens to represent? Is it her disheveled upbringing that kicked in? I never have got around to answering these ugly questions in my limited feel of things. At first, it was not quite apparent why she was being vainly jealous of me – she gradually was beginning to come across as a little cantankerous individual – but what I figured is that it triggered a vapid botheration in me with regard to her crude conduct. Afterwards, when I was still none the wiser as to what her “issues” were with me, I dropped it like a hot coal and drew comfort from the age-old premonition that: Time will take its own course. Foxy Papitas of the world do not bring luxury of friendly encouragement nor do they appreciate the thought of love and its reassuring finality inProvidence. They simply have villainous appetites for sycophancy – may be a genetic defect carried on from millions of years of evolution – that makes one cringe in revulsion. To think of such people as mind-numbing pain and a big turn-off definitely rings true. I got wizened a bit and conclusively realized that it’s none of my business to put it all out with this tall and snaky colleague of mine, when, on that ominous evening, she was, in her own touchy-feely way, striving hard to forbid Preeti to have anything to do with me. But that day, it could have been a day of frank pejorative outburst in full discourse for her to see had she wanted to get candid with me then and there.

In fact, only after almost a month and a half of our dilly-dallying did we meet in person. We often postponed our first meeting because we didn’t want to break the charming spell we were enjoying while talking on phone or do away with the fine sense of ignominy which was worth its while. Preeti once told me she found my voice sweet or am I trying to impress her? I had said “both” and cackled indulgently. I understand that, Pom, her fast friend, supposed to have constantly mused on behalf of Preeti as she remarked: “voice toh sweet hai, dekhne mein kaisa hoga?” I did not meet Pom until I had met Preeti. When Preeti used to call me, Pom liked to barge into our phone conversation and share a word or two. I got to know her first this way.

Those days were the happy days of my life. It made me realize that Preeti was probably the one true reason why my life was being led to a world full of delightful anticipation and happiness. Our phone calls were so frequent and engaging that we felt like keeping our ‘on-phone’ relationship agreeably prolonged. Before making up our minds to see each other in person, we gave our relationship a little more time to mature. I guess we decided to make the best for last.

I remember oh so well watching Falguni Pathak’s chartbuster love songs on MTV: “yaad piya ki ane lagi” and “maine payal hai chankayi… “ and thinking about Preeti all day and night. Humming Pankaj Sarawgi’s beautifully picturized song: “Mujhe pyaar hai tumse… “ brings back those memories again. I’ll never forget this song.

“Mujhe pyaar hai tumse..

Ke jab bhi koi..

Aahat hue toh lage…

Ke tum aaye…

Sawala salona haye chehra yeh tera…

Aankhiyon mein basa hai yeh palko ki tarah… “

My days were literally filled with the tender fragrance of my jaanu (beloved) and her sweet voice on the phone. Life was so much worth living. Consequently, our telephonic tête-à-têtes started to gain on a hue of assurance and expectation and we decided upon a date in September to meet. I grew restless and jumpy and so did she. I went home early on the day when our rendezvous was setup. In fact, after I have had my share of toiling in office, I was almost a spent-force to be game for a date with whom I had regarded as ‘someone special’. I was obviously impressed with her because my apprehensions got the better of me and I felt freshly energized to meet her. The joy of meeting a person whom you’ve never met before is something to be experienced to be believed. I had all kinds of ticklish butterflies in my stomach fluttering about. Time just flies by in such an event of delectable expectations. Small fears and trepidation in the form of what will happen if… ? what will she… ? will she… ? is it OK to… ? are enough to make you go tizzy. And likewise, one finds oneself spending copious amounts of time on one’s toiletries and dressing than otherwise would have done in other ‘normal’ circumstances. That was our first ‘blind date’ and I wanted to make it count for both of us.

This is how I made it count: I finished my harrowing scheduled shift at 3 o’clock and headed straight home to give myself someshringaar. I knew the day will come when I would meet her. I had bought an assortment of personal care products. First on my list was Denim perfume (my favourite, but they don’t make that perfume anymore) and I reckoned that it’s perfectly okay to indulge a little now that I’m going on a date – an important event of my life no less. I ensured that my new shirt (maroon checks) was ironed well and had just the right creases for the sophistication I had intended to exude! (I still have that old shirt and I wear it sometimes to office; sentimental value you see.) I had a slow dream-like shave and dappled my cheeks with Denim after-shave lotion and felt fresh and manly. When I was tip-top ready, I rode all the way to the venue humming “aye kaash ke hum hosh mein ab aane na paye… “ a delightful song from the Hindi movie Kabhie Han, Kabhie Na.

I drove at a speed of 50-55kph (nothing great about the speed, I know!), reached early, parked my bike, combed my hair and took my position! I sat on a sit-out parapet railing and looked down the road I thought she would come riding astride her bike. For over three quarters an hour I waited like a Majnu, but when Her Highness was still not turning up I decided to call her from a nearby telephone booth. She got my call after the first ring and when I said “Hello” she knew from my voice I was on the line.

“Hello… ? Arpan… ? Give me just 10 minutes na please and I’ll be there”, said she.

I said laughing: “Sure. Come soon Mademoiselle. Um waiting… see ya byee”

At last, come she did and the song I was humming “kab se kare hain tera intezar, kab ayegi meri jaane bahaar… ” froze, as if set automatically on a pause button. One nice glance at her… whoa! and I knew she was the one, my ‘special someone’ with whom I had shared almost every little detail of my life on our endless telephonic conversations is right there. By all accounts a blind date it was, with someone I already knew telephonically but never had up till now seen her face. So now I know who I was talking to all during the enchanting season of August and September months of our eager courtship. Preeti wore a pastel-hued virgin pink (her favourite colour) Salwaar and I instantly noticed that she had an exquisite stance about her which was really so attention-grabbing. She was riding a Kinetic Honda. The spike holding the right-hand side mirror was wrapped with a red perforated holy scarf (laced with shiny golden borders); apparently, it was tugged there as a remainder for her to drive safe. A nice thing to do really. She was splendid and incredibly pretty lady, just like her name. I was stunned into thinking that she looked no less than apariyon ki rani (Angel Princess!); certainly not of this mortal world. Quite evidently, Preeti has a strong closeness in appearance to an actress by name Preeti Jhangiani (her namesake), and it never goes unnoticed even at the first glimpse.

Now, people should have laughed watching me doing what I could, yeah, to the best of my knowledge, trying to put up some sort of a brave front to meet her.

I descended down the short marble-tiled steps (for a moment I thought I would trip and fall on the pavement and break my teeth! but I didn’t) and stood confidently in the parking lot in front of the Aditya coffee shop. A ready glee frolicked on my face and an almost absent will-power to meet ‘a girl’ had muddled my mind into self-consciousness. I don’t know how but I just about managed to be up and about. I didn’t know how I could muster up that kind of insouciant confidence to go on a blind date. But I did it, you know. Basically, I was happy about the fact that Preeti turned out to be what I had imagined her to be. She looked up tossing her coy tresses tending them back in place; she clutched her bag and dashed a meaningful glance at me smiling warmly and then our evening rendezvous was well set to roll.

After we got a corner table, I ordered a couple of coffees with house-special cupcakes. Our conversation took off on a free note which really surprised us at first. I mean, normally, meeting someone whom you haven’t seen or met before – except of course one might have talked endlessly with the same person over the phone day in and day out – how is one supposed to react or interact without getting self-conscious or nervous? I didn’t know, neither did she I believe. In contrast, what I did sense in Preeti’s cool appearance is her easy-going, well-honed confident persona; her subtle countenances were at once very pleasing to behold. Not only was I bowled clean but also it made me feel uncomfortably conscious of my humble self.

Thankfully though, it came as a big relief to me when she coolly began talking without much ado or gumption as she sat across me with a smile on her lips that I bet was like that of Angels I read in the books or saw in the movies. What had actually assailed me up to the brim of my soul is the fragrance of her floral beauty. She was a woman of substance. I marvelled at her art of conversation which struck me as deeply fascinating. Her conversational subjects knew no bounds. She indulged in it copiously. One naturally expects a finance graduate to somehow come round talking about “finance” not bothering to see whether the person in front of you likes it or dislikes it, but luckily she was far removed from such a mercy-killing.

Her compelling allure of beauty combined with her intricate artwork of a smile frolicking all over her lipstick-lined thin lips and her face lighting up the whole corner of the room – all this had kept me possessively enchanted throughout the course of that thoroughly dreamy evening I spent with her at the coffee shop.

Ever since our first blind date going all-good, we always met over coffee at Aditya Coffee Shop, an exclusive underground coffee shop meant for lovers or soon-to-be-lovers, and had exchanged quite a few pleasantries. Time and again she found me marveling at her eyes! Preeti’s elegant black eyes were naturally a good conversation-starter for me. I gaped in wonder at those luminous black eyes and have written copious poetry in my mind and sang romantic songs in my heart – all for her. (I dabbled in poetry in those days and my muse was right in front of me.) Let God be in heaven, she was a great looker.

The reason, apparently, why she thought of gifting me a Parker is that she sensed what better gift but a pen for a scorching pen-pusher cum first-time lover like me!

[Personal disclaimer: I, Arpan, am not one of all-seasons jholawalla brigade. Never could be one, alas! It’s a different story that these days the jholawallas turn up in smart prêt-à-porter lines and are more technologically savvier than usual pen-wielding fella like me. No, I don’t mean to say this in an unkind way, for… er… journalists/writers are far more intellectually advanced to anyone who thinks can wield his/her pen (or even hammer away on the keyboard) and write as effortlessly as the way the journalists do. Journalists are conscience keepers of the world; a superior species of life-changing opinion-makers and pre-eminent writers. I, who can only aspire to be a lowly poetaster at best, lay my pen down to that because it is so goddamn true.]

In fact, prior to our first meeting, we had been exchanging emails profusely and chatting away on the phone as if mesmerized to the point of no return! No amount of office work could make me refrain from writing her emails and likewise, no amount of office work could stop her from reading my emails. I loved writing to her every single day, before I had logged off my computer and called it a day. She would call me back the next day and talk about the things I wrote to her and her plans to meet me at the coffee place we frequented. Preeti once quipped about my writing that it is so “detailed”. I very well remember writing about the movie I liked very much; it was Dr. DoLittle. Writing about the story of the film gave me such joy that for the simple love of sharing it with Preeti I ended up writing a huge email of several bytes in length which ultimately reached her erratic office email box in two or three installments! There was another movie by name Patch Adams (one of my favourite movies) that had greatly moved me. A couple of days later when I wrote about Patch Adams she replied back saying that she saw the movie solely on account of my florid descriptions of the movie in my email! Carrying me on the wings of her appeasing compliment, I had soared high to the heavens and back!

Sweet girl; she liked to agree with everything I said or opinionated on in my emails, and I adored her – almost obsessively and self-centeredly – for everything she was and what she used to talk about while sipping coffee. Our ‘feelings’ for each other were deepening, slowly and naturally. I confess I never knew how to hold an approving girl’s hand or look in the eyes and say the three magic words. But all that changed instantly, as if by some magic! Cuddling her hands in mine for a long while – sometimes almost to the point of breaking sweat – till the closing-hours of the coffee shop, was my way of obsessing about my perfect meetings with her. Coming home every day with an ‘expression’ dancing upon my face and keeping awake till the small hours of the morning thereafter was my daily routine. I had no way of knowing if anybody used to notice (except Papita) when I danced to Preeti’s love – I was pretty curious to know. The ‘expression’ on my face said: “Oui ma… I am in love… so totally in love… yeah yeaah yeaaah!”

I, Arpan Monalic, do hereby affirm that I have totally fallen in love, so deeply, with a manchali Himachali, Preeti Ranautra.

Pompous Pom

Ms. Pommy Candel Fishsketcher joined Preeti and me at Adiyta Coffee Shop once and talked about wanting to see the film Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Apparently, they had been planning to make it to Manju theatre, and one fine day they went and saw the mushy film. It was the festival month of October when the film was released and Navratri and Dussehra were not far behind. Finally, I went to see it with one of my university buddies Praveen at Manju. I liked the film so very much that it led me to think Rani as Preeti! At one point during the interval, swinging his share of plastic bag of chips and a bottle of Thums Up, he urged me not to criticize Hindi flicks like this one, especially with Rani Mukherjee in it, and I should take it easy.

Oh well, I wasn’t overly critical of the film; I simply opinionated that I liked Rani Mukherjee’s serene beauty (Praveen didn’t know that I was actually thinking of my doe-eyed girlfriend Preeti) in the song “tum pass aye yun muskuraye… “. The song “ladki badi anjani hai… ” picturized on pugly Kajol and Shah Rukh was another chartbuster song that had us hooked. Lo and behold, he warns me at once from doing so. Yeah… yeah… you got it right, his heart went aflutter on his sweet Rani and so I have no business in her whatsoever! Even as harmless as appreciating Rani was objectionable to him! Kya zamana ah gaya, bhai! (What has the world come to, oh brother?)

In fact, on account of Pom’s standard break-ins during my lovey-dovey phone calls to Preeti, she got to know that my favourite curry is Fish curry and the more jhaal jhaal (spicy spicy!) it is the better. So she sketched a big torpedo-shaped fish (with prominently drawn fish scales, pectoral fins, pelvic fins and all – probably macher raja (King of Fish), a Rohu variety! on a wonderful paper cutting shaped like a big fleshy scrumptious fish and gave it to me. (Ah! Hah! I didn’t have to cast a line or hook a worm to catch it! I told my Ma to cook it but she laughed!)

The free-hand sketch was so endearingly good to look at, as though of a lovely presentation from a friend to another friend. Preeti appreciated Pom and her delicate paper Fish sketch, profusely. I was so damn pleased with Pom’s gift sitting on my lap that it made me agape in deep certitude. That evening Preeti kept smiling her million-dollar smile even as Pom got to her evening best in the coffee shop with such jovial aplomb that as if all the Lilies and Roses and Lotuses of the natural world were dilly-dallying on her lively round face.

End of Part 1