When Gurgaon tries to go romantic.
Original title: Now, forever and times that we lost.
A hush had overtaken the metro station as Asna looked for a place to sit at the Starbucks. She looked at a couple sitting at the corner and felt that they are about to leave. Till then, standing beside the counter she busied herself turning and looking around, setting her eye at the dessert and just as Asna started making her mind for which one to choose the music stopped as the song ended, it was a coldplay song and she noticed the silence and heard a pair of chair move at the corner the couple were sitting. Asna quietly moved to take the spot with an urgency the metro station was very used to.
Sitting in an Uber cab Alan couldn’t stop himself looking at the new high rise he had not seen before, it was bigger, wider much grander than any other high rise he has seen before in Gurgaon, probably because he was not used to seeing them, probably because he was obtuse to them. He remembered a conversation where his sister in law mentioned visiting a friend in a newly constructed high rise at the Golf Course Road and how amazing the society was, he thought probably this was it. Alan couldn’t help think about the time he first came to this city, when he drove through the same road and few of the high rise existed that he could see now, it had turned to six lane from two with metro construction that was beginning and now it was almost complete running through the center of the road. Alan though was listening to One Direction on his phone but he couldn’t stop feeling more misplaced in time.
Winters had not yet staked a claim to the wind summer was almost letting go, nor was it a prerogative of rain or thunder. The corporate town of Gurgaon with it bite sized farmlands stood still, suspended in action, even on a Friday night, almost bittersweet. It was presumed to be an economic necessity to let the autumn go by unnoticed, uncelebrated. Yet, times were giving way to the town to breathe out the conversations it never had, conversations that were like seeds that never got their due.
Asna looked at her mobile and checked the time, she knew she was 30 minutes early. She looked up caressingly at the interior, somehow she liked the Starbucks vibe; It reminded her of the places she has visited in Europe few months back. Asna’s mobile buzzed and just as she checked her whatsapp messages, the pleasantness that was beginning to rest on her face wiped away with caustic nervousness, it seemed she was trembling in terror, only she was not, nor were her hands shaking, nor was she breathing heavy, she just fiddled with her hair and slightly touched her forehead. Asna took out her laptop, and looked up out through the glass door of starbucks at the people walking in and out of the metro, as her laptop started. She worked on it for some time and checked the time on her wristwatch just after shutting down her laptop. The trembles of her body had begun to settle in its own type of uncharacteristic energy. She stood up and walked to the counter and asked for a bottle of water.
Asna first met Alan in a cab she was sharing with him for work. Alan seemed to be prepping up for a presentation, he looked calm, composed but Asna could feel the underlying unease in the cab despite it being an unknowingly pleasant morning, it was the first day of a long grinding summer when the sun did not come up after beating down heavily persistently, rather unrelentingly throughout the season. Probably the beauty of the day was the reason Asna struck a conversation she would usually not have, “You’d be getting down at AM-Ex Towers, right?” She asked. Alan brimming with condescending pleasantness sitting in the front seat next to the driver could only utter, a “Yes”, which was very unusual to him. Probably that was the reason after a moment’s pause he added, “What about you?” Asna sensing the shift of vibe couldn’t resist saying, “I am going to Cypeb Hub, I work at Times,” soon as she said this she felt her cautious alarm turning on, which was her reflex action, an alarm that went on whenever she felt that she has said too much. To her rescue, Alan with great unease, probed, “Times must be so buzzing! What do you do there?” Asna couldn’t wait to reply, “Not as much now, it’s quieting down, this internet buzz, I am a Marketing Manager at Gaana.” After a pause she added, “What do you do?” Alan said, “I am at American Express, I am into Credit Sales.” The amicability of the cab was turning too good to start a morning of a working day, it was like unease was feeling restless, ignored. Probably sensing this, Asna asked, “You have a big day today?” Alan responded with a learned confidence, he was so used to falling back upon, as if it was something of a backup in his armory of managing, “ Kind of big, I have a presentation.” He thought he did well with the tonality and style of his response yet there was nothing particular about the actual words he chose. For Asna it was one of those kind of meetings where you exchange beautiful vibes yet leave so much to talk about, which is why she felt good exchanging numbers. For Alan it was a good start to a kind of big day, but he stopped himself thinking about getting the phone number of a girl he thought looked pretty and confident, it seemed natural to him.
Asna drank the water from the bottle she just brought and then quietly devoured the chocolate brownie to rest her nervous sitting at Starbucks, waiting for Alan. This Friday she did not want to get drunk, she wanted to just relax and talk not stressing things out, which is why she choose Starbucks. She always found enough time to look back on her life, in times like these! She sometimes told herself that she was not a Marketing Manager of a known company, she was not a twenty eight year old girl awaiting marriage that lived with three other girls to share an apartment, she was not the daughter of a her mother and father who lived fifty kilometers away in Delhi, she is not the sister of a brother who just got married a year back and lived in the US and was two years elder to her, she was also not a girl who liked reading so much as a kid and thought to become a writer someday who would write like Charlotte Bronte, she often told herself that she was a girl who thinks too much and often ends up doing only few of those things. Asna waited there trying to straighten her thoughts while looking back on her past, as Alan thought of calling her to let her know where he reached and find where she was.
Alan had taken last two week off from work. When he came back from work on Thursday he couldn’t think of a way of protecting himself from the stench he knew would be waiting for him on Friday at work. That night Alan walked in the park in front of his house, and convinced himself to go to office the next day, probably because he slept well then. But when Alan woke up on Friday he was sure of not doing this any further. He had to call truce. Alan made few calls informing people including his boss that he is not well and would not be making it to work. He also made it clear that he would not be able to work from home, and his work had to be done by somebody. Then he didn’t showed up at all the next week and the week next to it. As the final Friday hit, Alan was happier than he thought he would be. Initially he thought miserable things would happen to him, and he would hurt himself being away from everyone, everything. However, he read, and enjoyed the two weeks he earned for himself. However, he found himself in a place he was not used to, he was not as sure of himself as he was when he went to office for more than five years. Though he liked who he was after these two weeks, sitting in the car he thought he doesn’t know how this meeting with Asna would go. He didn’t know what to expect from himself.
Asna stood up and hugged Alan gently, there were no cheek kisses but Alan felt loved from the hug. Asna was wearing a long black tube top and a sort of protective thin black jacket that hung on her chair. She had eyes of a queen, big, black, almost like those of goddesses that are carved in temples, her hair were long black neatly tucked. However, her nose was here most prominent feature, long, sharp, gentle, soft, almost poetic, it made her look adorable. She was tall and her skin was oozing brightness in the dim Starbucks lightning, Alan couldn’t be at more unease, he was star struck, looking at her. However, Asna didn’t had a clue, Alan, tall and gently built came across as a strong character, he was wearing a dark blue t-shirt and a rugged jeans that went well his loafers, he didn’t carry any watch, or accessories and allowed himself to breathe into the place before he sipped some water from the bottle kept at the table, and asking Asna in one breath with a pause in between, “You are looking beautiful, You’ve been here long?” They had exchanged millions of messages before this, had met twice, and did nothing remarkable in the earlier two meetings. On the first one it was just a coffee meeting on a Monday night, then Alan invited Asna for a play, and they went to dinner after that and had wine, it was a Sunday night. But that was it. Lately, Alan had begun to share more about himself with Asna, like how he feels trapped in a corporate rut, and thinks about moving abroad. Asna, though implored him a little, she thought he is hitting a phase that will subside and told him nothing in particular, probably it was because she didn’t think much about it, as she was dealing with her own predicaments. She was hitting thirty next years, marriage for her age was a thing long past when it should have been done, only it wasn’t. She had met no one in particular that she thought was marriage material. Also, her friends told her that once you get married things sort themselves out, which was so unpoetical for her, it was like an excel sheet that got you things done, and never showed you how deep they were. Her career was just passing her, by no means it offered her the grandiose and vibrancy that she felt for work in college. She was stifled for air in a town that only seemed to be urban in its dressing, her only rescue, to get married, was to like give up, on all together everything. Yes, she was not a rebel, but, it was just too much to just let it keep it going, it was too factory like, like an assembly line worker life. Asna replied, “Thank you, not very long, I got done early from work, so thought of spending some time here, before you come, it is a nice place, the vibe you know,” Alan said,” Yea, I like it here too, I like the vibe as well.” Alan has always thought of himself as a non-conformist, he thinks he says, and yet he doesn’t say, like he says but he means nothing, probably it was his banking experience of doing things, or not doing things. He thought he has shed some of this habit in the two weeks off from work, but he realized it just crawls back automatically.
Asna felt that urge to break free stronger than ever just as Alan made himself comfortable at the table. Normally, when she would say, do you feel like getting wasted? Let’s drink like crazy tonight, and the weekend would pass by recovering from the assault of the week’s routine and systematic alcohol poisoning of the Friday bash, but tonight wasn’t usual. They were used to long pauses when they sat together, they were comfortable, sometimes listening to music, sometimes articulating their own thoughts, sometimes just letting their hearts breathe. Just as the song stopped, Asna asked Alan, “What are you thinking?” Alan replied, “nothing much, I just loved this song, it’s so well written, you see most songs even when they are well written, don’t really say much when they end, they just end, this one is not like that, it leaves you with something,, something special.” They were listening to Riverside by Agnes Globel. Asna gave Alan a chuckle, as if it said loudly, “really, what did you just say,” Alan smiled as well. Asna, recollected herself, and said “actually that’s quite true, I never thought of it like that,” Alan was himself quite taken aback by making such an observation. He was not used to such conversations, he had never had such a conversation off late, from a very long time, yet, it such a comment felt related to him, as if he has known this person who made this comment in his childhood. Asna said, “ you know this thing is on my mind, I am not sure what is going on, it’s just going on, things you know, life is passing by each day, and things are just rolling by, like life, you know,” she realized she was getting into a rant that was thought quite normal for her, it just seemed not normal for the situation, I mean they were having a good time and all, not talking much, breathing each other and music, yet, Asna told this self-monitoring thought of hers to do hell with it, if it’s a rant, so be it, she continued, “ you know, I know it’s quite normal to have these recollections of life when you are working week in week out, and particularly in times like these when not much work is there but you are doing the drill, but I am just thinking where the last five years of my life went, yes, they went into this the person I am but, when you think about it, it is not very conclusive you know,” she was not oppressive with her tone, she was just asking a polite question, making a statement, probably making herself clear or clearing her thoughts, Alan was not surprised, he was not even concerned or nervy as he was when he first came to the place, or how he felt after two weeks off from work, he felt right at the place, in front of Asna, in the time, Asna carried on,” I am not thinking of leaving all this and writing a book as I always wanted to, I am not thinking about quitting this place and settling in mountains or sea, (she took a pause) I am obviously not thinking of getting married or taking a sabbatical, but something doesn’t feel in its place you know, it’s not how it’s supposed to be.” This was the first time Asna articulated such thoughts, even in her dreams, probably it was the vibe of banker who has not shown for work from the last two weeks that allowed her to vent out things that she did not know she carried in her. Alan was right there in the thought, he did not require to say a thing, he did not required to nod or distract. After a long pause Asna asked Alan, “do you ever have such feeling,” Alan processed his thoughts with ease he seldom knew, usually he should have been taken aback by such a question, he was hiding or lying about his illness from the world, from himself, and it was probably for this very reason, Alan replied, “Yes, sometimes, it is something that is there you know, this routine, this set of things that you gotta do and not do you know,” he let the simplicity, the music of his thought hang in the air. And just as music and the environment was growing with the conversation, Asna her name loud, it was her friend old friend that she had not met from a long time, they talked and Asna introduced Alan, it was quite an orthodox conversation, that ended just as it started. Asna sat back on the table and asked Alan if he wanted to eat anything or if he was up for getting drunk which was contrary to their plan, when Alan said, “Let’s order something,” she said, “or let me surprise you, let’s get out of here,” just as she said this she waved to waiter and asked for the check. They walked to the parking where Asna had parked her car, and Asna drove Alan through Friday night traffic to Golf Course Road, half the way back Alan had come.
They began to walk the alley of the mall, all shops were closed and it was dark, Alan was wondering where they were going, and wherever they were going the place would naturally be shut, yet, they just walked. After walking for quite some time they stopped at a door that looked like an entrance to somebody’s house, it was a thick glass door that had a big wooden mesh, you could see through the glass pink, blue, green interior of the place and some tables, yet when you looked inside it felt as if you are snooping somebody’s private place, Asna opened the door and they walked inside towards a table in the corner. It was a place where if you met somebody you know they would not recognize you with awe but would just acknowledge and respect the privacy of the place.
“Do you come here often, this seems like an amazing place?” Alan asked Asna. “Not really, yes it is very different, I came here once before, it struck me as a good place,” Asna said.
“I am sure not many people know about here,” Alan said.
“Yeah, that’s what is nice about it,” Asna said.
“You know I saw this movie, it’s a very weird kind of movie, so very film festival types, it was not released and all, and I found it when one of my friend who is doing an acting course gave me this huge amount of data, so this movie has nothing particular in it, it is about this young guy, probably 19 or 20, and he is got to go this college outing kind of a thing for a week, so what he does instead is he goes over to a place, I am not sure how he knows of this place, and there is nothing in this place, it’s just a basement, and it has got a bed, a fridge and something to cook and all and there is a washroom and all, and nothing much in particular, I guess there was not even a glass vent, to tell if it’s a day or night, and this boy goes to this place and spends all his time there, like a week, and it’s kind of nice you know, it is not that he is depressed or lonesome, or he is doing drugs and all, he is clean and relaxed and he reads most of the time and listens to music all the time. And for two- three days a girl stays with him, I guess she was his sister but probably they just knew each other, and you know for quite a long I felt that they are living in the basement for such a long time, and they are gonna have sex and all, but they don’t reach that you know, they just have one fight and they are just spaced out, kind of detached from the whole thing you know. I liked that movie, it’s like it is with me,” when Alan said all this Asna’s attention became hypnotic, she felt she was in a trance, she felt Alan had said everything she could not comprehend about herself, as if that was what she needed, to be detached unhinged from everything.
“Wow that sounds kind of amazing you know, that is what I was talking about earlier, like getting spaced out and just being, that’s kind of incredible.” Asna, though was feeling the urge of being, yet, she was carrying the rust of her everyday routine, she kind of knew that weekend would pass and another week would start.
They sat there probing their eccentricities, trying, figuring with all their might, what they really desired, what they were all about. It was a good day for wine, and though wine took away some of the anxieties of rebellion, yet, something was incomplete, like hanging there unnoticed yet you knew it was there, they had dinner and were calling it a night.
Asna was driving Alan to his place. The night was bright with moonlight and stars, it was past midnight, and few cars passed them, those that did were not very well driven. Coldplay was playing, the only thing on Asna’s mind was not known to her, she was kind of hung, in a space where you go through the motion. As Asna parked the car in front of Alan’s apartment they sat there in the car.
“You wanna have tea?” Alan asked.
Asna, just looked at Alan, she was tired probably, she was spaced out, Alan could feel it, Asna knew Alan could feel it, Asna moved towards Alan, and kind of offered him a hug, one of those deep intense kind of hugs, Alan moved and hugged her, he was about to get back when Asna held him closer with her hand behind Alan’s back, she was just there with him, being, in the hug, she closed her eyes and her heart became very heavy, she held him tighter, Alan felt her energy, felt her heaviness, he felt it to be the kind of a hug that one gives when someone is going on a very long journey after living his entire childhood with you, he then thought it was not like that, it was different, he felt he was being helped, as if this moment is changing him, helping him. Asna finally withdrew herself with a tightness a heaviness, her eyes were teary, only they were not, it was kind of a sudden rush of sentiments that converge and decide that they want to be loose. Asna didn’t look at Alan, she didn’t even opened her eyes; she just was there in the moment. When she opened her eyes, they were kind of wet and red, she blinked, and didn’t look at Alan, “You wanna go for a drive?” she asked Alan. Alan said, “Yes.”
They drove aimlessly through Gurgaon streets, and was getting pleasant, the dust, the sound of the day had settled, the night was beautiful with its light, the music played. Asna, stopped the car in front of a park, the air was much colder around the park, she used to come to this park to walk in the morning when she lived nearby.
She looked at Alan, and said, “I used to come here and walk in the morning.”
“I have been here once or twice, it’s huge, and it’s so cold here,” said Alan.
“Let’s go inside!” Asna, really meant it.
Alan looked at Asna, and could see that she was really excited about this.