Valentine's Day

2006 - I remember ‘celebrating’ my first Valentine’s Day with my best friend A, and her elder sister – our MD. We never believed in love per se but what the heck.Of course, we were always broke, research scholars that we were. MD always bailed us out. The Horticulture Deptt of our home state put up a stupendous rose and strawberry show and live music by a very old band at our favourite All Saints’ Hall. Old and young, married and unmarried but much in love – pride and happiness at the homegrown Dutch roses and the strawberry spread, again home-grown. We decided not to go restaurant-hopping since we would be ‘disqualified’ for all ‘couple’ benefits. MD bought us a box of strawberries each and the roses came for free. Those were the days, my friend.

2 years later, when I met him and I told A, she was the happiest but she said she’d travel to my part of the world to approve/disapprove after meeting ‘the love’. She was not disappointed. And, the Valentine’s Days that followed were forgettable. We simply did not believe in that one day, found it too yo! And we were definitely not part of the cappuccino crowd. You can imagine the kind of gifts I got from him– a hammer and a tool-kit when I was moving house, or a global travel adapter or a fish-net for my aquarium – yes, very practical ones, nothing remotely romantic.

And, last year, when the elders decided to solemnize our engagement, the pandit chose a day we had been disdainfully laughing our heads off all this while – 14th Feb’11. Umm..well, the pandit informed us helpfully that it was ‘shubh’ to help preserve love in a marriage. After the ‘sagai’, we were packed off in the evening to go enjoy dinner and the works and come back home early. We were officially ‘a couple’.

This year, ‘the love’ who is husband now tells me on Monday that he has a surprise for me. He promised to be home by 5 in the evening.The surprise was he didn’t come home till 12 in the night.

14th Feb this year, he took a day off for me. We had a bad idli-sambar breakfast at home. I made it up with nice sambar-rice with papad and dahi in the afternoon and, ice-cream. Slept like logs. Washed and cleaned the house. He fumbled around saying he left something in the car and needed to get them. I can’t tell you how wow the surprise was – a stunning blue Kanjeevaram. By the way, I was not yet over my Sunday thrill when he gifted me a lovely silk sari, just my kinds type. We went to the temple where I first offered to play city tour-guide to him 3 years ago. That is another hilarious story. Another time.

Then, off we went to our favourite Green Bay bakery for our evening round of snacks and tea, this is close to my old workplace. And I was nervous when he asked me to buy whatever came to my mind at the jeweller’s. I told him I am not used to such things. And, he said reassuringly, we have a lifetime to get used to such things. It was a gulp moment for me. When we left the jeweller’s, I was sporting a lovely pair of ‘baalis’. Glee! We landed at our favourite restaurant – and well, another awkward moment there. At the entrance, the restaurant staff ‘instructed’ hubby dear to pick up a rose and hand it to me. We were like okay!

As we were ruminating over the years gone by, we realized how time flies so fast. So many things have happened and so many are in the pipeline. We smiled as more couples with and without children in tow of all ages poured in for their evening celebrations. As we were leaving, we saw the waiting lounge – young and old, in their finest finery.

So, what goes around comes around. Both of us shed our cynicism and agreed we cannot put away this date – love is love but we still don’t and won’t belong to the cappuccino crowd and no mush, yes, no mush. We rounded off the day with a sumptuous 'meetha paan' which resembled a cone ice-cream. So much for Valentine’s day.

What is your name, Madam? My name is Madam

It's been ages I had interesting conversations with the autowallah bhai log. Around  Diwali, i met a kind soul who drove me home safely through an unavoidable potholed road.He charged 10 rupees more than the actual meter fare and for a change, i didn't feel bad giving him his premium. I also offered a box of Diwali sweets.His face lit up and he was tad guilty, left with a 'Happy Diwali, Madam!'

Yesterday,I was outside a big retail store with a big bag and of course,the waiting autos are always the foxy ones, negotiating with them is a real hurdle. So I don't even look at them - simply ignore. I flagged a running auto, a young boy driver and I must say,I am partial to brand new autos.He had absolutely short hair, seems to me, he shaved his head weeks ago.I didn't say a word, just hopped in and he had that 'please,meter pe 10 rupaiya, madam' look. I gave him a hard stare and told him to take the nearest left and exit to the connecting road. He mumbled a grumble but gave up mid-way, more like a student who has been denied a free period.He defended he won't get any return passenger. I retorted he should never give up hope.He said he lost all his hair hoping.I was like - come again? I preached if he got up everyday that he would not get any passengers.You can always expect 2 kinds of reactions. One, to extract their pound of flesh, some autowallas drive over potholes purposely and make you regret you ever hired them. Two, well the obvious - drive properly.Well, my young boy drove properly, more out of love for his new auto.And, methinks, he is not from the city, once in a while, he asked me directions. Two, he also gave me options of shortcuts or regular U-turns which meant more fuel and more fare.I left it to him and he took care it was optimum for both.

I was amused a little. I remarked at him that he does not look like a local, he confirmed. He was from Mahbubnagar and I asked him what about his family. He said he has none. I asked again, mother-father? He was puzzled, and answered of course, his parents were there. Then, what was he thinking - wife and kids . His parents were in Annaram.On further enquiries he said he is a class 9 drop-out and he was more interested in autos and lost interest in school.I asked him if he ever wanted to finish school. He said yes, his mother is after his life egging him to write his 10th.I asked him, if he wants to. He said yes because he feels bad his friends are in college.I asked him his age, he quickly defended saying he is not so grown-up as he looks but is much younger. I told him I didn't say he looked old. He reluctantly revealed he was 17.And what about his driving licence - he was like 'ho jata'. Very good, I told him his entire life was there in front of him and tomorrow, his kids would be very proud if their dad managed to study a little more.

Soon, I was at my doorstep. He pleaded with me to give that extra 10 bucks. I looked at him with a stern but gentle stare. I handed him the meter fare. He accepted it fairly. Then, I handed him 10 bucks with the promise that he will write his 10th open schooling exam.And wherever and whenever we meet again, he should shout out with the update.I asked his name - Venkatesh. He asked my name - 'What is your name, Madam?' I said, 'Madam!' And, that I used to teach kids his age.He held that 10 rupees, wondering whether to return or ..I didn't turn back.