Friday, 7 August 2015

The Steamin' Mugs Part 4


Chapter 7 : February
Chapter 8 : The D-Day!

Chapter 7 : FEBRUARY

The new year brought in resolutions. Sid tried to write a short story for a producer friend but his schedule wasn’t as light. Besides, the mood would not kick in when he had time. Finally, he resolved to not resolve. He hadn’t heard from Ananya since the book launch a few months ago and he finally felt like he was moving on. After almost a year and a half.

Pritha added a new Suggestions and Blog corner to the coffee house and comments had started pouring in. So people were welcome to share travel experiences. She had ordered a travel journal and named it “Worldviewer”. A couple of times that Sid was there, he saw people scribbling at their tables. The matter was to be proofread, typed and printed by Pritha and only the best entries got on into the journal. The start of the year had already seen 3. Not bad for a period of 45 days.

As the month end was approaching, Sid was getting anxious. His bucket list had only two things. One, to make Pritha’s birthday one of the most memorable ones of her life and two, telling her how he felt for her. He had also decided to show and gift her his travelogue, something he had cautiously avoided telling her for want of surprise. Also, a beautiful silk saree that he had bought in town someplace chic, he often forgot names but the translucent blue would make her look so serene…the thought of it soothed him. It was crazy, he was aware. He had colleagues who had shown interest in dating him and maybe more, but he had neither the time nor the inclination to take it forward. 

It wasn’t that Sid was expecting anything. On the contrary, he was worried how she might take it and whether or not, it would ruin their equation for good. That she might have something to say in his favour is a thought that scared him. For want of not getting disappointed, he had chosen to remain pessimistic when it came to him confessing his true feelings for her. But he could not, not tell her. Not any longer. His conscience was guilt ridden for he came to see her in the capacity of someone more than a friend. Was it infatuation, attraction, love, lust!? Could not be lust…that, Sid was sure of. Her physical attributes did have the highest appeal but the person that she was, was what he admired the most. In a much rather innocent, platonic way. At times, he felt foolish and childish, like literally, given the age difference but the effort required, to sound normal and hide his true feelings, was getting tad too much. 

Her closest friends were throwing her a party on the eve of the 29th and Sid chose to not be there. Given his agenda, he wanted to be alone with her, as long as she was willing. “Well sure, I am not doing anything particular that evening so a dinner would be a good idea!” She seemed excited about it! He had confided in Abdul for all the arrangements and had ordered a dark cherry forest cake, her favorite from The Cake Shop and arranged for it to be delivered at the coffee house, at around 4. Before she reopened it after the lunch break. 3 to 5 was cool off and cleaning time and he decided to turn that into an opportunity. The champagne, he would personally carry that along with his cherished work, the travelogue.
The previous night, he could hardly sleep. His excitement knew no bounds and as much as he had confessed his love to women before, this seemed like out of the ordinary. Hell, it was. The Ananya chapter had consumed him emotionally and after a long while was he feeling secure and clear in his thoughts again. It was love. Period. And it was going to be an honest confession. The outcome? He had not let his mind wander there.

12am and he placed the call. As the call got through, there sounded what was like a screech and the familiar “Hey!” on the phone. She wasn’t sounding her normal self and it amused him. 

“You are sounding a little different! May this be a great day and a year ahead Pritha! Happy birthday and have a good one! Love you!” He tried to sound nonchalant.

There was no reason she could have taken it in any other way! “Thanks Sid! You are up! You should join us! We are at my place and……” Screech! 

“What! Hellooo….??”

“Hellloo…Sid, you there? Sorry, there is a lot of commotion here. Before the line goes crazy again, thanks a ton Sid for calling me at this hour! Waiting to celebrate with you tomorrow. Go to sleep ya and have a good one, you too! Thanks again!” she chuckled!

“Sure! Byee!”

Chapter 8 : D DAY!

He could hardly catch sleep that night. It was going to be a long day. He had to work but he had asked for permission to start and wrap up early. Heartily granted at that. Sid was great with his work. His interpersonal relationships had ensured him a smooth transition into the team and a dedicated worker that he was, nobody cared with a simple request like that once in a blue moon. As long as work did not get affected. 

He had put on his best attire to work today. Denims with a formal shirt. Friday, so a semi-formal day. Sid was in luck. He looked at his watch as it clocked 3. He pressed the elevator button thrice. As the door opened, he darted inside and pressed L1. The liftman winked at him. “Sab mera kaam karte to asaan padta”. He awkwardly got up from the bar-like stool given to him to rest his buttocks on once a while and switched on the fan. Sid was glancing nervously as the lift sped down and within less than 20 seconds, he was out. 

“Sahab”, Mikesh called out. 

“Mikesh! Kya hua?” Sid spun around and started pacing backwards. 

“Shirt pe ink utara hai! Pocket..pocket…” he managed as the lift doors closed shut. Shit! Sid had no time to buy a new one on the way. There were showrooms but time was critical here. To hell with it! He thought.
He took a cab and picked up the champagne bottle on his way. It had already been arranged for, nicely wrapped with a birthday note and a box of salted cookies. The likes of which Pritha had a taste for. Abdul had been instructed to get a bouquet of white orchids. Elegant and not over the board. A small one with a green ribbon woven around. Just as Sid had instructed. This was from Ferns and Petals, luckily on the same street as Pritha’s café and her adjacent house was. Abdul seemed intrigued but refrained from asking questions. Over the years, he had been a silent worker. Good for Sid.

As the taxi turned around the curb, he could now see the coffee house at a distance. Pritha was to come downstairs around 4 for trying out a new specials menu, something she had reserved for this particular day and Abdul had already managed the cake and the bouquet and had arranged it on a corner chair, next to one of the tables near the far end of the wall, not visible to her as she entered. He also had another packet received and opened and kept ready for her to see on the same table since he thought gifts could all go there.
The taxi halted a few meters from the café.  Pritha had no knowledge that Sid was showing up early. She was busy inside baking or so Sid guessed as he scanned the place from outside. Carefully, he took the bottle , the box of cookies, the sari wrapped in a beautiful paper folder and his own travelogue tied with a red ribbon. He had already paid the taxiwala as he knew he would be hands full. He looked at the ink stain once and sighed. What a mess!

As he climbed the two baby steps that led to the café, Abdul came out beaming. That meant victory. So he had managed everything! Sid was thrilled! 

“Sab le aaye Abdul?”

“Sahab sab kuch us table pe rakha hai! Cake ko jaldi kaato sahab, pighal jaayega aur bouquet bhi hai aur….” His voice trailed off as he saw the travelogue. “Yehi toh rakha hun!”

“Kya!?” Sid had opened his mouth to say something else but just a Hindi monosyllable came out. “Matlab!?”

“Sahab yehi kitaab toh rakha hun thodi der pehle!” he took the gifts and shot a nervous glance inside fearing that Pritha might come out. 

Sid let him take the gifts and walked towards the table that Abdul had indicated. 

“How did Pritha know that it was my travelogue?  Had I mentioned it to her in my drunk state the other night? Had she read about it someplace? Had Abdul blurted it out to her…no wait, Abdul did not know I was getting the book…”  numerous thoughts as Sid walked towards the table. His pensive mode continued….“Maybe she wanted to surprise me!! Ahaa..that could be it!”

His work was sitting there all right! Without a thought, he opened the cover and felt multiple tiny stabs near his chest as he read..

“A book am sure you will love and which will go well in your café! Sorry, could not make it yesterday. Happy birthday Maa. Love you. Ananya.”

The place began to swirl and Sid walked out the entrance. Now an exit for him, he again looked at his shirt and departed without a second glance thinking the same thing “What a mess!”. 


The Steamin' Mugs Part 3


Chapter 5 : Winters 

Chapter 6 : New Years'

Chapter 5 : Winters

It’s almost criminal to call the cold season of Bombay, Winter. But well, by local standards, it is. Coming from where he did, this season just about seemed pleasant to him. 

“You seem to have taken a liking for this place haven’t you!?” She smiled and gave a wink. It was a Saturday afternoon and though most first days of Sid’s weekends were unofficially working, today was a day off. It had been 3 days since he hadn’t visited the coffee house. It sounded obnoxious but Sid had come to a full realization. He had fallen for her. At first, he thought it was just the attire, the way she carried herself and the outward personality. But they often caught up when there were fewer people at the café and time always flew. They talked about anything and everything under the sun and it seemed to make sense. He loved her wit, her sense of humour and the fact the she had seen a lot in life. Perspective. That’s what he got from her. On everything! 

“I have, yes. The collection of your books is too good. Tell you what, how about we go for a coffee some other place? Just for the fun of it. I have taken a treat a couple of times. Just as a thank you for the refreshing time that I have here, would you mind joining me for a coffee someplace else?”

She was taken aback a little but appreciated his honesty. In fact, she liked his company. Life had not been easy. She was in her early fiftees now though no one could tell. Her marriage had died a natural death many many years ago and she decided to part ways with what life had offered her up until that point. A mixed marriage, her parents were shocked. It hadn’t yet become a practice with social acceptance tagged to it and she had had a tough time convincing them. Pa was cool and though initially worried, had understood her point.

“I know I love him and so does he”. 

“He loves himself!?” Pa queered. That made Pritha laugh. “Quit making a joke out of it Pa. You know I won’t like it if you and Ma were to look for someone else. I might as well stay single in that case.” 

Life took this part of her conversation way too seriously. Single she lived.  

“Will you take care of each other the way your Ma and me have? I won’t stand in your way if you have already made a decision. We just want you to be happy. The struggles thereon, the decisions, the consequences are all yours. We are there to help but it is you who got to lead it. If you think he understands you the way you need to be understood, I am all for it. Convincing Ma is my responsibility."

“Honestly Pa, I don’t know. How can I know now if we are okay for and with each other? Time will tell. But I think he is good for me and so am I for him. We support and trust each other and understand our needs. Most importantly Pa, I simply have never felt this way for anyone before. You might laugh at it now but it’s true.”

“Why would I? It’s one of the best feelings in the world. I am crazy for Ma till this day Pritha. She was my best decision of life. And I did the same thing when I was 20-something. So go on and get a coffee. Ask him to come meet us tomorrow morning.”

Pritha had had a non-conventional court marriage. Another reason to draw criticism and taunts amongst family and friends. Ma was not happy but she gave in for she loved Pritha too much. They had had her after over a decade of marriage and she was an apple of the eye. Brought up independently and with a lot of gut, she had turned out to be fiercely opinionated and quite perspective of an individual. A reader by night and sleeper by day, she had dreamt with her eyes open and scaled the hierarchy at her organization with much more ease than any of her other female counterparts.  

The wedlock unfortunately turned out to be a disaster. And slow at that. It took life away from her. The birth of their child was not particularly a happy time. Trouble had taken deeper roots much earlier. She lost Ma and Pa within a period of two years and that crippled her psychologically and emotionally. She decided to raise the child on her own but unfortunately for her, her husband was a very well settled-man. Ma and Pa had taken good care of her with leaving a small family bungalow in her name and some jewellery but times were changing. Although managing a child was possible for her, she couldn’t convince the courts. The lawyer fees ripped away all savings and she had to hold on to whatever was left. At least to support herself. Over the years, she had quit her stressful job for want of time for her family and taken to volunteer work. This wasn’t getting her much now although it was enough for a single soul.

As courts swung the decision in her husband’s favour, Pritha waited eagerly to see their child every week.  A mixed breed at that, she had taken features of both of them, Pritha realized. Also, her father’s temperament and her mother’s creative vision. If anything troubled her, it was the fact that Pritha could never cultivate that bond with the being she had once shared the umbilical cord with. The physical distance, her husband’s clever maneuvers being the main culprits and the strong financial and social standing that he had did the rest. The interim 10 odd years of her life were spent brooding and questioning her decisions until she finally heard the inner voice. Although not very close, a stable relationship with her daughter, though hidden from her husband, made her feel like a new twig. More importantly, the real her celebrated victory somewhere when she decided to get out of her decade long slumber and move on with life! There had been no turning back since then. With whatever savings she had accumulated over the years, she renovated the verandah, had it covered and remodeled into The Steamin’ Mugs. Over the years, having grown and lived in the same neighborhood did her one big favour.  Friends. For life. Although they couldn’t do much in that darkened phase of her life, they did ensure that she would not collapse. 

And she didn’t all right. It had been almost 7 years now that she ran this place with such fervor and taste that she had started featuring in lifestyle magazines. The experimentation with food too earned her brownie points and she had recently got an offer to appear to talk about the House on a television show.

“I am so nervous about this Sid.” She jolted back to reality. “I mean, I have worked in marketing et al before but that was like ages ago. Things are different now.”

“And since when does someone like you worry about how different things are. All you have to do is talk about what you do, day in and out. You have built a portion of this place with your bare hands, the ambience, the warmth and the relaxation that anyone could get here is almost meditating. Do you know how many of us come here just to sit and introspect on life while those steaming coffee mugs with continental snacks come our way!? Abdul has been great and that’s solely because you have made this place. You have given it an identity. It can almost become a prototype…something like a coffee book house…a cook house! Hey that’s a brilliant idea! Why not invite people and share their recipes here. You keep a portion of the sales and they get to showcase their talent and go up your specials board once a weekl!”  

She was in splits now. “I had a little doubt. Don’t worry, I am all excited, was just a little apprehensive. Thanks for the idea though!”

“So have I earned my coffee now!?”

“Sure”. She got up as the chime announced another customer. Sid beamed and started wondering where to take her! 

Chapter 6 : NEW YEARS

Pritha had started enjoying Sid’s company. Just like she loved the company of a lot of other frequenters to the coffee house. The hustle bustle and the trade in itself, if that is what it can be called, had changed the monotony that her life had become. She found a new self and had finally understood the true sense of hitting rock bottom and bouncing back. Pa would be so happy today. She always spoke to Ma and Pa in those lonely hours, told them that she was doing okay even when life offered her the darkest of the miseries. Losing your biological and legal kin within questionable amount of time was lethal a blow but she sailed through. Today, upon looking back and smiling at some of the misfortunes of life, she was still grateful for all the people there were and are. 

Sid certainly could now be counted as one of the many good friends. She had told him about her life, bits and pieces and he had told her about his. At 25, he had yet to see a lot and a few broken relationships could not complicate life that much, she had told him. He agreed. Anything beyond was unimaginable for her. Pritha had lost too much and had finally regained control of her life. She was not looking for love anymore. That it could come her way was a different story but for the time being, there was no one. 

Sid had a different tale being woven. He had certainly fallen in deep love with her and would look for company and spending ‘quality time’. It never occurred to him as to where he was headed. Rather, he did not question anything. Living in the moment was what he was doing. Although his travelogue sales did not hit a high note, it certainly wasn’t a disappointment. Reading circles took it well. A few intellectual minds who were friends of friends found the work credible and the writing incredible! His job was going good too. Finally, he had found something with a learning curve and liked going to work everyday. His colleagues invited Sid to a throwback event on the 30th since most of them were married and spending New Years’ with their families. Sid was tempted and he said Yes. What followed was a drunken escapade and the worst hangover Sid had ever had! They dropped him, many times literally, while on their way back and finally to his home at 5 the next morning. 

He opened one groggy eye for he was getting incessant phone calls. Turned out it wasn’t a call after all. He had put an alarm in his inebriated state of mind and it was ringing creating this maddening fury inside him. He finally managed to switch it off and saw the clock. His body was aching and his head, spinning. It was almost late evening and he was a few hours away from greeting the New Year. If he would be in his senses to do that, that is. 

He managed to stand up. Popped an aspirin and washed his face. His face looked like it had taken a tight slap for Sid fell down and cut his right cheek the previous night. “What the hell!??” Sid thought. And then he remembered. He hurried, rather scurried back to the living room and picked up his dying phone. Plugged it into the charger and placed the call. 

“Heyy..was trying your number Sid. Where are you!?”

“I am so sorry Pritha. Had a rough night. Can I skip!?”

“Oh, of course! I just hope you are okay. I have a few friends and family over! But you don’t worry, take rest. I will see you in the new year I guess..” she sounded so thrilled. Family?? Sid wondered but his head was taking a thousand hammers. He managed apologies and crashed on to the sofa again. Within minutes, he was asleep.


The Steamin' Mugs Part 2


Chapter 3 : The Return  

Chapter 4 : The Monsoon

Chapter 3 : The return

His wall clock ticked 2 am and Sid decided to call it a night. His breakup with Ananya had dragged onto his personal life for a while, leaving him torn and alone in this city. It was the same time of the year the one before and monsoon made it worse. Sea depressed him and he was stuck in a port city with his part time work as a consultant and getting to convince publishers to finance his travelogue. Upon insistence from Ananya, Sid had compiled his travel diaries to create a beautiful coffee table book, full of practical do’s and don’ts and fantastic imagery. The work had satiated him on a different level no doubt, but he got reminiscing, every time, every moment that the latter part of the book needed to see the end. In a way, he was happy that it (the book) did. Sometimes, he even felt like quitting and going home but new prospects awaited him now. He had appeared for interviews for a full time job as writing was getting tougher by the day. The inspiration had become a thing of the past and with great difficulty and perseverance, he had finished the one venture that he had begun. 

An IT guy, he was sure to get through one of the organizations he had applied for and would finally look at a steady income, settled life and some peace of mind. Not that he had financial troubles but who wouldn’t want a steady flow of cash in a city like Mumbai. He was working from home today and meeting Mr. Tyagi for the written word. Subconsciously, he looked forward to the evening and returning the kurta that he had borrowed the previous evening.

The day went by without much excitement and he returned. There was a slight drizzle today so not as much buzz as the previous evening. He pushed the door and entered. Smaller crowd and lesser activity. He took the same couch by the window though a different book. The Specials Board boasted of Pistachio Rose Latte and Corn Spinach Raviolis amongst a few other delicacies! Sid felt hunger pangs though his eyes were still searching her. 

He began scanning the images from ‘The First World War in Colour’. Peter Walther had gained acclaim for this one, maybe that’s why the book found its way in the collection here, Sid thought. A group of men with cigars in their mouths, standing by a make-shift tent. Sid was amused to see this gallery in colour, ironically of a time when everything was black and white. 

He looked up in time to see her come inside the coffee house from a back exit. Floral print on white kurti and a serene blue salwar, the same colour as the print. The silver danglers in her ears with the neckpiece gave the Indian look the required glamour, subtle yet impressive. She scanned the orders of the past few minutes and asked Abdul to take care of them. He looked employed, not someone from the family maybe, Sid thought. He could not help stare at her. Such enchanting eyes, Sid wondered. The kohl made them look more piercing and devastating to directly look at. The transfixed poor soul forgot to rise to his feet to go place an order at the counter. She looked at him and smiled. A small question mark on her face told him that she might have recognized him or so he wished. She put the pen and the pad down and started walking towards him. Crossing 2 tables on her way and greeting some familiar faces, she came and stood right in front of him.

“Would you like to try something from the specials board or would you like to have a regular coffee?”. 

“He..Hello Ma’am! Anything! I will just place the order”. His extended hand had a brown paper bag, folded. “Something borrowed yesterday Ma’am. Thank you very much”! 

A flash of recognition made her go red in the cheeks and she smiled again, showing off those tiny wrinkles. “Sorry I didn’t recognize you! You look all warm and fresh today! Take your time with the order. I am right over there.” She started back not without saying “Good pick by the way. That’s a new one”, pointing to the coffee table book. 

Sid placed an order for a Latte and sat by his table again. It was Abdul this time. She was busy talking to an old acquaintance, or so it looked like. There was a certain warmth about the place that was so unmistakable and Sid regretted not having noticed the café earlier. Well, only momentarily.  He scanned the book again and saw two more tables emptying. There was just this girl at the far end of the coffee house. With headphones on, she was feverishly talking with someone in an unknown language, unknown to Sid. Pretty. He thought. But not interested. Sid smiled at the silly thought. Was it empty hours or was it infatuation? He had been in stable relationships before and was no longer a teenager. Besides, the woman, Pritha as he was to learn later, was probably twice his age. He was not able to decide whether it was his loner phase of life or his genuine appreciation for beauty that made him feel this way. “Idiotic this is”…he chuckled!

“Something funny about the book son?” She was standing next to him with a Latte and a crossword puzzle and a pencil on the tray. 

“Thank you Ma’am. You could have called me….(and not called me that!)”. He managed while standing up almost instantly. 

“Don’t be silly. I love doing this. Coffee rejuvenates people and my specials make their day. That’s how I sleep peacefully at night. Let me know how you liked that one and suggest some new combinations for the board! Enjoy!” She said, placing the tray on the table. 

“So this place belongs to you Ma’am?” Sid hurried, worried that she would leave! Ohh…this was getting poetic! 

“I belong here son.” “Sid, the name is Sid”. He said extending his hand and pulling a chair for her. She glanced around, precisely what Sid was expecting and realized that she could catch a break after all. Resting her elbows on the table, she waved her right hand and motioned him to sit. “So Sid, are you new to the city? You are certainly new here!” “Ma’am…” “Pritha. The name is Pritha”. She smiled. 

“P.r.i.t.h.a..this might take time..well not really, it’s been 5 years since I am living in Bombay, love to call it that though locals would kill me for it. Trying to fit in and have a good time. I love the city, though at times, feel homesick”.

“Happens. Not because I belong here but this is one of the best cities in the world you can choose to live in. The pace, the stench, the life, it all grows on you. Where do you belong?”

“I am from Himachal. But have studied in Doon and then moved to Delhi. So been around. Bombay offered good prospects so I came here. Shifted from full time consultancy and took to part time writing..”

“Interesting really. I have seen a lot of youngsters going after their dreams these days. It’s not easy to be a rebel. Living life on your terms is glorified I feel. To actually put it to practice needs a lot of courage. Courage to disappoint your loved ones, courage to listen to what your heart earnestly beats for. There is so much commotion around you that it takes effort to listen to your own self…!” Her voice trailed off as she looked out the window. The drizzle had turned into a downpour now and perfectly made her point. It took just a few seconds for her to get back to where they were seated. 

“Seen a lot in life I guess. If you don’t mind me about your family?” he tried to get past that veiled face. Cautiously. Somewhere, he had begun to anticipate a troubled past in just a short conversation.
“I have Abdul and the many satisfied faces I see everyday!” As if he heard his name, Abdul called out. Sid could have sprung across from where he was seated for the boy’s throat. Again, a few seconds and he remained quietly seated as Pritha hurriedly excused herself and got up. 

Chapter 4 : The Monsoon

The days that followed saw a flurry of activities in Sid’s life. A small-time publisher had agreed to bring his book on the stands. He was happy that his work would at least get some acknowledgement. Appreciation? Well, he was going to have to wait for that. He decided to break the news to Ananya. She was thrilled! Said she always wanted to witness this. Sid decided to call for a small gathering of close family and friends to introduce his work and celebrate the occasion. It was after all a big deal for him.

“Please try and attend”. He spoke earnestly into the phone. 

“I would have loved to Sid but I have to go see my father this weekend. He is in India only for a week and has just the weekend. You know how little time we get to spend with each other!” Ananya was genuinely sorry. Sid could feel it. Besides, he very well knew that she was very close to him. 

“We have each other for the longest time now. And even if he respects my decision to stay here, have a stable base and work while he trots the globe, we miss each other a lot. Precisely why we are even closer Sid”. He remembered this. Ananya very rarely spoke of her dad, her only family he knew of and he did not press further.

“Very well Ananya. I know you would be there with me. And by the way, thanks. This one is just for you”.
Within a month of the travelogue launch, Sid got his appointment letter with Accenture. It was a hefty package though long work hours. Which meant he got no time whatsoever for writing. Reading, maybe yes and a coffee once in a while, why not?

Sid had thought of inviting Pritha for the launch but had changed his mind. They had got to know each other a bit more in the past couple of months and Mumbai monsoon had set the perfect backdrop for Sid to visit ‘The Steamin’ Mugs’, the coffee house.  Abdul had got around knowing him too and Sid decided to gift her the book on her birthday. It was a good 6 months away. The 29th of Feb. She was actually going to celebrate it the coming year…what with February leaping with joy for a day more! Perfect. Sid thought to himself. Though he was very nervous with the idea as her intellect intimidated him. How good or bad a critic would she be, he didn’t know.