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We just had a beauty pageant. I look at the girls – they look suspiciously like Stepford women. They could have walked out of Mattel factory for all you know. Oh...don’t worry. This is not a hysterical blog against beauty pageants. See I’m getting old and more often than not, inane news snippets does something to my brain - old memories float up like hot air balloons and dangle in front of my eyes. Yes...this news item reminded me of my (very) close brush with a celebrity. I was very much within touching distance and I’ve stared into his eyes. Intrigued? Read on.
The said incident took place sometime in the late nineties. It all started at Malleswaram 10th cross Krishna kovil. My parents came under intense peer pressure and had ‘submitted’ my resume to the in-house marriage bureau in the temple. “It is not that you will get a match right away,” they were told, “it can take anything between 6 months to more than a year. And your daughter is not getting any younger,” they were preached. I was in my early twenties so indeed I had one leg in the grave.
As luck would have it, my parents got a call that week. A prospective match. It was decided that the ‘meeting’ should take place at a ‘neutral’ place such as a club or hotel.
He was half an hour late. But I had the company of at least 4 family elders, a sniggering sister and his mother. He finally came all out of breath and flustered. We sat at a separate table over coffee. “I did not even know about this meeting,” he said, wiping the sweat that seemed to collect copiously on his brow. “My mother always does this – she called me an hour ago in my office and told me to come immediately,” he was very cross with his mother. By the end of the coffee, we had vehemently agreed that this meeting was dumb, daft and a waste of time. We wished each other good luck etc.
I thought that was the end of it. But we were invited for another round of ‘coffee’. It seems the first time around we had ‘hosted’ – so they wanted to return the favour. This meeting was more relaxed, since we had mutually agreed to disagree. In hindsight, this was perhaps misconstrued as cackling chemistry. Soon we got a call once again. We were to attend a get-together at his place. ‘Please send both your daughters,’ was the instruction from his mother. It seemed it was a get-together for youngsters. Perhaps his cousins etc. would come. We were to go on the morrow around noon.
Now here was the situation. We are a middle-class Iyengar family. For us, get-together meant sakkre pongal, puliyogre,thairsaadu. Perhaps a bisibelebath and ambode thrown in with southekayi pachchadi. The menu never varied even when friends came over. That had been our experience even when we went over to a friend’s place. At best, the variation would include pulav or fried rice. Here was the dilemma. Going ‘empty-handed’ was out of question – it was just not our culture. Should I carry some innocuous sweet like gulab jamoon, well-packed in a steel dabba? This could be accompanied by some kharaseve from Mangalooru stores. Or maybe we should not be so personal and just buy some Mysore Pak and Baadusha from Asha sweets in Malleswaram. Also, we had to take into account certain other factors. During the coffee meets, his mother had apparently spoken of a saligrama at home, and ancestral temples etc. This called for a third-party family elder intervention. “Whether S becomes that family’s bride or not – she is deemed in that position as of now,” the elder sagely mused. “Therefore, as per our tradition, she must carry flowers and fruits. Make sure she carries thamboola. S must keep all this in their puja room."
With much cringing and groaning, thus armed with two jute bags and a bulging ‘vanity’ bag which housed the thamboola, a very surly sister and I set forth. 3 buses and an auto later, we stood in front of his house. We rang the doorbell, and he ushered us inside. We removed our slippers, and the act seemed to shock him. He protested, “No no...no need to remove your slippers.” He was in squeaky clean Adidas. Little did he know that that our Bata had waded through roads that resembled the bed of Brahmaputra. Besides, right above my head, Sriman Narayana’s bust smiled benignly at me. I positively could not step in with slippers.
Having discarded the footwear, I looked around. “Are we too early?” I asked. No one was around. I had expected to see an army of maamas and maamis.
“They are on their way. But some of my friends have come...they are around somewhere.”
By now the jute bags which contained the fruits and flowers were heavy in our hands. “Can I keep this somewhere?” I asked. I’ll be damned if I go looking for puja rooms.
He led us to the dining room. “You people are so formal,” he chatted amicably, “there was no need to get anything for the party.” The dining table was covered with bottles and chips and dips and fries. It somehow seemed disastrous to bring out the Mysore Pak , Badusha and kharaseve, along with musambi, banana and coconuts in beetle leaves. Not to mention three folds of mallige strands.
Just then, his friends tumbled into the room. My cheeks burned with embarrassment. Here we were – The Sister and self ; barefoot, carrying a bag of musambi, mallige and thamboola; attired in simple salwaar kameezes as befits a ‘get togther’ with elders as potential participants. And there they were – in high heels, chic clothes and salon dried hair, carrying bottles and some more take-away bags.
Introductions flew around. Eyes made contact over my head, and knowing glances and nudges were passed around – this was the girl his mother was forcing him to ‘consider’. The only mission at that moment for me was to escape the place. Just then some more people poured in – a sea of denim and leather thwarted escape plans.
The ‘party’ now adjourned to the living room. The Sister and I followed like afterglow of a comet’s tail, remaining at the fringe of this hip crowd. They were toasting some bloke – he had been selected for the Gladrags Manhunt. Even under dire, desperate circumstances, I don’t give up an opportunity to eyeball a good-looking bloke – so I did the needful. Of course, I ‘knew’ the guy. He was quite a popular model – had seen him in many print ads. When the toasting was done and the attention was away from him, he sat quietly on a chair, examining the pattern of the window curtains. It was not arrogance, aloofness, boredom. I could spot a fellow-introvert a mile off.
Meanwhile, someone said something about dancing. Indeed a young lady with severely permed and tinted hair, dressed like Bellatrix Lestrange had started head banging to some tune in her head. I realized the clear liquid she was imbibing in the middle of the day was not water. My sister had had enough. “Let’s go,” she hissed menacingly in my ear. The cold mosaic was chilling our feet rapidly.
I finally sought the host and said, “I’m sorry, we have to leave.” He knew why we had to leave and did not protest.
The Sister and I braced for a final round of embarrassment – of walking down the long living room amidst a jungle of well-clad feet, retrieve our Bata and be gone. But when things happen to me – they happen in extremes.
As I neared the door, I saw a tricky situation. Gladrags Man was still checking out the curtain patterns. His feet, well-covered in stylish suede leather shoes with steel studs, were placed on one of my sandals. The sister, unaware of the impending catastrophe, slipped into her pumps and was out of the door.
Oh well. F**k it all. I went and stood in front of him and he looked up. By God, I’ve never seen anyone with such clear, lustrous skin. And the eyes were child-like.
“Hi!” I smiled.
He smiled back and nodded, and stood up, towering over me. Now, the Bata was completely squashed under his weight.
“All the best for your contest.”
“So will the finals be in Bombay?”
“Yes. I am leaving tomorrow.”
“Oh I see. I guess we’ll get to watch it on T.V.”
“Yeah,” he gave an embarrassed laugh. And all through, he had not moved.
“Hmm...I think you are standing on my sandals.” There – the end of the world was upon my head.
“Oh! I am so sorry!” he leapt back. The Bata was indeed all squashed. Both of us looked mortified. But I had to plough through and survive.
Smiling at him, I sat on the chair and pulled the straps into shape, lightly slapping the offending slipper against the floor. My heavy vanity bag, which still contained the thamboola landed on one of his foot while I was engaged in my cobbler duties.
Things were now out of control, and I did the only thing I do under such a situation. I laughed uncontrollably, thus negating the apology that was pouring from my mouth. I might have just injured the poor boy, knocking him out of the contest altogether, ruining his career. Perhaps I should aim the thamboola at the host’s skull to equalise things.
I thrust my sandals on my clown feet and stood up. He handed the vanity bag smiling sheepishly. The suede leather had taken the impact of the coconut I think, and his foot had not felt a thing.
And then, The Sister and I fled from the place...fled for our lives.
That was the last I saw of the host.
As far as the Gladrags Man – I did spot the gentleman on T.V. during the contest – in his briefs. Never thought I would see so much of him. He won the contest – that’s my boy! Wikipedia informs me that he is now a super model. I wonder though, if he’s developed a phobia for vanity bags.
© Sumana Khan - 2012