Translated By Priya Arun
“Hullo….Shankar?” That voice, that unmistakable American accent. Could it be her? Really? After all these years?
“Hi! This is Shraddha.” A brief pause. Oh god, it WAS her! Only she could say that name with such élan.
“Bullshit! Not Sharada you ass, it’s SHRADDHA. Repeat after me? Slowly...Shra-ddha. Three kisses if you get it right.
“Okay let me try. Sha-ra-da Reddy. Six kisses, two for every syllable I get right. Deal?”
We had met for the first time at my friend Meera’s workplace. I happened to visit her on some work. When Meera and I were at the cafeteria sipping coffee, somewhere out of the blue, her strong, obviously expensive perfume wafted across, invading each of my five senses. I sat there, gaping at her as she walked past us like a diva on the red carpet. Meera shook me to my senses. “Stop ogling. Will you? She’s a new trainee here, Shraddha Reddy.”
“You know…she comes from a very poor family. Her dad owns just two pharmaceutical firms in the USA. They are on a constant look out for the next meal…” added Meera, her voice brimming with sarcasm.
I nodded slowly, “Yeah, the assets do tell a lot about her financial status.” The only response I got from Meera was a resounding thwack on my head.
Meera rolled her eyes at me. “Can’t you think of anything else at all? You’re just.... pathetic.”
“Come on now. I’m only being normal. I don’t fake it like the others do. If a man tells you that he only looks at your face, please, don’t ever trust him. Take my word for it.” Feeling smug at my little speech, I began goading Meera for an introduction to Shraddha. While I was still pestering my friend, Shraddha sauntered towards us, balancing with amazing ease, a bottle of lemonade and two sandwiches. I must say, she looked smoldering hot.
As soon as she got to our table, she stretched out the bottle of lemonade towards me, as if we knew each other for ages. “Care for some?” she asked. Meera and she shared a sandwich each. That is when I got to look her at close quarters. The wilderness of curls tamed with a lot of effort, yet a few rebel curls playing truant, huge, dark eyes with a glint of mischief about them, luscious lips with a just hint of matching gloss, an errant upper tooth sticking out playfully on the right corner of her lovely mouth, the giant gold loops in her ears. She was a little tall and had a typically prominent Andhra-nose.
She went about gracefully nibbling into her sandwich; she had an air of sophistication about her that Meera didn’t. Every inch of her body language seemed to scream out to me, “Hey I am way above your league...not even the same zip code.”
Shraddha who suddenly noticed me gazing at her, quickly said, “Hi! I’m sorry. I’m Shraddha. I’ve joined Meera’s team as a trainee here...just been a week now. I don’t think we’ve met.” And so she jabbered on and on and on. The way her gold loops kept step with every nod of her head was delightful to watch.
“This is my buddy Shankar,” said Meera. “A qualified mechanical engineer, whiling away his time doing odd Marketing jobs. Ask him and he will tell you, his ultimate destination is the world of films. Anyway. Shankar, meet Shraddha. Shraddha, meet Shankar,” she did the much awaited introductions with a sly wink aimed at me.
As we shook hands, I felt some kind of a connect between the two of us. Lost in thought, I only could mutter a feeble Hi!, the word stuck in my throat as it were. Meera looked at me in amazement. I cleared my throat and tried again. “Hi!” I said. Ah! That sounded a little better. “Hi! Sharada” I said again. She wriggled her palm out of my grip and said rather crossly, “Not Sharada. It's Shra-ddha...come on say it?” Faking a sulk, she said “Nobody ever gets it right,” and looked me sharply.
“Gosh! Just look at him, Meera! Doesn’t he look like a blushing bride, right out of a cheesy Tamil film?” As if on cue, Meera acted out a coy look. They both had now ganged up against me—two against one. They were still at it. Pointing to my face, “Hey look! He looks cross,” saying this, her eyes still fixed at me, Shraddha suddenly ruffled my hair.
“Don’t you touch my hair!” I yelled out, rather angrily. With their mirthful peals of laughter abruptly cut short, they stared at me looking shocked.
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