I have occasionally been accused of being incapable of romance. Like most things that people say about me, this is also patently false. Allow me to recount one of the most romantic dinner dates (and the only one) I had.
The year was 1999. I was just another hormone driven teenager. Struggling to come to terms with my culture shock of stepping from a sleepy little town into a city which claimed never to sleep!
I was quite a shy guy. In fact, the shy guy. Saying ‘Hi’ to a girl was the equivalent of bungee jumping. Asking one out for a date was the same jump without the rope. Why, even if God pulled a miracle and some girl actually asked, “Can we go for a coffee?”, “No, we can’t”, was my mantra. Hadn’t heard of Obama back then, you see.
Till I met her, of course. I was smitten. Totally. Stars in my eyes. Twinkling bells even.
After four months of nervous stolen glances, I mustered enough courage to say ‘Hi’. Another three months passed before I became comfortable enough to pass one of my infamous PJs in her presence. Surprise, surprise, she laughed. She actually laughed.
Emboldened by my friends’ assurances that ladki hansi toh phansi, I tentatively walked up to her and squeaked, “Would you… er… Can we… er… I mean…?”. Some part of mind realized that I was mumbling incoherently, but then love does that to people. She, like all girls, could read my mind like Sachin reads a Warnie longhop. And she played the perfect square cut, and said, “yeah sure, we can go for coffee today evening.”
Whoopie! (not Goldberg!)
After three Shetty hotel coffees (those were not the days of Barista and CCD, in case you forget!), I summoned all my courage (and the entire pocket money of the month) and suggested a dinner date. Did not even fumble, mind you. And, she accepted.
So, the plan was in motion before you could say 'lucky bastard'. I went home whistling all the way, feet two whole feet above the air. (Note to engineers: metaphorically speaking, before you throw the law of gravity at me now!). I picked out my best shirt, ironed it myself, wore it, found a few creases, ironed it again till I feared it would burn. Took a bath, brushed my teeth, stole a few drops of after-shave from my cousin’s closet, looked at myself in the mirror and thought (hammed?), “There’s a reason why I am called SRK!”
The dinner was at a hotel (decided by her, I was new to the city) that was pricey by a struggling student’s standards. As we sat down, and I opened the menu, I left out an audible sigh. She looked up, and asked, “What happened?”. “Just thanking my lucky stars, for this lovely date”, I replied. I could be charming when the occasion demanded.
As she ordered the starters (Rs.45/-), I was calculating the odds of my charm working with the hotel’s manager. I didn’t order a starter for myself, hoping that she’d consider sharing a plate romantic.
We moved on the main course, two sabzis (Rs.65/- each) and four rotis (Rs.6/- a piece), and suddenly the four crisp fifty rupee notes in my wallet seemed woefully inadequate. “No dessert and no tip should get me out of here alive”, I thought to myself. May be she’ll not notice that I didn’t tip. Or think I was being conscious about money, and appreciate it. Maybe I can crack a smart one tomorrow about how lost I was in her eyes, that I totally forgot the tip, and she’ll laugh it off. “Hope is all you have”, said the angelic inner voice. “And one whole rupee to tip, just in case”, said the devil inside. “Wow, my devil has a sarcastic side”, I thought to myself.
I resolved to tune out these voices, and concentrate on the goddess in front of me. Man, was she beautiful. “She couldn’t have evolved just like that, God definitely created this one”, the angel on the shoulder exclaimed! “Yeah, ignore the stunner in front of you and start refuting Darwinism now. Perfect timing!”, the devil on the other shoulder squeaked.
But it was a beautiful dinner. I successfully managed to tune out the devil and the angel, and even managed a few stupid PJs. She laughed, and heartily at that. Not a polite, let’s-not-disappoint-the-idiot laugh, but a genuine oh-so-cute-giggle. “I can see you are already on cloud nine”, the angel remarked; “so what if the bill is already one hundred ninety nine!”, the devil chipped in. "Wow, my devil can rhyme too!", I thought to myself.
We finished the meal (why, oh why does time run so fast?), and I was already praying to all the Gods that I hadn’t believed in earlier, to somehow make her ignore the dessert. May be she’ll say ice cream is fattening. After all, girls are always weight-conscious. Except the fat ones.
Sure enough, she closed the menu and set it aside as the plates were being cleared. “God does exist, and he just answered your prayers”, the angel was literally jumping on my shoulder. “One coffee please”, she smiled sweetly at the waiter, and then looked at me. “I’ll skip, I’m full”, I replied weakly. "Skip on a full stomach? you'll get cramps", quipped the devil. "Hey, my devil can pun too!", I thought to myself.
“A coffee is just 6 bucks. I surely have 5 bucks change on me”, I said to myself. I didn’t want to fish around my wallet in her presence, so I excused myself and dashed into the washroom. Only to find that I had exactly four crisp fifty rupee notes, no more, no less. Maybe, I can borrow 5 bucks from her. Maybe, she’ll turn out to be this broad-minded types who insist on sharing half the bill. Maybe I can leave my watch here as ‘security deposit’ and bring the money tomorrow. My mind was going berserk and the two voices also did not have any bright ideas.
“Whatever happens, this dinner has been the highlight of your life so far, so go out and face the problem like a man”, offered the angel after some time. “yeah, she might think you have an upset stomach if you sit any longer in here”, the devil smirked. "Wow, my devil can make crappy remarks too", I thought to myself.
So, I walked out, telling myself, “With her on my side, I can face the whole damn world. What’s a few irate waiters and hotel managers?”, and took my seat.
“Thanks for the nice evening, am sure we’ll go out again”, she said and got up to leave. I looked around for the waiter, to bring the sheet of paper that will be my death sentence.
“What are you waiting for?” she asked.
“er… nothing… the bill”, I managed. I was hoping she’d not be present when the time of reckoning came.
“Hum Bill De Chuke Sanam”, she said.
And THAT concludes the most irritatingly long PJ that you would have been subjected to in your life!!!
PS 1: I know, I know, lots of writers before me have made pun of this movie title. But, a little "inspiration" is excusable. After all, it is a Bollywood PJ.
PS 2: Jeffrey Archer uses this 'hotel' situation in at least two of his short stories. And, no I am not comparing myself to him. But you can sure read those to improve your mood after this stupid exercise.