“Coming!” Chotti shouted into the speaker of her phone and switched it off.
“Drat this sari! Mom was right. It’s very slippery.” She pushed pallu back into a semblance of neatness and firmly pinned it up. “Better pin up the pleats too.” She mumbled hunting for another safety pin amongst her scattered belongs and came up with her as yet unworn earrings.
“Better put these on first before I forget. Oh darn it! What’s wrong with the catch?” With great difficulty, she managed to slip on one dangler but the other one was even trickier. She struggled and struggled to open the little latch-like lock as precious seconds ticked by. She desperately considered her options, should she wear another pair? What if she couldn’t take off the one she had worn? Would she have to go with one pair of earring? Or she could wear this in the car? Yes that would probably be the best option – click and the latch swung open. One of those Murphy’s Laws, grumbled Chotti as she quickly slipped it on.
And not a minute too soon – her phone rang again.
“Oh hell and damnation!” Chotti grabbed her purse, along with her other accessories and made a dash for the door.
“Hi!!! Heyy you all look stunning.” She slipped inside the car. “Just look, I am just about half dressed.” She proceeded to slip on her choker and bangles and other stuff whist engaging in a lively conversation with her friends as if she was meeting them after years. “You’ll never believe what happened today! That Stingy…”
“Whatever it is not as bad as mine.” Sadhna (aka Saddy) sank back with a groan. “The surgery went on till 6 and I have been on my feet for 8 hours now. I don’t know how I am going to get through this evening. On my new 6 inch heels.”
“Shruti! Has Mr Goyal’s path report come?
“Negative! Though the report hasn’t been signed yet.”
“Phew what a relief.”
“Six inch heels Saddy! Are you crazy or what? There’s going be dancing.”
“Look who’s talking Angel!” Saddy retorted. “What possessed you to wear a sari?”
“I have a presentation tomorrow at 9 am.” Shruti groaned. “And I still have to make my slides. Can you believe it?”
“Oh no! When will you do it?” Chotti commiserated.
“After returning what else?”
“I had nothing else to wear Saddy.” Choti launched into a detailed account of her dress woes.
“I am definitely better off than you. I can kick off my heels to dance bare feet but you can’t can you?” Saddy grinned.
“I can! I will too. And tuck my sari up.”
They giggled. Chotti’s choker slipped off which she hadn’t clipped properly in her hurry to catch up with her friends. There was a predictable mad scramble for it in the car – screeches, shrieks and howls as their elaborate hairdos, chains got entangled.
Shruti’s long-suffering driver (and father of 3 girls in their teens) drove on without batting an eye at the going ons.
“Stingy is so mean! I swear I am going to shoot her one of these days!” And so on so forth it went until they reached their destination.
They unpacked themselves and shook out their gorgeous glittering dresses.
“Is this okay?”
“What about mine?”
“Wow! You look great!”
“What about me?”
“Ah the sari. Exquisite design and such a lovely color. But, what have you done to your pallu? And your pleats are a mess!”
“Damn it! I knew there was something wrong.” Chotti groaned.
“Let’s go and fix ourselves up.”
Dresses, realigned, readjusted and primped (for the record – that was the word – primp – I was trying to write a piece on and look what it became!) to satisfaction (well, near satisfaction) make up touched, hair carefully and artfully disheveled and on constant chatter mode, three stunning ladies made their way to the party which was on in full swing.
They were instantly enveloped into the warm welcoming fold of friends, classmates, and colleagues.
Greetings, hugs, wishes, drinks and snacks were in abundant circulation.
Chotti loosened up and stopped worrying about her sari. Yet once in a while she couldn’t help patting herself to check if everything was in place – should I have tied it tighter? Hope it doesn’t all slip out!
She scanned the crowd, “Where’s Rohit and Deep? Poor Tarun, he is missing all this, let’s send him a selfie.”
“And make him feel worse? How inconsiderate Doctor,” he coughed, “not so-Chotti.” He laughed as he scanned her flushed countenance.
Chotti glared at him – not quite sure whom she was angrier with – him for mocking her or her idiotic heart going dhak dhak – stop it! She ordered sternly.
“Don’t you know it’s bad manners to pass personal remarks?” Chotti decided to change her tactics.
He looked innocently at her. “Oh but I thought your name was Chotti?”
“Only for friends and family.” Chotti snapped, fully understanding and empathizing with ASR’s predicament and complaint – Chotte and Chotti the bane of their existence. But she never had a problem until now.
“And don’t you know that’s not quite the tone to take with your senior,” he coughed, “and more qualified colleague.”
“You seem to have a bad cough Dr Shubham Sir! May I recommend a cough syrup – Benadryl?” Chotti’s eyes glittered.
“Oh but that would make him sleepy wouldn’t it?” Shruti objected tuning into the conversation just then.
“Maybe he needs to sleep it off.” Chotti refused to back down.
“Maybe.” Dr Shubham acknowledged. “There is a strange tickle in my throat.” He fingered his Adam’s apple. “Like a bubble rising.” There was an unmistakable undertone of laughter in his voice and eyes even though to all appearances he looked mildly worried as he coughed again.
Chotti seethed. Dramebaaz
“But so kind of you to worry.” He smiled at her.
“I am sure it’s nothing a drink won’t cure.” Subham plucked a drink from a passing waiter. He paused with a wicked glance at her. “Perhaps you too need a drink?” He held out one to her.
The look in his eyes dared her.
Without any thought, Chotti grabbed it and took a healthy swig.
Shubh raised an eyebrow and glass. “Cheers!” He followed suit.
Chotti grinned, satisfied at having surprised him. “Cheers. Excuse me, I will go and meet Vishal.”
“And dump your drink en route eh? I should have known you were too chicken to drink it.”
“What’s the big deal?” Chotti finished her drink. “Happy? Do I have your permission Sir to meet the prospective groom?”
“One drink and you are drunk.”
Chotti rolled her eyes. “The drink has barely gone down my gullet. Did you even study PKPD during medical college?”
“If you did you would know women are more susceptible to the effects of alcohol.”
“Yeah we pass out from just the fumes of alcohol.” Chotti mocked and turned on her heel. The uneven ground (and Khushi genes) made her stumble.
“Careful!” He was at her elbow.
“Quite the chivalrous guy aren’t you? I am fine!” She brushed off his arm and started walking but he held her back.
“Better not go right now.” He looked over at the dais. “All the consultants are over there.”
“What’s the catch?” she muttered staring at him suspiciously with half closed eyes.
“Why are you so worried about me? I am sure nothing would give you greater pleasure than to see me make a cake of myself in front of the consultants.”
He grinned. “That’s because I like to have my cake and eat it too!”
“Ha ha ha. Very funny! Bye.” She swept away gracefully on her high heels with an impressive swish except that her pallu fell over a little boy’s face. He gave a yowl and a commotion followed.
There were no casualties –except for Dr. Shubham who retired to a distant corner to laugh to his heart’s content. From even this far he could feel Chotti’s fierce glares coming his way, which only served to enhance his enjoyment. He raised his glass in a toast before draining it.
“I swear I will strangle him.” Chotti ground her teeth.
“Who all will you murder Angel?” Shruti asked. “And have you been drinking?”
“Yeah so what? Don’t you?”
“Not yet silly. First you should have met the big wigs. You know how fussy they are – no point in antagonizing them…”
“Antagonizing them? How? What did I do?”
“Uff Angel! Are you from this country or not? Don’t you know how prudish and uppity they are? Hawww – a girl drinking! Oh she is that millionaire’s daughter! No wonder she has no morals.”
Chotti giggled. “If only they knew! I am more wary of being caught by Daddy than these old fuddy-duddies. What can they do?”
“They, my dear girl, can flunk you.” Sadhna muttered on the other side. “What can Daddy do?”
Chotti’s tipsy eyes softened. She wore a distant look. “Nothing. Just glare at me with thinned lips and say What the…! And that would break my heart.”
“Shush. Just keep quiet okay. Don’t open your mouth. Just smile vacuously and everything will be fine. Here we go.” They went to the dais and greeted the happy couple and the consultants with polite jerky constipated nods and smiles whenever they caught sight of one.
“Phew that went off well!” Shruti let off a relieved breath. “Come let’s go and eat something.” Shruti dragged her. “What possessed you to drink on an empty stomach?”
“It’s all that Munna Raja’s fault. He provoked me. Arrghhh. I hate him.”
“Be careful Angel,” Saddy said, “hate is akin to love.”
“Nonsense!” Chotti protested. “I don’t even like that obnoxious fellow.”
“And that’s the real tragedy Angel. We don’t have to like someone to love them.” Shruti imparted this pearl of wisdom to a disbelieving Chotti.
“Huh! What do you know?”
“I know! Women tend to fall for rakes and unsuitable guys more than ‘nice’ men. I can give you the reference to the article if you like.” She offered.
“What a whole lot of bulls**t.”
“Actually, you know what I think?” Saddy butted in.
“I think that,” she looked around and lowered her voice, “He has a crush on Angel.”
Silence greeted this declaration. Chotti was stunned while Shruti was impressed. “I think you are right!” she said excitedly. “And that’s why he is always provoking Angel. With us he is always so nice and gentlemanly. Right Saddy?”
“Exactly! Something happens to him the moment he sees Angel. I think both his ECG and EEG are thrown out of gear causing him to behave abnormally.”
“Shut up girls. Nothing of the sort. And even if he does, I couldn’t care less.” Chotti huffed. “Aren’t we eating? I am starving.” She yawned. “I am dying to sleep and these heels are killing me. All his fault.” She grumbled.
“The heels are also his fault?”
“Of course! He insists on calling me Chotti. I had to prove him wrong.”
“And now you are Dr. not so Chotti.” Chortled Shruti.
“Are you on his side?” Chotti demanded.
“Oops! Didn’t realize I had take sides! Why are you so uptight about him? You’ve known him since school haven’t you?”
“Yeah. He was Da’s classmate. We used to meet at birthdays and stuff.” Angel said.
“You mean you used to gate-crash the birthday parties.”
“Go away! This is a private conversation.”
“About me. In a public place. What if you besmirched my honor and reputation beyond repair?” He looked blandly at her furious expression. “I have the right to set the record straight.” He wore a pious expression, which only served to set her teeth on edge.
“You can go to…”
“Shush you two.” Saddy hushed them. “So tell us what happened?”
Shubham opened his mouth but Chotti beat him to it. “He is right. I did gatecrash his birthday. Once. When I was four-years-old. Da was going and I tagged along.”
The others laughed. “I am sure Devansh didn’t like it.”
“Yeah well. Don’t remember much about that, but I guess I must have thrown quite a tantrum.” Chotti admitted sheepishly. She looked at Shubham. “I was a baby then.”
“Yeah. Really chotti.”
His tone raised her hackles. “And he was a meanie.”
“What do mean?” The girls were curious.
“He refused to give me a return gift.”
“You ate my cake before I could cut it.”
Chotti flushed. “I don’t remember that.”
Shubham nodded. “A very convenient memory.”
“I was a baby.” Chotti shrugged off her transgression. “I didn’t know any better. You were much older – I think your eleventh birthday? I was a guest at your birthday. You should have given me a return gift.”
“Greedy little Chotti.” He jeered.
Chotti refused to rise to the bait. “Little children are like that. What’s your excuse for the stinginess – mean and petty?”
“Not all of us are millionaires. Ours was a tightly budgeted event. Everything and everyone was accounted for. Except for Miss Gatecrasher here.”
Chotti flushed at the oblique reference (and the taunt) to her father. Her fists balled and her eyes flashed fire. Delighted, Shubham crossed his arms and waited for the fireworks.
“So what happened about the return gift?” Saddy threw a damper on the proceedings.
Chotti took a deep breath and let it go. “Then what.” She shrugged. “Da had to give me his.” She laughed. “It was a bat and ball set. I was most disgusted.”
“That’s another reason I didn’t want to ‘waste’ a return gift on a girl.” Shubham was clearly keen on reviving the fireworks.
And was successful too. Chotti’s eyes sparkled and a retort sprang to her lips but just then a bunch of college mates came upon them. “Come on guys, how about dinner?”
“Oh no! We just stuffed ourselves with snacks.” The girls refused.
“So how about joining us on the dance floor? Work up an appetite?”
The girls looked at each other. “Grand idea!” Saddy was keen.
“I think you better not risk it.” Shubham murmured over her head. “I seem to remember you losing your dupatta.” Chotti swung around to look at him.
“It’s true!” He said defensively. “For the birthday you wore a sequined lehenga with a flowing dupatta…”
Chotti frowned. Her brow cleared and she laughed. “Oh that’s why I was so keen to go to the party. I remember now. I had tried on this new lehenga choli when I learned that Da was going for a party. Obviously I had to go…”
“And show off.”
Chotti grinned and accepted culpability. “Yep show off! I was so proud of myself. I thought I looked grand. Mamma kept saying we would go somewhere else but Da’s party was where I wanted to be. But,” she frowned again, “I don’t remember about losing my dupatta. That was a favorite dress of mine and I had…”
“I returned it the next day to your brother in school.” He paused. “Though I did want to dump it in the garbage bin.”
“I am surprised you didn’t.”
“I had visions of you flying at my face and tearing my hair out…”
Chotti’s hand flew to her mouth, both horrified and amused. “No! Don’t tell me I did that?”
“When I refused the return gift, that’s exactly what you did.” Shubham said with a straight face.
Chotti looked at him suspiciously. “I don’t remember anything of the sort.”
“I will.” Chotti vowed.
“Are you coming or not?” Shruti pulled at Chotti.
“Yes of course.” Chotti threw a challenging look at Shubham before leaving with her friends.
At the other end of the open grounds, there was an arrangement for a silent party. It did look odd – the floor was packed with people who were dancing like crazy but no music could be heard.
Grabbing a headphone, Saddy kicked off her heels, Saddy jumped into the fray. Feeling on top of the world, Chotti hesitated briefly before stepping on with her heels in place (what if Shubham joined them? She didn’t want to give him a chance to comment on her height or name once again). Prudently she pulled up her pleats and dupatta and tucked them in. Bandaged, she joined in the rhythm albeit gingerly, taking care not to jump about too much. She wasn’t feeling too steady as it is but she didn’t want to stay out and risk more of Munna Raja’s childhood memories. Had she really scratched him to pieces? Surely he was exaggerating. She could imagine herself crying and throwing a tantrum but…
“Hey come on loosen up!”
Chotti scanned the crowd. Nope! No sign of any ashubhness anywhere.
Throwing off her inhibitions, Chotti let her hair down and got down to the serious business of enjoying herself. Time to party! And she did love to dance.
They swayed, jerked, stamped and gyrated in an attempt to keep up with the frenzied beats oblivious to everything but the insistent beat of the music. Chotti lost track of time, and she became part of the sea of humanity.
“Come along now.” Shubham was by her side. He slid an arm around her waist.
“What the hell!” Chotti slipped the headphone off to yell at him.
Shubham shushed her. “Don’t make a scene.” He warned. He fumbled around her middle and clutched her by the waist.
Chotti struggled to free herself. “Are you crazy or what?”
“Shut up.” He hauled her close till she was plastered to his front with her feet dangling.
“Shubh! Put me down this instant.”
Ignoring her, he ploughed through the oblivious crowd.
“Stop struggling! You are making this worse.”
“I am making this worse? Worse for whom? You?” Chotti upped her futile wriggles and struggles.
“Just a minute, you crazy fool.” He muttered and put her down.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Chotti ripped at him.
“Not me. You.” So saying he turned his back to her.
Chotti stared at him in bewilderment. Crazy totally crazy. Something funny... She looked down and shrieked. Half her sari lay in a semi-circle over the grass.
Gasping, she hurriedly caught up the undone pleats and looked around wildly.
Without turning around, Shubham pointed to his left.
Chotti made a dash for it.
Why o why didn’t I pin the damn pleats? She rued over and over again. How the hell was she expected to meet Shubham after this fiasco?
She could just see his gloating face – noooo
After dawdling and dithering, she realized there was no help for it. She would have to chin up and bear it.
She stepped out, armed and ready to attack.
But Shubham was nowhere to be found.
Not outside, nor at the party.