Sunday, April 6, 2014

Stormy Visitor

It had been a wet Mumbai monsoon day but unlike the times before, Sion was not completely under water yet. However, reports of water logging around the city were coming in. Sri Ram travels was having a slow day. “Who in his right mind would want to travel in this weather?” I mused while alternating between watching the hands of a clock seemed to be paused at 5:30 and the rain pouring outside.

My reverie was broken with the door being opened.  In stepped in this completely wet foreigner, His wet clothes were sticking to his body. He gave me an apologetic smile, put down his umbrella near the door and walked towards my desk wiping his wet blond hair off his face.

“Hi, Can I get a seat on the 6 p.m. bus to Rameshwaram?” he asked.
“Sir, there is no 6 p.m. bus, Today’s bus to Rameshwaram has already left at 5:10” I replied conscious of my government schooled English.
“What!” He exclaimed and pulled out his iPhone and showed it to me saying “Look, your website says that there is a bus at 6p.m.”
I apologetically informed him “Sir, the site does not get updated regularly. It’s been almost a month since the timing was changed.”
“I can’t believe this. Is there any way for me to get to Rameshwaram today?”
“Sir, all buses for the day have left. We have a bus leaving tomorrow morning at 11 a.m.” I replied to him wondering why this foreigner would be so desperate to travel to Rameshwaram. The guy didn’t look like a typical tourist in any way.
“11a.m only?” he asked and I nodded in reply. Looking disappointed he started fiddling around with his iPhone. He then looked up at me and said “O.K, can I have the ticket for the bus that leaves tomorrow at 11 a.m.”
Glancing at the next day’s listing on my screen, I replied “Yes Sir, may I know your name, please?”
“Blake Lawson”
I blink at him unable to comprehend his name through his accent. He suppressed a smile and says “Blake, B.L.A.K.E. Lawson”
Entering his name I told him “Sir that would be Rs. 1400”
“Here take my card. I hope it’s a window seat.”
“Yes sir, it’s a window seat.” I replied while taking the card and swiping it. “The bus is new and you should have a comfortable trip.” I added while handing him the slip to be signed.
He smiled while returning the slip after signing it and inquired “I can board the bus from here itself, right?”
“Yes Sir, you can collect the boarding pass from the counter tomorrow. Please do try to come here by 10:45, we don’t keep the bus waiting for long.”
“Don’t worry! I will be here long before that, Thank-you” he said and took the ticket from me. Holding the door open as he was stepping out he looked back and asked me “Ma’am, May I know your name?”
“Chandini” I replied.

Two days later, in the afternoon of a yet another rain socked day. I answered the ringing office phone with the standard greeting like a trained parrot “Hello, Sri Ram travels, Chandini Speaking”.
“Hi Chandini, I hope you remember me, this is Blake. I booked a ticket from you a two days back.” came an accented voice from the other end.
“Yes Sir, you were going to Rameshwaram. Is there anything wrong?”
“I hope you can help me Chandini, I am in Rameshwaram and find myself in another dilemma. I need to travel to Tirupathi, but I am having trouble communicating with the people here. Could you please help me?” His voice was filled with desperation.

Once again I found myself wondering why this foreigner is doing a pilgrimage of the temple. I checked my computer and responded “Yes Sir, we do have buses from Rameshwaram to Triupathi. In fact, there is one leaving today evening at 3p.m. Do you want me to book it for you?”
“Yes please, Can you charge it to card?” he asked sounding relieved.
“Sorry Sir, I can’t do that. But I can save the seat. You can approach our local centre, pay the cash and take the ticket.”
“That’s really helpful, can you message me the address?” he said and gave me his mobile number. I messaged him the address from my cell phone.

Ping!! Rang my cells message tone. “Thanks for the help” said the message coming from Blake’s number. “You are welcome, it was no trouble. It’s my job” I replied back.

Thus started our chats on the phone. I asked him why he was on this pilgrimage and he told me his story about how he had been a high-flying career banker from New York. With the economic depression of 2008 the meaty days of corporate banking came to an end. The long hours he was forced to put in to secure his job affected his personal life. Until one day he found out that his wife had been cheating on him. Being childless the divorce was quick and fast. The failure of his marriage along with the added stress of his job Blake found himself questioning his entire lifestyle. Seeking to discover himself and purpose of life he quit his job and with the savings decided to travel. He came down to India because of the rich cultural and spiritual history of India had always fascinated him. He had already visited majority of temples in North India. That day he was in Mumbai after his visit to Osho Ashram in Pune. He was continuing his journey of self discovery by travelling through South India.

I kept in touch with him as he crisscrossed around South India visiting various temples. Jagannath temple, Padmanabhaswamy Temple, Meenakshi temple and many more some of whose names I had never even heard of. We were always connected, either through chat or through our calls. He kept me updated on his journey. In a way I was discovering India thorough him, He gave me more information on India than I ever had living here in the country. His stories excited me and I dreamed of leaving my job and travelling with him throughout India.

In turn, I told him about my current job, my financial troubles, how I had struggled to complete my education and find a decent job. Through our conversations, I found a person to share my thoughts and feelings with. I found myself getting attached to this stranger, who I still pictured as we had first met, Wet. He was always on my mind; my days started with his message and ended listening to his voice whilst sharing our experiences of the day. I found myself worrying about him, a stranger I had only met once. His stories and experience of travelling about the country enchanted me. The idea of a person finding himself by travelling across a unknown land sounded very adventurous to me, more so because he was doing it with no knowledge of the local language. I could not even begin to dream of doing something like that.

“Going to Shabrimala, Then off to Guruvayoor” came his message.
I had always wanted to visit Guruvayur. One of the most well know Krishna Temples in Kerala, my belief in the diety strengthened my fascination with this temple.
“I am so jealous, wish I too could visit Guruvayur” I replied while listening to Preeti recant her trip to Turkey over a coffee at CCD.

Preeti, my best friend, we couldn't be more apart. We were friends from kindergarten. But I was always envious of Preeti, her dresses, the way she carried herself, her confidence among guys and her go get it attitude. My mother used to work as an assistant for Preeti’s Mother. Sangeeta aunty, Preeti’s mom had sponsored a major part of my education.

My phone again, this time Preeti snatched the phone out of my hand. Blake had replied asking me to join him in Kerala. She saw the entire message chain. It didn’t take me long to update her about Blake, our conversations and our unusual relationship. Preeti was convinced that I had to go join Blake in Kerala. Initially I was reluctant, but she persuaded me. I had some savings accumulated and hadn’t taken leave in a while. I had never travelled so far from Mumbai nor had ever spent time alone with a guy. But I felt different with Blake. Further, this was an opportunity for me to create stories of my own.

It was pouring when the train entered Ernakulum station. Blake was standing on the platform waiting for me. His eyes lit up as he saw me get down. Walking up to me he immediately hugged me. It was awkward; this was the first time I was being hugged by a guy. Blake seemed to have lost some weight since that day he had entered drenched into my shop. The thought that I have always only seen him wet got a smile on my face.

We took a bus from Cochin to Guruvayoor. It felt so romantic; The rains, the road snaking through the canopy formed by the trees, It felt like a green paradise. At the end of a 3 hour bus ride, I found myself being gently awakened by him as the bus pulled into the bus stand.  I got up with a jerk; he smiled at me reassuringly and informed me that we had reached. I couldn’t believe that I slept with my head on his shoulder.

We checked ourselves into a hotel, 2 different rooms mind you after all I am still a good Indian girl. We had a delicious meal at a restaurant nearby. Memory of what we ate is fuzzy but I remember laughing hard at his many experiences in the country. We were getting odd looks from the locals; they might have been wondering what a dark skinned Indian is doing with this fair blonde foreigner.

Next day we visited the temple, after a long wait in the line we got darshan. To enter Blake had to wear ‘mundu’ without a shirt. Oh man! He looked so hot. When I mentioned that to him he blushed, making him look all the more gorgeous. We had previously decided that we would roam Kerala after visiting the temple and thus my weeklong vacation in Kerala started.

It was like a dream world, roaming a beautiful land with a handsome guy. The Kovollam Beach, Munnar, Thekady etc. I found myself roaming with my hand in his more often than not. The Indian in me felt guilty; romance and boy-friends was what I had seen in movies. I had never considered myself being in a relationship before marriage. From when I remember, I had always focused on studies aiming to get a job so some burden could be taken off my parents. I wonder what Appa would have thought seeing me roaming with a guy.

On the evening before my return to Mumbai we checked into a houseboat at Alleppey. The rains had let up on the day. The water was calm, we were sitting on the deck watching the stars when he leaned in and kissed me. It felt so right. I kissed him back; his hands were running all over me. He picked me up and took me into the boat.

Next morning I woke up to find him smiling at me, I smiled right back. The world felt perfect. I wanted to pause the world then and there. But my vacation was over and it was time to go back. It was difficult to say leave him at the station. During the entire train journey back he and the night were my only thoughts.


“Blake, I am late” I messaged him. Right then my cell rang, it was him. I picked up
“What? You are late? Are you sure?” came his voice sounding panicky.
This was not what I wanted to hear. “Of course I am sure. It’s been a week, and I am never late.” I replied feeling irritated. “I will visit the doctor today to be sure.”
“Chandini, a child was not in my plan when I came to India, but I will support you.” came his voice very slowly over the phone as if trying to make himself clear.
I felt myself getting more irritated with him and said “Blake, I got to get ready for office” and cut the phone even before he could say bye.

It was early in the 2nd trimester when suddenly Blake’s phones & SMS stopped. It was a surprise; Blake even though not present was always supportive. My parents & extended family were all against me; they wanted me to abort the baby and were trying to force me into marriage. Blake’s voice on the phone was a source of strength. When it stopped suddenly I felt lost.


It was yet another wet Mumbai monsoon day; Anjali was sleeping in her little bed. Suddenly the door flew open and in came this wet foreigner. “Chandini” he called out, seeing him again, I was stunted into silence. “I had searched so much for you, my cell was stolen and I didn’t have your number written anywhere. I went to your old office and they told me you had quit, they didn’t know any way to contact you.”
He said walking toward me with a relieved smile on his face. I was still stocked, I had dreamed this reunion how many times, yet now that he was in front of me I found myself with conflicting emotions. 

Seeing me not responding, he looked around spotted Anjali and said “It that she?” He walked toward her and said “She is as beautiful as you.” Looking toward me, Blake said “Chandini, I am sorry I was not there for you. Let me make it up; Marry Me!”

Hearing those words all the troubles I had during last few months came running to me. How I was kicked out of home, No support of anyone except Preeti, the disgusted looks given to me by my land lady, being called a whore by the riffraff’s of the society. Looking at his face I felt a variety of emotions run though me. The anger and frustration felt at the lack of replies to my desperate messages, the loneliness I felt during nights spend alone, the filthy looks given to me by the doctors and nurses at the hospital. My hands caressed the scar on my stomach while I heard myself tell Blake “NO!”