Tempered Steel

The glass was transparent, filled three-fourths with water. The subtle curve of the meniscus caught light from above and glimmered. With my chin resting on the table, I observed her animated face magnified through the liquid. She sat across, wearing blue, with her jet-black locks breaking into waves, one layered over another brushing on her shoulders. She blinked those big scary eyes and moved her head from side-to-side. She was trying to make a point I suppose. Every once-in-a-while, her hands would shoot up, forming words in the air. Yes, she sure was saying something. But blame her peculiar nose, a tad-bit voluminous, and that curious stretch of lips; I felt all my attention being pulled as toward, making it difficult to spare any for the words those moving lips formed.

With time the skin over my chin started to feel numb under the weight of my head and started to sting. I sat upright and leaned on the back-rest. She smiled as if to acknowledge my change in posture while yet continuing with the monolog. I wondered how one smiles while talking. Aren’t the lips already busy in sounding the consonants, particularly the labials – ‘m’, ‘p’ and ‘b’. Possibly one times the smile to that portion of the speech when words do not include these. I felt amazed at how talented their brains need to, to be able to predict beforehand which part of their sentence is devoid of words containing those alphabets so that they may smile at that exact moment. Such an arduous strain on brains micro-circuitry. I blinked in awe of her this gift and tried to smile.

Tried to, but couldn’t. This is not the day I smile. It’s a sad sorry day. I broke my coffee mug. Despite the charming presence of her, in near proximity, the ache of the misfortune was too searing to wane. She had given me it. While some might argue the very same ‘she’ is sitting right across the table that seemed to hold a glass of water, two plates, two pairs of spoon, fork and knives, a box of tissues, and a promise of food that was yet to come. Now the latter half of the previous statement in this recital is beside the point, yes, you figured it right. I guess I put it there to shift attention from the unease the former half of the statement had caused within. Yes, the coffee-mug was given by her, but she was that ‘her’ no more. Time leaves indelible insignia of its passage, doesn’t it? Some desirable, while some not. Some tolerable, some not.


Just then, there was a sudden moment of profound quiet. I saw that there were no more ripples in the water in the glass. Her lips had stopped to move as well. I said, ‘yes, I agree’. And she smiled.

Contrary to what you might think, no, this isn’t a failed marriage wherein we just indifferently tolerate the other. In fact, we are not even a couple. It is just that I have something going on. Something that is being a bother. And I can’t tell her that. As to why I can’t tell her, well, I don’t know. Though now I can think and try to come up with reasons in retrospect as to why I can’t tell her; but beforehand I don’t know what made me want to not say and keep it to self. Maybe it just didn’t occur to me to tell her about it. But then isn’t it how we are at times. Inexplicable to self. Not that that mystery can’t be unwoven. It’s just that it would rather be quite a burdensome bother to undertake. And it’s easier side-stepped.

While these philosophical counterpoints subsided inside my head, I noticed that her eyes were downcast and the smile that she had beamed before had turned smug, then sore, and finally sad. It’s incredible how the same stretch of lips could be made to portray such myriad different emotions. A mathematical impossibility if one may. But then, she did, and thus it isn’t an impossibility anymore, is it? So this is that point in the narrative wherein it becomes clear that I have been outstripped in my endeavor to outsmart her. Poor me. Well I don’t actually mean ‘poor me’, but inside my head, I could hear her quip ‘don’t wallow in your own self-pity’ at my that phrase; a nasty retort we had together once discovered in a comic strip. The distraction aside, I felt my heart miss a beat.

Funny that it begins with a series of missed beats, strained breaths and roiled emotions. And this same bunch recurs when you see your better half down and under. ‘better half’ having been used in a literal sense with not too much emphasis on the ‘your’ pronoun that did precede it. Though on a second take, much emphasis has indeed been put on the absence of emphasis on that possessive pronoun. Such a recursive turmoil language adds to the act of living. For what is unsaid is also as affecting as what is said.

I came clean and said, “I dropped that coffee mug you gave on that friendship day”. “The yellow one? The one with a black lid and café coffee day written as upon ?”. “Yes, the same. It fell and broke into a thousand shards of splintered ceramic.” “I knew I should have given you one made of tempered steel!”, and with that, she broke out into her characteristic peal of laughter. I again caught myself gazing at her peculiar nose, admiring, smiling, chuckling as it twitched as she paused for breath between laughs.

Yes, it’s inexplicable; this human contract with its inherent asymmetry of emotional exchange.  In part because we are humans, fallible, with a lifetime spent in cultivating behaviors that are a far cry from ideal. And in part because this portrayal is a consequence of the wistful imagination of a soul reflecting in solitude. Either way, how much harm can come by wishing ‘happy friendship day’, even if the only real aspect of that proposition is ‘day’. Someone said life is a comedy, written by a writer with a tendency to overindulge in the tragic. And given the superlative intellect (quirky smarts, handsomeness, and knightly chivalry) of this ‘someone’, we are bound to concede to his point. As to why his, and not her? Well, it’s apparent I am a guy ain’t it.



Life is intricate, and the life of each one is unique. This life involving person and people around is a wonderful wonderment to behold. I often puzzle self that in spite of the huge multitude of words that constitute the vocabulary of various languages, despite the many dramatic gestures that we can depict and in stark disproportion to the quantity of time, it’s but little moments of few simplistic words stated with the faintest streaks of emotion, the subtleties in our life, that gleam aglow at the end of the day, and possibly, even at the fag end of our lives’.

It was that quiet time of the day when afternoon makes way for the evening. The college canteen, one of the most eventful and also heartful retreats for a student was feebly populated. Seated on a table, alone was she. That fair, gracious, resplendent lady, in a splendid unicolor attire, staring blankly into an empty cup of coffee. And she wasn’t aware of the footsteps that grew louder as they paced nearer.

angry_couple_at_table-2.s300x300The human gait speaks a million if you notice. We are almost never conscious of our gait, and thus we never condition it, i.e. fake it discordant with our inner self. And from the guys gait, or was he a gentleman(!!), anyway, the hesitancy of his steps meant that he was expecting something not very pleasant, while the firmness of the tap indicated that he needed to behold whatever was to befall.

He comes down to the immediate vicinity of our lady and endeavours in a friendly voice, with a mocking dash of honour, “Do you mind if I share your company?” The lady’s lips quivered. Her eyes had an expression of disdain as she spits in an impersonal tone, “As if you will walk away if I say a ‘yes’…”. The guy did not flinch. May be he had this anticipated. He let a long uneasy second tick and then replied, “Then I shall take that for a ‘no’… ” and sits beside.

He places his bag down and sets his hand on the table. He then calls out the waiter. All this while taking care not to meet the lady’s contemptuous gaze. He then looks into those angry blaming, but heavenly white lovely eyes and asks, “Shall I order you a coffee …”, but even before he could complete she spits, “I don’t like coffee.” The guy gives a stupefied look. He has known her for sometime and coffee was one of the two things that occupied the top slot in her ‘like’s’… his mind blinked the thought of the other thing … but he did not allow self complete that thought and asked, “Since when?”. She spat, “Since now. Get me tea.”

Our guy knows more than well not to kindle a lady red with anger and annoyance. He just makes the order to the timid waiter, pity in India we don’t have many waitresses…, anyway, the beautiful company, haan, and then turns to her. Neither speak nothing. Fearing that if the silence is to be broken by her she would drag the conversation to anywhere, though he very well knew where that anywhere was to be, thus gulps his pride and himself endeavours, “Did today’s class on Anaesthetics make sense to you. I felt it to be sort of fragmentary and the amount of details overwhelming.” As he finished, he sort of feels scared.

For the lady who had been just grim and stingy with anger till now went red, she flared and had it not been for the waiter who returned with the coffee and tea, he was sure she would have hit him hard! But then, as if going off his mind, he asks the waiter to drop an extra cube of sugar into madam’s tea. She says ‘No’. The guy just takes his time to be bad, granted, and awaits as she replies, well again spits actually, “I stopped having extra sugar since yesterday afternoon.”

Now our guy is aghast. Plainly, has had enough. He fumes, “Now what’s it with yesterday?” As if just awaiting the moment she sneers with calm contempt, “As if you Mr. don’t know what I mean.” He shoots quick, “If its because I did not tuck my shirt in then do forgive me for that Your Gracious Honour, I could not find my belt…”, while she cuts him short, “To hell with your belt and your shirt, what’s between you and Akansha?”.

He knew more than well this was to be, but then he feigns innocence and hurt. He needs to, that’s how it works. He gives it some time. He zooms his eyes away, from her expansive speckless face and looks out at nothing. This is to mean the guy is sorry and its supposed to make the girl feel a tinge of guilt for having brought his, I mean, this guy’s mood down!

He lets a few more moments to tick. Actually letting that guilt some more time to soak in. Then he says, “It was nothing”. This is the best answer tested time and again by generations. If you straightly negate, then you are in for an extended session of heated arguments, while if you go flat and say, “so what”, then you are in for a few teary   moments of blame and fuss. The best way out is to say that you agree to it that it wasn’t all fair, but at the same time giving a hint of your righteousness by saying it wasn’t supposed to mean anything.

Now the girl knows that her guy stands at the threshold of tumultuous breakdown. One wrong step and she would be in for really cold scolds and the target for a guy’s bad mood. Actually guys could be real dangerous in a bad mood…! She now shifts a gear down, and with a more warm voice, in a tone that is no more accusing but concerned, asks, “You said to me that you don’t like her. And you also promised to me that you won’t go about asking beautiful girls for coffee, right…?”

The guy already has the answer in his mind, “It was completely incidental. I was sitting in here, and she herself came and sat beside. How can I say ‘no’? If there’s an empty chair, every student of this college has a right to sit on it right! And then she started talking about the fight she is having with her mom at home and that Ashish has asked her for a movie the coming weekend and that she has said yes.”

260620121474-001Now the second half of the last statement means more to our lady than the rest of the whole explanation. Though the fact that our guy means no more to Akansha is sort of discrediting to himself, but its all the more reassuring to his, I mean this, lady.

Now its time for second silence. The girl is feeling sorry for all this drama she created and the guy is having his time. Now the ball is in his court. And he more than well knows how to make the most of it.

It a voice that’s completely naïve to the row that had just occurred, its for the guy to forget, read it forgive, for the girl will never on earth asks a ‘sorry’, tells her, “Shall we go to the vantage point atop the hill at St. Thomas Mount this weekend?”

Considering what had passed and the fact that she had been complaining and stingy, and that our guy had been gracious enough to be calm and ‘forgetting’, she can’t but say a ‘yes’ to this offer. Then before they leave, he asks and the girl more than happily pays the bill. She more than deserves some punishment for the row right!

And let come the weekend, given that another apparent fight doesn’t flare up, they go to the vantage point and have a good time together.

Really, I created these men, and these women. But then, seeing them work about, live, fight and reconcile, it’s all a great and involving experience for me to watch, high up above the clouds, seated on my throne in the heaven!