It was my ninety-fifth day in Delhi, and I had now known enough of the city to hate it as much as I could. The air was lazy, the people were lazy, the weather was lazy. Each eye I looked upon seemed to mimic mine – almost half-closed, as if in a dream, the mind in a state of reminiscence, and the shoulders drooping lower as each hour passed. That morning the image of the teary-eyed plant outside my door, with mayflies buzzing around it, seemed stuck in my head. Naturally, it reminded me of home.
The new neighbours had been nagging me for a lunch since my second day here and with a sigh, I accepted. They were the Rangaswamis and seemed awfully interested in everything I said or did. When I asked – politely, of course – they said they saw a friendly face in me. Perhaps they were right. Back in Chandigarh, we were happy people, people who laughed for no reason when the situation demanded it and didn’t let the summer heat get to us. Growing up, we boys had been pampered as much as a human can possibly be, and didn’t have much to do most of the time. So we spent our days playing with dirt and sticks, oblivious of the future and the past.
But Delhites were different, and each face I saw seemed very angry, and tired. Mostly, it was a hybrid of both. These were irritated people who swapped flies with as much strength as possible and complained of aches consistently, and went around riding an awful lot of buses and metros. In three months, I had begun to identify with these people and now resembled them more than I resembled my father – after all, these people didn’t try too much to please others and never plastered any smiles. If I called Chandigarh home, then these people were my blood brothers.
I turned up at the Rangaswamis earlier than expected, and was hence subjected to a whole hour of questions and answers and Coca Cola. With my best face on, I obliged.
“So, why’d you come to Delhi?” inquired Mr. Rangaswami.
Mr. Nilesh Rangaswami was a healthy man in his late forties, with a tummy round enough to not draw attention away from his face. The large moustache he maintained had begun to turn grey at the edges, and I was, at first, intensely intrigued by this one wrinkle near his lower cheek.
“Work. I was transferred from an engineering job-” I said.
“Well, we moved here for almost the same reason about fifteen years ago. Nilesh had some relatives here and they implored us to come until we couldn’t resist. After all, this city is the Big Apple of our country, right? And if it’s here, we might as well experience it. Oh, so sorry, you were saying.”
Divya Rangaswami was at the age of her life where she liked to interrupt a lot and speak things very fast, to only apologize for it later. Her husband passed an apologetic look, but I, for one, found it fascinating. I was struck at first, fascinated later, and then annoyed. But I took her words at face value, processing them as they came, trying very hard to appear the least bit interested.
“Yes. I came here because there are prospects of job openings, with so many companies coming up and the government’s policies–” I tried to keep the conversation as objective as possible. It was a new habit I had picked up here.
“Oh, the government’s isn’t doing one bit. Delhi’s not going to improve at all if they don’t stop all this pollution first.”
“Pollution?” Mrs. Rangaswami’s way of changing topics fascinated me.
“You know, global warming, et cetera. I read it up in the paper today. Most interesting.”
Mr. Rangaswami smiled at me. He spoke less and less as the minutes passed and smiled a lot, enough for his wife to say – ‘Nil, get the plates and away with that whiskey, dear, its noon.” I managed a shrug as she gave me an embarrassed expression, and spent the rest of the lunch avoiding eye contact.
The conversation had turned from families to politics to history. I pressed them to talk of their childhood, perhaps because it meant I didn’t have to speak as much.
“Let’s see, it was the early 1970s, and our families grew up side by side along the Kerala coast,” Mr. Rangaswami began. His wife laughed, rubbing his arm, the first affectionate gesture I had seen between the two.
“You make it sound so poetic.”
“Well, dear, you’ve forgotten, I did write poetry once.”
She laughed again, her wrinkles coming out. “Oh, yes I do. I was seventeen years old and a poem was as much communication we ever had and I was already in love.”
“We got married at nineteen,” Mr. Rangaswami shook his head, laughing slightly. “I remember, it was the hottest day of that summer. And the ceremonies began late.”
“My mother was worried they won’t complete in time. But they did and here we are,” she said.
There was a feeling of ancientness surrounding the Rangaswamis, and the way their eyes shone knowingly, as if they were in a perpetual state of déjà vu. They had lived, it seemed, fully – raised their children, done their jobs, and now committed to a life of senility and slow moving. I found myself attracted to their calmness, if only for a while.
Perhaps Mrs. Rangaswami felt they were being rude talking about themselves so much, and so she asked me about Chandigarh, telling me how she always wanted to know growing up in a Punjab household was like, whether it was similar to that depicted in the movies. But I had nothing much to tell, except that in the three months I had in Delhi, those times of my life had begun to fade, fading into the Sun, the lethargy, the sand and dust. The memories were blurry, black and white, and felt not a part of me but something that had once happened.
“What about the emergency? You must remember something about that.”
I fingered the lining of the sofa, the sunlight falling along the seam. “Emergency of 1975?”
I smiled. “I was a child, and the only image I can recollect is that of standing on the roof of my house and watching my city burn away. There was fire, so much of it, eating away at the walls.”
I got rid of the sad narrative, turning toward another, perhaps appealing one. “Well, I was told enough heroics of my father during that time when I got older.”
At this point, Mrs. Rangaswami placed a plate of sambhar in front of me – their staple food – and told me to use my hands as much as I’d like, there were no reservations here. I preferred the spoon though.
“What heroics?” she inquired.
“Um, there was one where he rescued our neighbours from some policemen for a reason I can’t remember. And ah – there was the time he jumped from the roof of our house to another to hide. It was a big jump, I think, the way people told it and the pride my father took in it. There were other things too, but I can’t recall them.”
The lunch hour passed silently until Mr. Ragaswami exclaimed, suddenly – “It was a Friday!”
“A Friday when we got married. December 15, 1989.”
I stared at the man, the idli in my hand. “No kidding. I was born that day.”
“You were born on a Friday?”
I had begun to suspect that he saw it as an auspicious day, the same way I loved Saturdays when I was young. But we were no longer young and each day felt more like the one before it, until all days merged into one and one became many.
“I have this little superstition about Fridays,” he chuckled, “I think it started when my life became, well, boring and nothing excited me. I figured that if six days of the week do go bad, at least there’s one to look forward to. Perhaps if I’m happy enough, something happy will happen.”
When lunch was finished, I took my leave, smiling because it wasn’t half as bad as I’d expected. Now, thinking of it, I remember the sweet calm of that day – it was a nice day, the type of which I haven’t had of late. It was a Friday, I am sure, because most Fridays are good days. Or so I like to think.
I call my wife, and set the dinner because it is getting late. We are back in Chandigarh after a long time, almost a decade. It is our first night here, and the people are happy. The Friday evening seems to call me home, with a voice that feels wonderful to embrace.