‘You think he’s good?’
‘Yeah, he’s okay. Funny, cute. But a little different.’
‘Can’t really explain but when I’m with him, it feels good. Like I can be myself. No façades needed.’
‘You’re not falling in love, are you?’
‘What? No way. I’m not going to fall for this clown. We’re friends and that’s fine by me. But love? No, no. That’s not possible.’
‘Really? Then why were you blushing when you went out to have chicken with him? Why were you so nervous whenever your bodies touched enroute the dhaaba?’
‘That’s not what happened. You are making it all up.’
‘Don’t lie to me. I know better than that.’
‘No, no. That’s not what happened. I don’t love him. That’s untrue.’
‘Liar! I felt it on that ride.’
‘You’re the one who’s lying. You always do. Nothing happened on that ride. Go away you schmuck!’
‘That won’t happen honey. We are together in this, you and me.’
“Aarghh!” Jessica said through gritted teeth.
It was Monday morning and she was in the bathroom, rubbing soap all over her body while thinking of the ride she had shared the night before. She was certain it wasn’t love, the way she was feeling about Vineet.
Vineet was at the temple, bowing down to the Gods and asking for their blessings for all things in life. He wasn’t a regular but maintained his weekly visits on Mondays. Right now, he wanted just one thing from Him. Everything else could wait. Yesterday he was with her all day. He wanted to keep talking and listening to her. She was so nice. He had also told her what he thought of her glasses.
“You should change your specs. They are so out of fashion.”
“Um..hmm. So you’re advising me on fashion. Great. How about your shirt? Looks like you robbed your father’s wardrobe.”
“Oh, well, I…I’m trying to improve. It’ll take time. What about you?”
“We’ll see. Did you only notice the glasses though?”
“Er, not actually. The dyed curls are great. I mean, it shows you have a lot of confidence in yourself.”
“Care to explain?”
“See, a new girl in college keeping her hair dyed – in that manner – is a rarity. Plus the fact that you have curls. Look around. Everybody has straight hair these days. And that nose-ring tells me that for all your tomboyish tendencies, you’re a girl at heart.”
“Claps for Mr. Ph.D here. Anything else?”
They kept talking like that till it was time to go to their respective hostels, late at night. All the hard work will come to fruition the next evening.
The evening at the auditorium was the place to be for everyone in the college. Chartbusters were blasting from the speakers and the participants were getting ready backstage for the fashion show. Vineet had tried all the tricks up his sleeve but he couldn’t get a pairing with Jessica. He would have to make do with Karun only, having refused the organizers’ offer of teaming up with Sunita. Jessica had also been disappointed at knowing she’d not get to pair with him.
** That was genuine, right? Her disappointment. She couldn’t be faking it.**
Vineet and Karun had decided to go with contrasting choices. While Karun was wearing a violet three-piece suit with brogues, spiky hair styled with gel and a clean shave, Vineet had a cream sherwani kurta with green embroidered dhoti and Jodhpuri shoes. He had combed his slick hair back with the side-parting and fine-cropped the beard. He met Jessica backstage before they all got ready for the ramp walk.
She was dressed to kill! If she wasn’t the most talked about girl already, she had made sure she would be now.
Jessica had selected a traditional attire that flirted with being risqué. She had a biege backless choli that dipped alarmingly from her neckline in front and had a knot in place in the back. That was paired with a red embroidered ghaghara kept a couple of inches below her navel and accessorised with a cummerbund, big necklace, bangles and hoop earrings. She had three-inch heels on, confident in her ability to carry the whole ensemble off. She had been paired with Lucky whom she had previously met only once, at the beginning of the term. He looked seedy, gutkha-stained teeth and all but had behaved gentlemanly and dressed smartly, a lean tie on a half-sleeved maroon shirt and black waistcoat showing off his toned biceps to go with skinny blue jeans and grey loafers. They were looking great as a pair together, Jessica mused, unlike what she had expected earlier. They were slated to be the 15th pair to walk. Not good, she thought, considering the audience’s excitement would have dampened considerably by then. But as they walked onstage, students who had grown tired of watching poorly dressed and oddly-walking couples, started clapping and hooting. Someone whistled and on cue, a whole lot of others started whistling, cheering and clapping. This was going better than she’d imagined. She was beaming and their perfect walk, elbows entwined, was getting better. As they reached the end of the ramp and turned, she caught her ghaghara and swirled it round while turning back, walking back confidently and stopping right before the curtains to wave to the audience, with Lucky clapping too. She returned backstage with a spring in her steps.
Vineet and Karun too managed to get attention with their mixed combination. Karun’s move of stopping on the ramp to groove for a few seconds to the song running on the speakers sent the crowd berserk which cheered wildly for the duo till the end of their walk. They were grinning as they went to the change rooms.
The announcer took center-stage with two of the organizers and three faculty members as they announced the prizes for the show. Jessica and Lucky, as was the general consensus, were awarded the best couple award. Vineet and Karun returned empty-handed.
Coming out of the rooms after changing into more comfortable jeans and t-shirt for the party to follow, Karun saw Vineet talking to Jessica who was looking stunning in a silver one piece dress that reached halfway down her thighs. Vineet had also changed into a jeans and a tee.
“Looking fab, Jessica,” Karun remarked.
“Thanks, Karun,” Jessica acknowledged his appreciation. She had warmed up to him too these days. Lucky was there too.
“Would you join me for the dance, Jessica?” Lucky asked.
“Actually I…, me and Vineet are going together,”Jessica replied, nervously.
“Umm..okay. See ya.” He left, eyeing Vineet suspiciously.
“Let’s go,” Vineet said to Jessica, after Lucky had gone out.
“I’m coming too,” Karun said, not wishing to be left out.
“Er…Ritika was searching for you Karun. I just met her a couple of minutes ago,” Vineet said, winking to drive home his point.
“Eh..OK. I’ll call her. You guys carry on. Burn the dance floor.”
Loudspeakers and strobe lights had been placed on the large open space outside the main building of the college. There was a huge crowd of about 2000 students on the dance floor. It was past 9 p.m. and as the music started, Vineet and Jessica, like everyone else, started moving and tapping their feet to the beats of Bollywood songs. Vineet wanted to put his arms around her but was unsure how to do that. He was smiling and following her steps. She could dance. Jessica noted a bit of hesitancy in him and coming close to him, spoke in his ear over the din of the loudspeakers, “I think you need to loosen up,” putting her arms around his neck. Vineet couldn’t say anything. He was elated that she had taken the lead. He too put his arms around her waist as they joined the increased tempo of the next song. With the increasing sensuousness of each song, the two kept coming closer to each other, gyrating and grinding their bodies against each other. Vineet was feeling intoxicated. Jessica was dancing with her back to him, touching his face with her hands once in a while. He lowered his head to her neck and gave a peck on her bare shoulder and immediately felt a current pass through both their bodies. Jessica glanced back, locked her eyes into his, and smiled. He turned her around, taking her left hand into his and breaking into a salsa-esque dance as best as he could, with “pyaar ki ye kahani suno“ playing. Jessica laughed and started moving in sync. They kept at it until the DJ announced that the program was over. The crowd roared, “once more, once more.” The DJ obliged with one last song and everyone dispersed after that.
The two of them waited on one side for Karun and Ritika to arrive. Both were drenched in sweat and catching their breath.
“Quite the dancer, Mr. Bakshi.”
“Not nearly as good as you, Ms. Dayal. You are something else.”
“Flattery will take you everywhere, and you are getting better by the day, and twice as much by night,” Jessica said with a chuckle.
Vineet could only smile. She had disarmed him, again.
Karun came with Ritika who exchanged pleasantries with the two of them. The four of them deliberated over the choice for a while over a dinner venue before Jessica said, “How about that dhaaba, Vineet?” Karun shot him a quizzical look. Vineet – dodging Karun – said, “That’s an excellent idea.” And they went to the dhaaba, each couple on a bike. Vineet and Karun were driving and the girls were riding pillion. Jessica put her arms through Vineet’s underarms and held on to his shoulders. Vineet accelerated, the bike roaring in the night. Jessica shrieked. They were delirious with joy.
To be continued…