Novum Nexum12 mins 335 12 mins 335
It was raining intermittently outside. The clanging of bells of the nearby temples, the raucous screeching of the frenzied crows, the heavy pattering of the droplets on the eaves, and the thundering of the storm – all contributed in adding to the din and gloominess painted by Mother Nature. You would naturally assume that the proximity inspires the demeanor of individuals. Or maybe affect his encephalon? Well then, your assumptions are erroneous, I’m afraid. ’Cause, here was a boy who was barely able to conceal his excitement as a new notification popped up on his phone which was hopefully beckoning – ‘Let’s meet.’
I’ve often been called a weirdo. Be it in the school or even in my own abode – I was often ostracized. At first, I thought that it was merely a sinister curse that I was born with. My mother used to stress how the celestial misplacements had heralded evil omens during my birth. As time passed, I realized that maybe I was just different – because what was normal enough for me was deemed as an anomaly for the others. I had a greater affinity to my own gender than the opposite. This malady is perceived as homosexuality by the educated lot. But the same peeps are too coy to classify it as an uncommon trait rather than a malady.
For a precocious kid like me, latent information didn’t stay obscure for long. And so, I became consciously aware that this is not as abnormal as it is made out to be. There were several others like me around the world who shared the same tendencies. In fact, they organized a pride month to celebrate the promotion and affirmation of gay rights and dignity. All these revelations transformed my timidity to intrepidity. But the more vocal that I became, the more flustered my family got at the same time. Dad would remark condescendingly, “You won’t be able to blend in with the society if you remain nosy. This newfound brazenness to defend your abnormality won’t get you anywhere.” Mom would say, “If you persist with your obstinance, we won’t be able to get you a bride.”
More often than not, I would end up having heated squabbles with both of them, imploring them to stop deciding the course of my life. They would look at me sternly if I got too many calls from boys as if I was guilty of planning a conspiracy or heist with them.
Somewhere amidst all this hullabaloo, I’d grown accustomed to bottling up my emotions inside and unwittingly venting it all out in the form of frustration. I realized this when I would shriek too much at even my well-wishers on any instances of differences in opinion, who would then be alarmed and say, “What has come over you? You’ve changed.”
That’s when I pondered on how lonely I’m. If only there was someone who could comprehend me the way that I’m and not be judgmental. Thinking about this in retrospect made me want to weep mournfully. But as they say – ‘Jo hota hai acche k liye hota hai’ which literally stands for – ‘All that happens, happens solely for good.’ I can say with certitude that all the previous episodes of my life’s drama may have been a benediction in disguise.
Thereupon, I decided that I needed a companion. A companion in whom I would confide, one who can understand me properly, one who will not reconnoiter my background with prejudice or disdain, and above all, who will be there for me throughout. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not thinking of finding a life-partner as yet. That is something reserved for much later. This is just to eradicate the barriers of loneliness.
There’s this dating website that one of my batchmates had apprised me of. It’s called Mate Finder. It lets you find suitable people to talk to. He told me that in some cases it has even flourished into courtships and matrimony. Eventually, I was a bit skeptical but when he himself showed me his profile and how he’d found the love of his life, I was excited.
Thus, began my new ventures. I would be busy doing queer part-time jobs by the day to sustain myself and the evenings would be occupied with finding suitable matches. Whenever I would be interested in someone based on his profile, I would swipe left. If I assumed that person is not worthy of my attention, I would swipe right.
Many days passed by in rapid succession without any fruit. I’d not got a single match. I would have given up – when suddenly as I was casually swiping left one day the screen flashed me with a jackpot – ‘You have a match!’ Gleefully, I opened my match’s profile. His bio proclaimed that he was 22 years old – same as me – and that he was currently in search of a job after having graduated from an engineering college. Some of the photos that he’d posted revealed his facial features – staring at which made me feel awe-struck. Olive complexioned with a beige undertone coupled with a smooth countenance and a prominent jawline – he was breathtakingly handsome. I instantly took a liking to him even without knowing him. Thus, commenced my conversations with him. It was just a matter of time before he complied to meet.
My heart was palpitating with exhilaration. The storm raging outside seemed insistent upon dashing my hopes. We’d already anticipated heavy rainfall and hence, the rendezvous and time had also been scheduled accordingly – in the evening when it would substantially subside – in a cafeteria.
I dressed up as best as I could – trying to categorize the best possible garment to wear among the tattered robes and clothes that I possessed. A pair of denim jeans and a shirt that I deemed to be funky enough sufficed my needs. I gazed nervously at the mirror trying to make myself as dashing as possible, hoping that it would make a positive first impression.
As if God had hearkened to all my desires and wanted to lure me into the trap of impatience to verify whether I’m really worthy enough, it continued drizzling even in the evening. This, however, failed to dampen my enthusiasm. I didn’t care whether my clothes would be soiled in the downpour or not. What mattered to me at the moment was to reach the destination and get his attention!
The cafeteria was a new outlet in Boulevard Road. It was a hive teeming with adrenaline-driven youngsters who were either partying exuberantly or lovelorn kiddos watching the new snogging couples enviously. The place had been bedecked with festoons and streamers which was conducive to the lively atmosphere. I scanned around to find an empty corner table that had just been vacated and took my seat. A waitress came up to me coolly and enquired whether I wanted to order anything. I decided to wait lest it becomes impertinent for my date.
Time ticked by slowly. Half an hour went by… an hour passed – still, there was no sign of him. Did I appear avid to meet him? Has my overzealousness been my undoing? Has he found a better match? A gazillion thoughts raced across my mind momentously. I was getting restless after a while – feeling eccentric sitting all alone in a corner by myself – I being the only person who was without any friend in the cafeteria.
Fifteen minutes later, a girl walked in. I wouldn’t have paid any attention to her like anyone else around me in the vicinity, but she came right up to me and interrupted my cloud of thoughts.
“Excuse me, are you Pratik Arora?” she asked, briskly. I replied in the affirmative, puzzled.
She extended her hand and said, “Hi Pratik. Nice to meet you. My name is Priyanka Singh.” I don’t know how but the name sounded vaguely familiar to me.
“Do I know you?” I asked.
“Er…no, I mean we’ve been talking to each other for quite a while but this is the first time we’re meeting in person,” she said, glancing at me nervously.
And then slowly, it dawned on me. The boy with whom I’d been chatting on Mate Finder – his name was Priyank Singhvi – which was somewhat homophonic to this girl’s name. Also, her visage beheld the same complexion, undertone, and smoothness as the one on the profile except for the fact that this was feminine and the one on Mate Finder was masculine. All the benignity that I’d mustered up for this moment vanished. The initial impression of her gorgeousness was replaced with hideousness. Strange, how the human mind functions – one moment it can declare someone to be good, and on another, it can discard him/her to be a decrepit person.
I felt nauseated. For some time, both of us sat silently staring simply into the void but avoiding each other’s faces. She seemed to sense the evident layer of tension that had been conjured up by her presence. “Look, I can explain…,” she began, but I cut her short – “Why? Why did you do this to me?” I said, coldly.
“I’m sorry if you’re hurt in any way...but we can sort it out…”
“Sorry? Sort it out? How can you even sort it out if all of it was just a show of pretense? How can you sort it out if you don’t understand my feelings? You knobheads take people like us for granted. Do you think you can toy with our emotions? You think that this is funny, pranking me, huh?”
“I assure you; this is not a prank…I was here to…” she began, but this time my furiousness got the better of me.
“ENOUGH OF YOUR JOKES! THERE’S A LIMIT TO EXPLOIT GULLIBLE PEOPLE FOR EARNING GUFFAWS! DO YOU THINK THAT IT MAKES YOU COOL? WELL, SORRY TO BLURT IT OUT: YOU’RE NOTHING BUT SICK!” I bellowed at her. The instantaneous impact that it had on the cafeteria was a sight to behold. The buzz of activities froze for a while – the couples stopped embracing, the uncouth boys ceased dancing, the birthday festivities were also suspended – as everyone was looking crossly at the unfolding drama in the corner of the room. Without further ado, I sprinted out of the cafeteria, enraged, and hailed a cab to go home, sobbing all the way.
In the course of the next few days, I ignored all of Priyanka’s calls and messages on all the social platforms that we’d hitherto used for communicating. It was like slinking into another phase of solitude and depression. I felt cheated and betrayed. The little glow of hope that had been gleaming in the distance had been extinguished in a split second.
As days clocked by, the frequency of calls and messages also started decrementing. I felt slightly relieved. After all, she deserved it. Who did she think she was to deceive me like that? But there still lingered in my mind a nugget of doubt – what if she wasn’t there to poke fun? Her face at the moment hadn’t registered a smirk – that is so customary for the roadside pranksters. She had seemed earnest. I decided to call her up to listen to her side of the story. If it transpires to be farcical, then it would be the last time that I would be talking to her.
It was a resplendent morning. Dawn was just breaking over the horizon, tinting the skyline with a reddish-golden hue. Birds were chirping excitedly as if they had sensed a particularly piquant environment. I dialed the number and waited for her to pick it up. Just like the first day of our brief encounter, she was late in doing so. “Hello, who is this?” she chimed, sleepily giving off a big yawn. She hadn’t realized that it was me as I was calling from another number. When I failed to respond, she snapped, “See, mister, either you tell me what you want or stop disturbing me. Do you even realize what time it is?”
“Priyanka, it’s me,” I said, in a low voice. There was pin-drop silence for a while. Then she mused, “Oh, you think you can make up to me by calling me early in the morning? You know what, it’s a bad idea…” she would have cut the call but I interrupted her – “Hold on. I’m sorry. I realize that maybe I was too harsh and impertinent. I’m regretting the way I’d treated you. It’s annihilating me from the inside. I should’ve heard you out. Thought I would sort it out by having a word with you. Please forgive me.”
That softened her a bit, I conjecture.
“Hmm…I knew you would come around,” she said, mischievously, “after all, my charm is so irresistible.”
“How can you be so sure about that?” I scoffed, and we both laughed.
“Just hold on…let me get my daily tabloid. Oh shit! MI lost again!” she said, exposing her disappointment.
“Are you a Mumbai Indians fan too?” I said, brightening up.
“Always. Duniya hila denge hum!”
We started chatting like school friends, discussing how some players were more consistent than the others, how the teams have always erred in picking up the out-of-form players for the highest bidding price, etc, continuously converging to the point of consensus that come what may, MI is the best franchise in the IPL. From sports, we progressed on to politics, education, and a plethora of other topics that came up as we talked. It turned out that we’d a lot in common in terms of opinion. So much so that both of us lost track of time. In retrospect, it was the longest that I’d ever talked to a girl – spanning over three hours. When I saw that the clock indicated 9’o clock I exclaimed, “Gosh! Gotta dash now. My boss will kill me.”
I was about to hang up, but stopped short, remembering how she’d morphed her pics to deceive me. “How did you manage to change your facial structure to resemble that of a boy? I mean, I fell for your impersonation,” I said, inquisitively.
“Simple,” she said, glibly, “It can be rendered by neural networks. Or in layman’s terms by the AI tech incorporated by FaceApp.”
“I hadn’t thought of that!” I said, surprised. “That’s an interesting way to make use of a deepfake. But, you can how deepfakes can be morphed and misused…”
“Now, there, first of all, this isn’t a deepfake,” she began sternly, “And secondly, why would I go on circulating my deepfakes…”
Amidst all the banter that went on; it became clear that I’d forged an uncanny novum nexum – the commencement of a new friendship.