'What do you mean you can't make it to the party tonight?' demanded Sunira.
'Well, I have this doctor's appointment yaar.' Raman replied patiently.
'Ok, whatever. See if you don't want to come, you should just say so. Don't give these lame excuses.' She snapped.
The long dial tone echoed for a few seconds before Raman also ended the call. Slowly he got back to reading for next week's test.
It wasn't that Raman didn't like going to parties. Or that he actually had any doctor's appointment. But the fact was these parties didn't come cheap. Raman was not from what he thought to be a rich family. Neither did he like to think of himself as coming from poverty.
But the truth was that his family had seen some pretty bad days. Days on which a single prasad from a temple was the only meal his parents shared. For most of his life, Raman hadn't seen any such situation. Except for a very small chapter of his childhood. And he retained a fuzzy memory of those days. While the recollection had faded, it had still taken a stronghold on his actions.
He didn't like making demands of his family. Without being asked to, he cut his own expenses. But now there was Sunira. Dear, charming, short-tempered Sunira.
Raman wondered how he would ever explain these things to her.
Sunira tried taking deep breaths. She couldn't understand why Raman had to always be such a spoilsport. Her thoughts then turned to how fun it would be to rag him about this in the coming week. Soon enough Sunira broke into a smile. Her anger never lasted for too long. Especially not with Raman.
Now the preparations for the party were easy enough to make. Sunira had perfected the art of finding the right outfit for the right occasion. You had to be careful about such things. Too simple, and people would talk. Too fancy, and people would talk.
This time the group planned to hit this interesting pub near Lokhandawala called Thirteenth Sense. Sunira had heard such good things about the place! She hoped it didn't have any cheap crowd.
But if Sunira was perfectly honest with herself, she would admit something the others wouldn't really believe. Secretly Sunira hoped that this place played some good Hindi music after midnight.
I mean, Ed Sheeran, Coldplay, Katy Perry, are all good, though Sunira. But when all is said and done, who doesn't like some Kaho Na Pyaar Hai?
The others may not agree, thought Sunira. Except for Raman, he’d definitely get it.
Raman was buried deep in his textbook when someone thumped him on the back, none too gently.
Sighing, Raman turned towards his younger brother.
'What is it Keshu?'
Keshu smiled. 'Dada! You're still studying. Of course, you are. Thanks for setting an example that I possibly can't live up to.'
Raman chuckled. 'Well, what do you want?'
'Dada, I was supposed to bring the fish for tomorrow. But I was uhh...sort of caught up in other things...' Keshu spoke, trying and failing to sound innocent.
Raman glared at Keshu and spoke sharply. 'Well, do you still have any of the money left for buying the fish?'
Keshu broke into a sweat. 'In a way, someone in this world does still have all of that money. Except at this very moment, it's not with me Dada.'
Raman shut his book. With some effort, his initial anger subsided. If he was too hard on Keshu, the rebellious younger brother just might shut him out. Sunira had explained this to him and he agreed with her.
In fact, there were a lot of things on which Raman agreed with Sunira. She was the most honest person he'd ever met. And also, to be honest, the most interesting.
Kindly, Raman spoke 'Listen Keshu, you have to stop doing this. See I'll soon find a job and I can help if you need any money. But you can't do this.'
Keshu dutifully listened and spoke quietly, 'Yes dada. Ok.'
And in a hopeful tone, Keshu went on to ask, 'So for now will you get the fish?'
In a tipsy and disoriented state, Sunira was back home. She somehow managed to not raise her parents' suspicions. Or she convinced herself that they were not suspicious.
Flashes of the evening played through her head. Thirteenth Sense was a happening place indeed. Great music (though no Kaho Na Pyaar Hai). Great food. Great booze.
Sunira knew that there was a big 'but' in all of this. Somehow the whole experience was exactly like a number of other experiences. Fancy place, same people, same conversations.
No that wasn't fair. These were the people Sunira really cared about. Yet something had changed for Sunira ever since she began this MBA course.
For the first time, she met people who were not, in the financial sense, rich. And it was awkward initially, but the class now had groups of friends with people from different backgrounds. Yet there was still that clear divide between the rich kids and the not so rich kids.
Like tonight, Sunira knew was mostly a rich kids' event. And she knew that this was why Raman wasn't here. But the reason she still felt angry, was because she no longer thought of Raman as some guy from another background. She thought of him as a friend. And she didn't like to think that he thought of her as just some rich girl.
See when you spend so much time studying together. When you share your love for John Lenon, Harry Potter, and Bappi Lahri, you expect a certain openness and honesty.
But clearly, there were still things they didn't share with each other.
On this early morning, the fish market had a slightly deserted air. Raman was unsure about what to buy. Bangda seemed a little costly, but Keshu didn't like prawns, so maybe Bombil?
Soon enough the choice was made (Paaplet, at a pretty good deal). As Raman walked out of the fish market, someone punched him in the stomach. Almost dropping his bags, a shocked Raman looked around.
'Ramu!' A voice teased. And Raman's expression changed from shock to surprise. There in front of him was Sunira, holding various grocery bags. In the distance was a lady who Raman knew to be (from all the pictures that Sunira insisted on sharing) Sunira's mother, smiling at both of them.
Sumira's mother spoke in her casual yet somehow formal manner. 'Sunira stop bullying him! Raman, how are you doing beta?'
Raman laughed. 'Oh, I'm doing well aunty. So nice to see both of you here.'
Sumira's mother rolled her eyes and spoke in a rush. 'What to tell you now...My maid forgot all about the small get-together. So we had to come here early in the morning! Anyway, Sunira gives me those bags, I can go on from here. Though you don't take too long please! There are LOTS to do!!'
Sunira and Raman waved at Sunira's mother as she hurriedly made her way to the car. When the car was gone, Sunira again punched Raman.
'So good boy? How was your "doctor's appointment" ?'
Raman smiled embarrassedly. 'Sorry for lying. But I didn't really feel comfortable spending so much you know. Maybe after our placements...we could all go out.'
They walked through the market that was slowly waking up. But the dogs still felt it was quite all right to sleep right in the middle of the path. Tiptoeing around them, Sunira looked at Raman and something inside her snapped.
She hadn't wanted to say this. But now as Sunira thought about it, she couldn't stop herself. Sunira tried keeping her voice a little calm, but she could hear the hurt in it.
'Well, then next time just say that. Unless you don't want to be friends. Then just say that. I am sure we can find other friends.'
With a surprised expression, Raman looked away from Sunira. And then faced her.
'Hey, I am really sorry. And okay, next time I promise to be honest with you. '
In a rare moment of displaying physical affection, Raman held Sunira's hand. Usually, Sunira was good at this sort of thing. Raman felt her holding onto him. It felt right. It had always felt right.
And Raman knew there was this big 'but'. Sunira was definitely too cool for him. She deserved someone who would feel comfortable with things like Thirteenth Sense. Not the fish market.
Someday soon he'll have to say it and I don't know what I'll say, thought Sunira.
Someday soon she'll find someone else and I don't know what I'll do, thought Raman.
Yet here they were, walking hand in hand.