Short Story: Raindrops And Romance by Rati Pednekar
The rain had been beating on the glass window for hours now, but that was normal for an evening in July. The white lights inside the office shone brightly against the gloom outside. The thunder that rumbled into the room did not disrupt the four people working there. Aniket’s fingers darted across the keyboard, his eyes narrowed in concentration. Vishal’s foot tapped against the floor as he navigated the numerous tabs on his screen. Javed’s movements were slow and precise, his hand resting under his chin as he considered the program in front of him. Indu kept flicking her hair out of her face as she read email after email. Research was done, articles submitted and light chatter exchanged across the small room in a seamless fashion. Then, at ten past six, the ten story building was plunged into darkness.
A few minutes later Indu came back to the room, her phone torch guiding the way. ‘It’s not just us. It’s the whole area apparently.’
‘That sounds bad,’ said Aniket. ‘Should we leave?’
‘The rain’s gotten really bad,’ said Vishal, not looking up from his phone. ‘NDTV says it’s flooded almost everywhere, and the harbour line trains have shut down.’
Javed agreed, he’d read similar reports.
‘What about getting an Uber?’ Aniket asked, as he packed his laptop.
‘It’s a no go.’ Vishal said, then shrugged as Aniket looked at him, ‘My girlfriend’s been stuck in a cab in Andheri for forty minutes.’
Indu walked towards the window at the far end of the room that took up most of the wall. In the faint reflection, her short, wavy hair spread out like a dark halo against her pale face. Her lips were painted purple and she wore a nose ring. Through the sheet of rain she could make out a mix of tall, metal buildings and shorter concrete complexes, but most of the windows were dark. Below, cars, rickshaws and taxis were all jammed together with no space to move. Streaming headlights blinked as the water sloshed against them. She could feel the chaos of honking and yelling even though she couldn’t hear it all the way to the seventh floor. Pedestrians waded through ankle length water, some clinging to umbrellas, some defeated into getting soaked. Without the hum of the air conditioning, the patter of the rain was loud, resonating throughout the little office as Indu made a decision.
She turned around. ‘Right. I think we should stay in. It’s up to you guys, but from experience, it seems safer to wait this out.’
Javed and Aniket nodded. Vishal said it was cool and slumped back into his chair.
Indu said she’d try and find some food and left the room. Outside she made a phone call.
Shaheen answered, ‘So I’m definitely not making the convention.’
Indu chuckled. ‘It’s okay, I’m sure another ‘Young Entrepreneurs Convention’ will roll around. Where are you?’
‘Stuck in traffic at Khar, I’m just going to head home though. I think you and the others should stay in.’
‘Yeah we just decided to. Let me know when you reach—?’
Shaheen heard the worry in her voice. ‘Don’t worry, I will. Love you.’
‘You too,’ Indu replied softly.
Indu returned to the room with a stash of biscuits and chocolate in her arms, to find Aniket and Vishal in a deep conversation. She dumped the food on a table and asked, ‘Where’s Javed?’
Aniket replied, ‘Oh— I don’t know, he just left?’
Indu laughed. ‘Well, that’s Javed.’
Aniket smiled at her, then looked away quickly. Indu continued,‘We may have to do something about food though, this is from the vending machine. Had to share with the other offices.’
Just then Javed entered the room with a short woman in a janitor’s uniform. Her skin was dark and her hair tied up in a tight bun. They were conversing in Marathi.
‘Good thing you didn’t go home either, it’s flooded out there,’ Javed was saying.
‘Yes,’ she replied, ‘it’s been raining for hours now.’
The two of them were carrying a bundle of candles and a few torches with them, which they setup around the room.
Indu walked over to Vishal, who was looking bored and miserable.
‘Hey, here’s my portable charger. I’ve got enough battery so you can use it.’
‘Thanks,’ Vishal said.
‘So’, she said, leaning against the table, ‘your article about Nh7 Weekender was well written. Shaheen mentioned she was really happy with it.’
Vishal’s eyes lit up and she continued, ‘Yeah, she said it was a critical appraisal. Not the usual fawning over it.’
‘Oh, thanks!’ He replied. ‘I do think it’s a great platform for music though, particularly new artists.’
Indu nodded, once again realizing that hiring him had been a good decision. Shaheen had always been quick to spot talent. ‘Yes, I agree.’
Vishal hesitated, then said, ‘That’s actually where I met Tanya. My girlfriend.’
‘Oh,’ Indu said, ‘Is she a music buff too?’
‘Yeah pretty much.’ He grinned.
‘Didn’t you say she was stuck in Andheri?’
He began to fiddle with his headphones. ‘Yep. She was actually on her way here, we were gonna go out for dinner. Six month anniversary,’ he added, sheepishly.
Indu smiled, thinking that she had never pegged Vishal to be the romantic kind.
‘She’s not too far from home but I told her not to walk, you know open drains and shit. It’s dangerous.’
‘Yeah, these rains na. Sab ki band bajaate hain.’ After a few seconds she suggested, ‘Well, you could play her a song on the radio. That’s romantic.’
‘Radio?’ Vishal raised his eyebrows.
‘It’s still a thing, you know. This one channel I know takes requests, particularly on such days. I’ll show you.’ Indu sat in the chair next to him and got her phone out.
Javed thanked the janitor as they put up the last of the candles, and then asked, ‘What about your family? Is everyone okay?’
The woman hesitated, twisted her fingers together.
‘Actually, I’m not sure. My phone died a little while ago and I haven’t been able to contact them.’ She took out a battered Nokia from her pocket. ‘I can’t do much with this thing. My son works at a shop and I don’t know if he got home,’ she trailed off, looking at Javed expectantly.
He immediately got his own phone out and said, ‘Arrey, please. Use my phone.’
She smiled, thanked him and left.
‘Wow your Marathi’s really good,’ said Aniket, not reverting to English.
‘Living in Mumbai, how won’t it be?’
The party of four had settled around the wide table in the centre of the room. It was lit by several candles, torches propped aslant and the light from Javed’s laptop screen as he kept working. The screen illuminated his short hair and brown eyes, while most of the others were shrouded in the shadows. Indu was asking Aniket about his experience in Bombay.
‘How long have you been here now?’
‘It’s been—’ his eyebrows scrunched in concentration, ‘about six months.’
‘Oh wow. What do you think?’
‘Well…we’re stuck in this building, no electricity, no way of going home…’
Indu threw her hands up in surrender. Javed looked up from the screen, smiling a little.
Aniket grinned, ‘I’m kidding. I definitely like this city. And the food, oh my god.’
Indu laughed. ‘So this is definitely the job for you then?’
‘Are you kidding me? Visiting new cafes and restaurants, writing about food? It’s the dream.’
‘Do you miss home?’
‘Definitely, the nights were a lot quieter there. The number of people here never surprised me really, it’s more the pace they move at, you know? Like everyone’s got a train to catch?’
Vishal piped up, ‘I mean, they do, most of the time.’
‘The other day,’ continued Aniket, ‘I tripped and fell on the footpath okay. There was a pothole or something. And then this random guy just pulls me up, pushes my bag into my hands and walks away. He didn’t say a word, I almost felt bad I’d made him stop.’
Indu smiled and said, ‘Welcome to Mumbai.’
At that moment there was a knock at the door and the janitor entered the room, this time with a bundle wrapped in newspaper. She put it down on the table to reveal a heap of bread and fried potato.
Vishal stopped spinning his chair as Aniket was already diving into the food. He wrapped one of the vadas inside a piece of bread, dipped it into the red chutney, and bit into it. Everybody laughed at the moan that left him.
‘Where did you get this?’ Indu asked in Marathi.
The woman explained, ‘Do you know the vada pav seller around the corner? He’s taken shelter here on the ground floor, with the watchman. The food isn’t warm, but at least there’s something to eat.’
‘Have Mahendra and Gopal eaten themselves?’ Javed asked.
‘Oh, we must pay him back for this,’ Indu said, as the woman nodded.
Javed added, ‘Arrey, Jyothi, sit na.’
‘Yes, yes. Please help yourself to the food also. And Javed, please stop working.’
Aniket raised his eyebrows a little. Four months ago when he started work here, his impression of Javed was that of a slightly uptight but very polite man. Someone that stayed in their own lane, never bothered with others.
‘How do you know everybody’s name?’
Javed shrugged. Vishal answered through a mouthful of vada pav, ‘He’s the first to come, and last to leave, every day.’ When Javed gave him a look he said, ‘I don’t know how you do it man.’
‘Take notes Vishal,’ Indu said, pointedly.
Javed handed Indu some papers, saying, ‘Do you think you could hand these over to Shaheen ma’am?’
‘Is it awkward? Being roomies with the boss?’ Vishal asked.
Indu bristled a little at the word ‘roomies’ but the flickering candlelight masked it well. She gave an awkward laugh and said, ‘No no, we were friends before that. I was with her when she started this web journal.’
‘Four years ago wasn’t it?’
‘I remember it being all over the internet.’
‘Didn’t she win some award?’
‘Yeah, she was the youngest to get the Leela Leadership Award,’ Indu pointed to a photograph mounted on a wall. There was Shaheen, impeccably dressed in a red kurta, her hair reaching her shoulders in neat curves. She was accepting an award from an old man in a suit. Indu still remembered the smile on her face that day.
Suddenly Vishal exclaimed, ‘Guys, it’s here!’ He held up his phone, increasing the volume: ‘…dedication from Vishal to Tanya, “hoping that she doesn’t die of boredom”…’
‘That’s…really romantic Vishal,’ Indu said, skepticism written on her face. Her expression changed as the radio started playing ‘Ek Ajnabee Haseena Se’. ‘Actually, I’m impressed.’
‘Tanya’s really into old music,’ Vishal explained, grinning.
Indu went by the window to keep the papers in her bag. She was about to turn her back when she noticed movement. ‘Oh look guys, there’s some people dancing on the roof there.’
Vishal, Jyothi and Aniket walked over to see and sure enough, across the road they could see tiny figures leaping and dancing on the terrace of one of the smaller buildings. Aniket laughed. Vishal said it looked like fun. Jyothi shook her head and said in Marathi, ‘They’ll all catch colds. But I’m sure even Neerav is doing the same thing at home.’
‘Your son?’ Indu asked.
She chuckled and said, ‘Yes. He saunters around in the rain like a big man and then later comes to me with a towel around his head, asking for tea. He’s taken after his father.’
‘Does he like rain too?’ Javed asked.
‘Oh yes. In fact the first time I met him he was dancing in the rain. I was waiting at a bus stop. He knew and chose the exact spot where I would be.’
‘Clever man,’ said Aniket.
An hour later they were still sitting by the table. The candles were considerably shorter and the newspaper and a pack of cards lay scattered on the table. While everyone else had given up looking at the news, Aniket was still at it.
‘How long do you think it will go on for?’
Indu rocked her chair backwards. ‘You haven’t experienced this much rain have you?’
‘It rains in Nagpur but not this much.’
Jyothi said, ‘This is normal for us. Every year there is one day like this, if not more.’
‘Yes. There’s a leak in my roof. Every May I get it fixed, by August it needs to be repaired again.’
Vishal said, ‘Yes, and it gets worse every year. Last year my dad and his colleagues spent all night on the road, in someone’s car. Because of traffic and water logging, he only got home in the morning. And he was one of the lucky ones.’
Aniket said, ‘Indu, didn’t you mention you had experienced something like this too?’
‘Oh yeah,’ Indu said. ‘It was—’
At that moment Javed, who had been rummaging through his bag, gestured to Indu to come towards the window. Aniket’s face fell a little, as he watched Indu make her way there.
Javed handed her a blue envelope when she got there. She opened it to find a card with gold writing. It read: Javed Khan weds Deepali Gopalkrishna.
‘Oh a December wedding! That’s going to be lovely,’ said Indu. ‘What about Deepali’s job?’
‘Still in Bangalore but she’s getting a transfer to Bombay soon.’
‘That’s brilliant,’ Indu exclaimed, but Javed’s face remained somber.
‘Indu,’ he hesitated. ‘I know you want to bring Shaheen along, but, I don’t think it’s going to be possible.’
Indu’s smile froze. ‘Javed, I know you’ve had trouble accepting this—’
‘It’s not me Indu. Trust me, after working over here, with her, I think Shaheen’s great. And I’m happy for you both. Deepa is too. But some of her relatives are really…conservative.’
‘Right. Okay, that’s fine. I understand.’
‘Look, we just want the wedding to go without a hitch.’ He touched her arm and added, ‘And we’ve been friends for so long. I hope you’ll be there.’
Indu got herself to give a small smile and nod. The lights from a billboard outside wavered over his face, fractals of light slipping over small eyes that crinkled a little as he smiled. As he turned away she sighed.
Walking back to the table, Javed felt uneasy.
‘Do you have the key to the storeroom?’ He asked Indu suddenly.
‘Yeah, why?’ Indu said, handing them over.
‘We’ve got time to spare,’ he said . A few moments later he returned holding a guitar in his hand. The wood was faded and Javed had to wipe dust off its surface. ‘Remember we used this for one of our videos?’
Vishal nodded. ‘You play?!’
‘Yes,’ he said to their raised eyebrows. Then added, ‘I actually wanted to become a musician.’
‘So what happened?’
‘IT pays better.’
He fiddled with the tuning pegs and then started playing. His fingers moved with more ease than he’d expected, his voice sounding stronger with each passing second. He had forgotten what it felt like to make music.
‘Ajeeb dastan hai ye..’
Jyothi cupped her chin with a hand, singing along softly. The candle light threw fleeting reflections off her thin, golden wedding ring.
‘Kahaan shuru kahaan khatam..’
Vishal’s head was resting on the table, over folded hands. His head bobbed along with the music.
‘Yeh manzilein hain kaunsi..’
Indu stood against the window, her head against the glass. Aniket leaned back in his chair, his eyes flicking from Javed’s guitar to Indu every few seconds.
‘Na wo samhaj sake na hum..’
Indu’s phone chimed in her hand.
I’m home. See you soon.
She smiled at the purple heart emoticon. Shaheen rarely used emojis. She looked up as Aniket came to stand by her.
‘The radio says it’s getting better. Water level is going down and traffic is moving.’ His hands were in his jeans pockets and he shifted from one foot to another. He thought Indu’s eyes looked tired.
‘Yeah, we should be able to get home soon.’
She smiled and they both turned to the window.
The rain had slowed to a drizzle, the window glass now covered in tiny drops instead of rivulets of rainwater. The street below didn’t look like it was drowning, the traffic slowly crawling ahead. Streetlights were as yellow and steady as ever. Windows started winking into light as electricity started running once more. The poles at the top of a construction site blinked red again. Through a chink in the clouds they made out the flashing lights of a plane pass by. The people on the terrace across them were still dancing.
They stood side by side in front of the window, watching the city made of a million moving pinpricks.
‘That’s not a bad view na?’ She asked.
‘Not bad at all.’
Rati Pednekar is a writer who has graduated from St.Xavier’s College, Mumbai in English Literature and has a postgraduate degree in Creative Writing from the University of Birmingham, UK. Her strength is writing short fiction. Her stories focus on the everyday lives of people. She believes in portraying the extraordinary in the ordinary, to show the magic and complexity in the life of the common man.