The first kiss

Excerpt from Chapter 11
       Mmm. It was the best smell in the whole wide world. Paint and turpentine. I breathed in deep, right down to my stomach. I was just supposed to be supervising the art direction guys, but when they’d gone off for lunch, I hadn’t been able to resist picking up a brush. The stage backdrop was so big, I figured that it didn’t hurt any if I painted a bit. And I was happy like a child, doing what I loved more than anything else – painting.
       I added two broad strokes of red, then a squiggle of blue, smudged gently. My hair came loose as I bent down to dip my brush in the turpentine.
       ‘Ofoh!’ I said, without turning around. ‘Where did you come from?’
       Rahul tied my hair into a knot and stuck the pin back in.
       ‘I wanted to check how work on the stage was coming along,’ he said unconvincingly. Then, ‘I thought you might be feeling lonely – all alone on this big set in the middle of nowhere.’
       ‘I was enjoying my solitude,’ I said, but smiled at him from the corner of my eyes.
       I added a yellow line next to the blue and smudged it with my fingers.
       ‘What do you think of it?’ I said, stepping back.
       ‘It looks, well, kind of… like a cat.’
       I’d been painting a depiction of Shiva and Shakti.
       ‘You could have said something worse, I suppose. Though I can’t think of much,’ I said.
       ‘Oh, it’s not so bad, I like cats,’ he said.
       ‘I prefer dogs.’
       ‘I know what you mean. Dogs are loving, trusting creatures. You know what the trouble with cats is? If a cat sits on a hot stove once, she won’t sit on a hot stove again. But the problem is, she won’t sit on a cold stove, either.’
       ‘Tom Sawyer said that,’ I said accusingly.
       ‘I wasn’t trying to steal his quote. And it’s Mark Twain, not Tom Sawyer.’
       ‘Ya, ya, same thing. Anyway, why do we have to talk, and analyse, and discuss so much?’ I asked, adding some blue to the design. ‘Can’t you think of anything better to do?’
       He took the paintbrush out of my hand, kept it in the mug of turpentine, and kissed me soundly on the lips.
        ‘That wasn’t what I meant,’ I said, feeling shy but trying not to show it. I rubbed the paint-mark on my cheek. He kissed the mark. I tried not to look at him, but when I did, I couldn’t help smiling. He kissed my lips again, softly.
       I wouldn’t have minded if that kiss had gone on forever, but the sound of footsteps made us disentangle quickly.
       ‘I was thinking, Madam is all alone, it’s not good for me to be taking rest,’ the painter, who’d come back early from his lunch, said sweetly.
       ‘That was really very nice of you,’ Rahul said, hamming a hearty smile and clapping him on the back.
       I was feeling so shy, that I started acting brash. Rahul was happy, stretching, singing, ‘helping’ me with the painting (he couldn’t paint for nuts), kissing me quickly when the art direction guy’s back was turned.
       Rahul’s jeep wouldn’t start. As usual. But neither of us minded in the least. We walked halfway to the Film City gate, holding hands, before we saw a bus. It appeared on the horizon, and as it inched towards us, it started to rain.
       The wizened old conductor stared at us disapprovingly when we clambered in, dripping water and giggling like mad. We sat as far from him as we could and held hands.
       I had never seen Bombay looking so beautiful before. Not just the lush green of Film City, even the crowded roads looked charming. Maybe it was because of the rain.
       ‘Close your eyes,’ Rahul told me.
       ‘But what about the conductor?’ I said, shocked.
       ‘Smell the rain, dumbo.’
       I closed my eyes and I could smell the smell-scape – Rahul’s after-shave, the gajras at the stoplight, bhuttas being roasted, and below it all, the musky scent of rain meeting parched earth.
       ‘It’s been discovered that the typical “first rain” scent is caused by the spores of some bacteria being released into the air,’ I informed him, but my eyes were laughing.
       He gave me a mock-scowl and put an arm around me, not drawing away even when the conductor passed by, coughing disapprovingly.
       ‘In a Hindi film, this would have been a song,’ I giggled.
       And he turned to me and started singing, ‘Pyar hua ikraar hua hai…’
       I told myself that it is was the most predictable song to sing under the circumstances, but my heart melted and flowed down, right out of my toes. ‘Parvatitai,’ I told myself, ‘if you don’t watch out, you’re going to fall in love with this guy.’
       ‘I’m feeling so happy and so scared because I’m feeling so happy,’ I whispered into the phone. It was two o’clock in the night, definitely not the most decent of times to be chatting on the phone, but Saira came back late from work so this was the only time I could catch her.
       ‘What are you getting so hyper about, sweetheart?’ Saira said soothingly.
       ‘He’s a Hindi film actor for God’s sake!’ I groaned.
       ‘He’s dishy,’ she commented.
       ‘Karan was dishy too. I thought that I’d learnt my lesson from that whole episode. But no. Here I go again. Aa bael mujhe maar.’
       ‘Maybe it’s real love,’ she said doubtfully.
       ‘I don’t know about real love, but it definitely is real lust,’ I laughed.
       ‘That’s great,’ she said. ‘What’s stopping you, then?’
       I hesitated. Somehow, I didn’t want to tell Saira.
       ‘What’s the matter, sweetheart?’ she said.
       ‘I feel very attracted to Rahul, but even now, my body seems to belong to Karan. In a funny kind of way, I feel like I’m being unfaithful to Karan by thinking of getting involved with Rahul. Maybe unfaithful not to him, he never bothered to be faithful to me even when we were together. Maybe, unfaithful to my love for him…’
       ‘That’s all the more reason why you should get involved with Rahul. It’ll help you break your attachment to Karan.’
       ‘I don’t know,’ I said, shivering as the windows opened with a bang and the wind blew a spray of drizzle on me. I closed the windows quickly, stealing a look at the landlady’s bedroom door. I was breaking one of her rules – traipsing around the living room in a nighty – and if she found out, there’d be hell to pay.
       ‘Why don’t you just have an affair with Rahul?’ Saira suggested. ‘Just have some fun, that’s all.’
       ‘With Karan…’
       ‘See, with Karan, you were emotionally involved, that’s why it hurt you so much that he just wanted to fuck you. Because you wanted different things from the relationship, right?’
       ‘Look, that’s what I feel. If you go and talk to Kavita, she’ll tell you that all men are bastards, you’re better off by yourself. You know what a bloody pessimist she is,’ she said.
       Saira had recently gone and made up with her Whacko. Even I hadn’t been too happy about it. But my disapproval was nothing compared to Kavita’s. She’d laid an egg when Saira had forgiven Whacko for slapping her because he’d been tripping on speed and hadn’t realised what he was doing.
       ‘Kavita’s so bloody self-righteous! I don’t know how – what do they say – how she always knows what’s good for everybody else,’ Saira complained. ‘I don’t even know what’s good for me.’
       ‘The most irritating thing is that she’s usually right,’ I said.
       ‘Ya, I know,’ Saira said moodily. ‘Maybe you should ask her, then…’
       ‘I’ll ask her later, but right now, I’m asking you,’ I said. ‘What do you think?’
       ‘I would advise you to get on with your life,’ Saira said. ‘You used to be so bubbly when you first came to Bombay. But after everything happened… Means, you’ve become so serious and bitter nowadays. Nothing like a bit of romance to cheer you up, get things into perspective. But that’s just my opinion. You have to make your own decision based on what you want.’
       ‘But how am I going to find out what I want unless I talk to you?’
       ‘Ya, you’re right,’ Saira laughed.
       ‘Actually I don’t think that I’m in love with Rahul either,’ I said, going on, stronger now. ‘I mean, of course I’m very attracted to him, and he’s really fun to be with, that’s all.’
       ‘That’s cool, then,’ Saira said. ‘Enjoy.’
       ‘Ya, like MTV. Enjoy.’