The long drawn college holidays seemed to jolt Ritwika out of her complacence. Yes, she was professionally settled. But could she actually rest in peace? I mean, yes, she taught batches after batches, year after year(if she would continue to) of the elite families of Delhi, by and large, how patriarchy has been to women what economy and state have been to the proletariats and some such surface analogies but is this what she had set out to do? Did she have even the requisite drive in her to leave this comfort zone here and set out to discuss the same theories, say in the very same land of Vidyapati whose enormous oeuvre she had proposed to explore for her research? Could she take that risk? Would she do that? Isn't she not an elite by the very fact that she has two decent meals on her platter everyday? Who is a feminist? She who is succumbing to the pressures of her family to marry a guy of her parents', and by extension society's choice, or her maid who ran away with her boyfriend to conclude her romance very amicably in a musty, dusty government's office?
While these questions continued to haunt her, the very same questions made her resolve to search and add meanings and layers to the lives she had cursed herself to embrace. This was the day when Dhritiman and his family were expected. The D-day when she will have to become an object of scrutiny for the guy's parents and the guy for her parents. How she had hated this entire business! But it was really sensible on the part of her parents to not involve any of his masis and buas and what not to come over and be a voyeur to this quasi-drama.
She was still sunk deeper in reading the poems of Mithilanchal when her mother announced her usual panic stricken mode.
"Ritwika, why can't you just dress up in something presentable enough for the family to come? I mean you do know, don't you, that they are expected at lunch? It is already past twelve thirty. They can be here at any moment now."
Ritwika moved out of her slumber, nodded a yes and promised to join Neena in another ten minutes.
"And what are you wearing?"
"Maa, stop fussing. I shall not be downstairs in a pair of shorts and spaghetti. Better still, you choose which kurta i should wear."
"No Beta. Wear a saree. How pretty and elegant you look in them."
"Maa, that is your problem! You always tend to get overboard. I shall come over in a churidaar and kurta. That's it. No saree and all. And please, go now."
Neena could just smile at her half-triumph at looking at Ritwika's not so vehement a denial with the dress up thing.
"What! Now why are you smiling? Look, don't goad me into taking a drastic step downstairs. Now go!"
Neena aksed her to hurry up and shut the door behind her, almost laughing by now.
Ritwika and her gang were the most careless one's in college when it came to dressing up and acting pretty. No, they were not tomboyish and did not try their hands faking up an ultra cool image of being like 'one of the bindaas guys'. They were sensible dressers and one of those who made liberal fun of faked up, made up girls and dandyish guys in campus. The branded chiknas who made a conscious flaunt of casual wear by allowing their Puma butt to struggle to peep through their Adidas jeans, the ultra sexy sirens who were carefully careless to allow their bra straps to sneak out of their slinky Madame top were their constant source of bulk entertainment when they moved out to have some fun at Chatel Pest and Akmal Nagar, the students' favourite and nearest hangout zone. How much fun did they manage to have at the crowd's expense was beyond any recollection now! Half of the time they were together, this is what they did. Experiment, observe and infer - the three cardinal rules they were taught in school science laboratories. Experimented at talking out to random strangers regarding random things, observing a mix of emotions on the random faces and inferring that everyone including them were a crazy bunch of lunatics in their own special ways.
Ritwika could not suppress a smile while she recalled that iconic episode where she was asked to do the 'dare' of walking upto the guy who had a crush on her for some time and asking him to kiss her. And all this was to be spoken in hindi. She denied first, hurling the best of abuses on her gang but later finished it off with elan. She walked upto the guy sitting with some weird friends of his(please remember the 'breed' that kept falling for Ritika!)and cornered him. She asked in chaste hindi to give her a 'chumma' with a very straight face and a very very strict expression. The guy was shocked. He could merely mumble, "Kya hua?" when she raised her voice a little further looking straight at him with blood curdling looks. The guy apologised for his 'emotions', confessed to having stalked her with unknown numbers and promised her that he would not repeat the same. Ritwika walked back, somehow controlling her laughter and the gang burst out in explosions hearing the dramatised version of the same.
Ritwika picked up a maroon kurta and a black churidaar, fixed up her hair in a loose bun, and moved down.
"No jwellery? No make up? And look how carelessly have you done your hair! Beta..."
Neena was about to explode into her 'you-don't-have-to-embarrass-us-like-this" mode when Vihangam pitched in.
"It is okay, Neena. Our daughter looks lovely the way she is. We don't have to show off anyway."
He looked at Ritwika with a knowing smile, immediately extolling himself as a saviour for the appreciation starved Ritz at the moment. Ritwika flashed her teeth in a deliberate grin and hugged her dad.
Dhritiman looked like a miniature business tycoon with his his spectacled looks in a suited affair. He resembled less of a bureaucrat than an entrepreneur from a corporate world. She was to learn later that the guy was a pass out from IIM after his engineering from the prestigious IIT (yes again!) who wished to contribute towards policy making in the government and do some good for his beloved country at large. Till date, Ritwika could never understand why did engineers realise it so late in their lives, after almost 25 springs of their lives, that they wanted to serve their motherland via the corridors of power which anyway made them more powerless than the opposite. To leave the potential of moneyed entrepreneurship to optimistically hope for a personalised revolution - funded, guided and 'practically' almost forced policy implementation and execution seemed more of an optimistic hypocrisy for her. And in this case, that Dhritiman's parents were already high up in the bureaucratic ladder and that he had already planned to set up a fashion store in Noida, made things almost clear to her. However, she still gave the guy a chance.
Ritwika had so much tried to avoid this Bollywood drama when the guy's mother chimed in. We saw a beautiful painting hung on the front wall of the entrance. Dhritiman is very much interested in art. Where did you get it from? Mrs. Trivedi neither missed the clue to ask Ritwika to make him look at her collections nor the opportunity to brag about her daughter's very refined, very sophisticated tastes in music, sculptor, paintings...almost anything which makes a lady more feminine and softer with her creative skills.
Ritwika led Dhritiman to her room. Before she could utter anything, Dhritiman said, "Ritwika, look, i like you. But this life being discussed is ours and not just mine or yours individually. Please feel free to ask or discuss anything. There is no need to being formal."
Sensibility Quotient: Plus One
Ritwika said to herself.
"Mmmmm...and what makes you think i shall be formal? It is you anyway, who has dressed up as an upcoming tycoon?"
Dhritiman flashed his comeliest of smiles, poised and controlled.
"You know how family matters are! But you look casual and fresh. I so envy your comfort at the moment." He said.
"Oh please! Feel at home. You can remove your coat if you wish to." She offered.
"Well, i don't wish to be spotted as undressing on the very first occasion of meeting with a prospective."
It was time for Ritwika to smile. At some other occasion, with some other company, she could have hit on the statement with her wit and panache, but all she could feel was a warm blush descend on her already flushed cheeks by now. She asked if he was happy in the government.
"When money speaks with power, there are few who would resist its potential. Ritwika, i am not a greedy guy. But i like luxury. I am being honest about it. You may ask me why not stick with the high package elsewhere. The obvious reason in my case being ease. My dad's there. My mom's there. I have connections. I will rise up soon. And if my fashion store works out well enough, it shall benefit the masses in the long run too. There is enough room in entrepreneurship to augment economic benefits to the lower rungs by the trickle down effect. So, you see, it is part comfort, part money, part satisfaction, part social responsibility."
Ritwika had major issues at what was just said. Still...
Honesty and clarity : Plus three
"Hmmmm...i see the critic in me trying to deconstruct the theory. But i can't deny there is a strong argument in what you said. Though must say, i liked the honesty there."
She smiled her genuine smile for the first time.
"Thanks lady! May i take the opportunity to fix up a coffee for our discussion later sometime?"
He grabbed the chance like a pro.
Ritwika could not but laugh at this and breathed, "Good going Dhritiman! Damn! You are a smart chap! Yeah sure! Without making intiatives harder and opportunity-based for you, here is my email id and my contact number.
They both got down to join the families and later followed a typical departure session of the guy's family, fresh out of some blingy episode from a daily family soap.