The door slammed behind him shaking the bells that hung from it. All of a sudden there was silence. The shouting had stopped. Ashwin stood still, staring at the brown nameplate on the door in front of him. ‘Pillai’s Place’. Could the Pillais have heard us? He knew he was loud. Perhaps Pillai uncle was there, standing behind the door and staring at him through the peephole. But he could care less. He didn’t want to go back in. He was done trying to reason with her and wanted a break. He walked over to the elevator looking to get away.
Ten minutes later, Ashwin regretted his decision to go out for a long drive. A classic Bangalore traffic jam greeted him only minutes since he drove through the gates of his apartment. To make matters worse, an auto had knicked his car. The front bumper would need some work. Exhausted from the argument with the auto driver, he cursed the day and everything around as he shut the door and got into the driver’s seat. A long line of cars and trucks glared at him. He wasn’t going anywhere soon. The apartment was still visible in the rearview mirror. But he couldn’t go back. Or could he?
That sound. That sweet sound of thunder.
It had been a while since he took out his motorcycle. Racing the vehicles lined up on the road, he smiled. The Enfield never disappoints.
It was 1pm and Bangalore was hot. Up ahead, a BMTC bus had broken down in the middle of the road thereby causing the jam. Ashwin, glad to be on his motorcycle and not in his Vento, crossed the bus with ease as sedans manoeuvred their way around the ugly bus amidst the chaos on the narrow road. He did not have a destination in mind. Only one more junction remained between him and the NICE road. The NICE road (Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprises) was the corridor that connected Bengaluru and Mysore. With wide and well-maintained roads, it was his escape route for weekend getaways.
Bangalore had changed in the last ten years that he had been here. Traffic had increased and the famous Bangalore weather had become a rarity. Roads across the city had been dug up for the much-needed metro. The ones that remained, disappeared into the invisible footpath on either side. This city was no longer calm. Somewhere, along the years, amidst unicorn startups and a dozen microbreweries, India’s silicon valley had lost its charm. With frothy lakes, poor infrastructure and uncontrolled growth, Bangalore was rapidly transforming into its worst version ever.
How did we get here?
Navigating potholes, unruly pedestrians and everybody’s favourite; cows, Ashwin eventually reached the NICE road toll gate. The empty tarmac stretched out in front of him invitingly. This is what he had been waiting for. 5th gear, full throttle.
This felt good; The wind hitting his face. The road was empty. No traffic, no cows. Not much had changed except for the newer apartments that had mushroomed on either side. He wondered if they were empty. Why would people stay so far away? Sneha would always ask him.
‘I mean what’s so great about this place? Sure it’s windy and less crowded. But it will take them ages to get into the city.’ said Sneha as she adjusted herself on the Enfield.
He was looking away ‘What if people wanted to get away from the chaos? Enchanting Karnataka is a stone throw away for these folks. Every weekend could be a new adventure.’ He replied, staring into the endless road.
‘Karnataka is so beautiful no?’
‘No doubt about it. And Bangalore is magical. Just like the biryani we had for lunch.’ He turned around and walked back to the Enfield. Sneha looked perfect.
They had been going out only for a few months and things had been amazing. He didn’t know how and when they had gotten so close. Part of him didn’t want to believe it, but he knew he had fallen for her, and there was no going back.
He reached out to her ‘You know, I like this. Being here. With you. Under these crimson skies on these empty, endless roads, away from all the noise. Just us.’
‘This city is something else only.’ she said pulling him closer, firmly wrapping her arm around his. ‘The weather itself is perfect. It makes falling in love so easy!’
‘Hey! Not fair giving all that credit to the weather you know!’ he teased on.
Sneha looked up. Her big round eyes stared at him, as though hiding her thoughts while she put him into a trance ‘Promise me Ashwin, that we’ll come here often. And just like today, we’ll park your Enfield by the side and watch the clouds drift across these crimson skies.’
She held his hand. ‘This is us and I love it.’
What happened to us?
Adulting together had been harder than how they had imagined. Shitty jobs, months of long distance skype calls and annoying relatives amidst other real-world problems. Post the wedding, it had been harder because of Ashwin’s new job. He had been living out of a suitcase and was home mainly for the weekends. He couldn’t remember the last time they went on a short drive doing what they loved; chasing sunsets.
As he rang the bell and waited outside his apartment, he checked his watch. More than an hour had passed since they last spoke. Ashwin was tired, hungry and in no mood for a fight. He missed Sneha. But she hadn’t even called.
Madhu opened the door. Madhu was their maid.
‘Where the hell have you been?’ Sneha’s voice erupted from the bedroom as she walked towards him. A fight was coming
‘I’ve been trying your number. I was so worried.’
Ashwin checked his phone. She was right. He had accidentally switched his phone to ‘Do Not Disturb’. There were 5 missed calls and 10 messages from Sneha.
‘I’m sorry. I went for a drive.’
‘Who goes out for a drive at noon in this city? And why are you so dusty? And what’s that?’ she asked pointing to the cover in his hand.
‘Ice cream. Butterscotch. I figured it’ll help cool things a bit.’ Ashwin replied sheepishly as he walked over and kept it in the refrigerator.
She paused and moved over to the dining table. ‘Ok. We’ll have it for dessert after lunch. I figured both of us could do with some magic.’
Sneha removed the lid off the bowl in the centre of the dining table, releasing the aroma of love into the air.
It was biryani and Sneha was smiling.
And so was Ashwin.