Friend Request

Apurba’s fingers froze. Cradling the mouse, all of a sudden it seemed someone had soaked off all sensation from the index finger of his right hand. All he had to do was press the button that will click away a small green button on the screen of his Macbook Pro. The green button that said “Send Friend Request”. The autumn afternoons were getting shorter. The sun had lit up the tall buildings of midtown Manhattan ; they in turn radiating the golden orange glow across the Hudson. Chunks of ice floated down the river as Apu looked out from his twenty second floor apartment window on Washington Boulevard in Jersey City. His eyes roving between the profile picture of a lady looking slightly to the left of the camera, her pearl like set of teeth perfectly offset by the hint of red on the lips – curled in a smile. She was wearing glasses that reflected a large patch of green and some sky. The oval rimless glasses looked nice on Kaveri’s roundish face. Like a movie, Apu’s mind went back eleven years. There was the vastness of an open green – the maidan – and a stunning sunset playing out elaborate dramatics in the September Kolkata sky. The fierce battle of regime change between the monsoon and autumn, reflected in the glass facade of the Tata Center, almost like how the Empire State Building today reflected the autumn New York sun

————–oooooo—————

The evening was smelling of wet earth, of crushed leaves on the pavement and burnt diesel – a heady concoction. Apu was pacing the sidewalk across Everest House, a tall building in downtown Calcutta across the vast open space – the maidan, lush lungs of a three hundred year old city. Chartered buses plying from the northern suburbs of Barasat terminated here in the morning – and started from here for the return trip once office-time ended. Apu was not employed but Kaveri was. She worked in the public relations department of Tata Steel – the imposing building across the street. They had met each other at a friends place three years ago. They had fallen in love on the day a fire broke out at the Calcutta Book Fair; Apu had located Kaveri in the scramble and safely escorted her out from what was an impending situation of stampede. Over snacks at Ganguram on that day, they first held hands

Kaveri was keen on marriage – pressure from her parents now that she had a job was only catalyzing her intent. Her parents, though aware of Apu, did not know the relationship. Apurba on the other hand was reluctant. He was studying for his MBA and had only the final set of exams to write to qualify as a chartered accountant. Kaveri wanted to bring the matter to a head and for the whole week pestered Apu to at least accept that her parents should approach Apu’s father to broach the matter of marriage. It was tough for her, Kaveri explained, to even break the matter of their relationship to her parents – leave alone pressing for a marriage. For some reason, Apu had a one dimensional stance – cannot marry before getting a job and job will come only after academics concluded. Apu met Kaveri every evening and travelled with her back home, sharing a few moments of tenderness in a bus full of passengers.

Sitting next to the window that evening Kaveri at first was stern in her demand for a definite answer from Apurba and then, by the time the bus got onto the Eastern Bypass, had tears in her eyes. She turned away from the window, put her head on Apu’s shoulder and begged him in whispers to say yes. The light floral fragrance of Kaveri’s perfume choked Apu. He looked out into the darkness through which the bus cut through. At every streetlight the halogen cast a slanting sliver of glimmer on Kaveri’s face. Her eyeliner was running a bit, Apu noticed

“It will be Ultadanga soon, Apu”, Kaveri begged as the bus approached Apu’s stop. “Please, please tell me a yes. End my misery”. Apu remained stubborn and once again explained in his rational voice why they must wait for more time. By now the droplets of tears had transformed into steady trickles. And it had started drizzling outside. Pulling the half-glass window shut, Apu – for no particular reason said “I am not getting down here. I will go till your stop”. The rain splattered on the window, the halogen light shining through the droplets of water that struck on the glass. Yellow shadows crossed Kaveri’s roundish face as she shifted her head to rest on the window

Kaveri got off the bus at the airport. Apu reasoned that he will travel a bit farther to catch a bus from its terminal point – from where he will be able to get a seat. Kaveri asked if he could get down with her and walk the ten minutes to her home. “Busses from here are very crowded. And it is raining”, said Apu – rational as ever. Kaveri got down and stood for a while, oblivious that she should open her folding umbrella. She looked up at the window and smiled at Apu – the only time in the past ninety minutes that she had smiled. She raised her hand and extending her thumb and little finger made a gesture that asked Apu to call her over the weekend. The rain had already made the shoulder of her light pink kurta wet

Apu never called Kaveri. He left town for a month and went to live with his elder brother in Bombay – allegedly to study together with some friends he had made during a management school program in Calcutta. The truth was he wanted to get away from Kaveri. For a while. Not Kaveri as much as her relentless pressure to get married. Apu’s one month absence from Calcutta went on to become two

“Oh, how come you did not know Apu-da? Didi got married last month and they now live in Bombay”. Apu met Kunal, Kaveri’s younger brother, one day at the Chakrabarty Chatterjee bookstore at College Street in Calcutta. Apu had the inkling that something was amiss – his phone calls to Kaveri’s home went unanswered and the only thing he was able to learn from her office is that Kaveri Sarkar no longer worked there. “Jamaibabu works for Pepsi. And you know how much a Coke fan didi is. I am sure they are having a lot of fun!”

————–oooooo—————

Apurba enlarged the profile picture as much as he could. He could now see the little black mole at the corner of Kaveri’s upper lip. Happiness has a natural way of announcing itself from the eyes. Kaveri Sarkar-Ghosh by that measure looked very happy, radiant actually. Meanwhile, the sun over Manhattan had paled, reducing the Empire State and Chrysler buildings to a dull blackish orange glow. The Empire State Building today was lit in yellow. Apu remembered the glow of the yellow halogen on Kaveri’s face that evening in the chartered bus

Mustering up courage and then in a flourish Apurba Sen, Head of Mortgage Research at Wells Fargo, clicked on his laptop screen the little green button that said “Send Friend Request”

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