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Mind Games

When Ragesh was born, the family astrologer spent a full three days in preparing
his horoscope. Panditji did not know what to make of the tangle the newborn's
stars were in. Thirty-five years of pyrrhic victories and catastrophic defeats later,
Ragesh found himself in a very good position to appreciate Panditji's
predicament. Such a life as his was sure to defeat any forecasting model.

One night, totally bored of his only companion - unending, unyielding loneliness –
Ragesh decided to take a walk and soon found himself heading towards the
railway station. The clamour around him made it easier to escape from the
stillness within, the sights and colours momentarily filled the emptiness that was
gnawing at his soul. He was a little surprised to find himself purchasing the
platform ticket and then making his way inside. Mechanically he bought a Pepsi
can and sat down on the nearest bench.

A local train pulled in, a fuzzy mass of humanity whose features became
recognizable when the train slowed down and then came to a halt. People
streamed out and were replaced by many more desirous to get in. He glanced
about feeling slightly out of place, not knowing why he was there at that hour,
staring at strangers and, more specifically, at a foreigner, a twenty-something
female who had just got out of the train and was slowly making her way towards
the Pepsi stall next to where he was sitting. Great, he thought, welcome to the
club of the sexually depraved, gawking imbeciles Mr. Ragesh…that's the icing on
the cake!

But he could not take his eyes of her and when the fixation continued to manifest
itself even when she had left the stall and had almost reached the exit, he just
stood up and hurried towards her. She must have noticed him before for she
gave him the 'look' but he was by now seized by a frenzied desire to talk to her
and persevered. She stopped and enquired politely enough, "Yes?"

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Spanish, most probably…the accent was pleasant, the voice was not. She must
have noticed the slight frown on his face for she suddenly smiled, muttering, "Too
bad, no?" and then, with a bigger frown on her face, "Yes…?"

"I am…I was…I am not sure why but at this moment a chat with you is what I
want to do most as crazy as it may sound and…"

He stood, shifting his weight from one leg to the other uncertainly,
comprehending perfectly well that he was making a fool of himself yet unable to
tear himself away from the scene… anticipating her to turn and walk away any
second.

Which is why he was thoroughly puzzled when she looked down for a moment
and remarked, " It is already rather late. So, if you want to chat I suggest you
accompany me to the auto stand and come out with whatever you have in mind
in the meantime."

And she started off with Ragesh following her after a moment's pause. Almost
inadvertently, however, his mind ran over the amount of cash and other valuables
he was carrying just then. Who knows, she might just confront him at some
corner and rob him at knifepoint?

Noel, too, was puzzled at herself. A strange looking man making an even
stranger request, at ten o' clock at night and she had obliged him…who knew
what he wanted was any different from what many men kept wanting of her and
of every other female? She was even more intrigued as Ragesh did not appear
to be in the mood to utter a word, let alone chat. Finally, when the auto stand was
in sight, she turned to look at him and asked, " Well, chat session over…pretty
profound and eloquent, eh?"

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He nodded and then left. Noel stared at his vanishing form for a minute before
she headed for home; glancing back now and then to make sure that she wasn't
being followed.

But next evening, as she alighted from the local train at precisely the same time
as the day before and, indeed, as on any other day during the whole of last six
months, she was not surprised to find him standing near the Pepsi stall. God,
was this the start of a great stalking episode? Quickly she decided not to dwell on
such possibilities. Instead, without slowing her pace, she answered Ragesh's
uncertain smile with a cordial, "Hi there!" and continued to proceed towards the
exit congratulating herself that she had handled the situation rather well. But he
caught up with her and after clearing his throat, mentioned in as casual a manner
as he could, " I cannot chat while walking and that, too, within a fixed five minute
deadline. Besides, I do not want to say anything specific. I just want to
converse…you know, a dialogue…If it helps, let me tell you that I am as confused
about why I want to chat with you as you might be."

Oh, well! What the hell was this? Already several passers-by were giving them
side looks. To Noel, pretty experienced with the Indian populace by then, he
appeared harmless enough and quite sane too. But what did he want? For her to
stay at the station and talk shop? This was ridiculous.

"This is ridiculous. We must sort this out. Ok? We do not know each other and I
see no reason why we should. Yet you desire to talk to me and have me talk to
you. Why and about what are two questions that come readily to my mind."

"I do not know."

"Ha, ha…that's a big help."

"See, listen, maybe all this is…"

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"A precursor to the inevitable request for sex?"

He was silent. And then light dawned on his face as he remarked, "That maybe
but more…a plea to just be allowed to let myself go in the company of someone
who can appreciate an open exchange of personalities."

"And you think I am one such person? Or is it that since I am a foreigner, I am


more 'get-able'?"

"I do not know."

An hour later, lying on her divan and listening to a Latin song, beautiful and
incomprehensible but soothing and familiar, he was conscious of the burden that
both were carrying at the back of their minds. When would the evening of quiet
exchanges give way to a night of unbridled passion? As he saw her prepare
some salad, he regretted aloud that she had no lettuce to which she replied that
she absolutely abhorred it. Incredulous that she could be so different from him in
this matter, he noticed the rather careless and slapdash manner in which she
went about the task and realized that she was as distracted as him and that the
body demanded to be answered before the minds could possibly meet. He
reached out to her; thankfully she did not give him the look conveying, "I knew it
was coming" and taking her in his arms traced his steps to the bedroom. Then,
as he covered her with kisses which she did nothing to resist, he was aware of
her gaze upon him but dismissed it as he tore her open and with a frenzy
unparalleled and unrestrained, tried to have the whole of her in one go, missing
and finding and losing her in a flurry of activity that ceased long past one o' clock
when he finally lay spent near her…a guest of another world while she gathered
herself in bits and tried to stick the pieces together.

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Thirty minutes and dinner later, they were back in bed, both trying to carry on
from where they had left and both succumbing to sleep pretty soon.

When he got up next day, she had already left, a note pinned to his pillow
requesting him to leave the key on the windowsill. So, this was it, he thought.
They had met, given the most dispensable parts of themselves to the other and,
then, parted as much of strangers to one another as they had been a night
before. He felt much better, much more at ease…so, ultimately, it was just a
simple question of satisfying a basic desire and he had been attaching so many
psychological, metaphysical shades to it! And yet…

*********

As she alighted from the train, she inadvertently looked out for him and felt
relieved when her eyes could not spot him. Good, he had gone. It was stupid to
leave the flat to him, she knew. As she made her way up the stairs to her third-
storey apartment, she acknowledged that of the two, she had behaved in a more
lunatic fashion and was still doing so.

The key was not on the windowsill.

Panicking somewhat, she pushed the door and it opened immediately. Ragesh,
startled a bit by the noise, was staring at her from the sofa.

"Hi! Thought this was a much better place to wait for you than the platform."

"Hi! Did not expect that you'd be still around," she remarked after a pause before
settling down in the chair nearest to her. As she flipped through the numerous,
equally boring TV programmes across several channels, Ragesh collected
himself and it was long before he came round to expressing his thoughts.

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"I felt good last night and today morning when I started to leave from here I was
actually quite relaxed. I even remember whistling to myself as I made my way
down the stairs. But, midway, it all came unstuck and I was once again floating in
a limbo…"

" So you came back and waited for me. Hmmm…interesting. And now? Bed?"

He shuddered.

"Don't say it that way. You make it sound so…so mechanical. Last night was…"

"Ya, right, I know. It was good. But, ultimately, 'exchange of personalities' became
a confused hotchpotch of limbs entwined every which way and the dialogue had
grunts, moans and sighs instead of words…no, do not get me wrong…I was ok
with it but last night was merely an opiate and you…"

"And I want more. And you want more. I know that. But I also know that our
wants are similar. I knew it the moment I saw you."

"It is not the nature of what we want but the threshold of what we can put up with
if those wants are not satisfied that determines our life path. Our wants may be
similar, our thresholds may be not."

"Cut it out, Noel. I am sick of all the psychological babble. I do not need that from
you. Ok?" He was taken aback at the harshness of his own voice.

"Ok." Her tone surprised him and he searched her eyes in vain to understand her
thoughts but they were closed to him.

After that they fell into a pattern of sharing their nights together and leaving in the
morning to their respective worlds. He hardly conversed with her and continued

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to take refuge behind the specious logic that the turn of meaningful dialogue
would come after the basic desires have been satiated. Noel, on her part, let him
be on most occasions. They clashed over nothing except her strange refusal to
use lettuce in her salads even when he brought loads of it everyday and his
refusal to have salads any other way. Then, one fine day, lettuce went 'off' the
market and he returned home with a woebegone look on his face, trying hard to
find traces of happiness on her face as she went about preparing the salad.

"Happy, aren't you? No lettuce today to bother you," he remarked caustically.

"Hmmm…"and she pushed the salad plate towards him, only to have it pushed
right back.

That was the start of a cold war that only intensified with time. He took it on his
ego to have lettuce no matter what and his attempts to procure it led him to
markets as far as thirty kilometers away. Every day he staggered home late with
his 'find', but he kept at it just as Noel continued to maintain her silence till the
inevitable moment when he realized that they had become like any other couple
– living together for reasons they themselves were not aware of. Then he
decided to tell her that whatever it was they shared was over and wrote a note to
that effect. At first he planned posting it but then thought otherwise and left office
early to reach home and say in person what he had to and then leave well in
time.

The house was empty. He made his way in, watched some TV and then, tired of
waiting, went out to the balcony. It was a beautiful evening. He stared wistfully at
the sky, too empty within to marvel at the brilliant canopy before his eyes. And
then he happened to see a small plant in a pot placed in the far corner. He knew
the moment he saw it – lettuce.

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He could hardly wait for her to come. With moist eyes, he rushed towards the
station, and once there, positioned himself right where he had first met her – near
the Pepsi stall. She saw him immediately, even before her train had halted at the
platform. Slowly, she approached him, her surprised eyes taking in his
dishevelled hair and his tear soaked face.

"Noel, finally we would be able to talk like we have never been able to…the
dialogue would now begin, the meeting of the minds…it is now possible…I am
sorry…"

"Shhh…Lets go home. We have a lot of catching up to do, " and then, as they
made their way back hand in hand, " So, you came to know about the lettuce." It
was a statement, not a question. She knew. He just nodded his head and they
headed home in silence, her arm in his. They were together again.

It was a memorable evening and a fabulous night. He got up at nine in the


morning, satisfied to the core; ready to love her till the end of time; basking in the
glory of his existence and hers. She had already left but she was everywhere and
he found her in everything – in the chairs, on the sofa, atop the table, beneath
the shower, amongst the curtains and… and in the mirror where two pieces of
paper were stuck close to the bottom-most edge. He advanced towards the
mirror, only to see himself staring in horror at his own image a minute later. There
was his undated note of the day before stating his desire to call it quits and, to its
side, her note:

"Do not blame yourself. Even I intended to call it quits. The lettuce plant was to
be my parting gift to you…" And then, there followed a brief postscript:

"Last night was heavenly, though!"