By emon nc
Mr. and Mrs. Hitesh Kataria were definitely not made for each other.
This was a rude and an insensitive statement to be made against any couple. But the man seated across the table, who made this remark, seemed to think otherwise.
It seemed he didn’t have an iota of social modesty left in him. In the last fifteen minutes he had repeated it at least four times. Every time, he would word it differently but it conveyed the same meaning. Mr. and Mrs. Hitesh Kataria were not made for each other.
His was large man, with loads of fats bulging from his stomach. He had a round flabby face, and small tiny eyes. His arms were fleshy and his fingers round and stout. Each time he opened his mouth, to devour into his extra cheese chicken burger, his cheeks pushed backward, crushing his tiny eyes making them look alike with his thick eyebrows.
I though, it was he who was not definitely fit for this place, an eatery of a sports club. It was early morning, and the place was filled with athletic looking people most of them in their track suit, and a glass of juice or a plate of fresh fruits in front of them.
As though sensing what I was thinking he said “ I use to play tennis before but haven’t practiced it for more than a year…..work you know….don’t have the time”. But still, it seemed, he had enough time to come for a burger and gossips.
I gave him a brief understanding smile.
He took a large bite of his burger and said in a muffled voice.
“Oh!… I haven’t introduced myself……I am Mr Rastogi……and you are?” he wiped the cheese off his fingers and extend me his hand.
I shook it and said “ I am Rohit Sharma”
“How do you know Mr Kataria?”
“Business acquaintance” I lied.
Actually I had known Hitesh since my college days. He was one year senior to me and we shared the same hostel room. But for the past several years we haven’t met and almost lost touch. Just a few days back I got his number from a mutual friend. Hitesh was here in Mumbai where I had come for some business. Yesterday evening I gave him a call. He seemed pretty excited to hear from me and invited me home. But as I was on a very tight schedule, he suggested that we meet up at this eatery near my hotel.
It was a sports and a recreation club. After a brief stroll around its well manicured garden, tennis courts and the open air multi gym I walked into the eatery. It was handsomely decorated with round tables of polished wood and chairs draped in black leather. Its wooden paneled walls adorned with framed pictures of legendary sportsmen.
I took the table at the corner overlooking the swimming pool. It was then this man whom I now known as Mr. Rastogi appeared out of nowhere and sat on the chair opposite me.
He said “ I too prefer the view of the swimming pool”
I offered to shift to another table but he wouldn’t let me. He asked me if I was a new member of the club. I replied no and told him about my appointment with Kataria . His eyes widened and then out of the blue he made that outrageous statement.
“ Mr and Mrs ……….”
“Mr Kataria also plays tennis… Do you know?” asked Mr Rastogi, licking the cheese off his fingers.
I shook my head.
“ An average player……not much of a technique man….. but everyone loves to see him play……epically the ladies”.
Mr. Rastogi gave me a mischievous grin.
Ladies would love Hitesh Kataria, that I wouldn’t doubt that He was a handsome man, with sharp features, broad shoulder, and an outstanding physique. I could still picture him standing at our hostel corridor with nothing except his boxers on. The outlines of his muscles faintly visible below his plain white skin with his hair turned auburn by the evening sun. Half of the girls in our college was crazy for him and the other half just adored him.
“But the girl he married…..” Rastogi heaved a sigh.
“What about her?” I asked. I was irritated by this not made for each other stuff.
“It all started form there” Rastogi said pointing towards the swimming pool.
I looked out of the window. A middle aged women, stood near the edge of the pool, getting ready to dive.
“You mean that women?” I asked
“No….she is Mrs. Banerjee….. …..she is going through a divorce”
I ignored what he said.
“Well do you see the building over there?”
I once again looked out through the window. There was a red tinned, two storied building, at the other end of the swimming pool.
“The left side is the male changing section, and the right sight the female changing section.” Rastogi explained.
“There was this new girl…… Gopika, who had joined as swimming instructor,. It was early morning…bright and sunny…not many people around… I was sitting right here…the swimming pool was virtually empty…….. I saw her going into the male section……..I supposed by mistake …….after a few moments I saw Mr Kataria too went inside.” Rastogi paused and cleared his throat. An expression of surprise come over his face.
He continued sounding excited “And none of them came out . They were in the changing room, all alone for about half an hour. The next thing we know they were seeing each other and now they are married”
“So what’s the problem with that?” I asked.
“Have you seen Gopika?”
“Wait till you see her, you can decide for yourself”
Mr Rastogi waved for the waiter.
“The thing is” He leaned forward “ Mr Kataria, is a handsome, successful, well respected man……he could get any girl in the town he wanted…….why go for a swimming instructor…..she is not even beautiful………not even near…her” He pointed towards, middle aged Banerjee, walking down in her bathing gown, towards the changing room.
“And the reason that he gives us is that he is in love. Well in that case love is really ……really……blind.”
“Who is blind?” A voice came from behind.
He was a tall, lanky man wearing a pair of white shorts and grey polo tee shirt. He sat on the chair near Mr Rastogi
“Nothing I was apprising Mr Kataria’s friend about Gopika” replied Mr Rastogi.
They both laughed.
The other man said “We thought he was a intelligent guy…….Mr Kataria…..but this is a mistake he made…….we did warn him……this girl doesn’t have a very good reputation……..had some problem in her earlier job….sure she will pull him down……But he says he is in love….I hope it is really so……or else this girl have really tricked him”
Someone else’s privet life is not my look out. Hitesh Kataria was my friend, and that was where the matter should end for me. But the things that I have heard today aroused for whatever reason, a concern in me for my friend. Is Kataria in some trouble? Was this girl who was his wife now playing him? I remembered when I had called him earlier, he didn’t even once mention his wife, even though his marriage had taken place only four month back.
I leaned back on my chair thinking, and didn’t notice when Mr Rastogi and his friend had left. Moments later Hitesh was seated across from me, looking fresh and handsome as ever. His gentleman like manners had become more refine and his face conveyed an aura of sophistication that comes with maturity.
“How are you my dear friend?” Kataria said in his deep voice.
“Fine ….doing good..you look great” I replied
Hitesh smiled nodding his head.
We talked about a lot of things, our college days, the time spent in our clumsy hostel room, our friends and where life has taken us. In all this however a part of me tried to go beyond his happy demeanor to find if there was any streaks of worry in him. I felt he had become a bit more reserved and he seemed a little tired too.
I noticed he hadn’t talked about his marriage. So I finally asked.
“You recently got married?”
Hitesh laughed, and said “ Are you married?’
Someone had rightly remarked that the best way to avoid answering a question, is to reply with a question itself.
“No” I replied
“You should meet my wife……” said Hitesh. His tone was not very enthusiastic. “I never thought I would marry so soon…..but there are compulsions”
Compulsions, what did he meant by that?. I now had a feeling that his marriage was not a simple love affair. Maybe there was some truth about in what Rastogi had said. He didn’t seem so keen talking about his marriage. I felt intrigued. I thought I should meet his wife.
As we parted after a robust breakfast of toast, sausages and eggs, I told Hitesh that I would be back in a week and this time I would come for dinner at his house.
Hitesh said a faint “ Welcome”
The week went in whirl wind. It was work all along. But whenever I found time Hitesh did came back to my mind. I discussed it with my fiancé, and she too came to the conclusion that something was amiss. She narrated me an incident of a girl from her college, of questionable repute, forcing a boy from a well to do family to marry her, after a college picnic trip. How she could do so was anyone’s guess. They went out for trek together, all alone.
After a week, I was back in Mumbai, and made my way in a taxi toward Hitesh’s home. A mixed feeling growing within me .A part of me told me not to interfere with somebody else’s life while on the other hand, I couldn’t just turn a blind eye to my old friends problems.
I knocked at the door of their seventeen floor apartment. Down below the city of Mumbai, rustled in the rush of the evening traffic.
Hitesh opened the door and ushered me into their living room. It was large room tastefully decorated with a` creamed colored velvet sofa, low steel center table and a red fur carpet. The walls were painted in light pink creating a soothing ambiance. On the side table beside the sofa was a small frame photograph. I guessed it was Kataria and his wife. I peered to look at his wife’s face when Kataria said
“Meet my wife Gopika”
I looked at her face and then at Kataria. Mr. and Mrs. Kataria were definitely not made for each other, at least in their physical appearance.
I smiled at her and sat down. Gopika was a total contrast to Kataria. She was short, about four feet seven. Her complexion was charcoal dark that made her white teeth stand out every time she parted her lips. She had an oval face encased in a bunch of curly hair and her eyes were almost lost in the heaviness of her thick eye brows. In all, she was not even average looking and when she stood near Hitesh, she seemed almost ignorable.
Dinner was laid and I had expected home cooked meal, but it was food ordered from an eatery. It seemed Mrs Kataria was not even a good cook. I avoided talking about the food and discussed about business and politics in general.
Halfway through our meal I noticed that whenever Gopika passed by the glowing table lamp, kept near the door opposite from where I sat, its light filtered through her flimsy yellow sari. “Character of questionable repute” words of my fiancée came back to my mind. She should have worn something more decent, I thought.
After dinner, Hitesh suggested we enjoy a cup of coffee, before he drove me back to my hotel.
We sat at the balcony, connected to the living room. A cool breeze was blowing carrying in the salty smell of the sea. The city hummed before us like a distant dream.
I felt, a twitch of anxiety within me as I debate whether to ask Hitesh about his marriage. And if at all, it was the right thing to do. After a few moments of hesitation, I finally asked him.
“You didn’t tell me about Gopika …how you met your wife, your marriage?” I tried to sound as casual as possible.
Hitesh was silent.
I immediately knew I had made a mistake. In desperation, I slipped out my cell phone pretending to check my messages. I was cursing myself. His wife didn’t match up to him and he knew it for sure. It seemed I had insulted him by asking the obvious.
“We met in the club, where we had breakfast the last time”.
I shook my head, still not looking at him. I was trying hard not to show much interest.
“You remembered the swimming pool” asked Hitesh
“Yes” I said.
“It was early September last year. After my regular swim, I went into the changing room”
I shifter in my chair. Finally, I thought the secret would be reveled.
“I saw her…. looked right into her eyes, I had never seen someone so beautiful in my life, I knew then and there that I wanted to spent the rest of my life with Gopika”
Confused I looked at Hitesh. He was beaming. I had expected something really different. But the look in his face had an unmistakable expression of boundless delight. A deep calmness had come to settled over him, as though reliving those moments of their first meeting, was the purest form of joy and bliss he ever experienced.
I realized what it was. It was love…pure pristine love.
Hitesh was truly in love with Gopika.
“Hitesh” called Gopika.
He excused himself and went inside. I sat motionless for a moment and then turned around. Hitesh was helping Gopika with the coffee cups. Their framed photograph on the table looked almost magical to me now, as though it was an opening sentence of an eternal fairytale.
I muttered under my breath. “Mr and Mrs Kataria were definitely made for each other”