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Manish Pathania
‘Miss India – Well Almost’
Manish Pathania

It was a scorching Saturday afternoon and I was drinking alone in a shady bar in the basement of a cheap hotel. The bar wasn't dingy per se, but shady, despite being immaculately clean and well decorated with military artefacts. The bar and the hotel belonged to a retired Army colonel. He once told me that the bar reminded him of his glorious military service. The seldom people who visited the bar – mostly retired army men – came for the same sentimental reason. However, on most of the days the bar was deserted and that was the reason why I loved the bar and also because the liquor was cheap and smoking was allowed inside the bar. I loved to spend time sitting alone in the bar drinking, lamenting and writing poems on my rickety laptop. I wasn't much of a poet or a writer but I loved to scribble stories, letters and poems. Well, I wrote random ranting about women who never really loved me, in the form of free verses on the paper. Some called it poetry, some called it bullshit. But it was a good way to vent out my frustration and anger for being rejected over and over again by different women.

I was working on a poem about a sociopathic-border-lining-psychotic girl who slept with everybody but me, when a beautiful girl walked into the bar. I kept staring at her, not in an obvious lecherous way but in sheer disbelief at the inapposite sight. She was so stunning that it seemed that she had walked right out of the cover of a vogue magazine into the dimly lit bar. She was wearing a white dress, big black sunglasses and a white hijab over her head. Her entire attire exposed only a small part of her strikingly beautiful yet dead face – not unlike a model's. The red lipstick over her fair skin reinforced the same idea. She walked straight to the bartender and sat on the bar stool. Elegance oozed out of her every single movement – the way she kept her white purse on the shelf, the way she removed the veils hiding her elegance, and the way she took out her expensive mobile phone out of her wallet. I kept staring at her and wondering what was a girl like her doing in a dump like this? I wanted to go over and ask her that.

I played with that idea for a while, and then I let it pass. You cannot really saunter over to a girl and strike a conversation in India. Who was I kidding? If I would have been in any other part of the world I wouldn't have dared to approach her. She was intimidatingly beautiful and, more than that, she was intimidatingly rich. I, on the other hand, was ugly, not rich and shabby – so much so that not even a self-proclaimed wretched harlot, who sleeps with everybody, would sleep with me. I gulped down the glass of my beer and then looked at her sophisticated struggle with the menu and then started typing on the laptop.

"Hey honey! What is a girl like you doing in a dump like this?"

I, then, deleted it after realising it was Dylan.

After drinking a glass of, what seemed to be, long island ice tea, and staring for half an hour at the different bottles of alcohol, she came up to my table and asked me.

"Excuse me, sir, can I borrow one cigarette?"

I passed her the packet of cigarettes. Her big beautiful eyes sparkled for a second and then they returned to complement her dead face. She took out one cigarette and lit it with her quintessential elegance. She a took couple of drags before opening her eyes again.

"It has been days." She said. "Thanks a lot."

I realised that I hadn't uttered a single word ever since she came up to my table.

"You are welcome." I replied.

"Are you expecting someone?" She asked me.

"No." I said.

"Do you mind if I join you?"

"No." I said.

She smiled again and then walked to pick her stuff. I was perplexed. What had just happened? How drunk was I to start imagining things? But then, I looked at her picking up her stuff. Why was she showing interest in me? No one had ever done that. Well, except for that one time when I was travelling alone in Hampi and a Chinese tourist came over to my table and asked if she could borrow a cigarette. She then joined me for dinner. I was equally surprised then, but we, the Chinese tourist and I, had passing conversations while sightseeing and she saw me rolling marijuana. I guess it was probably marijuana that enticed her, but I had a lot of fun with her. However, I wasn't able to read this rich girl - maybe Aphrodite – was favouring me or maybe, I was the only person in the bar, except for the elderly bartender. She wouldn't have chosen the bartender; but to be honest, between him and me, he was the more interesting person. I never really asked his name, but in a few inebriated conversations he told me that he was a war veteran of 71. He might be a more interesting person, but Aphrodite was favouring me today. "I hope I am not disturbing you," she said as she put her things on the table. I was stuck between smiling foolishly and getting up to greet her. The moment she settled on her chair and smiled with her well-rehearsed charismatic smile, I knew that I had seen her somewhere; not like an acquaintance but like a dead image. I had seen her smiling through the pictures, but my memory failed me. She wore make-up – not compulsive – but definitive. It gave sharpness to all the features of her glowing face. Not to adorn her. She already was beautiful, but to make her photogenic. The spark of glitterati oozed out of every feature of her artistically sketched face and it somehow lit up the otherwise shady bar.

"Hi, my name is Nancy."

Fake name. I thought. So, this is how we are going to play.

"Patha." I stretched my hand. She was soft, warm and tender.

"What sort of name is that?"

"Well, that's my pen name." I lied.

"Pen name? Are you a writer?"

"Well, almost." I replied. "I am an accidental poet."

I didn't feel like telling her that I worked for a software company.

"Wow!" She elongated the word. "Are you any famous?"

"Not yet." I said. "But I would be."

"So, you want to be famous?"

"Who doesn't?" I said. "Don't you?"

"Fame is highly overrated, Mr Poet."

"Seems like you have had your fair share of fame." I replied.

"Once upon a time." She replied. I looked at her again. She took a sip of her drink with the straw and then pursed her lips a little bit. She could easily be a model. She was tall, anorexic and photogenic.

"So, where did the fame go?"

"Lost in the ashes of time."

"How poetic!" I said.

She laughed and then returned to her well-rehearsed smiling face.

"Are you a model?" I asked. "You look like one."

She laughed. "Well, I expected a better pick-up line from you, Mr Poet."

"You are already on my table. Why would I need a pick up line?" I said. "Let me rephrase my question… What is a sweetheart like you doing in a dump like this?"

"Now that's actually poetic." She laughed.

"Thank you."

"Well, let's just say I am hiding from the world."

"How fucking famous are you?" I asked.

She started to laugh and then she swayed the back of her hand to show the diamond on her finger. "You have no idea."

The size of the rock on her finger explained a lot of things, including the reason why she was sitting around in a dingy bar, but what remained unexplained was as to why she was sitting opposite me? We sat there for hours, got drunk and I fed her bullshit. She seemed to be more interested in knowing about me than talking about herself. Perhaps, she was trying to conceal her identity, or perhaps, she was bored with her identity, I couldn't tell. I told her everything about myself, things I barely shared with anyone, the important things and left out the trivial details about my job, my identity and the heartaches I had recently endured. I told her about the books I had written but couldn't get published, the places I had travelled to, the interesting people I had met on my travels and my recent fishing expedition to a remote village in the Himalayas. She listened to everything with the same unwavering well-rehearsed smile. She touched my hand intermittently to emphasise the empathy as I spoke my heart out. She seemed quite intelligent for her beauty and her touch of glitterati. She asked intelligent questions, extrapolated the emotions I felt and empathised with the way I looked at life. What do men want – other than pretty company to empathise with their alcoholic rants? Then I was drunk – more in the undivided attention than alcohol – that my voice started to slur. She noticed.

"Oh my god! You are drunk." She giggled.

"No, I am not."

"Your voice is slurring."

"That's just phase one. I can go on for longer."

"I am sure you do." She laughed. "How are you going to go home?"

"I am going to drive." I proclaimed.

"Sure you are." She said.

"Yeah, I will." I replied. "I live in the neighbourhood."

"How about I drive you home?" She asked me.

"Why?"

"Well, it is safer." She said. "And I really want to see how poets live."

I laughed. She gestured for the bill. I knew that it would take the elderly bartender ages to fetch the bill and I would probably sober up by then, but I didn't. I was still drunk as hell and she was elegant as ever – the way she paid the bill, the way she concealed her face with the hijab and large sunglasses, and the way her body flowed through the bar. She was like the white light gleaming unadulterated by the otherwise yellow of the dingy bar. I followed the white light, through the flight of stairs, into the blinding light and finally into a car – my car. She started the engine and I lit a cigarette. Soon, the cacophonic noises of honking cars, the band shouting on the radio, and the asphyxiating white smoke filled up the space between us. She parked the car outside my house.

"That's a huge house!" she exclaimed.

"I just live in the single room on the top floor." I replied. "I don't even know if anyone lives in the house."

She peeped out of the window and when she was satisfied she came out of the car, locked the car and then followed me to my room on the top floor. "It is better than I expected" she said.

"What did you expect?"

"Well, I expected a small dingy room with a small single bed, lots of books, lots of alcohol, a typewriter and a lot of typed white pages lying on the floor."

"A typewriter?"

"Yeah" She sat on the edge of the bed. "Don't you poet guys use a typewriter?"

I shook my head.

"Well, you should," she said. "Typewriters are so sexy. I mean, you just have to sit at one and the inspiration will flow out naturally through the strokes of the keys and on to the paper. It is like creating music only on paper." She drifted off to the romantic idea of writing on a typewriter and I went into the kitchen to fetch a bottle of rum and two glasses.

"Having a typewriter doesn't make you a writer.' I said. "I hope you know it."

"That is where you are wrong, Mr Poet." She said. "Is that Old Monk?"

"Yeah!" I replied.

"My father used to drink this back in his day."

"Was he in Army?"

"No!" she said. "But that's not important; what is important is that having the right instrument makes the artist. Sure you can be a painter even if you have crayons; but if you have the right canvas you might as well paint Mona Lisa."

"That's where you are wrong." I passed her the glass of rum. I dragged a bean bag and sat in front of her. She smelled her rum. Cheers!

"Had owning the canvas been the requirement for being a painter then all the rich people would have been the artists."

"What do you have against rich people?"

"Nothing, it's just I am not."

"Trust me you are better off this way than being rich and famous," she said.

"Talk about irony!"

She laughed. "You are so much close to the life, than you actually give credit to."

"I'd rather be close to you." I bent a little more towards her.

"Who has stopped you?"

I bent forward and kissed her. She seemed a bit withheld, somehow, but as I pushed my tongue she gave in. I moved my hand to her neck and then to her shoulders and then to her breasts. She stopped my hand. She stopped kissing. I was panting. She got up from the bed and then walked away from me. I sank back on my bean bag. She kept standing facing the wall for a while and then turned around slowly. She stood there motionless with that same well-rehearsed, red smile on her face and her hand right hand arching on to her waist. I had seen her standing like that somewhere. I knew it.

"Can we have some music please?" She said.

Oh my Aphrodite! I dragged my laptop and played a sensual song. It took me a few minutes to play the song but she kept standing in the same pose like a mannequin, smiling with the same well-rehearsed red smile, like a model. Her plastic body came to life and started to sway slowly with the notes of the music. The music filled the lust in her body. I could see that in her eyes. As the song progressed, the lust started to manifest through her every move. When the music stopped, her white dress dropped on to her feet, revealing her aphrodisiac body clad in expensive black lingerie. She stood in the same exact pose but she was panting now and the drops of sweat were glistening on her toned white body. I had seen her standing in the same bikini, in the same pose but in some other setting. It took me a fraction of second to remember who she was. She was the Miss India – well almost. She didn't become the Miss India but she was 4th or 5th – they didn't reveal. Yes, it was her, it had been four years since but it was her. She worked in my Software Company when she almost became the Miss India. I still remember the fuss she created in the company. Every day she was in the news for one reason or the other. Of course, I had never got the guts to talk to her at that time but I did search her over internet and saw many pictures of her. I looked at her again, standing in the black bikini, drenched in sweat, lust and expectation. Should I go over and kiss her? I began to shake. How could I? She was the god damned Miss India for heaven's sake – well almost. She was the certified epitome of beauty. Was I worthy of touching her, kissing her or fucking her? Was any mortal worthy of touching her? I remembered that she never went out with anyone in office. Why would she date an ordinary man? Then what was she doing naked, well almost, in my room? How did this happen? The last I heard about her was that she got married to filthy rich guy in a big fat Indian wedding, the ones which come with the and-they-lived-happily-ever-after certificate, and yet she was here in front of me waiting for me to kiss her. I finally gathered all the courage in my body and walked up to her. She was hot. I could feel the warmth of her body over my clothes. She remained completely still until I kissed her and then she collapsed in my arms. The desired surged in her body as we kissed. She wrapped her long legs against my body and I pushed her against the wall. Her body was her temple, I remembered reading that somewhere, it surely was but it was all mine today.

She went to the washroom after we had sex and then she cried on my bed for half an hour. I didn't console her. I didn't know how. I did offer her rum. She drank the whole glass in a gulp and then continued to cry. I watched her cry. When she was done with crying, we had sex again. It was more artistic this time. She utilised all her flexibility and I utilised all my imagination. It was poetic, the lovemaking I mean; it flowed out effortlessly from our bodies. She left right after that, without even kissing me good bye. I kept sitting naked at the edge of the bed thinking about her naked body glistening in the dusking sunlight when she was dressing up. I was searching for the words to express her in words but every time I tried, I failed. I dragged my laptop and opened a new document and typed – 'What is a sweetheart like you doing in a dump like this?' I deleted the line. I typed – "Miss India." I deleted it again. I kept my laptop to the side and lay on the bed. The bedsheets still smelled of her – elegant. I wished I had a typewriter instead.

**********

♣♣♣END♣♣♣

Issue 65 (Jan-Feb 2016)

fiction -
  • Atreya Sarma U: Editorial Musings
  • Abhinav Kumar: ‘Prejudice’
  • Anshu Choudhury: ‘The Oasis’
  • Aprameya M: ‘Fading Refrains’
  • Chandra Mohan Bhandari: ‘An Unfinished Portrait’
  • Manish Pathania: ‘Miss India – Well Almost’
  • Revathi Raj Iyer: ‘Turmoil’
  • Shivam Singh: ‘A Soldier’s War’
  • Sunil Sharma: ‘Fat Man Suspect’