The phone beeped from under a pile of papers on his desk.
Gaurav fumbled through the mass of confidential documents to find it buried and weeping, in small, violent vibrations. He picked up the call and whispered, 'Hello?'
"Yaar, Saturday free hai na? Chal party karte hain!"
The dreaded voice was from the other end where his college buddy Vivek was again in an obnoxiously festive mood. Party. Most probably without a reason, or with a frivolous reason, again.
"Yaar, I'm not sure....kuchh kaam baki hai....waise party kaahe ka, dude?"
"Aiiwein hi!! Party ke liye bhi koi reason hota hai??"
Hota hai, you filthy rich spoilt brat of a living being, Gaurav thought to himself.
"Ok, I'll confirm on Friday? Abhi office mein hun, slightly busy...mind mat karna, haan?"
"Main bhi office mein hun...what kind of a company you work in, dude? Phone pe bhi whispering as if Aunty Ji will catch you speaking to your girlfriend...what's her name...Sangeeta?"
"He he...Strict work ethics you can say", Gaurav tried to laugh, and mentally added, "With peanuts of pay, half of which you munch on when you conduct parties! And her name is Kavita, and she's not my girlfriend, yet", came the silent afterthought.
"ELL OH ELL, chal call me before Sat then, Bye."
Gaurav hung up and held his head with both hands. He mentally calculated the status of his budget for that month.
- House rent: 4000 INR.
- Food 3 times a day from office canteen or restaurants: 2000 INR.
- Daily conveyance: 2000 INR.
- Self-indulgence and shopping: 5000 INR. (Reduced from 8000 INR earlier)
- Desperate attempts at dates with Kavita: 3000 INR, extensible to 4000 INR.
- Partying, voluntary or forced: 5000 INR.
- Emergency face-saving expenses: 5000 INR.
- Savings: 0 INR. (or whatever is left at the end of the month by God's grace, to be sent home)
After 24 carefree years of his life, now that he worked through days and nights to earn whatever he did, he realised the value of each penny that he had to spend. It was no more about pocketmoney; now it was his means to survival. How the hell did Dad manage a household with such a meagre salary?? And Mom never complained! They were all happy! I was also happy! And he never refused me the pocketmoney even when they knew it was just for having a good time...I wasted away his hard-earned money which could have brought extra meals to our tables...
These thoughts pinched him...he tried not to think further...
It was nearing month-end, and just as he was about to pat himself on the back for being able to save a couple of thousands from his monthly pay, Vivek threw an odd party now and then, which in turn threw his savings at the bartender.
He couldn't say no all the time either. The ratio of party invites accepted to rejected was a shameful 1:4, which made him lose popularity among the circle of friends who had a ratio of 2:3, and him being almost friendless ever since he landed in the big city, he had to improve the count to 1 party accepted for every two or three invites a month. Unfortunately, the circle of friends had a good reason to have such a high tendency of saying yes to expensive liquor: Amir, literally Amir, by virtue of his father's money, taking care of family business; Jay, believed in work hard, party harder even if he had to beg, borrow or steal, so frustrated he was with pressure at work; Milan, a miner who had struck gold, was about to wed into a relation with an obscenely rich father-in-law soon, and had no worries about reimbursements; Pratik, worked in a huge MNC and thought that he was too young to start saving any of his fat pay; and finally Vivek, having joint benefits of being both a child born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and landing a job with a pay that Gaurav's boss' boss could boast about.
While Gaurav silently wept at every penny thrown into the city's gutters, he felt that Kavita was the only investment that would possibly bear returns. She was a school friend he had recently bumped into when he landed in the city and his childhood love got rekindled over one coffee. 'A Lot Has Happened Over Coffee', the tag line of the coffee shop appeared to him every time he left the coffee shop, with couple of hundreds less in the wallet and buckets of hope more in his heart. He knew she was a classy girl, and would loathe him if he didn't take her to nice coffee shops where everything was priced in 3 digits. He didn't mind, as long as he could be with her.
"After all, she earns well enough to pay for her coffee as well as mine, but I'm the guy here! Chivalry is my virtue!" He brought that thought to his head to motivate himself when he saw the bill. She offered to go for Dutch on occasions but he gave her a Let-the-Gentleman-Pay look.
Kavita, on the other hand would wonder why the guy keeps coming back to these expensive restaurants. She always tried to insist, but not too much while payment, that she'd contribute. "What if he said, 'Ok, you can pay this time!' ? Why does he get me expensive gifts on my birthday? That obliges me to get him an equally costly gift on his!" She thought to herself while standing in a crowded City Bus to her way back home. She'd bargain with autowalas everywhere, she'd save a buck today and use it tomorrow, feeling proud for her savings. She didn't go out much with her friends fearing unnecessary flow of cash here and there, and preferred to watch a movie in her laptop than on a wide screen with popcorn that cost like gold in her hand. Walking back to her hostel, she thought of her monthly budget that had gone haywire by end of the month:
- House rent: 3500 INR.
- Food: 1000 INR.
- Daily conveyance: 800 INR.
- Self indulgence and shopping: 2000 INR.
- Emergency funds in case I need to pay for dates: 2000 INR.
- Birthday parties, accidental shopping: 1000 INR.
- Education loan and other liabilities: 8000 INR.
- Savings: At least 5000 INR (part of which to be sent home)
Plus, she had to save for higher studies, or at least preparing for entrances that could be her ticket to a better life.
Gaurav always found her too good for himself and vice versa. He'd boast of his job like he was in a position to influence everybody and she would smile and sip on the cup, finding it hard to gulp them both down: the coffee and his story.
Today it went differently. The date was over and the bill came to the table....lying totally unwelcome at the centre. Gaurav did his usual charming act of pulling the disgusting black file-like thing towards himself, peering into the amount and trying to hide a bitter smile, and pull out his card and jab it into the same file. A snap of his fingers and few minutes later the waiter came back and said what made Gaurav want to merge into the floor tiles. "Sir, it seems there are not sufficient funds in your card."
Kavita frowned for a second and then smiled as if she connected with him more than ever before. She slipped in the cash and handed him back his card and said, "I guess God's sign that we've had enough of Cappuchino...."
Gaurav wished she would have a bout of amnesia there and then. Nothing happened.
"So...where and when do we meet again?", he asked with a sheepish smile outside the coffee shop.
"There is this great Pav Bhaji stall near that traffic square...I hope you don't mind street food...", Kavita replied with a trace of uncertainty in her voice.
"No! Not at all! Anywhere with you!", he blurted out and realised he had said a few words too many.
"See you then, tomorrow, same time. Bye."
He walked away with a smile, thinking.... she had never seemed more perfect to him.
And she stood there and looked up at the coffee shop's tag line and thought, "A lot has happened over coffee." :)