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A private moment in public transport
That Friday, she felt like a boy. Her jeans had been folded right up to her knees, hair threatened into behaving with a tight clip and the blue chequered shirt she had picked hardly completed the semi-casual workday look. But in the chaos of rush hour outside the mucky Andheri station, there were deeper issues to worry about.
It was pouring. She was late. Third day at work. No time for the bus. She had to get an auto. That would be expensive. Which way to Saki Naka? She has got to improve her road sense. In the trance of self-defacing thoughts and a stubborn headache, the software professional walked for about 10 minutes till that elusive vacant black-and-yellow vehicle finally emerged from the distance.
As she waved frantically, it whizzed straight past her to the guy ahead, who had also been waiting there for some time now. They exchanged a brief glance. He saw confusion. She found guilt. "Where are you headed?" he asked her. "Saki Naka. " "My office is on the way. Would you like to share?" he offered as she hopped in, a little too readily.
Once inside, "I wanted to wear my socks but he kept asking questions, " remembers the shy 23-year-old Prachi, smiling. First, he asked her if she were a Punjabi. She was from Gujarat, she clarified, a tad offended. That somehow trebled his interest. He was, obviously, Gujarati too.
Within the next 10 bumpy minutes, they discussed the incorrigible Andheri station, the rain god's tremendous sense of timing, rising autorickshaw tariffs, traffic, work and the native place. In English.
He was an analyst working in Andheri East, she realised. She was a software professional from Kandivli who had recently joined an organisation at Saki Naka, he gathered. She was also pretty and confident, he noted tacitly, though Prachi was, in fact, nervous throughout about talking to a stranger. He handed her Rs 30 before getting off, cleared his throat and asked for her number.
"And guess what? She gave it, " recalls 26-year-old Prathamesh, surprised at the turn of his otherwise unfavourable luck. It was gratitude coupled with the strange conviction that this decent stranger might not use her number after all, says Prachi in retrospect. She had obviously misjudged him.
That evening, a text message startled not just her phone. It was from the boy she had split the auto fare with that morning. Though it was a harmless, casual forward that is still saved in Prachi's phone memory as much as her own, "I didn't reply for a week as I found it a bit strange. But then, I felt a tad guilty so I sent him a forward, " she recalls. He, in turn, grabbed the opportunity and called her to ask if she would mind meeting him for coffee. Though she tried dilly-dallying at first, Prachi ultimately gave in. It was a date as far as Prathamesh was concerned but to Prachi, it was just a protocol, like any other client meeting perhaps, except this client showed up with a rose. Though she felt guilty for having made the 26-yearold stranger wait near her office for nearly an hour, she couldn't help smirking inwardly when he offered her the scarlet symbol of affection at the coffee shop. It inevitably reminded her of one of those cheesy requests from random strangers on Orkut who spell friendship with an a. "It was dumped immediately, " recalls Prathamesh, referring to the rose that lay abandoned on the chocolate-saucestained coffee table that day. The casual conversation, mostly about work, at the cafe which suggests ambiguously that 'a lot can happen over coffee', was followed by a fight. Both of them wanted to pay the bill. "I didn't have as much cash but courtesy demanded I at least pretend to offer, " laughs Prachi, who lost the argument but did share the auto tariff on the way back home. Soon, over a period of endless shared rickshaws, coffees with heart-shaped froth and abandoned roses, love blossomed. Their affection wasn't flamboyant, always implied, in subtle things - like the fact that festivals, during which they couldn't meet and had to spend time with the family, were usually spent desperately texting sweet nothings. "There was no need to pop the question, " recalls Prathamesh.
When they told their close friends about how they discovered love, not everyone found it amusing. "My ex-boss thought it was cute but my best friend was angry. She even stopped talking to me, " says Prachi. "How can you fall in love with someone you met in a rickshaw?" the friend would ask Prachi often. But "when she met him, she changed her mind, " remembers the 23-year-old.
The parents, however, were not as easy to convince. As Gujaratis tend to marry young, Prathamesh's parents had begun hunting aggressively for an alliance. Also, since Prachi's elder sister had had a love marriage despite stiff opposition, she was wondering how to spill the beans to the parents who were counting on her to give them the chance of finding her a groom. But the young couple somehow arranged for the two sets of parents to meet. "I was so nervous about meeting his mother that I kept fidgeting and didn't speak throughout, " recalls Prachi, about the meeting that resulted in the fixing of an engagement date. The duo, who sport a ring each now, often laugh about that wet morning of their first meeting. Prathamesh, the more adventurous of the two, often chides her saying, "you had followed me all the way, remember?" while she genuinely wonders, "What exactly made you ask for my number that day?" Every time they see or read about share rickshaws, they are invariably reminded of its many matchmaking possibilities.
Though their parents may not be privy to the story of their public transport-assisted love, it's definitely one that's already inspiring their friends circle. Once, for instance, Prachi's colleague recently tried asking a girl he found pretty to share his auto. "Sadly, for some reason, the rickshawwallah refused, " laughs Prachi, who will soon be sharing more than just rickshaw tariff with her favourite co-passenger.
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