A Naive Casanova
by Rudy Ravindra
Table of Contents|
parts: 1-2, 3-5, 6-8
9-11 , 12-14 , 15
Poor Rahul. He’s told to get an education, get a job, get married... He’s okay with that. But everybody seems to have agendas of their own, and they’re not his. Where does he fit into all this? Doesn’t he have any say in his own life?
One thing Rahul does have going for him: he is a sweet fellow, and women love him. But there again, agendas crop up. Is he supposed to laugh or cry? Poor Rahul...
“Meena, thanks for sending your picture. I see you haven’t changed much during these many years.”
“You are such a flatterer. I put on some weight, yaar.”
“So, you are back in the dating market?”
“Well, I’m still legally married, but we are separated.”
“So, where’s your husband?”
“Actually, we live in the same house, but he lives in the in-law suite.”
“But, Meena, how can, I mean, gosh, I don’t know how to say this...”
Meena laughed. “We can still see each other. Why don’t you come to New Jersey. Let’s catch up.”
Meena received him at Newark Airport. The day was mild, sunny, and bright without a cloud in the sky. She was attractive in a simple white blouse and beige pants. The work of a number of highly paid professionals — a hairstylist, a manicurist/pedicurist, and a fashion designer — was reflected in her understated elegance.
She hugged him. “Welcome to New Jersey. I’ve booked you in our best Marriott, five-star all the way, yaar.”
“I don’t need such an expensive hotel....” He stopped when he saw the stern look on her face.
While he was checking in, she said, “Why don’t you drop your bags in the room. Let’s go and eat, I’m starving.”
“How did your marriage fall apart?” he sipped his cold beer.
Meena nibbled her papadam. “Oh, where’d I begin? Ravi is a brilliant man, he got his engineering degree from an elite school in Delhi, then MBA at Stanford, held pretty good jobs. Now he sits at home browsing the Internet.”
Rahul said, “But why, if he’s so smart...”
She rolled her eyes. “Yeah. That’s the big problem. You see, he started his own business, got venture capital and so forth, lots of money, but it failed. Then he went into deep depression, was on so many meds, in the end he had to go on disability. Now he’s almost back to normal, but doesn’t want to work for others.” She imitated her husband’s voice. “Once a CEO, always a CEO”. He lectures our son on work ethic. “Son, if you have to flip burgers to make a living, flip them, by all means.”
“But if he is good to you and loves you...?”
“You mean why I am looking for a man?”
“Ravi is a very different man now, and all those meds, he is not..... not a real....” Her eyes became red and she looked like she was about to cry. She excused herself and went to the rest room.
Rahul pondered the seemingly untenable situation. Surely, with Viagra and other pills in the market, these days any limp man can be transformed into a vigorous stud in a matter of minutes. But, there might be other medical complications.
She returned to the table with a wan smile. “I am sorry. It’s such a mess. My son will go to college next fall. I’ll wait until then to file for a divorce. Enough about my loveless marriage. Tell me something, what went wrong with your marriage?”
He mumbled, “Irreconcilable differences.”
She laughed. “That’s the attorney-speak, yaar, but actually, why did you guys split? Was it money or sex?”
He looked down at his plate. “Meena, it’s not important, it’s over.”
Rahul went to a cultural program organized by the Indian association in the Raleigh area, to celebrate Holi, the festival of Spring. He said hello to a few acquaintances, and walked out of the stuffy hall to get some fresh air. He recalled the Holi revelries back in India. They were so much more fun compared to this insipid gathering.
On Holi day, Rahul used to go to the mess hall at about eight a.m., later than his usual time of seven, to eat spicy French toast, a unique Indian adaptation. Large slices of white bread were dipped in a mixture of eggs, milk, spices, and salt and fried on a skillet. On that day, hot tea was laced with bhang, a mild narcotic.
After a heavy breakfast and innumerable cups of tea, most students, equipped with colored liquids and powders, did their rounds. First they visited the Vice-Chancellor’s mansion to sprinkle him and his family with color; at this stop the students were respectful, used just a little color, and took the sweets that were offered. Later on the students went around the campus to other faculty and staff. And then it was time for the big, special lunch.
Rahul was brought back to the present when an attractive young woman walked in. She was gorgeous in a black sari with red roses embroidered on the borders. Sari, the most versatile garment ever invented, concealed the bulging bellies of middle aged women and revealed the flat stomachs of those damsels blessed with a slender figure.
A sari could be worn in many different ways, depending upon how the pallu was arranged. Also, the pallu could be used to cover the complete upper body or it could be strategically placed so as to subtly display the assets of a well-endowed woman. Rahul thought this woman knew how to wear her sari, just revealing a tiny tantalizing bit, leaving the rest to one’s imagination.
Rahul was still in a trance when she walked gracefully towards him. “Hi, how are you doing? I am Maya.”
Rahul was tongue-tied and mumbled something incoherent at first, but slowly regained his composure and stammered. “I... I... I am Rahul.”
She smiled. “Why aren’t you inside, watching the fun?”
“Boring speeches inside. Came out to get some fresh air. When you came in, I thought you are Indian. But you speak like an American.”
“I am an American. I was born here. My parents are from India.”
“I see. Are you a student?”
“Kinda.... I am doing my residency in Internal Medicine. What’s with this interrogation?”
“Well, mmm... Maya, I mean... can we... like... go somewhere?”
She said, “Are you asking me out?”
“If you like, we can go to Sitar.”
She laughed. “I guess it can’t hurt. Let’s go.”
Once they were settled at a nice table, she smiled. “You are a crazy man. You know I paid fifty bucks for that shindig.” She tucked her hair behind her ears and looked at the menu.
“Me too, but I wanted to get to know you. Do you believe in love at first sight?”
She rolled her eyes and was about say something, but the waiter came, and they ordered. Over a sumptuous dinner of tandoori chicken, and lamb biryani, they talked.
Maya’s parents had moved to the U.S. from Delhi soon after they completed medical school. Her dad was a cardiologist and her mom a pediatrician.
Maya sipped her wine. “Most guys from India are already married by the time they arrive in USA. How come you are still single?” She winked. “Or do you have a wife tucked away in some forlorn village in India, and playing games with unsuspecting women here?”
He looked shocked. “No, no, no. I’m not...”
She touched his hand. “Don’t look so worried. I’m just kidding.”
“No one wanted to marry me. In India, a guy with a Ph.D. is not a hot commodity, say, compared to doctors or engineers.”
While doing his Ph.D., Rahul had fallen madly in love with his classmate, a vivacious girl from Coorg, a region in the Karnataka state known for its natural splendor, coffee plantations, and beautiful damsels. Shalini was tall and fair, had salon hairdos, manicures and pedicures, and dressed as though she was going to a star-studded grand gala evening, and not to a test-tube-filled laboratory that smelled of chemicals.
Rahul, in his usual bumbling manner, managed to speak to Shalini, and she appeared to like his shy demeanor. Eventually they became friends and went out to movies and dinners. Rahul was on cloud nine, planning his future with Shalini, when they might get married, and how many kids they would have. He hoped that his parents would approve of Shalini.
But all his dreams were shattered when, all of a sudden, Shalini disappeared from the campus. That swift vanishing act baffled Rahul as she didn’t say anything about going away. He missed her in the most terrible way, and consequently his work suffered.
Professor Aditya was troubled. He was an ambitious young man, wanted to go places, eventually become the Director of a national laboratory, or a Vice-Chancellor of a prestigious university. But to achieve such a high position, he needed the help of the Godfather, Professor Chidambaram, the most powerful man in Indian Science.
Professor Aditya remembered how it came about that Rahul ended up in his lab. He was attending an international conference in Delhi, and during a coffee break he heard the familiar booming voice. “I say, Aditya! How are you?” It was none other than the Godfather.
Aditya was pleased that the Godfather had noticed him in the large crowd and made a mental note to make a generous offering to Lord Venkateswara. Aditya forgot all about coffee and smiled deferentially, and the Godfather led the way to a quiet corner.
The Godfather smiled. “Aditya, I need to ask you a favor. There’s this young chap, his name’s Rahul, his father and I go way back. I’m wondering if you would be his research advisor. I know, I know, you need to formally admit him into your department, and go through the formalities. Good. Good.” He looked at his wristwatch. “I think we better be getting back into the conference hall. I’m supposed to be the moderator for the nanotechnology session.”
The Godfather patted Aditya’s shoulder. “The Bhatnagar awards will be announced soon, I think your name’s on the short list.” Aditya made a mental note to double the offering to his favorite deity. He couldn’t sleep that night, tossing and turning, thinking about the coveted award.
Now, if Rahul failed to get his Ph.D., Professor Aditya’s plans would collapse, just like a house of cards. So, it was imperative that Rahul be brought back into the real world.
Professor Aditya spoke to his senior student who was in charge of running the lab. “Rajan, find out what’s happening with Rahul. He isn’t coming to the lab regularly. Even when he’s here, I don’t know where his mind’s wandering.”
Rajan removed his glasses and cleaned them with his handkerchief. “Sir, he’s in love with that high-class girl. Now that she’s gone missing, he’s depressed.”
“I need that boy to get back to work. We can’t afford to slack off. We need to publish more papers, get more grants. Go and talk to Rahul, talk some sense into his thick head, drag him back to the lab.” He thumped his desk and rushed off to a faculty meeting.
Rajan buttonholed Rahul in the mess hall. “Hey, man, what you are up to these days? Are you sick or what?”
Rahul looked up to Rajan not only as a senior colleague but as a man of the world. “I’m fine, Rajan. I’m okay.”
Rajan looked at him sternly. “Rahul, I know all about it. You and Shalini. Get over it man. She isn’t worth it. Forget about her.”
Rahul said, “What are you saying? She loves me. We are going to get married.”
Rajan laughed, just like a B-class Bollywood villain. “Marriage, ha, ha, ha. You are a bloody fool, spending your money on that broad. She went to Bangalore to get an abortion.”
“But that’s impossible! I never even kissed her, we simply held hands in the lover’s lane.”
Rajan looked at him in a pitying manner. “Rahul, you are a fool. Wake up, man. She isn’t the kind of girl you want. She’s too fast, you can’t handle her. Anyway, I know from reliable sources that she’s gonna get married soon, to a rich guy from Canada. Girls are like buses: you miss one, you’ll catch the next one. You better not screw up your work. The boss is mad. ”
With plenty of help from his senior colleagues, and with his advisor’s relentless prodding, Rahul managed to finish up all the experiments and was ready to write his thesis. It was during this process that Professor Aditya thought very hard about where to place one of his least inspired students. In spite of his lack of creativity and novel ideas — necessary attributes for a successful scientific career — one couldn’t totally dismiss Rahul’s potential.
While originality might not be his forte, Rahul had that quality which most professors only dream of but rarely see in their lab workers: loyalty, discipline, and adherence to protocol.
Professor Aditya sent Rahul to Professor Martin’s lab in Chapel Hill. Professors Aditya and Martin had been contemporaries at UCLA. Professor Martin was laid back and didn’t believe in unnecessarily taxing his brain. He developed a few biological, biochemical, and biophysical assays, and screened a plethora of chemical compounds in an effort to design better chemotherapeutic agents. He was well-funded by the federal government as well as by a few pharmaceutical companies. He was a great back-slapper and a fantastic networker, knew how to take care of himself in the cut-throat world of science.
Before Rahul flew to America, his parents suggested that he get married. Rahul didn’t much care for the rigmarole of searching for a bride. The memories of his uncle Ganesh’s disastrous marriage were still fresh in his mind.
Ganesh was tired of the boring ritual of meeting eligible brides, and became quite indifferent and let the elders choose a suitable girl. Unfortunately for Ganesh, the girl his elders found was almost illiterate, a lousy cook and a terrible housekeeper; but she came with a hefty dowry.
Ganesh suffered for the rest of his short life with that most unsuitable woman. He was an intellectual and a scholar and might have been happy with a like-minded girl. But he was too timid to go against his parents’ wishes; he took to drink and suffered a fatal stroke at the young age of forty.
Rahul said, “I need to really focus on my work when I join Professor Martin’s lab. I can’t have any distractions, can I?”
The Dean was pleased that his frivolous son was at last getting serious about his career. He smiled benevolently. “Yes, yes, that’s true.” He looked at his obedient wife. “The boy’s only twenty-five, there’s plenty of time, plenty of time. Don’t you agree?”
Copyright © 2014 by Rudy Ravindra