I scampered into the auto behind my friend, both of us covered in foul-smelling sweat like Sunanda Pushkar's stake. The auto sped away from Bandra station after it played a brief round of energetic Kho-Kho with a rabid policeman and away we were to do some shopping.
My friend (lets call him Mr. India for namesake) was on a mission. The mission was as lame as can be; actually not so much since it involved buying slippers for his fiancee.
I had, perchance, seem to have boasted of my ample shopping expertise with various women in and around my childhood neighbourhood. Mr. India usually hardly pays attention to my tattles and is more involved with the mosquito that has gone up his nose, the blue sky and other matters of cardinal significance. But as luck would have it, this fact fell on his ears, traveled up the cochineal fluid and built a 10-story apartment in his brain. What did not get any portion of the dukedom was the fact that by expertise, I meant standing around, drinking diluted Fanta and eyeballing other females purchasing sarees, slippers, handbags, jewelery and miscellaneous foibles.
Mr. India was in full gear for the mission. He had the exact pencil outline of his fiancee's foot, the sizes according to American, Rhodesian, Swedish and English conversion tables, an extra bulge to his rear suggesting a stuffed wallet and implicit confidence in me. He had a glint of will in his eyes akin to the egregious Mel Gibson beating the crap out of a dozen tribal species. And vice-versa.
Mr India had no outline, no size, no money and there were butterflies happily laying eggs in his stomach lining. I was supposed to be his saviour. I felt overrated for the first time in my life. The auto flung its occupants out on Linking Road, Bandra. The road was strewed with shops that sold all sorts of female paraphernalia. We stood and gaped at the future outflows of our hard-earned salaries. After a couple of flies died their natural death inside our mouths, we moved to one end of the pavement and started a mini GD where we evaluated the various criteria to identify the right shop to target.
As all GDs go, we shouted till we were hoarse. But there was a consensus. We randomized and selected a shop that seemed to look exactly like one that a girl would be interested in - colorful, bouffant and did I mention colorful? As we bustled through the milling gang of squeaking college girls, the bearded shopkeeper quit sizing the girls and began sizing us up. It was uncanny.
"Kya chaahiye?", he asked in a voice that subtly underlined the fact that we were guys. We did feel like a couple of polar bears let loose on Mount Road in summer.
We opened our mouths and that is when the faeces hit the rotating electrical appliance.
A small flashback. Both our ancestors loved dosai. All the subsequent generations too loved it. With a dash of chutney and drop of spicy sambhar, it was Amrit. Not the girl; the food. Both my friend and I were no exceptions. The relevancy of this information rests on the inference that both of us were hard core Tams. There was no escaping it. Inevitably, Hindi was French to us. So French, that we refused to acknowledge it even existed. Thousands of Amits, Poojas, Nehas, Ranbirs and Shwetanks advised us the importance of learning it, being in Mumbai. They said the probability of survival is very low if we were bereft of the ability of speaking the language.
We discovered that it was not low - it was zero. As we gestured frantically in broken Hindi and Kaveri-an gymnastics, a small crowd gathered outside the shop to watch the camaraderie. It was not at all funny.
My friend proposed his interest to buy slippers for his fiancee. We never understood what the shopkeeper understood but he went in and returned with a pair of horseshoes. It was racist to say the least. I stepped in to play my part.
I pointed to my friend and said, "Same height, what size?". The man again disappeared into the bowels of his establishment and returned with a pair of slippers that would have fit a hippopotamus. I gulped as my friend exclaimed, "Nahin! Nahin! Kuch kuch hota. Chotta Shakeela!". The shopkeeper acted bewildered. To the tee.
By now the crowd was in complete splits. I swore in rapid Tamizh to my friend and told him that we might as well go to Nariman Point and throw pieces of Medu Vadai at the Taj Mahal Hotel. And then a wondrous thing happened.
The shopkeeper said in clear, spaced words - "You from Chennai?". It was in perfect Tamil.
We looked at him and we looked at each other. We then hugged and laughed for the first time that evening. Though the hug evoked a nettled babble among the crowd, it was obvious that the show was over.
Twenty minutes later we were 300 rupees poorer and we had a fantastic pair of slippers. At least to us. We were joyous. We were least bothered about the size, the color and the design as we went by male intuition.
The slippers fit alright. It was the right color too. Just that Mr. India's fiancee already had a pair like that which she had bought for 100 bucks at Spencer Plaza. He got an earful. At that exact time, I was busy assisting my cousin shop for handbags. Male intuition? Bollocks.