Friday, February 05, 2016

Data-driven Romance

Five straight men. A WhatsApp group. A discussion about romance in the wee hours of the night. Inspired by true events (but no names will be named).
Intrigued? Read, read, read my latest short story in Spark on the theme of 'Romance'.


Data-driven Romance


Deepika Padukone looked at him with a dreamy daze, cutting straight through his heart like a laser beam. “Uff, Queen D”, he whispered to himself, admiring the glowing beauty of his favourite actress from a generation decidedly younger than him. He adjusted his spectacles, bade goodbye to Deepika and shut down the cover of his laptop. It was 11 pm in the night. His family had gone to sleep, either sufficiently satisfied or sufficiently exhausted with the day’s proceedings.
In the quiet dullness of the white noise of Bengaluru nights, Sudeep reclined on the sofa and clicked on his phone. Facebook was boring and Twitter was argumentative as usual. WhatsApp would provide succour. He tapped on the button for the app.
He turned to “Mischief Managers”, a group consisting of his college buddies. They had plodded the familiar route of thick friendships – inseparable in college and then disbursed without a clue for years later. Getting together through WhatsApp changed that. Twenty years after graduating, they had connected again with renewed fervour and daily chats, brought together by virtue of a zealous people connector in the group.
“Hello, hello,” Sudeep typed, noticing that he was late to an already ongoing conversation.
Mandar: “Sudeep, welcome, you have been missing out on the fun”
Sudeep: “Summarise for me?”
Mandar: “Shailesh is conducting a poll. He wants to know how often each one of us says ‘I love you’ to our wives”
Sudeep: “What rubbish?”
Mandar: “No, really. He is quite serious about it. Shailesh, yaar, chime in”
Shailesh: “Sudeep, don’t say it is rubbish. I have an ulterior motive behind it”
Sudeep: “What have the others said?”
Shailesh: “Oh, just scroll up the messages, will you :) “
Mandar: “Ok, ok. I know you won’t, so let’s get you the answers. Paresh?”
Paresh: “Depends upon how badly I have messed up :) Since Shailesh is such a numbers person, I gave him one – once every 8.3 days!”
Mandar: “Abbas?”
Abbas: “Me, I do it all the time. It is a reflux action (joke – I hope you guys got it).”
Mandar: “Yes, Abbas. Where’s the emoji for ‘I want to beat you up’?”
Abbas: “LOL. Yes, I guess I asked for it. No, seriously, we say it all the time. When we pick up the phone, hang up the phone. Wake up in the morning. When we go to bed. Reflex action”
Mandar: “That IS impressive”
Abbas: “What about you, Mandar?”
Mandar: “Me? No, let it be”
Shailesh: “Says the man who has a love marriage. Come on, bro”
Mandar: “No, really. I can’t remember if we have said that to each other after our first year of marriage”
An eerie silence seemed to grip the group. No messages were forthcoming.
Mandar: “I don’t think we have done everyone, have we? What about Sudeep?”
Sudeep: “I don’t attach much value to saying it. If love is there, she’ll know it.”
Paresh: “Sudeep, do you think the rest of us are engaging in it uselessly? :)”
Sudeep: “No, no, Paresh. I don’t know. I was just expressing my opinion”
Paresh: “Relax, Sudeep. I was just pulling your leg.”
Sudeep: “Fine mess Shailesh has gotten us into. Can you imagine a stranger discussion on this group? Grown men of over forty asking each other how many times they confess their love to their wives”
Paresh: “Shailesh, why did you limit the question to only the wives? Did it occur to ask if we say that to other women? J”
Shailesh: “Paresh, I know all of you. None of you are going to get that lucky”
Sudeep: “Shailesh, are you going to get to the point of this whole exercise? Now you have all the information you need, you data freak”
Shailesh: “Ha, ha. You are right, you are right, I do owe you an explanation”
Everyone’s screen twinkled with the message “Shailesh is typing…”. The group waited in anticipation.
Shailesh: “You see gents, I was taking a poll to see if I was alone”
Abbas: “Alone in what?”
Shailesh: “You see, I have never uttered the words ‘I love you’ to my wife”
Abbas: “What? You are joking, right? Never?!”
Shailesh: “Never. Not once”
Paresh: “I have to say that sounds rather strange, Shailesh”
Shailesh: “I know, I know. I am anachronistic. You don’t expect a modern day metropolitan man to be like this”
Sudeep: “I am sure you have your reasons, Shailesh. Let’s hear them”
Shailesh: “Mine was a marriage arranged with great rapidity once I said Yes to my parents. Matrimonial ads in the newspaper, short engagement and a quick wedding. And then, life just took over.”
Mandar: “Shailesh, it doesn’t take more than two seconds to say those words, however busy your life might be”
Shailesh: “Yes, but I always associated it with being romantic, and I am simply not that”
Paresh: “Dude, but really, hasn’t your wife beaten you up on it?”
Shailesh: “No, that’s the beauty of it. She has never said that either”
Sudeep: “Match made in heaven”
Mandar: “That still doesn’t explain why you are taking this poll”
Shailesh: “Well, something happened last week. My wife told me she loves me… It had me worried”
Abbas: “Look at this genius. He is worried because his wife told him she loves him. I’d have thought it is worrisome the other way round!”
Shailesh: “I know, I know. I am paranoid. When I am stuck with the unknown, I turn to the one thing that gives me succour”
Paresh: “Porn? ;)”
Shailesh: “Data!”
Shailesh: “I figured a straw poll couldn’t hurt, but the evidence is inconclusive. Maybe the right response now is for me to say it back”
Sudeep: “Shailesh, I had a thought. When is your anniversary?”
Shailesh: “Two weeks away. Sudeep, are you thinking what I am thinking?”
Sudeep: “Maybe you just need to improve the quality of your gifts! Perhaps your wife is sending you a gentle signal :)”
Shailesh: “Expressing love to get more gifts? Sounds odd, but then who knows. This too is tough – I am not that good at conjuring good gifts. Any tips?”
Abbas: “Don’t go by my example. I gave varying gifts each year. I don’t think they went down that well. One year my wife confessed – Please don’t try. I’ll buy a gift myself. Just tell me your budget”
Shailesh: “LOL. Clearly, I shouldn’t ask you. I wouldn’t mind outsourcing the idea to others the rest of you though”
Mandar: “Maybe write and sing her a song?”
Shailesh: “Clearly, the scars of having heard me sing in college have healed for you, Mandar!”
Sudeep’s phone ran out of charge. He walked sneakily to his bedroom to grab his charger where his wife was letting out mild snores in her sleep. He waited impatiently for the phone to start up to get back into the conversation. His own anniversary was a month away and yet, tonight, a gift was farthest from his mind. He was settling in on the sofa for the night – a result of an altercation with his wife. Smiling, he typed up his own contribution.
Sudeep: “Shailesh, buy two things – something good that your wife will like, and the other, a comfortable pillow. The least you can do is make yourself comfortable on the couch if the first does not work”
A round of smileys bounced back on the message thread. The night drifted into irrelevance and the topic of love for their wives ended on a whimper, replaced with love for another.
Mandar: “So, I was reading the Tendulkar biography …”