Rajeev and I became friends because of the way alphabets are arranged on the keyboard. There’s a ‘Y’ next to the ‘T’ and sometimes, when you type fast (in my case, using all of three fingers), you hit both alphabets together – even though you didn’t mean to.
So, one day I used the office messenger service to ask him: ‘Are you busty?’
He replied: ‘No..and stop rubbing it in. By the way, I’m not busy either.’
Anyway, Rajeev’s like that. If he were a category, he’d be ‘Miscellaneous’; if he were a color, he’d be something with an ‘ish’ suffix…bluish, pinkish, hazelnuttish. If you met him, you’d think he was one of those guys who’d sit in the Stalls of theatres and hoot and whistle…or he’d be one of those who’d know Gunther’s last name. (Gunther – waiter in Friends who has a crush on Rachel.) He described anything excellent as ‘CLAAASS!’ That meant first class I suppose. If something were boring, he’d call it ‘jaded fuck.’ That always conjured up a bejeweled mattress in my mind, so I thought that it was a rather beautiful slur.
Rajeev was cool – the way being cool was when you’re nineteen. He didn’t begin sentences with ‘basically.’ He’d just straight out say: ‘I’m a lawyer.’ ‘I live in Malabar Hill.’ ‘I play the saxophone.’ And it’s not that he was just clever…he was an irreverent iconoclast. Bart Simpson grows up, goes to Harvard, drops out, becomes a sous-chef in Seychelles, and comes back home. Rajeev.
Another thing about Rajeev is that he noticed. He had the world in his Petri dish. With Rajeev, I thunked.
He got me thinking about why all the Cotton World outlets are located in some obscure corner – the afterthought areas of cities. If there’s a main road, with a dingy bylane, with a dark corner, with a shady basement, you’ll find a Cotton World there.
He asked me once how stupid I could be. Just that. The potential for dumbness. We were in a movie.
He pointed to one of the exits and said, ‘You see that Fire Exit sign?’
‘Okay, suppose there’s a fire now. Do you think you’d be so stupid that you’d get stuck inside because that sign confuses you?’
‘I don’t think that sign could ever be confusing. It’s straightforward. Fire Exit. You can’t confuse it with staying trapped inside.’
‘Yeah – but what if you’re really stupid. You see Fire Exit. You think it’s not for you to exit in case of fire, but it’s an exit FOR the fire. Get it? FIRE EXIT. Get it? Get it?’
As is often the case with most vibrant people, I lost touch with Rajeev when I left the job to study for my law exams. And then, one Jane Austen evening, I saw him at Barista, Bandstand – playing scrabble by himself.
‘Hello’, I smiled down at him.
Long pause. Wide smile. Tight hug at waist. He didn’t even stand.
‘You can join me if you want. But ‘busty’’s already been used.’
‘I’ve learnt other words since then.’
Over a rather crumbly brownie, we got talking. He was lunching at THE Zodiac Grill at least thrice a month and well…I could afford to treat astonishingly recovered pals to crumbly brownies. But both of us were happy doing what we were doing. So, different leagues but same score.
Then, of course, we moved on to love’s labors – lost but hopeful.
‘So, why are you still single?’, he asked.
‘How do you know I’m single?’
‘You look it.’
I let that pass.
‘Why are you so picky?’, he continued.
This rattled me...because I’m not picky.
Rajeev couldn’t date a girl if she dressed carelessly. He couldn’t date a girl if she used too much make up. He couldn’t date a girl if she wasn’t quick and flowing with witty repartees. Simply put – Rajeev went out on a date with a girl and didn’t go out with her again.
Here was a coal mine calling an icicle black.
I told him as much and ended with a curt, ‘I most certainly am not ‘picky’.’
‘Then how come you’re not with someone?’
‘How come YOU aren’t?’
‘Your answer...How come you aren’t with someone?’
‘I think two people should be together because there is one reason to say ‘Yes’; not because there’s no reason to say ‘No.’
‘Jaded fuck! Any other stupid song lyrics you believe in?’
‘Several…but you should choose one kind of stupidity to live by..and this is mine.’
He was making a pile of the Scrabble squares.
‘What do you say to all those guys who..you know..want to be with you?’
‘Well…it’s not that there are so many…but usually, they understand…you know. I mean, you don’t need to spell it out.’
‘And if you had to spell it out…’
I was getting nervous now. I think these things but then they sound trite when I say them aloud.
‘It’s just that it’s important how I feel with that person. If I feel precious and special and happy and deep…then….but mostly I’m agitated and you know, just my most difficult self. So, it’s clearly not meant to be. I explain, they understand.’
‘No, they don’t. They accept and move on.’
I let that pass. I make little square designs with the Scrabble pieces. Why do I think of Mohenjo Daro when I do that?
He finished off the brownie.
‘You know…you’re not picky about people. You just let them down easy.’
My city-state was looking pretty on the table.
He dropped me home and made some cruel remarks about the pattern on my bedcover. (‘Shouldn’t you be washing off the vomit now? Even though it has spread so symmetrically?’)
The next morning, I get a beautiful spray of pink and white flowers. It’s from Rajeev with the message: For the only one in Bandstand without highlighted hair.
That’s the thing with Rajeev. He always, always noticed.