One evening, I asked her, “I will be in Cochin tomorrow. Can we meet?” She said, “Yes. Of course. Give me a call when you reach here.” I have not been to Cochin after I had dropped out of college many years ago. I reached the railway station a few minutes before the train took off, and had to enter the general compartment. I remember once traveling in this train when I was a boy, and an elderly man said that he had traveled in the same train fifty years ago. The train had not changed at all. The first libertarian argument I came across was that the automobiles on the road have changed a lot in the past seven decades, but the trains have not changed at all.But, the general compartment has changed a lot in the past one decade. The people who travel in them look like tramps.
When I was reading, a young man harassed me saying that I should teach him “English”. This would have never happened in the Delhi metro. When I once went to a Malayali restaurant in Delhi, the supplier was not willing to serve me tea because I was reading. The lady who runs the restaurant served me tea, and said that the most she could do was to ask him to change. While I was reading in public spaces, post-toddlers have pointed me out to their amused mothers. The adolescent girls have stopped to watch. The men and women in my neighborhood have called my parents to tell them that their son was reading in the bus stand.
I do not know any group that is hostile to reading to the extent Malayalis are. The people in the other parts of the country would probably not believe this because the communist people have told them that this is a fully literate state, and that your chances of having an informed conversation are at least as high in Kerala as in Kansas. No society tolerates eccentricity, but the larger cities are slightly more tolerant. When I was once walking toward my apartment in Dwarka, smiling, constructing the plot of my next blog post in my mind, a Negro lady who was playing shuttlecock pointed me out to her boy friends saying, “Look. This guy is laughing at us.” I ran away.
When I asked where exactly her house in Cochin is, she asked apprehensively, “You want to come to my home?” I said, “No, I had not intended that. I just wanted to think of a place where we can meet.” She said that she would pick me up from the bus stand near her home if I wait there. “I do not mind it if you come to my home.” she said. When I was waiting, she waved her hand at me, and said that she could recognize me because I look like a grown-up version of my childhood picture.
When she said, “I did not expect you to be so silent. You talk too much on Facebook. You look like the quintessential intellectual.” I asked, “Why do you say that? Is it the way I dress?” “It is not just the way you dress. It is your whole manners, your facial expressions. Very much like Sheldon Cooper. I feel the same way when I read your updates on Facebook, but it is more so in the real world. ” she said. She said that she no longer hosts the music program on TV, of which all I remember was a song she sang. She said that we could go to the Lulu mall, which she said is among the largest in India. I had my doubts.
“Now that we have met, will you write about me on your blog?” she asked me. I heard laughter inside my head. The closest approximation I can think of is a baby’s cackle. I said, “No. I do not write about every single person I meet. With some people, I draw up an agreement to the effect that I will not write about them as long as we are in good terms with each other.” Then she asked, “Do you wish to marry, at some point in your life?” I replied, “I do not know why people ask me this question. It was always clear in my mind that I wish to marry, even when I was a child. Why is this complex? I do not think there is anyone who does not like companionship. I think it makes sense to live together, if you like to have kids, or even if you do not.”
She said, suddenly, “It is not true that everyone likes to marry. I do not want to. My sisters—they do not like to have children because they travel a lot. They do like children, but they do not love them enough to raise them.” I said, “If someone just hates babies, I cannot talk them into liking them, but I think people overestimate the costs of raising a child.” When she said, “No, It is not about the cost.”, I said, “I was not talking about the financial costs of raising a child. There is a lot of evidence that parenting does not matter much, because IQ cannot be changed. My parents used to teach me even up to six hours a day. It did not do me any good. I will just leave them alone. If I find a high IQ partner, my children will have a high IQ too.”
“I did not marry because it is a long, time-consuming process. I first have to meet someone I like, be friends with her, and take the time to decide whether I should live with her all my life. It never happened quite that way. My experiences while working inside offices were bad. People were too petty, and mean. I have never worked with a reasonably well read person. I think I have had enough. I do not think I will be able to live with some such girl. But, almost everyone happens to be that way. This is not an overly idealistic view, as people believe. This is common sense. Even worthless people do not like being treated that way.”
She said, “It is not true that everyone is like that. There are people who are not much into such political games, like me. Not everyone is into politicking. I am such a person. I have never engaged in politicking in the office. I know your juniors in college. They joined college the year you left.”
When I said, “I did not know my juniors on a personal level. I once left without telling anyone. People would not have noticed because I almost never went to the classroom.” she said, the pitch of her voice rising steadily in pitch, “They know you!”
She picked something from the supermarket, and said that she liked it. I just smiled. Then she asked, “Do you still talk to Krishnapriya?” When we were walking back to, she said with a violence not appropriate for the discussion, “You won’t get a girl if you are not willing to spend money.”, though she was brought to her senses quickly.
While driving back, when she talked on the phone, the police uncle asked her to stop. When she started begging, he asked, “If you were driving, he could have picked up the phone. Why didn’t he?” She said, “He does not live here. He does not know the traffic rules of this city.” The police uncle stared at us, with an evil grin on his face. When he asked for the papers, she started whispering, “Where is my purse? I can’t see it.” I leaned back, and gave it to her, apprehensively, not knowing whether she was pretending not to remember where she had left it. When the police uncle left, she said that they do not take bribes these days, and dropped me near the railway station.
The next day morning, she had a picture on her wall: “If you love me, I will go to the ends of the world for you. If you mess with me, I will break your balls.” When I wrote below, “My social conscience forbids me from enjoying such humor.” she replied, “Understandably so.” I felt that this was hilarious. I sent her a book, scribbling on the margins, “To-the-little-girl-with-tender-arms.”
A few days later, she said that she was alone in her house because her friends have gone home. She was bored, she said. I said that I would like to join her. She asked, “You want to join me simply because you need a change, simply because you wish to read and write in a different place?” I said, “Yes. But, what about the judgment the society might pass on us? And what judgment would you pass on the society that passes such negative judgments on us? The people in your neighborhood might think that sexual hijinks are going on.” She said, “I do not care about the society’s judgment. But, I loved the way you framed that sentence of yours.” A few hours later, she said that her landlord said that this would not be a good idea. When I said, “You are so clever. You tempted me a lot.” She asked, “Do you like my name?” I said, “Yes. Of course. I do.” It meant whether it matters to me that she is a Christian.
A few days later, she forwarded me her emails to her father, in which she said that in her class, they discussed the failure in the implementation of laws, like the Dowry (Prohibition) act, and that “without genuine moral progress among the masses, such exercises would be futile”. I had not called her after we had met. So, she marked me in a loop email in which she said that she had changed her phone number. I said, “Thank You”, but I did not take the hint, for weeks.
One evening, I asked, “Can I call you? I have always wanted to talk.” When I said that I know her number, she asked in a sarcastic tone, “Oh, you know my number?” But, she hung up the call soon, saying that she wants to write another email to her father.