“Cockroach..ugh..there on the croissant, please, do something,” the queue at the Café Coffee Day counter of the Italian language school tittered. Had it been a girl protesting the lack of hygiene, they would have heard her out in a tolerant, even righteous silence, telling themselves that a man may not even have noticed the creepy crawly. But it was Chinshu sounding the alarm, Chinshu with his swaying walk and a glittering hearts studded pink wallet.
Vanya moved up closer to him at the cash counter, “Hey help me decide, which of these two sandwiches is lower on carbohydrates?” Vanya’s incredulous expression was completely lost on Chinshu . He went right ahead, calculated the calories, instructed the attendant on grilling his food just right and took his time picking brown sugar packets and mustard sauce sachets.
The two hurried to grab a table. Class would begin in ten minutes and the professors were very punctual. “You had your eyebrows plucked?” Vanya’s tone was accusing as she ran her fingers guiltily up her hairy leg under the table. “Have you tried the new Jasmine hand cream in the market? I love the smell. And they have this beautiful birthmark camouflage procedure at this parlour,” Chinshu informed her, focusing on eating neatly while plucking at the strawberry patch near his right temple.
“Hurry up Chinshu, elevator, quick, it is going up!” Vanya led the way up to their floor and they entered the classroom. The din halted mid-sentence at their appearance. Their batch mates suddenly became overly busy to hide their mortification at being caught discussing Chinshu’s metrosexual persona. Vanya glared at a woman friend who was clearly mocking him with her censorious expressions. “Gay,” someone emitted the word forcefully.
They ignored everyone and dived into their session, under the watchful eye of a native instructor who was quite clearly a man in regular touch with his feminine side too. He often spoke of the well-loved Italian clothing and accessories brands to the students, all the time shifting weight in his fabulous floral loafers.
Class over, Vanya and Chinshu struck their usual trail to the NGO named “Mardani”. It was a common interest in activism and gender studies that had brought them together. They were two young people with quivering antennae, picking anomalies, dissonance and restlessness in the space that had created them. Vanya was an avowed feminist who sought masculinity in men despite a hypothetical empathy with a man’s right to his femininity. And Chinshu often traced his own leanings to his upbringing. A first generation college graduate in his family at Demul , Spiti valley, Chinshu dreamt of setting up his own restaurant in Italy. He was also making up for lost time with his eager adoption of the most current lifestyle trends.
“I am very confused Vanya. My girlfriend is angry with me a lot these days. I get upset if she does not reply to my text immediately. I also feel she does not say “I love you” as often as she should. She says I sulk a lot. What do you guys want woman? A man’s man or a woman’s man or some calibrated combination? Don’t you see that what men have today is merely a phantom status?”
Vanya was dismissive, “Shut up. You Indian men are brought up to just be sons. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
There was a village woman creating a ruckus near the car parking. She looked out of place in her traditional mountain tochay. Vanya would have driven past her had it not been for her distraught face and frantic waving about of her arms. Also, she kept pointing up at the NGO building. Vanya pulled over.
“Please help me. I can’t find my child. It has been two years and no news. We checked at the Italian Language School. No one seems to know. My husband and son have filed an FIR. The police say that the few calls we have received have been from this area.”
“How old is your child? Tell me the name and description? I know most people in this building.”
“Her name is Charini. She is tall. There is a red birthmark on her right forehead. I told her how dangerous a place Delhi is. She promised to be careful!”