Rakesh just couldn’t stop admiring Mona. The way she flicked her locks away from her pretty face with a slight jerk of the head; the way she stylishly held her cigarette between her slender fingers and let out the smoke from the corner of her mouth, head slightly bent to the side; the way her eyes slanted a little; how what she wore was always well-coordinated; how she looked stunning no matter what time of the day or night it was; and how she endearingly addressed everyone as ‘darling’. “Darling, please light my smoke.” “Darling, I have a bad headache. Could you kindly drive me to my friend’s place at Noida. You know how far away Noida is from JNU, and with this headache, I really do not have the strength to take an auto or a bus. Would you please, darling?” Rakesh knew of no one who had ever refused her. With such soft words coming out of such a lovely mouth, who could really?
Mona had a certain something about her. What that something was, was not easy to tell. Rakesh was jealous of all the boys with whom she partied or was seen at the canteens, outside the school buildings, the lawns or on the roads of the university. He instinctively knew that he could never be one of them, with whom Mona hangs out. Yet, he was smitten by her. Her English was so good. She spoke like how video jockeys in MTV spoke. She definitely must come from a very ‘good’ family. One time, he was at the canteen with a few friends from his hometown in Uttar Pradesh when Mona walked in with Sasha, who was scorching ramps in India and abroad for famous Indian designers like Ritu Kumar, Sabyasachi, Rohit Bal, Ritu Beri, and JJ Valaya. How did Mona and Sasha know each other? Mona came from somewhere in northeast India while Sasha is a Bengali born and raised in Delhi. Rakesh was impressed. She had to be from a ‘good’ family. Such connections!
Rakesh had been in the Jawaharlal Nehru University for almost a year now. He saw many pretty faces around, but no one came close to Mona’s loveliness. Every morning he would take the road that went past Mona’s hostel to get to the academic complex. This meant walking a whole twenty minutes extra, but the hope of catching a glimpse of Mona was worth all that exercise even during the devastating summer wind and heat. Delhi would not have been so charming without Mona. Not that he had seen much of Delhi either. He had only been to the Red Fort and Qutub Minar so far. “What is this JNU? Why do you want to go there? Why not stay here and help me with the store?” were his father’s precise words as the family had gathered for dinner around the perfectly round rotis, dal and shimla mirch sabzi that his mother and sister had laid on a plastic sheet on the bed, as the TV next to the bed blared one absurd piece of news after another. “Pitaji, JNU is Jawaharlal Nehru University! It is very famous and very good. I want to go there because I cleared the national level entrance test and I want to do a Master’s course. Then I will earn more than what your cloth store earns. Also,” Rakesh mumbled, “I want to see Delhi.”
Unfortunately, with Mona occupying his mind, he could not give much time either to his studies or to Delhi. Delhi remained JNU, the Red Fort, Qutub Minar and Mona for him. His text books had flowers and leaves that Mona had stepped on over the year. And once, he had uprooted, because he realised that he could when he tried, one whole stone that Mona had sat upon sipping tea with a male friend who was as slender as Mona and had a stud in his nose and hair that was held in a pony. That stone was kept next to his pillow in his hostel bed and he refused to tell his room-mate and friends what this stone nonsense was about.
Years later, Rakesh is now a bureaucrat posted in his hometown. He is married to a beautiful woman from his caste and town, who brought him a lot of wealth – ‘marriage gifts’ by her loving father. The wealth includes 30 lakh rupees in cash, one brand new Honda Accent, a flat at a luxurious apartment at Greater Noida near Delhi, jewelry worth 15 lakh rupees. The cash and the jewelry of course have found their way willy nilly into his mother’s locker at the bank. Rakesh, meanwhile, has found other avenues to build wealth besides his monthly salary. His shirt buttons are increasingly growing tight. He is becoming as pot-bellied as his two year old daughter. The little one gets into a fit of giggling whenever he pokes at her pot-belly. He loves her. Adores her. “My darling! My Mona!” And she looks up at him, smiles and blinks her eyes.