Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Tuesday with Teresa

Continued from An Introduction to Spain

I had asked Teresa to meet me at the Regal Cinema in Colaba. As my cab reached the venue, I spotted her looking a trifle lost. She was wearing what appeared to be a cross between a kurta and a nightie. On closer inspection, I decided it was a nightie.

‘Can I hug you?,’
she asked, ‘It’s a custom in Spain and it’s been so long since I hugged someone.’

I was too bewildered to refuse. But I was struck by her candour. And her loneliness.

‘So what did you do in the last two days,’ I asked. We were standing on the steps of Regal Cinema. Except for a few stragglers, there was no one around.

Teresa began to reel off the tourist spots that she’d visited, occasionally consulting her Lonely Planet. I was impressed.

‘You went on your own?’
I asked.

‘No, the security guard in my hotel came along,
’ she replied.

But she ended up seeing a lot more than the Lonely Planet recommended. Apparently the ‘Mumbai darshan’ had ended at Chowpatty. And as they sat on the beach eating bhel puri, the security guard decided he’d found the love of his life…

‘He tells me I love you and want to marry you,” she said, arms flailing again. ‘I say, it’s ok. You’ll meet someone else. But he starts hugging me. And kisses me on the cheek.’

Fortunately (or unfortunately) for Teresa someone saw this amorous exchange and alerted the police, who promptly took them both to the police station.

‘The police tell me such behaviour is not tolerated in our country. I tell them I didn’t do anything. But they say I shouldn’t go with such people,’ she said, all too rapidly.

The police interrogated her for a couple of hours. Later, one of them softened a bit.

‘He explains how I must not trust people, how I must be more careful. And he tells me, if you don’t have a friend in the city, I will be your friend.’

Uh-oh I thought. The sordid saga continues…

Thankfully that was the end. The police detained the security guard and allowed her to leave.

‘Did you complain about the guard to the hotel in-charge,’
I asked, knowing her reply fully well.

No,’ she said, ‘I didn’t want to get him into trouble. He’s very young boy and just very lonely.’

She brushed away all further objections and asked instead, ‘What you think of my dress?’

I made polite noises about the nightie while she raved about the colour and the print. She chattered happily. The ‘sight-seeing’ incident of the morning was now behind her.

We walked down Colaba causeway looking for ‘Indian clothes’.

We stepped into one of the export surplus stores, with clothes spilling out of boxes and racks, almost onto the pavement. I tugged at a pile of clothes, so did Teresa. One thing became clear; our tastes didn’t match. So I let her do the tugging.

She settled on three pieces, preening in front of the mirror. The owner refused to bargain, curtly pointing to the ‘fixed price only’ cardboard sign. Teresa paid up and we exited from the cramped, airless store.

‘Thank you, Layla’, she said, when we could breathe again, ‘now you must let me take you for a meal.’

Sure, I said, feeling no need to be coy and polite with Teresa. I suggested Kailas Parbat, a place well known for North Indian snacks.

Oh yesterday this lady invited me to her house for Indian food…’ she said casually, as we walked down Causeway.

I was immediately suspicious, quite expecting another unpleasant episode.

Over ‘bahut bahut kam teekha’ pani puri and dahi sev batata puri, she shared about her dinner experience. She had been sitting on a bench on the Apollo pier and had struck up a conversation with another woman there. After the usual pleasantries, the woman on the bench insisted on taking Teresa home for dinner.

Teresa went on, ‘I had dal, roti, something made of brinjal, and lots of water,’ she said waving a hand in front of her mouth, as if to put out an imaginary fire.

We laughed. Thankfully, the dinner didn’t have a dark side to it. But I told Teresa that she shouldn’t trust people so easily.

‘I know, but people are so nice too,’ she said, her eyes shining. ‘I trusted you and see…’

I didn’t know what to say. I felt a bit protective about her because she was alone. But she seemed to know what she was doing and was ready to accept all outcomes. I marvelled at her equanimity.

We exchanged email addresses. And she surprised me by signing her name in Hindi.

‘I can write a little, but I can’t speak much,’
she laughed.

‘Oh, you have a year to learn’,
I told her, and instinctively hugged her.

I haven’t heard from her yet. But I’m sure she’ll pop up in my inbox one of these days, relating some adventure, some experience. I only hope they’re good stories.

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