The pressures of not being one and the perks of being one
Chapter 4: SriLax, man!
No congratulations to those of you who had already figured out their couple name. This one was fairly obvious: LaxSri makes no sense — literally or figuratively. LaSri might have worked if they were in France, even if it would have been disappointing for Laxman because he got only two letters in as opposed to Srishti’s three, but that’s a worry for a parallel universe, not very many quantum-probabilities-along-the-string-of-choices away.
At Mahabelly in Saket for breakfast, they are shown a table next to a family of three. The husband and wife are laughing as their seven year old kid is driving his toy truck over his appam. A crash with the bowl destabilizes the truck and it runs over the fish. The driver lands in the Sol Kadi.
‘We can wait,’ Srishti tells the waiter.
The waiter frowns. ‘We just opened and it’ll be at least an hour before any of the other tables become free.’
‘Let’s sit, Srish,’ Laxman says. Srish was inspired from the first Indian superhero Bollywood movie, Krrish in which a man calls an alien on Earth by playing below average music with extremely limited number of notes. The alien cures his mentally challenged kid and gives him super intelligence and super strength, why not, right? — since he was already at it, by placing a hand on his forehead. This apparently leads to DNA modification and elevation above the laws of physics, why not, right? — since the writer was already at it, because this kid’s kid is born with the ability to fly.
No wonder then that Srishti never approved of the nickname. The same way Laxman rejected being called Lucky. In hindsight, he should have accepted that, because she ended up calling him Laxu and there’s nothing he could do about it.
Srish and Laxu, while pretty stupid apart, were SriLax together.
They sit, but the waiter gives them a zingy look. Laxman can see that he is about to throw up some words. And before Laxman can warn him, the waiter’s physical container is unable to restrain his enthusiasm. Despite all the training.
‘Kids are god’s gift,’ he gyaans them, in a whisper so that the table next to theirs does not hear him. Also, he might have implied a capital g in god, but there’s no way to know that for sure.
‘Well said, brother,’ Laxman says, trying to diffuse the situation.
‘Let me note down that wisdom,’ Srishti says and actually writes it down on her Google Note. ‘Does this accurately capture your profound thought?’ she shows him her phone.
The waiter continues to frown and is unsure of his options.
‘Did you prepare this at home or was it spontaneous?’ she continues the relentless onslaught. ‘I am really curious.’
The waiter’s disbelief at her aggression coupled with the inability to say anything back given his situation lands him in a momentary stupor.
‘Ok then,’ she says. ‘That nugget of wisdom was the perfect appetizer. You’ve really made me hungry for more,’ Srishti says. ‘Please get the menu now.’
The waiter leaves shaking his head. There’s definitely going to be spit, if not worse, in their breakfast.
‘Calm down,’ Laxman says, holding her hand. ‘It’s not his fault.’
She glares at him in visible anger. He immediately regrets his poor choice of words.
She takes out her book and reads in silence. He looks around for a bit, counts his breathing to calm himself and to push away the dancing Xanax out of his mind, calling to him seductively to the bottom of the pacific.
The menu comes and they place their order. Her’s is specific, as always. She already knew what she wanted. Laxman takes his time. In the end, he copies her order and changes it just a bit to make it seem like he knows what he’s doing.
All this while, he tries to avoid looking at the kid but, perhaps because of that, it is all that he can focus on now.
He opens the book and tries to read, but is not able to make any sense of the sentence he is reading. It doesn’t help that he’s on page 329 of One Hundred Years of Solitude.
He channels all his in inner strength to get through the sentence and forget the reality that he is actually in. He doubles down…
With his mind adequately blown, he comes back to the real world where the kid is nowhere to be seen. The parents are lost on their mobile phones with a look of disgust on their faces. Did they fight? Laxman thinks. Did he miss the fight? Or were they fighting on text messages right now to not make a scene? The furious typing from both of them seems to back the theory, but he’ll never know.
‘I am going to step out for a smoke,’ he says.
Srishti nods without looking up from her book. She’s still calming herself down. Laxman knows. He is familiar with her process.
Outside, he sees the kid running around with his toy truck which now flies, apparently.
‘Get out of the way, uncle,’ he yells.
Laxman finds himself obeying, or was it indulging?, the kids command.
‘You got saved by this much, uncle,’ he says, eyes wide with the excitement of relief and thumb and index finger very close to each other to underscore the narrow escape.
‘Really? Thank you for saving my life,’ Laxman says.
‘Don’t thank me. Just be more careful in the future,’ the kid says. Laxman wonders if he’s mature beyond his years or repeating an adult’s warning made to him, complete with the gravitas. ‘You don’t want to be hit by a flying truck, ok? Trust me, uncle. Trust me.’
‘Ok, what would have happened if I was hit by it?’
‘Worst way to die, uncle.’
‘No one gives a flying fuck if you are hit by a flying truck,’ he says.
Laxman blurts out a laughter, unwittingly. He knows he should not encourage the kid for cussing, but he was completely caught off guard.
‘That does sound like a lonely way to die. Who told you that?’
It was as if uttering those words rung something in his head. His eyes immediately widened. ‘Ok, bye uncle.’ He hugged his leg briefly, and what seemed like professionally, before running back inside.
Laxman walked over to the paan shop and bought a cigarette and lit it.
‘It’s not right what you wife said in there.’
Laxman hadn’t seen the waiter smoking there. He was probably trying to shake the incident off to calm himself. Laxman found himself hoping that he had at least passed their order on to the kitchen.
‘Ok,’ Laxman said. The only response he could think of.
‘What do people like you know about kids, huh? Sitting in your high horses and judging other people and their kids.’
‘No judgement, man. Ok? And I apologize on her behalf.’
‘Yeah, you can say what you want. I saw what I saw.’
Laxman ignored the man. Trying to still his mind and smoke his cigarette in peace.
‘You are disgusting.’
So now, this was a classic overreaction. Laxman was certain that the waiter had completely lost the plot on the original point. He was angry because Srishti had hurt his ego. Or worse still, his male ego. And there’s no outlet for that. In or after an argument with a man, you have options. Get in a shouting match, for example, or asking to step out and settle the argument man to man, as they say. If things calm down, you shake hands or even hug and move on.
But how does a man do any of that with a woman? There are no clear pathways to dealing with it. Yet. The options exercised by some, in absence of a healthy outlet, are criminal in nature. Fortunately, this waiter was not into crime. Or so Laxman hoped. At least that’s one way to explain how he’s struggling to move on from the argument in his own way. He doesn’t have a revenge plan in his head — because if he did he would have probably calmed down.
Does that mean we should be scared of the calm people around? Laxman thinks. Are the anxious ones actually so because they are thinking too much and trying to find ways to be OK with a world moving and changing faster than they can keep pace with?
The thought makes him feel a little empathy, even kindness perhaps, towards the waiter.
‘Look man,’ he says, trying to copy Obama’s voice and mannerisms so that he’s taken seriously, ‘it’s got nothing to do with you, OK? It’s deeply personal for us, so please don’t take it the wrong way.’
‘Just tell me one thing then,’ the waiter pauses as he exhales his smoke. ‘Do you guys hate kids? Or do you judge people who have kids? Be honest.’
Laxman’s head did a somersault. The shot had been fired and it was at point blank range. No way to dodge anymore. He closed his eyes to gather himself. Flashes. Memories. Things flying out uncontrollably from the exhumed chest of the past.
He opened his eyes. ‘Not at all, man. Quite the opposite.’
The waiter handed him a tissue, his training and instinct finally kicking in.
Order restored. Temporarily though. Before another chaos began.