There were things to be done, people to meet, bills to be paid and a retirement to earn. Deadlines made catcalls as Kanishk walked past them. But it was the weekend. And there was NetFlix, TwoHearts and an unattended Instagram account that sighed and wailed like a hungry toddler. It was his baby after all. And he had not fed it! Days of deliberation and nights of thinking later, he had given it a name…
“How about HumbleTinDrummer?” he had texted Tara on Friday morning.
“Okay! If that is what you like!” she had replied. There was a smiley at the end of the sentence. Did that mean she was not satisfied with that name?
“Come on, Tara! I want your opinion,” Kanishk had prodded her.
“Hmmm. Let us see. HumbleTinDrummer. How about something more Kafkaesque?” Tara suggested.
“Kafkaesque?” Kanishk’s heart skipped a beat.
“Come on, K! Kafka! Kafkaesque! Don’t disappoint me now!” Another smiley.
“I really don’t know what that means, Tara. Give me an example,” Kanishk exclaimed.
“I guess that is it, K,” and a smiley. On a different occasion, he would have asked her if that was the only emoji on her tray that worked, but this was not the time for it. Because she would send back the smiley in response. It was clear something was going downhill.
“Wait. What do you mean that’s it? Why?” he replied… that, and all his remaining messages remained unread for the rest of the day.
Kanishk opened the browser of his phone to find out who Kafka was and what so –esque about him was. “I wonder why we don’t build relationships like ma and papa anymore. Papa would not have let this Kafka guy in so easily. Damn, Kafka 1883? I have been historically dumped!” he announced to himself.
Tara had shone brightly when he had swiped right on TwoHearts. They had met only once, but those few hours with her had felt like a lifetime. Aloof, erudite and with an understated elegance that only age could bring, Tara, albeit a few years older to him, made all his past relationships seem immature. Here was a woman who made him aware of his shortcomings. He had to work to prove his worth to her. And TwoHearts, he thought, was the best thing to have happened to him.
After his previous relationships had gone awry, Kanishk decided to tread carefully with Tara. “I am in this for the long haul” he had told her, very earnestly. “You are a rare one, Tara.” He was seeing his friends burdened by the repeated emotional investment that modern dating involved. Every swipe brought in new excitement, but every swipe was also an emotional roller coaster which he no longer was keen on taking.
Twenty-four hours later, #HumbleTinDrummer was as single as a steering wheel.
The phone rang. Chaitanya.
“Dude! How about a road trip? You, me, Ram and Altaf!” Chaitanya was definitely eating.
“What happened to your diet? Looks like you are munching on something?” Kanishk asked him.
“Ya. Kombucha and quinoa crispies with feta cheese for lunch today” he replied.
Kanishk only understood the word cheese in that sentence. The good-looking Chaitanya was a health freak. So was his girlfriend. “Get your DSLR, okay?" Chaitanya reminded him, before disconnecting the call.
It was a long weekend. The past week had been hectic at work. And with Tara’s exit, he was feeling exhausted. All he wanted to do was pack his bags and head out on a solo trip. But an unplanned road trip with his gang did not look like a bad idea at all. He put some clothes together in an overnight bag, carefully packing his charger and running shoes with it. He ordered a quick brunch, programmed the washing machine and tended to the houseplants. Aloe Vera and bonsai and basil lined the balcony of the fourth-floor bachelor pad. 'Millennial Procrastinator’s Paradise', they called it.
Kanishk unlocked his phone and scored off his To-Do List. Pay internet bills, water plants, wash clothes. His adulting score went up and he got a virtual medal for it. This one app was the best part of the adulting lessons that the three of them had attended. Chaitanya had referred them for it. They had received an invitation containing a discount coupon via SMS. After half a Sunday at a renovated bungalow with poor lighting, they had come to the realisation that the workshop had nothing to do with dating and such. On top of it all, the success of the endeavour depended on how well they did things which they imagined only parents had to do.
Saturday afternoon. That part of the week that Kanishk looked forward to. He prepared some microwave popcorn, drew all the curtains, propped his foot on the coffee table and turned on his computer. How could he call it a Saturday if he had not binge-watched shows until his eyes bled? Six hours later, Kanishk was fast asleep with his headset on. Ram opened the door to their apartment and walked in.
One hour later, there were two people glued to their laptop on opposite sides of the coffee table. Altaf ambled in around 9 o’clock. One look and anyone could say all was not okay with him.
“Hey Alt F! What did you do to make the world a better place today?” Ram called out.
Altaf was silent. He dropped his bag down and sat on the couch.
“She left me on unread!” he said.
“Who? Chetana? That is two of you being left on unread in a week! It is not even a month since you met, right?” Ram was shocked.
Kanishk gave him a cold stare, but Ram did not bother.
“Okay, so did Kafka do something?“ Ram continued.
“This morning, she called up and told me it was our month-versary. I asked her what that meant. Never got an answer!” Altaf sounded angry.
“Join me, dude! Tara walked out on me because I didn’t know who is Kafka!” Chetana sounded like the antithesis of Tara.
“I wonder why they never taught this in our adulting workshop - this whole thing of what to say when,” Ram quipped. Although the most caring among the four, Ram had a unique ability to say the most inappropriate thing at the right time. On the flip side, it did give them some comic relief at unexpected moments. Like now.
“Okay, can we do something to fix this? Should one of us talk to her?” It was Kanishk this time.
“I don’t know, K. Let us come back from the road trip and think about it. I don’t want to act out of anger! Besides, I don’t think it is going to look good if one of you has to work out a compromise.” Altaf said.
Ram kept waking up all night in order to check on his friends.
Chaitanya arrived at 4.30 in the morning and the four of them headed towards the highway. When the sun was up a couple of hours later, Ram casually informed Chaitanya about what had happened over the past two days.
“Two of them? Are you serious?” Chaitanya was shocked. “I am sorry. Do you really want to go ahead with this trip?” he asked his friends.
“Just go ahead yaar. We can talk about it on the way! I think we will feel better that way,” Altaf replied.
“So what is happening with you? Wedding photography? DSLR and all? How is Shweta?” Kanishk asked him.
“Is ‘I don’t know’ a good answer?” Chaitanya sounded serious. “When I began this road trip, I thought I was the only one,” he continued.
“Whoa! What? When did THIS happen? Aren’t both of you health freaks? What can go wrong?” Ram was worried now.
“Two weeks back. We were texting each other, she said she will be back in a few minutes and she never did!”
“Did you call her? Is everything alright?” Kanishk asked him.
“Yes, I did. She did not pick up the phone. But she is active on TwoHearts again!”
The air felt heavy. Two weeks ago, Chaitanya had been so happy making plans for the future.
They stopped by a busy Dhaba for breakfast. As they waited for their food to be served, Ram’s phone rang. He excused himself and walked towards their car to take the call. He found two men leaning on the car with their back turned to him. They were talking to each other.
“So how many this week, Nikhil?” the tall one asked.
“Six in all, Dhruv. I disconnected one guy when the girl tried to talk about Kafka. They shouldn’t get serious, or we run out of business. The second one was very funny. I set up Chetana for a month. She cooked up a fight over something called a one month anniversary! The third one, I hacked in and asked the girl for money… and the usual inappropriate pictures to a couple of them did the job” Dhruv replied. The two shared a bag of wafers as they spoke.
“Good. Give Chetana a good bonus. And we are keeping a track of last week’s cases? How are they doing? “ Nikhil checked.
“All good. Nothing to worry about. Nobody has done anything to put us in danger. I track their social media handles.” Dhruv replied.
“So they will come back again right?” Nikhil double checked
“Of course! Target ads are ready! We are all set for the next month!” and the two did a hi-fi.
“Cool. Just call Monisha and check with her if she needs any help with the adulting workshop today” Nikhil instructed Dhruv.
Ram was completely shaken. He could hear his heart beat in his throat. Ram knew tracking was an understatement. This was a thorough breach of privacy. Red-faced in anger and sweating, he walked back in silence. He opened the To-do app. An ad for TwoHearts popped up.
Two weeks later, the scam came to light.