The first day of the year comes with its own hazards. It’s a day intent on infecting everyone it meets with the disease of optimism, often times leading to comical results and more rarely, wonderful ones.
Our story dates to the first day of the year 2009. It was a colder-than-usual winter’s day in Mumbai that had people calling each other to tell them how the city was freezing over. Poulomee Bhowmick, in the habit of looking for and interpreting signs & symbolism in the best of times, had decided to up the ante as the new year rolled around. She had pledged this time to create for herself a new year’s day that she hoped would be mirrored round the year through. She would start her day with a trip to the library, post which she would go enrich her bank account with a paltry sum hoping for the phenomenon to repeat itself through the rest of the year, and then would top off her morning with a tryst at the salon. Lunch would be at home with family, followed by a siesta, then a few brisk rounds on the promenade along the sea-face and finally dinner out with some close friends. It was to be a wholesome day, meant to represent wellness across the several dimensions Poulomee considered integral to good living.
The Town Hall, Asiatic Society library was designed like an ancient greco-roman building and looked every inch a seat of great knowledge. Poulomee purposefully strode in for her first appointment of the year looking every inch a little knowledge seeker in her Fabindia kurta and cerebral looking spectacles. She headed to the reading room, the nerve center of the building furnished with long Sheesham tables and lined with bookshelves stuffed with the most frequently read books. She headed straight to shelf G and picked out a copy of ‘A Suitable Boy’, the book she had diligently been re-reading every new year’s day for the last five years, in the hope of meeting that elusive creation, the suitable boy.
Sitting down at one of the tables, she happily opened the book to locate the part where the ill-fated Lata and Kabir meet each other in the Brahmpur book store. As she ruffled through the pages to find the right one, something fell out and floated into her lap. It turned out to be a passport size photograph of a man, who looked to be in his late 20s. She turned it around with idle curiosity at first and then experienced a thud in her brain as an idea filtered through: the delicious serendipity of the photograph of a boy falling out of a copy of ‘A Suitable Boy’. The boy in the photo did look suitable from all angles: he had a squarish face with a strong jawline, molten chocolate eyes and what Poulomee could only imagine would be a dreamy smile had he been smiling. He had an intense look on his face, brows furrowed and eyes boring into the camera. A man who didn’t give himself away easily yet once given was wont to feel passion like no other, deduced Poulomee’s not under-fed imagination. The fact that he read Vikram Seth didn’t hurt either. There was a date stamp on the picture which indicated that it was a recent one and that this gentleman was indeed in the same nubile phase of life as she was. A vague notion of the parallel-ness of Lata-Kabir meeting among books and she meeting the love of her life in the same surrounds also presented itself.
Now Poulomee was no fool and she knew there was little chance of this person turning out to be a person of any interest to her, no matter what the signs said. Prudence dictated the whole thing to be just plain coincidence and for nothing further to be read into it. But as she sat in that huge airy library, with the dappled January sunshine providing an optimistic ambience, the romance of it being the first day of the year adding a dimension of hope and the eternal advice of L. Caroll floating into her consciousness: encouraging belief in (at least) six impossible things before breakfast, a shiver of excitement ran down her spine and she decided to take a leap of faith.
The next step in the romance of Poulomee and said suitable boy was to find him. Easier said than done. She examined the photo closely, looking for any tools of identification and immediately found the name of the photo studio stamped across the back of it: Indi Studio. Buoyed, she exited the library with immediate effect. Upon reaching home, she switched on her laptop computer and entered ‘Indi Studio Mumbai’ into Google. She was reasonably relieved to see three such establishments presenting themselves for further inspection, a couple in Vile Parle and one in Andheri East. She was aware there might be more whose existence had not yet been documented digitally, but this was a good place to start. Under normal circumstances, she wouldn’t want to trudge across to suburban Mumbai for anything in the world, but if ever there existed abnormal circs, these were those. No sooner had she copied down the addresses of the studios, she was off to accost them.
It took her forty minutes to get to Vile Parle and another twenty to locate the tiny studio buried within its many lanes. She had been giving some thought to what she would do once at her destination and consequently was prepared. The first Indi Studio was one of the tiniest hole-in-the-wall shops she had seen in Mumbai, with a large red board announcing itself to be the ‘No 1 digital color lab & studio’. Poulomee had a good feeling about this one: anyone looking to provide a miniature of themselves in places of high stake like a foreign embassy, an employer’s offices or an institution of learning was likely to engage the services of an establishment that proclaimed itself to be Numero Uno in its field. She walked in confidently and said to the solitary person in the shop: ‘I have found a wallet with a lot of money in it, and need to find the person to whom it belongs. I only have a photo to identify him with, which seems to have been taken at your studio. Can you help me with his name?’ A good story and it produced the desired results, that is, the girl agreed to cooperate. But upon being shown the photo, she immediately pronounced it as not one from their excellent facilities as they never stamped their name behind their photographs. Not disheartened yet, Poulomee set forth to find the second Indi Studio. This one proved to be easier to find, but the ease of location turned out to be deceptive as the second shop told her that they used a different kind of paper for their photographs and that the one Poulomee had in her possession was made of an inferior quality. Poulomee began to feel the presence of a shadow of gloom over the sunny field of hope her heart had been doing cartwheels in, but she pulled herself up. Hope must remain alive till the time there was a third Indi studio.
Another twenty-five minutes of travel to Andheri East and then a further twenty minutes of fine combing through its Byzantine lanes, inviting the ire of her auto-rickshaw wallah, led to her arriving at the third and final point of her journey. As she paid off the bilious auto guy and turned around to the shop, she perceived it to be a larger one than the previous two but unfortunately not in a position to offer correlation of its largeness with its helpfulness as it turned out to be closed for business on that first day of the year.
As she stood there tired with her efforts and taxed with breathing in this foul suburban air, all the optimism that the day had seemed imbued with evaporated, leaving only an empty husk. The first thought to cross her mind was that this too was a sign, she was destined to spend all her days searching for an ever retreating vision of a perfect match, a mythical Mr Right. She caught herself spiraling inward into a black-hole of gloom, coz this frantic chase across Mumbai had crushed her with rather unusual strength, it had led her on to feel a crazy kind of hope & anticipation and then plunged her into an abyss where she experienced a never-before variety of despair & anger, anger directed at her very nature: of getting fooled by randomness. Standing there on the steps and squinting against the harsh mid-day sun, she suddenly stumbled upon a resolve that seemed opportune, almost necessary. She made up her mind right then and there to never again get embroiled into interpreting signs and romantic notions that wouldn’t withstand the dispassionate scrutiny of logic. She crumpled the culpable photograph of her erstwhile suitable suitor and threw it away. Having made her new year’s resolution, she once more descended into the clamor of Andheri, looking for a cab to transport her out of this kingdom of chaos.
She hailed one and got into it pronto, instructing the driver to speed away as fast as possible. The cabbie seemed a pliable sort and proceeded to do as much. He revved up noisily and the cab shot out of its resting place akin in intent but lacking in execution to a bullet. But despite its poor imitation of a bullet, it took jaywalking pedestrians around by surprise and Poulomee screamed in horror as one of them went down before her cab even as it screeched to a halt.
A crowd quickly gathered, excited with the potential for lynching the situation offered, however unfortunately for it, no grievous harm was done and the poor pedestrian was more shaken than anything else. It was a guy, as he turned around and Poulomee saw his face she almost screamed again. Reader, let it not be called by any other name than a new year’s day miracle for the person she un-crumpled from under the wheels of her cab was none other than the suitable boy.
Yes, the first day of the year comes with its own hazards. It’s a day intent on infecting everyone it meets with the disease of optimism, oftentimes leading to comical results and more rarely, wonderful ones.