“Aaaare you lonesome tonight…?”, Elvis Presley crooned in the background; forlornly; as I sat with the remnants of my Café Latte for company at the Starbucks’ outlet in South Mumbai; looking out through the windows – equally forlornly – at the rain pelting down on the potholed road outside. The invigorating aroma of freshly brewed Coffee wafted across the well appointed room; carrying with it promise and positivity; in stark contrast to the gloom that prevailed outdoors on this quintessentially wet Mumbai monsoon evening. Broken conversations between the handful of patrons present competed with the sounds of eager, overworked fingers pounding away on weary laptop keyboards. There was a palpable bustle interspersed with brief periods of inactivity where most folks took the liberty to kick off their expensive Loafers or up-market Heels; in the unconscious attempt to detach themselves from the conscious rigors of yet another working day. I sat, mindlessly fiddling with my Smartphone and playing with a couple of desiccated coffee beans, waiting for the torrential downpour to marginally abate…and that’s when I saw her.
“Katjaaa”, one of the over enthusiastic attendants behind the resplendent counter called out in his booming Marathi twang. A petite, Blonde haired woman dressed in a Tee Shirt and Jeans strode purposefully from the other end of the room to collect her order, the most enchanting smile playing across her glossed-up lips. I can’t remember what she had ordered as I was taken in by two things; her smile and her Tee Shirt that aptly stated “Trump is a Chump!”. She happened to see me out of the corner of her twinkling blue eyes and I instantly averted my gaze back to the blank screen of my Smartphone; curiously having forgotten my passcode all of a sudden. She thanked the attendant and walked up towards my table and politely asked me if she could join me as she waited for a friend of hers who was running late in this treacherous weather. I glanced up at her. The rain pounded on the pavement outdoors. My heart pounded against my chest indoors. I’m not quite sure what came over me in that instant but basic English words had mysteriously escaped from my vocabulary and into the swirling darkness outside. I racked my head for something witty to say and I came up with an absolute gem; straight from the depths of embarassment and idiocy. The gem in question was a hoarse “NO”. Yes, “no” is what I came up with. Good job, bud. Real smooth. Katja looked at me quizzically before almost embarking on a moonwalk back to her previous table. I realized my gaffe and quickly stood up; apologizing profusely, introducing myself and asking her to join me; eventually. Better late than never.
Katja Dubois from Amsterdam, Netherlands sat opposite me; trying to size up this seemingly nervous Indian bloke who wouldn’t stop touching his hair (I tend to do that a fair bit when I get conscious). “Your hair is fine!”, she declared with a disarming laugh; clearly bemused but also radiating an inexplicable warmth. That put me at ease. And, over the next hour we proceeded to strike up an engaging conversation about seemingly anything and everything under the sun. An Art Student, Katja was travelling across India; a country towards which she exuded a tremendous affection. Her knowledge about Indian culture, traditions, religions, history and mythology was truly astounding. I kept up with the conversation with the help of my trusted aide, Google Search, from time to time (I had miraculously recollected my passcode by then, so…). Geopolitics, international trade and finance were discussed with equal gusto. And, then came the clincher. “Tumhe Hindi aati hai?”, she asked me in her slightly accented version of my country’s national language. I had just recovered from her discourse on the current state of the European economy, having equally impressed her with my take on the same. Pleasantly surprised, I quizzed her on how she had managed to learn Hindi. As it turned out, Katja happened to be a major Bollywood buff and had taught herself the language watching many a film over the years! “Kya baat hai!”, I declared in abject and unconcealed admiration. My admiration was toned down a notch or two once she revealed her favourite “Actor” was Salman “Being Human” Khan. She stood up for “Bhai” like only his fans do and I was left shaking my head in bemusement. Realizing this wasn’t a battle I would win overnight, we exchanged numbers and the promise of keeping in touch moving forward. There was an incredible vibe about her and the fact that we had managed to strike it off so soon must have surprised the both of us.
“Your friend is really late!”, I remarked eventually after there seemed to be no sign of the seemingly impunctual gentleman. “I wasn’t actually waiting for anyone!”, she said most nonchalantly and gave me the wickedest wink I’d ever seen. My eyes widened in surprise as I broke into a “you got me!” laugh. I realized the rain had stopped quite a while earlier; the silence outside defeated by our incessant chatter over yet another steaming cup of coffee. I got up to beg my leave as I also needed to pick up some kanda and lauki on the way back home for my Mom. “Aaaare you lonesome tonight…?” picked up in the backdrop once again (These guys need to refresh their playlist. Just saying). We exchanged a couple of engaging looks as I hastily picked up my weathered laptop bag before giving Katja a warm hug. I could smell the perfume on her porcelain skin as stray strands of her hair glistened magically under the overhead lights. We broke away and I made my way to the exit, my mind a veritable whirlpool of muddled thoughts. “Kabhi alvida na kehna!”, I heard a cheery voice ring out from behind.
I looked back one last time at her before breaking into the widest smile and walking into the night; tripping over a pothole barely illuminated by the flickering streetlamp.