Even a good month after the wedding, Vivek still wakes up momentarily stupefied at the woman lying next to him. Six years of seeking a bride in the singles market with nary a response has rattled his mojo. Six long years, not because of lacking in appearance (he looks great in the photoshopped mug), but because of lacking in ‘husband material.’ I can’t tell you what this ‘husband material’ is - only women know - but men need it aplenty to get their attention. Finally, Vivek panics and throws in a big carrot, green card sponsorship for the future in-laws. Of course, that kind of brave sacrifice is bound to get him a pretty girl and he marries in style (and her parents happily retire.)
Given the history here, I am reluctant to separate him from his wife even for a few hours for the guys get-together tonight. But for Parag, the bull-nosed de facto president for these events, tonight is too special (read too costly) to leave out anyone. Vivek is the last to arrive wearing a stiff-collar white shirt, new black-rim spectacles, and the prominent belly bulging from scheduled feedings.
‘Hi guys! How are things going?’ Vivek greets.
‘Your glasses are cool.’
‘Aren’t they? It is a gift from my wi … er … wife.’ Vivek stammers on the last word.
‘Still having trouble with the marriage concept?’
‘Sometimes, I just can’t believe we celebrated our first month anniversary. Time just flies!’
Before I can congratulate him, Parag cuts straight to the point.
‘Vivek, listen, buddy. Tonight’s party is a bit different. We are having a guest, a woman. A dancer from a famous ladies bar in Bombay.’
‘What is a ladies bar?’
‘Bar with dancing ladies.‘
‘Oh, it is like a gentleman’s club?’
‘Yes, but it is called ladies bar over there. Don’t ever go asking for a gentleman’s club in Bombay, unless you prefer to watch dancing men.’
Her name, Parag says, is Laila. A lithesome beauty with long legs and sapphire eyes, she is more popular than Aishwarya Rai in Bombay after nine. So stirring is her dance that once a businessman gets up rapturous in joy and dumps the rupee equivalent of ten thousand dollars over her head. A generous gift, but with the high conversion rate, the heavy load of bundled notes give her a neck sprain. She is in the Bay Area now convalescing in her cousin’s house.
‘Here is the best part,’ Parag says. ‘I know her cousin. Got me in touch with her. She is ready to do a private dance just for us.’
‘Well, you should have sent an email. I thought we are going to Toy Story 3D.’ Vivek says.
‘If you don’t share your email with your wife, you would get the real memo. Can’t send mails about dancing girls to dabbu_luvs_pinky@gmail.’
‘All right. You go ahead. I’ll watch a movie all by myself.’
‘Are you chickening out?’ Parag accuses.
‘No, I’m not really interested in a dance.’
‘C’mon! You’re scared of your wife. And all just for a dance.’
‘Preposterous! All right, I will stick around . Let me just call my wi … wi … ‘
‘Wife?’ I gently suggest.
‘Whew, what a word! Let me just tell her about the dance.’
‘Hold it, right there!’ Parag gets up. ‘Do you know where your wife is?’
‘She is out shopping with the other girls.’
‘Ha! That’s what you think! Maybe she is in a club watching men dance.’
‘You never know! That is the whole concept of trust. It is a don’t ask, don’t tell policy.’
Vivek reluctantly consents and sits down sulking in the corner. Parag stands up waving his hands to make an announcement.
‘Men, one last thing before she comes here. Laila has some moral issues about dancing for married guys not accompanied by their wives. To make matters simple, I told her we are all bachelors.’
‘That is such a lie! Everyone in this room is married.’ speaks the man in the corner.
‘Vivek, please shut up. It is a mere formality. Now, everyone, please take off your wedding rings, I will collect them in this box.’
Parag drops off his ring with a clang into a tin box and passes it around. After I’m done, I pass it on to Vivek in the corner. I hear a sigh and a grunt.
‘What’s the matter?’ I ask.
‘Ha! It is kind of tight.’ Vivek laughs, grappling with the ring.
‘You are prosperous,’ Parag says. ‘Pinky is feeding you well.’
Another grunt. ‘Parag, it is not coming out.’
‘It better come out if you want to watch her dance.’
Another heave and desperate grunt but the ring doesn’t budge. Vivek cries in a panic-stricken voice: ‘I’m stuck! I’m STUCK!’
‘You are not stuck. The ring is stuck. Here, let me help.’ I pitch in and others join. But we can’t separate the ring from his flesh though we separate a big chunk of skin.
‘Ok, that is enough,’ Parag says, ‘sorry, Vivek. You gotta leave. Laila will be here any minute.’
‘No!’ Vivek lunges on his finger.
‘Hey, you will break it. Take it easy,’ I say.
‘Yeah, move out, go watch Toy Story 3D,’ says Parag, ushering him out.
Vivek leaves looking crushed, but not a moment too soon because Laila dances into the hall just a few minutes later like a gust of wind sweeping through rickety leaves.
I will not try to put into words the experience of watching a performer who knows her craft too well. I can only say the hours pass by like seconds and when I finally answer my phone that is ringing of the hook, she is long gone and we are just breaking out from the trance she put us under.
It is Vivek. ‘About time! I have been trying to reach you all night. Is she still there?’
‘Laila? No, she is gone.’
‘Oh no!’ pause, I can detect the disappointment.
‘Why are you asking?’
‘I got the ring out.’
‘Cool! How did you do it?’
I hear a grunt. ‘Please, I don't want to get into those details. It doesn’t matter anyway, she is gone.’
‘Hey, wait, all is not lost. Parag has some great news.’ I hand the phone over to Parag who is passing around the wedding rings from the box. He grabs the phone.
‘Vivek, buddy, I hear the ring is out. Don’t put it back on because Laila ... oh ... she is spectacular ... is back again tomorrow for an encore. Find an excuse to get out of the house, buddy, see you tomorrow same time.’
22 hours later …
As soon as she enters, Laila glides down the dance floor like a dream to where Vivek sits trembling in excitement.
'You were missing all the fun last night.’
‘I … I ... I ... I was otherwise busy.’
‘I hope you are enjoying tonight.’
‘Yes, hundred per cent. No, two hundred per cent.’
She reaches over and slowly withdraws his Marc Jacobs. Vivek blinks and grins.
‘I like your spectacles. Where did you get them?’
‘Oh, aren’t they cool? Those are my anniversary gift.’
She immediately stops dancing. Suffice to say, Vivek never got to see the performance. But, with the extra time on our hands, we finally watch Toy Story 3D. It is a great movie if you are in the right frame of mind. If you are not, it is agony.