His lips moved. He heard his name. These events, he realized, were connected.
“Hemant,” she continued, “how are you?”
“First class, well-fantastic!” he said. “How’s yours?” »
She looked. He knew what she wanted. A progress report. They dreamed of a love marriage. But his father’s approval depended on Hemant launching a career – any career. And the time for him to do so was running out. Her father was looking at other suitors.
“I have news,” he said. “But first, let’s have a bite to eat.”
Shruti’s brow furrowed. A plate appeared without them having ordered. Their habit. He spooned a piece of tandoori roti, took a cube of paneer in the glistening sauce, blew on it, and held out his hand. She looked around her. The waiters looked away. She took a bite.
“It’s good today,” she said. “Straight from the tandoor.”
Their clandestine romance was the worst-kept secret in the entire Rohini market. He was 26 years old, looking like a movie star, the son of the Deputy Commissioner of Police. She was the intimidatingly beautiful, no-nonsense daughter of a top government engineer. In the street below, the golgappa wallah gaped, children teased and security guards offered sordid namastes. So they always met in this rickety two-story restaurant called Atithi, from the saying atithi devo bhava. “The guest is God.” The servers have taken its name to heart, offering ordinary people what only the wealthy get in Delhi: space.
Hemant chewed on a runny piece. He hadn’t planned to share the news until he knew more—for now, all he had to do was advertise in the paper: migrate to the United States. But Shruti kept her eyes on him, waiting for him to swallow.
“Okay, so yes: there is an update,” he said. “A good one. I mean, great. For us.”
“I found an ad for a job — in America! I don’t have all the details yet, but I’m going to a seminar right after lunch to find out more.
The shining waves framing Shruti’s face trembled. “America? I don’t understand. What about your welding job?”
“I’m not working there right now. But I found…
“I lost my job. I mean, I quit. The important thing is…”
“Hemant! Shruti buried her face in her hands.
“It’s part of a bigger plan. At the seminar, I will discover…
“We are run out of time!”
“I know I know! That’s why-”
She was already fleeing the restaurant. The wind is dead. Kites fell from the sky.
As Hemant rode his motorbike to the seminar in South Delhi, the entire market seemed delighted with the scene. The gol gappa wallah bawled. The children were screaming. A passing aunt took her phone out of her bag to tell her friends. The two guards with full moon heads were rubbing their bellies. Ladies and gentlemen, namaste-salam sat-sri-akal! Our hero, Hemant Master, the future of India, the king of comedy, is another flop! Truth: clean bowling!
They were right. Ever since he and Shruti had agreed to get married, everything he had done was a failure. When they first met, he was in grade 12, a statue of trust. Popular. Owned a motorcycle. Gave him rides. When beaten up cops interrupted their afternoon meet-and-greet sessions in the park to fish for a bribe, he baited them until they realized who he was: their boss’s son. Then they asked for forgiveness. Then Hemant would imitate their moans and howl with laughter. His invincibility held Shruti in thrall. And he adored her.