Fi(r)st impression

An excerpt from a book that I’ll probably never get myself to finish writing.

I first met Avinaash Mantra in an uber. That was one of the many times I would see him, I just didn’t know him. I probably would’ve been less intrigued. That was also one of the many professions that he had. His uber driver gig, not having me seeing him multiple times with altering levels of intrigue. I’m pretty sure that’s his hobby though.

You know it’s love at first sight when an uber driver finds you at your specified location without reaching the favourites section of your call log. Especially when your battery is jumping from ‘low’ to ‘you now have an expensive brick’. Especially when you’re standing outside hoping that the cops haven’t been called on you. Especially when it’s the coolest it can get in a Mumbai winter and you’re sweating like a beer can on a coaster-less table. Especially when you’re so angry that you’re shaking. Especially when your wrist is in enough pain to make you grimace but not enough to make a big boy cry. Especially when you get the metaphors but the narrator won’t stop explaining. Getting into a fight with yourself is as stupid as it is hilarious.

His clothes looked better groomed than mine. He had a smug expression imprinted on his face, as if trying to show that he’s better off than the 6-figure salaried corporate slaves that he drives around. The expression of I told you so but without the telling, the evil-soulless look, that some people also refer to as a half-smile. Maybe I’m exaggerating.

“Versova pata hai?” I asked him. He nodded. I’m pretty sure I heard a ‘Hm’. How dare he. That right is reserved strictly for the girlfriend. At least offer to buy dinner before you ‘Hm’ someone. It’s not like this is a H(m)ookup. We’re 5-minutes into ‘Naughty Nights with Nasar’ on the FM Radio, where this RJ gets calls from shy girls telling him what they’re wearing in a way it’s legal enough to be broadcasted on radio. Just as about ‘Saloni’ was to reveal what’s her favourite colour in the ‘night-time’, Avinaash breaks the link by asking me if I want a band-aid or two for my knuckles. “How dare you ask me to cover my tattoos”, I wanted to say but I said, ‘Yes, please” instead.

Maybe I was a little tipsy when she told me I was drinking too much again. Maybe, it’s maybelline. To be fair on her end, I was in a bar which said happy hours more often than it said bar. But to be fair on my end, I was in a bar which said happy hours more often than it said bar.
You call me a bad boyfriend, a narcissistic workaholic who only cares about himself, lazy, lost, overanalyzing entertainment junkie who Netflix and chills without the Netflix, or the chill. But when you accuse me of being a drunk in a bar while I’m drinking at a bar is where I draw the line.
The problem with maintaining a stand after knowing that you’re wrong is being able to maintain a straight face. Three times I felt like breaking character and saying “Aww, baby” and just wanted a hug. That wouldn’t have ended too well. Not that it ended well anyway. Unless you count a verbal dispute louder in decibel quality than the soothing tones of ‘DJ wale babu’. Or punching a mirror in the bar to reshuffle your knuckles while blasphemously cracking the mirror in a barely noticeable corner as you missed the glass and hit the frame. The hug couldn’t happen. Not because alcohol swells up your ego like you just got a promotion, but because she wasn’t in the city. And all egos deflate when the flight ticket costs 32k. It’s easier to maintain a straight face when you’re on a phone call.

What kind of name is Avinaash Mantra? I couldn’t pinpoint my racist judgement towards him because I couldn’t figure where he hailed from. So like every judgemental racist in their right minds I asked him, “Bambai se ho?”

If someone in Mumbai asks you if you stay in Mumbai, while clearly you’re not vacationing by driving cars, it is advisable that you frame an answer that does not involve the word Mumbai. And so he did, by saying, “Nasha mukti kendra se hu. Aapko prime membership offer karne aaya hu.”


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