Father, who was the world’s most dependent husband and for whom this had to be a bitter pill, must have been alerted earlier, for he decided to make a joke of it. He commented, “You certainly deserve a holiday from your children.” “And from your husband,” I thought, but did not say it.
I had another surprise when I discussed it with my friends the next day. Tapas said, “I have an idea. You know my dad works for the railways and is located in Delhi. He has sent me a ticket, for me to spend the whole month in Delhi. Why don’t you come with your mom and spend those ten days with me. It will be fun.”
A third surprise waited for me when mother and I arrived in Delhi. Bula’s father, a good-humored, white-haired guy, came to receive us and said, “Nonsense! Mother and son cannot stay in two different places. I have a big house and you will both stay with me and Bula.” To me, he added, “You can go and visit your friend as many times as you like. I will have my driver drop you there.”
But the biggest surprise was what he told me the next morning. “I have a cousin coming tomorrow to stay with me too. She has a young daughter. We are all old folk; we will amuse ourselves in our way. I am putting you in charge of the daughter. You have to take her to see all the places worth seeing – forts, parks and palaces. You two can use my second car.”
When the cousin came the following afternoon, Bula’s father royally announced the arrangement to all and sundry, and then ordered me to take Binny out promptly for tea and cakes at the bakery next door. Binny sounded like a nickname, but nobody volunteered any further information.
I was a college student and most young women looked attractive to me then. Binny had seemed pretty to me, but the moment we stepped on the street I realized that my initial impression was clearly an underestimate. Every pedestrian seemed to turn to look at her. At the bakery, when I ordered tea, the waiter gawked at her. So did the diners at the next table.
The first few days Binny was the quietest of persons and spoke little. She was punctiliously polite, however, and smiled occasionally. I gathered that she had grown up in Pakistan, mostly home-schooled, later moved to India with her parents after communal violence and studied in a convent, and now studied in a college. She was quick-witted, smart and sensible, not particularly interested in academics. As we visited tourist spots and sipped iced coffee in Connaught Circle, Binny slowly unfroze and started talking, laughing, speaking of friends and interests.
A couple of days later I told her that, as I was returning from a visit to my friend Tapas, I had seen from the bus a large hoarding, possibly some advertisement, that had a picture of a woman who greatly resembled her. She was curious, but I could not recall what the advertisement was about. We both went to take a look. We found not one but two large hoardings, both of a film about to be released.
The woman in the hoarding was apparently a new star whose name I had never heard. Binny seemed strangely excited. I said, “Doesn’t she look very much like you?” Binny looked at my face, held my hand and quietly said, “That is me.” For the movies, they had used her real name.
Mother and I returned home after ten days with cheerful memories. Father received us at the station and jested that he had “barely survived.”
Binny and I occasionally exchanged brief notes. Her notes were short and funny. They contained sardonic remarks about her co-stars and producers, and mostly directors.
Then I took a job and got busy. And she married a director, the one who directed her first film of which I had seen the hoarding in Delhi and who had attracted the most barbs in her notes.