You’re standing at the Vishwavidyalaya metro station on a Tuesday, awaiting the train’s arrival. It’s four thirty in the afternoon and you’ve been up and about since seven. You’re exhausted and irritable. The Beatles’ ‘All you need is love’ is playing in your mind, except it goes more like ‘All you need is sleep’ today.
Suddenly you find your head filled with images of Govinda and Sanjay Dutt wearing dungarees and dancing with Karishma Kapoor whose hair has been strategically tied into three ponytails. The music switches to “Sharmaana chhod daal, raaz dil ka khol daal, Aaju baaju mat dekh, i love you bol daal!”, followed by Anu Mallick’s unmistakable voice going “Nahi toh pachtaayegiiii…Kawaari reh jaayegiiii!”
You wish you hadn’t watched ‘Haseena Maan Jayegi’ on television over the weekend. You curse yourself, you curse the movie, you curse television. You know this is now going to be the background music to your hour long metro journey.
This is going to be one hell of a ride, you think.
And it is.
When the train draws into the station, you allow yourself to be swept in by your co passengers, holding on to your bag for dear life. Once inside, you look around. It’s almost rush hour. The train is practically bursting. You consider getting off and taking the next one, but that would probably be just as crowded, if not worse. So you decide to rough it up.
You make your way towards the seats and manage to find some space to stand, squishing yourself between two women, one of whom, as always, is listening to loud disco music on her useless earphones. You wonder what’s worse, the song in your head or the songs on her playlist. Tough choice.
You’ve been standing there for five minutes when you suddenly remember you had dumped P.G Wodehouse’s ‘Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen’ into your bag just before you left home in the morning.
Maybe you can get rid of this ‘mental’ music after all, pun intended.
You open your book, ready to engross yourself in the world of Bertie Wooster and the subtly enigmatic Jeeves, when the doors open at Kashmere Gate and the woman occupying the seat before you gets up. In the blink of an eye (do not try this at home), you close your book, make way for the de-boarding passenger to leave, subtly nudge your competition away, and grab the place.
It’s only when you’re settled that you realize you’re going to have to pay a price for your cunning.
You never did like the idea of Karma.
You’ve just opened your book and read a couple of lines when the smell reaches your nose.
Your eyes stop mid sentence, your voice stops mid curse.
You know what the smell is, you hope pretending you’re oblivious to it will make it go away, much like Ostriches think stuffing their head in the ground will make danger disappear.
But it won’t.
And it doesn’t.
While you sit there, cursing your luck, your neighbour continues to blissfully devour the apples in her tiffin, not minding the stench they’re giving out.
You have terrible self control, you have to look.
The fruits are cut in remarkably identical proportions. She’s got talent, you realize, and considering she can’t smell the disgusting odour, a cold too.
You lift your hand to your nose and smell your wrist, glad you decided to spray on some perfume this morning.
You can do this, you tell yourself, you’ve been in worse situations.
You’re confident, nauseated but confident.
It can’t possibly get worse, you tell yourself.
You couldn’t have been more naive.
You don’t realise when she sits down next to you. You notice the smell before you notice her. It’s the smell of overripe fruit mixed with garbage. Luckily you had lunch at twelve. If it had been any later, you probably wouldn’t have been able to keep it down.
She’s a plump woman, probably in her forties or fifties, dressed in a simple salwar kurta, wearing a shawl, her hair tied in a bun, prominent flakes of dandruff beautifying it.
You’re surprised. You never thought a person could give out such a horrible smell. You wonder where she’s coming from. Must have been a terrible place, you imagine. You feel a little sorry for her.
You lift your palm to your nose to seek refuge in your perfume, but the smell isn’t strong enough, it knows when it’s defeated.
It’s all right, you tell yourself, just read, distract yourself.
And you try to for a while, until you realise the smell is getting worse.
The train is at Malviya Nagar now, just fifteen minutes away from your station. You wonder if you should get off and take the next one, or just give up your seat and go stand in a less ‘fragrant’ part of the compartment, but you decide against it. You’re too tired to stand, and you won’t get seating space in another metro at this hour.
The stench is getting stronger by the minute. You wonder how that’s possible, but you’re too scared to investigate further, conscious that it may be rude to stare.
Then you hear it, the inescapable sound of chewing.
Mouth open, mouth close, noise.
The lady is carrying a tiny piece of paper torn off a newspaper in her hand. It was rolled into a ball when you first noticed her, but now it’s open, and a single flower rests on it.
A Gende ka phool.
It looks sad and dejected, and it stinks.
So that’s where the smell was coming from, you think, enlightened.
You’re just about to get back to your book when the lady’s hand approaches the flower. It wavers, then it scoops in, pulls out a single tiny petal and moves towards her face, towards her mouth, into her mouth. It then comes out of her mouth, empty.
Where did the petal go? You wonder.
Then it hits you.
The chewing sound.
Her head turns towards you, and even while you sit there, staring in disbelief, she opens her mouth, chews, closes it, and repeats the process.
You look away, pretending to read your book.
But your mind is elsewhere.
That’s your first thought.
Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding, P.K Dubey, and Gende ka phool.
Then your mind runs to your college friends, and their (and your) constant obsession with the movie.
You can still smell the flower, you can still hear the chewing, but now you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
You’re sitting there, holding your book in your hands, contradictory emotions and urges battling within you, when you suddenly see the second silver lining. The first was the Monsoon Wedding memory, the second is the disappearance of Haseena Maan Jaayegi Music.
But now you’ve remembered it.
And it begins again- the music, and the image of Sanjay Dutt, Govinda, and Karishma Kapoor, dancing as if they’ve been electrocuted.
And it accompanies you all the way home, exactly and approximately.