How I embarrass myself where I don’t want to most

That is, in front of people I like.

And people I want to like me back.

More precisely, here, a guy who works in a cafe which makes the best coffee in town. And I love coffee.

First, something about me. If I have to describe myself in one word, it would be awkward. Not the cute awkward. No. But the uncomfortable bumpy ride in a car when you’re holding in your pee kind of awkward. I’m usually quiet but when I do say something, it is totally out of place and just plain random. Picture Luna Lovegood. That’s me when I speak. Only stick a weird smile to that face. Because for some reason I always find myself smiling when I speak to people no matter how inappropriate it is in the situation, and I can’t help it. Awkward right? Now you get the idea.

Today I walked into the cafe again. It was my third day visiting the cafe and the fifth day since the cafe had opened. I had coincidentally walked into it on its first day and had been taken in(head and soul) by the Siphon coffee they had. It’s hard to find cafes that actually brew coffee in India. So it was a rare gem.

‘You again!’ one of the chefs remarked. The cafe had an open kitchen where you could watch the chefs preparing your orders. Like in a bar. Albeit with healthier stuff. Mostly. If it’s not obvious yet, this is the chef. The one I want to look cool to(or at the least, not ruin myself with my terrific social skills). The cafe had an informal air about it where the owner roamed about chatting to customers, exchanging opinions and small talks. Somehow I had ended up talking to a number of chefs on my first visit owing to my fascination with coffee. Still I hadn’t counted on being remembered so to cover up my surprise I chimed, ‘Hey! That’s kinda rude!’ and sat down smiling. Fail! As if on cue, a thousand buzzers went off in my mind. In the world of Inside Out, my feelings panel would be ringing the ABORT siren with all its might. Why did I say that? He works here! If any customer calls him rude, isn’t that bad for him. Even though I had made it apparent that I was joking. What if had cost him his job? Did the owner hear that? And so my mind went on accusing me of more and more serious allegations I had no defense against until the waiter came to take my order. I hurriedly ordered my Siphon and opened my laptop, doing my best to type away my embarrassment through my assignment.

Maybe, it wasn’t so surprising that he remembered my face. The last time I came here was the second day the cafe had opened and he had recognized me from the previous day — ‘You came here yesterday, right? You were pretty interested in the coffee and all.’ ‘Yeah’, I said, feeling a bit flattered. And then jumped into another discussion about the various coffees they offered, before stopping when I had to word what I was saying in three different ways to get my point across(remember the awkward part?).

I was dying to move to the table adjacent to the kitchen so I could watch the chefs work a little(which was fascinating) between my assignment. But owing to my overthinking cranial nerves, decided it would be too weird to move now that I had settled myself on another table. I struggled with my food(I’m a messy eater) and relished my coffee, as slowly as I could, so that I could finish my assignment and stay in the cafe a bit longer. When I could stall no more, I shut my laptop, put it in my bag and made my way to the billing machine.

As I paid the bill, the owner came up to me and started inquiring about the consistency of the coffee(he too mentioning that it was the third time I had visited). We also talked a bit about the other outlets they had, why they had such a limited coffee menu and what he had in mind for the cafe next. Since I was fairly curious about it (a euphemism), I asked him where he sourced his coffee from, and came to know about a wonderful independent coffee roaster in Delhi. The owner generously gave me the roaster’s number when I told him how I always had trouble finding good beans. While we were chatting I casually said, ‘You know, the first time I came around to this place, I was both happy and a little jealous. It’s such a rare cafe, especially in India but then, I had always hoped to open something like this myself 5–6 years down the line and you beat me to it.’ Fail! Mental facepalm. Why? It was going so good! What are you? A 10 year old school girl confessing her secret hobby? You’re not supposed to say these things out loud! How is the other person supposed to react to this?!

I needed to escape. I quickly paid. Focusing on the bills rather than the person on the other side of the machine(which was the owner again). But as I turned to leave, I saw the chef kneeling beside a cabinet and sorting through the stuff in there. He happened to look up and seeing me leave, did a quick wave. That killed me. The disheveled look with the lopsided specs and the clumsy wave — killed me. And knowing in another parallel segment of my brain that can somehow predict the outcomes of all my impulsive decisions to be regret, to be felt even by the tiniest of my bones, I still bent down (and smiled) and said, ‘Can I get your name?’ Boom! went the brain, but I was too far gone to withdraw now. ‘What?’, he remarked. ‘Your name. I didn’t get it.’ ‘Oh. It’s ____.’ He said. Damn! ‘Thanks’, I smiled. And turned away. But somehow there seemed to be something missing. What is the use if he doesn’t know my name? I turned around again(as the rational cells in my pumped up brain screamed in protest) and said, to no one in particular, ‘I’m Tulika by the way.’ Silence. I didn’t dare look around. The entire cafe seemed to freeze. What had I done? How loud was I? If I could blush, my face would have been a steaming beetroot by then. My mental eye spotted the door and I made my way to it looking down all the way for fear I would catch someone’s eyes and melt to the ground in a sloppy mess.

Once out, I walked a few steps to the right and buried my face in my hands. I had done it. This shot up to the top of my embarrassing moments list. Infact I couldn’t even remember the runner ups anymore. I can never show my face in there again! And it wa-is my favorite cafe. He’ll think that I was hitting on him for sure! What if he was married? He didn’t look old enough. But since when have I been a good judge of age? What if a married guy thought I was hitting on him? Was I hitting on him? And so they went on. Fazing in and out between all these thoughts was the quiet knowledge that he had the same name as my ex crush.

A Little Day Out

Nariman Point, Mumbai

I looked at my watch for the umpteenth time. 10:50. I had to leave by 12:00. But the session seemed to be going on forever. So much for yoga day! Compulsory attendance is all but useless when half the people are dozing off when they’re supposed to feel all material weight and worries lifting away from their bodies. Or maybe sleep is another form of relaxation. Hard as it is to come by in a business school.

Still, I had something to look forward to: A meeting with an old friend. It had only been 2 weeks since I started college, but it felt like ages.

After the session(and the attendance sham) finally got done with, I packed my bag and left for our meeting point, sending a small heads up to her phone:

‘Getting on the metro. Be there in an hour.’

It’s disconcerting. We used to live together in the same room, not long ago, and now, had to travel an hour to just see each other.

I was the one to arrive first. A quick call later, I stationed myself in front of her arrival platform and started counting down the minutes, keeping time with the giant LED board screaming the details of the next train to arrive. As soon as the train came into view, my phone rang. I cut the call and started looking around. In the Mumbai train arrival rush, a call serves little purpose other than adding to the confusion. After a few minutes, I spotted her among the crowd of people gushing out of the train onto the platform. Inadvertently, the corners of my mouth stretched themselves to form a huge smile and my excitement gave itself away in impatient jumps and elaborate waves — at last, we get to meet.

 — — —

We didn’t talk about old memories or incidents. It hadn’t been that long for us. Instead we clicked new memories and joked about how our other friend will get jealous over them. We talked about things off the top of our heads. We argued over who would give up her precious mobile data to look up a good dine-in nearby. We walked around aimlessly in the drizzle, in a beautiful part of a wonderful city. We complained about getting half wet because the other person was too selfish while holding the umbrella, continuously switching hands to show the right way to accommodate two people under one umbrella. We found it needlessly funny when one of the umbrellas broke while being wrestled open in the sudden strong wind, taking time to understand the mechanics of umbrella opening everytime it started raining from then on. We were horribly tensed up when one of us forgot her cell phone in the cab, and then immensely relieved when the driver picked up one of our relentless calls and came back to return the phone to us, immediately breaking into praises and gratitude for the Mumbai cab drivers. And when it was too late to stay back, we started planning out the next time we would meet.

It was a good day. Nothing extraordinary, but still beautiful. Staying with strangers for the past few weeks and trying to find the right ones (which takes a lot of time for me) somehow made this special, made it feel like home. It was normal, effortless — the same as always. It was the difference between stepping around lightly looking for landmines and running straight ahead with your arms spread out; the difference between molding yourself into a crammed or foreign place and fitting into a predefined place, designed just for you, every nook and cranny formed with you in mind, with a click; the difference between being dumped into preconceived categories and being accepted.

And this difference in immeasurable. And maybe, just maybe, that’s what makes it so special.