WHEN VARUN SEES Sweety in the elevator, nearly twenty
days after their last conversation, he feels a strong desire to
take her in his arms and kiss the pink crescent of her
mouth. The force of the desire surprises him; he recognizes
in it something primeval, something that lies at the heart of
human creation. They are alone in the narrow space and he
can reach out and touch her face, the face that smiles at him
with what seems like genuine joy. Instead, he puts out a
hand tentatively, a little awkward, but when the hand is
accepted and he feels the soft pressure of her fingers, the
handshake grows more confident.
'Thanks. It's good to be back. You know, I actually missed
'And Trafalgar Towers missed you.'
'Umm . . . So, how have you been?'
'Ah, well, you know, the usual routine.'
As their brief journey together comes to an end, Varun
panics. He will be sucked into his work, she will be consumed
by other demands. She will be lost to him again and he will
continue to struggle with the uncertainty that has become a
part of his life.
'Busy today?' he asks.
'Not really. My husband is away. The girls are in school.
So I am back to my routine. I am going to pick up some
vegetables and should be free after that till Sanya-Manya
For a moment, Varun Sarin is utterly happy. In the same
moment, Sweety realizes that she has extended an invitation.
For Sweety, this is when something changes between them.
Varun Sarin is no longer a kind, inoffensive neighbour but
a man she wants to invite into her life. She does not know
what the invitation entails but the feeling she has is akin to
the thrill of standing on the edge of a forest, looking at the
dense cluster of mysterious trees ahead. She senses danger
but instead of flinching from it, she thrills to it; there is an
inexorable desire to forge ahead.
At the Safal vegetable shop, Sweety sorts through a pile
of potatoes, absently tests the tomatoes for firmness and
snaps the edges off thin green fingers of okra. She cannot
concentrate and is glad that she can get through the chore
without much exertion.
Varun Sarin smiles through a meeting with his team. He
is indulgent with a subordinate who has missed a deadline,
not as sharp as usual with Varsha, who has not yet made a
flight booking for a business trip, and very efficient in
signing the papers put before him. He calls Sweety just
Through the crackling air space, they find an opening. A
simple telephonic conversation becomes suffused with
magic. Their voices conjure up a new world in which there
are only two inhabitants. This secret world gives them a
liberty they cannot take in public, a license to whisper
words that Varun has only thought about and Sweety
never dreamt that she would want to hear.
'I missed you. I waited for you to get back,' he says.
'I don't really know you but I feel so comfortable talking to
you. That day, in the park, I told you things I had never
shared with anyone. I hope it wasn't uncomfortable for you.'
'No. It wasn't. I feel comfortable with you too.'
'I just want you to know that I don't want anything from
you. I mean . . . I know you have responsibilities, other
people to take care of. I don't want to impose on your time
'It's okay. We are just talking, na?'
Even as he says this, Varun knows that he wants more
than 'just talking'. Some days he is aroused just by her voice
in his ear. Sweety knows that they are not 'just talking', that
this is the beginning of a courtship that cannot have a
They keep telling themselves that they do not intend to
deceive. But concealment is a given in what they have
begun to share. Nobody knows about their conversations.
And they are careful not to let these interchanges impinge
on their other lives. They maintain a silence on the nature
of their marriages. Both are aware that the real topography
of a marriage is known only to the two people who traverse
its rocky terrain and sometimes they themselves are
confronted with unknown, unexpected twists and turns.
Varun is careful not to probe too deeply the small details -
how often do they make love, who initiates it, do they fight
about money, who says sorry first. Sweety unwittingly
discloses some of this in the course of their conversations
and this is how Varun interprets the nature of her
relationship with her husband. He satisfies himself with
the assumption that she is not very happy, she is not loved
in the way she deserves to be, but she is a loyal, dutiful wife.
He is aware that he has given the impression that his
relationship with his wife is distant, that the ardour of the
early days of their marriage has cooled off. Sweety does not
question it further. They maintain an amicable but casual
façade if they see each other in public. They schedule their
conversations, forgive each other's lapses in answering or
returning calls and, despite the inherent restrictions of the
medium, build a connection that transcends the words and
sentences that ebb and flow through the lines.
Varun dreams of making love to Sweety. He imagines
himself touching her skin. He knows they will be wonderful
together. If and when they do make love, it will be more
than an act of physical intimacy. It's not the mere act of
possession that he desires but the chance to express himself
in the language of the body, to use the vocabulary of touch
'This isn't enough,' Varun says during one of their
'What more can there be?' asks Sweety. She can guess
what is on his mind, but she can't still openly acknowledge
that there could be anything more between them. She has
managed to console herself that they are not doing anything
wrong. So far.
'Can't we be together for just a while? So that I can see
who I am talking to? So that I can look at you properly?'
'No, no. That is not a good idea. If anybody sees us
outside, they . . . they won't understand.'
'I know. I know. What can we do?'
'I am going to Jaipur next weekend for a friend's wedding.
Just me. I am leaving the girls with my parents. Jaspreet . . .
Jessie, who lives in London, is getting married to this British
guy and they want a traditional Indian wedding in a palace.
I haven't seen her in a long time and it's not too far away.
There are three of us going from here, college friends. We
are planning to take a Volvo bus or a car.'
'How long will you be there?'
'Three days. We thought we'll have a good time, you
know, do some general masti, away from our family
It is at this moment that Varun decides to schedule an
offsite visit somewhere nearby for the top team at
TechKnowlEdge. He calls an impromptu meeting and tells
them they have been working too long and too hard and
need to go to a different place to think about how they can
take their company to the next level. Strategic thinking
happens best when you remove yourself from day-to-day
tactical work and retire to a scenic secluded spot. He can
think of no place better than Jaipur.
THE MONSOONS HAVE been kind this July in Jaipur. The
rains have driven down the temperatures without affecting
normal life. Peacocks call to each other in the gardens of
the Rambagh Palace Hotel. The trees glisten a newly minted
green and flowers droop gently. Through the huge glass
windows of the room in which the TechKnowlEdge team
is meeting, Varun looks out on a scene that resembles an
impressionist painting and tries to bring his mind back to