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Tanya was confused. She gently scratched her head with her tiny finger nails, as she stared at the clothes in her closet. The blue frock seemed a little dull, but she had worn the yellow one last time she had gone out with her father. Those were her only two ‘nice’ dresses. Her single mother’s meager income meant that she didn’t exactly live like a princess. She put on the yellow one, but then changed into the blue frock. Deepika helped set her hair and put on a dark blue hair band. Tanya was happy to sport a ‘matching’ accessory.

Vikram’s hand trembled as he carefully decanted sunflower oil onto the pan. Early on in their relationship, Naina had once remarked that she would love it if her boyfriend were to cook her a meal. Having never set foot in the kitchen before, he had laughed it off. She had never mentioned it again. Now, armed with ‘How to cook Indian’, he scrupulously followed Sanjeev Kapoor’s instructions to make what he hoped would be Mutter Paneer. The pressure cooker’s third whistle meant that the gas had to be turned down. He had to wait for some time before he could open the cooker and fry the dal. He checked the dining table in the meantime. The candles had been placed; the flowers had been replaced with her favourite lilies. He took out the ring from his pocket and looked at it for the thousandth time. He hoped that she would like it.

Mrs. Kamath was really upset. Supriya, from the reception desk of IITian’s PACE had informed her that Lalit’s grades had fallen by one percentile and that he had bunked 3 classes in the last two months. “I know there is something going on between him and that girl. He is an idiot! He doesn’t realize that this is not the time for all this. We should have never spent so much money on his coaching classes. Let him come home today. I am going to take away his mobile phone. And anyway, they pack a hundred students in a tiny classroom; how are they ever going to give him personal attention? Are you even listening to what I am saying?” Mr. Kamath continued to read the newspaper.

Lalit scampered to catch the running bus from the Cinemax bus stop. He waited for his panting to cease before sitting next to Naina. She didn’t notice him. She was too excited about the surprise that Vikram had told he had in store for her. ‘Perhaps he is sporting a new beard. Oh I would love to see him in a moustache! Or no, maybe he has finally cleaned his apartment after all my nagging!’ The bus screeched to a halt. A couple of people alighted. About twenty rushed in. Among them was Nilesh; holding a Barbie over his head, not allowing it to touch any of the other sweaty passengers. The bus moved at a snail’s pace as it plotted its way through the crowded streets and the ubiquitous hawkers and their carts. The bus conductor maneuvered through the crowd to sell tickets, emerging from between the people standing between one pair of seats to the next. There was a beeping sound. Someone said the word bomb. It blasted before there was enough time for the shock to sink in.

Tanya had changed back into the yellow dress and had redone her hair. Despite Deepika’s repeated attempts, she refused to eat the khichdi. Papa had promised to take her to McDonalds. Vikram sat on the dining table. The Mutter Paneer smelled delicious; the dal had been fried. The rotis would be baked when she got here. He rehearsed his lines for the umpteenth time. He knew she would say yes. Mrs. Kamath was getting a little nervous now. She didn’t know if she was angry with her son or worried for him. She couldn’t reach his mobile.

PS: Written about 6 months back. Almost everyone who read this said that it could have been more vivid, but I’ve kept it unchanged so far. What do you think?

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