I went on my first date when I was sixteen. He was ‘older’. I think, twenty. And we met at a pub where I was dancing, in true 90s style, with another girl. He knew her, thought I was ‘cute’ and asked for that sustenance of every prowling boy-an ‘intro’.
It’s not like he wasn’t cute. Whatever I could see of him in the strobe lights seemed A-OK and 90s-approved. You know, earring in one ear, baseball cap pulled down low, even though it was pitch dark in the disco and around 8 pm at night, loose jeans and some shiny-looking chain thing hanging from his pocket. Plus, I was so thrilled that someone even noticed me for my looks. Even better, wanted me just for them, that honestly I would have stood on the road and washed down passing cars with my t-shirt if he had asked.
He had a strange name. It’s one thing to be an “xyz-walla” in India. It’s totally another to be an “xyzs-wallah.” Let’s take umbrellas for instance. So, umbrella-walla sounds vaguely familiar and grammatically sound. Umbrellas-walla on the other hand sounds completely patronizing and as if you think everyone around you is an idiot. I mean, if you’re selling umbrellas, isn’t it understood that you have many of them? If you feel the need to spell out the fact that you have more than one, you’re just being a self-important shit with a massive superiority complex.
The first date I went out on, was with a guy who was a plural-walla.
The worst part is, it gets more convoluted when it’s in Hindi. Because that adds two whole syllables. So, technically, Batliwalla, would become Batliyanwalla. And then you’re just dating someone with a ridiculous name. So, when you’re sixteen and you’re dying to tell everyone about this cute boy who asked you out, and the conversation moves from where-did-he-take-you-did-he-have-a-hot-bike-is-he-rich-does-he-kiss-nicely to “what’s his name?” you just clear your throat and mumble…er…Gopal. Because really, you’d rather be dating a Gopal than a guy whose name could wrap around your waist three times and have extra left over to tie your keys with.
So Let’s-Call-Him-Gopal took my number-landline in those sepia-tinted days and departed with a chit of paper with my digits on it and strict instructions to use The Code when he called so I’d know it was him and my mother didn’t pick up, screaming down the phone at the errant sabzi-walla/driver/telephone operator who always seemed to be calling our home. The Code was simple. Two missed calls and then a proper call. So; trrrp (HANG UP), trrrp (HANG UP) and then tring, tring, tring till I picked up. Of course, there was also a warning to hang up if the voice sounded particularly threatening (mother) or particularly seductive (sister). How he was to figure that out, I never told him since we all sounded like versions of each other.
The Code worked, and we spoke, making a plan to watch the newly released Lion King together at Sterling Cinema in Bombay. He was to pick me up at a point close to the cinema, and I went dressed in the fashion of the time-black leather cap, shoulder-duster earrings, black Tantra T-shirt and blue jeans. He said I looked “cute”. I couldn’t be happier if he whipped out a ring right there and told me he could no longer live if he couldn’t look at me every day. So, we bid goodbye to the friend who had given us the “intro”, and had agreed to wait with me and do the handover. She was also supposed to invent a dead parent and whisk me away if he turned out to have orange teeth or something in the daylight. Fortunately Gopal’s only failing so far was his last name, and we carried on to take our appropriately chosen seats for Date Number One-not in the corner, and the most expensive available-The Dress Circle. Then, settled down to watch what is the most syrupy, sentimental version of a Bollywood movie Disney ever made.
Before we knew it, it was the interval and suddenly I was faced with Gopal. And his equally panicked face. It was time for that dreaded first date monster. CONVERSATION. And we had NOTHING to say to each other. Everyone knows that a girl NEVER eats on the first date so popcorn, ice-cream and soggy potato wafers were all non-options. In lieu of this, we had to at least ask each other what we did in order to fill the silence. There wasn’t much. I was in Junior College trying hard to be popular. Hence hoping this date would actually go somewhere. He worked in his father’s Walla business. And didn’t go to college because he had the whole Walla to inherit. This took two minutes. The remaining painful thirteen were spent watching the ads and the Coming Soon trailers lest each of us admit that we had absolutely nothing in common.
Except the 90s. And our raging hormones.