“Stones in the Road”

On my fourth day in Mumbai, I traveled to Bandra in an auto rickshaw. This was the day I was looking forward to most. I told my driver Rakesh that I wanted to see where the stars lived.

Rakesh told me he knew all the stars’s bungalows, flats, mansions, apartment complexes. “All their locations, sir. Akshaye Khanna’s secret apartment, 500 rupees; Rani Mukherjee I can do for 700; and if you want Badshaah, King Khan, I can do that for 2000 only, sir.”

Rakesh didn’t know I had my sights set on a much smaller star.  One that I looked towards in my lonely night sky and one I had become increasingly obsessed with.  “And Rakesh, tell me, do you know who Disha Patani is?” I said.

Disha Patani? Of course, sir. In MS Dhoni film, very sexy, very cute. Her flat you want to see, is it?” he said.

“Yes, yes, Disha’s flat, Rakesh. Can you take me there?”

“That I can do for 300 rupees sir.”

We trundled around several bends passing scooters and small cars.  The heat was stifling and I lost myself in my thoughts despite the noises of India—cars honking, engines roaring, people chirping at one another.  My heart was palpitating. I’m coming madam. Finally, Rakesh stopped in front of a nondescript three-story apartment building. “This is it, sir” he said.

 “Thank you Rakesh” I said and he rode off.

So. I was here, finally.  This was it. There was no doorbell to ring or no way to know which apartment was hers.  But, I had come this far for one reason and one reason only.

Disha! Disha! Oh, Disha! Disha madam! I am your number one fan!”

Disha!”

“Oh, Disha!”

“Number one fan! Aao na Disha!  Aao! Oh, come on Disha!”

 I kept at it for a few minutes before giving up.  What was I thinking? She was probably off filming.  She probably wasn’t home, if this even was her home.  Who knows if Rakesh had even sent me to the right place?  It was probably a joke he played on foolish travellers; a classic India scam—like selling fake cashmere or advertising tap water as Holy Ganges nectar.  Rakesh was probably gathered with his other auto rickshaw buddies now laughing it up with the extra 300 rupees. Drinks on me tonight, yaar!

I sat down on the curb, dejected.  What a loser. All the way to Bandra to hope to see a movie star.  And for what? What was the dream? She’d see me and fall in love too? Yeah right, buddy. Her boyfriend is freaking Tiger Shroff. Look at his muscles. Look at his dance moves. The guy is probably hung like a horse too. He’s probably nailing her right now. Sigh. I picked up a dusty stone from the road and juggled it from hand to hand absentmindedly when a woman appeared in a second-story balcony.  She was pretty, with flowing hair, and coruscating eyes. It was her. It was her, there was no doubt about it. She looked at me, she knew I was the one who had been shouting. She was miming something with her hands.

“Autograph? Picture?” she said.

 I stared back, dumbfounded.

 “One minute” she said, then she retreated into her apartment.

 I stood up and wiped the dirt from my bottom.  She came out smiling, gorgeous. She walked toward me.

 “Autograph? Picture?” she said again.

 “Not necessary madam. I just wanted to see you” I said.

 “Well, now you have seen me, okay?” she said.

 “Okay”

 “Now everything is okay?”

 “Everything is fine”

 “No more yelling, okay?”

 “Everything is fine”

  She was halfway back home before she turned around.  “Aare rao mat! Don’t cry!” she said.

  “S-S-S-Sorry, so sorry madam. I love you so much” I squeaked through sobs.

  “It is okay. I love you too. Bye”

  “Goodbye madam, you are looking so sundar, so pretty, and I love you so much. Goodbye madam Disha.”

 She entered the gate to her complex.  I wiped away the last bits of moisture from my eyes.  I gathered myself. I was a grown man, not a child.

I looked at her apartment building, unwilling to submit to its indifference.  “Thank you madam!” I yelled. Then I went haring off down the road faster than a tracer bullet, my heart ready to burst.

Eventually I grew tired and stopped. I called an Uber.  I went to Hari’s Halal Shack near my hotel and had two lamb kathi rolls with mint chutney.  Then I sat at the bar and drank a shot of brandy and two 22-ounce Kingfisher Ultras. I was pleasantly tipsy. I went outside and looked at the sea. I felt that the world was a wondrous place full of possibility. I strolled along the coast for a while before I decided to call it a night. I returned to my hotel.  It was the greatest day of my life. Thank you Disha madam. And I hope you are well, wherever you are, and whatever you are doing. For I must admit, even now after some years, I do still think of you from time to time…

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Puneet Ambastha

We zipped along in our automobile. She looked out the left window, I out the right. It was a balmy summer evening in Newport Beach and the sun cast lengthening shadows on the palm trees that lined our drive. Neha was upset. I stole a glance at her. She had her eyes fixed out the window, lost in some trance, her mind somewhere else entirely.  The situation wasn’t as bad as it seemed, I told myself. It was worse..
 
Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows;
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?
That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

A writer born and raised in Southern California. In his free time he enjoys reading books and watching cricket.
Puneet Ambastha

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