Love makes the whole world go round. Love makes you do the simplest of things in the craziest of ways. People had erected monuments, written ballads, invaded nations, given their life all for the sake of their love, so what would have Rishi lost if he just had to top up for 20 Rs? He had a lot more to gain, her trust, her care, her affection, and most of all- her love. And these were one of those little things that would go a long way in gaining her trust. She had a low balance in her mobile, and was busy in Diwali celebrations with her extended family- the parents, the uncles, the aunts, the Macho Brothers, the caring Sister-in-laws, the nagging kids, the whole cast and characters who probably belonged in any Ekta Kapoor teleserial. She was the apple of their eye, guarded in a cocoon so that lafange launde like Rishi cannot reach her. But this is the mobile age, our Nokias and Blackberrys have replaced the kabootar which so dutifully used to deliver love letters to couples in love. Bhagyashree even coaxed her pigeon to deliver her pehle pyaar ki pehli chitti to Salman Khan in Maine Pyar Kiya, but that was in the 80's. Now all you need to do is to just press the "Send" button from your mobile, and there goes your sms adorned with those emoticons just to add a bit more zing to an otherwise stale "I miss you/ I love you" sms.
She had just topped up her number two days back, but spent all her balance on calling up her friends to inform her that she had passed the semester exams that had happened much to her own surprise. And now, when there was a meager balance left in her mobile, and when mobile operators so ruthlessly charged for a single sms on Diwali, she hollered for Rishi's help, her little lamb, the Vodafone pug who followed her wherever she went, who thought the world of her. Rishi was happy to oblige, these were one of those little chores that would cement his place in her heart, of all her friends she had asked him to help her and Rishi was not going to squander that. "Bees ka chalega" she had said, but Rishi with a generosity to his tone said "Arre I will do it for fifty!" as if he were buying the Vodafone company for her as a Diwali present.
He checked his wallet, he poured down the contents of his wallet on the bed, lying on his bed were a couple of bus tickets, a movie ticket, a chewing gum wrapper, a photo of a semi-clad Salma Hayek with a revealing cleavage posing seductively, and some loose change amounting to eleven rupees. He went to check on his father who was busy over the phone calling up everyone on Diwali in the living room. He nonchalantly walked over to his father's bedroom, went through the pants neatly hanging inside the cupboard and found the wallet that he was looking for. He took a quick look sideways to see if his pesky brother was spying on him, and with quick dexterity flicked a crisp hundred rupee note from the wallet. "I'll pay him back when I start earning" he thought to himself. He felt a little bad for having to steal from his father's purse, but asking for money would only land him in trouble. Questions would be asked by his father, and the answers given by Rishi would be just like the ones he gives in university exams - vague, and unconvincing.
He left home hurriedly on the pretext that he was going to a friend’s place. He walked hurriedly towards the store near the street dodging the crackers that were being burst with a lot of enthusiasm by the kids in the neighborhood. Rishi had lost his fascination with lighting up crackers for a few years, it no more caught his interest as he moved on to spending Diwali by flipping channels searching for any new movies being played on the numerous television channels that are available these days. He was walking with a spring in his steps when the vigor in his footsteps was sucked out from his feet as he set his eyes on the portly figure walking down the streets. It was his buddy Vishal. If ever there was anyone who would suck out the “feel good” factor that was within him it was Vishal. With his cold, sarcastic jibes at Rishi over the years Vishal had become a master of pulling him back to earth whenever he was soaring up in the sky. And today of all days Rishi did not want him to toy with him. Rishi feigned surprise when he neared Vishal.
“Where do you think you are going?”.
“To the store” Rishi replied as he mentally measured his words.
“Now? I was just coming over to your place”
“No no I have this thing to do at the stores, I will meet you in the evening”.
“What’s the rush man? The stores won’t go nowhere if you are a little late, let’s go have a smoke”
“No no, I have to get back home soon” Rishi insisted.
“What are you buying from the store?” Vishal pried.
"What are you buying?"
"Uhhhhh..... bhindi and tamatar..." Rishi mumbled.
"On a Diwali you are going to buy vegetables from a grocery store? Tell me where you are really going."
"I am going to top up my number" Rishi said, but realized he was too late as he knew Vishal would now spring another trap at him.
"Had you said it in the first place, I would have believed you. But I can read between your lies. You are doing it for some girl aren't you?" he said with a sarcastic grin which over the years Rishi wanted to slap it out of his face but could not, not because Vishal was his friend, but because he was much stronger than Rishi was.
"Yeah I am. I give up. Now go ahead, make me believe how naive and vulnerable I am." Rishi said with a sigh.
"Who is the girl, is she the one who has filled your inbox with forwards on friendship and trust?"
Rishi nodded glumly.
"But the stores here are closed, you gotta go till the Town Square for that."
"Fine, it’s hardly half an hour away, I can be back in an hour if I go now."
"Love can make a man do the craziest of things, I will meet you in the evening, good luck!" Vishal said with a wink, and bid him goodbye.
The Town Square was the shopping center of this small hamlet where there were shops of many kinds. From footwear stores to a supermarket to a bakery, the Town Square was the pride of the junta who otherwise had nothing worth mentioning in their little village. Rumor mills began to grind rumors that a mall with a movie theatre was going to be built in the Town Square, the folks could hardly contain their excitement to know that they no longer had to travel till the big city to catch a glimpse of their favorite matinee idols in the big screen.
Rishi reached the Town Square and began searching for a mobile store frantically. Luckily there were stores opened although the place looked like a ghost town with people far and few between thronging the Square on a public holiday. He looked around to see a mobile store which had a hoarding of “Hello Mobile Stores” imprinted neatly on it, pictures of Deepika Padukone and MS Dhoni were on it speaking over their phone. The shop had a string of people waiting to get their numbers topped up so that they had enough balance in their mobiles to call and wish their near and dear ones on Diwali. Rishi barged between a middle aged man who was patiently waiting for his turn to get his mobile recharged. He then called the boy in charge.
“Top up for fifty”
“Give me the number”
“9841252717” Rishi said with a sense of pride that he did not have to check his mobile for her number. He may not remember his roll number in college, but this he could rattle of even after having been woken up from his sleep at the middle of the night.
He felt a gentle tap on his shoulder, he looked back to see the man he had barged through.
“What was the number you just said?” he asked.
“Why do you want to know?” Rishi asked.
“Could you please tell me?” the man insisted.
“It’s my sister’s number, do you know her!?” Rishi asked with a fake excitement to his tone hoping to get away soon from the store.
“I think I know her pretty well since I am her father, and I don’t remember her having a brother who looks like you” he said as he kept an arm around Rishi’s shoulder.