| Illustration: Neha Jhunjhunwala
RECAP: Shruti has met one interesting man on the manhunt, Manish, but she wants to complete all 20 interviews before making any decisions. Meanwhile, Arjun Acharya, the owner of the coffee shop Marcellos, needs a stylist to dress his staff and has asked Shruti if she is interested in the assignment
If I wanted to go to the meat market, I would have preferred to come home with dinner. Instead, all I had was an empty stomach and a migraine. It was Monday night, just three days into the whole ordeal and I had already seen enough.
Manish had been the sole positive gleam in husband hunt so far. Four disasters had followed: Karan the boxing enthusiast with a nose broken in two places (I vetoed him), the terribly tongue-tied Ananda (rejected by all), Rajib who claimed to be 35 yet looked closer to 45 (my mother was unshakeable) and Sayantan who was so taken by Tanaya that I expected him to ask if she was available (Tanayas mortification made second thoughts impossible).
So I had both rejected and been rejected. And the next morning, we began all over again.
I hope this one goes better, sighed Pritha Mashi. My mother looked grim.
Once again, the task force had assembled at the teahouse near my place. We were waiting for Rohan Adhikari, from Delhi. My mom and aunt had found him through a matrimonial site. His family had left Calcutta years ago, and he was in town on work only for the day. According to his profile, he was a marketing manager who lived in his own place, and was interested in travel, exercise and cricket.
It all sounded refreshingly normal. And when he walked in, I warmed to him even more. He was somewhat stocky, but it seemed more like bulk from a few too many hours in the gym than fat. He was dressed in power blue shirt and grey trousers. Overall, not bad.
Rohan sat down, looking around the table a trifle cautiously — not surprising since it was one against four. My aunt took the lead, making introductions and easing into a few questions.
It was going quite well till Ginger, the pup with a hyperactivity disorder who belonged to the owner of the teahouse, emerged from wherever she was hiding. She ran straight to our table and on to my lap, Tanayas lap, my moms lap, and my aunts lap, in that order. Then she paused, sizing up the man in our midst, who was staring at the Golden Retriever with increasing alarm, before launching herself forward. Unfortunately, Rohan had in the meantime bolted from his seat, thus depriving Ginger of the soft landing place she had hoped for.
My mother gave a shout of alarm as Ginger fell to the floor in a heap, yelping more from surprise than pain. I ran to her and scooped her up as Rohan stood chalky faced and at a safe distance.
I looked from him to the ladies. Tanaya seemed to be covering a smile with her hand, and my mother was glowering powerfully. Being away from her precious Pomeranian back home was probably harder for her than leaving my father behind. Being petrified of dogs — no, puppies — was a failing I didnt think Rohan would be forgiven for.
I dispatched Ginger to the back room and when I got back to the table, Rohan was facing the firing squad.
You dont like dogs? my mother was asking.
He gave her a shaky smile. No, actually its not that. Its just that I recently got bitten. The injections are still going on, and…
My mother was unmoved, though the three of us nodded sympathetically.
And then he reached into his trouser pocket and pulled out a cigarette lighter, flicking it open distractedly.
This is a no-smoking restaurant, snapped Ma, though the cigarettes had yet to appear.
He looked down to see the lighter in his hands, almost as though he hadnt known it was there. Sorry, he mumbled, putting it hastily away.
A deep hush fell across the table. The one thing my mother abhorred more than a dog-hater was a smoker.
Luckily, he caught the mood. Actually, I have a flight to catch, and traffic was very bad when I was on my way here, he said, avoiding eye contact. I should probably be going. He was out of there in under 30 seconds.
Poor thing, said Pritha Mashi, as the door slammed shut.
Ma scoffed. Such bad habits! And to be afraid of such a tiny thing?
But he was good looking, and at the beginning he sounded okay, said Tanaya. What do you think, Shru?
I shook my head. He scares too easily.
So dog dislike is not acceptable?
I dont mind so much about the dog. He was bitten recently, after all. But I think he seemed scared even before he saw Ginger. Like the four of us were too much for him to handle.
Can you really blame him? asked Tanaya.
No, but as a test of character, it is pretty damning.
Pritha Mashi nodded. I agree. A weakling would never do for you.
Yet by the end of the night, Rohan seemed like an ideal catch, if only in comparison to Jeet Deb, 34, event manager.
We had decided that if anyone was more than 15 minutes late, we would leave. Jeet arrived with less than three minutes to spare, just as I had begun a silent prayer for a no-show. A tight black T-shirt stretched over Jeets bulging biceps and disappeared into denims that clung to a tiny waist, pinched in by a thick black belt. Tanaya shot me an appalled look.
My frand was supposed to join, but he got stuck up somewhere, said Jeet, by way of explanation.
That would make it even easier to keep it short, I thought. Since you are late, I said pointedly, we need to get down to business.
He quickly sat down, as though he was a student being admonished by the school headmistress.
Can you tell us a little about yourself? my mother asked.
Myself Jeet. Born-brought up in Calcutta. Family lives here only. I am an event manager.
We had already ordered tea, which arrived just in time to prevent me from responding. My mother filled a cup and placed it in front of our guest. Sorry for rushing, but we really do need to be somewhere after this.
Bless her. That was the most polite brush off I had ever heard.
He nodded, gelled spikes glued to his head like a rhinos horn.
What company do you work for? I asked.
I run my own business. We do many fashion shows.
That was strange, because I was in the fashion business and yet I hadnt heard of him.
But right now, I am trying to become actor.
I held my breath, waiting to see who would react first. It was my mother, slamming her teacup down with a clatter. So much for politeness.
After a few more halting questions mainly from Pritha Mashi, silence descended over the table. I seized the opportunity.
Thank you for coming, Jeet, I said, standing up and thrusting a hand toward him.
He looked a little confused, but I wasnt sure he appreciated just how rude I was being. We can chat later, okay? he said.
I shrugged as he took my hand in an enthusiastic shake before walking out, his swagger unscathed.
I sat down. I looked over at Pritha Mashi and Ma, half expecting to be berated for my bad manners. Except my aunt had her mouth covered and my mothers shoulders were shaking uncontrollably.
After five straight minutes of full-blown hysteria, we managed to compose ourselves enough to ask for the bill. The waiter brought me a black folder, which I opened to find that in place of a bill, it contained a handwritten note:
Better luck next time.
This ones on the house.
P.S. How does tomorrow morning sound for a meeting about my project?
I did a quick calculation and put down enough money to cover what we had ordered, and despite my every reservation, pulled a pencil out of my bag.
How about noon? I scrawled back.
If Arjun Acharya wanted to buy me tea, he could do it then.
I waited for the note to reach Arjun, who was sitting in his favourite chair inside the restaurant, via the waiter. He read it and turned to face me on the other side of the glass wall, raising two fingers to his forehead in a silent salute.
Should Shruti call the manhunt off? Tell firstname.lastname@example.org