Disclaimer: This story is based on true events, except that only names, places, and events have been changed.
I found Sherlock reading a tourist’s guide to India, written in Arabic. I didn’t know that he spoke or understood the script. He was submerged into the book, and his eyes appeared dreamy because of that, I thought. But then I saw the emptied cups of cappuccino on his uncleaned table, and realized he had been sinking into those. So apparently, his routine for the last half an hour had been gesturing the waiter from cleaning his table whenever he tried to, and asking for another shot of caffeine just the same, again with a gesture.
He seemed half pleased to see me. He hadn’t spoken a word to anyone in the cafe. He gestured to me to zip my mouth by running his thumb pressed on forefinger across his lips, while he finished his “work”. I glanced at the table next to me to find a Canadian girl reading a tourist’s guide in French. She had a highlighter in her hand unlike Sherlock (who, as I mentioned had a photographic memory), and her attention everywhere. I smiled at her as humbly as I could, and half expected to get a polite nod in return. I did get a smile back. I pointed to her if I could sit on the vacant chair opposite to her while speaking “May I?” in the most British accent I could imitate. She said “Of course” in a very Canadian sort of way as she slipped a photograph collage she had been looking at, between the leaves of the book. At first glance, it appeared to be a collage of her photographs taken with many brides. I didn’t care.
She wore a black woollen jacket, and her collars almost touched her ears, which made her look tender. She was pretty. Honestly, I was more interested in Sherlock, but since I was being ignored there, I had decided to mingle with this girl as a rebound date. Did I say date?
Her name was Maya. I told her that it was an Sanskrit name. She knew that, she said, and told me that she was one-fourth Indian. She spoke broken Hindi as well. Perfect!
<No passive-aggressive romance sequence here>
I am a thirty year old ex-Indian-army. I had been posted in Punjab regiment. We had fended off an unwelcome attack in Kargil while I had just joined the armed forces in 1999.
It had been the most scary, and the most beautiful year of my life. I was the on-field engineer. On-field engineers are engineers, but with combat training. Not many people realise that there are such people. So, we can set up a firewall for our satellite phone network on a Monday, and be loading shells or routing and anti-ballistic on the Tuesday. Literally. Imagine a hacker with access to all the missiles and artillery Indian Army could afford. And you’d be surprised at what all Indian Army could afford.
So, the year 1999 had been a good year in terms of “job satisfaction”. I served the Indian Army for another couple of years before my grandfather decided to leave the world. I had to go back to my village to settle all legal and ritualistic matters of it, and in the process I was stuck there for three months more than I had initially planned.
“So you never returned?” asked Maya.
“I did. But I didn’t find it rewarding enough.”
“Because there was no war?” she said half wide-eyed.
“I wouldn’t say that, but…”
“But that is the truth! Isn’t it? You miss the ad-hoc camps, the excitement of being subjected to and nuances of being involved in warfare?”
“No,” I said more firmly this time, “like I said, I didn’t find it rewarding. I…”, I slipped in my speech for a moment, “wasn’t paid enough.”
She shook her head in disbelief. “So what do you do now?”
“I’m a freelance programmer now.”
“Working from McLeodgunj?” she said smiling at the waiter who had just placed her second cup of coffee on the table. She begged me to excuse her as she discussed some nuances about cakes with the waiter, who also happened to be the baker of the cakes in the bakery owned by the same person.
“Working from everywhere. Wherever I can find an Internet connection, that is.” I replied after she had finished her chat with him.
“Is this rewarding enough?”
“I’ve been doing this for just three years now. It takes me at least five years to find out if I like a job.” I said rather sincerely.
She chuckled, “You’re funny!”
“Naturally.” I added with the slightest smile.
“I’ll be going for the Triund trek tomorrow morning. I’ll start at 5. You can find me at the commencement point, if you can get up early enough.” she smiled and got up, collecting her stuff, and fumbling for her wallet.
“Let me pay.” I said like we men are expected to do, which is not a very good practice.
“You can pay for my chai tomorrow! Take care!” she smiled, wider than any of the previous smiles as she stuffed her books in her rucksack and swung it over her dandy shoulders. She smelled good, I realized from the whiff which just reached me after having penetrated all the coffee vapours surrounding me. She left.
She expects me to show up tomorrow. She WANTS me to show up tomorrow. So I did look that harmless.
“Be careful of her.” Sherlock broke my daydream with his heavy voice. His eyes looked dreamier than before. He had downed three more coffees while I had narrated my story to Maya.
“She is a Canadian girl who reads French traveller’s guide, and is travelling alone. What could possibly be wrong with someone so Canadian!” I protested.
“Did you have a psychologist in your army camp thing?”
“We had a visiting one.”
“No full-time? Cost cutting?”
“Ours was a rather resourceful regiment, I’d say. We stood up for each other when need be.”
“If you had a psychologist sitting here, you would know.”, Sherlock closed his book and stared straight into my eyes as his pupils dilated. I knew he was about to burst into one of his one-breath-genius-explanation thing, and I held my breath for it. I think he spoke the following in one breath literally. And fast. And in British accent. Just like Benedict Cumberbatch. He twitched his head slightly and began- “The girl you’re still dreaming about making babies with is probably a wedding planner in Montreal, who had a breakup from a long relationship, and decided to withdraw all her money from the bank, sell her stuff, and travel to India. Her father is a very protective person who served in the Canadian Navy all his life. She hates coffee and yet chooses to drink them just because she thinks it makes her happy. She speaks to you just because she thinks it makes her happy. She might be right, but if you go to meet her tomorrow morning, she might end up marrying you in the next three months. So I will say it again, be careful of her. Or I would rather ask her to be careful of you.”
“Is it…” I stammered, “such a bad thing? Marrying me?“
“Well I for one would not marry you.” he winked and stood up, pocketing his book, “fancy a walk to the monastry?”
“I guess.” I followed him as he stormed outside without paying for his coffees and pointed at me for the payment. I reluctantly produced my credit card to the counter.
“Nice view, isn’t it?” said Sherlock peeping through his foldable binoculars.
“If you would let me watch it.” I said looking at his intent face and extended my right hand. His eyes were wide despite the bright backlight of afternoon sun, but his pupils made up for the brightness. We stood on the porch of the Dalai Llama Monastry, atop McLeodgunj. I could distinctly hear the silent-ish chants of the monks behind the red corridors where people took a parkrama of the monastry. A screeching cold wind fluttered Sherlock’s unbuttoned jacket and caused him to twitch with sudden cold. With some finality he took his eyes off the eyepiece and handed the binoculars to me.
I was dying with curiosity as to how he knew so much about Maya back there. He suppressed a smile and asked me “You’re about to ask me about it, aren’t you?”
“I was not! Shut up!” I said rather flabbergasted. This feeling of someone reading your mind almost makes one feel naked.
“Oh, you so were. It’s all over your face.”
“You know you’re bit too rude for an Englishman!”
“My pleasure.” he started walking away without a change in his expression.
“Alright, so go ahead and tell me” I replied.
He swung around back to me with a wide grin with “Gotcha” written all over it. And then just as quickly his expression got composed. “She’s from Montreal because of the bookstore stamp on her tourist guide book. It was possible that she got it when she reached at the airport, but the boarding pass which is still in her purse is from Vancouver. The sweater she wore; it was old enough, and handed over to her as a souvenir, so clearly it had no purpose for the original owner of the sweater; most probably someone retired. High chances of it being her father whom she made video calls to, which is why she came to the cafe– to make a call, not to have coffee. She yucked at the first sip of it, and yet she complimented the waiter and asked for another cup of it. She doesn’t actually like it, but is trying to get used to it. And just in case you didn’t notice her photograph with many brides, her deep knowledge about cakes and dresses, she has to be a wedding planner who quit her job, but still sort of misses it. She came to India alone suddenly quitting a job that she loved, so it has to be a personal distress. If she had lost a family member, she would be with her Dad for the support, so high chances of it bring a breakup. Let me know the exact story when you go on a date with her tomorrow.”
I was shocked at the simplicity of observations that led him to conclusions. I had merrily ignored half of those details as trivial. I sent him an appreciative glance and put on the binoculars.
The snow-capped Himalayas seemed to be surrounding the town, shining upon the colorful little town, almost protecting it. The snow below us had half-melted, and it looked like a looming windfall. People were bustling around the tiny walkways again at the foot of the hill we stood on. The town of Dharamshala was tinier, snow-free and showed more colors. The buses there looked like matchboxes bewitched to crawl. The houses there looked like textured lego blocks spread across randomly and we could almost feel the two sister towns humming about their usual pre-sunset hymn of order in randomness. Nice view, sherlock had said.
It was a nice view indeed.
To be continued…