The college canteen, usually abuzz with teenagers, looked a bit deserted today. Sure, the smell of fried samosas was still wafting from the kitchen. But Madhavi, the vivacious, rich girl wasn’t particularly happy. The boring lecturer wore that hideous tight pair of jeans and the jokes that he tried to pass off gave a license to the boys and girls to laugh out aloud. Madhavi’s quicksilver temper was another topic that always found a way to disgusting posts on the FB. But today the messages being circulated in the class rubbed salt into Madhavi’s wounds. Her flashy clothes never went down well with boys while the girls made bucketful of fun of her exaggerated mannerism that she thought was Page 3 material.
Madhavi’s shatterproof ego was not easy to puncture. But she couldn’t take this from Ritika in the canteen. Amit and Jayant kept circling around the girls and Ritika was busy lapping up their attention.
“Arrey, Ritika, FB is going crazy with comments on your exotic dress,” the flamboyant Amit ventured.
“I actually counted; 105 likes in a single day!” Jayant, the geek, prompted.
Ritika wore a false expression of boredom and just winked at the boys. “And what about Madhavi’s sartorial sense?!” She let out an impish laugh, staring at her.
Madhavi was livid but managed a wry smile “Oh yes, guys, Ritika is all set to go for the ‘Miss India’ contest!”, and stomped out of the canteen.
At her posh home in Alkapuri society her resentment grew. He mother Vaishali sensed the situation but decided not to jump in. Rohit’s sudden demise had left her shaken but she carried on gamely – for her daughter’s sake. Madhavi on the other hand probably missed the attention that her Dad lavished on her.
Madhavi shut herself in her bedroom and fell into her bed, sobbing softly. What was she doing wrong that her FB friends did not notice? With all the money that she had at her disposal it should be fairly simple, she thought. And Ritika? That skinny little dumb girl? Who does she think she is? Aishwarya Rai?
Dinnertime was somber. Vaishali was poised and ready to comfort her daughter at the slightest excuse but Madhavi ate her dinner quietly.
Night came early. But the soft music in her bedroom was just like sprinkling a handful of rose petals on a face that was burning with pain. Madhavi opened her laptop one last time before falling asleep. Who knows? Some friends may have liked her over the evening.
“Bullshit.” She muttered aloud on seeing an Amazon ad exhorting her to buy a pair of shoes.
No likes, no comments, no nothing. She let the laptop remain open in one corner of the huge bed and tried to sleep.
Madhavi had this uncanny flair for generating controversies on the FB. She was not exactly a beauty, perhaps very charming, but her refusal to tolerate nonsense did not go down well with her friends.
“Madhavi beta, it is 8 o’ clock. Like to get up now?” Mom’s soft knock on her bedroom door woke her up in the morning.
“Oh sh…t!” Madhavi straightened herself on the bed and looked at the open blank screen of her laptop. She instinctively tapped the laptop to wake it up.
Her FB page was still open. One friend request for her! Oh wow! Who would send her a friend request at night? Some new friend from the U.S.?
She hastily gathered herself, tied her disheveled hair into a ponytail and drew the laptop closer to her.
She checked. It was someone called Gaurav; Gaurav Seth to be precise. Looked pretty handsome in that dark blue suit. Didn’t reveal his whereabouts except that he was an IT professional from Vadodara.
Who could this be? Not anyone she could remember.
Whoever it was, she felt good about it.
Stranger? So what? Go ahead and accept his request. Who knows? She started humming an Arijit Singh number.
That unsavory episode from yesterday now appeared distant. Who cares?
“A good thing happens only when its time arrives,” her Dad used to say. Dad too was a distant memory now. Dad had been indulgent but didn’t have enough time to spend with his darling daughter and his wife.
Happy days now, thought Madhavi, thinking of the new friend request. Too early? No, maybe her time had arrived.
Madhavi’s perked up demeanour didn’t escape Vaishali’s notice. What had happened overnight?
After Madhavi left for her college, Vaishali walked into Madhavi’s bedroom to tidy it up.
Her laptop was still open on the bed. As she came close enough Vaishali couldn’t contain her curiosity and peeped into the laptop that whirred into display mode like an obedient child – Madhavi had been careless about using passwords.
There, stretched out on the screen before Vaishali, was a profile of Madhavi’s new ‘friend’. Gaurav Seth.
“My god,” Vaishali exclaimed. Is he the same Gaurav Seth? How can that be?
The same blue suit, the captivating smile, the golden pen peeping out of his left pocket; a master cheater, conman to the hilt. He had sent a friend request to Madhavi.
Vaishali frowned. The memory returned.
At Madhavi’s insistence, one Sunday, she had accompanied her to the birthday party of one of her best friends at Tana Riri Continental. Rohit, as usual, stayed away on the pretext of some meeting.
Vaishali joined the young girls for the impromptu dance number but soon got tired and sat at a table, looking on indulgently at the girls, more so at her daughter, resplendent in her bright red dress bought specially for the party.
Madhavi saw through the corner of her eye that Mom had gotten tired and quickly fell out of the circle of dancing friends and joined Vaishali, wiping sweat from her forehead.
“Everything ok, Mom?”
“Yeah, yeah, go ahead and rejoin the dance, dear,” Vaishali gestured towards the swirling, churning group of girls.
“No, thanks, I think it is enough for the day.”
Soon a beaming Food and Beverage Manager materialized from nowhere and stood between the two chairs:
“Shall I get you some cold drink, mocktail or something?” he asked.
To say that he was charming would be an understatement. Vaishali, in particular, was practically swept off her feet by this dashing young man. As he came even closer she read his name on his lapel – “Gaurav Seth, F&B Manager”.
“Thanks Gaurav, we are doing fine” Vaishali managed a shy smile at Gaurav while Madhavi watched the drama, amused.
“No, no, I insist you must have something. This lovely girl has been dancing non-stop for the last half an hour,” Gaurav’s response made Vaishali a bit jealous. Madhavi nodded her head in approval upon which Gaurav hailed a steward milling around and picked up two large glasses of mocktails.
Turning to Madhavi then, “You dance like a professional dancer, er…”
“Madhavi… I am Madhavi” was her involuntary response.
“My god, this Gaurav boy is just too dangerously charming,” Vaishali thought and cast an admiring look at him. Gaurav’s searching eyes surveyed almost everything, for he cast a mischievous glance at Vaishali.
As the steward placed the mocktail glasses Madhavi was quick to thank Gaurav. The inevitable session of selfies followed.
The party ended but not the spell that Gaurav had cast on the two women. It lingered on for Vaishali.
The attention from Gaurav was balm for her troubled mind. Rohit had always been extremely busy in his diamond trade.
Once home, Vaishali raked up all the means at her command to track Gaurav down. Her heart was pounding as she looked under “Find Friends”. Gaurav Seth’s name flashed up and his sketchy profile showed he was single and lived somewhere in Makarpura. Without losing time she sent him a friend request.
The ‘friendship’ thrived, and Vaishali could imagine it going on to another level. But any greater intimacy was fraught with risks
“Too early” she thought. Instead, both of them carried on their conversations through FB and occasional phone calls.
On Rohit’s sudden demise Gaurav not only failed to show the courtesy of offering condolences to her but stopped communicating all together. He virtually disappeared from her radar, FB, phone, everything.
Vaishali was dumbfounded. She even enquired at the hotel if he had hopped on to another job somewhere but no one had any clue. He had simply disappeared from the face of the earth.
Vaishali was distraught. She had money, recognition in high society, but no Gaurav any longer. The relatives and friends offered inane advice. “Now you have to gather all your strength and focus on Madhavi. She needs you. May God be with you.
“But what about me?” thought Vaishali. “I need someone too. Where is my Gaurav?”
That was two years ago. Now Gaurav had reappeared, in an avatar that she was not sure she liked.
Madhavi returned from college with a spring in her step.
“Poor girl,” thought Vaishali. “Her joy is going to be short lived. That Gaurav is a fraud.” But how could she warn her daughter? She couldn’t exactly confess that she was looking at her FB page.
“She is a mature girl. She will learn the hard way.” Vaishali’s mind was racing. Should I confront her? Should I not? I will contact that bas….rd and ask him to stay away from my daughter.
“Lunch is on the table, beta.”
“I had some sandwiches with friends in the canteen, Mom.”
And who are these friends, Madhavi? Hope that conman is not one of those. But why is Gaurav not chatting with me? He has time to chat with this girl, but not for me. Where is he? Why is he trying to woo my own daughter now? My lovely Madhavi will find many younger boyfriends. Who is Gaurav anyway?
Madhavi waltzed into her room and checked her FB page. Has Gaurav responded to my acceptance of his friend request?
There were some odd posts from worthless friends but no response from Gaurav.
A mild depression enveloped her but she brushed it aside and strode into the kitchen.
“Want some coffee, beta?” Vaishali tried to engage her in conversation.
“Don’t worry Mom, I will do it myself.”
Madhavi kept thinking about Gaurav. May be he will respond later tonight. Sure hope so.
Madhavi went to bed earlier than usual. Vaishali noted the lights dim in Madhavi’s room and she too flopped into bed, wondering what the morning would bring for them. Hope something goes wrong to sever the new friendship bond between the two of them.
The morning brought fresh hopes.
Madhavi jumped out of her bed and checked her FB page.
‘You are now friends with Gaurav Seth’, Facebook announced.
“Whoa!” Madhavi let out a scream.
Vaishali, waiting in her adjacent bedroom, took the cue and rushed into Madhavi’s room.
“Oh, Mom, all ok. Why are you barging into my bedroom like this?” Madhavi sounded mildly annoyed but there was no missing the general happiness in her voice.
“Sorry, I thought you screamed.”
“You are getting nightmares, Mom. Relax”
“Ok, ok” Vaishali tried to steal a glance at the laptop screen for some telltale signs but Madhavi’s presence deterred her. Madhavi’s cool composure said it all. Vaishali sighed and exited the room.
With the intruder Vaishali exiting the bedroom Madhavi sprang to her bed and typed out a message to Gaurav.
“Hey Gaurav, how are you? Where the hell are you? You are looking dapper in that blue suit! Write to me! Have a lovely day.”
She resisted the temptation to write to post on his wall lest her forever-jealous friends throw a spanner in the works.
With Gaurav safely locked in her heart, she hurried to the college.
Vaishali saw her daughter leave the house, almost skipping with joy, as she got into her car. She raced to Madhavi’s room as soon as the car was out of sight.
“Hmm…” Vaishali sighed. What can you do about your own daughter who steals your man? Aha, I know, Gaurav had designs on Madhavi the day we met at Tana Riri Hotel. Why the hell did he keep our relationship alive for so long and then decide to disappear?
Her mobile phone buzzed. It was a message from Madhavi.
“Mom, I won’t be home for dinner tonight. Going out with friends. Take care.”
Take care! Is this the care you are taking, Madhavi? But the poor girl has no inkling about me and Gaurav. Any more thoughts about this affair would confuse her more. Her head started spinning with pain. She went back to the kitchen and made a steaming cup of cappuccino and sat in the balcony, looking at the little garden in the front.
What if I send a new friend request to Gaurav now and remind him of the moment we shared? He might be happy to know that I have forgiven him for his silence and might enter my life again. After all Madhavi is too immature to sustain such an intense relationship right now. And what about her studies?
No, wait. He might spill the beans to Madhavi. That would be suicidal, Vaishali. Don’t do it.
In the afternoon she drove up to Tana Riri and casually enquired if they had any idea about the present location of their F&B Manager called Gaurav.
“Ma’am, I’m sorry but he has not left his new address with us.” The Barbie doll receptionist responded, plastic smile in place.
The next few days went by in agony. Vaishali couldn’t figure out her next move. “By now the conman must have met Madhavi several times. God!”
She was tempted to check Madhavi’s mobile phone but that would be too risky and besides, the girl was never separated from her mobile phone, it was practically a part of her body.
February 14, Valentine’s Day.
Vaishali was sure Madhavi would meet Gaurav that day. Spying on her would be her best chance.
Madhavi came home too early on the eve of Valentine’s Day. What is she up to, Vaishali thought.
Madhavi carried packages of dresses that she must have bought for the big day. Sure, something is cooking. Vaishali’s heart was pounding.
If only she could find some way to wean her daughter away from her paramour. Her feelings must not be hurt permanently. She will find another nice young man of her age. She has to. But let go of this one.
Madhavi shut the bedroom door softly as she entered. This time she carefully closed the laptop and kept it on a desk in the corner.
It was already getting dark and her bedroom lights streaked through the lower frame of the door.
Vaishali made herself a smoothie and positioned herself strategically to keep an eye on her daughter’s bedroom. She even tried to eavesdrop but the hum of the air conditioner muffled all sounds from within.
She opened her own laptop and tried to browse, keeping a vigil on the door for the slightest movement. If she could find out where they planned to go, she could follow them.
It was 11 pm. Madhavi’s bedroom light went off. Vaishali too felt drowsy but she tried to sit up and stay alert. What if that bas,,,rd calls late? She kept dozing off in her chair.
Around midnight she was woken up by a bright light coming from under her bedroom door. In the stillness of the night she could hear someone walking in her daughter’s room.
“How did he enter the bedroom; from where?” Vaishali drew closer to the Madhavi’s room.
She heard the footsteps clearly now. “My god, right under my nose, you silly girl. And how dare he?!”
She thought she heard the scrape of a chair, but no sounds of talking.
Vaishali quietly opened the bedroom door and entered.
There was no Gaurav. Madhavi herself was seated at on the chair in front of the open laptop.
Madhavi’s movements were strangely jerky but she had managed to open the laptop with Gaurav’s FB page open.
Vaishali was terrified but she concluded that something strange was going on and decided to stand right behind Madhavi to see what she was doing. Her daughter didn’t even notice. Just behind the desk there was a large mirror and it was strange that Madhavi couldn’t even see Vaishali’s figure standing just behind her.
Madhavi’s eyes had a glassy look and she was mumbling some gibberish while typing on Gaurav’s FB page.
Madhavi’s inability to note Vaishali’s presence, her glassy eyes suddenly put everything in perspective. Madhavi was in a state of ‘sleep walking or somnambulism, just like her father. The disorder often made the patient get up at night, walk around, even do things that they would otherwise do in a normal state, and then go back to sleep. The next day they would have no recollection of anything that transpired during the sleepwalking phase.
Madhavi, in her anxiety to find a friend and admirer had registered on Facebook with a fake profile of Gaurav Sethi, using his picture taken at the Tana Riri hotel that day.
Vaishali put her arms around her daughter and hugged and kissed her.
“It’s late beta, you must be tired. Let’s go back to sleep.”
Madhavi, looked uncomprehendingly at her mother, got up from the chair and allowed herself to be led to her bed. Vaishali knew what to do, she had done this for Rohit so many times.
She took Madhavi back to her bed and lay down next to her, stroking her hair until she fell asleep. With Rohit, that was the only time she could cuddle him back to sleep. Rohit’s bouts of sleepwalking had remarkably diminished.
Night after night, the loving care that only a mother can shower helped Madhavi get over her fixation with ‘likes’ on the FB.
No one cared any longer where Gaurav had gone.