Have you ever felt disoriented running into people where you least expect them – figuring they’re somewhat familiar from, perhaps, a television reality show, and nodding at them vaguely – only to be jolted into the realisation some while later that you’d failed to recognise your wife’s best friend, the consequence of which will surely be terrible? Or looked up from the book at an airport to find yourself staring at a face that you know you ought to be able to put a name to – Adil from the office? Rocky from the gym? Inder, a former colleague? – before it strikes you, a half hour later, that you’d stared stonily at your neighbour with whom you’d shared occasional gossip and a drink, and who is probably unfriending you on Facebook at that precise moment?
Blame it on lifestyle choices that have led people to live in different cities so you don’t know where you’re most likely to run into them, or, indeed, where they call home. Guru was working in Mumbai when he was hired by a Delhi-based company, but instead of shifting to the capital, Guru chose to shunt between the two cities during the working week. “Schizophrenic?” I attempted a little levity when we were introduced. “Tell me about it,” he sighed, “but at least I get to be home over the weekend.” Which was — Mumbai? “Wrong, actually,” said Guru, “on weekends I join my wife at our apartment in Goa.” It took a little more investigation before it unravelled that his wife, too, did not live, or work, in Goa, but in Bangalore — Mapusa being their common meeting ground.
If Guru’s work took him to Bangalore during the week, chances were, his wife was on her way to Mumbai. Once, they were actually introduced to each other in Delhi – neither had expected the other at a client presentation – but had no time to spend together as she left right after for Kolkata, he for Mumbai. Guru said he understood my embarrassment because he’d failed to place a drinking buddy at a party in Delhi and thought he was someone from school, though he was, in fact, his architect.
Nor were Guru and I the only ones in an existential crisis. Ronnie was visiting his wife (true, she wasn’t there, but she had a home in the city and he had an invitation to the party), Mona was just back from Mumbai, where her husband worked, and where her work frequently took her, though the company insisted on her base being Delhi. Then there were Suresh and Sonia who had managed to come together to attend the party, a first in several months, since they seemed to spend their office time trying to coordinate their meetings (and manage their flight schedules) at various city airports.
“I’m bored,” my wife said to me on the way home, “I want to meet you at an airport, not go back home with you,” which seemed a strange thing to say. “Maybe you can get a job in Mumbai, or Chennai, or even” – as she imagined international travel – “Singapore, or Dubai…” Realising that it wasn’t likely to happen, though, she added, “When you go to Mumbai on work, I can already be there at my brother’s house — and maybe we could meet at the airport and come back to Delhi together.” I’m not sure that’s such a good idea, though — what might happen should I fail to recognise her, or, worse, think she is someone else, is too terrible to even consider.