Mansi just nodded and looked straight ahead. She wasn’t used to strangers, especially men, just casually striking up a conversation with her,
“Are you also staying in this hotel?” he continued. His friend, to whom it was obvious he was trying to chat her up, suppressed a smile.
“No.” Mansi simply said.
“We are. About to check in. We are both investment bankers. Visiting from London.” he said, hoping, like many investment bankers do, that it would impress her.
“I see.” she wasn’t sure why this man was continuing to talk to her.
“We are here to close a multi-milion dollar deal. What brings you here?”
“Just visiting someone.” she said curtly, wishing he would take a hint.
“Someone in this hotel?”
“Oh. Ohhhhh! I understand.” he said and giggled a little, as did his friend.
Mansi was too sheltered and innocent to realize the conclusion they had drawn. A good looking young woman dressed so nicely, not very comfortable in English, without any luggage, visiting someone in the hotel. They drew the only conclusion they could.
“Do you have a card or something?” he giggled and asked.
“Card? What card?” Mansi was confused. The two men giggled some more.
“Yes, ma’am?” a clerk at the reception called out. And Mansi rushed towards the desk. She was getting a bad vibe from those guys.
“I am here to meet Reena Bajaj.”
“Oh, Reena ma’am? Yes, you must be Mansi ma’am.” he said.
“Just one second.” he reached out under the desk. “Here’s a key card.”
“Key card? I am just visiting her.”
“Yes, she is expecting you in her residence.”
“She lives here?” Mansi’s eyes went wide.
“Yes, she has a suite on the VIP floor. The 35th floor. And that floor is only accessible by card. So here it is. Suite 3502.”
All this was very new and impressive to Mansi. She knew Reena aunty worked in the hotel at a senior post but she had no idea she even lived there. And that too an exclusive VIP floor? 35th floor? Mansi had never gone that high in any building. Very impressive. She stepped into a shiny lift and entered the card in a slot meant for the 35th floor.
Mansi could not believe how fast the lift reached all the way up to the 35th floor. The lifts she was used to, took that much time to reach 4 floors. She stepped out into a floor that was even more fancy than the lobby. She felt a little intimidated. But Rena aunty was expecting her. She went to Suite 3502 and knocked.
The door was opened by an unknown person. A tall old man in a suit, with half-bald white hair and a big belly.
“Oh I am sorry.” Mansi said and looked at the number outside the door.
“You must be Mansi.” the man flashed her a friendly smile. “Don’t worry, you’re not in the wrong place.”
“Come on in. Mansi!” she heard Reena aunty’s voice from behind the old man. He stepped away and opened the door wide. He saw Reena aunty putting some glasses on a coffee table.
“Oh, I didn’t…” Mansi was a little taken aback. She had not expected anyone else to be there. But she still walked in, feeling out of place again.
“Sorry if this gentle giant scared you.” Reena aunty smiled. “Let me introduce you two. This is an old family friend of mine, Mr. Navin Dutt. And as I told you, Duttsahab, this is my old neighbor from Meerut Mansi.”
“Pleased to meet you, Mansiji.” he politely folded his hands.
“He lives in Delhi. Called me a little while ago saying he was in Bombay for a business trip, so how about lunch? I assumed you wouldn’t mind if he joined us.”
“Not at all.” Mansi politely said, although she was a little disappointed. With someone else there, she would not be able to be very open in her conversations. And would not feel comfortable bringing up the topic of a job.
The three of them headed towards the plush couches in the living area.
“Some beer, Mansiji?” Dutt asked pointing at the glasses on the table.
“No, thanks. I don’t drink.”
“Some orange juice then?” Reena aunty asked.
“Let me go get it.”
Reena went into another room as Mansi sat on the couch. She could not believe how deep her petite body sank in. Dutt sat on a single seat perpendicular to her and smiled. There was an awkward silence.
“So Mansiji, how long have you lived in Bombay?” he broke the silence.
“Eight years. And please don’t call me ji, Duttsahab. You are my elder.” Mansi respectfully said, remembering her manners.
“Are you calling me an old fogey?” Dutt feigned feeling hurt.
“No no, I didn’t mean it like that.” Mansi immediately explained.
“Haha, relax. I am just joking. Okay, I will call you just Mansi.”
“Hehe.” she smiled.
Although she had initially been disappointed to see him there, as time went by, she got used to his presence. Dutt was a very charming old man, great at conversations.
“Eight years…do you like it here?” he asked.
“It is what it is.” she shrugged.
“I can never get used to Bombay, although I have been coming here for decades. The humidity, the crowds, the smells…it’s all so overwhelming.”
“Yes, that it is.”
“Very different from Meerut, huh?”
That’s when Reena came out with a class of juice for Mansi.
“Don’t tell me you are chewing her ear off already, Duttsahab.” she said jovially. “Mansi, this man can talk the paint off the walls.”
She laughed, as did Dutt. Mansi politely joined in as she took the juice.
“So…I have my two dear old friends here. I wish we could go out for lunch. But I have a ticking clock. So I just ordered some room service for us. Hope that is okay.”
“Of course.” Mansi said. She was looking forward to whatever yummy pricey food aunty would order now.
“By the way, Duttsahab is a business tycoon in Delhi. He owns factories, theaters, retail stores, and what else I am sure even he can’t remember.”
“Don’t embarrass me, Reena.” Dutt smiled with false modesty. “It’s just god’s grace. Nothing more. What business is your husband into, Mansi?”
“He isn’t in business. He is a college professor. History.”
“Oh history? It was my favorite subject in school. If I hadn’t gotten into business, I too would have ended up in the world of history. I need to meet professor sahab sometime and pick his brains. What is his specialty?”
“World war 2.”
“Oh, I love that topic. Blitz Krieg. Battle of the Bulge. Vichy France. The siege of…”
Mansi winced a little bit, which Reena noticed.
“Yes yes Duttsahab. you are very learned. Stop it.” she jumped in.
“What happened? Did I say something wrong?”
“She is married to a history professor. I am sure she gets to hear all this non stop. Don’t bore her more.”
Again the two laughed. And Mansi joined in.
“Is it true, Mansi? Do you find history boring?” Dutt asked looking into the demure housewife’s eyes.