“Not boring as such.” Mansi said shrugging. “But you know, when you keep hearing about it all the time…”
“I understand. We shall drop the subject at once. What are your interests? What are your…passions?” Dutt said that last word with a little bit of passion in it himself.
Reena said to herself, take it easy, old man. Don’t overdo it.
“My interests?” Mansi was taken aback.
“Yes, what do you love? What excites you?”
He looked at her as did Reena. Mansi couldn’t think of anything to say. No one had asked her this before. She herself hadn’t really thought about it ever. The only life she knew was of a housewife and a mother.
“That’s not what I am talking about. Everyone is passionate about their kids. I have three of them myself. Two daughters and a son. With kids of their own. What i am asking you is, outside of your family and your commitments and responsibilities, what excites you?”
Mansi had no answer.
“Will you stop grilling her, Duttsahab?” Reena reached over and slapped him on his arm. “That’s the problem with you tycoons. Every interaction is an interview.”
“It’s okay.” Mansi smiled. “I just haven’t thought about it.”
“Ok, here’s an old test. Let’s say someone gave you unlimited amounts of money. After buying a great house, setting aside money for kids etc etc. What would you spend it on?”
“Don’t say travel. Everyone likes to travel.”
That’s when there was a knock on the door.
“The food is here.” Reena said and got up to open it. “Let’s move to the dining table.”
A waiter came in with a trolley of food.as Mansi and Dutt walked to the ornate glass table by the edge of the suite. As he started uncovering and putting the bowls on the table, Mansi realized that it was Chinese food. She liked Chinese food. The kind they had from street carts once in a while at Pinky’s insistence. But this looked very different.
“Please, have a seat.” Reena said. “I hope you like Chinese food, Mansi. This is real Chinese food from our hotel’s highly rated restaurant. The chef is from Shanghai.”
Mansi nodded absent-mindedly like she was thinking of something else. The waiter put big plates out and started serving them noodles, a couple of different chicken dishes, and some appetizers.
“Paintings.” Mansi suddenly said.
“Excuse me, ma’am?” the waiter asked.
“Dutt sahab.” she turned to him. “If I had an unlimited amount of money, I would buy paintings. Maybe even buy a museum. Buy a lot of art supplies and spend the whole day painting.”
“Ah, that’s the kind of answer I was looking for.” he gently touched the back of her chair. “So you are an artist?”
“No. I wouldn’t say that.” she blushed. “I just like to draw and paint. Your favorite subject in school was history. Mine was arts and crafts. I always won a lot of prizes in school contests.”
For the first time since that chocolate lava cake, Reena saw a spark of life on Mansi’s face. And although initially she had thought Dutt was being too aggressive, she was impressed at how quickly he had put Mansi at ease.
“So why didn’t you pursue it as a career?”
“Pursue art? Forget art, pursue a career?” Mansi smiled sadly. “I don’t come from that kind of a family.”
“I understand.” Dutt sagely nodded. “My own father was very rigid. Anyway, who are your favorite artists? Impresionists? Dadaists? Cubists?”
Mansi felt uncomfortable. He was trying to impress her but she didn’t really know any of these words.
“I…I never really learned about art. I don’t know the terms and all that. I just know that when I see a painting I like, I like it. A few years ago my husband and I went to an exhibition of Hussain saab. Those were nice.”
Dutt gauged her level of knowledge and course-corrected.
“After all, that is what art truly is. Something that speaks to your heart. That’s why you can’t spell heart without art.”
Reena felt like laughing at that corny line, but Mansi seemed to like it.
Dutt nodded and started eating. So did Reena. The waiter had left by then. Mansi looked around the plate. There was no fork or spoon. Just a pair of fancy looking wooden chopsticks. She looked at her two companions. Both were eating with the chopsticks very expertly. The street Chinese food always came with cutlery. She had seen people use chopsticks on food shows on TV but never really had to use them.
“Aunty…” she awkwardly said.
“Yes, dear?” Reena pretended like she didn’t know what was going to be the request. It had been Dutt idea, with the assumption that a small town middle class woman would not know how to use chopsticks.
“Is there any cutlery? I can’t…” she pointed to the chopsticks.
“Oh god. Those idiot waiters. I told them to bring cutlery as well. Everything has to be told a dozen times.” Reena got up and went to the phone.
Mansi again felt out of place as she saw Dutt effortlessly eating even rice with the chopsticks. He looked at her and smiled.
“It is very easy, Mansi.” he said. “Here, do what I tell you.”
Mansi picked up the chopsticks.
“Now, put one like this sliding from the base of your thumb to the middle of your ring finger. Yes. Like that. Now hold the other one like a pen between the tip of your thumb and index fingers. Yes. Now click them together. Yes. Very good. Now try to lift something.”
Mansi followed the instructions exactly. But the sticks slid out of her grip. She tried again.
“Here, let me help you.” Dutt said.
And before Mansi could say anything, was swiftly standing behind her, leaning down. he put his big hairy right hand on hers. She felt his breath against her ears as he said.
“Now…one stick like that. Another like that. Relax, it’s very easy. You are an artist. This is easier than painting a circle.”
Mansi felt an odd sensation as the old stranger’s big rough fingers pressed gently on her smooth small ones. She wasn’t exactly used to male touch from anyone other than her husband. And even with her husband, actual touching happened very infrequently. But she ignored the strange feeling and focused on the chopsticks.
“Yes, now…try to pick up that dumpling. Yes…perfect. See how easily it comes up? Easier than with a spoon. Now slowly…slowly…open your mouth.”
Reena was watching as she was on the phone pretending to ask for cutlery. Again, she was impressed by Dutt’s charm and skills. Here was a demure chaste middle class housewife being touched from so close by a man over twice her age. And yet there was nothing in the situation that would make her protest or take offense. It was all set up very naturally.
Mansi’s hand, guided by Dutt’s slowly put the dumpling in her mouth. Dutt looked at the nervous pretty face right next to his. And felt a surge of thrill and arousal.
“Mmmmmm…” Mansi said happily as she bit into a delicious prawns dumpling. Better than anything you got on the streets.