You go for the second date humming a quiet tune because you are in that friendly, non-sexy zone. You know you feel that way because you have your period, and during your periods you become like Durga Khote, mostly quiet, sometimes bawling, and sort of unseen, though unlike Durga Khote you will never wear white. You meet the doctor for chai and he tells you about mysteries involving urethras and catheters. In an unspecified district in southern India, female nurses in training could not find a female patient’s urethra to insert the catheter. As he was the doctor supposed to train them, it was a mystery he needed to solve. On further observation, he realised it was because the female nurses had full shy coming, and were trying to insert the catheter without looking down, trying to find their way to the hole unseeing.
This is not an advisable thing to do, he continues in his doctor voice, which is both firm and dulcet. First, the urethra is a tiny hole. Second, you cannot ask the patient to open it wider, like you would the mouth. And before he can get to the third point, you have erupted in laughter, worrying a bit that you might have peed yourself, and a little assured because the pad is there to hold it all. You both laugh together then, and you find he is holding your hand. You wonder if he will hold your ankle the same way, and you can mock protest, Jaane Do Na, like Dimple Kapadia in Saagar.
You go for the second date in that friendly, non-sexy zone because you have your period and when he holds your hand, you realise that during your periods you have never felt like Dimple Kapadia singing Jaane Do Na, even if you are wearing a red saree, albeit yours is a malkha cotton one. But, as this is a playlist promised in Puriya Dhanashree, here’s another song with the same andaaz and scarlet couture.
After having chai, you walk to the restaurant, your hand still being held, and your fingers want to stroke his, and you give into the impulse. You think it is a gentle stroke, skin pressing over skin, to understand texture. Touch is a strange beast; you can never say what is touch; you always have to use a metaphor. You converse about navigating maps, how some people need to go to a place only once to remember the route. How somehow that part of your brain has an under-construction sign. You hop and skip over the on-off-on footpaths, the evening thickens, and the sun slowly blankets itself with the night. They say Puriya Dhanashree is a raag of the evening; but ‘evening’ feels denuded of the play and promise of lamps. Perhaps, Puriya Dhanashree is then a raag of dusk, that place of in-between-ness, as the light fades, promising flickers. As the conversation continues, your fingers hum along to a different rhythm, tracing the contours of his palm. The passing vehicles blow twinkly kisses with their headlights, and the city’s sounds segue to the background.
In the restaurant, he says he needs to wash his hands, and gets up. You feel a tiny tug of guilt; you never bother to wash hands before a meal, and you feel a bloom of righteous happiness, when you declare, you too will wash your hands. The washroom is a floor above, an unused floor stretching into a quiet darkness. He goes in first and you look at the empty tables and chairs, their contours blurry in the dark. When he is done, you go to the washroom. After washing your hands while singing happy birthday, you also decide this is a good time to change your pad and feel happier that your checklist brain hasn’t fully checked out. You come out of the washroom, wondering why these push-button technologies that slide a plastic cover onto the seats always become dysfunctional, and what would be a better design, when you see him waiting outside.
You smile, while wondering how to modify the contraption to use less plastic and a more reliable mechanical system, when you realise he is now close to you. And then he leans in, you lean in, a push-pull. You kiss, and a part of your brain shakes its head to tell you, you are in a public place, but soon decides there are many other problems of mechanics at hand that are more delightful. Should one slide the tongue in at this precise juncture? How does one shrug off a saree without breaking a kiss? Is it possible to unzip a blouse without looking, like those nurses? He pauses. You both search for breath, and find some, a bit shakily.
As you walk down the stairs to the lights, the diners, and other sensory invasions, you hear the strains of ‘Oh Rasiya’, dissolving in your head. And you realise, there is a staircase involved somewhere in the song, and you wish this staircase, too, led you somewhere else, preferably a place with a bed, a sensible bed please, as your back can’t deal with too-soft mattresses. Oh shut up, brain.
You go back to the table, and sit across from each other. The table has stretched to a continent; your hands can’t reach over it. You both swirl around how people define polyamory, some convenient, some hopeful, and some delusional. That’s perhaps how language is too, convenient, hopeful, and delusional. He speaks of the mysteries of the brain and cognition. You speak of the research on culture, and how that influences thought.
Brains are wrinkled, he says.
Yours, meanwhile, has flattened into a screen where your tongues tango again.
If called Pantuvarali, does Puriya Dhanashri change? Does it take on different flavours? Incidentally, the other name for Pantuvarali, which is not used often, is Kamavardhini (Kama – erotic desire, vardhini – feminine form of ‘to increase’ or ‘to strengthen’).
Shall I come over, you ask.
Please do, he says.
You are in a cab now, and you slide closer, and you pause. The city seems to have sunk into a stupor of sodium vapour, the road shrouded in half moons of street lights, the passing vehicles nodding off, blinking to keep awake. Shadows paint your bodies, broad brushstrokes of lampblack. When your breaths mingle, it feels smoky, the air weighed down, heavy. Your hand finds his jean-clad thigh. His palms meander along the edge of your pallu. You both pause, discontent to let this moment of moist restraint simmer.