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Tahira Kashyap Khurrana’s The 12 Commandments of Being a Woman, is about being a modern woman with a cheeky sense of humour. An excerpt.
At seventeen, my friends and I didn’t know what falling in love really meant, though we were obsessed with the idea. We took male attention for granted – if you were an average-looking seventeen-year-old in Chandigarh, it was constant. It must be admitted, we weren’t always kind to the boys. Every time I got the standard card and a chocolate from an admirer, I would accept the chocolate and shamelessly return the card.
The boys were ingenious. They hid their tokens of love in all sorts of places. I’d find a chocolate or a card or some stupid stuffed toy lying next to my bag or in my friend’s scooter carrier or jammed under my car’s wipers.
Thank god they spared the girls’ washroom. Extracting chocolate from places like under the sink and behind the dustbin would have been gross, but not taking it would have been impossible. We were constantly hungry, you see. And treats, no matter who they were from, were always welcome.
My friends Divya and Prerna and I were preparing to become doctors. I mean, that was the intention. So we took tuitions to prepare for our PMT (premedical test).
Prerna and I went to the same tuition classes. In every class we shortlisted one boy as a prospective crush. In the physics class we both had a crush on a boy who was skinny but cute. It was a class of seventy, and we didn’t know his name.
Prerna and I were too careful (and snooty) to ask someone or to actually talk to any of the boys.
We were living at a time and in a place where inquiring after a boy would have cost us our reputation.We would have been labelled as easy. It’s obnoxious, I know. It was the other way round when it came to us. The entire class knew our names. It’s not that we were gorgeous, but that’s how it was.
In the film Minority Report, Tom Cruise just has to swipe his fingers in the air for information to pop up on a virtual screen. Ha! That was nothing compared to my batchmates who were a mix of Cruise and Arnold Schwarzenegger from The Terminator.
As soon as they locked sight of their target, not only would they know the girl’s name, but her entire biodata would pop up in front of their retinas – house number, sector, phone number and also her status, whether it was single, committed or complicated.
This is one department in which I concede defeat to boys. Our skills were nowhere close to theirs. So we two Nancy Drews spent the entire year trying to figure out the name of that cute boy we liked with zero success.
Meanwhile, boys could dig out unknown details like the astrologer Maharishi Bhrigu, and know everything there was to know about the forefathers of the girl and the Google Maps location of her ancestral house before Partition, and nobody would judge them! I am convinced Google Maps was launched in the heads of the horny teenage boys of Chandigarh seven years before it actually made it to our phones in 2008! On the other hand, if a girl were to simply ask the name of a boy then she was easy or madly in love or wanted to get him beaten up!
So the entire year went by with us calling our crush Coolio and leaving it at that. It was a really cheesy name, I know, but we found his gel-spiked hair and his cute specs, skinny frame and dimples really cool.
One day our test papers were being handed out. Prerna and I were all ears. This was our golden chance of discovering our boy’s name. As soon as sir called out the name Abhishek, the paper was passed to Coolio.
Hmm . . . Abhishek. We made a mental note. We told Divya about this Abhishek boy and how cool he was on his Yamaha bike with the extra lights. Unable to contain her curiosity, Divya decided to bunk her tuition one evening to come to ours and take a look at him. She was the gutsiest of the three of us so perhaps she would even talk to him and open the door for us.
Divya arrived on her father’s Vespa on the big day. We waved to her excitedly and she looked eager, too. Good-looking boys were a rarity and Coolio had been heavily built up in her head. Without switching off the engine, Divya looked in his direction and said, ‘Yeh hai?’
We both nodded in unison.
With a look of disdain, she turned her scooter around and said, ‘It’s better I attend my class.’
‘What?’ Prerna and I cried out in surprise. ‘She doesn’t like him?’ We dismissed it as lack of taste.
The year was coming to an end, and so was our physics class. Not a word was exchanged with Coolio, though I received around two dozen chocolates and cards from the other boys in the class.
One day my father declared that we had to go for a family dinner. ‘Chandigarh is a small town. We didn’t go for their house-warming party, so we all have to go for this dinner. He is specially organizing it for us.’
‘Who is he?’ I asked.
‘He is a very renowned and respected astrologer.’ I quickly picked up the cordless phone. It had turned from white to grey and the numbers on the keys were faded – a sure sign that you have a teenager at home. I punched in Prerna’s phone number, wishing I had a similar memory for equations.
‘Tell your parents that if they allow you to attend this dinner with me then we will get to know our future and the money we are spending on classes and admission forms can be saved. Once you come, we’ll tell my parents that we aren’t in a mood to go, and we can chill the entire night.’ We could hang out and make crank calls, one of the great joys of pre cell phone teenage life.
Prerna loved the idea. She took permission from her parents and came over. But our plan didn’t go according to script. When we told my parents that we weren’t in the mood to go, they insisted we come along.‘It’s a family thing and we have also promised Prerna’s parents that she will talk to astrologer uncle,’ my mother said. Prerna looked at me in horror, but I was helpless.
The one saving grace in this mess was that our host had two kids.The elder one was apparently our age, so we’d have someone to talk with.
We reached their house and were seated in their living room. I looked around, taking in the room. There on the wall opposite me hung a big family portrait of the Raichands, with the mother and father sitting on chairs and the two sons standing behind them. One of the sons was Coolio!
I squealed, ‘Prerna… Coolio!’ At that exact moment, Prerna saw him walk into the room to greet us, and squeaked, ‘OMG, it’s him!’ I said, ‘Where are you looking? He is…’ and there he was right in front of us.
This was a typical filmy Teja moment from Andaz Apna Apna. Prerna and I were grinning. We eagerly followed Coolio into another room (for the kids to hang out) and that’s when we discovered this wasn’t the Raichand family of Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (same vibe though, trust me), these were the D’Souzas. On the wall of this room was another picture of the four of them, this time with the mom in a frock, the father wearing suspenders and the sons sporting bow ties.
Of course, they weren’t the D’Souzas or the Raichands. They were the Khurranas. And he wasn’t Abhishek, he was . . . well, why would you be interested. He was just a boy who was melting our hearts because after my father sang (he is a trained classical singer), this boy started crooning ‘Bade acche lagte hain’, which had Prerna and me swooning. That one dinner cost our parents years of crazy phone bills and, a decade later, marriage banquet hall charges.
Published with permission from the publishers Juggernaut Books.
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Image source: Tahira Kashyap on Instagram, and book cover Amazon.
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