By Bina Datwani
... to devour someone, not ravenously but adoringly, gently, full of a love so strong, so unambiguous that it resembles an appetite... – The Hours
Nirvana was savouring a wedge of luscious Gouda at an after-party of an art show when she felt a tap on her shoulder; forever afterwards, this creamy taste was linked to the startling about-turn in her life.
It was Gerard, her editor at the magazine where she freelanced as a photographer, wearing a smug look.
“Meet Rohan. He owns an island in South Goa and has agreed to give us an exclusive!” was his opening pitch. Sounds more like a dubious line from a James Bond flick, Nirvana thought, shaking hands with the solidly built six-footer chewing gum like cud. Rohan didn’t fit the conventional good-looking slot: beetle-browed with a bulbous nose and a chin that lacked sturdiness. Still, the irregularity made it an interesting face.
Her single woman’s lightning appraisal done, she dismissed him as a potential playmate, with a ‘not my type’ sigh. Plus, his wedding band had just flashed into her peripheral vision. But that didn’t stop him from blatantly appraising her twenty-eight-year-old curvaceous frame. Irked by his appreciative wink, she couldn’t resist a sarcastic, “Isn’t Goa too humid to carry off your leather jacket look?”
Cool as a cucumber, he flirtatiously responded, “It gets chilly at night riding my lean mean speedy machine.” He was obviously hoping to project a youthful image though Nirvana guessed, there must have been over forty candles on his last birthday cake. Just then, a waiter grabbed their attention with an aromatic tray bearing succulent hors d’oeuvres.
“Saved by a delectable prawn, Evil Knievel,” she said, sotto voce.
It was a scorching summer. Many of the guests were guzzling cool champagne and nibbling on crunchy, masala-fried squid at yet another soiree for the ‘see and be seen’ crowd. Not being in the mood to play the networking game, Nirvana preferred to focus on the quintessential Portuguese setting, nestled in a hamlet of Nerul; sea-shell windows in an ochre house and a lush garden filled with perky colours of bougainvillea whose plentiful bloom bordered on vulgarity. The fairy lights twinkled against a granite sky while an egg-yolk moon played peek-a-boo behind wispy clouds. Inhaling the inevitable aroma of marijuana which usually wafted at these gatherings, she wished the trilling of birds could replace human chatter and was reminded of a line from a Nabokov story: deep in the lilac bushes, the nightingale sobs out her passion.
As if in a daze, she heard Gerard announce, “Nirvana has a unique view of spaces so I’m assigning her to shoot your Xanadu Island, Rohan.”
“That’s perfect timing because I’m heading there tomorrow. She can ride with me,’ Rohan said.
Whoa, slow down people, when did I sign up for this and why does it sound like a fix-up? Nirvana thought, worriedly. But at the same time, her interest was piqued by the prospect of a reckless adventure.
Just then, almost like a bad omen, Rohan added, “We may as well spend the night there at this cosy guesthouse I usually use. It’s going to be too exhausting to drive all the way back to the North on the same day.”
Mission abort. Mission abort! Married man on the prowl! screamed through her mind like the rhythmic wailing of an ambulance siren. Noticing her stricken look, he interjected, “A journalist named Fauzia who’s just relocated here from Bombay is tagging along as well”. Phew, she thought. Ironically, as blood pressure levels returned to normal, the word ‘threesome’ flitted into her head, and she wondered, ménage a trois?
Citing the need for another glass of bubbly, she headed towards the bar hoping that increased alcohol levels would lead to saner thinking. But instead of dwelling on the series of doubts that were crowding her head in admonishment, Nirvana decided to focus on the positive. Cruising on a Harley Davidson (of course he’d nudged that nugget into conversation earlier) and exploring a virgin island were an irresistible combo. She did feel fleetingly naughty about letting superficial whims hijack logical thinking. But after an overdose of cerebral pursuits via poetry workshops and splicing documentaries, she felt gloriously liberated about indulging her sensual self without having to write a two-page report analysing all the reasons: almost like going out in public without a bra.
Not wanting to appear too keen, she caught up on local gossip with the hoity-toity set before nonchalantly strolling back Rohan’s way. By then, he’d managed to acquire a new set of admirers. Nirvana could tell they’d fallen under his ‘I own an island’ spell, and he was noticeably basking in their awe. Spotting her, Rohan furtively whispered, “So what’s your verdict?” With an air of bravado, she bellowed, “What time are you picking me up?” Smiling wickedly, as the groupies turned pistachio-green with envy, Good, they’ll remember this moment just in case my host turns out to be a serial killer.
Despite his enthusiasm the night before, Rohan showed up late the next day. She was determined not to let anything mar the frisson of excitement she felt, as she climbed astride his bike. It was a balmy morning and they made several pit stops for roadside refreshments that promised quality cellulite on her hips: curry omelette spiked with tongue scorching properties that demanded to be devoured with smacking sounds and washed down by freshly blitzed juice. And since Nirvana had never met a carb, she didn’t want to have a deep relationship with, the range of Goan bread rolls tasted especially divine. In between mouthfuls, Rohan spoke passionately about his dreams for Xanadu emphasising his determination to protect its eco-sensitive areas. As she listened, it occurred to her that perhaps it had been erroneous on her part to hastily brand him as a stereotypical married man on the make and just maybe, there were redeeming qualities waiting to take centre stage.
But boys will be boys and are never far from their shenanigans. Before getting back onto the bike, Rohan lowered his voice an octave and murmured, “Your fingers have been caressing my back during the ride: is this the current trend of sending a ‘you want me’ signal?” Stunned by his chicanery, she replied, bitingly, “Are you stoned? You’ve been showing off by driving at breakneck speed, so my fingers were cramped from holding on too tight and I was merely stretching them.” “And what’s the excuse for clenching your thighs against mine?” he countered. Nirvana was shocked by his determination to continue on this sleazy track. Grinning at her stupefied expression, he drawled, “Methinks the lady is protesting too much,” while enclosing her in a boa constricting hug. “And methinks the man needs to be institutionalised!” she rebutted scornfully wriggling out of his grasp.
Time to burst the baboon’s bubble, thought Nirvana. “Listen Rohan, I do enjoy flirting especially if my partner-in-crime is capable of witty repartee. But there’s a big fat line that I draw at married men. So please, let’s keep this professional,” she said, sternly.
With a forced laugh, he responded, “Relax, I was merely teasing you.” For Nirvana, this flippant dismissal was like applying a Spiderman plaster on a dislocated shoulder. Unfortunately, with no viable exit route, she had no choice but to continue to the island with him. Surprisingly, despite this contrived display of machismo, Rohan manoeuvred the remaining trek at moderate speed.
They arrived at the beach during siesta hour and spied Fauzia planted under a shack as she raised a peace sign in greeting. At first sight, Nirvana sensed an curious type of longing. Brushed with a tinge of the bohemian, and a pixielike frame, Fauzia appeared to be fortyish. Her arresting eyes - the colour of burnished gold - suddenly turned their attention, like a spotlight, on Nirvana, as though she too had felt a tug of some kind. Nirvana blushed, confused under this probing gaze while noting that Rohan’s eyes were feasting on Fauzia’s contours. Conflicted by these opposing sexual vibrations, she had two bizarre thoughts, wonder which one of us he’d like to kiss first and almost simultaneously, how would it feel to be kissed by a woman?
After introductions were made, Fauzia shot Rohan a languid look and opened with, “You’re shamefully late: I’m already on my second margarita so let’s hotfoot it to your island or else I’m getting into my bikini.” As she watched Rohan’s face contort with visions of the writer in itsy bitsy swimwear, Nirvana was startled to feel something akin to jealousy. Having never had stirrings of this kind for a woman, her reaction felt bewildering. But she rejected the notion thinking, perhaps Randy Rohan’s antics have scrambled my brain. Still it was a relief to have Fauzia as a buffer and Nirvana reckoned, he wouldn’t dare attempt his seduction routine again now that there were two of them. (Tip - Never underestimate a man’s capacity for lunacy.)
Thankfully, Rohan chose to leapfrog into action and within minutes, the trio were ensconced in a motor boat skidding towards Xanadu. For Nirvana, the next few hours passed in a hallucinogenic haze, compliments of the sun’s high voltage rays. Lagging behind, Fauzia shot questions at Rohan about his island and as they reassembled, he made a cheesy comment about wanting to construct an elegant shack. “Isn’t that an oxymoron, like jumbo shrimp?” inquired Nirvana with feigned innocence. She was rewarded with a murderous look before he stormed off in search of the boatman. Mentally applauding, Nirvana thought, round two to the perspiring photographer. “Bull’s eye girlfriend, his ego definitely needs some kickboxing,” said her new ally. Then, with an enchanting tilted face, Fauzia asked, “If you’re spending the night too, would you like to be sleeping partners?” The rippled inflections in her voice felt strangely disquieting as Nirvana wondered if this was some kind of test. But she managed to effect a casual shrug and replied, “I’m cool with that,” when in fact, a current of electricity was suffusing through her insides. “Wonderful. I’m excited about getting to know you better,” Fauzia responded, brushing her hand against Nirvana’s cheek. Stunned by the gentle caress, Nirvana could only offer a weak smile.
By the time they located their sulking host, the sun was all tenderness, and commencing its downward journey. Nirvana chose to ride with Fauzia on her cotton candy-pink scooter, and almost chortled when she glimpsed Rohan’s face collapse like a deflated soufflé. His peevishness heightened when they checked into one room; noticing this, Fauzia whispered, “I think he’s disappointed because his plan was to harass us separately.” Nirvana realised she was right and felt thankful for her presence. But in a flash, Rohan’s scowl was replaced by a wicked sparkle in his eyes. “Drinks are on me tonight lovelies so let’s rendezvous at the bar as soon as you’ve freshened up,” he chirped.
Crossing the threshold into their room, Nirvana inexplicably panicked at the sight of the double bed (like a virgin bride on her wedding night?) as her roommate impishly said, “Cosy huh?” Suddenly, there was loud rapping on the door followed by a booming voice, “Room service!” Fauzia opened the door and there stood Mr. Island, beaming like a cat about to swallow the canary. “The bar’s under renovation so your room is the default party zone,” and saying this, he plonked himself down on the bed. Quick as a whip, Fauzia shooed him off and pointed sternly to the lounge chairs. Then, shooting Nirvana a regretful look, she ordered a bottle of single malt – charging it to Rohan’s room – and perched herself at the edge of the bed with a challenging smile.
Rohan was determined to get his rupee’s worth so as soon as they’d clinked glasses, he cooed, “Why do so many women say they prefer eating chocolate to having sex?” Nirvana grimaced at this vulgar question and noticed that Fauzia wasn’t hiding her disgusted expression either. Greeted by their evidently disapproving silence, Rohan squirmed in his seat but blatantly continued with, “And what’s your sexual philosophy in this age of convenient morality?” Both women gasped at this outrageously personal query but before Nirvana could think of a fitting response, Fauzia replied, “To quote Ruskin Bond, I’m a pagan given to illogical attachments and spontaneous attractions,” as she directed a meaningful look at her roommate. Unnerved by this, Nirvana sensed a powerful pull at her emotional quotient: a craving to reach out to this lovely, confident woman and lay before her everything that was on her mind. She realized that Fauzia could be a catalyst for a turning point in her life, if only she had the courage to explore a new path by letting her in.
“Ooh I like the sound of that: this is definitely the beginning of an interesting friendship girls,” drooled Rohan. Fauzia nuked his accompanying laughter by announcing, “I’m really exhausted Rohan so it’s time to say goodnight.” But he refused to budge from his chair and instead drawled on lazily, “Chill baby, we can all shift to your comfy bed if you feel like getting horizontal. It looks large enough for the three of us so why don’t we have a slumber party? By the way, have either of you heard the latest dining trend by the elite set at exclusive parties of eating food off someone’s body? Let’s experiment!” The last line was like arson to Nirvana’s fragile mind; shooting out of her chair, she began to curse furiously at Rohan and was elated to hear Fauzia join in. They then hauled him to his feet by his arms and dragged his bulk to the door. He tried to resist and made a last-ditch effort with, “Stop playing games girls, I know you want me,” and “Ok, ok how about a goodnight kiss at least?” at which point the door was slammed in his pathetically optimistic face.
For a moment, the only sound in the brooding night was their mutual laboured breathing with eyes locked on each other. After a few charged moments, Fauzia tentatively extended her hand to Nirvana with a hopeful look. Nirvana grabbed it like a life-line and pulled her into a tight embrace. She was filled with a sense of having finally come home.
Bina Datwani was born and raised in Hong Kong. She currently lives in Goa, and was involved in directing the RadioActive Theatre Group which recorded several locally adapted versions of classic and modern plays on All India Radio. She also coordinated to bring about the first Konkani audio book (Shabduli) for the visually impaired in collaboration with the NAB. Currently, she performs with the Goa University Choir, and conducts theatre workshops for college students in Goa and other Indian cities.