It’s Good Friday, good even at 36º, because the streets are empty this long weekend, and the lobby-lounge of Shangri-La is quiet. I’m reading Gora over cappuccino (one-and-a-half shot). Outside, a breeze is worrying the slender young Ashokas that line the compound wall of the hotel. The trees are heaving against their bindings, and despite their masculine name, they appear maidenly to me.
By the glass wall at my opposite end are seated three men who came in right after me. One of them is about twenty-five, fair, tall. His hair is wavy and his face like Rajesh Khanna’s. His companions are forty-ish, and one of them has an apostolic beard. Each time I look up from my reading I see them, and they sense my eyes and turn and our sights lock a moment.
After about an hour like this, while I’m into my book, there’s commotion by my side. An old man has arrived. He is maybe five feet two, no more. His shirt is too large, and also his trousers, and they’re both white and starched stiff. So you can’t see his limbs move, but you can tell they’re thin. I can see his shoes, though. They’re of white leather, with tan trims. Only his feet seem to work, the rest of him floats like a tableau. The men I’ve been watching have jumped up and rushed over to welcome him. The waitresses have hurried up also, wide-eyed and bowing and smiling.
The old man runs his palm over the young man’s face. He chucks his chin. They go over to the table they’ve already taken. As the old man arranges himself in his seat I see he is bald on top, which shows through strands of extra-black hair pulled across the crown from left to right. He catches me watching him, yet I gaze, in spite of myself, and he immerses himself in his group.
The waitresses hover a while and leave. I realise now that their table has been empty all the time. After only a few minutes the old man rises, and the men in their forties rise also, and they walk over to the front, where they settle in a spacious pool of couches. The young man, alone now, leans back and pulls out his phone.
After a brisk bout of talking the three men return to the young man. The old man talks, the other two bend their heads and nod. Their table is still not served. I think back to a friend from long ago. He was CEO of an investment company that put venture funds in mine. He started his own business later, and during its startup days he ran the enterprise from the lobby of the Taj Hotel, doing meetings there, sometimes over coffee, often over nothing.
The four finish their business in quick time, and continue talking on their way out. The old man again strokes the young chap’s face. “Sochlo,” he tells him, while passing me. “Accha deal hai. Better settle, I think.”
I lose myself again in my reading, conscious of Seoan’s Under The Moon coming down from speakers high above. When I look up next, the young man has returned and settled alone among the sofas in front. His profile is sharp and set, and he is staring straight ahead. A chill beer sits aloof before him, for which he should bend when he wants it, so far is the table from his seat.
“Cheers,” I tell him in my mind, and pick up my just-served vanilla-infused tea.