He hated America. Not because of the food, or the cold weather or the office where everyone seemed impossibly professional.
But because everyone preferred closed shoes.
The winters were so long and so cold. That sometimes he had to go months before he saw a pair of feet apart from his own.
He craved to see a pair, with thin straps running across delicate feet, small perfect toes with short half moon nails, painted red. Smooth soft fleshy feet, well creamed, well cared for.
But it rarely happened.
In fact his first winter, he had been so driven to despair by closed boots and fur lined ankle highs, that he had actually thought of walking into a parlour and asking for a pedicure.
After all if you had a thing for teeth, you’d hang out at the dentists. And so if you liked feet, then the best place to see them would be at a pedicure parlour.
But he lacked the courage. Plus he knew it would be frightfully expensive. Not at all like home.
So then, this was his salvation - home.
Every year he made two trips to his parents’ home in Mumbai.
And the first thing he did on arriving was to book himself on the Rajdhani to Delhi, AC second class.
His parents thought his head office was in Delhi. In fact his father even asked him a couple of times why he had to take the train, why he had to go to Delhi within a day of arriving, why he had to go back to Delhi a second time before his holiday ended?
But Prem managed to evade all his dad’s questions with some vague mumblings of seeing the country and systems overload.
The truth of course was that the Rajdhani had an abundance of feet.
Prem had it all worked out. He’d board the Rajdhani in the evening with his little overnight bag, and two magazines. Then he’d wait for them to bring tea and snacks. He’d finish his tea, ignore the snacks and wait.
By then passengers would have settled down. Shoes would have been removed, toes cracked, introductions made. The free newspaper read. And finally lulled by the rocking movement of the train, most passengers would put out the bedding given to them. And then curl in for a quick pre dinner nap.
This is what Prem waited for. A whole year dreaming about this moment. When he would get up from his berth, stretch and then slowly take a walk down the train. Through the five AC II bogies and the nine AC III ones.
There, stretched out on lower berths, upper berths, side berths, peeking from under dull khakhi coloured blankets, enveloped by bright coloured Patiala salwaars or then bright blue denims would be feet.
Painted red, brown, silver, pink. Long, short, square, round nails. Some with anklets in silver, some covered in mehendi, some creased from walking too much.
Prem could have spent his life as a ticket collector on that train.
And then one day, the inevitable happened. He was just finishing his tea. And trying to fend off the inquisitive aunty who had the lower berth to his upper, when his eyes fell on his dream feet.
Warm honey brown. Not too small. Perfect long toes. Freshly applied bright red polish on short round nails. Thin silver anklet loosely falling over perfect soles.
He knew then what love at first sight meant.
“Beta, why are you not having your samosa. It’s very good.”
“ Thanks aunty. I’m not hungry.”
“ Aree, have have. In US you must not be getting samosas na.”
Prem nodded and hemmed. And started to sweat.
He couldn’t let this go. In his 32 years he had never seen a pair like this. But what if she was married? Or had a boyfriend? Or....
And then the blanket stirred, the feet withdrew. Prem thought he’d stop breathing. Next the feet swung down, and she jumped off her side berth.
“ Beta, what about the ladoo. It’s from Ghasitaram. Very safe.”
Prem just nodded. The feet landed on a pair of black sandals with thin straps.
That was the sign he was waiting for.
And just as the aunty asked him if she could have his ladoo, he turned to the girl with the most perfect feet and asked her if she would marry him.
Fortunately, Simran being a huge fan of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, found nothing odd in the sudden proposal.
She just asked him three questions. 1. What you do? 2. In US? 3. Joint or single?
On learning that joint was out of the question, since his parents lived in Mumbai, she said yes on the spot.
Thanks to auntyji’s efforts, more ghasitaram ke ladoos were rustled up by the train staff, in celebration.
On their honeymoon, they went to Simla. Of course they took the Rajdhani from Mumbai to Delhi. She sat at the window seat admiring her rajasthani design mehendi.
He finished his tea, pushed the snacks towards her and said, “Let me just go stretch my legs a little.”
PS: i’m on the rajdhani to delhi. And i wonder why they don’t serve ladoos any more. and those lovely feet aint mine. they are from deviantart.com.