date1 /deɪt/ noun
1. the day of the month or year as specified by a number. “What’s the date today?”
2. a social or romantic appointment or engagement.
Context: Some ten years ago, I remember staring at that dictionary definition for fifteen minutes straight before I got myself to go ask her out. For the purposes of this story, I will be referring to ‘her’ as – wait, what’s a rare, really uncommon name again? Oh, right – Pooja. Let’s call her Pooja. So back in 2008 or as I call it – ‘The pre-Dark Knight era’, the Suite Life had just shifted itself ‘On Deck’ and a Chopra-less Nick Jonas was part of a group that were suddenly being called Kings Of The Universe. And I lay on my couch, a 13-year old with his newfound teenage rebellion spirit who suddenly thought it would be a good idea to ask his closest friend out on a date. Now, I had known ‘Pooja’ for about a couple of years – a quarter shy of two, if I’m being precise. We spent most of our time in class playing Hangman or talking about movies (she was the only girl I was ever able to sit down and watch the entire Star Wars 1-6 saga with), and then spent about an hour everyday in the bus talking about the most absurd things. Since neither one of us was exactly well versed with the concept of dating, it was an awkward affair from the get-go, but we decided to at least try it out, and considering that we’d rather go with each other than with other people, it legit seemed like a plan for a decent night.
Of course, the night was anything but that. Oh, and I learnt quite a bit about trying to act like an adult that day. Well, for starters – toning down your normal sarcasm level might be an option worth considering. For instance, I remember both of us being a bit too excessively dressed up and walking inside the restaurant.
“Sir, can I get you two a table?” The waiter asked us.
“Nah, nah – we’re good. I think we’ll make do with the floor carpet, thank you!” I blurted out sarcastically, like I’d do on any other night.
“Prakhar!” I felt her elbow hit my chest.
“Sorry, I was kidding. A table for two please?” I quickly followed.
“This way please, sir & madam.”
And now that we were finally seated across the table looking at each other’s ‘wonderful’ faces, I kinda realised how much this entire affair was moving towards “Awkward” territory. I pretended to be looking at the menu card in the first couple of minutes, just to avoid our eyes meeting. Then, after four full minutes post making the order, and then staring around for a while – I finally decided to break the silence.
“So tell me something about yourself.” I blurted out, without giving it a shred of thought.
“What?! You’ve known me for about two years, we practically spend seven hours a day sitting next to each other and you’re asking me to tell you something about myself? You’re not exactly scoring a lot of points here, you know.”
There. And now thanks to me, it was officially awkward, and I marked that as Distaster #1 in my head.
And then we struggled to find things to talk about, which was rather unexpected – considering we never ran out of those whilst we were in class. Somewhere amidst-
“Gosh, you’re so lazy.”
“It’s called selective participation, ma’am. You ought to try it some time.”I said.
“Ahaan, still lazy. Do you feel like you leave out trying for a lot of things just because you’re scared you’ll not be accepted?”
“Oh good lord, and when did you decide to become a shrink?” I frowned.
“What’s that supposed to be?” She asked.
“Don’t judge me. I printed out a list of things I looked over the internet for, that you’re supposed to do on your first date.” I said.
Remember, this was a time when cellphone internet wasn’t exactly a prominent thing. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even own a cellphone at the time, just a Sony Walkman for songs (Yeah, I was a bit pre-historic, that way). So browsing & printing a list seemed like a not-so-bad idea at the time.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!”
She burst out laughing, while I just had a weak smile on my face. Feeling rather embarrassed, I started folding the sheet titled ‘STEPS TO MAKE YOUR FIRST DATE AWESOME!” in full caps to put right back in my pocket. Right then, I felt her palm touch mine, as she tried to stop me.
“Wait. Read it out to me.” She said.
“What, seriously?” I asked, confused.
“Prakhar. There’s no denying that we’re both really bad at this – might as well try to make it more like an actual date with some external guidance, shall we? Let’s try to cross out everything off that list.” She said.
I couldn’t really say it at that moment, but this was an essential turning point – suddenly that whole embarrassment factor was out of the window, and it was a comfortable feeling knowing that she wasn’t judging, but instead wanted to play along, for whatever reason.
“Okay. Here we go: Point number #1: Talk about your respective wishlists – the things you really intend to do before you die.” I read out.
“Ahha, and how about you go first?” She said, smiling.
“Me? I’ve never really thought about it, if I’m being honest – but like, ummm – I’d really like to learn how to sketch and paint before I die.” I blurted out.
“Haha, you’re terrible at art, Prakhar! If those doodling skills displayed in the last few pages of the notebooks are any indication, I don’t think that’s ever happening in this lifetime. Maybe agle janam mein?” She laughed.
“Umm, okay. We’ll see. What about you – what’s on your wishlist?” I asked.
“Okay, so mine’s a bit more believable than yours, you know. I hope to find myself dancing with Tom Cruise under the midnight sky in Venice, preferably before he turns sixty, with someone playing Pehla Nasha on some instrument, in the background.” She said, almost blushing.
“Yep, yours is definitely more believable.” I laughed.
“You’ll see.” She smiled.
We went on crossing off the things on the list – ranging from “Ask each other about any and all previous crushes” or “Discuss your taste in music” (Surprisingly, both of us liked Pehla Nasha) all the way to “Try to get comfortable talking about the things other people like or hate about each of you.”
The rest of the dinner seemed to hold a rather stable footing after that, and the whole disaster I was anticipating after showing her the list seemed like a passing ‘no blow’ event. Not once did we bother discussing how the food was, or pretty much anything related to the dinner for that matter.
“So how do we split the bill?” She asked.
But my right hand already reached for the bill, just as my left hand did for my pocket.
“Prakhar, are you going to tell me you’re not going to let me to pay for the bill?” She said. Her expression easily showcased how insulted she felt, and I stopped dead.
“Nah, not at all. How about we go dutch?” I blurted out rather quickly.
“You’re trying to score some ass-saving points now, Mr. Prabhakar?”
“No, ma’am. I just realized that I’ve got a mere 400 bucks in my pocket, and the bill’s for a 750. Call it another disaster on my part, but I think going dutch makes more sense, doesn’t it?”
“Haha, sure. ‘Going dutch’ was the correct answer, by the way. But it seems you stumbled on it by accident.”
“Ah, well. Lucky me.”
I think she knew I was lying. Thereon, of course, I made a pact with myself to either always go dutch with a lady, or to pay in full with the promise that the next date’s on her, to equalise. And that way, there usually always was a ‘next date’.
After leaving the restaurant, we walked for a while, talking about the rather disastrous first date experience. The clock was hitting 10, and it was high time we both called it a night.
“You don’t really have to drop me, silly.” She said, as we were walking.
“We’re like 400 metres from your place. And I’m gonna finish this off the right way. We’re crossing off everything from the First Date list, right?”
“Everything?” She asked.
“Yup, everything.” I said rather confidently.
And then it suddenly hit me.
“Pooja, I realize I’m no Tom Cruise, and this isn’t exactly midnight in Venice, but I want you to dance with me. Right here, right now – on this footpath, not caring about who or whatever’s around. I’ll play Pehla Nasha on my walkman, light volume, each with one earbud – and we go. Done?”
“Here? With all the people around?”
“So? A bunch of teenagers going crazy & dancing on the footpath is weird? Plus, who even knows us here? Pretend like no one’s around, and for the next thirty seconds – just look into my eyes and let go. Just dance, that’s it.”
“But I don’t even know how to dance.”
“Well, it’s simple. My right leg goes forward, your left leg goes behind. A tap and a tap. Then vice-versa. Easy-peasy.” I said.
Surprisingly enough, we both found the rhythm in the first ten seconds. She was still staring at the movement of our legs, and just as we caught the beat, she looked up and smiled, her beautiful eyes bigger than ever. I never forgot that moment. Ten years on, and I’d still take a trip back in time just to have those ten seconds back.
“Prakhar, everyone’s looking.”
“Cool, let’s give them something to remember, shall we?”
We kept at it for the next couple of minutes. I remember the song finishing, and me wishing that it would’ve lasted just a few more seconds.
“I guess that’s it then. I feel like these last ten-fifteen minutes really balanced out whatever went downhill at the restaurant. Not the perfect first date you might’ve hoped for, but I hope you had a great time. At least I did.” I said. She nodded in response.
“I feel that even if I do get a chance to dance with Tom Cruise in Venice some crazy midnight a few years down the line, even at that moment I’ll probably be remembering how I crazy-danced on Pehla Nasha on the footpath with a certain idiot boy with everyone around just staring, and me not caring one bit.” She said.
At the time, I was too young and stupid to understand if she was saying that just to save me any further embarrassment, or whether she actually meant it. Either ways, I was smiling now.
“So is everything from your ‘first date’ list officially crossed out?” She asked, still smiling.
“Yes, ma’am. I think it is.” I replied.
“Ah, but I think you’re missing just one last thing, Mr. Prabhakar.”
“Really? And what’s that?”