It was a pleasant evening in December 2018. I was standing on the pavement opposite the beach waiting for an acquaintance to show up so I could show him my city, Mumbai. I met him online through an expat community and he had reached out to me putting out feelers that he was new to the city and I could give him a shout if I needed company to hang around. His polite request made me give it a shot. I must admit that wasn’t the only reason I agreed. He was tall as a giraffe and that made him very attractive. I’ve never really been around such a tall man before. Of course, my family is full of beanstalks but not so tall. Nevertheless, the point is that there was something about him that made it hard to refuse. Little did I know this gentleman was about to give me an experience of a lifetime.
Our preliminary meeting in December 2018
He was late. By almost 20 minutes and I was getting impatient. Commuting around Mumbai can get frustrating. But I ignored my discomfort since he was new to the city and needed that benefit of doubt. When he finally got out of his cab, I saw him on the opposite end of the road with traffic on both the sides testing our patience even more. We managed to meet each other halfway on the divider. While we waited for the traffic to ease up, we shook hands and exchanged pleasantries. He introduced himself as “I’m Srdjan, sorry I’m late.” And I respond “It’s okay, I’m Hithakshi, welcome to Mumbai.” We struggled to pronounce each other’s names let alone know what it meant.
Srdjan was from Serbia. He continued the conversation by saying “I am from a little town called Novi Sad. My company has a project in India and I am here for a short time”. We enjoyed the rest of the evening taking a long walk on the beach and I kept the monologue about my city going on and on. After walking for almost half a kilometer, I realised I am the only one talking and that he is a great listener. I decided to shut up and let him open up. He spoke to me about how huge Mumbai is and that he is taking the time to adapt to everything, from culture to cuisines and language to lifestyle. But he was enjoying the change. He spoke until the sun started setting and the orange hue spread across the horizon. We drank coconut water and for him that was a novel thing to experience since he came from a land of snow. As it got dark, we felt the cool breeze upon us and I observed his quiet demeanor surrender to it. Somehow, I got a feeling that he was escaping from something or may be from someone and he longed for a transition like this. I allowed him to enjoy this downtime, unfortunately not for long. We had a stop to make. I had promised to show him a temple in the vicinity and savour the dinner cooked in the temple premises. Fortunately, he enjoyed the spiritual experience and again, I spoke a lot and observed him nodding his head on everything I said. We spent a long time at the temple and then I had to rush back home since it was getting dark. He called for a cab back home and dropped me near the closest train station.
The summer of March 2019
I didn’t hear from him for the next 3 months and almost forgot about him. And then one day, he surprised me with a message on Women’s Day and said that he is back in the country after a short trip back home. I was delighted to hear from him. All the butterflies in my stomach woke up from slumber. He asked me out for coffee this time and we agreed to meet up the following Saturday. This time we met at his favourite place in the city and strolled through the gardens and talked about everything under the sun. We continued to meet every Saturday and I looked forward to each weekend to be with him. We had countless topics to keeping talking about. We spoke about our dreams, aspirations, childhood memories, career choices, the setbacks we faced in our lives, our disappointments, our past relationships and our approach to life in general. As the days we went by we grew closer and enjoyed each other’s company even more.
On one of the days, he expressed how much he enjoys being around me and if it was possible, he would have proposed to me and taken me to Serbia. He told me how he felt grounded in my company and that he would want to keep in touch even after he returns home permanently. I quietly listened to him with a smile but couldn’t say anything. I felt like he hit the right chord. He spoke my mind. I knew I liked him too but it would have been a foolish move to ruin a friendship for the sake of a short-term romance. His friendship was more important to me than the romance. We were quiet for a long time. I could neither acknowledge nor deny his declarations. But I smiled so maybe he understood. Suddenly the equation between us had changed and we didn’t know how to approach it.
People in Mumbai can be a tad conservative at times. We attracted a lot of attention each time we were together. Despite the strong feelings for each other, we never indulged in public display of affection. I was never comfortable battling eyes with my fellow people when they gave me a ghastly gaze. Which is why despite his several attempts to hold my hand, I would drive him away with regret. I would feel bad but I had to deal with it to avoid unwanted attention. I would prefer to be seen as his local guide than anything else. But secretly, I wanted to experience his soft palms holding mine.
May 2019 – A thrilling move!
After a few days of knowing each other more, he asked me out on a date. I was hesitant to fan these flames but he was persistent on taking me out. We went on a date on the 4th of May 2019. Our date was not less than a Cinderella story. I had the perfect blue dress I had bought earlier in the hope that I might go out on a date someday but I ended up wearing it at work a few times. Despite this, the dress never lost its charm. Maybe it waited for that day to arrive to serve its purpose. I went shopping for the right sandals and found the perfect stilettos. I didn’t want my mother to see me prep up for a date as she is too conservative about who I go out with. So, while she was at work, I stepped out of the house. I visited the salon to get my hair and makeup done through an army of people. For the first time ever, I felt like a princess. Time was running slow but I relished longing for him. While the beauty experts worked on me, I gently closed my eyes and thought of him. I felt proud of the fact that despite being a foreigner in the city, he managed to book the appropriate venue for our date. The clock struck 4.40pm and my phone rang. I heard his gentle voice and sensed the desperation in him to see me. I rushed to meet him hoping I wouldn’t trip over myself in excitement.
And there he was! My King in his formal attire wearing black shirt, grey trousers and polished formal shoes. His long sleeves were folded till his elbows, his beautiful charcoal gray coloured long silky hair tied in a pony tail was shining in the sun, his metal watch hung on his wrist and his mischievous smile through his French beard was killing me. My dress radiated in the sun and I looked vibrant. I had never been on a date like this before and never did I experience a man formally attired to go out with me. He saw me from a distance and his eyes twinkled with delight. He held my hands and planted a delicate kiss on my cheek and I flushed. We boarded a cab to head to the restaurant and the next 45 minutes were spent in his arms. The one thing I could never forget from the time we first met was the scent of his body and on our date, I was able to immerse in it to the point of no return. It was intoxicating, like I was immediately transported to the green Serbian lands.
We reached the restaurant and were greeted like celebrities. The restaurant had an idyllic setting. It was a beach front restaurant, with tiny candles on each table, dim lights, romantic instrumentals playing in the background and the best of all cool breeze and full moon blessing us that moment. He took my hand and kissed my fingers. I felt his soft lips admiring me like never before. His eyes unabashedly into mine and I could feel him melt every moment. We spoke a lot at the dinner table but the occasional silence allowed us to express our unspoken feelings.
It was time for me to get back home although I felt otherwise. A huge part of me felt something missing, like it was incomplete but at the same time I felt fulfilled in his company. My dress served its purpose. I got more than I could possibly ask for from the man who found me out of a billion people living in Mumbai to be his date. As we walked down the quiet alleyway towards our respective cabs, he pulled me closer to him and kissed me passionately. I gently raised my left foot a little. For a brief magical moment, I was Anne Hathaway from Princess Diaries kissing her prince. That’s when the missing element was fulfilled. My date was complete with all the memories I could gather and take home with me. It was a long journey for us back home and at the stroke of the midnight hour, I reached home in my modern “Uber” carriage.
After a few months, he had to return home. We kept each other in our hearts and cherished all the moments we created together knowing that we might just get busy with our rigmaroles and never look back.
They say love comes is various forms. Most of us rarely understand when it knocks the door. Whether this was our love or fondness, I believe something drew us together. We were destined to meet. There was a karmic element to our association. When we were together, we aligned well.
Maybe there is nothing unusual about my story, but the element of magic is distinct. The whole Serbian-Indian romance was mesmerising. And no matter what happens, a little bit of magic allows us to reach those aspects of our inner world that could have been dormant because of our outer world obligations. Therefore, despite living in two different continents, the magic will stay on, we will always be fond of each other and the love will grow each day.
And yes, I will never forget the scent of my Serbian King!