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“Here comes your poha with chai, Sirji.” Raju grinned at Kunal.

“Thanks, Raju.”

It was Monday morning. After the late night movie with friends, Kunal hurried to the office and was unable to prepare his breakfast. The canteen below the office building was a savior to his grumbling stomach. It was a small canteen with wooden benches and Neelkamal fiber chairs. Nothing fancy about the place. Raju and Chotu were prompt at serving the customers at the rush hour. People shared tables as it was getting crowded. He looked at the watch.

“9. 10 AM… I still have twenty minutes more to hang around,” he thought to himself.

He scooped the spoon in the soft yellow, well-garnished with coriander poha with a plate of curry, famously called as ‘Turry’in Nagpur. He suddenly missed poha cooked by his Aai. It had been almost five years he had left his hometown Wardha for this job at the bank. He was earning well and had received a promotion for the post of senior manager, a few months ago.

As he finished his plate, his eyes caught sight of this pretty girl in a yellow embroidered kurta with bottle green churidar. The perfectly pedicured feet adorned the flat chappals along with a pair of anklets. Her straight, silky hair was tied in a pony with some loose tresses falling on her fair, dimpled cheeks. He couldn’t take his eyes off her.

“Raju, hurry up. I am a bit late today.” She said as she sat on the chair in front of Kunal.

“Oh, excuse me. Can I sit here? There are no other vacant chairs.”

“Oh yes…you can. Hmm…er, no one is sitting here,” Kunal fumbled as her arrival in front of him was unexpected.

“Thanks.” She took out ‘The Palace of Illusions’ and buried her head in it as if she was oblivious of all the hustle bustle going around in the congested canteen.

He was still looking at her. As she looked through the book towards him, he got embarrassed.

“Didi, here’s your samosa with mattha.” The similar grin of Raju.

She nodded without lifting her eye from the book.

As she started eating with her book in one hand and the samosa dipped in the mattha, Kunal couldn’t stop himself. “One should not read while eating. My mom says so.”

She looked at him and continued reading.

“I am sorry for the unwanted advice.”

“My mom also says that.” She said factually as she took a bite of the samosa.

Kunal was brought up in the town of Wardha, Maharashtra. Speaking to girls, without any reason or work-related issue was not his forte. Five years into the job and he had never flirted around in the office. He was kind of shy in that matter. He was surprised at himself that how could he blurt out those words in front of her. He checked his watch and returned to his work station.

The next morning as he started his bike, he thought of the pretty samosa girl. He headed to the canteen, even though he had had his breakfast at home. As he entered, his eyes started searching for her. There she was, again sitting with the same book and this time she had a kachori with mattha. He chose a table a bit far from her. He didn’t want to stalk her, but just looking at her made him feel pleasant. Today, she was wearing a light pink embroidered kurta and white salwar. The metallic earrings completed her ethnic look.

“Raju, bring a cutting chai for me.”

He sipped through the cup trying not to get noticed by her but kept looking at her.

However, she caught him doing that. He felt embarrassed.

The next day he didn’t visit the canteen, even though he was dying to.

In a couple of days, he asked Raju while ordering his tea about the girl.

“She is Aditi didi. She works at the magazine below your bank. She is new here.”

“Oh, okay.”

A few more days passed. Kunal won’t visit the canteen daily. He didn’t want to get noticed. However, after a gap of a couple of days, he would be seated at a table looking at her. He didn’t try to break the ice. Aditi had taken notice of his presence but chose to be with herself.

This morning as he entered the canteen, he saw Aditi sitting with two others. They were talking, giggling unwary of the surroundings. They took a couple of selfies. After a while, they left the place. Kunal noticed Aditi’s book lying on the table.

“She must have forgotten it .” he thought as he picked it up and flipped through the pages.

“Excuse me, my book.”Aditi was standing before him.

“Yes. I am sorry. I was just going to bring it to you.”

There was a pause.

“I work at the bank. I have noticed you reading this.”

“Yes. I know and I have noticed you noticing me.”Aditi chuckled.

He blushed.

“I am Aditi Mehra, the Assistant editor at ‘The Changemakers’. The magazine, you know? My office is just below your floor.” She offered a handshake.

“Glad to meet you. My name is Kunal.”

“Kunal Patekar, Senior manager at FCDI Bank. Even I did some R&D about you.”

“Oh, I don’t know how can anybody find anything interesting in me?”

“Those were my friends, Radha and Aarya, from Bangalore. I am basically from Bangalore. I will be back in a couple of minutes as I need to see them off.” Kunal stood there looking at her. She looked so petite in that floral top and blue denim jeans. Her sneakers added a casual touch to her bubbly personality.

“I think we can walk back to the office building together,” Aditi initiated the talks. It was barely a five-minute distance, but Kunal wanted it to last for eternity.

The ice was broken. Now, most of the time they used to share the same table. Aditi would keep aside the book and listen to his talks. At times, Kunal would bring his breakfast in tiffin to share with her. He was a great cook. Sometimes, they would catch up for lunch at the canteen.

“How can you cook such tasty food every day?” Aditi was feasting on the daal fry.

“I can’t handle the hotel food much.” He said with a smile.

“I can also cook. A nice bowl of Maggi noodles though, and for variety, I can cook Yippee noodles too”. Aditi laughed. Her laugh was clear and infectious.

“Don’t worry. As long as I am here, you can have a variety of food.” He kept looking at her.

It was the weekend and Kunal was going to Wardha to meet his parents. As he sat in the bus looking out of the window, he felt a pat on his shoulder.

“Aditi! What a surprise!”

“I thought I would visit Sevagram. The Gandhi ashram. I have heard a lot about it.” She placed her backpack and sat beside him.

“Why are you traveling by bus? You could have driven there by your car. State transport is not that comfortable,” Kunal was curious.

“I like to travel. And local transport gives you the flavour of the place. You get to see people, their languages, and typicality of the place.”

“Ok. But since Sevagram is near to Wardha, I want you to come along with me to my home. I hope you don’t mind.”

After visiting the Sevagarm ashram, both of them were at his home. Aditi fell in love with the rangoli made by his mother at the door. His was a typical Maharashtrian household. They talked for hours sitting in the courtyard. At dinner, his Aai served bharli vaangi and jowar roti.

After the dinner, they went to the terrace. The talks were flowing under the sky full of stars.

“Now I understand from where you got those culinary skills.”

“Aditi as you can see, I come from a very humble background. My dad is a teacher and mom, a homemaker. I used to watch her cook and was drawn towards the process of creating awesome food by simple steps. I would at times, cook dishes for the family. The internet helped me in searching for new recipes to try. I wished to join hotel management courses. The dream was to open my own food joint. But, I had to choose engineering and ended up being a banker. I needed a job as early as possible to support my father’s earning. But, I didn’t give up on my passion for cooking. I cook for myself, my friends, and now-a-days for you. It is a real stress buster for me.”

That night, Aditi felt as if she had come to know something about Kunal from a different perspective.

Aai didn’t allow her to stay at a hotel. Next morning after lunch, both of them started back for Nagpur.

The small journey brought them a bit closer to each other.

“Kunal, will you be my teacher?”

“Teacher?” “You know I was brought up in cosmopolitan culture. Being the only child I was pampered a lot. My parents allowed me to follow my dreams and supported me when I went for a journalism course. I came to Nagpur for this job. I haven’t cooked anything other than omelet bread, Maggi noodles, or tea in my life. There had always been a full-time cook at home. I want to surprise my mom on her birthday by cooking a full three-course meal on her birthday. Will you help me?”

“I will be glad to. But, you seem to be a difficult student. Bit naughty one.”

“No, I will be a disciplined one. Every Sunday I will be there at your place. You will give me the list of ingredients that I can bring along. Please… please…please.”

It was Sunday and she was there on time as a sincere student.

“You look great,” Kunal said as he opened the door.

She was in her rugged jeans with a casual orange round neck T-shirt. Her hair was falling on her shoulder. He felt an urge to feel those soft tresses. However, he guided her to the living room.

His home was a one BHK studio apartment. It was neatly kept. They headed towards the kitchen. The kitchen was well-organized with properly kept jars and utensils. Aditi opened the fridge to get some water. It was well stored with all the essentials.

“Gosh, you are so organized. I don’t know what you will say when you will have a look at my flat. It’s always a mess with books lying all around.”

“It’s a matter of each person’s love and passion. You find it in books while I am more into cooking.”

“So, what are we going to cook today?”Aditi asked eagerly.

“We will start with simple recipes first. I will show you how to cook Dal Makhni today.”

“Great.”

“Will you bring that pressure cooker, Aditi?”

“Wait”

Aditi was standing in front of him with her handy cam.

“I will record while you cook. So that in case, if I forget anything, I can watch it all over again.”

“That’s a good idea. But, do pay attention.”

He explained the recipe in details, with tips and tricks to improve. His hands moved swiftly and with charm. After the cooking session, they ate and sat chatting about their dreams and fancies. In the evening, Aditi asked him to accompany her to the book shop near his home. She picked a few books.

“Oh man…”Aditi exclaimed.

“What happened?”

“I forgot my pouch, which contains my cards. Will you please pay for me? I will pay back as soon as I reach home.” Aditi looked at him hopefully.

“What if I gift these books to you?”

“No, no gifts, please. As a matter of fact, I should gift you something as you are teaching me the art of cooking. No gifts for now. Maybe on my birthday, I will ask by myself.” There was something so easy about her that Kunal instantly felt at ease with her in every situation. She was smart and so clear in her approach.

She insisted for his bank details so that she could transfer the Rs. 3899/- which he paid for her books. She asked him to treat her with ice-cream instead. Kunal kept looking at her vivacious beauty as she waved him bye from her car.

Months went by. Every Sunday, they would cook together, eat, and hang around. Both of them felt a connection with each other. Kunal was smitten by her from the first day itself. However, he always maintained a level of dignity and never expressed anything.

“Beep Beep”. Kunal received a text message. He picked up the phone to check his message. He was puzzled. It was a message from the bank. The next message was from YouTube Google Adsense. Some kind of amount has been deposited in his account for the viewership generated by his channel. He thought that it was some kind of spam. However, he checked his account. Yes, there was some amount deposited. He couldn’t figure out anything.

In the evening, Aditi was waiting for him at the canteen. He showed her the message and told about the transaction.

“Wow wow…finally!” Aditi was grinning.

“What do mean?” Kunal raised his eyebrows.

“Promise me, you won’t scold me for this Kunal.”

“What?”

She took out her phone and opened the YouTube app.

There it was. His YouTube channel. It had all the videos she made while he was teaching her on Sundays.

“I did this. You have got an amazing skill Kunal and I wanted to show it to the world.”

“You didn’t even tell me Aditi.”

“You would have never agreed. You buried your passion for your financial needs. You cooked just for yourself. But, I wanted it to get the kind of recognition you deserve. I didn’t forget my purse that day. I just wanted to have your bank details. I wanted to surprise you. I cannot make your dream of a restaurant come true. But, I wanted to make you realize that there is still a lot you can do about it. This is just a small start. It can take you to places. I don’t know why your dream seemed to be a part of my life. I don’t know how and when I fell in love with you, your shyness, your skill, and the respect you showed towards me. I was always around you. But, you never tried to take advantage of my trust and faith.”

“Aditi, I don’t know what to say. I am not angry with you. But there was no need of doing this.”

“There was a need. Talent like you should not get lost in regular 9 to 6 banking job. This is your passion. Follow it, in whatever possible way.”

Kunal held her hand slowly. “I loved you from the first moment of that samosa and mattha. Thank you for being there in my life and giving me another perspective.”

“I don’t want thanks. I know it’s a meager amount from YouTube handsome chef, but let’s celebrate.”

In a few months, the YouTube channel, “The Banker Chef” had thousands of followers. Kunal had published his first cookery book ‘The Marathi Kitchen’. The money that came from YouTube didn’t matter much. However, what mattered to Kunal was that Aditi was with him in his passion, loving him, encouraging him and at times, teasing him with her culinary skills by cooking a variety of Maggi and Yippiee noodles.

-Bhavna Gajbe

Thanks for reading.