I had rented a single room in New Delhi when I was 22 years of age. Two years later, I rented a one-bedroom flat. The landlord, who gave the haggard property to me without asking too many questions, left a dressing table behind. The dressing table had a cracked mirror and a huge broken drawer with a number of toothless combs inside.
I threw away those useless combs, replacing them with half a dozen brand new combs that I owned – for no particular reason. After all, I needed just one comb to style my hair while standing in front of the mirror every day. I loved wasting money, in other words, which explained why I ran out of money every month.
Then came the day I turned 25. My parents were ecstatic that I had completed a quarter of a century on earth. Father sent a new shirt for me through my cousin, who also lived in the national capital. Mother, on the other hand, gifted me a pair of bright blue jeans – the colour was indeed bright blue, the manufacturer was some enterprising local company I had never heard of.
My parents should have sent me some cash. I wondered why they chose to send me gifts instead. The month of October was one week old, and my cash reserves had already dried up. I had just about enough money to pay my bills, but hardly any spare amount which I could have spent on my birthday.
I called up my parents and asked if they could send me some money for my birthday celebrations.
“You rascal,” my father boomed, “When I was your age, I had a two-year-old you.”
“You mean I was born by the time you were 25? Wow, you rock.” I tried to crack a joke, which backfired.
“You are damn irresponsible. You don’t know how to save money. Beg, borrow or steal. Do whatever you wish to. Go and kill someone and flee with his money. You won’t get a pie from me,” he yelled.
After dad hung up, I looked at Half Ticket, my pint-sized cocker spaniel who stood close by.
“Sorry, Half Ticket,” I murmured, “There won’t be any special treat for you tonight. I will get a pizza and a couple of beers. You share the pizza with me and celebrate my birthday.”
Half Ticket managed to sound like a cat when he was heartbroken. He meowed, not once but several times.
Then, he stood on his two hind legs and held on to the centre table. On it was a big photograph of Joanna, my 40-year-old divorcee girlfriend who lived in with an affluent man who was exactly her age. The woman said she loved me and two-timed guiltlessly, and Half Ticket seemed to suggest that I call her up to solve my problems.
So, that is what I did.
“Oh my love, happy birthday,” Joanna moaned the moment she heard my voice.
“Thank you, darling. I am broke though. I won’t be celebrating my birthday this time,” I confessed, adding, “Of course, if you spend and allow me to host the party in your house, it is going to be a different story.”
“You know this is not my house. It is his house,” she stammered clumsily. “So, no, that is impossible.”
“No birthday celebrations for me this time, then. Both Half Ticket and I were counting on you.” I mentioned my cocker’s name deliberately, knowing how much she loved him.
“Oh, he too wants it that way, is it?” She giggled. “Let me see what I can do.”
Later that evening, 76 of us arrived at her lover’s palatial eight-bedroom home which also had an indoor swimming pool, a basketball court, and a tennis court.
“Welcome everybody,” her lover said, grinding his teeth as he stood near the door with Joanna. He hated me.
“He is spending a lot of money to celebrate his 25th birthday,” she said and winked at me. In fact, it was she who had done the spending, which her lover did not know.
Champagne and cognac were the two chief temptresses. Waiters served food from an eclectic menu with choicest dishes from Mediterranean and Mughlai cuisines. Had my dad tried to host such a grand party, he would have had to let go of one year of salary. I clicked many photographs to make sure he understood that I had enough savings, which I spent only because he had refused to part with a small sum.
Everybody was high on booze and celebrating the spirit of the day. Suddenly, Joanna asked, “Hey, where is Half Ticket?”
True, where was he?
The party came to a standstill. Guests started looking for the disappeared little one. Andrea, my confidante, and ex-girlfriend had downed too many drinks. She tottered up to me and blurted, “You should have a Full Ticket, an Alsatian, perhaps. Someone has kidnapped Half Ticket. Ssshhh, your girlfriend’s lover might have done it.”
I looked at the man. He stood, sulking, as the search for Half Ticket continued.
“Ticket, Teee-ket,” Joanna cooed and wept. “Tee-ket, where are you, my baby?”
Half Ticket’s name wasn’t Tee-ket. For a while, I resented Joanna for uttering one half of his name in a melodramatic way.
The dog couldn’t be found in any of the bedrooms, bathrooms, living and family rooms. He was nowhere to be seen in the study, kitchens, dining rooms and garden. My girlfriend’s lover went for an unscheduled swim and confirmed that he hadn’t drowned in the swimming pool.
Where was he?
I found him. He lay sprawled under a sofa inside a living room where many guests who were indifferent to his disappearance were enjoying finger food and drinks.
An empty whiskey glass which someone must have placed near the sofa lay near his head. I took my nose near his mouth and realised that Half Ticket had polished off the remnants quietly. He was fast asleep – and snoring.
“Half Ticket. Hey, Half Ticket…”I was freaking out but trying not to show it. Joana stood next to me, bawling. Her unmoved lover was a few feet away. His eyebrows were pointing towards the sky, a clear sign of disgust.
Suddenly, the dog opened its eyes. He was drunk. “Happy drunk birthday,” he cooed. Then, slowly, he went back to sleep once again.
Joanna got a piece of boiled chicken in a bowl from the kitchen. She placed it close to where Half Ticket lay while saying, “He will look for food when he wakes up.”
I kept on looking at the dog for quite some time. Before I stood up to enjoy the party, I poured a few drops of whiskey into the bowl.
“Guess he too has the right to party hard,” I told Joanna.
Her lover kicked the wall and left the room.