Readers Write In #398: A Rooftop Conversation

Posted on August 22, 2021


(by R Kailasham)

I know that I shall meet my fate*
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate
Those that I guard I do not love

Somewhere in Tokyo, atop a chrome-and-glass building, is nestled an open-air bar that seems bigger than it ought to be. Two strangers, seated by themselves at opposite ends, were wishing that the space were situated twice as high instead. At the current elevation, the horizon was simply monopolized by capitalist mushrooms scraping the sky. The sky itself was shedding its orange blush for a deeper shade of indigo. It was going to be a bold night.

Vasanth grew weary of his solitude and asked Sumathi if the seat opposite hers was taken. Sumathi gestured him to take a seat. Her vigil had started to grate on her nerves as well.

“Flying solo tonight?”

“Not intentionally. My partner was supposed to be here half an hour ago.”

“Same story here, I am afraid.”

Trying his best to change the topic, Vasanth asked what she was drinking.

“Plain H2O”, Sumathi replied, tipping her glass slightly. “What is your poison?”

“The same with a bit of CO2 thrown in. Makes it bubbly, you know.”

“Yes, so I have heard.”

“How long are you in town for?”

“I live and work here”, replied Vasanth, “and what about you?”

“Just this one week. We are staying in this hotel.”

“OK. Go on.”

“What do you mean, go on?”

“I meant, go on, we have both got time to kill, you could say something about yourself.”

“Hmm, I would say that I am a book lover”.

“Do you read a lot, then?”

“No, I just love books.”

“But you don’t read them? Do you just smell them instead?”

“I read sometimes.”

“Suit yourself. I wish you wouldn’t call yourself a book lover, though. It is misleading.”

“Hey, it is a free country.”

“Of course, it is. Doesn’t mean it would absolve you from the consequences of your choices.”

“Interesting. And what may I ask, would the consequences be?”

“Don’t look at me. I am just saying that when someone says they love books, I assume they love reading them.”

“Suit yourself.”

“I do love movies, though.”

“Here we go again.”

“No, I watch a lot of movies, and there are a few movies that I have watched a lot of times.”

“Hmm. Does this conversation remind you of any movie you’ve watched?”

Lost in Translation. What do you think?”

Vasanth smiled for the first time that evening. “Totally with you on that.”

“Unlike our better halves, who are missing in action this evening.”

Vasanth raised his now half-empty glass in a silent mock-toast.

“Where is your date, if I may ask?”

“She had a photoshoot up in the mountains. She said she’d be back by 5.30 PM if the lighting and all were perfect.”

“Wow. You are dating a model?”

“Why the tone of surprise?”

Sumathi quickly recovered. “What? No!”

Vasanth unhooked the bait, “Just kidding, she is a photographer. What’s your story?”

“He is attending the World Crypto Conference. He is a professor-”

“No. Not his story. Your story”

The lighting probably saved Sumathi’s blushes from being seen.

“I design biomedical equipment for use in hospitals. And watch movies whenever I get the time. Also love books.”

Vasanth rolled his eyes.

“Yup. That’s me. Plain old me.”

“Pardon my pestering, why do you keep repeating that you love books?”

“I suppose it has become a habit now. He loves books and does read a lot of them. And I think-“

“You think saying that would make him like you better?” blurted Vasanth, and then wished he hadn’t said anything at all.

Half past seven gleamed on his watch. Taking the chance to change tack, he asked “Hey, do you want to grab something to eat?”

Sumathi snapped deep out of her thoughts and nodded.

Vasanth decided to fill the silence for want of anything better to do. “I am a Mathematics postdoc at the University of Kyoto. I get paid for solving equations. It is like drawing a salary for having fun.” 


The waitress had arrived, taken their orders, and left the table as if she were walking on water. Very fluid like. Bruce Lee would have approved.

“What’s your favorite movie?”

Kalki by K. Balachander”.

“Ooh. I love the songs in that one.”

“But there is another film which is my go-to fix: I have watched it fifty-four times by the last count?”

“And which movie boasts this great honor?”

Jab We Met.”


“You have my word.”

“What makes you go back to the movie? As in, did you have fifty-odd .. “


“..yes fifty-four different reasons to watch the movie?”

“No, it was the same reason each of those times.”

“Will I be pushing too far if I asked what that reason was?”

Sumathi raised her eyebrows, remained silent, but retained a warm smile. Not the harshest rebuff, Vasanth thought to himself.

Two bowls of piping hot soup had meanwhile materialized on the table in front of them. 

“I have a go-to movie too: Unnaale Unnaale by Jeeva. Must have watched it at least a dozen times.”

“I suppose you are going to tell me why?”

Vasanth raised his eyebrow in an exaggerated imitation of what had passed on Sumathi’s face a few moments ago and was rewarded with a tinkling laugh.

“It is funny. I gave up my chance to attend the networking dinner at the World Crypto Conference, so that I could be with her. And now..”

“I hope she is alright. She has gone to the mountains.”

“Oh, she will be alright. The rest of the crew are locals, and it is not snowing now.”

“No text message or update?”

“No. And if I were to ask her..”

“She would say that she was too busy.”

“Haha. Well, well, you might not read a lot of books, but you sure have a way of reading people.”

“This one was easy. My man..”

Sumathi paused a moment and realized how the last two words sounded. She liked what she heard, and continued, “ man also does the same thing.”

“And you are OK with it?”

Non-committal shrug.

“It seems very shallow to me. It surely wouldn’t cost a lot of time/attention, right?”


Their phones lay side by side on the table, screens gaping silently into the night sky.

Sumathi’s phone rang first. Her man just couldn’t get out of the networking session because there were so many interesting people, and he had just been approached by two startups to serve as a consultant. He had already had dinner, and he just spotted a shop selling seaweed and ginger flavored ice cream, so would Sumathi be interested in joining him for dessert? 

“Yes?” Vasanth asked her eagerly once she had put her phone down and told him what transpired “would you be interested?”

“Nope. I don’t think I would like the seaweed+ginger combo.”

A heartbeat for a pause.

“But I am going to meet him, nonetheless. I am sure they would have other flavors at this ice cream place.”

As Sumathi gestured to the waitress for the check and swiped her phone into a clutch purse, Vasanth continued to stare at her incredulously.

Sumathi returned his stare in earnest, “What? Don’t tell me you wouldn’t have done the same?”

Vasanth, with a vigorous shake of his head, “No way. I would have stood my ground. Been more indignant. No compro- “

His phone’s turn to ring.

“Yes, darling. Of course, I did grab dinner. You are at Shinjuku station? Sure, I think it is best if you turn in early tonight. We still have 2 more days of your stay in Japan. I will see you in the room.”

Vasanth’s grin more sheepish under Sumathi’s judgmental eyebrow raise.

“I suppose I am not too different from you, then”, he relented.

“No, you are not.”

They closed their tabs and stood poised to part ways.

“You know, I really like Lost in Translation too”, blurted Vasanth, “but I don’t think I could bear watching it more than once.”

“I agree. That is one classy movie which I could never re-watch.”

And on that enigmatic note, they bade their goodbyes. 

*These lines are taken from the poem “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death” [by W. B. Yeats]