Friday, December 17, 2010

Vijay Forewarns

When I reached my room I found that the door was not latched and I entered without making any noise. Vijay was asleep, snoring lightly. I felt like talking to him badly. As I shook him awake, he sat upright with a start, and on finding that it was me, relaxed, rubbed his eyes and stretched his limbs. “God, it is you! Where the hell had you been?” he asked.

“I will tell you everything. But first tell me why are you sleeping keeping the door open?” I asked him a question in reply. It was not that I was worried about keeping the door unbolted while sleeping, for I knew for sure there was hardly a thing to be stolen and whatever were stolen in the hostel were lifted through the window using a hook at night. I was embarrassed to face him, ridden with guilt as I was. He never kept any secrets from me and I had deceived him by concealing something I knew before I left for that unforgettable trip. Without knowing myself for sure, I had insinuated that I was going on a date and it indeed had turned out to be a date, nay, a honeymoon of sorts. I needed some time to organize my thoughts and decide what to tell him and how.

“I had been for jogging with Bhaskar and Suresh. When I came back, I was tired and drifted into sleep.”

“Surprise! Surprise! You guys have started jogging? That’s very nice! But don’t you feel you are too old for jogging? It’s enough if you just walk a couple miles!” I teased him.

“So you have joined the other buffoons who tease me on my age?” he said without minding my jive and got up from the bed. I lit a cigarette without offering him one, knowing well that he didn’t smoke. But he surprised me by asking for one.

“Mama, while I was away, you have grown up!” I teased him, lighting his cigarette. He inhaled and coughed; his eyes were filled with water.

“My dear brother, I used to smoke earlier. You keep forgetting that I have been the headmaster of the school in which you are a student,” he tried to joke.

“Yes, it shows!” I snapped.

“I’ve found out that cigarettes help in concentrating on what I read,” he tried to explain. I nodded without agreeing with him.

“Well, what’s your story? You’ve been away for three days. So was Mohan. Even Nirupama and Vani had gone missing. I already know part of the story,” he said looking into my eyes.

“Ah! Anybody can put two and two together and arrive at a wrong conclusion!”

“True, but there was no chance of arriving at a wrong conclusion in this case! But in this case two and two were definitely put together!” I couldn’t but smile at his attempt at making a pun.

“Mama, I didn’t know where I was going the day Mohan asked me to meet him at the bus stop. Nor did I know that the girls were coming too. It was totally unexpected. First they said we’d been invited by Saroja to her house. We did go to her house. But later they took me to Jog Falls,” I tried to give him a watered down version, “That’s why I couldn’t tell you where I was going.”

“You need not be apologetic Harsha. But tell me in detail what happened. I am really curious to know.”

Now I knew that he couldn’t be so easily satisfied, that I could not stave him off lightly, that he could easily make out what I wouldn’t tell him and above all Mohan was going to tell everybody anyway. When Mohan gave his version, which he usually did when he was high on liquor, it would all be a mixture of facts and fiction, colourful and humourous. It was better that I told about me myself rather than letting Mohan do it. I narrated every detail to Vijay taking care to skip erotic and sensual portions, which he would anyway imagine the way he liked.  He heard everything with utmost interest and rapt attention, asking questions wherever he required clarifications or more details and seemed to enjoy every bit of it.

“What do you say? In all this I was an unwilling partner and I want to take it off my mind as soon as possible,” I said at the end.

He threw the butt of the cigarette out of the window and smiled, “Harsha, you have played into her hands”

“Whose hands?”

“Dear, you may be well aware that the girls in the ladies’ hostel often used to discuss about you and you are generally considered not easily accessible. Vani boasted always that you are one of her closest friends and had challenged a couple of girls that she would conquer you, vanquish you and make you dance to her tune, or to use her own words, “to take you in” in just under a week.”

“What? I can’t believe girls would talk like this. Where did you hear this?”

“Wrong question. Instead the question should have been ‘why didn’t you warn me’”

“That would have followed. But who told you this?”

“I heard it from a girl from my place, who stays in the same hostel. I didn’t tell it to you for I didn’t myself believe it and I thought it was just a gossip, worthless and trifle.’”

“Would you believe that the girls can talk about the boys the way you describe Vani talking about me?”

“Maybe all girls won’t talk. But I am talking about Vani and the likes of her” I could feel the contempt in his tone.

“Alright. It means I have made a fool of myself. Doesn’t it?”

“It also means she was right about her prowess.”

“You know, there is an old saying that whether the thorn touches the flower or the flower touches the thorn, only the flower is going to be torn.”

“As long as she is a flower and you are a thorn, it doesn’t matter,” he said feelingly, “but if it turns out to be the other way round…” He deliberately left the sentence incomplete.

He was suggesting that she may turn out to be a thorn in my side. It may sound absurd to those of the present generation, born and brought up in the age of hundreds of TV channels, mobile and internet; but during those times when traditions had not diluted and the values had not eroded, whether they were right or wrong, mattered a lot. They were deeply ingrained in the whole generation of youths like me. We could be easily branded as male chauvinist pigs. In my case it wasn’t exactly a battle between tradition and modernity, but a deeply emotional matter concerning all the dreams that lived in my young heart and oozed from my eyes.

“It may not turn out to be as bad as you make it to be,” I said, trying to brush aside his portentous statement.

“I sincerely hope so, dear. I do sincerely hope so!” he replied grimly.

*&*&*&*&*&*&*&*&*&*&*

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Coming back...

I am suddenly catapulted to the present as the waiter clears the plate deliberately making noise as if to remind me that I had already paid the bill and I must make space for others. I look around and find that there are still a very few customers. I call the waiter back and order another drink. He seems to be used to customers like me for he gives a bored expression trying to avoid looking at me and turns away to bring my order shouting something at a fellow waiter.

As I lift my cell phone to know the time, it starts ringing. I press answer and say ‘Harsha’ instead of ‘hello’.

“I know you are somewhere in Hubli. Aren’t you?” I hear the familiar voice of Pavan. How does he know that I am here? I am puzzled but regret that I cannot lie to him. He is sure to have called Bhaskar, who knew that Nirupama was coming to meet me. Bhaskar has always had this weakness of telling others that he is the securest repository of secrets but always letting all the secrets out, more often than not after adding sufficient masala of his own.

“Yes. I was about to call you. Are you free?”

“Always free for you. Where are you?”

I give him my location. “That’s very good. I am hardly half a kilometer from the hotel. Wait for me,” he says before disconnecting.

Yes, those were the three days that made me what I am today I almost say it aloud but feeling embarrassed I look around to see if anyone is watching me talk to myself. I find nobody is looking. Why anyone would care? I start brooding again. Not all the three days, but the moment when I exploded was what made me what I am today. Could it have been different? Only if I had refused to follow Mohan, only if I had a stronger will to say no, only if… It released the Satan in me, or did it? Greed, lust, wrath, ego, envy were all inherent in my personality, however suppressed by the veneer of values and culture they might have been. In fact I could find these very things in Mohan, Bhaskar, Pavan and a host other friends that I made during my stay on the campus, the only difference being I was more conscious of these qualities, or rather vices as I was wont to ascribe them. But I was still neither better nor more mature than the members of the group into which I was drawn, like a shred of straw is into the vortex of a typhoon.

The last night of the tour was the breaking point in my story, thereafter something changed so fundamentally deep inside me, that even today I am unable to comprehend what it was.

The waiter comes and places my drink on the table. I remember that Pavan is coming and I will have to drink with him too. So I must slow down. I decide against taking a swish and start looking at the entrance. He arrives on a bike, spots me immediately even before he parks it and waves enthusiastically at me. I try to remember how he looked during the campus days and find it too difficult. He must have gained at least a dozen kilos of weight, mostly in the form of fat deposited on his paunch that now protruded pushing his trousers down. He still wears dark glasses that used to be fashionable back then, but now he wears then only while riding his bike. He looks around the whole place before entering, like a college student entering a bar stealthily. It irritates me every time my friends do this, as if they were committing a crime entering the premises where liquor or non vegetarian food is served, though those they are trying to avoid would be in some other bar going through the same ritual!

I wanted to be left alone today but it was not to be so. Instead of coming straight to me, Pavan goes to the washroom. I know this too is a ritual with him. He would take at least quarter of an hour to have a leak, wash his hands thoroughly, then wash his face, wipe it clean with his handkerchief, neatly fold and keep it back in his trouser pocket and draw a comb… and so on!

Unable to resist the temptation to take a swig of my drink, I pour soda water into the whiskey and take a big sip. It indeed was my lowest point, I remember those moments when I lowered my guard and became what I am today…

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Glimmer of Hope

I was getting impatient to get back to my room in the hostel and lie down calmly so long as I liked to, but others seemed like they never wanted to return. I remembered that for the last couple of days I hadn’t eaten properly but surprisingly it had affected me in the least. Mohan and Nirupama could eat anything anywhere and still relish it and Vani enjoyed starving herself, or so it seemed to Mohan who kept jeering at her saying that it was all affectation. She according to him was eating so little to impress us the boys that she was too delicate. As to me, I was in no mood for banter and I didn’t bother about anyone right now, least of all Vani. My thoughts kept wandering to all the lectures that I had missed, all the comfort of my cozy room, the evening swigs of drinks with Vijay, my translation sessions with Hiremath, the part-read novel by Shivaram Karanth that was lay on the table and my ambles through the botanical gardens.

When we reached Dharwad it was just after seven in the evening and darkness was descending fast. We got down at the court and I felt immensely happy smelling the familiar air thick with the aroma of mirchi bhaji, a popular snack of the evening. But I was puzzled when Mohan called a rickshaw and huddled all of us inside. I was sandwiched between Vani and Nirupama while Mohan sat on the edge with part of his body hanging out of rickshaw. I felt most of Nirupama’s bosom touching my shoulder and arm and quickly forgot Vani too clinging to me! But the pleasure was going to be mine only for about five minutes, for the rickshaw came to a grinding halt opposite a three storied hotel building on a narrow lane. Mohan entered the hotel and went to the counter while we waited out.

“Why have we come here?” I asked Nirupama.

“Because we cannot go back to our hostel after seven in the evening.”

That meant I was doomed to spend another night in the hotel with Vani! I tried to hide my disappointment looking away from the girls. Presently Mohan came out of the hotel and called me to have a private talk. I walked to him warily, expecting some trouble. “Harsha, we have to stay in this hotel for the girls can’t go back tonight. The problem is I am, in fact the girls are running short of money. How much do you have?”

I gave him whatever money I had but I knew it was still not sufficient. “I told you right in the beginning that I hadn’t brought money Mohan, I have less than hundred rupees, not even sufficient for the drinks and dinner at our usual place,” I said by way of explanation though there was no need for it.

“I know Harsha. You guys stay occupy the rooms and I will fetch money from the hostel,” he replied and signalled the girls to follow him. All my hopes that he would decide against staying in the hotel came down crashing.

The rooms that were opened for us were under the stairs beside the reception counter. I observed that men after men kept coming accompanied by women, paid cash at the counter, collected the keys and went upstairs. In most cases, women seemed to be leading the men and obviously the receptionist knew them well. Not a word was exchanged between the customers and the receptionist, nor was any entry made in the register of occupants. Although this was all a bit weird and eerie to me, and shocking to my sensibilities too, I understood in a flash what was all this about and hoped that the girls wouldn’t see it and tried to obstruct their view. Mohan observed it and gave me a knowing wink and a ‘don’t worry’ assurance smile. No sooner had we entered one of the rooms than he left hurriedly.

Nirupama sat with us till Mohan arrived in a few minutes less than an hour, carrying two big bulging polythene bags, obviously containing liquor and food reminding me that I had been starving and my craving for the drink had also set in. This was the third night in a row that I was spending away from my hostel, without any information to my parents and however much I tried; I couldn’t keep this thought coming to my mind. What ashamed me even more was my bother of yet another possibility of failure.

“You know what some guys were talking outside?” Mohan whispered to me, “They were saying that they have spotted two new birds!” he giggled.

“What are you two whispering?” Nirupama objected with a raised brow, “No private talk when you are in a group.”

“This concerns only men,” Mohan winked.

Observing Mohan pouring two glasses of whiskey that he had brought, Nirupama asked, “What about this?”

“This too concerns only men,” I replied and Mohan nodded in affirmation. I had gathered that he didn’t like Nirupama drinking.

Dharwad then was a small city and it was quite possible that men who had seen the girls in the hotel might come across them again somewhere. It bothered me but the girls didn’t seem to be concerned at all. I took a swish of whiskey and winced as it tasted very bitter, for in a hurry to get over with dinner, Mohan had not diluted it much.

“Where did you get the money from?” I asked Mohan in a whisper. I knew that he couldn’t get much from the friends.

“The mess contractor,” Mohan replied with a victorious smile. “Just as I got down at the bus stop, I saw him.”

***  **

I couldn’t help myself hoping that Mohan would ask me to go to the other room where Nirupama would be staying, though I had realized that I was hoping against hope but Mohan and Nirupama promptly walked away after dinner, with Nirupama saying, “Have a good one!” with a wink, before she followed Mohan. I cursed her silently for being so impervious to my feelings. I craved for another drink but whatever little Mohan could bring, we had gulped down in hurry and the hotel we were staying in, had neither a bar nor a restaurant of its own. Then where was the money to get the drink?

I lay on one of beds listening to the voices from the counter. The flow of customers, instead of ebbing, had increased twofold. I was sure the same women kept coming back with new customers. It was abominating thought. Presently Vani came out of bathroom wearing the same night gown and instead of proceeding to the other bed, came straight to me, and inclined to kiss me. I allowed her to kiss me but it broke my belief that only men take initiative in such things. I really wonder what a fool I had been back then, though some may prefer calling it innocence. I used to believe that everything was done only by boys, and the girls didn’t like love-making, in fact, they considered it blasphemous. It was an unclean act, unholy, dirty for the girls who were angels and who were virtuous, pure and beautiful but boys being boys, enjoyed it. Why, I couldn’t tell!

“Vani, you better go to your bed. You know I do not have protection today,” I said trying to evade her. She understood that I was too shy to use the word ‘condom’
She laughed heartily and asked, “You mean Nirodh?”

All were familiar with the word ‘Nirodh’ back then because of the government family planning advertisements that ran in the cinema houses. I didn’t reply.

“I am grown up enough to know that by kissing and fondling I can’t get pregnant” she said and laughed even louder.

“Shsh..” I said in a whisper, “Remember this is a hotel, not your hostel. Moreover I cannot stop just at kissing.”

“I know you can’t do anything anyway” she teased me but I was offended.

“Don’t jump to conclusions. You don’t know what I am capable of!” I said testily.

“Yes. I want to know what you are capable of. Please…” she persisted.

I tried to push her out of my bed but she clung to me hard.

This went on for such a long time that I began running out of my patience. At last I told her, “I am going to remove all my clothes. Then I will see how you can continue to stay in my bed.”

“No, please don’t do that.” She didn’t look she believed me. But she held both my hands trying to prevent me from reaching my clothes. With a jerk I could free my hands and took away all my t-shirt. But she still hugged me tightly and said, “No problem even if you aren’t wearing anything!”

“But now it is your turn. If you do not return to your bed, I am going to tear your clothes. Don’t blame me later for anything!” She still didn’t budge.  Till then I had not realized how powerful she was though she looked fragile. She could resist my attempts at undressing her for not less than an hour and later I was presented with another problem of getting her cooperation. It must have been four in the morning when I overcame all the resistance and penetrated her and dissolved into a blissful exhaustion. All of a sudden, a fear might have gripped her, for she immediately rushed to the bathroom. Before she returned I had drifted into sleep.

By six in the morning, Mohan came knocking at the doors and before anyone could notice us, we took off to the campus.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Another Escape! Part II

I slept like a log till late in the morning when I heard Mohan calling me, as though in a dream. When I opened my eyes he was sitting on the edge of my bed and goading me to get up. Rubbing my eyes, I asked him what time it was. “All of us are ready. The girls are in the other room. Heard you were sick last night?”

“Hmm”

“Are you alright now?”

“Yep,” I pursed my lips and replied, “I think so,” unsure of it myself. Although my head was clear, my stomach was aching. “I think it was due to hyper acidity,” I said, trying to preempt his platitudinous admonition that I was sure, would come. He understood it and smiled.

I rushed to the bathroom, thinking that the cramps in my stomach were more preferable to another romantic confrontation with Vani.

I came out of the bathroom with only a towel wrapped around my waist and was embarrassed to find both the girls sitting with Mohan. The breakfast of Masala Dosa had been delivered and they were eating. As aroma of dosa kept reminding me that I was starving, I quickly dressed up and joined them. I was wearing the same t-shirt that I wore the previous day since there was no other change of clothes left for me and was feeling as if I hadn’t bathed yet. As soon as I reach the hostel, I can take a good hot water bath and wear clean clothes, I consoled my self. It I didn’t know that Mohan and the girls had a different idea, or rather plan for the day.

I volunteered to pay the bill for lodging when we vacated the hotel and as we walked out of the hotel, Mohan said, “Thank you Harsha, we were running out of cash!” I couldn’t say it was my pleasure but said, “Anyway, we are going back to Dharwad now”

“No dear, originally we’d planned to go to Banavasi from Sirsi, but unfortunately we had to come here skipping it on the way. The girls want to go back and visit Banavasi today,” he said holding my hand while crossing the road as though I was a child under his protection. He did behave like my elder brother and I enjoyed it. I’d been leaving every decision to him since we left Dharwad.

“You mean we’ll be going back to Sirsi?” I asked him with alarm. Back then I didn’t know where Banavasi was. I had read that it was the capital city of the Kadambas who ruled in the fourth or fifth or century A.D. I also knew that the great Kannada poet Pampa, known as Adikavi or the first poet, had eulogized it effusively in one of his work. Any other time, I would’ve jumped at the opportunity to visit the place, but this trip was already coming on my nerves.

He laughed and replied, “No dost, we don’t need to go all the way back to Sirsi, only a few kilometers back on the road to Sirsi,” as though it were some consolation. I tried to think of some way to protest and urge him to take us to Dharwad as soon as possible, but I couldn’t say anything. Indeed, I thought, I had allowed myself to be treated as a young brat by Mohan.

Despite my unwillingness, and the continual irritation of Vani unnecessarily clinging to me as if now she owned me, I soon forgot all about it the moment the bus left for Banavasi, taking us through the rich greenery under the now clear blue sky. The perception as to why were the poets inspired so much by of nature was gradually sinking in me. The nature had unspoilt beauty, free, pure, simple, touching, appealing, mysterious, bold, and wonderful – all at the same time. I kept gazing through the window ignoring Vani reclining on my shoulders, and the other passengers staring at us.

‘Only a few kilometers’ turned out to be almost as good or bad as going back to Sirsi! I do not remember how long it took us to reach Banavasi, but I do remember vividly that I saw a small gopura of an ancient stone temple sprawling on lush green lawns, the first thing I got down from the bus. Banavasi was a small village then, the red mud road less than a hundred meters leading to the temple being the main road of the village, as I could perceive at that time. There were a couple of shops made of wooden poles covered with tarpaulin to form a roof and a couple of tables joined together to make a counter over which sachets of chips, wafers, biscuits, pan masala etc were hung on a thin nylon rope tied horizontally. A few paces from the shops was a man selling tender coconuts. But for a couple of other tourists, the whole place was deserted.

Though it was an ancient temple, but still puja was being performed there. I was the first to approach the entrance of the temple and read the dark blue board declaring that the temple was a protected monument, by the Archaeological Survey of India. An elderly couple with a boy who looked to be their grandson was curiously watching us. 

We wandered in and around the 9th Century temple of Madhukeshwara, or the Lord Shiva. The stone elephants at the entrance were elegantly lifelike. A stone temple with the roof sliding outwards was indeed a beautiful sight. I wondered if the sliding roof was placed to drain out the rainwater, for the region is known for heavy rains during the monsoons.  We went on scanning each pillar, the ornate carvings on those pillars and ceiling and kept marveling at the genius of the people who conceived and constructed it.

Since all that was to see in Banavasi was only the Madhukeshwara temple, we spent well over an hour there, the last half just sitting and chatting. A busload of college students, all boys, came all of a sudden and began to make a lot of noise. The moment they saw that two obviously unmarried, young couples were sitting, their raucous exchanges suddenly raised twofold. Some boys deliberately wandered near us a couple of times, making lewd remarks and gestures. A couple of teachers who were accompanying them tried to huddle them together in vain. This was all so irritating and offensive that I couldn’t help telling Mohan that it was better we left the place. As we came out of the temple complex, we could hear a lot of hooting and booing behind us. “Bastards!” Mohan cursed them under his breath.

A man with a bicycle loaded with bunches of tender coconut was looking at us with hope to get customers. The girls didn’t disappoint him; we walked straight to the vendor and Mohan ordered tender coconut water for all of us. “I don’t want,” I said to Mohan but he brushed it aside saying, “You of all need it more,” and by the look in his eyes I knew that he was alluding to my getting sick and vomiting the previous night. “The coconut water will help regain your strength boy,” he added and left for the nearest shop, obviously to buy cigarettes.

“I don’t think it was worth coming all the way back from Mundgod,” I said as after making some enquiries, and finding out that tourists usually would like to spend time at the riverside, we were heading towards the river.

“Yeah, apart from the temple, there is hardly any thing to see here,” Vani rejoined as though trying to please me.

“I too didn’t know it Harsha,” Mohan exhaled smoke and said, “Anyway, aren’t we enjoying another holiday?”

“And aren’t you enjoying additional nights?” Nirupama winked at me. It seemed that she never failed to shock me by saying things that even the boys would hesitate to utter, especially or at least, in the presence of girls. At such times I really hated her and at the same time I wanted her even more. Vani was watching me closely, perhaps expecting me to say something, but when I didn’t respond, she blurted out, “Of course he didn’t enjoy last night”.

Nirupama certainly knew about the previous night, for she said, “Look at Mohan, he’s not even eating more in the evening to keep himself light!”

I hated the whole conversation as it looked very degenerate to me. Mohan glanced at me but couldn’t understand how I felt. He said, “We should have brought Saroja along”

“Boys would remain boys for ever!” Nirupama feigned anger, “Are you ever satisfied with one girl?” It wasn’t a question. Relieved that the conversation was drifting away from me, I joined Mohan, “Well, bringing her along would have been wonderful!”

“Oho, then we should’ve invited Bhaskar also!” Vani quipped but bit her tongue immediately, thinking perhaps that she shouldn’t have said that. While Mohan and Nirupama didn’t take this seriously, I felt it was directed at me, at my failure. The conversation was again veering towards me. I remembered Vani’s version of her encounter with Bhaskar in Raichur, which I wanted to believe, but Bhaskar sounded more and more convincing to me, the more I thought about it. Why had Mohan chosen to bring me along instead of Bhaskar? Was it Vani who had asked him to do so? There hadn’t been even so much as a small difference of opinion between Mohan and Bhaskar as far as I knew, but still deviating from his usual preference, Mohan had brought me on this trip. Without questioning as to his intent, or that of Vani or Nirupama, I’d grabbed the opportunity with both my hands and had placed myself at the disposal of Mohan against all my hauteur, gut feeling, and will. Will? No, I did like his invitation, at first because I liked to be closer to Mohan than Bhaskar was, and then because of Nirupama whom Mohan had held as a carrot before my greedy eyes. Or was it all about just pleasure? If that were so why was I not able to have it? Questions came rushing to my mind and I didn’t here what they were talking now.

It was a small river with muddy water flowing at a fast pace charged with the recent rains and the water enveloped most of its sandy banks. The sky was clear and sun was shining brightly, yet the weather was cool and pleasant. We sat under the dappled shade of a tree, on the soft cushion created by the growth of grass. Mohan was teasing Nirupama about something and Vani was taking side with Nirupama. I lit a cigarette though something in the pit of my stomach told me not to, and began gazing at the lofty trees that looked like reaching the heavens.

I began to wonder at the strange world I had entered into. I had a dream, the result of my upbringing, of long and delightful years spent with romantic novels, poetry, and stories, and shaped by movies both Hindi and Kannada, by the lofty ideas and ideals that had been ingrained in me by the sum total of all I had heard, read or experienced, and it now seemed like it was going to be shattered to pieces. Is this the real world?  Are the hallmarks of youth - the wide-eyed innocence, the ambition to make a mark, to change the world and to conquer the world –to vanish into thin air in the face of these realities? I certainly must be in a wrong company. The things that used to trouble me surfaced again, but as always, I was finally able to shrug them off.

It was already midday. But it seemed that nobody even so much as thought about lunch. “Isn’t this a beautiful place?” Nirupama asked Mohan but continued before he could respond, “I would like to have my home in such a place, a small house with a garden full of flowers all around it”

Mohan laughed. “I can build you a bamboo house in no time. Then you can live like forest tribes here. You are from a town, you don’t know the hardships of the people living here.”

“How unromantic!” Nirupama exclaimed.

“My village is located in Malnad area, as you know. It is in fact more beautiful than this place. But my father was lucky to escape to a city since he got a job. He had to walk at least five miles to attend a high school. He used to dread the vacations for he was supposed to work in the paddy fields during holidays. We still have our ancestral house there. It is romantic only to the townspeople.”

“You can go there for your honeymoon,” Vani suggested.

“What do you think we are doing now?” Mohan asked unabashedly. Nirupama blushed and began scratching the ground with a twig fallen from the tree. Vani simply said, “You are shameless”. Mohan laughed out loud.

***   ***  **  ** * * ***

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Another Escape!

The bus was thankfully not crowded and I was happy that we were going back, relieved that there wouldn’t be another unpleasant encounter with Vani, and I got my favourite window seat in the two-seat row. Vani occupied the aisle seat and Mohan sat with Nirupama in the row immediately next in front of us. The sun had already set and the sky had become dark gray. Vani sat silently as though she’d been shocked by the way we’d been asked to leave the hotel. Mohan looked unaffected but there was a hint of disappointment on his face. He purchased tickets to Hubli for all of us and leaned his head on the backrest. I understood that he was in no mood for conversation.

When the bus exited the town, either side of the road was covered with thick growth of trees, shrubs, and grass; in between patches of lands had been lined with coconut trees and areca nut trees which the creepers of betel leaves and cardamom had entwined. In the sky the silhouette of birds returning home could be seen. I too felt like a bird returning to the safety of my home.

In less than a quarter of an hour, it turned pitch dark outside. The nightfall was quickened due to the thick woods and soon the lights inside the bus were switched off. There was nothing to see through the window but the weak light from the headlights of the bus that reflected from the asphalted road and bleakly illuminated the vegetation by the roadside. My eyelids were getting heavy and I was too exhausted to resist sleep.

It must be around nine o’ clock when we reached Mundgod, a small town known for the Tibetan refugee camp. The conductor announced that the bus would stop for dinner. Mohan rose from his seat and patted on my shoulder, beckoning to follow him. My eyes were still drowsy with sleep. The restaurant was small and over-crowded. Mohan and I lit cigarettes and looking at the crowd, watching the restaurant, Mohan said, “We won’t be able to get a table all for us in the hotel. The girls can’t have dinner here,” I was neither hungry nor bothered about the girls now. He thought for a while and said, “Give me a minute, I will see what can be done” and walked to the cash counter of the hotel.

I saw him talking to the person at the cash counter who looked like he didn’t like to lift his head from the vouchers he was writing. He was fair skinned, as tall as Mohan and clean-shaven. He wore a white bush-shirt over his equally white panche. After some time Mohan seemed to have succeeded in getting his attention and now he talked to Mohan gesturing upstairs. I thought there might be another dining hall upstairs. Soon Mohan returned but walked to the window of the bus to talk to Nirupama and only thereafter he came to me and announced, “Come on Harsha, we are going upstairs”

The girls soon joined us behind the half pulled up sliding shutters, at the landing to the upstairs where earlier I had found a waiter standing with a key in his hands. When we reached upstairs, I found about a dozen rooms lined up along the balcony. Now I understood that it was not the dining hall that Mohan had been after, but rooms to stay overnight. My heart began to sink realizing that I had to spend another night with Vani, but at the same time I also had a glimmer of hope that Mohan would let me stay with Nirupama as he’d promised me at the beginning of the trip.

Mohan was talking to the waiter a few paces away and gave him some money. As the waiter started climbing down the stairs, he shouted, “Make if fast Maani!”
“We’ve been very lucky Harsha, the manager of the hotel didn’t ask too many questions and gave us the rooms,” Mohan said in a soft tone as he approached me.

“But we’d tickets to Hubli”

“Oh, not a great deal for the girls dear,” he touched my shoulder suggesting that we go into the room. Both the girls were sitting in one room obviously waiting for us. The lodge had been recently constructed and the room was small, barely eight by ten, furnished with two steel cots placed apart and old styled chairs and table made of ordinary jungle wood. The sheets were clean and so was the bathroom.

The waiter returned with a half bottle of Hercules Rum, Rotis, a bowl of Dal Fry, fried chips and plates and glasses – all cluttered on a tray and placed it on the wooden table. It was the repeat of the previous evening, Mohan and Nirupama being too eager to go to their room. In trying to keep up pace with them, I drank too fast and got strong kicks equally quickly. I had to slow down with the result that when Nirupama and Mohan left the room, I was still drinking.

Vani had finished her dinner of just half a Roti and was already lying on the bed. However, she had not talked of joining the two cots and she looked very tired. I went on drinking till I emptied the bottle. I was afraid to go near her though watching her voluptuous chest rise and fall, a burning desire had crept into me and was relieved that I had a separate cot. I removed all my clothes, killed the lights and lied on my bed. I felt as though every thing around me was revolving and I knew at once that I was sick. I didn’t whether Vani was asleep or not but wouldn’t dare raise her. Nausea set in and I struggled for nearly half an hour to resist retching, but failed at last. As soon as I went into bathroom, I threw up noisily.

When I groped awkwardly back to my bed, I heard Vani’s voice, “Are you okay?” but I didn’t care to reply. I was feeling a lot better and as soon as I lied on the bed, sleep overcame me.

* * *

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

At the Falls




I woke up to the sound of the chirping of the sparrows that were sitting on the outstretched bay window. It took a while for me to realize that I was not in the hostel and to get my bearings. I didn’t remember when sleep had conquered me, but surely it was not before an hour after midnight. The daylight was peeking into the room through the gaps in the window curtains whenever they waved. I looked at my wristwatch that was lying by the side of my pillow. It was a few minutes more than six in the morning.

I could know from her even breathing that Vani was fast asleep. She was on the cot whereas I was lying on the floor with only a pillow. On the teapoy was the empty bottle of rum that I had finished after my second attempt with Vani. When I saw that her nightgown had slipped upwards and her fair skinned thick thighs were visible, there was rush of blood in my crotch. Vani stirred, as if she’d felt my gaze on her thighs and lied on her side, now facing away from me. A fleeting desire to climb the cot came to my mind but I dismissed it quickly.

My mind drifted to the Mohan and Nirupama. What must they be doing now? So, after all, Mohan had failed to return the previous night. Why didn’t he? Had he lied to me? I couldn’t figure out. If it had been Nirupama in lieu of Vani, my evening would have been altogether different, I thought. But now I was not very sure. Was something wrong with me? I felt asking myself this question. No, it couldn’t be due to anything wrong with me. It was the stress, the guilt, the terror of committing myself to a future that I didn’t envisage for myself, the fear of being found out by my parents, or by law enforcers, the nervousness arising out of the whole situation, the result of too much drinking and the odour that put me off, I tried to console myself. Yes, the odour had been a huge put off, her body odour. Everyone has his or her own odour, caused by the perspiration and it is supposed to act like an aphrodisiac. Only in my case it had acted otherwise. But I myself was not convinced of all these arguments in support of…Vani stirred again, and I didn’t like to face her. I closed my eyes and acted as if I was asleep. I could hear her going into the bath.

**
We headed for Jog Falls after eating some insipid breakfast ordered into the room at about half past nine. Mohan and Nirupama had come to our room and both looked elated. This was nothing short of honeymoon to them. I didn’t get any opportunity to ask Mohan why he’d forgotten to return to my room the previous night. He seemed to have totally forgotten about having promised me something like that.
The bus was overcrowded with tourists. Only the girls got seats and Mohan and I had to travel standing in the jam-packed bus. I couldn’t have a view through the window, nor was there any fresh air to enliven me. On the top of it I had to suffer the pokes, jabs, shoves, and even the stale breath of the passengers standing with me. It was unpleasant like hell, the journey; the only redeeming feature was that it was to last no longer than an hour.

It was a great relief to get out of the bus, but the view of the falls was so breathtakingly magnificent that I forgot all about the bus and the unpleasantness of the ride. We’d alighted at the viewpoint located in Shimoga district, presenting the full view of the highest plunge waterfall in India. The river Sharavati plunges from the height of 824 feet, forming four falls known as Raja, Roarer, Rocket and Rani, creating grandest natural beauty and rich scenery.  The sky was covered with gray clouds and there was no sign of sun. The air was misty and it rained intermittently, though the rain was more like a fog, sometimes the spraying of cold droplets of water that couldn’t soak you, but gave you a soft cold touch that was soothing and titillating at the same time. The lush green valley, the cool breezes, the fog, the glorious view, the joy and laughter pervading all around was romantic, to say the least.

This being the time when the river Sharavati was fully augmented, tourists and excursionists all over the country had thronged to enjoy the sublime elegance of the water falls and we had a tough time reaching the main platform constructed for viewing, piercing the concourse. There were college going teens, school children, young couples, elderly persons, all creating a raucous cacophony, but all were no doubt too happy to contain their joy.

Still I was too self-conscious to be oblivious of the stares, some amusing, some envious and some disapproving, some wrathful even. I found that Vani was clasping my right arm with both her hands and was clinging to me like a lover. A group of young boys whistled and hooted as we passed by them. Another guy from yet another group shouted, “Leave him alone lady, he won’t get lost!” Some schoolgirls eating snacks in a large group glared at Vani enviously and some even beamed at me. It was all so discomforting and embarrassing, innervating even, that every now and then I tried to break free of Vani’s grip. However, she seemed to be enjoying every bit of the attention, and the more I tried to free myself, the tighter her grip became.

Mohan had put his arm around Nirupama’s shoulders and didn’t even care to think what would be the response of the onlookers. Even Nirupama appeared to busy in conversing with Mohan to care for the people eying them. No doubt they were enjoying every moment, and I couldn’t draw Mohan’s attention. We wandered from one viewpoint to another, which have been constructed for viewing the falls from different angles. I tried to ignore Vani’s grip and enjoy the falls enveloped in the dense cloud of mist. It looked like a river of milk that was plunging down the abyss where even the pool was not visible due to the rebounding milky waters and the vapour that clouded it. At last Mohan took a break and approached me for a cigarette.

We both lit cigarettes and the girls stood a few feet away talking to each other. This was the first time since morning that I had some free moments with Mohan. I wanted to tell him about the previous night and also ask him why he had not returned to my room. However, before I could broach the subject, he asked me if I liked to descend down to the base of the waterfall, the pool. And even before I could reply, Nirupama came to us and said, “Let us climb down”. That settled it for Mohan and I had to follow them in their wake.

We must have descended only about twenty-five feet when we realized that it was not at all going to be easy. It was dark, and fog permitted a vision of only a few feet. Above all, the steps had become too slippery due to incessant rains as well as the fog, and had been covered with a thin layer of fungi. Again it was Nirupama who decided that we better abandon this dangerous adventure and climb back.

By the time we reached the top of the valley, we were all starving. There was only on hotel and it was crowded. Being aware that we would not get something to eat till we get back to the nearest town, we waited patiently till we found a table being vacated. Again, we had to be content with the insipid food offered.

As planned earlier, we walked over the bridge to the other side of the valley to reach the American Bungalow.  The bungalow is constructed on a projection rock over the edge of the valley. The bungalow itself is a wonderful sight, surrounded by well-maintained garden. From the platforms constructed there, we could have a view of the falls from above. It was as awe-inspiring as it was gorgeous. There too, we sauntered from place to place enjoying the wonderful creation of the nature.

***
I was under the impression that we would be returning to Dharwad that evening. But those were the days when very few buses plied between Sirsi and Jog and Mohan told me that it was not possible to do so. My mind was soon occupied with the dreary thought of another confrontation with Vani. I didn’t want to do it. I dreaded the very thought of spending another night with her. I was disappointed to learn that it was now inevitable. But deep in my heart, I also began expect that what couldn’t happen on the first night, might as well happen on the second, and that Mohan might remember his promise after all!

We could get back to the hotel around six in the evening. It was getting darker and all of us were exhausted. We wanted sufficient rest and I along with Mohan craved for drinks. However, a rude shock was awaiting us.

As soon as we walked through the entrance, the manager of the hotel called Mohan with a grim expression on his face. I knew that something was wrong. I too joined Mohan and we went to the reception counter. The manager cleared his throat and said, “Sir, after you left for Jog, the local goons had come here. They were enquiring after you.”

I was dismayed. Mohan too seemed aghast. “What do they want?” Mohan asked.

“They don’t like the hotel giving rooms to the young boys and girls. I told them that I had not given any rooms to boys accompanied by girls. They wouldn’t trust me. They said, they would be back in the evening to check.”

I wanted to ask him why couldn’t he ask for police protection, but feeling that that would have been silly, I kept my lips sealed. I was myself not in a position to ask for police protection. “But,” Mohan protested, “It is already too late. We cannot get back to our place. Where are we supposed to go now? “

“I am also helpless sir. Please try to understand our situation. They are very dangerous people”

“Can’t we go to some other hotel?” I asked him hopefully.

“No sir, there are only a couple of hotels in this town and they go to all of them.”

“So you are suggesting that we leave” Mohan said with a sigh.

The manager didn’t reply and started looking into the register. After a while he lifted his head and said, “I can give you some concession in the rates sir”

Mohan turned towards me and found me nodding. “Harsha, please go with the girls and vacate the rooms. I will settle the bill” He said almost in a whisper.

Within the next fifteen minutes, we gathered the few things that we’d left in the rooms and walked out of the hotel. Fortunately as soon as we reached the bus stand, a bus was ready to leave for Hubli.

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Friday, October 1, 2010

Fiasco

When I turned around I found that Vani had disappeared into the bathroom. My heart was still pounding. What was I going to do? How would I touch Vani knowing fully well that I had never even given as much a hint as to suggest I was in love with her? Of course, I was not in love with her and I was sure I would never be, for she was nowhere near the girl that I’d dreamt of. To put it in simple words, as they say these days, she was not my type. Was Nirupama my type? It was an embarrassing question even though I questioned myself. Frankly speaking, she too was not. She could have been, had I ignored her dusky complexion, her somewhat low IQ, her reputation or disrepute and infamy, her general lack of interest in the things intellectual, and things I didn’t myself know how to put in words, but I could never have ignored the fact that she’d chosen Mohan over me in the first place and she’d already lost her virginity to Mohan, if not to someone earlier than him. Then why did I crave to bed her? Was it my way of avenging her for preferring Mohan to me? Why did I see red, although I never expressed it? Undoubtedly it was my ego, or was it envy plain and simple?

 Why didn’t Mohan say anything about swapping that he himself proposed and seemed to be dying to do? Had he forgotten? Of course he might not have forgotten. In fact he was more eager to conquer Vani than I was to make love to Nirupama. Perhaps, he was in a hurry. He was certain to turn up later and ask me to go the other room. With these thoughts clouding my mind, I decided to have another drink, forgetting that I had already had one too many. I mixed very little water to a generous peg of liquor so that I could drink it in one gulp before Vani appeared. Just as I was placing the glass back on the teapoy, the bathroom door opened and Vani saw it.

“You are still drinking?” she asked unentangling her long braid with raising both her arms above to reach her mane. I noticed that she was wearing a pink nightgown that had sequins around her neck. I was amazed to see that she really had a mountainous bosom, which either somehow had escaped my attention or discovery or wasn’t noticeable when she wore sari, which she almost everyday did. The pace of my heartbeats quickened rapidly at the voluptuous sight.

“I am damn tired,” I replied lamely. Her laughter suggested she hardly believed me.

She climbed the bed, fluttered the pillow and lied down feigning a yawn. “Me too,” she said and turned sideways, facing the bed lamp. I switched off the lights but the bed lamp was still on. I hadn’t brought any nightdress. Therefore I wrapped a towel around my trunk and removed my pants and shirt. She could hear me changing, but she didn’t budge. She was pretending as if she had slipped into sleep. There was only one bed in the room and sharing it with her was inevitable. But my nerves were failing me. I was cursing Mohan in my own mind for putting me under such a circumstance although I was equally to be blamed, but at the same time deep down in my heart there was a desire, a hunger, an enticement and a temptation that was utterly irresistible. I knew I had to take courage with my both hands in order to approach her but my conscience was putting all sorts of hurdles. Would she agree? If she agreed, won’t she force me to marry her? Ah, she’d to force Bhaskar first, I tried to assure myself. What if all that Bhaskar told about the night preceding Virupakshappa’s marriage were all bloody lies? After all Bhaskar was known for his mastery over the art of concocting all sorts of lies in order to either entertain the listeners, or to serve his own ends. What if the second wicket, after all had not fallen contrary to the observation I had made in a moment of envy coupled with wrath? What if my parents were to know about this? The very thought of my parents finding this out sent a wave of panic in my mind. I would die of shame if such a thing were to happen. What if the police raided the lodge and dragged us to the police station and then informed our parents? The very thought caused my thighs to shudder.

Vani stirred, pulled her legs closer to her chest and thereby revealed her equally voluptuous posterior.  My courage of convictions was melting away. God, help me! I cried silently. A thought came to my mind that I could spend the whole night dozing off on the chair. But what would I tell my friends? All my false claims of having conquered innumerable girls would be exposed and my reputation will suffer a severe dent. Why, I could picture right then how my friends would be mocking and teasing me! I could tell the same things as Bhaskar had done and it would be my words against Vani’s. Surely none would be asking Vani about anything that might have happened this night. However where would it leave me? Vani could still compel me to marry her!

I poured another small drink for me and having mixed equal measure of water, drank it bottoms up. It is said that drink gives you all the valour in the world. But it wasn’t helping me at all. It is even said an aroused person has neither fear nor shame. Even that was not happening with me. I decided to take all my thoughts to the bed, and if possible, shrug them off along with the rest of my clothes!

I climbed the bed and lied on my shoulder facing Vani. She still didn’t stir. Was she acting as though she didn’t know what was coming? Was she not interested at all? I lay for a few minutes silently. Then slowly rose with my weight resting on my elbow to see her face. Her eyes were closed. I crept closer to her pressing my whole body against her and encircled her front with my arm. She gave a start and jerked me off, then turned towards me.

“What do you think you are doing?” she asked. I knew for sure that there was no anger in her voice.

“You surely can’t be that na├»ve not to understand what I am doing,” I replied with feigned peevishness. She simply stared at me with false anger that I could easily recognize. I again moved closer to her and tried to clasp her. She shoved me again. I persisted and this time I grabbed her bosom and she jerked off my hand and said, “Why are you flirting with me?”

Remember we were speaking in Kannada and the use of English word ‘flirt’ sounded funny too me. Suppressing my amusement I said, “Yes, Why not if Bhaskar can?”

“What do you mean by ‘if Bhaskar can?’” she sat upright and looked into my eyes.

“Come on Vani. He’s described picturesquely what happened on that night in Raichur!”

“What happened? It is all nonsense”

“I don’t know if it was nonsense, but something did happen. Didn’t it?”

“Harsha, tell me what Bhaskar has been telling others, please”

I told her how Bhaskar had described his conquest of Vani, though not as graphically as he was able to do. It was only after telling her that I realized it was wrong to tell anybody what Bhaskar had told us in confidence. Apart from being morally wrong, it could drive a wedge between Bhaskar and me. At that point of time, however, I just wanted her and would not mind using Bhaskar’s story as a weapon to subdue her; at least I thought it was a weapon.

“It is all bloody lies Harsha, what happened was nothing like this,” she said after pondering silently for a while, “You know, Nirupama and I were sharing one room and Bhaskar and Mohan were sharing another. We four were the first to reach Raichur and the person who was to receive us at the lodge gave us only two rooms, thinking that the girls would stay in one room and the boys in another. Obviously, Virupakshappa was not sure that you and Vijay would be coming to attend his marriage. In case you didn’t turn up, he would be spending unnecessarily for the rooms that would remain unoccupied. Vijay reached there after 10.45 and was therefore given another room, which he would be sharing with any other guest turning later.

“Bhaskar did come to my room because Nirupama requested to be left alone with Mohan. In fact she went to Mohan’s room and sent Bhaskar to wait in my room. You know, he is a distant relative of mine, so he couldn’t make any wrong move. I’d told Nirupama that I would wait only for an hour after which I would throw Bhaskar out of my room. Bhaskar was drunk and did approach me, but I sternly told him to behave himself. After that he sat there smoking and reading a stale newspaper, and also having a friendly chat with me, mostly making fun of Nirupama and Mohan. When Nirupama returned, he went back to stay with Mohan. That’s all,” Nirupama gazed into my eyes trying find out if I believed her version. I neither wanted to believe what she said nor did I want to find any holes in her story.

“Alright!” I said again letting my hand move over her bosom and getting encouraged that she was not resisting now, “However, neither you are waiting for Nirupama to return after an hour tonight, nor can you throw me out of the room.”

“Are you my lover?” Vani had an edge in her tone.

“Are they lovers?” I asked referring to Mohan and Nirupama.

“Yes. They are,” she replied with conviction.

“Don’t be too sure. This is India. Here, the lovers are supposed to marry. And I am sure Mohan is not going to marry her,” my tone too was edgy now.

“What? Nirupama is in love with him and she’s sure as hell he’ll marry her”

“Is she? Has he ever asked her to marry him?”

“He will. In course of time.”

“If he won’t?”

Vani didn’t reply but sat still thinking about the possibility. But I had already started enjoying myself. When I hugged her, for the first time I found that she was wearing virtually nothing below her gown. She was still thinking when I drew her face near mine and kissed her on lips. She closed her eyes and began kissing me back.

The rendering of a raga in Hindustani classical music always starts with aalap, which is a gradual unfolding, and development of a raga through monosyllables and without a fixed composition. The artist can expand it as much as he likes. It is followed by a singing of a khayal in vilambit tal, which is a lyrical composition of usually two stanzas, very slow in tempo. Then it shifts to madhyam tal, the medium fast tempo and ends with a presentation of a cheez in dhrut, the fast tempo. The whole rendering will be adorned with sargam, laykari, taan and other decorations. The whole performance becomes a manifestation of bliss and beauty. But even a microtone of discordant note spoils the whole performance. All my knowledge of lovemaking had come from unreliable sources such as porn literature and blue films. I had been worked up so much already that there was hardly any place for aalap and vilambit laya. Even the drut couldn’t be carried out, to my dismay, because of a discordant thing that occurred. I was put off because of an unfamiliar unpleasant odour that was emanating from unknown source that affected me so deeply that I was spent well before even touching the destination. About half an hour later, my second expedition also ended up as a disaster, all because of what had become in my view, an all-pervasive stench. The thrill had evaporated and was replaced by angst, despair, exasperation and fear. I had the least inkling of what was to come as an aftermath soon, not in the distant future.

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