Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Girls Again

Among us, the boys, it was the girls who occupied the major portion of our talk. About their mannerisms, about their dresses, and about every thing they did, or did not do. It was typical male chauvinism of those times that beset us all. We made so much fun of the girls, that if they ever came to know what and how we talked of them, they would never speak to us again. Every one of us pretended that he didn’t care two hoots for the girls. Our comments were lewd, jokes, poor in taste but we enjoyed it so much that nobody thought seriously thought of what might be the feelings of those who were the objects of our ridicule. Not even one among us, as far as I could gauge, had ever expected to fall in love with any girl from our department. Nirupama was licentious, Vani was too pudgy, and Saroja was pretentious as well as ostentatious in our opinion formulated without a single voice of dissent!



Next to dominate our discussions were, of course, the professors. But not all of them. Only those who had special or funny mannerisms, about whom there were wrong type of rumours floating in the air, or those who were too inarticulate to be teachers. Bhaskar was a great mimic. His mimicry of the teachers was so funny that the boys just loved it.



Then, more often than not, lewd jokes used to be part of our bedtime chitchat. Not that all jokes used to be new ones, or original ones. There used to be a lot of poor and crude jokes, which would not have clicked but for the modifications that they underwent while narrating, or the persons who were the targets of these jokes. Mohan was a repository of such jokes. He was fond of telling them. But Bhaskar’s sense of humour, his style of saying things with subtle, and sometimes very loud sarcasm, was catchier.



In the meanwhile, Pavan and Suresh Hiremath also became very close to me. Though Pavan did not stay in the hostel, we met very often in the evening in the city, for our ritual drinking. Bhaskar and Mohan kept their habit of vanishing in the evenings, without telling Vijay or me where they went. But it would not offend me as much as it used to in the initial months. Moreover, Vijay accompanied my constantly, wherever I wished to take him. I used to express before him that Mohan and Bhaskar would avoid us when they had money, or whenever they had a friend who would take care of their evening entertainment. But I myself didn’t sincerely believe in it.



However, the fun when we were all together was unmatched. One evening, Bhaskar told me that Mohan and he had found out a restaurant where non-vegetarian food was served for a fourth of the price of the other regular restaurants. We decided to visit that restaurant.



We had our drinks in a nondescript wine shop where Goli-soda and boiled peanuts were served free of cost. By that time, I had come to know that this incentive was given in all the liquor shops in Dharwad.



After a couple of drinks, Bhaskar revealed that day that he and Mohan had been to a movie the previous day along with Nirupama and Vani. I felt a bit of heartburn and rancour. The previous day immediately after the first lecture, both of them had disappeared. The second lecture had been cancelled and for the third lecture, the attendance was very thin. I had noticed that Nirupama and Vani were also among those who were absent; I did not connect it to the disappearance of Mohan and Bhaskar. I was put out and did not want to react. A small measure of anger surged in my head.



Bhaskar and Mohan were blissfully oblivious to my feelings, although it certainly must have shown on my face. I knew I was being silly and absurd in being jealous of them. I used to tell all my friends that we should never miss a lecture, however insipid it might be. ‘Why, you wouldn’t have missed your lecture and come long with us’ would have been their response had I expressed my displeasure at not having been asked to join them. Moreover, I kept telling them frequently that the movies are utter nonsense. “What is there in the Indian movies? In every movie there is a hero who is poor, with a mother who is a widow whose husband i.e., the father of the hero has been brutally murdered by a villain whose identity she will keep concealed till the hero is in love with the daughter of the villain; a heroine who is beautiful, proud and born with a silver spoon in her mouth; both fall in love after a couple of spats or brawl, especially after the hero saves her modesty from being ravaged by some hoodlums, they sing and dance around trees in parks and gardens at various locations, then enters the parents of the heroine either of whom is a vile, unfeeling creature, they object to the marriage because the hero is poor and below their status and in the end, a climax scene with fights and stunts, culminating in change of heart by the villain, or the handcuffing of the villain. The hero and heroine marry and live happily ever after. All films were alike.” This I had told them so many times that it was but natural that they decided I hated films. I never told them, nor could I ever confess that I felt watching movie with a girl was different! Anyway, it was the opportunity they had created for themselves, after considerable efforts. Why would they offer it to me on a platter?



“Which movie?” Vijay asked showing interest.



Mohan told the name. It was a movie with obscene puns in every dialogue. Meant to be a comedy, I had heard that it would offend the sense of decency of even a most indecent man.



“How could you watch such movie with girls? You must have suggested this movie to the girls,” Pavan said with a naughty glint in his eyes.



“Yes, that’s what cropped up in my mind too,” Vijay said.



“Mama,” said Bhaskar, “on the contrary, it was they who suggested and took us to this movie!” Everyone had started calling Vijay as mama, which in Kannada meant either a maternal uncle, or father in law. I used to think that he was being addressed so since he was a couple of years older and looked even more so. But later I had come to know that in the southern part of the Dharwad district, it had become a custom to address everyone as mama, though jocularly. Vijay took no offense and in fact, enjoyed this sobriquet.



“Mama, there is a saying in our district that whores don’t have any fear of the prick!” I said bitterly. But the bitterness was lost in the jest involved in the idiom. Everyone laughed.



“But you be very careful of those girls, boys,” Vijay advised like an elderly man, “ they might be trying to bait you.”



“I am ready to nibble any bait, mama, but I would never condescend to marry either of them. We have limited purpose you know!” Bhaskar said exhaling the smoke on Vijay. Vijay never liked this and said angrily, “If you ever repeat this, I will kick your ass.”

Bhaskar grinned and ignored him.



“I have confidence in you that you would take very good care of yourself. What if Mohan really falls in love with either of them?” Pavan asked gingerly.



“You don’t mean it. Do you? Since you are not in our department, you know hardly a thing about them. Do you?” Mohan asked.



“Whether he means it or not, brother, he has a point there,” Bhaskar butted in.



“Nonsense. Knowing so much about her, you think I may fall in love with her?”



“Have you notice one thing about Saroja, mama?” Vijay asked Bhaskar. Sometimes he too addressed all others as mama except me. He obviously sensed that it was heating up the wrong way, and was trying to change the subject. He was the only one who would remain sober, for he never drank.



“Since when you have started noticing girls?” Bhaskar asked, again with a mischievous gleam in his eyes.



“What do you think I am, son? An impotent man?”



“I will tell you what you have noticed. I think all of us have observed it. It is her gait. Isn’t it? It changes the moment she sets her eye on one of us.” I said.



“Right. When unobserved, she walks straight and has a normal gait. But when we are there to watch her, she starts a catwalk”.



“It is what is called nakhara, affectation, man,” watching all of us grin, Bhaskar said. “But she is not aware that due to her small height and those high heels, it is funnier than attractive.



“And what a snob that Kalavati is man. I hate the sight of her. She addresses every boy as ‘anna’,” Mohan said. ‘Anna’ meant elder brother.



“That is why I started calling her ‘akka’, before she had a chance to call me anna.” I said. It drew sneering laugh from the group. ‘Akka’ means elder sister.



The liquor had been emptied and Pavan wanted one more drink. But all of us said no to him and it was time for Mohan to take us to the restaurant he had discovered. To my surprise, it was the same ‘Hotel Diamond’ that Sanjoy had taken me to. I remained tight lipped. Everyone enjoyed the food so much that they described it as a discovery of the millennium. I saw that several guys from different hostels in the campus had also come there.



When we reached the city bus station to catch the last bus to the campus, I asked them, “You know what all of you eaten today? It is beef, pals.”



There was a stunned silence for sometime. At last Mohan said,” It can’t be. Are you sure?”



“Why else do you think the food is so cheap?” I asked with a sneer.



“And so tasty!” Bhaskar added. The reality had dawned upon him.



All of us laughed so loudly that several people waiting for the bus gave us a startled look.



“How did you know?” asked Pavan with a scowl. I told them how I had visited there earlier with Sanjoy. “Why worry boys. He was a Brahmin, yet he didn’t care.” I said at last consolingly.



“No problem whatsoever. It is tasty and affordable. We will keep visiting.” Mohan passed a judgement.



None could object to it. Right at that time, the bus parked near our platform.

                            * * *     * * *     * * *

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Proving A Point

 Although I trusted that my friends had believed the story originating in a sheer whim, I still had my own misgivings as to the credibility of my story. ‘I was just being facetious’ would be my second line of defense, if every they found out that the story was only a fancy idea. I could get away with it, so I said to myself again and again to reassure myself. But then there was the fear that my truthful statements would not be taken seriously. I would be like a shepherd crying, “Wolf! Wolf!” when the crunch time came. And this kept troubling me. The other way out was find another occasion and prove exactly what I claimed. And prove myself carefree, rebellious, fiercely independent and smart and lascivious.

On Monday after the first lecture, I was invited to join Mohan, Bhaskar, Vijay, Suresh, Virupakshappa, and the three girls in the university canteen. I was not formally introduced to the girls, for it was taken for granted that we all knew each other. But I was reintroduced to the characters of my friends, the one that I had not seen earlier. It was a new façade that all the boys had worn. Not that I wasn’t aware of why and how the behaviour of the guys changes when confronted with the girls. Even the dumbest of the guys tries to act smart and show himself to be the brightest. Every guy wants to show off. Suddenly he becomes very self-conscious. He tries to be funny, intelligent, jovial and attractive. He won’t allow any opportunity to flirt slip away. Girls too change. They start giggling without any reason. The smile will stick to their faces as if it is stuck there with glue permanently. They laugh covering their mouth with their hands, at the poorest of the poor jokes. Whether a boy or a girl, the person will try to present his or her best self, highlighting all good qualities, or the qualities that are thought to make one popular. Although the whole air becomes artificial, nobody seems to take notice of it. It is but natural for all of them. In a group, these things become more pronounced, for each guy or girl wants to outsmart the other, as though it is a competition, a race for life, to be won. For me it is great fun watching, but at times, most irritating.

If this was what I had missed in the graduate college, I thought I missed nothing of much value. But I still wanted to play on. I thought there might be more to it. The real stuff might be coming later. Whatever it might be that this would take to, I did not want to miss it. For what I really not wanted was to be left alone.

There were many similar groups in the canteen. Some groups had better-looking girls, dressed to look modern, beautiful, and even voluptuous. They had curves, cleavages and courtesy. They even had pretense and pomp. Boys were very loud, raucous, and at times obscene. Boys acted funny, and girls giggled shamelessly. Boys acted like tamed wild animals giving performance in a circus; the girls like graceful, wonderstruck onlookers.

Coming back to our group, when the waiter came, Mohan asked all of us what we wanted to have. When Nirupama said she wanted masala dosa, he said with mock anger,” See this is the problem with rural people. The first thing they want to do when they come to the city is to watch a movie and eat masala dosa! I am sure you have submitted your rural certificate to avail admission to the university.”

“She doesn’t need one,” I said jocularly, “ Her appearance is enough. Her face itself is a rural certificate.”

I expected her to be offended at my remarks, but she laughed with all others and conceded, “I can’t deny the fact that I am from rural area. What is wrong with that? Most of us are, in fact, from rural areas or small towns.”

We all ordered according to our taste. It was mostly dosa or pulav. After eating only a couple of spoonfuls of pulav, Vani declared it was too much for her. “I am not used to eating so much!” she added.

Mohan said adding a measure of sarcasm in his tone, ”Aaha, it is one of the problems with the girls these days. They just won’t enough, especially when the boys are present. But if you leave even a spoonful of pulav, I am going to put that into your vanity bag.”

For this, Bhaskar added, “You know when the girls go to the canteen on their own, they would have only half cup of ordinary tea. But when they are escorted by the boys, well, they say ‘I don’t drink tea. I drink only coffee or bourn vita!’”

Everyone including the girls laughed but indeed the girls did not drink tea in the end. After coming out of canteen, the girls headed to the department and even before they started, I lighted a cigarette. Mohan and Bhaskar would not think of smoking in the presence of the girls. It was grossly inappropriate to them. But I derived the pleasure of shocking the girls; it was my own way of letting them know that I did not care, that I was different. But later when I thought about it more clearly, I began to think that I was no different from the crowd of boys, trying to impress by doing bizarre things.

Thus began our routine since then. Almost everyday we would go to the canteen. Saroja would join somewhat infrequently. But Nirupama and Vani would always be there. What was more interesting was that the girls paid all the bills. Shortly thereafter, Mohan and Bhaskar also began smoking before the girls. Above all, we would take money from the girls for not only cigarettes, but also for liquor, and liked to boast before the girls about our drinking bouts.

At times, in the hostel we used to engage in making fun of it. “The girls are rich, they don’t have costly habits like us. As long as we are enjoying, who cares?” Mohan would say.

Thinking back of those days, I sometimes wonder how could have I spent countless days, engaged in unintelligent conversation, drinking cheap liquor, smoking cigarettes, with people all around me having mediocre ambitions. Thousands of boys and girls took admission to the university, nearly half of them to the social sciences, humanities and language courses. Majority of them never read any book; they simply read the notes passed onto them by their seniors. They couldn’t read books anyway, for they could not understand English. There were very few books written in Kannada. The huge and awesome collection of thousands of erudite books in the university library was of little use to the students. Nor could they have been of much use to a large chunk of the teaching faculty. Small talk, parochialism, jealousies, backbiting, groupism based on non-academic interests, self-aggrandizement and politics among the teachers were visible even to the dumbest of the students. Mediocrity just hung in the air, academic or intellectual activity limited to a few professors, a few seminars and symposia. But amidst such mediocrity there were quite a few towering personalities too on the campus keeping up the reputation of the university. But by and large, mediocrity kept staring at my face everywhere I went on the campus.

The redeeming feature for me was the scenic beauty of the campus. And the friends, howsoever mediocre, were close to my heart. They respected me; awed by the way I took on the professors in the class. They loved me, for I was so human while I was with them. They ignored my egocentric, sometimes eccentric manners, abrasive conversations, and bulldozing my opinions. Just as Mohan and Bhaskar initially hurt my ego, by treating me as an outsider, I too might have hurt them in many ways. I was blind to my faults and highly critical of others’ wrongdoings.

When the rains had receded, it was time on the campus for Youth Festival. I did not participate in any event, and did not represent my department in any event. However, I went to the department of English on the request of a friend there, to play guitar for a couple of group songs by the girls. I got close with the girls in the course, and to know that my friends, including the girls envied me added to my hauteur.

Youth Festival was more a fair than a festival, many events taking place simultaneously at different venues. Boys and girls dressed in their best, sometimes fancy and gaudy apparel, ambled here and there. The central locations were the Gandhi Bhavan and the university canteen. The acoustics of the Gandhi Bhavan was irritating. But the dance competitions were a hit. At all venues, there were guys behaving like hooligans, yelling, hooting and yodeling. It was all so much fun, as long as it ended.

It was during the Youth Festival that I found the opportunity I was looking for. I saw a familiar face near the canteen when our group had just emerged out of it. She undoubtedly was from my college back in Belgaum. I had seen her in the college canteen, in the department of geography and also at the bus stop, several times. I could not be mistaken. When I was staring at her, she looked at me and smiled. I approached her and asked, “Remember me?”

“Sure. You are doing your MA here?” She replied in Marathi

“Yes. And you must have come for the Youth Festival representing our college.” I too broke into Marathi.

“Yes and No. I am now studying here in the Karnatak College, in the second year of BA. I left Belgaum for some personal reasons.”

“I am sorry I don’t remember your name”

“Malati Mane. And I do remember yours, although we were never got to know each other while in Belgaum! I know your nickname too. Girls used to call you pundit

“You are waiting for someone?”

“No. I came to watch the events here. I am alone”

Mohan came near and whispered into my ears, “You carry on boss! See you later”. He left giving me an imperceptible wink.

“Why don’t we have a cup of tea together?” I suggested to her. She readily agreed with a nod.

She was short and plump. She was wearing a black skirt with a red top. I noticed that she wasn’t wearing high heels to enhance her height. Her clothes seemed to be cheap. I had never observed her this closely in the college. My breath became uneven on noticing that she had a huge swell on the chest pressing against her blouse. She saw what I was looking at but didn’t seem to give a damn. However, I felt guilty as well as shy. She was fair, but why wouldn’t she blush, I asked myself.

When I asked her in the canteen when the waiter came, what she would like to have, she said she would have something very heavy to eat since she was starving. “I skipped my breakfast, you know!” she added by way of explanation. I ordered vegetable pulav and some pakodas for her and just a cup of tea for myself. When she started eating, I felt as though she had not eaten for ages. Contrary to my expectation, she was not at all shy eating before me. She kept on munching very fast and even before I finished my cup of tea, she had finished every bit of food on her plate.

“What events you are interested to watch?” I asked her to keep the conversation going.

“None. Nothing is interesting today. I was thinking of going back to my hostel when I met you.”

“I am going to the city. I can come up to your hostel.” I said, hoping she would say it was not necessary. But at the same time, since she was aiding me in furthering my lie to my friends, I wanted to go with her.

“Why not. You may walk to the city from there. We can sit for some time in the garden near my college and talk.” She was barely into her twenties, and was bold and uninhibited. She was totally carefree and nothing like what I expected a girl to be. I asked her if she would have tea. She refused. I thanked god that at least in this one respect, she did not fail my expectations!

When we sat in the bus, she occupied two-thirds of the seat. I sat at the aisle. “Why did you change your college? And choose to come thus far off from your place?”

“You know, my father is not supporting my education. He is against me going to the college. I could not afford to be in our college in Belgaum. It was way too costly. One of my distant uncles got me admission here in KCD with monthly financial assistance from the government or the university I am not sure which. It is so, I think, because KCD is a constituent college of the university. I had to come. I am free and happy now.”

“You might be feeling homesick with all people speaking in Kannada around you. Your mother tongue obviously is Marathi.”

“No. I have never felt homesick. I never had a home. I never felt it was my home when I was staying with my father.”

“Your brothers and sisters…”

“I have one brother, happily married and settled. It is almost half a decade since I saw him last. He never calls on me, never enquires about me, and doesn’t care for anyone apart from his wife and kids”.

For a moment I did not know what to say. She was in all sorts of problems. She was young and unsupported. She was not a looker. It was as though sadness was permanently residing in her eyes. I remembered someone telling me that she had an affair with a much older man in Belgaum. I never knew who it was, nor was interested in knowing. That guy might have ditched her. Or her father might have come to know of her affair and shifted her to Dharwad. I wondered if she was telling the whole truth. I did not know if I was supposed to console her and if I was supposed to help her. I could do neither. The more I thought about it, the more her story began to sound familiar to me.

I was startled when she poked me to tell that the place where we had to get down had come. We calmly got out of the bus and walked towards her hostel. But she stopped me after going some distance, and pointed towards a big plot of acacia plantation. “That is a better place”

My heart began to pound. What did she mean by that? Better for what? But I had to be a man and lead her. I could not backtrack now. I had to play along. How could she be so straightforward? I could not believe my ears. I thought she meant a better place to sit and have a talk. Nothing more than that. Why was I imagining something that could not be there? I was nuts, I thought. A girl would never suggest such a thing even indirectly, I had been told by novels and movies and friends; and I believed in it firmly.

There were no benches in the acacia plantation. We had to sit on the ground. I chose a place that had more shade, and would not be directly visible from the road that meandered in the plantation. I spread my handkerchief and sat on it. Then I thought of her small handkerchief, which she held in her one hand along with a tiny purse, in another. It was not wider than her palm, and she certainly had hips that had flared! Just as I was smiling thinking of all this, she sat before me, somewhat awkwardly. Since she was wearing a skirt, when she was squatting, I had a glimpse of her thighs and her brown panties. I was again startled. Did she do it deliberately? There was no way I could be sure. I only concluded that she was too inelegant and ill mannered. She was just unconscious of the fact that she was a girl.

“Well…?” she said.

She had not asked a single question about me till then. She had talked only about herself, her situation, her problems and her woes. I would not have volunteered to talk about me, without any provocation of course.

“What are you planning to do after your graduation?”

“I am not sure if I would be able to complete my graduation in the first place. I may try to get a job, of course.”

“Your father may not be interested in your college education. But certainly he would spare no effort to marry you.”

“Who will marry me? He cannot afford to pay the dowry.”

“I heard sometimes back that…that you…” I could not complete.

I expected her to deny the whole thing. Rumours would always be afloat about girls, especially about the ones who are outspoken, unconceited and are bold enough to strike friendship with men. She, however, had a surprise in store for me.

“I know what you are talking about. It is true. Rather it was true. The problem was he was already a married man. I would have been happy even being his second wife. But he would not agree to that. He would not leave her wife because she is the daughter of his eldest sister.”

“Was he, er in love with you?”

“He never said so. Although I could never believe he did not. I could glean from his actions, his behaviour that he loved me.”

“That might have been just out of compassion for you, because you were in trouble.”

“I wouldn’t think so. I would…. Anyway, now there is no use crying over spilt milk.”

I kept quiet for a long time. But I was not thinking anything. My mind had gone blank. I just could not understand the girl. Not at least from what she was telling. That guy might have tried to help her in some way. Or he might have taken advantage of the difficult situation she was in. It is the problem with married men. The grass at the other end always seems greener to them. Why can’t they restrain themselves? These were my initial thoughts. Then I began to be amazed at how freely she was sharing with me, the innermost, perhaps the darkest things and feelings of her heart. It was unconceivable for me. In a similar situation, I could never unburden my feelings before anybody, least of all before a person who was nothing less than a stranger. A girl doing this, I would be damned, I thought.

“Do you go to Belgaum frequently?” I queried, being afraid of silent.

“I can’t even if I wish to. What are you doing this Sunday?” she asked.

I had no plans for Sunday. But I did not want to tell her. In fact I wanted to run away from that place, from her. I could not think of anything to reply her.

“I may go home. It is still not decided.”

“May I come with you?” she asked with a hope in her voice and expectations in her eyes. I felt trapped. I was in panic. I cursed myself for putting myself in this situation. What if she wanted to take me for a ride? What if she claimed that I was in love with her? What really did she want of me? I just wanted to escape.

She moved slowly towards me and sat so close that I could feel her breath. I had already been put off. The smell of pakodas she had devoured made me cringe.

“I am sorry but we cannot go together. I will be going with a friend of a mine. I am going to attend a house-warming ceremony of their newly constructed house,” somehow I blurted out. Then I was amazed at the lie I had been able to concoct so fast.

I had used the word ‘griha pravesha’ for house warming, which literally means entry into the house.

“God knows when my pravesha will happen!” she mumbled. Oh boy! I was left spellbound. She was telling me that she wanted an entry! Indirectly she was also suggesting that she had not yet been penetrated; that she still was a virgin. It was then I began to hate her. Her audaciousness was lewd and disgusting. It was not what I expected of a well-bred girl from a respected family. This act of hers was looked to me like that of a whore. It was deeply insulting to my idea of romance.

My idea of virgin was not confined to the physiological aspect. If somebody enters your mind, then too you lose your virginity. In hindsight it seems to be far-fetched. It was my middle class morality, against which I was constantly struggling. But in crunch situations, it over took me, beat me and left me numb. I suddenly got up on my feet, and told her that I remembered that I had an urgent work to be attended to. Was there disappointment on her face? Did she feel offended by my rejection? I could not tell, for I could not bring myself to look at her face. She got up slowly, and as soon as we reached the road, I said “Bye” and abruptly left. I could feel her eyes staring or blazing on my back, but I did not dare look back. I was pissed out and was on the verge of retching.

I did not look back for almost half a kilometer, although I had taken a couple of turns on the way.

I did not stop to take a bus to the city bus stand, where I wanted to go. I just trudged on and by the time I reached my destination, I was perspiring profusely. I wanted to sit in a cool place and ponder. I saw a wine shop, which had a hall for serving liquor in its backyard. Who will drink in the after noon? The hall would be there all to myself. Thinking thus, I was surprised to know that there were as many day drinkers as there would be night drinkers. I wasn’t in a shape to turn back and find another, calmer place. In the corner just under the ceiling fan, I sat and gulped my quota of liquor munching peanuts.

I got back to the hostel and instead of going to my room, I kicked open the door of Mohan’s room and slouched in the chair. “Oh boy, I am really tired!” I blurted.

Bhaskar woke up from his nap and sat up on the bed. Mohan lit a cigarette and offered me one, which I took. “ Look at him! He has been drinking in day time.” Bhaskar said. “What have you been up to?” Mohan asked.

I narrated them the whole story but with a different twist at the end. I just stuck to the facts but I did not give any names. They were shocked after hearing Malati’s remarks about ‘gruha pravesha’

“My God! How could you do it in such a place?” Bhaskar asked.

“There is no problem with the place buddy,” I replied, “ It is sufficiently secluded plantation and not easily visible from the road.”

“Yes, I have heard of some boys using that place” Mohan concluded.

“Ok guys. Let me take some rest now. Aren’t we going to the city in the evening?”

I asked them and without waiting for their response left for my room.



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Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Truth About A Lie

“Hello Sir!” Mohan shouted the moment he spotted me. Bhaskar spat the smoke upwards and rejoined, “ Where were you in the evening Harsha? We were looking for you.” Why weren’t you looking for me when the girls were with you? Did you not even think once how your action would offend me? I was tempted ask. Both were drunk and high spirits. I knew that they were dying to narrate their exploits that day. Their faces were radiant and glowing as though they had achieved a great victory and conquered the whole world. They wanted desperately others to envy them and now that only I was available, they would not let the opportunity slip their hands at any cost.



I considered the situation for a while. If I was furious at them, I did not want it to reveal it. But I would not allow their ego to inflate more than it was necessary. Puncture it! I said to myself. The best method given the circumstances was to take a leap ahead of them, and tell a lie that should make them envy me! Was I up to the task? I asked myself. All those years of careful upbringing had left me incapable of lying. I detested untruth, as well as the perpetrators of untruth. It was next to impossible for me to tell a lie. Liars should have a clear-cut agenda and a sharp memory to back it. Could I ever be one? I had a fleeting vision of being caught with my lie, if indeed I told one. A lie told to protect my ego wasn’t going to hurt anyone. It would be harmless. However flimsy, this line of defense convinced me. All these years I had been very truthful. But all this had to change. For better or worse. However inane it may sound in retrospect, at that point of time I thought it was inevitable. However, I had needed some time to prepare myself and to keep them hanging in curiosity, suspense...



“You can’t even imagine where I had been today!” I finally said, a bit nonchalantly, “I am damn tired.”



“Where had you been?” asked Bhaskar showing some interest.



“Oh, it is a long story,” I faked a sigh.



“Then let us go to your room and you can recount leisurely.” Mohan suggested.



I nodded my assent and we walked to our room. When I began to remove my shoes, Mohan slouched in the chair and Bhaskar lied prostrate on Vijay’s bed. My mind was racing fast in order to make up a credible story.



“But let us first hear your story. How did you get introduced to the girls? Did you take them for a nice outing?” I asked feigning nonchalance.



“No man, it wasn’t anything like that. We had been to Hubli, to Saroo’s house,” Bhaskar replied with a special emphasis on Saroo. Mohan laughed very loudly causing the chair he was sitting on shake. “Look at him! He is already addressing Saroja as Saroo! As though he has been an intimate friend of hers for years!”



Bhaskar ignored him and started recounting, “This morning an old acquaintance from my place had come to the department. He was a few years senior to me in the school. His family has a lot of dough. Very rich family, I mean. He did his two years of his Pre-University in six years, still could not complete it. Till today he has kept up with his hobby of taking his bike to the college and trying to pass as a student there. He had come here to see Nirupama. He usually comes to Hubli for some family business. Since I happen to know him, he came to me first and asked her whereabouts. I took him to her in the hostel. That’s how I got introduced to her”



“And through her, the other two girls,” Mohan rejoined, “Anyway, it seems Nirupama is easier than she looks”.



“Oh, she started going with the guys when she was in high school. She must have been barely into her teens then,” Bhaskar said.



“Didn’t you know her then?” I asked.



“I used to see her, very often with different boys. Mine is a very small place you know. Such things spread like wild fire. But I had never talked to her before today” Bhaskar replied.



“What did her visitor do?”



“I think she was not too pleased to see him here. She looked embarrassed. She was not very willing to talk to him. She talked him hardly for a minute. She later asked me not to entertain him in future,” Bhaskar replied again.



“Anyway, he helped us get started with the girls. We should be thankful to him,” Mohan said with a wink.



“So you went to Saroja’s house in Hubli.”



“Yeah. After the class we went to the university canteen. She had invited the other girls to her home. The other girls asked us to accompany them, with Saroja’s consent, of course. Just had tea at her home. She lives with her mother and an elder sister. Then we went to a movie!”



“Ah, quite impressive for the first day,” I said.



“It was. And guess who paid for the movie ticket? The girls did. They also paid for the refreshments we had after the movie. Mohan wanted to pay, but I stopped him,” Bhaskar said with pride.



“What I am really interested in is what you did today.” Mohan reminded me.



“Oh yeah!” I began cautiously. “I went to the city in the evening as usual. Had a couple of drinks at my usual place. Since Vijay was off to his place, I was feeling very lonely. It was too early to have dinner. So I went to the central bus station. I like to imagine people getting into buses and going to fairylands, as I used to imagine in my childhood. I just wanted to wander around there watching people rushing towards the bus. It is fun, you know, especially when you are not going anywhere.”



I had thought of a story that would both interest them and make a hero of me. But I did not know then, the long-term impact this lie was going to have. Later, I had to live up to the reputation that this story would build for me, and in the process to find that it was to deeply affect my personality, my being. Only in retrospect it seems regrettable. If anyone asks me what is the most regrettable incident in my life, like a celebrity is often asked for an interview to be published in a periodical, I would not even be able to confess to this episode. I would look for some thing less embarrassing.



“When I was stalking near the platform from which buses for Goa leave, I found a girl sitting on a bench. The first thing that caught my eye was the enormous bulge on her front side, which she certainly had difficulty in concealing!”



I paused to watch the impact of my narration. Both were grinning, but were all-attentive.



“She was wearing a skin tight jeans and a t-shirt. I felt like asking her how the hell she got into her jeans! She was very fair and extremely good-looking. I sat on the other end of the same bench she was sitting on and tried to smile at her. Surprisingly she too smiled. ‘Waiting for Goa bus?’ I asked her. She said she had to wait for more than two hours since her bus was scheduled at nine-thirty. She asked me if I too was going by the same bus. I said I was waiting for a friend of mine to arrive but he had started an hour later than he had told me he would. I told her it appealed to me to watch people in the places like bus station. Then slowly I moved towards her as if I was not properly hearing her. I sat next to her. She didn’t mind. Well, we kept talking for another half an hour. She said she had come to this place on some official duty for some private firm she was working with. I found out she was very fluent in English and her accent was certainly from Goa. She was ultra-modern you know, not like our small town girls. At last I asked her if she would like to have a beer with me. I was not afraid to ask her because I had already liquor in me, giving me all the courage! She said only if I took her to a decent place.”



I paused again. But Mohan asked, “Where did you take her to?”



“I couldn’t think of taking her to any bar or restaurant. I took her in an auto to the lodging on the NH. I rented a room there and ordered the room service to get a beer for her, and another round of whisky for me.



“By then, I was convinced that she would not mind if I touched her. When I finally did touch her, she was very cooperative. She responded like hell,” I tried to recapitulate some of the stories I had read in certain books. “ We did it two times. She finished her beer, ate a chicken tikka and I dropped her to bus station”



“Did she give you her address?” Bhaskar asked as if he was getting ready to go to Goa right then and there!



“No she didn’t. She only said her name was Rita D’souza. It may not be her true name. But I gave her my address and asked her to contact me if she happens to be here again.”



“You paid her some money?” Bhaskar asked with some doubt about the girl’s profession.



“No way! She did not ask for money. Of course, I had to pay for the drinks and the lodge. Come on man. She was not a professional. She was not soliciting any customers. She couldn’t have, in a place like the bus station. I think what she wanted was only some decent company and a bit of fun with no strings attached!”



“Lucky you!” said Mohan. He had believed the story. Bhaskar would not have thought twice if Mohan believed it. Both of them were envious of me now as I intended them to be!



“I would not have dared pick up a girl like that.” Mohan said again lighting another cigarette. I beamed a victorious smile.



Monday, April 19, 2010

Sanjoy, the rebel.

Vijay did not show any interest in why Mohan and Bhaskar had vanished with the girls, or in what they might be doing was not only because of his basic lack of interest in such things, but also because he was leaving for his place that day, the day being Saturday. I remembered that he had packed early in the morning and had brought his airbag to the department. He had left it under the care of the peon of our department. He said he would return on Monday morning and climbed into the city bus. I stood in an unbearable feeling of solitude at the university bus stop, not knowing what to do. I cursed Mohan and Bhaskar under my breath as I scurried towards the hostel.

The rain that had stopped in the morning was making reappearance. The sky was gathering gray-black clouds in heaps. Passing through the turnstile to the botanical gardens, I was not sure I wanted to go the hostel using this shortcut. But even before I could decide, I was already walking under the shade of huge banyan trees. It suddenly started raining heavily and trees were not enough protection to me even though they had covered the sky over my head like an awning. I did not care to flick open my umbrella and the rainwater passing through the gaps in the branches of the trees fell on my head and shoulders. The first few drops of water trickling through my shirt startled me. The botanical gardens continued to attract me, yet it was mysterious and intriguing.

When I reached my room, I remembered that I had not gone to the mess to have my lunch. The mess in the hostel had closed down due to the losses the owner had incurred. I tried to forget that I was hungry and emptied half a jug of water down my throat. After changing, I lied on my bed, once again thinking of my solitude. Envy deep down in me, began to grow and I hated myself for being jealous of my own friends. Are they really my friends? Of course Bhaskar just followed Mohan wherever he went, whatever he did. He shared every moment with Mohan. But is Mohan really my friend? If he is, why doesn’t he behave like one? Why do girls choose him over me? I am fairer, more intelligent, more accomplished than him. Am I unapproachable? It can’t be that the girls approached him. He must have approached girls and must have charmed them. He is not even as funny as Bhaskar is in his conversation. Perhaps I cannot reach out to people. The train of thoughts just rushed through my head, till my heart began to ache. I wanted to change the line of my thoughts. But the same thoughts kept nagging me again and again, until I fell asleep.

I was still engaged in dissuading myself from self-disparagement, when I was again startled by the coldness of the water that I threw on my face later in the evening in the washroom. I cursed myself for not choosing hot water to wash my face. After deciding to go to the city even if alone, I got ready and came to the common TV hall to have a peek at the newspapers.

There was a guy reading the Deccan Herald at the wooden stand. A couple of guys were watching TV. I went to the newspaper stand and before I could find what I was looking for, the guy reading the newspaper asked in English, “Hello, You need this paper?”

He was a tall and lean guy of about twenty-three years, fair with sharp features. He had a pronounced nose, prominent chin and his accent was much different from the people of Karnataka. He was wearing blue jeans and a full sleeved beige but striped shirt. He was one of the guys you find on the campuses like that of an IIT or JNU. “No, thank you! The Kannada newspaper will do for me,” I replied.

“Looking to go to a movie?” he persisted.

“Not really, I am waiting for the bus. I got ready a bit early. There is a bus going to the city after 15 minutes.” I said without lifting my head from the newspaper.

“I am Sanjoy Bannerjee. I have come here to gather some information for my dissertation,” he said with aplomb, extending his hand. I had to shake hands with him and say, “ Harsha, studying for my master’s”. I was astonished at how some people strike conversation or make friends without any effort. He was one such guy, with a very friendly smile. He could easily put anyone at ease.

His name could have been Sanjay, but the Bengali people pronounced it as Sanjoy. I did not know whether they wrote too similarly.

“Which subject?” he enquired. “Political Science.” My reply was a monosyllable. I did not ask him his subject.

“You know, I have been staying in this hostel for the last fourteen days. Tomorrow I will be leaving for Calcutta. It seems the mess is closed down in the hostel. Perhaps, we can have dinner together in the city. I know of a very good hotel. Damn cheap compared to other hotels. Would you care to join me?”

After hardly a few minutes since introduction, the guy was already inviting me to have dinner with him! He was really wonderful, I thought. He abounded in what I lacked, social skills. He continued to amaze me. Without a second thought, he took it for granted that I could accompany him to a cheap hotel. He was confident that he could charm me to take to a cheap hotel even if I were the richest man in the town. After only a bit of hesitancy, I followed him to the bus stop just when the bus was taking a U turn before standing still.

“How did you like this city? And the university?” I asked him sitting at the aisle while he sat by the window.

“Umm I liked it very much. Such a calm and quiet town. The scenic beauty is marvelous. No hustle-bustle, no hurry. The pace of life is endearingly slow compared to my own place. It is called ‘a pensioners’ paradise’, isn’t it?”

“I have heard people call it so. But the pace is gradually picking up, because its twin city Hubli is expanding towards it.”

“Yeah that is happening with most of the towns these days. But the university campus is one of the most beautiful campuses I have seen. It was as if living with the nature for the last two weeks for me. Now that I have completed my work, I am feeling sad to leave it.”

“How come you are staying in the hostel? Why not at the university guest house?” I found myself asking.

“The guest house is not meant for research scholars. Only teachers and other guests stay there. It’s pretty costly too. I have been staying in the hostel as a guest.”

“Seen the places around here?”

“Ah, not much to see nearby. Last weekend I had been to Badami and Aihole”.

He chattered continuously till we reached the city. When we got down he asked, “Why don’t we have drinks before dinner? Liquors are strictly not allowed in the restaurant we are going”

I nodded in agreement. He took me to a two-storied building right behind the petty shops near the city bus station. The hoarding over the entrance read ‘wine shop’. “It is only a shop, not a bar,” I cried. But he said, “Just follow me. They serve here at the retail price. Moreover, you will get soda and snacks free of charge!”

I followed him on the stairs opposite the cash counter of the shop. The stairs led us to the first floor where I could see a hall of moderate proportions. There were folding tables with plastic chairs around them. We sat near the window under the ceiling fan. The air was slightly tinged with cigarette smoke. Some men sitting at the far end were getting raucous. On another table, a man was sitting alone in a melancholy mood, and suddenly he drank the whole glass of red liquid, gathered his bag and left.

Sanjoy ordered a whisky called ‘Royal Scot’. It could be easily mistaken for scotch but it was an ordinary, cheap whiskey. A boy of about fifteen brought the sealed bottle containing a quarter, which was 180 ml and two bottles of soda water. The green soda water bottle had a marble at stuck in its neck, pushed upwards by the pressure inside. When he pushed the marble inside with his forefinger, it released the pressure with a hissing sound. He opened both the bottles, placed them by the side of a small plate of salted chickpeas. As he left, Sanjoy said, “You see, you won’t have to pay for these items.”

The liquor was very strong, tasted bitter and soon left me groggy. I was already light headed due to skipping my lunch. I ate a lot of chickpeas to slow down the impact of the drink. “Only an hour ago, I did not know you. Now I am sitting with you having drinks. How can you make friends so quickly?” I asked Sanjoy.

“Honestly, I have never thought of that. May be I just smile and talk. May be I have an irrepressible urge to talk. I am indiscriminate as to whom I am talking to.”

“I think that’s great. It takes me hell lot of time just to say hello to people.”

“Even that can be very helpful, you know, in avoiding wrong people. Selecting the right ones to talk to.”

“True, but it leaves you with very few friends.”

For a while we talked about the politics of his state, West Bengal. He was very appreciative of the Leftist Party but at the same time critical of some of the issues of which I had no idea.

He gulped down three drinks in record time. I could manage only one and a half. When the bill came, he said he would pay and I would have to pay for the food. I felt guilty, for somewhere deep down, I had a feeling that he was conning me to get his evening paid.

The hotel he took me to was not very far off. It was on a small road leading to the residential area just behind the main bazaar. The hoarding over the building read ‘Hotel Diamond’. The entrance led to the counter located in a hall of which two partitions had been made. One portion was open hall; the other portion was further partitioned into two rooms, each room containing two tables. We sat in one if the rooms. There were wooden chairs and tables, the top of the table coated with glossy synthetic material. The ambience was good, the air filled with the odours of incense stick, cooking meat and biriyani. It was apparent that establishment belonged to a Muslim owner.

Sanjoy ordered the food without consulting me. A small doubt was lingering in my mind. He ordered mutton masala and rotis and a plate of biriyani. The food was delicious and sumptuous but the doubt in my mind kept recurring. After washing our fingers in the finger bowl, I finally gathered myself to ask Sanjoy whether it was beef that was served here. I expected him to be either apologetic or defensive, but he was neither. He simply shrugged and said that despite being a Brahmin, he didn’t mind it as long as it was delicious and available at an affordable price. Indeed, he was more rebellious against the established norms than I was. He showed it in his actions. Well I will be damned if anyone knows that I had had food here, and enjoyed it on the top of all, I thought.

When we got off the bus near the hostel, he thanked me, gave his address and asked me to keep in touch. In fact, I should have been even more grateful to him, for since I had met him, I had thought of Mohan and Bhaskar and the girls not even for a while.

Not until I reached the corridors of the first floor and found Mohan and Bhaskar puffing away their cigarettes near the banister.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Growing Patterns

The third roommate began to move his things shortly thereafter, but very gradually. First to disappear were his books, then the bucket and mug vanished. There were two cupboards in the room, one of which he had taken custody of and kept it always locked, with the key tucked to his key chain, which he carried all the time, even while going to the bathroom. I soon found it unlocked and empty. One evening, after returning from the department, we found that his bed too had evaporated. Neither Vijay, nor I cared to ask him where he was moving all his things. Finally, the only thing that he retained was his key to the room, which he never used thereafter. I had been sharing a cupboard with Vijay. Now I was free to occupy the one emptied by Jogesh. Now there was sufficient space in the room, and no unfeeling, inane irritations to deal with in the mornings. The mornings were serene and silent. It was now that I began to feel at home.



At the time of my admission, I had opened an account in one of the banks on the campus, and had deposited six thousand rupees, enough to cover my expenses for the whole year. But for all others, the first week of the month was a period of waiting for the Money Order to arrive. They would visit the Post Office every day to enquire whether the MO has arrived. Mohan, Bhaskar, Virupakshappa, and Suresh waited for their monthly allowance while Vijay went back to his place once a month to collect his. Hence, the first week was celebration time for Mohan and Bhaskar. After paying all the dues to the mess and the canteen, they would rush to the city every evening for partying. For some reason unknown to me even to this date, neither I not Vijay were invited to accompany them. I concluded variously, that they continued to think I was an outsider because I did not share their undergraduate experiences; that my introvert, reserved, taciturn personality traits were unsavoury to them; that there was a sea of differences in our backgrounds, habits, culture, and outlook; that they didn’t like me at all, etc. At times I felt desolated, and craved for their company, their gossips, their grins, their jokes, the fun, and their laughter. At the same time, I kept cursing myself too for not being able to at least enfeeble the hard shell around me, so that someone can pierce it.



Another of my classmates, Madhav Nayak, was the only person who knew that I had deposited so much of money in the bank, as he, on the suggestion of the clerk of the department, had accompanied me to the bank to assist me in opening the account. As an account holder, he could introduce me to the bank, by signing in the application form. Early one evening, he came to my room, and called me out to discuss me something in person. When I met him in the portico, he quietly said that he has not received his monthly allowance due to some reasons back home, and that he needed five hundred rupees urgently. He said he would return the money as soon as possible. It felt very strange to me. He had studied in Dharwad itself right from his high school days, and undoubtedly had lots of pals. Why should he come to me, of all the people, to ask for a loan, when I barely knew him? It was very difficult for me to say no; for I couldn’t tell him I didn’t have. Even more difficult for me was to invent a lie. It took me sometime, but finally I told him that I would not be able to give him money. He felt offended, and it showed on his face. He left without a word, but later he never talked to me. I found out later that he was habituated to borrowing money and not returning it. Fortunately, he did not stay in the hostel and after a couple of months, he gave up pursuing the course itself.





Days began to assume a pattern. I got used to the overcast sky, constant rains, at times, torrential downpour and slight drizzle, at others. The landscape around the hostel, in fact the whole campus became green. Reddish muddy water flowed incessantly in the drains and trenches in the campus. The grass grew taller and taller in the botanical gardens. The rainwater dripped from the leaves of the trees and flew onto my face, while passing by the side. Cold winds blew, never violently, but there used to be strong winds, brushing my hair, and fluttering my clothes. I liked the wind very much, for it made me nostalgic. It was soothing, comforting, and freshening. I liked to wear sweaters of different colours, not because of the cold, but I thought I looked better wearing them. I had a special liking for the military green pullover with white stripes that was loosely knit and allowed the passage of air through it.



Evenings were even more enchanting. It would be dark sometimes as early as five thirty. With Vijay constantly at my side, I used to enjoy my ride in the city bus sitting by the window, my ritual drinks, and returning to the hostel late in the evening. Vijay and I did miss the company of Mohan and Bhaskar for most of the month. But for a few early days of the month, we did go with them. Those were even happier evenings, and gradually we had become close friends. Now everyone in the group was addressing me in singular. But I made it a point never to ask Mohan why he would not ask me to be in their company at all times, all the days. Vijay and I reassured ourselves that we didn’t need to be always depending on the rest of the group, for we were a group unto ourselves.



I came to know that the huge auditorium and a couple of rooms annexed to it constituted ‘Gandhi Bhavan’, that it was the department of Gandhian Studies, offering post graduate diploma courses in Gandhian Studies. In the final year of my graduate class, we had a lesson in Basic English called “And Then Gandhi Came”, an excerpt from the Discovery of India by Jawaharlal Nehru. The professor who taught us Basic English was a vociferous critic of Mahatma Gandhi. Ideologically he was in the right wing. When he started criticizing Mahatma Gandhi and also Nehru as his protégé, for all the ills facing our country, I couldn’t contain myself. I basically believed that the teacher should be ideologically neutral, at least in the treatment of the subject matter in the classroom. He should refrain from imposing or canvassing his own ideological leanings. Although I was not well read in Gandhian philosophy or ideology, I had been a keen student of the Indian national movement. I defended Gandhi and Nehru so vigorously in the argument with the professor that ensued and continued for nearly four days, that the professor had to concede his defeat in the open classroom. However, the victory had not been sufficient for me. I wanted to study Mahatma Gandhi, his life, his work and philosophy to be able to answer many questions that the professor had raised, to which the answers that I had given had not satisfied me. I enrolled for the course and started attending the classed in the evening.



I had always been found of music and always wanted to unravel the mysteries of the Indian classical music. I found out that the department of music and fine arts was also offering a certificate course in the Hindustani Classical Vocal music. After a simple test of recital of notes along with the harmonium, I was admitted and started attending the classes in the morning. Thus a day’s pattern was music classes in the morning, Masters’ classes during the day, diploma classed in the evening and finally visiting hotel Prince, later in the evening. On Sundays, when most of the boys were washing or pressing their clothes, or visiting their relatives, our gang relaxed till eleven in the morning, and then we usually went to have gin and limewater near Modern movie theatre. We used to watch English movies after a couple of drinks, and then have lunch with some more gin before returning to the hostel for siesta. Evenings again were spent at Prince.





That the pattern would not remain the same for long was lingering in my mind like a premonition to me. It started with the music class. I had a session of one hour each day, on all weekdays. But it was a common class for three students, two girls in addition to me. For the first couple of days, I was to sit on my knees holding upright the tanpura tuned to D, recite the notes in succession while strumming the four strings of the tanpura one after another, with a brief pause after the fourth string. It was so painful sitting on my knees, that I could not concentrate on the clarity of notes. I could not understand why they were making an experience supposed to be full of pleasure and bliss, an unmitigated painful one! Just when I was getting used to bearing the pain, we were introduced to two ragas, Bhoopali for the first three days of the week and Durga for the remaining days. It was indeed very easy for me to understand the structure of the ragas, and I could recite them with ease and without going off-key. But for the other two girls, it was an impossible task. The third note of Bhoopali is ga and that of Durga is ma. The teachers would struggle make them catch the right note because after three days of Bhoopali, they could not go up to ma. By the third day somehow the teacher teaching Durga would be successful in making them sing the correct note, which is ma but the teacher teaching Bhoopali on the fourth day would raise his hands in exasperation after trying to make them sing the correct third note which is ga!



It took me only hardly a few minutes to sing the correct raga, but the remaining time I had to spend watching the girls struggle, and the teacher despair. I wanted to have some more attention of the teachers but it was not to be. After somehow learning three ragas, I just gave up attending the classes. Much later, I heard that the girls also had dropped out!



However, I persisted with the course in Gandhian Studies, for it was pleasure attending the classes there in the evening. Majority of the teachers were retired teachers, librarians, activists who were working as guest-lecturers. I read and reread The Story of My Experiments With Truth and Hind Swaraj, spent a lot of time attending discussions, seminars on Gandhian philosophy. But my approach to the Gandhian Studies was more with head than with heart. For at least a couple of years during my graduation, I had been highly influenced by Karl Marx, and considered myself a Marxist until I overheard a highly reputed intellectual comrade calling a peon of our college “a silly, worthless peon”, after a minor scuffle with the latter. I felt he was identifying himself with the class of haves and addressing the peon, a have not with perceptible scorn when he was required to identify himself with the proletariat and start a class struggle. For quite sometimes I had also been attracted by the utilitarian philosophy of J.S.Mill, and pluralist philosophy of H.J.Laski. Since childhood I had been an atheist, and later an apostate. I rebelled against all regulations; even the self imposed one, just like Jean Jacques Rousseau! In the end, I had turned into a much-confused youth, absorbing influences from various quarters. The best thing about me, according to my own assessment, was that I was like a sponge, absorbing ideas like a sponge absorbs water. I was open to all new ideas, ideologies and philosophies, but never ever committing myself to one particular thought. If someone tried to convince me, I would oppose it tooth and nail, gathering all the strength of the facts and ideas contrary to the one that is being pushed. But never would I argue for the sake of argument, if there were fresh insights that are logically coherent present in the idea or ideology.



The classroom lectures seemed to me like unavoidable rituals. Most boys were pretending to be attentive, being afraid of the teachers, not understanding much of what was being said although it was all in easy comprehensible English, some boys stealthily ogling at the girls from time to time when the lecturer is writing something on the blackboard, giggling with co-benchers on some silly joke. One of the professors used to keep a book on the lecture-stand and read long winding verbose sentences without caring to know if anybody understood it. He had developed a special skill of reading from the corners of his eyes without letting the audience to know that he was in fact reading. I could easily make out what he was doing since I had purchased the same book and would read it before going to the class.



One day when Vijay and I entered the lecture-hall, I found that Mohan and Bhaskar were talking to the girls. So far the boys had never talked to the girls. When did they make acquaintance with the girls, I had no idea. I had seen all the girls but had taken no notice of even one of them. Except perhaps Nirupama Vannur, who was about five-two, curvy, wheatish complexion bordering on the darker side, oval face, arched eyebrows, and succulent lips. She had an air of unmistakable small town background, midway between rural and big city. It showed in her behaviour, in her clothes and sandals. Though she couldn’t be called extraordinarily beautiful, she was very attractive in her own way. The other girl who always stayed with her always wore saris of different hues. She was very fair, and a bit thickset. She had a round face and a short nose on which she wore a tiny gold nose stud. She still retained some of the pudginess of childhood and sometimes I thought she looked like a retarded person. When she was answering the roll call, I learnt that her name was Vani Moraba. She too hailed from the same place as Nirupama.



Yet another girl was obviously a city-bred modern looking girl, Saroja Hublikar. She was short, about five feet, and wore skirts and chudidars. Denim skirt and a sleeveless t-shirt was her favourite dress. She was neither fair, nor dark. Some times she could be found with a gold rimmed glasses perched on her nose. Kalavati Khot was the girl who had spoken in the Inaugural Function. She too was a small town girl, very skinny, and liked to flaunt what she thought were her virtues, obedience to the teachers, industry, and self-righteousness. The last girl was a localite, Kavya Kabadi. She had been a classmate of Virupakshappa at graduate level. She spoke little, was about five-three, fair and good-looking. But I felt that she always tried to conceal her good looks and keep a low profile.



Now Mohan and Bhaskar were talking to Nirupama, Vani and Saroja. I was sitting at the last bench along with Vijay, and could not hear what they were talking. But obviously, the girls were giggling at something Mohan said. Later, just after the professor left the classroom, Bhaskar and Mohan vanished with the girls. It left an awkward pain of envy in my heart. “Damn!” I said to myself and saw that Vijay was unaffected as usual.