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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