“Come on, what are you pondering about Harsha?” Bhaskar shouted. I realised that I had again withdrawn myself into my cocoon, brooding about my deep-rooted desires and wishes.
“Oh! It’s nothing in particular.” I replied.
“I was telling you how studious Virupakshappa is. He has already collected many books and notes. He has already started studying every evening.”
“It’s not true,” protested Virupakshappa, “I have nothing better to do in the evenings. That’s why I am just reading.”
“Who else has come to our department from your college?” I queried, just to participate in the discussion.
“One guy, his name is Umesh Melligatti and one girl, Kavya Kabadi. He is not staying in this hostel. He has rented a room in the city. Kavya is a localite.”
“You mean the one who is tall, fair with two braids hanging behind?” Mohan asked.
“Yes. You are right. She comes from a very orthodox family. Not a highly educated one, but good family” replied Virupakshappa.
“Hey come on, Viru. We are not having any designs on her. Okay? You seem to be concerned about her!” Bhaskar said as if he is unravelling a secret.
“No sir. I am already engaged to a girl from our place, a distant relative of ours. I want to get a job as early as possible. Whether I get a job or not, my parents have decided to have my marriage this summer.” Virupakshappa said with some amount of blush.
I was surprised that he was going to marry that early. “Don’t you think you are too young to get married now?” I asked.
“I do think so. But my parents don’t”
“Ah, lucky fellow. Why aren’t my parents as wise?” Bhaskar chuckled.
“Because you have an elder brother still waiting to be married!” Mohan reminded him.
“In fact, the first one marry should be me. I am a couple of years older than all of you.” Vijay said. “Nobody is asking me, who will care to ask you?” he added.
This discussion went on and on for quite sometime, till Mohan said he would get ready to go the department. Both Mohan and Bhaskar dressed. They dressed very neatly, and too formally always. Only I had started wearing the Baggies, the latest fashion then. They wore leather shoes polished till they shone like diamond. I wore sneakers. After a while, we left for the department. Since still much time was there, we went to the library canteen, had another cup of tea and pulled another cigarette. This time Mohan and Bhaskar were sharing a cigarette. It was while drinking tea that we decided that thereafter, we would be sharing every bill equally as none of us were earning. I began to feel like I was a part of the group.
This feeling was not to last longer, or at least I felt so later in the evening.
* * * *** * * *
Another day in the department for others, it was my second day. Faces in the department began to look familiar. There were three lectures, with an interval of 45 minutes after the second lecture for meals. We went to the Students’ Home mess together. Mohan and Bhaskar had purchased tokens for the whole month. They suggested the same to Vijay and me. Vijay also followed the suit. But I didn’t, for I wanted to avoid eating there as much as possible. It was only the second meal for me, but I had already begun to hate it. Not that the others relished it. But they were able to eat it without any grumble.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that Mohan, Bhaskar and Vijay had opted for the same optional course as me. It was ‘Parliamentary Institutions’, taught by a professor with shining head and bright eyes. He was well read but was not very articulate. He came to the class with a huge pile of books and papers, but referred only to the notes he had scribbled on the paper. It would be an understatement if I say that he went about delivering his sentences at a snail’s pace. There was such a huge gap between two sentences that he uttered that I could have made a couple of copies of his lecture verbatim. While saying something, he stared at us; and after the completion of a sentence, he would stare at the roof. It was all a grim matter and there was not even a hint of wit and humour. Especially, in the afternoon after a meal, however insipid it might have been, his lecture lulled us into doze and it required quite an effort to stay awake. If it had been a large class comprising hundreds of audience, I could have safely dozed off.
As decided earlier, Vijay and I went to the office of the department to collect our identity cards. When we came out, I was dismayed to find that both Mohan and Bhaskar had vanished into thin air. We looked for them in the lecture hall and on the staircase, but they were not to be seen. “Anyway, let’s get back to the hostel” Vijay suggested at last. I concurred silently.
I was disappointed by the sudden disappearance of Mohan and Bhaskar. Vijay, however, did not seem to be least bit affected. We silently started walking back to hostel through the botanical gardens. Although it was sometimes after four in the evening, as the sky was covered fully with dark clouds, the botanical gardens looked even darker and gloomy. The water was dripping from the leaves of the trees and shrubs. The grass was also soaked and was wetting our pants below ankles. I thought, may be everything looked very dismal to me because of what Mohan and Bhaskar did. It is nothing less than abandoning…nothing less than perfidy. Why was I so demanding? Why friendship, especially mine, so demanding?
The ground was wet and at some places, small pools filled with muddy water had been formed. We tried to walk on firm ground and on the grass, wherever we doubted the soil to be not solid enough to withstand our weight.
I broke the ice at last, just as we neared the other end of the botanical gardens opposite our hostel. “ They shouldn’t have done like this!” said I.
Vijay looked up with a question mark writ all over his face. “What?” he queried.
“At least they could have told us before going. Would we have come in their way?”
After some time he asked, “Do we need to depend on them?”
“Not at all. It just that their behaviour is a bit objectionable. Lack of courtesy. That’s all!”
We silently reached out room. The third roommate Jogesh was not there, thankfully. After changing, we just lied on our respective beds.
I was still brooding over the same thing. How could they do it? Bloody we were sitting together in the same class. It took hardly a couple of minutes to collect my ID card. “We have some personal work. See you later in the evening” would have sufficed. I wouldn’t have meddled into their personal matters, just as I wouldn’t have permitted anyone to meddle in my personal matters. Vijay started snoring slightly. He is unconcerned. It seemed to him petty and trifling. I began to feel envious of Vijay.
I could not remember when I too slipped into slumber. When Vijay awakened me, I saw through the window that the sky had grown darker. I looked at the table clock. It showed ten past six. “Have they come back?” I asked Vijay. “Not yet” he replied with a blank face. “Shall we have tea?” It was more a suggestion than a question. “Yes. But in the city, not in the hostel” I said coming to a decision abruptly. Vijay was a follower, never a leader. He agreed without a word.
“This is the famous Subhas Road, where all boys come to watch the girls and the girls come to be watched.” Vijay said pointing at a straight avenue when we reached the water fountain located in the triangular shaped walled area. We strolled down the road, and I made some purchases in the adjoining shops. Though it was not raining, it was not comfortable walking on the dirty edges of the road, or on the pavement on which muddy water was stranded here and there. When Vijay suggested going back to the university to have dinner, I remembered the insipid food that is served there. “Since we are already in the city, why don’t we have dinner here itself?” I said. He agreed with a “Humm..”
I took him to a small hotel near the city bus stand. The name of the hotel was ‘Prince’, with ‘veg and non-veg’ painted below. There were about four ‘special rooms’ apart from a small hall. Although it was not licensed to serve liquor, every one seated there was having a glass filled with brown liquid on his table. I imagined Mohan and Bhaskar having drinks in another hotel, that very moment. I decided that I should not be left behind. When we were seated in a special room, the first thing I did was ordering one and a half pegs of Old Tavern with soda water. The food was very tasty and the costs were affordable. The chicken mughlai with butter nans were as good as they come. Half a plate of khushka, the biriyani flavoured rice indeed felt great. The service was quick and we could catch the bus at ten back to the hostel. At that time I could hardly foresee that this was going to be my routine for a long time to come!