“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.