Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Fast Forward II

“Do you want another drink sir?”

I lift my chin to see the waiter standing with a question mark on his face.

“Sure, and another plate of finger chips please.”

He nods and walks towards the bar. I empty the last gulp remaining in my glass and resist lighting a cigarette. I have reduced smoking so much that many of friends think I have finally given up smoking. Very few of my acquaintances know that I gave up smoking after my post-graduation, not because I thought it was bad, nor because my physician asked me to, but I started wheezing now and then and felt smoking utterly uncomfortable. Only when I had a couple of drinks, I could smoke, for my chest would be clear. Alcohol does dilate your bronchi.

Many more people are sitting in the hotel now, than were when I had arrived, although it is only about noon. The waiter pours my drink and walks to another table. I make a mental note that this would be my last drink, for I would myself be driving back home. From a nearby table, I hear a couple of people are speaking so loudly that I get disturbed. I take a big sip and begin to stare at the tree with a huge trunk and large leaves.

Cathartic. Yes they say such experience cathartic. If the intervening period had not been so long as to render me incapable of changing the turns my life has taken, it would have been something other than cathartic. It is a shame that I even think of this word to explain the experience. The meanness hasn’t yet left me. Why do I feel so strongly about it? Don’t I have heart? My feelings towards Nirupama have always been ambivalent. But now after all this, at least, I should think differently, feel differently. Am I still not mature enough to view things dispassionately?

I consider what situation she is in now. Has she been a failure in her life? I ask myself. I should ask myself a similar question. Was I responsible for how it all ended? Partly. I confess to myself. I feel guilty about that. I have been inconsiderate. I have been unforgiving. I have been pitiless. I have to accept, I can’t cheat myself. But it is also beyond dispute that I alone am not fully responsible. There are others who are to have a lion-share of the blame. I have only been a part of the pack of wolves. Others, they are still unrepentant. Above all, it was Mohan who should have not heeded to anything that anybody said, if he knew the truth or at least if he trusted that what he knew was the truth. Wasn’t it the classic case of her words against those of everybody else?

I remember that neither Mohan nor Nirupama ever looked serious about their future. At least as far as I knew. Even if Mohan had been serious about marrying her, he wouldn’t have dared say so before any of us, for the fear of becoming a butt of jokes. Bhaskar would have easily called him credulous fool. But why did everyone act as they did?

“Anything else sir?” again, the waiter.

“Nope. Bill please,” I reply and take another large gulp of whisky.

I curse the waiter mutedly for breaking my chain of thoughts. I try to go back to my thoughts, but on the contrary slip even backwards to the time when our second term ended with the annual examinations and the vacations began…



***

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Respite

It soon turned out to be a very badly kept secret. Everyone in the department came to know of the affair Mohan was having with Nirupama, with all the lascivious details. This was mainly because Mohan himself liked to brag about it before all and sundry, indiscriminately. His encounters with Nirupama also steadily increased from once in a while to a couple of times a week. I totally lost interest in it and started avoiding any discussion that spun around the concerns expressed by Bhaskar. But we did make fun of Mohan, especially when he was not around that he had succumbed to the charms of a slut because he had been deprived of friendship or love of girls. This was the first opportunity in his life that he grabbed with both his hands and wouldn’t let go for anything in the world. I didn’t know why, but I was the bitterest critic of Mohan’s affairs and would call him a drought-affected son of a bitch! Bhaskar and Vijay, and even Suresh and Virupakshappa used to laugh and nod their agreement with my opinion.

However nobody outside our group spoke either for or against it, at least not before us. The routine, however, of the group was not disturbed. On the contrary, the relations between the members of the group became more and more intimate. Two others, Suresh Hiremath and Virupakshappa, who were earlier only part time members of the group, now became full time members, joining us for most of our trips to the university canteen. Unlike any other group, it is always the girls, especially Vani, who paid the bills.

When did Mohan go to meet Nirupama? The question still puzzles me. I never noticed him or her slipping away stealthily from the group. Bhaskar would certainly have known, for he was Mohan’s roommate, but never broached this subject in our presence. Once I observed Mohan and Nirupama exchanging gift packages in the department, on a few moments before the first lecture. I was curious to know what gifts they had exchanged but I had to wait till the classes were over. In the afternoon, when we reached back to the hostel, Mohan went quickly to his room and I had to ask Bhaskar about the gift. He grinned sardonically and said, “She gave him an undergarment, a brief!”

“What? Does any one present a brief as a gift? Don’t tell me!” I said with mock anger.

“Harsha, in the first place it was not a gift. Yesterday by mistake he wore her panties and she wore his VIP Frenchie, after you know what. They invented an ingenious method to exchange them!” His grin was even wider.

“Shit!” I said with a wince.

“I hope at least they have washed them before exchanging!” Bhaskar said and walked towards his room.

However hard he might have tried to conceal it, I could notice the wrath and scorn on Bhaskar’s face. I knew he was jealous. He was afraid that he would no longer be a close friend of Mohan. Till then they had never had anything that they did not, or would not share. But now Mohan had something that he would not share with anybody. Bhaskar had always been like a shadow of Mohan, and unlike a shadow, he would follow him even in the dark. But now it seemed that Mohan no longer needed his shadow. I could see a rift was in the offing. It was unbearable to Bhaskar but he was absolutely helpless.

I had overcome my jealousy, or so I thought. I had always been a lonely man but had never liked to be so. Youthful as I was, it was but natural to crave for a partner, a mate with whom I could shed all my inhibitions, soar like a free bird in the sky, climb to the mountain peaks and enjoy the intense touch of the winds, float in the muddy waters of meandering rivers, roam in the dark woods, and do more, all with an intimate companion. Was there someone made for me? I wondered. Bhaskar might have had the same thoughts and feelings. But what he and I had not got, Mohan had got. While I was burning with jealousy when it was first revealed to me during the excursion, envy caught up with Bhaskar later and perhaps it was more intense than mine.

That was why he never missed an opportunity to cast aspersions on the character of Nirupama. Many of the stories that he told about her, might simply have been a figment of his fertile imagination. But he had a talent for telling lies, and telling them very convincingly. When repeated again and again, the lies transformed into more true than the truths. Moreover, Bhaskar himself began to think them to be true.

Mohan once gently hinted that what Bhaskar kept telling about Nirupama might not be true. But this enraged Bhaskar even more and he confided in me that he was playing into her hands and has started blindly believing everything that Nirupama told him. It was very difficult for me to accept his position, but I was too selfish to contradict him. Yes, it was very soothing to believe what Bhaskar said. It was very much to my liking, for I would console myself that Mohan did not after all get what I myself could not. Moreover a rift between Bhaskar and Mohan would provide me with a chance to have a place in Mohan’s scheme of things. With Bhaskar discarded, I would remain his only and perhaps the closest friend. It was all there in my subconscious mind. Otherwise I would be full of shame for having such feelings or thoughts. My conscience would not have permitted me to be such a vulgar, scheming villain.

There was a month’s vacation after the first term starting on fifteenth of October. By the tenth, almost the whole of the hostel was vacant. The clerk of the hostel used to go to every room asking the boys to vacate. I did not want to go home for vacation, for it would mean a loss of freedom for one whole month. I got a very good pretext to stay back when the Department of Gandhian Studies announced that there would be a fieldwork for ten days and then each student has to prepare a dissertation based on the study he or she conducts in the field. I was permitted to stay in the hostel.

But soon I realized that it was not fun staying alone in such a big hostel. It looked like a haunted place at night and I had to increase my daily quota of drinks by another small peg. I was indeed relieved when I went to a remote village for ten days. The days were very hectic during the fieldwork, beginning with physical exercises and yoga in the morning till the dinner late evening. We had to live a Gandhian life, Spartan food, physical labour, social service, conducting survey for dissertation and presenting educative entertainment to the villagers in the evening. It was an elevating and exalting experience apart from being my first encounter with the rural life. As long as I was there, I did not remember my friends, the girls or the group. I made new friends, acquired new knowledge, rediscovered our true culture and values, and met with the rural realities.

After the fieldwork, I went home for a week and just lazed, but didn’t even miss my evening drinks. When I returned to the hostel, boys had already coming back from their homes with renewed energy and enthusiasm.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Bhaskar's Concerns

Astonishingly, I was not surprised to the extent I thought I would be. I knew it was coming. The only surprise element was it came much too sooner than I expected. I saw a fleeting expression of envy in the eyes of Bhaskar when he heard Mohan. But he recovered too quickly to let anyone know he was jealous.

“She must be telling the same thing about you in the girls’ hostel now!” was all he could say.

“And more effectively than you,” Vijay added somewhat spitefully.

“Let’s go to our room, I want to listen to his exploits in detail,” I suggested successfully keeping my voice steady.

All of us came to our room and lit cigarettes. Vijay opened all the windows, for he didn’t like the smell of the smoke.

“Last evening I asked her if we could go out. She said we could if I liked. I told her that I would pick her up at 8 in the morning from her hostel,” Mohan began with what seemed to me like a victorious smile on his glowing face.

“In fact, I didn’t know where I would take her to. I had considered taking her to the hotel room, but dropped it because I thought she would be offended by knowing that what was on my mind was only frigging her.”

“You mean to say you let her believe that you are in love with her? Or did you really tell her that you love her?” Bhaskar asked with an indignant tone.

“Do I look like a fool? I neither told her that I loved her nor asked her whether she loved me. Yes, I gave her a lot of attention and she insinuated several times that she was in love with me.”

“But then…” Bhaskar was about to say something but I intervened, “Bhaskar, let him finish his story.”

“Ok. It was she who suggested that we could go to Neersagar Lake,” Mohan said.

“I knew it. She must have known the place very well. She must have taken many guys over there,” this time it was Vijay who rejoined.

Mohan ignored the remark and continued, “We reached there at about half past nine. She had brought some samosas and idlies. We had the breakfast and then started walking into the thick growth of trees and shrubs. There was another couple. They were huddled in a bush and were kissing. When she saw them, she gave me a naughty smile and I pressed her arm. She responded sharply and patted on my cheeks. Then it all started and we ended up in another bush. There I couldn’t control myself and I went on and on till it was all over.”

“You better have a medical check up to clear any doubts,” Vijay said playfully, letting out a laugh.

“Surely he must have used some protection,” I said.

“No, I didn’t. I was not expecting it to happen today,” Mohan replied.

Bhaskar, however, said grimly, “You should be careful about her next move brother. May be she wants to marry you. I feel it was a bait and you nibbled it. For her reputation, she must ensure that some damn fool must marry her.”

“Nothing of that sort is going to happen brother. I have not promised her anything. I have not even promised her that I would meet her again,” Mohan replied with aplomb.

“Now, if you all will excuse me, I want to have some rest,” with these words, Mohan rose from the chair and was gone. It did not escape my notice that Bhaskar did not follow him. He stayed back, looking puzzled, amazed and also worried.

“What is eating you man?” Vijay asked him.

“You know, how Nirupama is and what family she comes from, Mama, since you have spent quite a few years in the same place as her. I am a very close family friend of Mohan’s. I know his dad and mother as well as he himself knows them. His dad is a highly principled man. If something goes wrong, I will also be called to explain. That’s why I am a bit worried.”

“It is too early to worry Bhaskar. Your knowledge about Nirupama’s past is all based on rumours and hearsay. Don’t you think you may be wrong in assessing her?” I asked him. He shifted uncomfortably in his chair and after thinking for a while, said, “One person may be wrong. What about hundreds of people? I am yet to meet a man who thinks she has a spotless character. What is worse, I have heard from some guys who have slept with her.”

“Who claim to have slept with her, probably,” I said.

“Why should they make false claims?” Bhaskar countered me.

“Well, we live in a very rigid society. If a girl is bold enough just to talk to a guy, she would be noted,”

“What you say is true, but I am sure not in her case” Bhaskar said conclusively.

“Alright, it may be so. But Mohan has been a starved man. It was like a rain to him in times of famine. It was like our government sponsored calamity relief work.”

“But the consequences?”

“Let us cross the bridge when we approach it,” I said.

Late that evening, when we were all together once again in my room, I asked Mohan, “Pal, you should throw a party for what you have achieved today.”

“All you need is some pretext to drink,” Vijay said.

“What are you going to achieve by being a teetotaler? You will have only regrets in the end,” Bhaskar teased him.

“I remember a joke about a teetotaler, man,” I said, “Once an old man told a young boy drinking beer in the park early one evening, ‘Young man, all my life I have never touched the booze or tobacco. Today I am going to celebrate my eighty-fifth birthday!’ The boy simply asked him with astonishment, ‘How?’”

It took a while for Vijay and even Bhaskar to understand it. But they burst into laughter. “Everyone has his own way of celebrating. Harsha,” Vijay said after the laughter died down.

“Ok guys. Let’s go now. Party from me!” Mohan announced.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Anticlimax!

Well, what seems to be so petty and mean in hindsight, used to look like a grief of Himalayan proportions then. But I still was aware of the triviality of all this and would never reveal my real feelings to anyone. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t even condone myself for being envious of those who were so dear to me. The realization that Mohan was immensely dear to me dawned upon me like a bolt from the blue. I was envious of Bhaskar because he was closer to Mohan than me. Now I was jealous of Mohan because a girl, who indeed mattered very little to me, was becoming closer still to Mohan. What mattered to me the most was Mohan and not Nirupama. I could sense that Bhaskar too had become envious of Mohan, but he never gave himself away. At any rate he always liked to be a follower and disciple of Mohan rather than a rival. Instead of wondering at the leadership skills of some people, I often wondered at the faculty of some people who would be happy to be led, and in reality they comprise a very large chunk of humanity. I was too egoistic to be led by anyone and was not endowed with the qualities of a leader. What an eerie personality I had!

Within a couple of weeks after the excursion, everybody had forgotten about it, and thankfully nobody tried to ask me what had bothered me on that day. Perhaps, nobody cared but thinking so would have hurt me more. Therefore I myself made all efforts to avoid any discussion of the trip.

But this peace of mind was not to last for long. On a Sunday, when Vijay and I were having our breakfast in the hostel canteen, Bhaskar came to have his second cup of tea and cigarette. I was surprised that he was alone, for Mohan always accompanied him. When he settled across our table with a cup of tea, I asked him, “Where is Mohan brother? As far as I know he has not left for his village.”

“Oh he left at eight in the morning. I asked him where he headed. But in reply just smiled and said he would let me know when he comes back.”

“He must have gone to meet his younger brother who is studying in the college,” Vijay suggested.

“I don’t think so. He would have taken me along if he were to meet his brother. He has never been so secretive before,” Bhaskar replied. There was some hurt in his eyes.

“He must have gone with some girl, like Harsha does sometimes.”

“He does not have any girlfriends. He used to be in love with a girl when he was in pre-university college. She was the daughter of a doctor, working as medical officer with the government, in the town where he was studying. She too loved him dearly. But very soon, her parents came to know about this and her father took a transfer to Kolar. That is when he drank his first glass of beer. Thereafter, he hasn’t had any girlfriends,” Bhaskar replied thoughtfully.

“Now you think he is in love once again?” I asked him cautiously. I could gather from the expression on his face that he was thinking the same.

“No. But I am not sure,” he said and took a sip of tea with a slurring sound.

After we had our breakfast, Bhaskar came to our room. Since it was a Sunday, we had hardly anything to do. Since all of used the services of the washerman, like others in the hostel we did not need to wash our clothes. I would have liked to go to the city and just loaf around in the bazaar till it was time to have lunch. But Bhaskar would not go without Mohan. He had become so dependent on Mohan that it was very hard on him spending time on a holiday without him. He just spread himself on Vijay’s bed, staring at the roof.

After a long and unbearable silence, Vijay said, “What to do today? Shall we go to the library?”

“Mama, since when have you started visiting the library?” Bhaskar asked.

“Since I realized that I won’t be able to get my master’s if I continue to laze in your company,” Vijay replied with mock sarcasm.

“Ah, you are already old enough to be a grand father. What are you going to do with your master’s?” Bhaskar winked at me.

Vijay would be usually irked by the references to his age. It certainly was unfair, for he was only a couple of years older than Bhaskar and others. But he was in cheerful mood and he let that go.

“Let us go to Modern theatre,” I intervened.

“Sounds ok,” Bhaskar said after a quiet deliberation. Vijay rose from the chair to dress up.

Those days the Modern cinema house was the only one theatre in Dharwad showing English movies and it was notorious in some dubious ways. Not even a ten percent of its seats used to be occupied for any show. It was a place used by clandestine lovers, drunkards, petty thieves and pickpockets, so it was said although I never noticed any of these in the balcony where we used to go. The movie was to start at 12 and luckily we reached in time. I remember nothing of the movie we watched, not even its title. At about 1.30 p.m., we all agreed that enough was enough and walked out of the theatre.

I wanted to have a drink or two but Bhaskar would not agree. Vijay too said it was all right having a drink in the evening, but in the afternoon, it was improper. I sighed in agreement. We ate our lunch in a small eatery.

When we go back to the hostel, Mohan had just returned and stood at the edge of the lawns smoking hard. He always pulled at his cigarette very hard, as if he was smoking grass. I didn’t know then how grass is smoked by the way. He was gazing at the valley where a few sheep and a couple of cattle were grazing. Bhaskar almost ran towards him as though he had not seen him for ages.

Just as I approached Mohan, I heard him saying, “Brother, I have done it. I had taken her to the Neersagar Lake. There were other couples also there in the woods surrounding the lake. Total privacy and a magnificent opportunity. She willingly cooperated.”