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.