Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Peer Pressure

The second year started in the right earnest and now we were the seniors in the hostel as well as the department. I spent a month of my vacation after Virupakshappa’s marriage quietly at home, reading novels, listening to ghazals and watching Door Darshan the only TV channel that was available at that time, once in a while. Hot and humid summer with scorching heat turned into a pleasant cool weather by the second week of June when we returned to the campus for the second year. The campus I had left dry with bear landscape and leafless trees with the exception of a few sturdy varieties of trees, welcomed us fully covered with greenery and rich foliage. Admissions to the first year had started and quite a lot of new and anxious faces with dreamy eyes were to be seen in the crowds near the bus stop and the banks where the students were required to pay their fees.

Mohan and Bhaskar were very intimate with the clerk of the hostel and they managed to get three rooms for us in a row on the ground floor. I was to stay again with Vijay. Mohan and Bhaskar stayed in one room and Virupakshappa and Suresh Hiremath occupied the last room. I welcomed it for I had got used to staying with Vijay. He never touched anything that belonged to me, nor did I touch his things. Mohan and Bhaskar however, were in the habit of sharing everything, starting with a cigarette. I didn’t like to do that with anyone. If I were to share a cigarette, I would smoke the first half and then hand it over to Mohan or Bhaskar and never take it back for another puff. They perhaps never noticed this, for I would light another cigarette immediately. Pavan came to stay in the hostel but he got a room on the first floor and he had a new roommate, who was also from Ranebennur. He was in fact several years older, but looked younger than most of us, with his fair complexion, slender build, and clean-shaven upper lip. He wore very bright colours, which suited him well and he was a very ostentatious and spoiled dandy. He used to shave twice a day and never allowed even a micro millimeter growth of facial hair. Pavan used to joke that, Patel, that was the name of the dandy, might forgo taking bath, but would never miss shaving for anything in the world. He maintained an album, much like a model does, in which there were hundreds of photographs showing him at different locations in different poses, wearing a variety of clothes of all hues and colours, mostly bright. After completing one-year course in library science, Pavan had taken admission to MA in Political Science and Patel too had joined the same course. They were totally opposite to each other in all respects, but still made good roommates.

Suresh Hiremath was a very humble and servile person. He would address almost everyone as ‘sir’ and try to please all. He could be an errand boy, fetching water, cigarettes, bidis, and ghutka for all others and would not hesitate to act as a waiter to me, filling my glass with soda or water, carrying my plates and doing such things as a waiter is paid to. Everyone considered him a very gentleman at heart though poor, and kind and compassionate to all. Since he belonged to the priestly class among the Lingayats, before going to face the examination, Bhaskar and some others used to touch his feet seeking blessings. He was of average intelligence and had poor knowledge of English. And he needed my help to get the notes that he had acquired from our seniors, translated into Kannada. So he would do anything to humour me, please me and keep me in good mood to help him out.

Nagesh Patil, a classmate of ours was elected unopposed as the class representative as nobody contested his nomination. To my astonishment, Mohan too didn’t contest. Nobody wanted to do the donkeywork that a CR is supposed to do; to arrange functions, seminars and tours, and run errands for teachers etc. Nagesh was interested in becoming the General Secretary of the University for which it was precondition to be the CR first. Much later I came to know that Mohan had made a pact with a bunch of guys who wanted to install Nagesh as the General Secretary. What Mohan would gain by this, I could never understand, but I could see that he without becoming a CR, he could continue to do what a CR is supposed to do, for Nagesh wanted the larger stage.

I would write Mohan’s welcome speeches and vote of thanks, depending upon what he was called upon to do. He would just read them, but he loved to be recognized as a leader. He simply adored himself and liked to be appreciated. Who does not? But he couldn’t even write a sentence in Kannada without spelling mistakes or grammatical errors. He wasn’t alone to be in such a desperate state. Hundreds of students, I used to wonder, who came for a master’s degree, couldn’t read and write satisfactorily. Mohan could speak well, take decisions for others, but academically he wasn’t up to the mark. But still there was something about him that fascinated all those that he came in contact with. It might have been his looks, his robust voice, and his attitude. He never considered anyone unimportant and spoke to friends exuding real concern and care. That was how he could make friends in all the departments of the university and now aspired to be the kingmaker in the elections to the post of General Secretary. He got too busy in the hustings and only Bhaskar joined him. I never liked politics or election campaign, and was against such things being permitted in an educational institution. Moreover, I hated those spoilt brats of rich people, who flaunted their bikes, wind sweaters, jackets, and money. They flaunted their contempt for the pursuit of knowledge, the good students, with blissful ignorance. How could Mohan, who had great respect for my academic achievements, mingle with them? I hated him for that.

Every evening they would pick up the CR’s of most of the departments and take them to a bar and restaurant, and entertain them with drinks and food. I suspected that Mohan and Bhaskar were after free drinks and food. For nearly a month Mohan and Bhaskar were not around with us. It was Vijay and Suresh who were always with me and they shared my distaste for elections in the campus. Since the elections involved only the CR’s, largely the campus remained unaffected.

However, our group still felt incomplete and I pined for the presence of Mohan. Vijay and Suresh could not make up for his absence. Nothing could make up for his loud laugh, hilarious jokes and anecdotes. We missed Bhaskar’s wit and sarcasm too. I just hoped that the elections would be over soon and they will be back with us.

Nagesh, as expected got elected and on the day of the elections, Mohan took all of us along with him to the victory celebrations. The party was arranged in a small hotel and the followers, campaign managers and friends of Nagesh occupied all the tables. I congratulated Nagesh who received me warmly and felt guilty about not having helped him in the election. He didn’t seem to mind that I had kept aloof from the campaign. Our group, with me at the head of the table, sat in a secluded cubicle. The liquor was whisky smuggled from Goa. Chicken tikka and boiled peanuts were served. The honour of opening the first bottle was mine and as I poured the liquor for Mohan, Bhaskar, Pavan, and myself. Vijay, Suresh didn’t drink and Patel too said he didn’t drink.

Bhaskar placed a glass before Vijay and said, “Tonight Mama will also drink.”

Vijay protested. Bhaskar would not listen. He began teasing Vijay and Suresh. “Aren’t you both men? Even college boys drink these days,” he said mockingly.

“Who said they are men? Forget them,” Mohan added.

Vijay got angry and said testily, “What you people are doing now, I have done it years before you.”

Bhaskar laughed again teasingly and said, “Mama, you can’t even tolerate a single peg.”

“It’s been our policy not to force anyone to drink Bhaskar,” I reminded him.

“I am not forcing anyone Harsha. I am just voicing my opinion. You see these three don’t drink because they know they cannot,” replied he.

“Well, I can,” Patel said and pushed a glass towards me.

“Great!” exclaimed Bhaskar, and added, “See, he doesn’t even have a moustache!”

This didn’t have any effect on Vijay, but Suresh was irked. “Bhaskar, if challenged I can drink more than you,” he blurted.

“I am challenging you man!”

“Ok then. I will drink one quarter neat in one sip. Can you?” Suresh challenged.

“Ah, you can’t be serious Suresh. You can’t do it. But still if you want to do it, you will first face Pavan,” Bhaskar pushed Pavan ahead in order to escape and he knew that Pavan was used to drinking neat.

Mohan took the bottle from me and poured 3 pegs each in two glasses and kept them in the middle. “Now, let’s see if you can do it!”

Both Pavan and Suresh lifted their glasses. Mohan counted, “One, two, three. Go!” Both of them emptied their glasses in one sip and gasped!

“By God! I can’t believe Suresh could do it!” Vijay said with amazement. Suresh, although looking calm, was gradually getting the kick. He said, “Mama, you too must join now. Just one sip ok?”

Vijay not only had his first drink that evening, but he also smoked a cigarette. When we were all busy discussing election, teachers and girls, nobody noticed when Suresh and Pavan slipped out and came back relieved!

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