Thursday, August 19, 2010

If you must...

Most of the seniors were gone now, but quite a few remained, like a pain in the ass! But some of our own classmates but studying in different departments were assuming the role the seniors, forgetting quite easily what rigmarole they’d undergone when they were juniors. Some of them had developed intimacy with the local lads who were scum of the college going students. They would beat an unsuspecting and innocent boy just for the heck of it. A boy was beaten up on the campus just because these so called leaders could not tolerate his mannerism of twirling his moustache. Another boy was beaten by accusing him of staring at one of the members of the gang. There were now at least three gangs excluding ours, which was not violent at all.



I would never have thought of our group as a gang back then, least of all a violent gang. Our group was a defense mechanism, which neither I nor any other member of the group would have thought as such. It was a group of friends, and persons like Mohan and Bhaskar, being on friendly terms with many bad characters, could just use the right amount of noise and threats to keep others at bay. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have enjoyed the security and respected that our group commanded. It wasn’t notorious too, for a couple of boys like me in the group were academically successful too.



However, we did have a fatal attraction towards some bad things. Once late in the evening, after we had a few more drinks than what we normally would have, we missed the last bus. There were six of us, and we didn’t regret missing the bus. I was thinking that we could take an autorikshaw, but Mohan suggested that we could have another couple of drinks and walk back all the way to the campus. All welcomed this and I had to remain mute.

As we approached a hotel opposite the bus station, we saw a couple of women standing behind the grilled divider and staring at us. All of us looked at them, but Mohan stared at them hard. One of the women, who was hardly five feet tall but an enormous bust, smiled at him. As we walked past them, Pavan said, “Boy! They are waiting for the customers”.

“How’d you know?” I asked him.

“I know them by sight, by instinct,” he replied somewhat proudly.

“They might have missed their bus like us or they may be waiting for someone,” I said.

Now Bhaskar intervened, “It is not the case Harsha. Did you see the basket they were holding?”

I turned back and saw that each of the two women held a basket, not a vanity bag.

“Yes, what of that?” I asked him.

“It is the trade mark. They are from rural areas. They come with a basket so that people in their villages might think they were going to the city for shopping. After the business, they do shop here,” Bhaskar replied with a wink.

Now Mohan halted abruptly, turned back and began eyeing the short woman. She was still smiling at him invitingly. Mohan decided something and said, “I am going boys. Anybody interested in joining?”

Bhaskar objected, “No brother, they do not look clean. It is not safe. Please don’t even think of it”.

“Don’t worry. I will just talk to her and come back,” saying thus he walked towards the woman.

“Mohan, do come back. Don’t do anything rash,” I too warned him. He didn’t even look back. Although he was walking straight, I knew that he was stiff.

We watched him approach the short woman and stand by her side. Although he was of average height, he seemed to tower her. We watched her making some gestures while talking to Mohan, suggesting the hotel behind her. “He won’t come back!” Pavan said for the first time.

Suddenly the woman walked towards the grilled narrow entrance of the cheap and filthy hotel located on the first floor and Mohan promptly followed her. Soon, before we could even shout to him, both of them climbed the stairs and disappeared. “Oh shit,” Bhaskar cursed while Pavan looked at us as if saying, “Didn’t I say so?” I was too astonished to say anything. Vijay too looked bewildered.

“I’ll be back in a moment,” Pavan said and started going away. All of thought he was going to pick up the remaining woman. But he walked to the counter of a liquor shop, bought a quarter of whisky and poured it into a half emptied bottle of water and came back. “While we are waiting, we may as well have some sips,” he said, handing me the bottle and lit a cigarette.

I took a large gulp from the bottle and coughed because it was too strong for me. Bhaskar immediately took the bottle from me and began sipping. After a while Pavan took the bottle and handed the half smoked cigarette to Bhaskar. Barely after twenty minutes of climbing the stairs, we saw Mohan descending them. His shirt was no longer tucked into his pants. He walked very fast to join us.

“Why did you do it brother?” Bhaskar erupted in anger.

“Hey, come on, I just couldn’t resist the urge brother,” he replied calmly and lit a cigarette.

“How was she Mohan? Cooperative?” Pavan asked without any curiosity. He seemed to have that experience. He might have had some derision in his tone, which I couldn’t grasp at that time.

Mohan saw the bottle in Pavan’s hands and he almost snatched it saying, “I need a booster now.” He took a couple of sips before going back to the question that was asked of him.

“It was ok brother. But damn those women, they are too businesslike. Act as if they have absolutely no time. She didn’t even care to remove her clothes. To remove each piece of cloth on her body, she demanded a price that I couldn’t afford to pay. Then she straightaway lied on her back, lifting the sari and spreading her legs. It was over in a matter of moments.” Mohan replied glumly.

“That’s why we tried to dissuade you brother,” Pavan said.

“That and the safety reasons,” Bhaskar said which might have been regarding police raids, I thought till he added, “It is not healthy.”

“Come on boys. Nothing will happen. Forget it. Whatever it was, I needed it. I got it,” Mohan said in a conclusive tone.

“You could have always resorted to Nirupama man,” Vijay rejoined.

“What do you understand about these things mama? Men like different varieties,” Mohan said looking mockingly at Vijay.

We walked nearly six kilometers to reach our hostel close to midnight.

After three days, Mohan came to my room and said, “Harsha, I need to talk to you.”

I was alone in the room and I could guess what he was going to say. “Problem Mohan?”

To my shock he closed the door, bolted it and lifted his lungi to reveal his private part. There were boils on the tip as well as the shaft. “This, and I am having burning sensation while peeing,” He said.

“Didn’t you use any protection that day?” I enquired to which he nodded in negative.

“Well, let’s go a doctor. This can’t be ignored.”

“Now?”

“Right now!” I was glad that he had chosen me to confide in rather than Bhaskar. I was glad to help him.

We went to a private hospital, waited for a couple of hours before the doctor called us in. After examining him, the doctor wrote a prescription and sternly advised Mohan, “I hope you have learnt your lesson. You’ve been very wise to come to me immediately. It could have been worse. Never do it again, if you must, ask your parents to marry you!”

Mohan was very grateful to me that I’d taken him to the hospital in such a hurry. I told him reading from what the doctor had scribbled on the case paper, that he’d contacted urethritis, although I didn’t know what the hell it meant.

In a couple of days, Mohan said, the boils had disappeared and the painful urination had ceased. I had read a lot of these things in the meanwhile and I told him what the doctor hadn’t, “If you must, use a condom!” though I knew it was not hundred percent safe.

***   ***   ***   **   *

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Humbug

Yet another one of our seniors was Saradgi who had approached me with a request, so politely that I couldn’t refuse it. He wanted the notes in English he’d obtained from his seniors to be translated. Though my senior, he would address me as ‘sir’ and behaved very servilely. He was very submissive and worst sycophant. Although his fawning and bootlicking came on my nerves, I couldn’t refuse to help him, for saying no to the people had always been more or less impossible to me. So late every evening, after my ritual drinks and dinner, I used to go to his room and sit comfortably on his bed holding the notes while he sat on the chair drawn up to the table, taking down whatever I dictated.

Swarthy complexion, frail body and a balding head made him a very ordinary looking, if not ugly looking, person. His passion was to impress upon all those who cared to listen to him of his struggle to get education because of his poverty. He talked of his poverty so much that sometimes I felt he enjoyed doing it or that it was an obsession with him. He would talk of how he worked as a manservant doing cleaning, running errands and even dishwashing. He would frequently refer to the days when he absolutely didn’t have anything to eat. He said he was an orphan, but with the help and encouragement of some well-wishers, he had been able to complete his graduation and take admission to the master’s. He for ever sought the sympathy and help of others.

But my serendipitous mind or clairvoyance perceived him to be a humbug. He wore good quality clothes, always clean and pressed. He wore leather shoes that always shone. He shaved everyday and looked fresh anytime of the day. Where was he getting the money for all this? Once I posed this question to Sharan, his classmate. He said Saradgi was getting several money orders every month from different people. He had told all those people of his so-called miseries and all of them had been credulous enough to believe him and in good faith were sending him money to sustain him. The amount so received by Saradgi was double the money the other guys were getting from their parents.

By the time Saradgi gave me this information, I had completed almost two months in translating the notes and the task was over. He’d not offered me even so much as a cigarette for the time and energy I gave him. Of course, after hearing him pour out all his trials and tribulations, I did not expect him to even buy a cup of tea for me.

One evening I found Satish, another senior of mine, holding the photocopies of the notes that Saradgi had written to my dictation. I could recognize his handwriting immediately, for I had seen him writing for a couple of months.

“Ah, good to see that Saradgi is sharing the notes with you!”

“Yes, thanks to you all the ten of us are reading the same notes,” he replied with a smile.

“Why only ten?” I asked with curiosity.

“Because only ten have given the money. You have charged too much. Two hundred each must have been two thousand for you,” he replied.

“What! What are you talking about? I didn’t charge even a single rupee for translating,” was my shocked response.

Now Satish also looked surprised. He thought for a moment and then said, “Saradgi has collected two hundred rupees from each of ten of us, who wanted to get the notes translated. He said that you had demanded two thousand rupees for the work. We’d to contribute. Now from the look of your face, it seems you have done it free of charge and he has duped not only us, but also you.”

I was dazed at the revelation. Moreover, it hurt me hard that I had been deceived. Those boys who had given money would be blaming me that I took the money from them. They would at the same time be grateful to Saradgi for sitting every night for such a long period and taking down my dictation, in lieu of his contribution of money. In effect, he had got the work done by me absolutely free and sold to his classmates and had made a couple of thousands, a fortune in the eyes of the students. What could I do now?

“Listen Satish, now that you know what he has done, all those of you who have coughed up money, should recover it from him. I can’t ask him because he never promised me anything, nor did I ask him for anything. There was simply no deal between us. You get it?”

He considered that for a long moment. Finally he said, “I will tell the other guys about this,” and left.

I stayed looking at his back, frustrated.

***

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Holi

I never wanted to see some of our seniors again on the campus but that was not to be. Some of them returned as research students. Thanks to the rules, they were at least not staying in the same hostel as I did. Although I was never in their firing line, because of the solidarity of our group, I had seen them thrashing innocent boys without even an apparent reason. I had seen them threatening not only the hostelites, but also some of the teachers. They were a menace to the campus, but they enjoyed being so. They had once beaten up a conductor of the last bus that reached the campus at the stroke of midnight. Many students returning late from their native places had the advantage of reaching the campus at the cost of less than a rupee. Even for students visiting the movie houses to watch second show, the last bus was very convenient. However, after the conductor was roughed up, the service was stopped. I was certain it hardly made any difference to the culprits, but a large number of others suffered.

The day of Holi, the festival of colours, spawned terror among the teachers living on the campus. I remember being a part of the crowd of the senior hostelites that went on rampage in the campus. Most of the houses of the teachers were locked; obviously they had escaped the torture of facing the drunken students. Those who were in didn’t dare open their doors. In the hostel all types of drinks – whisky, rum, and gin -were poured in a bucket that is used for washing, and water was mixed. Everyone would drink from the mug, again used in the bathrooms, and nobody could know how much he drank. Once the buckets were emptied, the boys sufficiently stiff and uninhibited, would start playing Holi and within minutes it would be difficult to recognize who is who. All would start using obscenities and there would be hooting, roars of laughter, and mad dancing. It was permitted to act crazy for one day. All this was under the supervision and leadership of Sadanand Mane and Javed. Javed smoked grass too along with the so-called cocktails that was prepared in the bucket. He would empty a cigarette by rubbing it holding with the filter tip up and then suck the ready mix into the cigarette in one strong gasp. Amazingly, it took him hardly a few seconds to prepare it.

The procession was naturally towards the girls’ hostels, kicking and beating the doors of the already abandoned residences of teachers en route. Everyone hooted and shouted obscenities. There were some brave teachers who stayed back and opened their doors and allowed the boys to colour them and then they would give some money too. It was collected by Sadanand and was to be used for their evening parties. When nobody answered the knocks or rather kicks on the door, boys would yell at the top of their voices and someone began removing the bulbs fitted above the door or to the inside of the porch, which quickly assumed the form of a ritual. Hundreds of bulbs were collected and carried in a lungi that one of the guys had lent, happily remaining in his underwear, which fortunately was not a short, v-shaped one.

The procession reached the house of the Vice Chancellor and after one long hoot by the crowd, some one called VC addressing him politely, “Will you please come out VC sir?” One of the security guards said that the VC was not home. But who would believe him? Another fellow shouted the name of VC. Soon everyone was shouting the name of the VC. Some started shortening and distorting the name. In this part, the first name is distorted by suffixing a ‘ya’. Like ‘Basavaraj’ who is called endearingly as ‘Basu’ will be ‘Basya’ when used derogatively. It was unthinkable for me to use such derogative language for the VC, but every once seemed to enjoy it and more and more abuses flew out of the crowd. At last, the VC came out and asked, “What do you want boys? You should behave yourself. Please don’t shout,”

“It is Holi today sir. We just came to greet you sir. If you can just allow us to put some colour...” before Sadanand finished, the VC said, “I have already taken bath. But if you insist, there is no problem. Just make it quick.”

Instantly a few fellows rushed to him and in no time his face and clothes displayed all the colours. But that was not the end. Some guy had brought a battered tin box and he began to beat it in rhythm. All the boys had now surrounded the VC and started dancing. And someone had brought a safety pin, which he pressed on the bum of the VC, which made him jump and cry in pain. Some of the onlookers might have thought that the VC too was dancing with the boys, for the whole nasty business was repeated again and again till the security guard rescued the VC and took him inside.

They crazy procession retreated and continued towards the girls’ hostel. The gates were closed, but some girls were peeping through the windows of their room. I don’t know from where Javed had acquired a long staff and he held it between his legs swaying up and down. Boys started whistling, hooting and dancing behind him. It went on for another hour and the procession with Javed at the head covered all the three girls’ hostels. Just when we were crossing the third hostel, a police jeep was spotted at the corner and the procession was promptly broken. Boys ran helter-skelter and there was confusion and turmoil all around. Out of the jeep that screeched to halt just behind the disappearing crowd, two hefty constables came out waving their canes. I thought a couple of guys got some blows. My group had slowed down after the procession had crossed the second girls’ hostel and was left far behind in the procession, due to which we were fortunately saved.