Anyone who is shocked at the sight of a girl drinking these days would be looked upon as an anachronism. He’s certain to be branded as feudal and male chauvinist. However, those were the days of only one National Channel TV, and cell phones and computers were mostly unheard of. Even the salwar kameez that is ubiquitous was considered blasphemy in the villages and small towns. I hardly ever saw Vani wearing it one herself, though most of the college going girls had begun wearing it. Even today, majority of us have dual standards and would certainly be upset to know that our girls or women drink even as soft liquor as the beer. No wonder even Mohan was dumbstruck at the feat accomplished by Nirupama. He asked her in a raised voice, “Hey! What do you think you did? It wasn’t a soft drink!”
“I know. Nothing will happen to me. I will only feel sleepy. That’s all. Don’t worry,” she replied very casually.
“It seems she is used to drinking arrack!” I said facetiously.
“At least the arrack is controlled by the government. It seems she’s used to drinking illicit liquor,” Mohan said trying to conceal his anguish. Vani was giggling.
Mohan and I began to sip our drinks slowly, but the impact of what Nirupama had done seemed to have been weighing on our minds too, for I finished my peg in three gulps and Mohan finished his in two. However, Mohan didn’t offer any more rum to Nirupama while preparing the second drinks for us.
“Tomorrow we’ll leave as early as possible for Jog Falls. We will have sufficient time to view the falls from both sides of the valley,” Mohan instructed us while trying to light a cigarette, but Vani requested him not to smoke in the room as she would feel suffocated by the smoke.
Nirupama was speaking louder than usual now. Her cheeks were glowing and the eyes had become half shut, as if she was straining to open them wide. Vani looked disinterested in all this and was quietly reading some Mills and Boons type novel in Kannada.
Nirupama who had shed most of her inhibitions now, addressed me, “Harsha, we thought you wouldn’t come with us.”
“You always keep yourself so aloof from others. You are totally different, unlike others. You are intelligent, well-read, brought up in a bigger city and modern.”
“I remember how you disliked our department tour to Badami. The whole day you looked depressed. You hardly talked to anyone. You didn’t even eat anything the whole day. You went on smoking. You didn’t enjoy it, did you?”
It pained me to remember that day. How could I tell her that she was the cause of my resentment that day? After all, she’d chosen Mohan over me. I couldn’t tell her that it was envy that was seething inside me, and continues to do so even to this day.
“Ah, I did enjoy the trip,” I lied knowing fully well that none would believe me, “I have my own ways of enjoying things, you know.”
“Well, I thought you missed your girl friend of your college days,” Mohan said taking a large sip of liquor.
“Did you have a girlfriend?” Vani suddenly entered the conversation.
“All of us had girl friends long before coming to university. What do you think, we have never seen any girls before you?” Mohan replied for me.
I knew that Mohan had been madly in love with a girl when he was in pre-university college. That the affair ended in the girl’s father taking a transfer to a different place was also well known to all his friends. Bhaskar even used to tell how the girl was wailing and sniveling when she’d met Mohan for the last time in all graphic details.
I had had my shares of crushes too. It would sound ridiculous now to tell anybody that I was in love with a girl when I was just eight years old! The immediate to come to my mind was the picture of a dark lean girl, who I used to meet everyday in the bus on the way to undergraduate college. I had to change buses at the City Bus Terminus popularly know as CBT every day and would find Rajashree, who was my classmate majoring English literature, waiting for me, reserving a seat by her side. Whenever she laughed, which she did it all the time when I was with her, the dimples that appeared on her cheeks were so alluring and seductive that I’d fallen flat for her. It was pleasant beyond words to be sitting with her in a jam-packed bus, often those standing by my side shoving me hard against her soft, nimble body. She used to approach me during the college hours too, with a host of doubts and questions as though I was her teacher. All my hopes came crashing down when at the end of the final year, she introduced me to a tall, fair guy who was studying for M.Com and told me in a suggestive manner that he was to be her life partner. All my dreams were shattered to smithereens. But soon thereafter, I came to the university and brushed aside her memories as some forgettable, if not regrettable, infatuation.
When pitted against Mohan, insofar as all other things I was well ahead of him but for having experienced a failure in love. Though I didn’t explicitly lie to friends, I would never counter any insinuations they made or inferences they drew. It was the only way to create an image of myself that was better than that of Mohan. As an after thought, I must add, that I had been disappointed throughout my childhood, as far as my craving for a companion, whose image constantly fleeted in my mind. I had had too many failures, each giving me considerable heart ache and finally impelled me to arrive at a conclusion that there was nobody made for me!
A knock at the door interrupted my thoughts as well as the conversation that the others were having and presently, a waiter entered with dinner for us. Mohan had ordered North Indian dishes and a couple of plates of fried chicken. The girls were vegetarian at home, as per the customs of their caste, but Nirupama was obviously used to eating chicken and she relished it. Vani sat a couple of paces away and avoided looking at chicken. Although I was starving, I couldn’t eat much, for I concentrated on my drinks. Mohan ate very little too, obviously anxious to go to the next part of the evening. Nirupama said with a wink to me, “Eat little Harsha, you have a lot to do!” which I felt was disgusting. Vani blushed and wouldn’t lift her head from her dinner plate.
Surprisingly Mohan had consumed only two pegs, much less than his usual intake. I saw that there was at least two pegs of liquor left in the bottle. The moment the waiter cleared the plates, Mohan stood up and asked Nirupama to leave. When she was gone, he waited at the door beckoning me with a wink, and shook my hands to say ‘Good Night’ but I felt he had placed something in my palm. When I opened my palms I saw a packet of condoms! I could hear my own heart pounding furiously while I closed the door and bolted it securely.
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