Mohan dropped his cigarette on the ground and stamped on it hurriedly as if he had remembered something of importance suddenly and said, “Harsha, we need to buy something too. Come on.” As I was wont to by now, I followed him without a question. He entered the hosiery section for men and purchased undergarments for both, although I didn’t need one. When I asked him why are we buying them, he replied, “We’ll need them where we are going.”
“Where are we going?” I asked him in a raised voice with alarm. I had thought we would be going straight back to the campus. “Shsh…” he silenced me, and said, “Have you seen Jog Falls? This is the appropriate time to see it. It would be wonderful now.”
He smiled conspiringly, watching the intrigued look on my face. And then added, “This’s the opportunity boy! The girls are coming with us. In fact, it is the other way round.”
“But I don’t have sufficient money,” I protested.
“Did we ever have? By the way, the girls are going to spend it,” he replied.
“No ifs and buts pal. I want to bed that Vani. She behaves with me as if I am nothing. We’ll exchange partners once we are settled in the hotel in Sirsi. I want to teach Vani a lesson,” he said with a revengeful tone.
Although I couldn’t understand why Mohan was angry with Vani, I was excited at the prospect of spending time alone with Nirupama.
“Will she agree?” I was asking about Nirupama and my voice had softened almost to a whisper.
Mohan laughed tauntingly, for he’d discovered my secret desire, and quoted a popular idiom in Kannada, “Will anybody ask the chicken before grinding the masala?” Masala is the mixture of spices used in cooking chicken curry.
“How much for this?” he asked the salesperson pointing towards the t-shirt hung behind the counter. I didn’t hear the reply, for I was already deep in my thoughts. The idea of going on a trip with the girls was indeed titillating and it was giving me Goosebumps. However, I was at the same time afraid of undertaking such an adventure. I knew, in the heart of my hearts, that it was wrong. Going with the girls such a long way, staying at the hotel, and then… it was all very wrong; certainly against all the customs of our society. Dating is unknown in India, and India would never adopt it, of which I was sure. My parents would never approve of it; as a matter of fact it would be outrageous as well as sacrilegious to them, even more so to the parents of the girls. If they ever found this out, they would be shocked to death. Am I afraid of going on a date or of being found out? I tried to be analytical in my thinking, but couldn’t go on like that. I wanted to go, but I also didn’t want to go. What I really wanted, I was afraid to admit. Yes, there was some security, for either Vani or Nirupama would not be able to force me into marrying either of them. Why, they must have understood that it was within my knowledge that Nirupama had slept with Mohan and Vani, with Bhaskar during our trip to attend Virupakshappa’s marriage. No, they won’t have courage to ask me to marry, for I would not be the first to sleep with them. God! What rubbish was going through my mind! I cursed myself.
On the other hand, I couldn’t really refuse to go with them. How could I? I had created an image of myself, that of a modern, courageous, rebellious and uninhibited person, who would not care about scruples in matters concerning sex, in order to obtain the appreciation and esteem of my friends. If I were to refuse to go, I had to give Mohan a valid reason, or at least a plausible one. Then I would have to withstand the worst of his disappointment. The other friends are sure to hear about all this and would be disillusioned. Worst, I would be a butt of jokes among friends due to what they would perceive as timidity and cowardice.
“How do you like this colour Harsha?” Mohan asked me loudly and I started, all thoughts fleeting in my mind suddenly vanishing. It was a light blue coloured t-shirt that he held high in his hands.
“Very nice and sober,” I replied.
“This is for you,” he said and hastily added, “Don’t refuse, for you would require it there.” He was referring to Jog Falls.
Presently I saw the girls approaching us. Mohan walked towards them and took Nirupama along with him to the cash counter to pay the bills and Vani kept coming towards me. “Let’s go out,” she said as soon as she was a couple of paces near me. I strode towards the entrance along with her, very conscious of one of the salesperson staring at us.
“So this is your first visit to Saroja’s house. Isn’t it?” She asked as we came to a halt on the pavement to wait for Mohan and Nirupama.
“Yes, and I didn’t know that till you told me in the bus,” I said, somewhat testily, looking at a car that was passing by.
She laughed heartily and said, “And I presume you do not know where we are going now?”
“I didn’t until a while ago.” Before I could add something, Mohan and Nirupama arrived carrying polythene bags. It was almost noon, but the sky was as cloudy as my mind was. Mohan and Vani started discussing something about lunch and I, being aware that Nirupama was looking at me, lit a cigarette.
“It is too early to have lunch. Moreover I am sure none of us is hungry. So let’s first jump into the bus to Sirsi. We can think about it later,” Nirupama joined the discussion understanding that I would rather enjoy my cigarette than have small talk with her.
At the Central Bus Station of Hubli, as soon as we reached the platform from which the buses would leave for Sirsi, luckily we found that a bus was about to leave. Only the last row was vacant. The girls sat between Mohan and me, of course Vani by my side. Then I suddenly realized that I had not even decided to go with them or not. I was just thinking and thinking endlessly, and the decision that Mohan had made had become final. The bus plunged forward with a jerk and Vani, losing her balance, gripped my arm tightly with both her hands, her cheek resting on my shoulder. I said to myself, to hell with everything, I was going!
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