Friday, December 17, 2010

Vijay Forewarns

When I reached my room I found that the door was not latched and I entered without making any noise. Vijay was asleep, snoring lightly. I felt like talking to him badly. As I shook him awake, he sat upright with a start, and on finding that it was me, relaxed, rubbed his eyes and stretched his limbs. “God, it is you! Where the hell had you been?” he asked.

“I will tell you everything. But first tell me why are you sleeping keeping the door open?” I asked him a question in reply. It was not that I was worried about keeping the door unbolted while sleeping, for I knew for sure there was hardly a thing to be stolen and whatever were stolen in the hostel were lifted through the window using a hook at night. I was embarrassed to face him, ridden with guilt as I was. He never kept any secrets from me and I had deceived him by concealing something I knew before I left for that unforgettable trip. Without knowing myself for sure, I had insinuated that I was going on a date and it indeed had turned out to be a date, nay, a honeymoon of sorts. I needed some time to organize my thoughts and decide what to tell him and how.

“I had been for jogging with Bhaskar and Suresh. When I came back, I was tired and drifted into sleep.”

“Surprise! Surprise! You guys have started jogging? That’s very nice! But don’t you feel you are too old for jogging? It’s enough if you just walk a couple miles!” I teased him.

“So you have joined the other buffoons who tease me on my age?” he said without minding my jive and got up from the bed. I lit a cigarette without offering him one, knowing well that he didn’t smoke. But he surprised me by asking for one.

“Mama, while I was away, you have grown up!” I teased him, lighting his cigarette. He inhaled and coughed; his eyes were filled with water.

“My dear brother, I used to smoke earlier. You keep forgetting that I have been the headmaster of the school in which you are a student,” he tried to joke.

“Yes, it shows!” I snapped.

“I’ve found out that cigarettes help in concentrating on what I read,” he tried to explain. I nodded without agreeing with him.

“Well, what’s your story? You’ve been away for three days. So was Mohan. Even Nirupama and Vani had gone missing. I already know part of the story,” he said looking into my eyes.

“Ah! Anybody can put two and two together and arrive at a wrong conclusion!”

“True, but there was no chance of arriving at a wrong conclusion in this case! But in this case two and two were definitely put together!” I couldn’t but smile at his attempt at making a pun.

“Mama, I didn’t know where I was going the day Mohan asked me to meet him at the bus stop. Nor did I know that the girls were coming too. It was totally unexpected. First they said we’d been invited by Saroja to her house. We did go to her house. But later they took me to Jog Falls,” I tried to give him a watered down version, “That’s why I couldn’t tell you where I was going.”

“You need not be apologetic Harsha. But tell me in detail what happened. I am really curious to know.”

Now I knew that he couldn’t be so easily satisfied, that I could not stave him off lightly, that he could easily make out what I wouldn’t tell him and above all Mohan was going to tell everybody anyway. When Mohan gave his version, which he usually did when he was high on liquor, it would all be a mixture of facts and fiction, colourful and humourous. It was better that I told about me myself rather than letting Mohan do it. I narrated every detail to Vijay taking care to skip erotic and sensual portions, which he would anyway imagine the way he liked.  He heard everything with utmost interest and rapt attention, asking questions wherever he required clarifications or more details and seemed to enjoy every bit of it.

“What do you say? In all this I was an unwilling partner and I want to take it off my mind as soon as possible,” I said at the end.

He threw the butt of the cigarette out of the window and smiled, “Harsha, you have played into her hands”

“Whose hands?”

“Dear, you may be well aware that the girls in the ladies’ hostel often used to discuss about you and you are generally considered not easily accessible. Vani boasted always that you are one of her closest friends and had challenged a couple of girls that she would conquer you, vanquish you and make you dance to her tune, or to use her own words, “to take you in” in just under a week.”

“What? I can’t believe girls would talk like this. Where did you hear this?”

“Wrong question. Instead the question should have been ‘why didn’t you warn me’”

“That would have followed. But who told you this?”

“I heard it from a girl from my place, who stays in the same hostel. I didn’t tell it to you for I didn’t myself believe it and I thought it was just a gossip, worthless and trifle.’”

“Would you believe that the girls can talk about the boys the way you describe Vani talking about me?”

“Maybe all girls won’t talk. But I am talking about Vani and the likes of her” I could feel the contempt in his tone.

“Alright. It means I have made a fool of myself. Doesn’t it?”

“It also means she was right about her prowess.”

“You know, there is an old saying that whether the thorn touches the flower or the flower touches the thorn, only the flower is going to be torn.”

“As long as she is a flower and you are a thorn, it doesn’t matter,” he said feelingly, “but if it turns out to be the other way round…” He deliberately left the sentence incomplete.

He was suggesting that she may turn out to be a thorn in my side. It may sound absurd to those of the present generation, born and brought up in the age of hundreds of TV channels, mobile and internet; but during those times when traditions had not diluted and the values had not eroded, whether they were right or wrong, mattered a lot. They were deeply ingrained in the whole generation of youths like me. We could be easily branded as male chauvinist pigs. In my case it wasn’t exactly a battle between tradition and modernity, but a deeply emotional matter concerning all the dreams that lived in my young heart and oozed from my eyes.

“It may not turn out to be as bad as you make it to be,” I said, trying to brush aside his portentous statement.

“I sincerely hope so, dear. I do sincerely hope so!” he replied grimly.

*&*&*&*&*&*&*&*&*&*&*

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Coming back...

I am suddenly catapulted to the present as the waiter clears the plate deliberately making noise as if to remind me that I had already paid the bill and I must make space for others. I look around and find that there are still a very few customers. I call the waiter back and order another drink. He seems to be used to customers like me for he gives a bored expression trying to avoid looking at me and turns away to bring my order shouting something at a fellow waiter.

As I lift my cell phone to know the time, it starts ringing. I press answer and say ‘Harsha’ instead of ‘hello’.

“I know you are somewhere in Hubli. Aren’t you?” I hear the familiar voice of Pavan. How does he know that I am here? I am puzzled but regret that I cannot lie to him. He is sure to have called Bhaskar, who knew that Nirupama was coming to meet me. Bhaskar has always had this weakness of telling others that he is the securest repository of secrets but always letting all the secrets out, more often than not after adding sufficient masala of his own.

“Yes. I was about to call you. Are you free?”

“Always free for you. Where are you?”

I give him my location. “That’s very good. I am hardly half a kilometer from the hotel. Wait for me,” he says before disconnecting.

Yes, those were the three days that made me what I am today I almost say it aloud but feeling embarrassed I look around to see if anyone is watching me talk to myself. I find nobody is looking. Why anyone would care? I start brooding again. Not all the three days, but the moment when I exploded was what made me what I am today. Could it have been different? Only if I had refused to follow Mohan, only if I had a stronger will to say no, only if… It released the Satan in me, or did it? Greed, lust, wrath, ego, envy were all inherent in my personality, however suppressed by the veneer of values and culture they might have been. In fact I could find these very things in Mohan, Bhaskar, Pavan and a host other friends that I made during my stay on the campus, the only difference being I was more conscious of these qualities, or rather vices as I was wont to ascribe them. But I was still neither better nor more mature than the members of the group into which I was drawn, like a shred of straw is into the vortex of a typhoon.

The last night of the tour was the breaking point in my story, thereafter something changed so fundamentally deep inside me, that even today I am unable to comprehend what it was.

The waiter comes and places my drink on the table. I remember that Pavan is coming and I will have to drink with him too. So I must slow down. I decide against taking a swish and start looking at the entrance. He arrives on a bike, spots me immediately even before he parks it and waves enthusiastically at me. I try to remember how he looked during the campus days and find it too difficult. He must have gained at least a dozen kilos of weight, mostly in the form of fat deposited on his paunch that now protruded pushing his trousers down. He still wears dark glasses that used to be fashionable back then, but now he wears then only while riding his bike. He looks around the whole place before entering, like a college student entering a bar stealthily. It irritates me every time my friends do this, as if they were committing a crime entering the premises where liquor or non vegetarian food is served, though those they are trying to avoid would be in some other bar going through the same ritual!

I wanted to be left alone today but it was not to be so. Instead of coming straight to me, Pavan goes to the washroom. I know this too is a ritual with him. He would take at least quarter of an hour to have a leak, wash his hands thoroughly, then wash his face, wipe it clean with his handkerchief, neatly fold and keep it back in his trouser pocket and draw a comb… and so on!

Unable to resist the temptation to take a swig of my drink, I pour soda water into the whiskey and take a big sip. It indeed was my lowest point, I remember those moments when I lowered my guard and became what I am today…

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Glimmer of Hope

I was getting impatient to get back to my room in the hostel and lie down calmly so long as I liked to, but others seemed like they never wanted to return. I remembered that for the last couple of days I hadn’t eaten properly but surprisingly it had affected me in the least. Mohan and Nirupama could eat anything anywhere and still relish it and Vani enjoyed starving herself, or so it seemed to Mohan who kept jeering at her saying that it was all affectation. She according to him was eating so little to impress us the boys that she was too delicate. As to me, I was in no mood for banter and I didn’t bother about anyone right now, least of all Vani. My thoughts kept wandering to all the lectures that I had missed, all the comfort of my cozy room, the evening swigs of drinks with Vijay, my translation sessions with Hiremath, the part-read novel by Shivaram Karanth that was lay on the table and my ambles through the botanical gardens.

When we reached Dharwad it was just after seven in the evening and darkness was descending fast. We got down at the court and I felt immensely happy smelling the familiar air thick with the aroma of mirchi bhaji, a popular snack of the evening. But I was puzzled when Mohan called a rickshaw and huddled all of us inside. I was sandwiched between Vani and Nirupama while Mohan sat on the edge with part of his body hanging out of rickshaw. I felt most of Nirupama’s bosom touching my shoulder and arm and quickly forgot Vani too clinging to me! But the pleasure was going to be mine only for about five minutes, for the rickshaw came to a grinding halt opposite a three storied hotel building on a narrow lane. Mohan entered the hotel and went to the counter while we waited out.

“Why have we come here?” I asked Nirupama.

“Because we cannot go back to our hostel after seven in the evening.”

That meant I was doomed to spend another night in the hotel with Vani! I tried to hide my disappointment looking away from the girls. Presently Mohan came out of the hotel and called me to have a private talk. I walked to him warily, expecting some trouble. “Harsha, we have to stay in this hotel for the girls can’t go back tonight. The problem is I am, in fact the girls are running short of money. How much do you have?”

I gave him whatever money I had but I knew it was still not sufficient. “I told you right in the beginning that I hadn’t brought money Mohan, I have less than hundred rupees, not even sufficient for the drinks and dinner at our usual place,” I said by way of explanation though there was no need for it.

“I know Harsha. You guys stay occupy the rooms and I will fetch money from the hostel,” he replied and signalled the girls to follow him. All my hopes that he would decide against staying in the hotel came down crashing.

The rooms that were opened for us were under the stairs beside the reception counter. I observed that men after men kept coming accompanied by women, paid cash at the counter, collected the keys and went upstairs. In most cases, women seemed to be leading the men and obviously the receptionist knew them well. Not a word was exchanged between the customers and the receptionist, nor was any entry made in the register of occupants. Although this was all a bit weird and eerie to me, and shocking to my sensibilities too, I understood in a flash what was all this about and hoped that the girls wouldn’t see it and tried to obstruct their view. Mohan observed it and gave me a knowing wink and a ‘don’t worry’ assurance smile. No sooner had we entered one of the rooms than he left hurriedly.

Nirupama sat with us till Mohan arrived in a few minutes less than an hour, carrying two big bulging polythene bags, obviously containing liquor and food reminding me that I had been starving and my craving for the drink had also set in. This was the third night in a row that I was spending away from my hostel, without any information to my parents and however much I tried; I couldn’t keep this thought coming to my mind. What ashamed me even more was my bother of yet another possibility of failure.

“You know what some guys were talking outside?” Mohan whispered to me, “They were saying that they have spotted two new birds!” he giggled.

“What are you two whispering?” Nirupama objected with a raised brow, “No private talk when you are in a group.”

“This concerns only men,” Mohan winked.

Observing Mohan pouring two glasses of whiskey that he had brought, Nirupama asked, “What about this?”

“This too concerns only men,” I replied and Mohan nodded in affirmation. I had gathered that he didn’t like Nirupama drinking.

Dharwad then was a small city and it was quite possible that men who had seen the girls in the hotel might come across them again somewhere. It bothered me but the girls didn’t seem to be concerned at all. I took a swish of whiskey and winced as it tasted very bitter, for in a hurry to get over with dinner, Mohan had not diluted it much.

“Where did you get the money from?” I asked Mohan in a whisper. I knew that he couldn’t get much from the friends.

“The mess contractor,” Mohan replied with a victorious smile. “Just as I got down at the bus stop, I saw him.”

***  **

I couldn’t help myself hoping that Mohan would ask me to go to the other room where Nirupama would be staying, though I had realized that I was hoping against hope but Mohan and Nirupama promptly walked away after dinner, with Nirupama saying, “Have a good one!” with a wink, before she followed Mohan. I cursed her silently for being so impervious to my feelings. I craved for another drink but whatever little Mohan could bring, we had gulped down in hurry and the hotel we were staying in, had neither a bar nor a restaurant of its own. Then where was the money to get the drink?

I lay on one of beds listening to the voices from the counter. The flow of customers, instead of ebbing, had increased twofold. I was sure the same women kept coming back with new customers. It was abominating thought. Presently Vani came out of bathroom wearing the same night gown and instead of proceeding to the other bed, came straight to me, and inclined to kiss me. I allowed her to kiss me but it broke my belief that only men take initiative in such things. I really wonder what a fool I had been back then, though some may prefer calling it innocence. I used to believe that everything was done only by boys, and the girls didn’t like love-making, in fact, they considered it blasphemous. It was an unclean act, unholy, dirty for the girls who were angels and who were virtuous, pure and beautiful but boys being boys, enjoyed it. Why, I couldn’t tell!

“Vani, you better go to your bed. You know I do not have protection today,” I said trying to evade her. She understood that I was too shy to use the word ‘condom’
She laughed heartily and asked, “You mean Nirodh?”

All were familiar with the word ‘Nirodh’ back then because of the government family planning advertisements that ran in the cinema houses. I didn’t reply.

“I am grown up enough to know that by kissing and fondling I can’t get pregnant” she said and laughed even louder.

“Shsh..” I said in a whisper, “Remember this is a hotel, not your hostel. Moreover I cannot stop just at kissing.”

“I know you can’t do anything anyway” she teased me but I was offended.

“Don’t jump to conclusions. You don’t know what I am capable of!” I said testily.

“Yes. I want to know what you are capable of. Please…” she persisted.

I tried to push her out of my bed but she clung to me hard.

This went on for such a long time that I began running out of my patience. At last I told her, “I am going to remove all my clothes. Then I will see how you can continue to stay in my bed.”

“No, please don’t do that.” She didn’t look she believed me. But she held both my hands trying to prevent me from reaching my clothes. With a jerk I could free my hands and took away all my t-shirt. But she still hugged me tightly and said, “No problem even if you aren’t wearing anything!”

“But now it is your turn. If you do not return to your bed, I am going to tear your clothes. Don’t blame me later for anything!” She still didn’t budge.  Till then I had not realized how powerful she was though she looked fragile. She could resist my attempts at undressing her for not less than an hour and later I was presented with another problem of getting her cooperation. It must have been four in the morning when I overcame all the resistance and penetrated her and dissolved into a blissful exhaustion. All of a sudden, a fear might have gripped her, for she immediately rushed to the bathroom. Before she returned I had drifted into sleep.

By six in the morning, Mohan came knocking at the doors and before anyone could notice us, we took off to the campus.