Suresh Hiremath, humble, self-effacing, always trying to please others, had been constantly tagging along me for a quite a while now. Of late, he’d started accompanying Vijay and me every evening to the city for my daily quota of drink and mughlai chicken. Although he too like Umesh had kept all the acquaintances under the impression that he was a teetotaler and a pure vegetarian, of late, if only to please me, he’d begun to drink a small peg of whisky and to partake in my plate of Mughlai chicken, though initially he took only the Sherwa or the gravy part only. What I liked in him most was that he was not secretive and exhibited no holier than thou attitude, like Umesh and his kind did, despite the fact that he belonged to the highest and priestly caste of the Lingayats. He was sitting in deep conversation with Vijay when I returned after talking to Umesh. He had joined us just before we entered the restaurant holding a polythene bag, declaring that he had made some purchase. As I sat opposite them asking Vijay if he had placed order for the drinks, Suresh gave me the bag, “Sir, this is for you.”
“What’s it?” I asked him as I opened it partially to reveal the contents- it was a T-shirt. “Why did you get it for me Suresh?” I asked with disapproval, as it felt like a bribe for whatever I had been doing for him. Receiving gifts always produced some kind of unease in me.
“I found it in the roadside stall sir, and I remembered you. It suits your fair complexion very well sir.”
It was a white t-shirt with dark blue stripes and felt like smooth wool when I touched it.
“Please don’t think otherwise sir, it is just that I felt like buying it for you,” Suresh tried to explain.
“Why didn’t you feel like buying one for me swami?” Vijay asked, just to tease him.
“It doesn’t suit you, Mama, it is meant for lookers like Harsha”
Instead of taking offense, Vijay said, “For once, you are right. But any type of dress suits Harsha”
“Those who have hair can have any hairstyle they like,” Suresh said in a lighter manner.
“Are you guys finished with your silly observations? If so we can call the waiter,”
I remarked feeling embarrassed.
“We’ve already ordered,” The waiter entered the cabin as Vijay replied.
“By the way, I saw Bhaskar and Mohan near bus stand,” Suresh informed.
“Well, it seems they have got together again, after a long time,” Vijay observed.
“Bhaskar can never leave Mohan alone, you know. He doesn’t have any existence apart from Mohan. It is a wonder that it took so long for him to catch up with Mohan,” I said trying to keep my voice normal. It was not palatable news to me. There had always been sort of cold war between Bhaskar and me for grabbing the affections of Mohan. Of late, however, Mohan had drifted away from both of us. Bhaskar could easily outdo me because he would not mind being Mohan’s sidekick or ‘chamcha’, which was detestable to me. But today, I was not bothered about either of them, for Kavya had filled every nook and corner of my mind.
Mohan and Bhaskar caught up with us later, at the city bus stand. “Hello brrrotherrs!,” Mohan hollered with deliberate slur. I knew he was never too drunk to slur and sway, but he liked to act like he was. Bhaskar hugged Vijay in a display of overflowing emotions, as though he was meeting the latter after a long, long time, which too was his way of showing that he was drunk. It seems so ridiculous, but those days we not only wanted to drink, but wanted to show off that we were proud to be drunk!
Mohan clasped my arm and said, “Brotherrr, still half an hour is there for the last bus. Let’s have one more drink!”
“Mohan, I have already had my dinner. I don’t drink after eating.”
“Nothing'll happen, man, at least to me. Won’t you buy me a drink? It’s been long since we drank together.”
“Okay,” I agreed, “But we can’t go to bars now. They’ll all be crowded.”
“Yes, we’ll have it over the counter,” Bhaskar added.
We went to a liquor shop opposite bus stand leaving behind Vijay and Suresh, who wouldn’t come there for the fear of being recognized by someone. It didn’t take more than a few minutes to gulp down our drinks and lick the achar supplied free of charge. The whole thing felt cheap, standing amidst dhoti clad villagers, smelling of sweat. When we walked out, Mohan’s eye fell on a couple of women standing with their trademark baskets near the grill encircling the pavement round the corner.