Monday, May 11, 2009

Freakishly Faithful : Chapter 8 - The Legend of the Fall

Part 1

I have met many kinds of people in my life thus far. Some have inspired me, some I have aspired to be like, some like Karan, have been turning points in my life in many ways. A few I have despised, many I have generally disliked, some I have loved, the others I may or may not acknowledge. But I have never met another like the one, the only, the legen-(watch ‘How I met your mother’ because it’s neat)-dary, (for a while) the canny caveman with in-built eco-systems, the mystic misfit, and the liberating propounder of freedom of movement in your trousers – the Babu.

Babu is an unparalled phenomenon. A man so utterly different from the rest of humanity that one often remains wondering if he is for real. The guy is truly to be seen and heard to be believed. Scratch that, most people will see him, some might get to hear him more than just in passing, but few may ever truly believe that he actually is what he is! No amount of articulation in these writings can paint anything close to an accurate picture of Babu - the way he almost speed-walks about with a slouch, his strangely comical but highly articulate mode of speech in English, his even funnier way of generally cursing the world and its worthless denizens in Bihari Hindi, his Karate-kid standing-on-one-leg-with-his-arms-spread-like-wings pose followed by his hands grabbing at the air in front of him, the general manner and his facial expression giving the impression of a gruesome man-hawk with inverted talons tearing at your balls!! Oh yeah, it was scary (and hilarious) when he’d do that!

I’d known Babu since my first year in law school. He was an atypical outcast – indeed nothing was ever typical about Babu. For the better part of law school (if not all of it), he had little care for personal hygiene, and even lesser consideration for the effect of his general uncleanliness upon people around him. He had a penchant for pissing people off, stemming perhaps from his fickle ego, general disdain for lesser intelligence (which covered a rather large demographic in his view), and admittedly weird demeanour. But for the most part nobody really took him seriously (maybe that’s why he was often angry), and viewed him as little more than comic relief.

But Babu had qualities that were nothing short of sterling. He once described me as ‘a storehouse of omega level talent’. He may as well have been describing himself. He was always a force to reckon with, be it as a debator, or as a lawyer in a moot court, or even as just a guy doing the lights for a terrible dance performance, or a hastily put-together play. His claim to fame was always his prowess in Just-a-Minute or JAM competitions. That is one event that requires one to have a case of caustic verbal diarrhea laced with a liberal dose of innuendo, and Babu was full of that!

So people laughed at Babu, but grudgingly acknowledged his talent. Many proclaimed him as a mad genius, some would omit the ‘mad’ part if they needed something out of him. And nobody truly messed with him, not for long anyway. There’s no telling what may befall one if he incurs the wrath of a (supposed) madman.

Babu also had the most accursed luck one can imagine. For the better part of my association with him, he underwent the most agonizing(ly funny) string of experiences that made it seem like Lady Luck was fighting a crusade against him. I had even then, way back in Second Year, thought of writing a play entitled ‘The Babu Effect’, my somewhat overstated name for his futile fortunes. But I realized soon enough that a play would never do, and nothing short of a full-length book could begin to do justice to the life and times of Babu in law school. I think I’ll save that one for my magnum opus.

Lastly, Babu always made my life that much more colourful by regaling me with the occurring-at-the-time stories of his women. He had the hormones of a rabid dog in heat, and the charm of a porcupine-skunk hybrid (what with his usual odour and unshaven look). On the {very [very (very)]} rare occasions when he would clean up, he could look pretty darn dashing (so I have been informed by the distaff). But those instances were few and rather far between. And usually the object of his interest at the relevant point of time would not see him all clean and clear. Or, more likely than not, she’d not even realize it was him!

Babu was the butt of most of my jokes for most of my tenure in law school, ever since I’ve known him. I made it a point to poke fun at him in front of him, and mercilessly decimated his image in public. Every now and then, when I would feel somewhat mortified at my incessant trip-taking, I’d apologise to him, and he would say, “No, Biki. If I had a problem with it, I’d have told you so.” It even got to a point where, after I had broken up with Maya, Babu tried to cheer me up by instigating me to publicly ridicule him! He would laugh and give me fives every time I cracked a particularly nasty one on him.

Babu’s been one of my best friends since my first year in law school. He’s a crazy kook, a fickle lunkhead, a bizarre, bombastic, often belligerent bugger.

And I love him for it.

What say, Babu? Think the Iceman is back?

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Freaksihly Faithful : Chapter 7 - Fire and Ice

This is a first. I've deleted what used to be Part 3 of this Chapter (it was a filler anyway) and replaced it with what i originally planned as Part 4. This one is the longest yet, but i really could keep it short. it's an important turning point...

Part 3

That piece of writing had had a cathartic effect on me. Although Karan’s response to it at the time when he read it seemed somewhat mild (apparently Akruti had returned to Pune from her hometown only that day, and Karan had interrupted a ‘Welcome Back’ session to see me), it served to lessen the considerable surge of emotions that I was being consumed by at the time, however temporarily. Soon after seeing Karan, I left for Bangalore to take part in a Debate Competition, and for the next few days, all thoughts of Ruksana were replaced by Propositions, Rebuttals, Points of Information, Definitions, and also a surprise Birthday party for me thrown in. I boarded the bus back to Pune in considerably good spirits, refreshed by an all-round excellent experience.


November 15, 2005. The bus pulled into the final stop at Swargate, Pune. I had little on the agenda, since classes for the day had already ended in college (which I considered irrelevant in any case), and the closest thing I had to a plan was to call Karan, although considering how occupied he was with Akruti those days, I didn’t have much hope of spending much time with him. Nevertheless, I dialed his number, and hailed him with my usual greeting every time I called him – his name.


“Karan Singh!”


His pause was uncharacteristic. When he did speak, his voice was heavy, though not from sleep.


“Da… What’s up man? How are you?”


“I’m good, dude. Just got back from Bangalore. Thought I’d check up on you.”

“Oh, you just got back, is it? Nice… nice… How was the trip?”


His words were measured, distant. The attitude was one of forced politeness, not friendly familiarity. The conclusion seemed obvious - something was wrong. I decided to probe a little.


“Dude, where are you now?”


“Huh? Um… I’m… home.”




“As in at Akruti’s?”


“No dude. My place.”


Home! What the heck was he doing back there? His roommate Dilawar had often asked me as to the whereabouts of Karan ever since he started seeing Akruti. It seemed he had pretty much moved in with her. He hadn’t really been home in ages. I might’ve let it go, but for his unusually distant demeanour in the conversation. 


“How come you’re home? Gone to pay the rent or something?”


“No, Da… It’s over.”


My eyes widened as I heard those words. A faint whiff of the potential significance of those words swirled in my head. It was enough for me to know that whatever else was to be said, could not be said over the phone. I acted reflexively.


“I’ll be right there!”


I rushed home, dumped my bag in my room, and without even washing up a bit (which, considering I had spent the previous 15 hours in a bus from Bangalore, was a necessity) I grabbed the keys to my bike and zoomed off to the Great Punjab Restaurant, where Karan and I had decided to meet.


I found him sitting on the pavement outside the Great Punjab, looking haggard and disheveled. I parked the bike and walked up to him, as he stood up to greet me with a very forced smile and a weak handshake. I could see in his eyes that he was glad to see me, but there were far more alarming messages to be read in those eyes. Neither of us had eaten anything, so we decided to have lunch in the Great Punjab.


We sat at a table and lit our smokes. He was trying to make light conversation, but it was pointless. Eventually, I geared myself up and asked the question.


“What happened?”


He looked at me with an air of abject resignation. He opened his mouth to speak, but hesitated, every sign of utter helpless confusion pouring forth from the widening of his eyes, the furrowing of his brow and the slight, quick shaking of his head. When the words did emerge, they came in a tremor.


“We broke up, dude. Guess it wasn’t working out.”


The shock on my face went unnoticed by Karan. I studied his face for further signs of emotion, but they were vague, and he seemed to be struggling to keep them under control. His eyes avoided mine for the most part, his voice was tentative, and he seemed to be talking more to himself than to me, as he tried to come to terms with the issue.


“We’ve been having some pretty bad fights lately. Her ex-boyfriend was in town recently and was staying over at her place. I discovered that there was something between them still. I could feel it, dude. I asked her a couple of nights back if she still liked him, but she rubbished the idea. Last night we were having another big fight, and I asked her about why we fight so much. She said that she felt suffocated in the relationship, Da. That I love her too much, that there is nothing but love in the relationship. That she can’t handle it. I fed the fish too much, she said. I couldn’t believe it! I went home last night, not able to figure out what the fuck to do! This morning I went to her place again to sort things out. But I couldn’t, Da. She said that she needed a break, and told me again how I loved her too much! I didn’t know what to do. I just said that I couldn’t stay anymore. And she said that she wasn’t asking me to. That was it!”


It sounded strange, too random. There appeared to be no real reason, beyond the vague reference to Akruti’s ex-boyfriend, behind this break-up. Of course, this was a difficult time for Karan, and he might not have been thinking straight. I felt it better to just listen. He seemed to need a sympathetic ear more than advice at the time.


After a few minutes of silence, he decided to lighten the air a bit.


“Screw it dude,” he said, “let’s eat something.”


As if in cue, a waiter walked up with the menu. Karan knew that waiter, and had often chatted with him on many occasions when we’d dined at the Great Punjab. It was one of Karan’s favourite haunts, and he always took people there. So the next line from the waiter, inappropriate though it was under the circumstances, came as no surprise.


“Sir, Didi is not with you today?”


I glared at the waiter, infuriated at this impertinence. Karan simply smiled haplessly, and almost in a whisper said that she will not be joining him. Fortunately the waiter did not decide to pursue the topic further, and we ate our lunches in silence.


Once we were done with lunch, Karan asked me to come over to his place for a while. That was just as well, as I did not intend to leave him alone in the state he was in. We rode over to his place on my bike, and entered the house, which was empty, all his flat mates being in their respective colleges at the time. He switched on the computer in his room to put on a playlist of songs, and sat smoking, not saying a word. I’ve never been much for small-talk, so I puffed away quietly at my cigarette, turning over all that Karan had told me just a while back.


Suddenly Karan looked at me and said, “Dude, can you please play a video for me on the comp?”


He named a video of a Jagjit Singh song, and guided me to the video file buried somewhere in his hard drive. I hadn’t heard the song before, and didn’t really think much about his sudden request, thinking it best to do pretty much whatever he wanted for a little while. The video came on, and all I really remember of that video was that there was a lot of rain, a pair of lovers and Jagjit Singh singing a sorrowful ghazal.


I sat next to Karan on the floor mattress. He head had been hanging throughout, his eyes facing the floor, staring at nothing. But as the strains of Jagjits Singh’s voice carried through the song, the music tinged with deep melancholy, the effect was far from lost on Karan. Right then I saw through the veil of confusion over his face, and his real feelings were beginning to trickle through. He was huddled up on that mattress, a tremble in his lips getting progressively more pronounced as he kept swallowing frequently, the wrinkles on his forehead deepening gradually. He presented a painful sight, a man trying desperately to hold the boy within in control, holding on to threads of a rapidly weakening resolve, willing himself not to break. But the collapse of the wall was needed, the swelling tide could be held back only so long.


There was nothing for it. I reached out and put my hand reassuringly on his shoulder. Immediately his resolve cracked, he buried his head on my shoulder and all attempts at maintaining control were washed away in the inevitable flood of tears. For the first time in my life, I saw a young man break down completely, utterly defeated by circumstances that he could not understand, shattered into submission through his racking sobs. For more than half an hour he cried, until his body could take no more and he nearly passed out from sheer exhaustion. And the whole time I remained quiet, dumbfounded at the sheer pain my best friend was in. I could offer no words of consolation, no hollow reassurances like ‘It’s gonna be ok’ and the like. When he was finally done, he lay on his bed for some time, while I sat at the computer, doing little more than rotating the mouse and staring at the cursor move in circles on the screen.


Eventually he woke up, and washed his face for a good long while. It was late in the evening, and I had to get home, since I’d not been home in over 5 days. We went out for a smoke and a bite to eat, and he spoke with a lot less difficulty, the emotional purging having clearly lightened his spirits considerably.


But his ordeal seemed to have one more leg to be traversed. As I was about to leave, he asked me to give him a lift to Scorpio’s, near Akruti’s place. I looked at him as if he was crazy, but he said that he had to take care of things. With many a misgiving I dropped him outside the gate of the housing society where Akruti stayed.


I rode away quietly, never realizing that a part of Karan had just died, and from its ashes there was something rising, something that even Karan would come to somewhat regret in later years.


We liked to call it ‘The Pac-Man’… 

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Freakishly Faithful - Chapter 7 : Fire and Ice

This is a first! Two parts of the same Chapter posted on the same day! hehe... don't skip part 1 before this

Part 2

It wasn’t over. I couldn’t believe it. Over 4 years since I left school, and only a few months after I’d broken up with Maya, I realized that I was still capable of being vulnerable to a fault. That if my feelings for Maya when we were together were paramount, their effects were also temporary, and were relegated to irrelevance after I discovered that even after all this time, I was attracted to Ruksana.

Anzarle set the ball rolling. When she jokingly asked me to “think of that girl you liked in school” in order to finish writing ‘Aap na rahe’, I went ahead and thought. And then the thinking wouldn’t stop.

One evening Nishita, Seema, Ruksana and I were hanging around at Ruksana’s place. Meeting up had become a regular practice post-Anzarle. Amidst the chit-chat, Ruksana recalled an argument she had had with me (Vegetarianism vs. Non-Vegetarianism) while we had been petting a little calf in a stable in Anzarle (the crux of her argument was, how could I treat the calf so tenderly, and then eat meat). With her usual playfulness (and, I’m tempted to believe, total lack of consideration) she said, “Bikram, what if things work out and we get married, will you become a vegetarian for me?” The lovesick fool that I was, I said that I would. The girls, rightly, laughed it off. But I didn’t. I couldn’t.

Ruksana had probably begun to feel like she could confide in me. Talk to me about anything. I didn’t discourage her. At times that was to my peril. On that very evening, she showed me a letter that she had sent to the ‘Chicken Soup’ book publishers. It was her story, about her feelings for Aminesh. I remember feeling strange, remember looking at the computer screen with nothing registering, except the fact that the woman I was crazy about was making me read about another guy.
The thought consumed me. My feelings for Ruksana, the ones I had thought were dead and buried, were flooding back into me. It made me curse myself often, but those feelings took me into their swirl with inevitable finality. And I felt helpless once again, for if today there was no Aminesh to stand in my way, there was still his memory in Ruksana’s mind, and the fear of the pain he caused her in her heart.

A couple of nights later, under the mild influence of a glass of beer, I penned down the disconnected blizzard of thoughts in my head. I was to leave for Bangalore the next day, to participate in the NLSIU Parliamentary Debate 2005. Hours before I left, I called Karan and asked if I could see him. He met me near Akruti’s place, where he had been staying of late, and I showed him a print of what I’d written.

I’ve been unable to write anything of the sort since. It went like this:

“More sleepless nights. More day-dreams. The familiar feeling of emptiness within. You haven’t left me. And you were never with me. You were always somewhere, tantalisingly close, yet always out of reach. Is it because I never tried to reach you? Is it because I was beaten to it? Is it because I was too scared of what you would say? But what is it now? Why have you come back into my head? Why do you torment me? Why can’t you leave me in peace? Why can’t I say that I love you?

Love is a feeling. I’m in love with the feeling. I’m not in love with you. I’m in love with the feeling. Just the elation of seeing the one who inspires those feelings. Just the lightness of my limbs, the energy, the smiles, the rosiness of the world, just the feeling. Not you, just the feeling. But why do you keep giving me the feeling?

Leave me alone. I don’t want to be with you. I can’t be with you. I won’t be with you. I love you…

I don’t see your face as easily as I used to in my imagination. Again, it’s the feeling. You just happen to be around, again. She left me, left a void. I thought I was over it. I thought it didn’t matter. I can’t be so vulnerable again. But why did you come back? Are you my weakness? Will you be my strength? Can you feel for me the way I feel for you?

What did you mean? “…if everything works out, and if we get married, will you give up eating meat for me?” What did you mean? Was it just a joke? You don’t know what you do to me, do you? Or do you?

Dreams. Dreams of spending mornings, afternoons, evenings, nights, dawns, everything with you. Forever. Eternity. A bond till death. May I die first. May your spirit forever live. “…and if we get married…” What did you mean?

Don’t smile. I melt at the sight. I hate you. I can’t win with you. I don’t want to win with you. I won’t win with you. I don’t hate you. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Shut up!! Get out of my head. I love you.

Chicken soup. Your first love. How could you? A test? A bloody test? Did you not know what you were doing? How could you? Intimate details of your thoughts on another man? And of all men, that bastard? How could you? Why? Why show it to me? Do you like to see me crumble? Do you want to see me break? I am broken. I am torn. I am empty. Fill me. Complete me. Save me. No!!! I am not weak. I can live without you. I have, I will. If animal existence is life, I will live. Leave me alone.

But you will never leave, will you? You haven’t left my mind. Not for four years when my eyes never saw you. You were always there. You would turn up anywhere. The attached pouch on the side upper berth of the AC sleeper. The hoarding. The ad in the paper. Goddammit!! Everywhere. Why can’t you just go away?

I love you. There, I said it! Did you hear it? Can you see it in my eyes. Can you look beyond the sardonic smile? Can you see the desperate disguise, the hopeless cover up? Am I doing a good job at hiding it? Can you see that I love you?

Too many questions. Too many questions. Silver lining. Wake up. Is this a dream? Are you real. Is it my imagination. Is it just the feeling. Do I love you? Can I love you? Fill me. Complete me.

Love me.

Damn it all!!!”

Freakishly Faithful - Chapter 7 : Fire and Ice

Part 1

A day in life that gives no cause for reminiscence is one without colour. Then again, it may perhaps be too optimistic to expect a memory a day. It seems easier to accrue a set of days and spread a memory over them at times. These writings seek to crystallize those memories, some fond, some not so, but all important, that shaped the course of several of our lives for the days that were and the days to come.

The day that Kannika walked up to me and finally introduced herself was indeed a memorable one. It marked the culmination of some 23 days from the day I noticed her looking my way (and Mayukhda concurred) till the time she finally spoke to me (Mayukhda did the math). That is not to say that her relative positioning on campus vis-à-vis me changed much, if anything it seemed to become more apparent. But now that the introduction was done, a cursory ‘Hi’ while walking by was unavoidable. In retrospect, although I was slightly nervous about her turning up very often in the portico to the law college staircase (forcing me to use the only alternative exit route, the Arts and Commerce portico) and otherwise at nearly every place on campus from whence I was likely to emerge, I must admit that this sudden, unsolicited, unexplained fascination from this unknown girl had a charm of its own. So, after spending quite a bit of time avoiding her, I decided to just run the gauntlet and asked her if she’d like to join me for coffee in the food court one afternoon. Of our conversation that day I remember nothing. I simply remember that I stopped referring to her as ‘the Stalker’ thereafter.

On one occasion, Sagar decided to treat me to beer at Apache for no apparent reason. Mayukhda was around, so the three of us wound up at Apache at 4 in the afternoon, and spent the next 2 hours downing round after round of beer. After 3 mugs I was buzzing happily, and we decided to call it an evening. I was carrying Sagar’s beautiful rosewood guitar (in an equally impressive guitar cover) at the time. Before leaving Apache, I went to the loo, and when I came out, a gentleman in an intermediate state of inebriation, who was waiting to use the loo, noticed the guitar and repeatedly requested that I hang around and play a song or two for him and his friends. After some initial hesitation, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to entertain the public present, so I took out the guitar and played a song, in all likelihood a Euphoria number. Of course, one song wasn’t enough for them, and while in the middle of the second song, I noticed that a mug of beer had been placed in front of me. I also felt my cell phone vibrating in my pocket, but as a rule I don’t stop mid-song to attend calls. After the song, I was informed that the beer was for me, for my singing, and that I was to down it in a single gulp. I downed half the mug in one gulp, which was as far as I could go at the time, and checked my cell to see a missed call from Kannika. On calling her, I discovered that she was bunking her French classes at Allianz Francais that evening to meet me, and that she and her sister were waiting for me down the road at Barista. I agreed to play ‘one last song’, and ended up with singing several more songs, many messages from Kannika asking how long would I take, and two more mugs of beer (that makes 6 in total… so far). When I walked out of Apache, I felt like I was floating towards Barista.

Poor Kannika and her sister (whose name I didn’t really know at the time)! I don’t know what they were expecting when they called me. I do know what they got; a very drunk, barely standing, red-eyed, guitar-slinging, heavily slurring, idiotically smiling buffoon, most definitely not the most charming company in a coffee shop, although unfortunately, the most visible! The shot of espresso in a tiny cup didn’t seem to make any difference, and the girls eventually walked out, probably more embarrassed than anything else, all the while saying that it’s ok, while I kept apologizing for my drunkenness.

I guess I was too drunk to be really embarrassed, and even now as I think of it, it seems more funny than anything else. I’m certain I was quite content in playing the fool that evening. After all, when I stepped out of Barista, I met a group of students who’d been at Apache earlier, and who had enjoyed my singing so much that they took me back to Apache for another round!

Kannika (and sister), a cup of espresso, a solo jam session with Sagar’s exquisite guitar, and 7 mugs of draught beer…

A red letter day, wouldn’t you say?

Friday, February 27, 2009

Freakishly Faithful: Chapter 6: Yukh and the तीन-Stalk

I missed out on a very important development that happened just before we started practicing laanat. Karan reminded me of it recently, and it’s strange because quite some time back, when I had thought of Chapter 6, I had kept this development in mind. I was tempted to change the sequence of the Parts in this Chapter to accommodate that development, but finally decided against it, and thought about putting it in this Part. Let’s see how it works out. This one’s the longest yet! All the best ...

Part 4

I parked my bike in the Symbi parking lot and hurried towards class. A glance at my watch revealed that I had stuck to my usual timing, which unfortunately was about 20 minutes after the first lecture had begun. The closed door of my classroom was confirmation enough that the Legal History lecture had begun, and I didn’t have a prayer of getting in then. With my usual half-happy, half-disappointed sigh, I walked to the NCC canteen for a cup of chai and a smoke, a standard ritual of mine on everyday that I was late for the first lecture.

The campus was relatively empty, and I was, as always, lost in my thoughts, which this morning revolved around our performance of Laanat for the Rotaract Club the previous evening. It had been such a lot of fun, the run up to the performance, all our laughter, teasing Karan with MJ, Mayukhda’s violent outburst at Karan for constantly tickling him during a torture scene in one of our practice sessions, the actual performance!

I reached the NCC and ordered my chai and Classic Milds. There were hardly any people in the NCC at that hour, and it was at such times when I really liked to have a smoke. There was something in the perennial hiss of gas flames in the open kitchen, the frequent clangs of metallic dishes, the muttered conversations of the canteen staff, which was always somewhat soothing before the large crowds of students would come and take over the place. I pulled in a drag of my cigarette, gazing idly at the flaming cherry at the tip, which seemed to take on a new life with every drag, giving off steady streams of bluish-white smoke. Every now and then, the little cherry would be hidden by grey ash tinged with black, but I would know that it’s still there, as it would struggle to light up with every drag, and if I didn’t flick the cigarette first, the little cherry would throw off the walls of ash that would accumulate on it, and would burn merrily on until its inevitable demise.

On the day which had been our fist day of Laanat practice, I had called Karan in the morning, offering to pick him up from his place and go to Ruksana’s, the venue of our practices. His voice had sounded rather different, somewhat secretive and defensive as he said, “No, dude. I’ll come myself. You carry on.”

My suspicion had been aroused, and I had instinctively asked if this had something to do with Akruti. He’d told me that he was with her at that moment, and that they were now finally and officially seeing each other! The news had been not exactly shocking, and not exactly surprising. But it did make me feel something vaguely not good. I had put it down to my natural pessimism on relationships, had cursed him, congratulated him, and had told him to get his ass to practice.


I finished my cup of tea and stubbed out the cigarette. I wasn’t likely to see Karan during the day. I knew he was with Akruti, and a new couple typically spend all their time with each other. It was time for my next class. As I entered the main gate of college, I noticed three girls sitting on the katta next to the main gate, and one of them, dressed in a black shirt and blue jeans seemed to be looking in my direction rather intently. I vaguely recalled having noticed three people sitting in the same place on the katta on my way to the NCC, but it was only now that I realized that they were girls, and that the Black Shirt was staring at me. But I didn’t bother about it and went for class.

During the recess, I met Mayukhda, and we walked out of the Law School portico onto the ramp that was our campus. The Law School crowd stood around, and a few students of the Arts and Commerce College were also standing in their groups and chatting. Through the crowds, I caught a glimpse of those three girls, still sitting at that very spot on the katta, and Black Shirt was once again staring my way. I wasn’t too sure if this was merely coincidence, so I turned my back to her, and said to Mayukhda, “Da, something strange is happening.”

“Why, what’s the matter?” asked Mayukhda.

“I think a girl is staring at me.”

Mayukhda has certain typical exclamations. They are all somewhat comical, and Rono likes to imitate Mayukhda’s general expression while making those exclamations by clapping one hand onto his head, slightly crossing his eyes, giving a really goofy smile, extending his other hand in a questioning gesture, and making a sound which is the Rono equivalent of a long, drawn out ‘Duuuuhhh’! On this occasion, on hearing of my suspicion, Mayukhda went, “What the fuuuuuuck?!”

“Yeah, see for yourself. Over my shoulder, 5 o’ clock, group of three girls. Look for the Black Shirt in glasses.”

After a few surreptitious glances, Mayukhda exclaimed, “Fuuuuck! Yeeeeaah, Dude!! She’s staring at you!!!”

“Do I know her?” I asked Mayukhda, who was my go to guy every time I needed an ID check.

“No, I don’t think so. I’ve never met her.”

“Hmm… Oh well, let’s chuck it. Why would any girl stare at me?” And we moved on to better things.

Over the next few days, my suspicion turned to certainty. Whoever this girl was, she was totally staring at me. She would look out for me, and once she spotted me, she would sit on the katta and just keep staring! Mayukhda had spread the word of this girl to some of our friends, and often somebody or the other would turn my attention to the fact that she was staring at me again! Her inevitable presence while I was on campus, and her incessant staring at me, eventually earned her the title of my Stalker.

One day, Mayukhda and I were chatting on the katta sometime in the morning. There were few people about, and the katta was mostly empty, meaning there was a good 10 yards to our left and nearly 20 yards to our right of clear katta. The three girls came out of the Symbi Food Court, and suddenly came over and sat right next to us, such that one of them was literally rubbing shoulders with me! After a few minutes, the girl next to me traded places with the girl who would stare at me, and suddenly, I was within breathing distance of my Stalker! Mayukhda was saying something or the other to me, but I had pretty much zoned out by then, and all I could hear were bits and pieces of the sotto voce conversation of the girls. Suddenly, I heard my Stalker ask the other two, “Should I ask him? Should I ask him?”

I immediately turned to Mayukhda and said, “Da, it’s getting pretty hot out here. Let’s move to class.” I don’t know why, but I felt somewhat hounded by this female, and I wasn’t quite ready for a first contact yet.

As more days went by, the Stalker kept changing her tactics at getting me to notice her. She would keep positioning herself in a way such that she would be directly in my line of sight. In the process she kept reducing the physical distance between us daily. I would often have to keep away from certain portions of the campus, because I knew she’d be sitting there, waiting, watching! I’d often have to sneak out of college through the parking lot at the back of college, and sneak in the same way. Mayukhda had even devised a system of spotting me on campus – if he wanted to check if I was on campus, he’d look for the Stalker on the katta, and then look in the general direction where she was staring, and sure enough, there I would be!

Finally, one fine day, after much pacing around in an area about 9 feet from where I was standing, she finally approached me and asked, “Hi, are you Vikram?”

“Well, it’s Bikram actually,” I replied, trying my best not to burst out laughing nervously at this first contact with my Stalker. Mayukhda, who had been standing next to me, excused himself and walked off, much to my chagrin, and I was left alone to face this girl. But it turned out that I had very little to say. In the next 20 minutes or so, I knew all about her parents, her three sisters, which sister is musically inclined in what way, that she herself had been learning to play the guitar in Muscat where she was from, and all kinds of other sundry details. She even wanted to jam with me, having heard that I play the guitar. She mentioned that she’d like to learn from me, but I told her that I didn’t know how to teach guitar, but I had the numbers of a couple of people who did. She seemed only to want to play / learn with me, so after some amount of convincing, she finally took the numbers I gave her, with a heavy look of disappointment. But that look disappeared behind a very sunny smile as she said goodbye and skipped off.

I turned around, and a feeling washed through me as if I had just been through a heavy impending ordeal, except in a good way. Sagar and Mayukhda sat a few feet away, on a circular portion of the katta built around a large tree. They both had conspiratorial grins on their faces, and as I walked upto them, Sagar asked excitedly, “Dude, your Stalker! You finally spoke to her! Tell us what happened man!”

“Her name is Kannika,” I said in a daze, the reason for which I have never understood.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Freakishly Faithful: Chapter 6 - Yukh and the तीन stalk

This one's a slightly shorter part than what you might have grown used to. Part 4, which will follow, is what I've been trying to get to since the end of Chapter 5!

Part 3

It was the day of our performance. Ruksana, ever the opportunist, had set up a joint meeting with some two other clubs. The audience was sizeable, and in my mind, that was fitting for a play of the likes of Laanat. For this meeting we’d booked a decently sized hall in the Vidyarthi Sahayak Samiti off Fergusson College Road, which was just as well, since Laanat involved a lot of screaming, a lot of physical hand-to-hand combat simulations, a good deal of falls and rolling around in the dirt, and generally total hysteria.

Back in the little room next to the hall, which served as our green room, the mood was somber. There was no make-up needed, and our costumes were restricted to a plain black t-shirt and blue jeans, what I like to call Laanat-wear. But we all needed our own psych-up rituals. Mayukhda sat brooding in the corner. Karan and Sagar were chatting about something. Ketan and Saurabh were expressing their apprehensions of performing in front of so many people. Rono alternated between partially stuttering to me that he was freaking out, and frenetically air-drumming to some heavy metal on his i-pod. And I sat hyperventilating.

Pretty soon one of the Club members peeked in and told us that the meeting was about to begin. We stood up for the National Anthem which marked the beginning of every Rotaract Meeting, and thereafter, while Ruksana began the usual formalities of welcoming the guest Rotaractors, I turned to the boys and said, “Guys, I know we’re probably all nervous. Performing in front of people is never easy. But we’ve practiced this play for a whole week now. We know the dialogues and sequences backwards. We’ve laughed our guts out over this play in practice, we’ve been hurt, cut and bruised, all for today. We know what this play has done to us, and so we know what we’re gonna do to those people out there. Let’s give them something that’ll blow them away!”

Evidently my little pep talk was adequate for the moment, as all the boys said “Yeah!” in muted tones, and Rono engaged in one of his violent bouts of shadow boxing before we took to the performance area (I’ve gotta ask him who won those bouts??).

What can I say about that performance? It was anything but uneventful. Rono told me later that the first time he turned towards the audience and said the first word of the play “Laanat”, something just galvanized in him, he apparently said to himself, “Fuck everything!!!” and threw himself into the play with confidence the likes of which he never believed he had. Ketan forgot his line at a point when each of us had to scream out a scathing news headline, and simply repeated the line of the guy before him, causing some slight humourous confusion at a point which was supposed to be rife with tension. Midway in the play, one of Rono’s flatmates in the audience suffered an epilectic seizure, and we had to spend a good amount of time trying to revive the guy. But in the end, after we were done with the play and our curtain call, and the floor was thrown open to questions, we all felt pretty vindicated when one of the guest Rotaractors managed to stammer out, “Wha… How… Who has wr.. wr.. written this p.. p.. play?” (I verified it later; that guy doesn’t normally stammer). I got my first ever Director’s standing ovation, the joint meeting was a big success because of the play, and when we had dispersed, I discovered that somebody had stuck a female sanitary napkin (thankfully unused) on my bike. Nothing like broadening one’s horizon with a pair of wings!

Veni. Vedi. Velcro.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Freakishly Faithful: Chapter 6 - Yukh and the तीन Stalk

Part 2

Mayukhda’s return was a relief during the lull phase at the beginning of Sem. 7, the time Karan was on vacation at home. My ‘Friends’ circle was little more than a dot, and I had practically stopped spending time with anyone else since I’d met Karan. Through a rather controversial result in the Pune University that year, several of my heretofore immediate seniors had suffered a year down, and poor Mayukhda found himself in that unfortunate company. In many ways, it was important for him and me to find each other, and our days went on peacefully, quietly, until Karan returned.

The Rotaract year was due to begin, and Karan and I were on board, on the Board of Directors to be precise. On the first meeting of the year, called the ‘Club Assembly’, all the Directors were to give a presentation on their respective portfolios and proposed projects. We were also supposed to bring as many new-member probables as possible to the meeting. So I took Mayukhda among others along (and only he remained to join the Club). Our inability to properly hook up a laptop to an LCD projector prophesised the times to (come considering how often thereafter we had the same problem), and Karan and I ended the evening crooning a KK number or two for a past President and Secretary of the Club, who were due to get married soon thereafter.

Much to our surprise, the Rotaract Club of Pune Ganeshkhind became a very involving hobby, so much so that it took up entirely too much time for the likes of Karan and me. We would be at Ruksana’s place almost daily, getting ready for the next project, preparing report after report, and doing a million things that only occasionally ever made sense to us. He would often take a few digs at me, saying I dragged him into it just to make Ruksana happy. But full access to Ruksana’s awesome Casio synthesizer, the prospect of fun, and at least one occasion when the writing on Seema’s T-shirt required a much (much) closer look by Karan’s myopic eyes, served to keep him satisfied most of the time.

I’d told Karan about “Laanat hai humpar” on one occasion before. He had been heavily into theatre in school, and had immediately seen the immense potential of the play. We’d decided that we would put up a performance for the Club, as one of Karan’s projects. The challenge lay in finding a suitable team of actors. The prospects in the Club itself were bleak at the time. Laanat needed men, and not just your garden variety biological specimens. This play needed elements of madness, a seminal rawness, an unabashed hilarity which laughed in the face of the world and, in turn, infused a lingering essence of its madness in the audience. Most of the guys in the Club lacked the sheer energy and spirit which this play demanded, and the girls were not eligible. So the search began.


My friendship with Karan had enabled me to meet several new people right from its inception. There were MJ, Shruti and Harleen, and Karan’s interest in one of them has been recounted in these writings earlier. There was Sachin, the amazing dancer and amateur choreographer, who even added a little element into one of my songs when he once heard me singing it, a little vocal touch that I have continued till date. There was KT, usually smoking Classic Milds at the corner table of the NCC in the evenings, Reddybhai riding around on his RD 350, or in his Santro with a baseball bat in the backseat. And then there was Sagar and Sanchali.

Sagar and Sanchali were both from Dubai and knew each other from there. They were doing their B.Com from Symbi, and were a fun twosome to hang around. When Karan disappeared into his quest for restoring life in Akruti’s lost soul, Sagar and Chali (as we called her), and a steady stream of Bensen & Hedges Lights served to remove any hovering monotony. They would regale me with their stories of Dubai and basketball, and Sagar even joined the Rotaract Club on a whim. He was tall, quite animated, amused at my sense of humour, and seemed generally enthusiastic. I recruited him in Team Laanat.


The reader will remember me mentioning that most of the guys in the Club were not really suited for Laanat. The operative word being ‘most’. Ketan was one of the Directors in the Board. He was an excellent self-taught percussionist, and had done great work with an old matka in my first song recording at Ruksana’s place that summer (the very same matka that Sam had played in Shaunak’s bedroom, to which I has started playing Wonderwall). For the most part, my impression from my very limited initial association with Ketan was that he was a squeaky clean chap, generally cheerful and energetic. I’d heard tales of his very humble roots in the little village of Barshi in the Solapur district of Maharashtra, of his old school with the broken benches and slaughtered English, of his sheer tenacity and determination to reach unknown milestones, his magnetic chocolate boy charm and the like. His parents were members of the Rotary in Barshi, and as a young teenager, he had gotten a rare opportunity to go for an International Student Exchange to Bolivia, and had brought back some videos. It usually took a lot to embarrass Katan, but on Ruksana’s insistence when he once revealed one of his little clips, his fair face did colour ever so slightly. The clip was taken in a dormitory or some such room with a few beds, and a bunch of teenage guys and girls making funny, and at points suggestive, noises. Ketan was on one of the beds under a think blanket, and one of the girls, a fair skinned goddess-in-the-making of perhaps Brazilian descent, had crawled into bed with him, the idea of the exercise apparently being to scandalize the poor Indian boy of rustic origin. However, Ketan (who, with his complexion and outlandish accent in the video, rather looked like a Spaniard himself) bravely held his own, figuratively speaking. The sheer ease with which he breezed through a situation that, under the circumstances, must have been rather hard on him (again figuratively speaking), in the background of his, well, background, was simply incredible.
I’d found my next Team Laanat member.


Aarambh 2005 had been one of the most important events of my young life. It was my first musical performance as an instrumentalist, I performed with an electric guitar for the first time ever, Karan and I did our own version of a Bengali song, and we all danced around like buffoons on stage before the entire B.Com and B.A. faculty and students to some terrible rap! But more than anything else, it got me introduced to those people who were to eventually become my best and closest of friends, with a brotherly affinity between us stronger than most blood-ties. I had been amazed at the sheer talent in some of those guys, especially since in some cases, it was not backed up with any formal training, but was still formidable enough to dazzle.

Rono’s entry into Aarambh and my life had been suitably dramatic. He rapidly proved to be a creature of utter craziness, a one-man guffaw-inducing hilariously animated anthropomorphic beast! His propensity for coming off like an apologetic clown, victimized by the ravages of an unforgiving (bad)luck-line, never failed to have us in splits! He had never done any acting before, but a good deal of convincing, a liberal dose of “Dude, the babes flip over a rugged street play actor (unconfirmed projection based on no empirical research whatsoever)”, and frequent bouts of shadow boxing and air-drumming on his part, served to psyche him up enough to agree to give it a go.
The circle was nearly complete.


Team Laanat needed seven actors. Rono, Ketan and Sagar were in. With Karan, Mayukhda and I thrown in, we were short of one member. Time was somewhat short, we had little over a week to put the whole thing together. We were sitting around in a hallway in Ruksana’s palatial bungalow, wracking our brains on who might be a suitable guy to complete the team, when Ketan suggested that we could look around among the various guys who stayed in the upper floors of Ruksana’s bungalow, which with all its spare space doubled as a paying guest accommodation. We saw little option otherwise, so Ketan went forth, and presently came back with Saurabh Jain, a generally reserved guy near about my age, with a maturity about him which spoke of a life lived and learned through experience. He was generally enthusiastic enough to be in the play, and we decided to take him in and immediately commence practice.

I was definitely glad for one thing. I was doing Laanat again, and I was watching a fresh crop of actors experiencing first hand the truly genuine odyssey of performing a play that seemed absurd on the face of it, but which was replete with a wonderful depth of meaning, capable of numerous interpretations, each more startling than the next. As the script, and the innate spirit within it, began to envelop us all, growing with us as we gave our own touches to it at every turn, I once again remembered the joy with which I first performed this play, under the revered leadership of Chauhan, the cuts and bruises which I always felt so proud of after every performance, the little blood shed in each fight and violent roll on the ground in the action sequences, the hush of awe as we would take our final bow, and then the thunderous applause as we would walk off the performing area.

After a gap that seemed entirely too long, once again, Laanat lived…

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Chapter 6 : Yukh and the तीन-Stalk

Part 1
Summers in Pune are sleepy. The city was pretty much a sleepy city anyhow, although in the last few years, the appeal of Pune has shifted from its rheumatic paradigm of a retirement destination to a far more vibrant and youthful ‘Oxford of the East’ and an IT hub. But the summers don’t change. The heat is a dry scorcher, and the sun on your neck feels like having one of those rubber hot water bottles fitted over an acetylene flame, kept on an itchy laceration (alright, not quite as bad as that! I love Pune). Even the women, muffled up in their stoles and dupattas to resemble strange bike riding bandits, are wary of venturing out into the burning afternoons (some of them are actually riding manual – geared bikes now, instead of the usual Scooty and Kinetic variations! And no, they don’t wear sheer leather on any occasions, rendering any possibility of the seminal sexiness of a biker babe a total nullity). During the holiday afternoons, people usually have nothing to do outside, and little to do at home. So they sleep.

But the Summer of 2005 was anything but a pseudo-slumber. Most of that summer had been spent in Ruksana’s study recording music on her computer with a big gang including Shaunak, Sam, Jeetu and a few others. And the last week of May was a breezy holiday in Anzarle, culminating into one of my best songs to date, and the beginning of my second heavy duty fall for Ruksana.

Semester 7 began in Symbi Law with a promise that had been absent since the beginning of Second Year for me. If there was no Sidharth Chauhan to grace our campus anymore (ah, the legendary Chauhan!), there was now Kunwar Karan Pratap Singh Chauhan to shake things up a bit (Trivia alert - Yes, that’s his full name!!). My Sem. 6 Marksheet was devastating considering my record in Sem. 5. I’d managed to just about scrape through in two subjects, with a relatively decent score in the others. Damn you, Karan!!!

I had decided that I’d attend those bloody 7:30 a.m. lectures that year, as I’d been promising to do since my Second Year, with the inevitable result. Still, although my desperate efforts at getting to college on time failed too frequently, I would at least attend one or two lectures in college. One day in the first week of college, as I was leaving the classroom area for the day, towards the NCC, also for the day, I heard a vaguely familiar voice call out almost sotto voce, “Hey dude…”

I turned around, and there stood, with a sheepish half smile, the broad figure of Mayuhda.

Mayukh Roy. Upto that morning my senior by education, upto this day my peer at heart. I had known Mayukhda since my First Year, although the epithetical suffix ‘Da’ was added to his name only much later. Our first ever interaction, if indeed it could be called that, was a barrage of semi-angry argumentative statements made to me outside the Library Reading Hall in my First Year, for disagreeing with the views of Sidharth Chauhan on the Novice Moot Court case (the statements had made little sense then, and have been forgotten now). Thereafter, we only really ever interacted in the December of that year, before Mood Indigo, the IIT Bombay Fest. By a stroke of luck, or an attack of jaundice, whichever way you want to look at it, a member of the Street Theatre team going to ‘Mood I’ had to back out at nearly the last minute, and I found myself joining in as a replacement, doing my first proper street play under the able guidance of Chauhan, with good old Mayukhda in the team (for the sake of convenience, and with fitting reverence, Sidharth Chauhan will hereinafter, and on two occasions heretofore, be, and was, referred to as ‘Chauhan’ {yeah, I know, that was painful}).

Mayukhda and I bonded on the ground of us both being misfits. In his case, his relatively small town upbringing hadn’t fully trained him to understand the dynamics of all the low-waist jeans of Symbi Law, and my excuse was that I was too much of an introvert to fraternize. Towards the end of my First Year, when Chauhan decided to make a street play based on a series of monologues, Mayukhda and I, along with a few others, became a part of something exceptionally important to the lives of us all and several others. “Laanat hai humpar” was born, a labour of love, a creation of madness, a play that defined us all, one that changed us forever.

But then Mayukhda disappeared after my Second Year. Fell off the grid, he did. A period he refers to as his ‘Hibernation’. And it was on that morning, in the first week of my Fourth Year, that Mayukhda, consigned till then to a bygone memory, came back into my life.