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.