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…