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
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.
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
“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.
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’…