Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Kaavya: V (Second last in this series)

The Maggie boiled on, as did the tea. I had a few minutes to think but my head was full of noises. Where is Ruchi? What happened here? Why was Varun so anxious on the phone? I called Varun, and found him awake. He urged me to stay back and put Kaavya at ease. He was too agitated, but said that if Kaavya had called for me, it meant she had some sense left. He said he would tell me stuff, but I should hear her version first. I think I convinced him to sleep. But I doubt he could have dozed off in that state.

While Gandharav Gandhi was a rich kid, Varun Bhardwaj was a son of a poor, dead father. His Police Inspector father was taken by the bullet of a terrorist, leaving him fatherless when he was only fourteen. Gandharav’s father was the SP (Superintendent of Police) in command, and even though he was corrupt himself, he respected Bhardwaj for his honesty. His mother had obtained the job as an office clerk, thanks to the policy of the government that provides a job to a member of employee in active service, and Mr. Gandhi’s active interest in the case.

Varun was the eldest of three siblings, and knew within his heart that he needed to provide for the education and marriage of his two younger sisters. He had come to United States with the aim of finishing with a quick MS and finding the highest paining job. In school, he had thrived on various scholarships. After his selection into the engineering college he paid for his education using money he earned by being a private tutor for four students. Gandharav’s father paid for the room for two years that Varun and Gandharav shared when they were preparing for the engineering entrance, and were in pre-college school. Varun was vaguely aware of this, though his mother had denied it, for she knew he was too much like father, who would die of hunger rather than take even a penny from anyone.

Gandharav’s parents loved Varun like their own son, and knew that his company had ensured that their son, in spite of himself, studied and cleared the engineering entrance. Gandharav owned the guitar that Varun had mastered. Gandharav bought the books, Varun read them. Gandharav fell in love every week, Varun gave him choicest dialogues to impress the girls, for somehow Varun read the pulse of girls quite well. Gandharav would sometimes drink a bit too much, and whenever he did so, he insisted on going home to Varun. Varun would nurse him through the night, cleaning away the vomit, listening to Gandharav’s incessant talk about “how a certain bitch had behaved” or about “how he will kill Ms Paramjit Kaur, the widowed teacher whose his father was long rumored to have a illicit relationship with, though outwardly she tied him Rakhi every year”. When they would eat out, (Varun would come only once in blue moon), Gandharav always insisted on paying saying he owed Varun a hypothetical treat for this or that. Poor Varun found a remedy to this by refusing most of the invites. During their Ragging in the undergraduate college, Gandharav had bailed Varun out from hands of tormenting seniors, by taking upon himself to entertain them with his limitless supply of Little Johnny and non-veg jokes.

Living with Gandharav and Varun meant that I became aware of their several secrets, stories and idiosyncrasies. The friendship that Varun and Gandharav shared was marred by these weeks where they would only mumble the most necessary trivia to each other. They resented each other with the depth of the passion that they had for each other during the happier weeks. Any trifle could set them on this war path. Then with some intense effort on my part, I put them together. Rather, my attempt was only an excuse, for both were in some sense incomplete without each other. Even in those times, they would cook on their respective turns, Varun would wake Gandharav up in the morning, and Gandharav would go through the motion of making evening tea for all of us. After days of separation, they would then meet like long separated lovers. They would hug, sometimes shed some tears and in days that followed would behave as if they were inseparable twins. I often hummed the song from Amitabh movie: Kab ke bichre hue hum aaj kahan aa ke milay (We separated from dunno when/ah see where we meet again) at their highly melodramatic reunions.

When Gandharav had an accident in third year of their undergraduate study, Varun missed his final examination to take him to the hospital. The professor gave him a C, due to which he missed out on President’s Gold Medal. He never said anything about it to anyone. They both had improvised this special chappal dance, done by holding their bathroom slippers as dandiya sticks, swaying their heads and jumping around an imaginary fire like adivasis and singing, “Hum bewafa hargiz na thay (we weren’t unfaithful at all)” and going on in unison with “furr furr” as was in the song. Especially after a few shots of Vodka, the song dance sequence seemed surreal and ended with all of us falling upon each other laughing. When they both went mountain biking, they would sing Queen’s “I want to ride my bicycle” in highest pitch, with words sung in pronounced North Indian English accent. In moments like these, I was an outsider, but I was always too overwhelmed by their field of happiness and laughed heartily with them. Everyone else present got infected by their joviality too.

Kaavya sat pondering about something. The Maggi noodles and tea vanished in a flash. We had walked out of the house, for Kaavya felt that the house was stifling her and sat near the pond in a park near the university. She complained that the bathe always soothed her, but today she felt only more scared and uncomfortable. It is hard to bath when your eyes are overwhelmed with tears. She had taken hold of my hand, and asked me if she was allowed to hold it tight and close. She proceeded to lift it to her heart, and we sat through a silence of few minutes. Her heartbeat against my hand thumped louder than my own heartbeat, and finally she stated the following in a clear, measured tone.

“I came here three months back and as you might remember, you, Varun and Ruchi came to pick me up. You were the first three friends that I made. Then at your home I met Gandharav, and since he was your apartment-mate, and Varun’s legendary friend, I talked to him even more openly and easily than I had talked to Varun and you initially. He has his charm, and he is a capital dancer. But I have no feelings for him, and he has none for me either. We both agree that we are not each other’s type. Plus he loves respects and admires Varun like he does no other, and he calls him his gentlemanly half. I think last week, he said something to Varun, for which Varun slapped him. I found out about it the very next day, for Gandharav came to apologize to me. Of course, he never told me why, and he insisted that he will tell Varun at the right time.”

“My goodness”, I said. “Go on.”

“You guys think that we girls were born yesterday and cannot distinguish between who respects us and who doesn’t. You think we are morons who can be won over by some stupid gifts or plagiarized poems. You think our actions are crafted to either seduce favors from you or to keep you interested in us. You chase us with sweet words, niceties, showing pompous promises, giving chivalrous excuses for opening the door here, you offer knight-like dedication, and you avow all this is just the way you are, your characteristic way of showing friendship. You insist that it is so, try to believe in it and want us to believe in it, and of course, either way you call the women the heartbreaker. Guess what mister; it is too easy for you guys to hold both your heartbreaks and your successes as mementoes and it won’t make any difference to your future prospects. We have to bear the brunt of your actions and your propaganda. A female’s reputation is destroyed so easily, a male with a bad name only rises higher.”

My hand had been released while she had this outburst. I knew that it wasn’t the right moment for me to dispute the allegations, and listened with a patience that only writers can have. “Everyone accuses me of flirting with too many people. What do I do, I ask the girls? The girls announce, that I encourage the guys or that I don’t act to announce a winner soon enough. Why am I supposed to pick between them who have fallen for me? Why can’t have the luxury of falling for someone myself and hoping he accepts me? The girls dismiss this with a smile that infuriates me, for it says that I will live and learn. The guys, each one wants to show that he is better than the other. The same actions done by them that are justified by the argument of “Crazy little thing called love” are considered a mark of deceit and conceit when they come from the others.”

“We gals are considered inconsistent and indecisive, and all my experience with men tells me they are weak, selfish and egoists. Why is my trying to have a good time, say a nice lunch or dinner, or watching a movie or play, considered flirting? I am usually just driven by the activity, and the person, as long as he creates no trouble is of secondary importance. But every man wants to be at the center of the world. Even when he knows how I think, he does not accept the facts, the reality. And then, we girls are termed romanticists. We are called dreamers. It is all also unfair. You are all the same. You are really, all of you are just Male Chauvinist Pigs.”

My lips were pursed in an uncomfortable way, and eyebrows knotted in disapproval. She looked at my expression, looked as if she did not know who I was and why I was there. Then she collected herself, and said, “Ok! I am coming to the story now. I am too pissed with how people blame me for everything. Take the case of Rishi. Everyone tells me he was so jolly and outgoing before he became obsessed with me. He was known to give these gala dinner parties, where two dozen Indians and others collected together for weekly entertainment. You know all that, and you took me to one of those.

It was first time that I found that someone liked Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Basu Chatterjee movies as much as I did. He remembered every movie, every song, every dialogue that I so treasured. Then we loved the same old songs, the same old television serials formed our shared nostalgia. He did not mention any book-shook that day. (She smiled and flushed, and then reverted to angry, but pained tone). Next day I ran into him, while coming back from a class, and he invited me for a coffee and I accepted.

He was quite funny initially. But them some ghost seized him. He started becoming so irritated at the mention of any guy, that so many of our coffee conversations ending up as arguments. Then he would come to my house and just wait for my return to apologize. Every time he would promise that he trusts me and he has no objections to anyone. Sometimes I gave in to his tears, sometimes he won me over with display of his former self. But of course, as we all know, he has become so obsessed with this idea of being with me at every opportunity that now he sits in a state of perpetual readiness like doctors on a war duty. I cannot spend all my time with him.

He has become so unstable, that even my best attempts cause pain to both of us. On top of it, everyone either asks me to cut him off completely, or cut everyone else off. Is that possible? I respect him for certain qualities he has, and I can believe that he was not like this earlier, but Vivek, on present analysis, I cannot bring myself to match his passion or affection. I have to be purposefully rude to him, though I treasure his friendship, his care. But he seems like a dog, who keeps wagging its tail, and even after your kick him and shout at him, returns to your door for food, with the same pitiful look, and same wagging tail. Oh God! I don’t think of him like that, but he leaves me with no choice, and mind you, I love dogs. I know you hate them, but lets not get into that.

Then on this Valentine’s day, Varun and Gandharav had their annual “Only for broken hearts singing drinking party.” I know you had finished your own date with Ruchi at seven in the evening to join them. I wanted to sit alone at home. I had refused Pathan, the Pakistani who somehow thinks his Urdu Nazms can bridge over the differences and animosity in our communities and country. I had laughed off Mahadev’s suggestion of going to dance club with him, and guess what, Kulkarni had sent me those dozen roses that I lied came from my distant cousin Vikrant.

Vikrant, who I have had portrayed as one distant, distant cousin who was head over heels with me, is my extremely affectionate cousin, and cares for me as a brother must. He knows all about the fiascoes here and he asked me to misuse his name to stop the bother. Of course, I never thought what I mentioned to you and Ruchi would reach Varun and Rishi so easily. Anyhow, I was sitting quite melancholy that day at home and then Rishi came all dressed up. I saw how much that evening meant to him and I guess I was too bored and displeased with the idea of spending my first Valentine’s day in US all alone. I hadn’t the heart to refuse him the dinner he asked me out for. All through the evening he fumbled, mumbled and made such an entertaining fool of himself. I wish I could do something for him, but at present he is in a state that arouses a mixture of fear, guilt, pity and confusion in me. He leaves these half sentences hanging in air, and I can well guess how they can be completed, but for our mutual sanity and peace, I purposefully ignore them. Who asked him to get into such madness?

But let us not talk about him for the moment. Oh! That cursed Varun! (She broke into sobs now.) How he broke my heart today! How could he say all that he said? All this while I considered him as the only understanding and sensible fellow! Everything is so messed up. I cannot sit here and cry on like this. (She sat up wiping her tears, and yet shaking all the same.) Plus it is getting chilly and these university cops have already passed by us twice. Let us go back to the apartment and talk there. What time is it anyway?” I saw the time. It was four am.

We reached home, walking very silently again. I was going over whatever she had said so far. I thought that like most girls do, she spent too much time on talking about trivial details. She hadn’t told me squat about what happened that night. Ruchi wasn’t back yet. Kaavya mentioned that she’ll tell me something about why Ruchi was graduating in December after I hear her story to the end. I did not press the issue.

We again sat down on the couch, and she sprinted through rest of the details before breaking down into soft sobs again. But she was too tired to cry for long and by five she decided to go to bed. I was asked to sleep on the couch, for she was scared that she would wake up and start crying again. As I lay down thinking about what she told just me (and it appears in the next episode, which is last, the finale in Kaavya series), I heard key being turned in the doorknob. I covered myself with the bedsheet, and I was planning to scare Ruchi by suddenly jumping off the couch. I heard a drunk Ruchi enter through the door with Gandharav and Mahadev. Kaavya’s outburst and events that led to it were still ablaze in my heart, when what I heard this whispered talk that annihilated a whole realm of my understanding and existance.

1 comment:

Blue Athena said...

Go on! This is moving fine. :)