Travels through India

This is a story about three great cities, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bangalore


Chapter 6

After the activities of the day, which for three normally-lazy people was a considerable achievement, dinner turned out to be a quiet affair. Hotel New Bengal had a typical Muslim-joint operated by some close relative of the owner of the hotel itself, and served decent food. Tarun was pleasantly surprised by a rather novel dish, called Chicken White, which predictably, had white gravy; and looked greasy but felt wholesome. In other words, he thought, the perfect combination, and smiled silently. Of course, the laid-back somber attitude of the waiters felt like a godsend after the egotistical behavior in Café Ideal in the evening. The bustle of Greater Mumbai had reduced by the time they left the restaurant, and the street almost looked different. A few drunken revelers could be seen in the distance, looking into a manhole and laughing at each other. Beside the subway, Tarun could see a piece of fluttering cloth, and wondered aloud – “Strands of a silk sari. A hooker, for sure…

Of course, Subho had to reply – “Let’s go check her out.”

“And what if she wants to come home with us?” asked Anup.

“We’ll just check her out. Not get her back, simple.” Subho’s plan sounded simple, but accustomed as Tarun was with such behavior at night, through literature and poignant examples, decided it was high time to put a dampener on the proceedings – “Guys, guys!!! We have an office to go to tomorrow, and if I remember correctly, we are supposed to reach at nine-thirty. It's not nice to be late on the very first day, right?”

“Is that a question or a general wondering?” asked Subho.

“That’s more like an assertion”, said Tarun, peeved but smiling – “I meant, we shouldn’t be late. You can go check her out and do whatever you want. Me – I shall go back to the room, and lie down on the bed, and stare at the fan. It’s great fun…”

Spoilsport”, muttered Subho, under his breath, as he followed a smiling Anup and a quirky Tarun up the stairs. “We need to buy cell-phones soon. Did you guys call up home?” he asked suddenly.

“Yep”, said Anup, as Subho kept prodding him through subcutaneous layers of fat.

“I think I’ll go make a call. You guys carry on”, said Tarun, having managed, albeit a bit laboriously – to squeeze through the limited space between Anup and the railing.

“Why were you poking me?” asked Anup as they climbed the stairs.

“Which reminds me”, said Subho, laughing foolishly – “We had a teacher who couldn’t pronounce the ‘p’, so all his words would sound funny. And poking, ha ha ha, sounded like fucking.”

“That IS funny. And we thought you couldn’t come up with a joke like that…” mumbled Anup, irritated.

“Who’s Tarun calling?” asked Subho.

“Home, I suppose. Last I knew he did not have a girlfriend. When you go to new places, there are normally two kinds of people you call, parents and girlfriend. Since he does not have a girlfriend, I assume he is calling his parents…”

“Didn’t he go out with some female in college? I heard they were quite close”, said Subho, drawing his hands together till they were touching, and smiling lewdly.

“Again, that was supposed (and note the word ‘supposed’) to be a platonic relationship. Ah, how does it matter anyway? Even if they were fucking around like minx, it wouldn’t really change the situation anyway would it?”

“There’s no such thing as a platonic relationship. Seen When Harry met Sally?” asked Subho, having put the key in the lock and turned it in the wrong direction several times. As is the case with minds which are averse to parallel processing of any kind, Subho concentrated on the lock, and finally did open the door. “As I was saying, platonic relationships don’t exist, and if they do, they are never close relationships. The reason a relationship becomes close is mutual attraction; and in some cases – one-sided attraction. The one-sided cases are pretty rare, though…”

“And what about the relationship between brothers and sisters?” asked Anup, leaning on the door. “They are platonic, I assume. Or are they driven by attraction, mutual as you say?”

“Don’t talk rubbish. The bro-sis thing is something built over years. The point I am trying to make is that – it doesn’t fall into the same category. Plus, incest does happen…”

“And THAT is like the most common thing in the whole world”, smiled Anup, as he flopped into his bed with a resounding thump, and opened the lousy thriller he was reading to its lousy three-hundredth page. “I can’t believe this guy can write such tripe.”

Sidney Sheldon, right? I wonder how people read his books... And to think that he was such a rage when we were in school… of course half the people read it for the steamy scenes which he would put in at regular intervals… Which reminds me – Polly was reading The other side of Midnight in class, when he was caught by the teacher…”

“Who’s Polly?” queried Anup, placing the book on the bed, and sitting up.

“Never mind! He was just another friend. The point is he was caught, the teacher said – ‘This is educative, no?’ And you should have seen Polly’s face, ha ha ha; he would put a cartoon to shame. The saddest part, of course, (or the funniest part, really) was that he was made to read out the concerned passage to the entire class. Thank goodness, the school wasn’t co-ed. Polly would probably have killed himself, had it been so…”

“Other side of midnight did have some steamy scenes. Wasn’t it about the woman who was betrayed by three men; and then she took revenge by having sex with each one and learning their secrets?”

“Don’t all his stories have the same plot? Should roll one na?” asked Subho, smacking his lips obsessively.

“We have to wake up early. Shouldn’t we just go to sleep?”

“OK. Let’s wait for Tarun, and then we can have a majority on either side. Deciding is much easier that way…”

***

Tarun’s call home turned out to be similar to most of his calls from college, the only difference being that his mom’s voice sounded anxious and worried. ‘Eat properly’, ‘Don’t stay out late!’, ‘Always go around with your friends’, ‘Does the hotel have clean bathrooms?’, ‘Where are you eating’ and numerous questions on the same vein were dealt with and answered appropriately.

The next call was to his friend Neha, who was unfortunately still in college clearing the one course she flunked in the final semester. Neha was one of his better friends throughout college, less concerned with rumors, and at several points of time, he had wondered if he was actually falling in love with her. In time, alcohol and marijuana would quench the flames and he would realize the futility of it all. Love's labours lost, he would wonder and get stoned all over again.

He was forced to cut the line when there was no answer after he had counted fifteen rings. He paid the guy at the phone-booth, stepped out and stood on the pavement in front of the hotel gate. Having lit a cigarette, he inhaled deeply as he stared at the halogen lights in the distance lighting up the flyover which landed just in front of VT station. Traffic had thinned down to a meagre trickle by now and the street looked a distant memory of itself, clean, smoke-less and devoid of the continual honking and trilling. The drunken revelers who had been looking inside the manhole and laughing had all gone away, presumably to miniature homes in makeshift slums to argue with their wives and fall into drunken sleep. The same set of people would wake up in the morning the next day, get dressed immaculately and become a part of the mad rush that is Mumbai. The strands of the hooker’s sari could not be seen; presumably she had assured clientele for herself too. The paan-waala was winding up his business, collecting his wares and locking them up. Tarun wondered if he should have a paan; then decided against it. He smiled at the man as he trundled off into the distance; the man smiled back – innocently and devoid of deceit. Perhaps this was the famed spirit of Mumbai. Tarun felt pleased. His mind felt clear, and he realized that in this mad city, the constant jabber of Subho, and the chilly nonchalance of Anup were just things he needed to get used to, just like he had been doing all his life. His apprehensions took a backseat. Tarun stubbed out the half-smoked cigarette and walked back into the hotel.

3 Responses to “Chapter 6”

  1. # Anonymous Aru

    Neha , ahem ahem  

  2. # Blogger NightWatchmen

    Monday morning blues do get eliminated on reading the next Chapter :)

    Sidney Sheldons, well something I was never able to figure out as to why the gals loved it so much, till I figured out that everyone of the books has a bandi as the protagonist, vicarious pleasures I guess. Though I am wondering whether the whole thing wouldnt have been much funnier had the school been co-ed.

    Funniest part trying to open the lock while expositioning on platonic relationships, man that was funny.  

  3. # Anonymous Sandy

    @Aru: Do you perchance know who Neha is??? ;)

    @TK: Thank you very much  

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