I cannot pretend it did not hurt. No I am not talking about the 4-2 drubbing from Pakistan in the recently concluded ODI series. That hurt too. But what I am referring here is to not being shortlisted among the top 60 (yes 60 !) in the India Smiles contest organized by Sulekha.
I did not think my entry was that bad. But oh well…..
In any case, here is my entry—-since now it has been kicked out from the competition.
Did you put the kids to bed? Oh the lawn…I am sorry I will do it when I get home” Chinmoy whispered to his wife on the cell phone.
But not hushed enough because we all heard it.
Rahul yelled —“Dude, what’s the deal—are you a man or a mouse? We are all here together—-the boys of 1999, a guyâ€™s night-out, and there you are calling base-camp and shriveling in front of your wife. Pathetic”.
Rahul—-the macho man. He never tires of saying how much fitter and stronger he has become (with a body fat percentage of 7.6, measured through bio-inductance no less) ever since he came to US where he has been pumping iron, gulping protein shakes, and scoring with ladies left and right (that of course was what he claimed).
He continued: â€œAnd that’s why I never want to get married…why buy the entire bar when you justwant a drink? Look at you guys—how about Samir? His wife is pregnant and looking at his paunch it seems he is carrying the baby. Well at least he is here…. most of the other married men did not even show up—what’s their problem— do they think we are going to hit on their wives?”
“I am sure you would try given half a chance. The fact is that wives distance men from their friends. It’s their way of keeping control. Soon it’s only the wife’s friends and relatives who you call your own.”
That was Gabloo, our resident philosopher, inveterate smoker and needless to say a bachelor for life. There were hushed whispers that he was gay but then all of us had borne that cross one time or the other. He was stretched out on the carpet, looking at the ceiling and puffing wisps of frustration into the air.
Sandeep tried to change the subject—“Hey guys we are getting off-topic—-so Brotish tell us more about your bride hunting?” This was Sandeep, the meterosexual of our batch with a sense of fashion his very own. In other words, he was the only person who thought he was fashionable. He claimed to have a resemblance to Salman Khan (it seems his mom told him that) but behind his back we used to call him “Salma Khan” mostly for his sartorial sense.
The center of all attraction this evening was Brotish. Always meticulous in everything, be it studies or looking for a wife, he had done the whole”matrimonial” rigmarole—ads on websites, collating through hundreds of “matches”, doing “phone interviews” and then being on the road. From New York to San Francisco he had scoured the land looking for the “one ring” and now he was experimenting with truth as he detailed his escapades.
“Ah yes where was I? So this girl I met would you believe she looked just like Rani Mukherjee. I asked her “Will you look after my parents?” She said “yes”. I asked her “Do you like to salsa?” She said “yes”. I asked her “Do you want to settle in India”. She said “yes”. Whatever I asked her, she kept on saying “yes”.
Rahul yelped:” A girl who looks like Rani Mukherjee and who says “yes”always—-what is your problem?”
“Arre idiot, someone who says all “yes” before marriage is saving up all her “no”s for after the wedding. I am not such a fool.” Brotish said knowingly casting a glance at Chinmoy.
While this was going on, Barna (also known as Porno) had slipped quietly beside me.
“Eh look here I need some advice. See you are the only married person I can ask this question. I mean how do you—how do you—I mean clearup “those things” with your wife before you get married? ”
Ahhh geez. I knew this was coming sooner or later. Barna has always been obsessed with the birds, bees and anything with wings. With an air of leering earnestness he continued:” You know meâ€¦ I have always hadthese…. desires. But do you know how to…you know…approach this topic…in arranged marriage” His words were becoming disjointed not because he was a bashful man reticent in talking about his “desires” but because the drinks were getting to his head.
I mumbled some claptrap about understanding and about the metaphysical aspects of married love that elevates it above the crudity he was alluding to. After all what was he expecting from me—honesty? Heavens no I am married!
Some of my friends had quietly slipped into drunken oblivion—-Debiprasad or Devdas was snoring away on the couch. Ever since college, this man’s other name is romantic tragedy—-every year his heart would get broken and heal and get broken again and we had to sit through his long-winded sob stories which always used to end with “I shall never love again.” Yeah right! Today at least he was out for the count.
The pleasant buzz of conversation was disturbed by our batch’s conscience-keeper and champagne socialist, Sailesh shouting:” Millions are dying all around the world of wars fuelled by corporations. The unbridled economic liberalization in India has sharpened the gap between the haves and the have-nots, “India Shining” is a just a political slogan and here you are talking about marriage and girls…. god don’t you guys have any other topic of conversation?”
The guilty silence that followed was broken by Rahul saying, “No actually we don’t”. With this one sentence the wind had been taken out of the sails of Sailesh and he sat there deflated and sullen for the rest of the evening.
Though I tactfully remained silent, I agreed with Sailesh in spirit. Here we are–professionals, senior graduate students—mature people who should be discussing.. well.. important things. And what were we doing? We were having the same discussions we used to have in first year. Granted being part of an engineering batch that had no members of the opposite sex may have contributed to our current state—approaching thirty most of us still found women as mysterious as when we were eighteen. Sad but true.
Marriage had taken away that mystery for me (or so I like to think) and I felt different.
There was one person sitting at the corner who also had changed–Animesh, mimic extraordinaire and livewire. Yet all through this evening he had said almost nothing. I knew why. It had all started with a practical joke—a gigantic plot involving a few of us that entailed creating a fictitious person (a girl of course) on a popular chat site and then me chatting with him pretending to be that girl. The only problem is that he fell in love with me. And when he came to know the truth he put all the blame at my door because I used to do the “correspondence”—even though in my defense I could say that the idea was not entirely mine and we were all morally responsible. Ever since that incident, we had not talked except perfunctorily and today my main reason for coming here was that I wanted to say sorry.
I felt I had taken advantage of our friendship. My intimate knowledge of his weaknesses gleaned from our long association had helped me to draw him towards me. (I know this sounds real weird but well such was the situation). Everything in the world was looking up —I just had a phone interview with a company I have always wanted to work for—I did not tell any of my friends of course—that would have to wait till after I get the job. The only thorn in my happiness was that I had lost a friend due to my inability to realize that behavior that is acceptable in college is rank insensitivity once you come out of it.
And I needed my friends. In a world that I progressively understood lessof, as I grew older, they were like time capsules harking me back to an era when things were much more simple. True there has been some hair loss, some weight gain and some additional emotional baggage but hey as they say the more things change the more they stay the same. And now in the midst of this warm fuzziness, all I had to do was make peace with my old friend.
I did not like the new quiet Animesh—I wanted my old friend back—theone who would lead conversations and pull off the most outlandish gags.
“Animesh there is something I have to tell you.”
Animesh smiled tiredly. He said, “Yes me too”.
I said, “Me first. I just want to say sorry and I hope we can be friends again.”
He smiled and said, “Yes me too. By the way how was your telephone interview? You sure sounded nervous. Sorry for that too…. fooled you with my American accent didn’t I?”