NOTE: This is something I wrote when a friend and hostel-mate of mine called me, around two years ago, drunk on alcohol and nostalgia. He told me, nearly ordered me to write something about us, as a batch-maybe a story, maybe a memoir. I had set about the task with some ardour, but the final result ended up being a chimera. Now that I read it, I wonder how much of this stuff was real, and how much of it made-up (inspite of the pompous ‘claimer’ in the beginning). I suppose it doesn’t really matter now.
A CAVEAT: I have not bothered to transcribe some of the ‘dialogue’ into English. I suppose everyone has had an experience approximating the experiences mentioned here. So it shouldn’t be too difficult to substitute things you, or your friends might have said in such situations. I daresay it doesn’t obstruct the flow of the narrative, clunky as it is.
CLAIMER: This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any person, living,dead,maimed or otherwise indisposed, is NOT co-incidental. It is INTENTIONAL.
So we all had to come back together. To mourn a death in the family.
All of us were pretty uncomfortable,sitting there, sneaking glances at each other,waiting to see who would make the first move. Some of us had brought family along. Bored wives, howling kids,drivers in cars parked outside,impatient to get a move on.
All of us were there,though. All except the one we had come here for.
How strange it is that now,15 years after we left together,after drunken promises of “touchot thakibi be”,and “biat matibi kintu”,”prothom salary party k*&a ekeloge korim be!!” and “reunions man!! Every freakin’ year!!!”,we were all here,sitting slightly sheepishly and maybe a bit embarrassed about the memories coming back to us about this place… Some of us were happy and hugely successful, some unhappy with 4 kids and a divorce to handle,some of us sold insurance, most of us had nothing much but grey hair and wrinkles to show for ourselves. All of us had our little universes,spinning around us,and we were puppet-master wannabes, trying desperately to get a grip, establish a measure of control.
We all looked so ordinary,so mortal. And yet,15 years ago, at this very spot,we were kings.
……There were 19 of us, when we had started out,all these years ago. Full of the baggage of our parent’s fears and wishes, our insecurities,our pride,our dreams. A lot of luggage to lug around,weighing us down,making us aware,paradoxically,both of our ability and our pathetic inadequacies. We were all from different places, and even for those who knew each other from someplace else,it was like a sudden,unwanted intrusion by a horde of strangers into our personal cocoons.
We probably hated each other at first sight.
To be alive in those times was bad enough,but to be alive, AND young,was pure hell. Introductions took a long time,and almost all were unwanted. Brought on by a sudden encounter in the bathrooms of N.V block(do they have lights there now? Come to think of it,do they have WATER there now?),or on being rudely interrupted in the midst of a well-deserved cigarette surreptitiously smoked, the intros were abrupt,uncomfortable. We stared at each other,like cagey prize-fighters,with a million questions floating around in our heads. And then suddenly…
1.) “lighttu b@@l bohut jai be iat. Kaisa moh!!”,or
2.) “ baalti ase?/ Saabun?/ Shampoo?/ Shaving cream?”,or maybe
3.) “tumar cell’ot network ase neki? Ghorole phone eta koribole asile…”,and the ultimate ice-breaker,
You tend to start liking people who share their tobacco(in any form) with you. You tend to make friendships that last. That’s the only reason why that stuff might not be injurious to your health….
“you still smoke the same crap do you?”
“hey,manuh change hoi jai,style change nohoi.bol,okoman durole jau. Manuhjonie phuki thoka dekhile pitibo. Porohi x-ray koraisilu he”
“ tur hosakei style change hua nai. Maikir jutar tolotei thakibi.oi,does the mrs. know that the spot where she is sitting is the very spot where you used to make out with…eh…naamtu ki asil be?”
“heisob case je etia nulabi aru!!boi jaau,kiman bosor hoi gol be. Where are you now?khobor khati nai Biatu nepatiliei….roh,——–oku maati diu.??”
“xi cigarette khai janu..aru Topar murot suli keneke gojil be???”
“heh,toi je hosakei bohut din contactot nai…taar bohut case…”…
Yep, sometimes those things aren’t injurious to health.
……her name started with a B. I think.
Third semester is a time for love. and heartbreak. Of slyly trying to send an SMS in the middle of a party,or getting up to receive a call to shouting,berating,and colorful cursing. The dilemma of trying to duck under the window of your seat,as you go to Panbazar with the supposed “love of your life”,hoping your hostel-mates sitting outside don’t see you and emit hoots of delighted depravity,on the one hand,and the fear that seeing her going alone would let loose the wolves in all of them,and wouldn’t that hurt your machismo!. The wondrous times you spend together that tell you that Einstein was,infact,right about relativity,and the wondrous phone bills,that tell you that Newton was also correct about his IIIrd law. The moment when your “break-up” becomes just another reason to go and get drunk again, while your batch-mates try to put on a serious, solicitous face,and offer you good, solid ‘advice’ (“tai je omuka tomuka,toi je bohut bhal suali pabi,taai postabo sabi”,and other platitudes),while quickly ordering more chicken and beer. Kings of good times,all of them. Broken bottles and a boozy bus-ride later,you are back home. and all of the hurt and hormonal anguish is forgotten.
Home, and you have a family to welcome you,to protect you,to make you laugh. It takes a moment of very juvenile sadness to get to moments of very deep happiness and relief like this. To learn life. To grow up.
…….”bhabai nasilu be eneke hoi jabo buli.gom pua hole agotei ahi kiba eta…”
“phone korisili janu taak ketiaba?”
“nai,but…..facebookot ketiaba pai goisilutu….kotnu iman time pai be? Toi kene gom paali?”
“ my phone wasn’t working…I came to know through FB myself….”
And the regret and the shame cover us like a shroud, like the shroud that covers the body of a friend I once knew everything about.
…….. The Bhagawat Gita of hostel life is 1 word-ADJUSTMENT.
Abdul Kalam’s “Ignited Minds”,and Shiv Khera’s “YOU CAN WIN” go down the drain,as you realize sometimes you just can’t. the “bodmaas lora” whose “xongo” your mom told you to avoid? They’re all here. And they hate you.
Everyone has a special set of skills that make them so utterly unlivable with, so weird, so…WRONG. This wasn’t what they told you engineering was going to be like! You were expecting people to be studious, caring,respectful of each other’s privacy,and helpful,weren’t you? You were expecting “normal” people,people like you!!
By 3rd Year,you can make a list of their eccentricities:
1.) A loves dropping bombs on you when you are in the loo
2.) B loves to blast metal music the night before the exam because “it relaxes them”
3.) C is an underwear-thief (yup,yours were NOT taken by crows.)
4.) D steals your agarbatti.and your deodorant. And your hair gel. And your Maggi, saying “next time moi kini dimtu”
5.) E is the gym-freak, whose grunts and yells of sweaty exertion above your head make you remember the last dirty picture you saw, and you wonder if the Incredible Hulk might suddenly crash down on you, and the worst of all,
6.) F-the Hamlet,the tragic hero of the batch,whose nights are spent either cootchie-cooing or crying,and whose days are spent trying to convince you “taik moi bohut bhaal pao be….!!”,while you search for any stray rope in the room,so he doesn’t hang himself, or better,so you could hang yourself.
What you DON’T know is that everybody else in the batch is making the exact same list. Which archetype are you? The Bathroom Bomber? The Undie Thief? The Free-loader? The Tragic Hero? Or the porn addict, the couch potato/TV dictator,the bathroom singer,the night-crawler,the puri-chomping nervous freak, the mildly OCD-affected weirdo?
You realize that “normal” after all,is just a cycle on a washing machine. You wish you didn’t know all this. About them. About yourself. You regret the fact that 15 years later,you’d be embarrassed if you ever saw them on the street and remembered what they were like, what YOU were like, when you were a batch….
…….all of us were here. all,except the one we had come here for.
There had been a death in the family. And this family, unlike Tolstoy’s, in ‘Anna Karenina’, had been happy in different ways,but now was unhappy in the same way. This moment,when all of them came together for the first time, as men,reminded them of their own mortality,of their own inconsequential natures. They, who had departed as friends who couldn’t wait to meet again , wondered how 15 years in the world might have changed their counterparts-scared how it might have changed each of them-scared to show it to anyone.
They…….WE, who had thought of ourselves as kings of the world,were all salesmen now,peddling whatever little pieces of it we had,on the streets of life.