Tuesday, March 09, 2010


Now if you wanted to call a girl out of her hostel, you had to send a chit through the security guard with your name on it. Often we could see the boys dressed up, waiting, reeking of the same after-shave lotion. Chances were most of these guys were wearing Old Spice, because Arup was generous with his cosmetics and on days we had the chance of a girl actually coming out to meet us, he would let us use his stuff.

I, for one, never knew any girl that well enough to call her out of the hostel. Often I had tried my luck with many of them, waiting in vain for many minutes before the security guard came out and announced in full public view that "Malvika Madam doesn't want to meet you." Egos are usually brittle, but I had taught mine to steel itself against such odds, so the next day I would probably get to hear that Ranjana didn't want to meet, or maybe Maya. Arup, on the other hand, enjoyed some sort of liberty with the girls because if he wanted to call one, very often almost two or three of them came out. He was single, handsome, and drove a jeep back home. It was another matter that he used my mountain bike at the university to impress the women, but a young guy of 18, handsome, who can drive, was too much for the girls to resist. When I realized Arup's problem of plenty, I devised my own cool method of getting to meet a girl. I just accompanied him on his evening sojourns to the girls' hostel. It was called a B-call, to accompany somebody who had the privilege of sending an A-call. Somebody or the other was always extra, and I was always there, smelling of Old Spice even inside my pants. Always be prepared was my principle, although Arup complained that it will never be of any use. He was right and looking back today I wonder how come he had so much foresight.

I liked Suma, from Bokaro. She liked Arup. And Arup liked Rubella. Rubella, against the principle, liked Arup back. Suma and Rubella were roomies, so I could go out with all of them when Arup went on a date with Rubella. We would often go to the ghats of the Ganges and sit there, staring at the river. Arup and Rubella would try to get cosy after dark and Suma and I would be left talking about anything from her childhood to the lights on the other bank. There would be people offering evening prayers, and sometimes an odd train could be seen in the distance crossing the bridge over from Mugalsarai to Kasi.

One day Suma suggested we walk on the steps of the ghats up the length of the river. There were little oil lamps at the edges of the steps, lending the otherwise crowded Dashashwamedh ghat a romantic orange hue. As we walked up and down the steps, sometimes over mud and again back onto concrete, we had to hold hands many times to pull each other up. The initial hesitation overcome, sometimes I held her hand a little longer than necessary. And she didn't pull it away either. When we reached about halfway between Dashashwamedh and Assi, we saw a strange thing. I later asked Suma and she hadn't seen anything like that either. A man, alone, was pulling his dead cow from the top of the stairs down to the river. It must have taken him quite some time because the carcass was heavy and bloated. Some strange curiosity made us sit on the steps as the man pushed the corpse into the water and watched it float away.

"Why did you put an oil lamp in its mouth? Do you have to perform some last rites for cows?"

"Oh, Sundari was my favorite. She died of a strange disease. Am afraid my other cows will be affected. Dunno why I did that, but that was the least I could do." I silently agreed with what he did.

That was Gopal.
He later let us take out his boat on hire for Rs 10. We rowed the boat up the river to Assi ghat, watching the ghats getting smaller. At one point, from the middle of the Ganges, the city seemed garlanded in yellow. Suma exclaimed, "isn't it beautiful, Subho?"
In her excitement, she wanted to lean back and touch the sliced moon in the water.
But something made her clasp my hand instead. Did she think of the cow? But that was downstream and we were rowing upstream. Of other carcasses? Or of the flowers and leaves from the prayers offered up there in Assi ghat? Something about the water that night made her uneasy.

With her hand in mine, that Rs 10 ride seemed to last forever.