When Tarun announced he was getting married, we were living in Lake Gardens, in the flat made famous by The Cantankerous Cat. This was the ground floor apartment where we dealt with Nosy Neighbours, Peeping Toms and performed Midnight Cooking Rituals to the consternation of our neighbours. Yes, that one.
Tarun was in school with me. Then Tarun was in college with me. He wasn’t what you would call a high-jinker. Nicknamed “Jaws”, after Richard Kiel’s iconic character in the James Bond movie, he displayed a dry and subversive brand of rebellion. Not for him were quips and wise cracks. His was a more subtle brand of weirdness. Let me illustrate.
In Grade 12 the signs of teenage rebellion in us took various forms. I took to deliberately and causally (at some other time, I may explain that. No, I did not mean “casually”. ), not adhering to the strict uniform policy in school. My grey trousers weren’t quite the requisite shade of grey, my maroon tie had a white pattern in the middle of it, which I successfully hid every morning by carrying my bag over one shoulder with my fist and forearm covering the pattern. This had the happy effect of also concealing the fact that my white shirt pocket did not have the requisite monogram expected by the school authorities. Others grew their hair long or had their trousers cut with ever widening flares. Flares were all the rage in the late 1970s. Eric Clapton even recorded a song called Bell Bottom Blues.
But Tarun? Tarun decided to bring in khaini for us all to eat in class.
Khaini is tobacco crushed and mixed with lime. A deadly and potent unifier of people. If you are ever in India and you see someone, it could be anyone, grinding their thumb into the palm of their hand, all you have to do is wait till they are finished and hold your hand out, palm upwards. You will be rewarded with a pinch of this lovely gum-rotting carcinogenic. It matters not a jot that you have never seen the generous person before in your life and will never, ever see him again, but for that one brief moment you are brothers-in-instant-gingivitis. Hygiene? Pshaw!
When the, mercifully very brief, khaini-gate was over, he moved on to those tiny blue-berry sized plums. This was more fun than the khaini and we would sit there, berry in mouth, placed there behind the teachers back, waiting for him to turn again so we could spit the stone out.
Tarun had a brief fling with the stage. The world of theatre lost a true master of deadpan dialogue delivery. My first play was written in Grade 12 as a tribute to the teachers for Teachers Day. ( It sounds very grandiose, but it was a rotten and highly plagiarized set of jokey and controversial one-liners. ) Tarun played the role of a teacher shooting the breeze with his colleagues. He had one line in that terrible play, which he delivered in a masterpiece of understated acting.
“Hot! You don’t know what heat it is!”, he said in a staccato monotone.
We, ( all of us directed… ) urged him to put more disdain and sneer into his line. He responded with a more forceful “Hot” before the monotone took over again.
Tarun, Suzy ( it’s a contraction of a boy’s name. Suzy is a middle-aged man, like me. ) and I all attended Ratan’s sister’s wedding in Allahabad; a winter wedding in north India. The nights in the plains of North India are cold, with temperatures in the low single digits, and even during the day there is more than a nip in the air. Late at night from a visit to a friend’s hotel, we hailed the only rickshaw we could find. There were, four of us, but only three could sit squished in as the rickshaw driver pedalled away in front. Tarun declined the offer of a seat. With encouraging cries from Suzy, snorts of laughter from Ratan and bemused amazement from me, he jogged along beside the rickshaw all the 2-3 miles home.
With long lines for bathrooms, it was his idea that we young guys bathe in the open with a bucket of water pumped from the handpump in the bottom of the yard. Cold water with an air temperature of around 4c is not the greatest way to have a bath. But we did it and lived to tell the tale! The trick is pour the bucket over your head in one fell swoop… Count 1,2,3, under your breath, lift and whoosh. Simple.
He moved to Delhi after qualifying as an accountant and we saw less of him. He then came to town to tell us he was getting married to Kavita, a girl we didn’t know at the time. It was a classic Indian affair. Lots of booze, lots of partying, spread over many days.
My Beloved Bangalan ( or to give her her real name, Rita) and I have many wonderful memories of the wedding and the late nights we spent in celebration. A few moments stand out. Around 6 am, Rita and I were at our front door fiddling with the keys when the milkman appeared on his morning rounds.
“Ah!”, he said, beaming from ear to ear, “Been out for a morning walk?”
Given the fact that I was in a tie and dress shoes and Rita was in a sari and jewellery, I wonder now whether he was being deeply sarcastic or profoundly unobservant.
One other memory really, really stands out. This was the night we almost got killed. Its a miracle we didn’t. We were, obviously, all very soaked in alcohol. Packed into 2 cars we decided to go for a drive. The two guys driving had pretensions of being race car drivers. Late at night, Calcutta in the late 1980’s slept the sleep of the just. Traffic was non-existent. The two cars raced down the street oblivious to the fact that Calcutta was in the middle of the Twenty Year Dig for the subway. Our car hit a mound of mud, jumped clear over on the other side and landed with a crunching, shuddering crash on the other side, in the best tradition of the Bluesmobile. In the shocked silence, we heard the quiet voice of Tarun’s quiet friend from Delhi, the guy with the quiet wife.
“Well, looks like my heart surgery has worked.”
We drove home at a snails pace.
For the big night after the wedding, someone found out where the newly-married couple were going. To a hotel. Of course, we all headed there before the couple could arrive, all dressed in our best clothes. It was thought that Rita and I stood the best chance of posing as the newly-wed couple, so we checked into the bridal suite. The rest of the crowd followed and we hid around the room waiting for the newly weds to arrive. We jumped out to surprise them and spent some time teasing them before heading down to the coffee shop. A quick headcount revealed we were one short ! Frantic calls were made to extricate Prasad from under the bridal bed before it was too late. We have not yet been able to get him to relate his tale.
Kavita, we found, was a bright and lovely character. I realize now that I’ve never seen her glum-faced or gloomy. A stranger coming into a closed group of barely-grown-up schoolboys, who’d barely grown up together, she took it all in her stride. I never once saw her stressed out over the two daughters, even when they were young. I don’t see her stressing over them, living as they do now thousands of miles away from her. I’m sure she must have stressed over something, sometime. I certainly have seen no evidence of it.
Tarun also featured in one other episode, the one where we attempted to schmooze with the school authorities to pave the way for our kids into our old school. You can read that shameful story here.
Now we’re on different continents and neither I nor Tarun are the world’s greatest keep-in-touchers. We know, though, that we can pick up where we left off when we do meet. ’tis enough. ’twill serve. It has all these years.
Happy 30th Anniversary, you two.
This was actually written for their 30th Anniversary, which was a few weeks (months? ) ago. Hey, my alter-ego is the SloMan, remember?