“Yes, I will be there,” I reassured the president at the other end of the line. “I am ready with the presentation.”
I put the phone down and turned to face Somu, who sat beside me.
“President? Was it the –”
Somu or Somasundram was my companion for the day at the MAFT meeting. I was a recent member, and Somu had agreed to come when I invited him. He would be attending it for the first time, as an observer.
We walked slowly to the car.
“Yes, that’s the one,” I answered. “The legendary president, Mr Kuttappan, of MAFT – Men against Female Tyranny.” I couldn’t resist being a little dramatic.
“Yeah, I have heard of him. He is a great man.”
Somu’s wife had recently left him for a much younger (Smarter? I don’t know. Presumably.) man, and he was keen to join the movement. For the record, I am a bachelor.
Mr Kuttappan had called me around three months back, and invited me to join MAFT. He had apparently read an article of mine, ‘The Feminizing World’ in the Sunday edition of The Hindu. Now, he wanted me to deliver a keynote address on the same subject at the annual national meet.
Presenting the renowned expert, Dr Anu Jacob the brochure said. That is one advantage of being a medical doctor. Even though I am a dermatologist (a newly qualified one at that), and can be considered an expert only on diseases of the skin, some of the public thinks I am an expert on a wide range of subjects ranging from psychology to astrophysics.
The car stopped at the lavish porch of the Kulu Convention Centre. We got down and the president and few of the office bearers came forward to greet us. Once I had introduced Somu, I was ushered to the podium to sit among a select few of the great organization’s venerated members. The meeting started with a short prayer to God Almighty, undoubtedly a male, to show more partiality or at least to be a little more lenient towards his same-sex subjects. After a short inaugural ceremony, the president lighted the lamp in front of the image of the official mascot – a bald face without eyes, mouth, or nose. It sported a massive moustache and a prominent paunch that denoted masculinity. Another member gave a welcome speech and introduced me as an expert in the field of ‘men’s studies’. Then I rose to speak.
I started quietly, and thanked the organizers and Mr Kuttappan. I briefly praised the organization for the important role it played in today’s world. Then I raised my head, faced an audience of around three hundred (all males, needless to say), and continued. “People generally have an impression that it’s a male-dominated world. Where men are vilified as rapists, oppressors, wife-beaters and, above all, blamed for using our superior physical might against an allegedly weaker group of women. I cannot argue against the fact that in large parts of the world it is indeed true…
I don’t know, my dear fellow colleagues, how many of you are aware about the latest research in gender differences, but a lot of surprising truths have emerged. Females are different from us significantly in brain function, not only in physical appearance. While differences in IQ are marginal – in fact, both are almost equal, the different aspects of intelligence vary remarkably. Please note, comrades, what are women really good at? Verbal ability, that is, talk. They are amazingly adept at assessing interpersonal dynamics and manipulating people. Get it? This is where the women folk have grabbed the entire earth by the balls.
Why is it common and innocuous to joke about farting men, but terribly incorrect to derive merriment from women…?”
I paused for the applause to die down. Over the next fifteen to twenty minutes, I briefed the gathering on the history and outlined the challenges we men were facing morally, legally, and even physically. I felt justifiably proud of the standing ovation I received at the end.
As we were driving back from the convention centre, Somu was all praise for my speech.
“What eloquence!” He rhapsodized. “You will beat any woman with your verbal ability!”
I thanked him.
“Were you a born women-hater?” He asked.
I frowned. The man lacked … well, finesse and tact. No wonder. He was a man.
“Hate is a bad word,” I said. “There is no hate. All these discourses, you should understand, take place at a purely philosophical level. And what is more, I was a feminist once.”
“What! I can’t believe it!”
The man looked incredulous, but he was a good listener and the drive home was over an hour long.
It was my first day at medical school. It was a bright and pleasant day. But the nice weather and the beautiful leafy campus failed to cheer us up. We sat through our first class breathlessly: ‘An Introduction to Anatomy’. I didn’t feel well. I was sweaty and weak due to anxiety.
I was not what you would call bold and brave. Maybe it was partly because my parents named me Anu, which, as you may be aware, is a name more common among girls. I was described by my schoolmates as ‘that shrivelling rat’ and a ‘weakling’. My teachers wrote ‘inward-looking’ in my reports. During schooldays, I found myself more comfortable in the company of girls. The rough games, machismo, and one-upmanship of the boys frightened me. I consider myself handsome but more lissom than muscular. I wanted to appear tough but, unfortunately, had a soft look. One of my friends from school, a girl, once described me as ‘pretty’. I was faintly attracted to girls, but I was never attracted to a particular girl, surprisingly, until that first day of medical school.
I was sitting in the classroom, frightened and trembling, when I noticed a slender hand on my forearm.
“Any problem? Are you ill?”
I started. I noticed for the first time that a very beautiful young woman was sitting by my side. I could see brown eyes and blemish less brown skin. Her thick black hair was tied up in a bun.
“No – nothing; just a little nervous,” I stammered.
The young Assistant Professor, Shaju, lectured us on the incredible intricacies of mastering Anatomy. He emphasized the difficulty of learning even the basics, and quoted depressing statistics of the pass-rate of previous first years. He gloated over it – the pig!
“Exaggerating a bit, isn’t he?” I said.
“Pompous asshole. He is a typical egotistic male,” she replied.
I looked at her in some surprise. But that was typical Saranya Surendran. However, this did not put me off. It made me take an immediate interest in the woman. And that was the beginning, you could say, of a ‘beautiful’ friendship.
As soon as the class ended, and the professor had left, a gang of thugs headed by a six feet tall, very dark and handsome man sauntered in with menacing expressions. The dreaded seniors! The leader ordered us all to stand up respectfully and bow low. He introduced himself as Indran Terrible. The gang made us stand on the benches and taught us how to do the ‘medical salute’. The medical salute, Indran informed us, was invented by the great Hippocrates himself. It meant saluting smartly, military style, with your right hand. It was accompanied with a short jump. At the same time, you had to cover the line between your buttocks with your left hand.
“This is to symbolize the most important aspect of our profession – covering your ass,” Indran told us, with a dead-serious expression. He heaped many similar humiliations on us and, sometimes, singled out one of us for special treatment. Then he called a recess.
“Now, I will ask a question,” he said after a while. “Anyone who guesses my real name will get a special present from me. I will point to people at random and, if you are wrong, you have to do the ‘medical salute’ in front of the whole class twenty times.”
Everyone waited with bated breath. Many tried to hide behind others. Suddenly, a hand shot up. A volunteer! We stared in awe at Saranya Surendran. She stood up. “Mr Indran Terrible?”
“Yes?” The man was obviously surprised.
“Whatever your name is, your father’s name must be Terrible.”
Indran reeled from the unexpected blow, and suppressed guffaws erupted all around. Even many of Mr Terrible’s companions could be seen laughing. The scene, fraught with possibilities, came to an unexpected close when the teacher for the next class appeared. Indran and company beat a hasty retreat.
Indran, or Indrajith – as his real name was, tried to get back at us by targeting Saranya. As I had become friends with her, I also got to know him quite well. But he was careful. He made her sing and dance on some occasions, but it never went beyond minor leg pulling. He was obviously afraid that the spirited girl would complain to the authorities. The rules were quite strict in this regard.
After the ragging period was over, all the seniors became friendly. I got to know more about Indrajith. An extremely talented sportsman, he was a popular character in college. Big and muscular, he strutted around the campus like a politician, and had a sycophantic group of followers. He won debates and quizzes, yet he was somewhat rowdy. He was indifferent to studies, and not so popular among girls. But he was rumoured to have made many secret conquests. Saranya and he were set for a lifelong enmity, or so it seemed. She glared murderously at him whenever she crossed him on campus, and he passed crude remarks and smirked villainously in return.
I fell in love with Saranya. The occasional dazzling smile made up for the otherwise professional air about her. She was a leader among the womenfolk, and always had a circle of women followers who listened to her every word.
Drawn by love, I was thrust into her circle of friends. As the only boy close to her, I received a full dose of her views. Slowly I veered towards her ideology. She was strong in academics and condescended, occasionally, to help out an average student like me. The only problem was that the teaching included subtle (and not so subtle) indoctrination as well.
“The embryology of the external genitalia is clear, right? So, if the testes do not develop in eight weeks, the genitalia automatically become that of a female, regardless of the genetic sex. So the development of the female is a default mechanism. Nature invariably chose it. Now you know, even metaphorically, Adam was not the first human to be created but Eve!”
I nodded. Similarly, while explaining Biochemistry, she said, “The steroid structure gives rise to many sex hormones including progesterone, oestrogen, and testosterone. Testosterone, as you know, is the most dangerous and subverting molecule in the world.”
I nodded, feigning agreement.
Slowly, I began to follow her around like a juvenile chick behind the mother hen, but found it impossible to take our platonic relationship to the next level. Or did I succeed? It was very difficult to tell. Wasn’t there a little bit of feeling in the way she looked towards me, smiled, and tilted her head to expose her shapely neck? Desmond Morris told me that the body language denoted interest. Wasn’t it true that she sometimes held my elbow with her delicate hand as she looked earnestly into my face to gauge my reaction to her latest tirade against the ‘paternalistic’ establishment?
We talked for hours, and many of our friends considered us ‘an item’, but she deliberately steered clear of any conversation with even a hint of romance. Sure, she sometimes gushed, “You are such a sweetie,” and called me ‘cutie pie’, but it counted for very little in today’s world. After pondering over it agonizingly over many weeks, one day I blurted out a cautious “I love you, Saranya” and waited, hardly breathing, for the response. But she just laughed and said, “I love you too, sweetie pie.” Then she added, “Not the Mills and Boon style, I hope. That would be so boring … hee hee.”
Now, what was I to make of that? I was at my wit’s end.
Many of my close male friends advised me that the next step was to get physical. Seeing my reticence, Biju, a rough guy, got combative with me.
“Is your love for her pure?”
“Yes, yes” I answered. “That is the problem. I don’t want to – you know –”
“You mean it is spiritual, eh? No suggestion of the physical mixed with this?”
“What do you mean?”
“You stupid man! Don’t you have any sexual thoughts about her? Do you, at some point, expect to have sex with her?”
“Yes,” I admitted. “But I will marry her, of course.”
“Well, then … make a move, though your interest baffles me my friend. Still, different people have different tastes.”
Now, let me tell you, getting physical with Saranya was a formidable thought. You don’t mess with that kind of girl. Once, I casually put my hand around her hips and happened to brush against her. She gave me such a withering glance that I hastily removed it. When I told Biju about this, he was livid.
“Which fool,” he thundered, “starts at the bottom? Even a child knows it is always the breasts first.”
But I stopped taking suggestions from him. To tell the truth, I never had the nerve to initiate a stunt like that again.
In the second year, we had a long medical students’ strike. All the budding medicos were against the move to start medical colleges in the private sector. These were the times when the socialist ideology was rampant. And the students were restive. We bunked all classes, went on marches, blocked government buildings and offices, and squatted in the middle of busy roads. It was a welcome break from our usual grind. Many of the boys visited one bar after another like excise officers taking their rounds. Me? No, I abstained like a saint. I had to woo Saranya. She was vocal against even moderate and occasional drinking. She told me it was something that brought out the worst in men, and destroyed whatever little good sense they had.
“And it is a dangerous instrument of male bonding,” she said.
Sometimes I became frustrated and started building a circle of male friends, while I distanced myself from her. But the moment I did that she became encouraging and sensual, and filled me with fresh hope. Dutifully, I drifted back again. She gave new meaning to the phrase ‘keeping on tenterhooks’.
By the second month into the strike, things took an ugly turn. The students split into two groups – the second one extremist. There were serious clashes between them. Cricket bats and hockey sticks entered into the fight. At a later stage, hatchets and daggers made their appearance. The principal called the police in. A police camp was set up inside the campus under a sub inspector to maintain peace. A tense calm prevailed on the extensive grounds.
Most of us wandered lazily around the campus in gangs. One day, I was walking along a deserted road deep in the wooded part of the campus with Saranya and three other girls – all rather pretty. We were supposed to be bird watching. Saranya was fond of these things, you know. Environmental activism and similar pursuits turned her on. We walked slowly, cracked jokes, and laughed. I basked in the proximity of my loved one, and thought we were making progress.
It was dusk. Rumour was rife that criminal elements lurked in desolate places. I don’t know how to describe the terror of the situation. Three or four towering figures jumped out from behind the trees with terrifying cries, and blocked the road in front of us. It was so sudden and unexpected that all the girls screamed, and I did too, and so loud was the din that even the cicadas fell silent. At that time I realized that screaming was an involuntary, primal reaction.
Our assailants wore white stocking masks which made them look like characters out of the movie, City of the Living Dead. Together they crouched in front of us and pointed their hands at us as if they held invisible Kalshnikoffs (or AK 47s, if you prefer). Bang! Bam! Wam! Rat-a-tat-a-tat, Dhoom! Boom!
We continued to scream for thirty seconds, terror-stricken and rooted to the spot. By the end of it, we realized it was some kind of a joke. The men pulled off their masks, and laughed hysterically like hyenas. I recognized Indrajith and three of his cronies.
They doubled up and rolled on the ground in mirth. I smiled sheepishly. Actually, I was relieved. Saranya’s face was twisted in anger, and tears streamed down her eyes. Indrajith stopped laughing abruptly. With a serious expression he approached us and stopped near Saranya. He truly towered over her. He pointed two fingers straight at her, with the thumb upright, in the manner of a pistol.
“Beware!” he said and, with his gang, disappeared into the woods.
Now, I felt free to grin like an MLA who comes back to his constituency after a four-year gap, but changed my expression promptly to one of sympathetic concern on seeing Saranya’s face.
“The … the bastard!” she stammered, with intense feeling.
Indrajith did not stop at this. He repeated this stunt many times at various places. Whenever Saranya and her friends (sometimes, including me) walked to the canteen, or to the bus stop, to take a trip to the town, he either appeared alone, or with some guys (now without masks), bang-banged and rat-a-tatted with the fingers, impersonating heroes from Hollywood movies, faces set in mock seriousness. Most of us dismissed it as a joke, and smiled with embarrassment at the bemused onlookers. The thick-skinned Indra was oblivious to them. But Saranya was not pleased. The episodes disturbed her every time. She was strangely unsettled by the whole thing and hurled abuses at him, which was uncharacteristic of her. The eager spectators derived much merriment from each episode.
The final episode occurred when I was with Saranya and four or five of her staunch friends. We were returning from an ice cream break, and were at the junction where the road diverged. One path led to the ladies’ hostel and the other to the men’s. Indrajith sauntered by. Seeing us, he crouched down with his invisible AK-47 and gave a scintillating performance. I was impressed with the vigour of the man. He put his heart and soul into each act. I wondered why he was not yet bored with this. We ignored him and resumed our walk.
“I have had enough! I am going to complain,” said Saranya.
“What do you mean?” I asked, surprised.
“I mean … How long will you put up with this? This … this humiliation?”
“Ignore him. He gets encouraged because you get flustered every time.”
“No, I have to do it.” Her face was set.
“What will you complain about? Nobody would take you seriously.”
“You don’t understand. It is highly insulting. It has other connotations, you know … shooting at women.”
“Don’t try and extract Freudian implications. As far as I know, Freud never said anything about guns. Snakes, I agree. Guns, no.”
“Oh, shut up. I know what to do.”
“But who will you go to? It is already six in the evening. The office is closed.”
She wasn’t put off. “The warden’s house is nearby.”
“Okay, carry on,” I slowly inched away. “I will be off then. I have to phone my mom.”
“No, you have to come with us. You are the prime witness.”
“Oh no. No, I have to go. Sorry.”
“You won’t come?”
“No.” I said, determined.
“If that’s the way it is, I won’t talk to you again.”
“What! Don’t be difficult, Saranya, please… I…”
When the contingent knocked on the door of Dr Elizabeth’s quarters, I was very much present among the members. Dr Elizabeth was the head and professor of Physiology, and was the chief warden of the ladies’ hostel. Spectacled and matronly, she had the look and reputation of a stern woman.
“Yes, what is it this time, Saranya?”
She was looking down her nose at us. The spectacles glinted from the streetlight outside. I hid behind the shorter girls, and tried to shrink myself as much as possible.
“It is Indrajith, Ma’am. And his gang. He insulted me and my friends. Today is the fifth time.”
“Is it? What did he do?”
“He shot at us, Ma’am, repeatedly.”
“Excuse me?” Dr Elizabeth’s eyes widened. I had a feeling she was wondering whether her ears were working properly.
“With guns, Ma’am. I mean … he acted as if he had a gun. It was him and a few others.”
The warden stared at Saranya, without speaking, for several seconds.
“It is not a joke, Ma’am,” Saranya tried to justify herself. “It is insulting. An attack on womanhood. I…”
A faint smile flitted across Dr Elizabeth’s face. “Attack on womanhood! I only wish all attacks on womanhood were only as severe as that.”
“What do you mean?” Saranya lost her respectfulness. She said defiantly, “We protest, Ma’am. You have to take it seriously. It is your responsibility. As residents of the hostel, we are under your protection.”
Dr Elizabeth thought for a few seconds. “Today’s women are empowered,” she said calmly. “You are like that, Saranya. You are a liberated, strong woman. You can do it.”
“Do what, Ma’am?”
“Shoot them back. Mow them down. Show no mercy. I give you my permission. Throw mock grenades if necessary… Okay then, I think that solves the problem. I was busy writing a paper for the Indian Journal of Physiology. If you will excuse me…” She went back into the house and banged the door shut.
Saranya fumed as we walked back from the quarters. “That woman is useless! No fellow feeling. This is the problem with women … And stop grinning!”
“Sorry,” I said, and suppressed my levator labii superioris and zygomaticus major muscles with difficulty.
The next day dawned with the proud beauty more determined than ever to have her way.
“I am going to the principal,” she informed me.
“For what?” I feigned ignorance.
“The shooting spree, of course. You think I am going to let it pass?”
“Oh please … Okay, go if you want to, but don’t expect me to come along.”
“You have to come. There should be at least one guy to support us against this gross act.”
“If you think I am going to come with you, you are mistaken,” I said solemnly.
And so I was there for sure among the motley group of girls at the college office the very next morning. We sought an appointment with the principal ‘regarding an urgent matter concerning violation of human rights’. That’s what she told the secretary. After a time, the secretary motioned for us to enter.
“He is preoccupied with the strike and various associated issues. Be careful,” she warned us in an undertone.
I felt weak at the knees. The principal was a balding, irritable midget who was anxious about almost everything. He followed each rule and convention to the letter. Also, he was reputed to have a short fuse. The medical strike must have tested his patience sorely. He looked up irritably from a pile of papers on his desk.
“What human rights are violated? What is this about? It had better be important,” he snapped.
“Sir,” Saranya began, “We girls deserve dignity. It is a question of respect and equality.”
“Yes, yes, come on, what is it?” He was obviously impatient.
“A society can be judged by the way its women are treated.”
The principal ran a restless hand through the sparse hair on his head, and appeared agitated. “Come to the point, girl, if you don’t mind. Please…”
“It is Indrajith, Sir. Some of his friends are also involved. You have to take action. You can’t let him run amok in the campus like this. It is disgraceful, Sir.”
“What the hell –” The principal tried hard to control his temper. “ – did he do? Tell me fast!”
“Jumped at us, Sir … and –”
“Jumped? You mean he grabbed you?” he asked incredulously.
“No, Sir. He jumped up in front of us. Then he and his cronies acted as if they were shooting at us with guns. They made bang-bang noises.”
The principal stood up and ran his hand through his hair again. This made each strand stand up like a porcupine’s quill. He looked like a cartoon character that had received a nasty electrical shock. I think he frothed a little at the corner of his mouth.
“What nonsense!” He roared “Get out! Clear out of my office now! Right now!”
We got out so fast that we ran down the steps from the momentum.
You would think it was the end of the affair. But, alas, that was not to be. Straight from the principal’s office, Saranya marched, with me in tow, to the outskirts of the campus where the police camp had been set up. Her face had a look of fierce determination. I realized with horror that she wanted to complain to the police! Now, there was no turning back. I was resigned to my fate and accompanied her inside with the other girls. Saranya entered the barricades, and demanded to see the sub inspector.
The sub inspector was a stout man of medium height, with a big moustache. His face was puffy, and the slightly drooping lids gave him a bored look.
“Sir, we have a complaint to file,” Saranya said boldly.
“You are from the college? Medical students?” he drawled with his hands in his pockets.
“Yes, Sir. We approached the warden … the principal. But it was no use, Sir. Neither of them gave us justice. That is why we were forced to come to you.”
I felt she was unnecessarily dramatic. The sub inspector’s eyes showed slight interest.
“Yes, tell me. What happened? Is it anything to do with the strike?”
“No, Sir. A bunch of unruly boys waits for us and jumps into our path every time we go out for a walk.”
“Oh, obstructs your right of way, is it? They block you from proceeding? For how long do they stop you?”
“Not for too long, Sir. They just point imaginary guns and shoot at us, Sir.”
“They make noises.”
“Well … bang bang bang … bam dho dho…”
“Do they abuse you? Uses vulgar words?”
“That is all? Then they leave?”
“Yes, Sir. Please take action, Sir.”
The inspector’s face displayed a sly smile. It slowly broadened into a big grin. A few low-pitched gurgles erupted from the man. They were accompanied by rhythmic up and down movements of his protruding belly. But he controlled himself quickly.
“I am afraid I can’t help you, Madam. It doesn’t warrant any action.”
“But,” Saranya protested, “what if they repeat the same thing, again?”
The inspector bowed courteously. “Don’t worry, Madam. If any of you are hit, that is, if even a single shot injures any of you, please come. I promise you I will take strict action.”
This incident did have a pronounced effect on me. At first, it made me re-think my commitment to Saranya. I had never come across such a fierce girl in my life. How well did I know her really? The extent to which she had gone to try and get even with Indrajith was surely not healthy. If I succeeded in getting her to love me back, what would my life be like?
But these thoughts were transient. The weakness passed quickly, and my passion re-surfaced with renewed strength. In fact, I realized this incident had somehow raised the level of my interest in her. It also inspired me. I vowed that I would go after her with the same persistence that she had showed against her archenemy. I had to try harder. But how? I was doing everything I could diligently. I thought about a different approach I could take.
This crusade also showed me a way: to go after Indrajith, defeat him, humiliate him; to somehow find a way to ruin him. That was surely the path to Saranya’s heart. I had to hunt him down with the same strength of purpose and single-minded effort. It would definitely impress her.
Once I saw Indrajith talking to Saranya at some corner of the campus. Her face was very serious. I assumed he was irritating her again. Mustering all my courage I approached them, stood with my chest puffed up, and looked at Indrajith with what I thought was a threatening air.
“Yes, what is it, Indrajith?”
“Nothing. Go to the class, worm,” he said, not exactly with respect.
I am sure you expect further exchange of dire threats, an impressive Bollywood-like fistfight in which the unlikely hero triumphs in the end. None of that happened. I was a realist. He was more than half a foot taller, and his biceps were as big as my thighs.
“Hehe,” I smiled. “I will be off then. Bye.”
I could not defeat him with muscles. What I needed was strategy. My dad had bought me a new camera for my birthday. Maybe I could put it to good use. Indrajith and his cronies had weekend parties in his hostel room. I sneaked into his room one Monday morning. The window was open and, in the bright daylight, whisky and beer bottles – some half finished and others empty – were clearly visible. I took photographs from various angles. As soon as the pictures were ready, I went straight to the warden of the men’s hostel and showed them to him. He was the chief of Microbiology.
“Can you see the bottles, Sir?”
“Yes.” He looked at me quizzically. “What is all this?”
“These are pictures of Indrajith’s room, Sir, after the weekend.”
I expected a dose of moral indignation from him. After all, the hostel rules were quite clear. Liquor was banned within the precincts. I had the printed rule book to prove it. But, instead, the warden was cool.
“I … er … can’t see them that clearly,” he said.
I was surprised. Then I saw his reading glasses on the table. That was it.
“Your glasses, Sir,” I indicated them to him helpfully.
“Ah, yes.” He put them on and stared at the photographs again. “It’s difficult to make out whose room it is. There is no proof that it is his room. I cannot act on the basis of these photographs.”
I was astonished and pained. I noticed, for the first time, the puffy eyes and the red cheeks of the warden. No wonder he was sympathetic to all these illegal activities that went on right under his nose.
“And what is your problem?” He asked me. “Why are you so bothered about it?”
“The noise, Sir. I can’t study. They are such a nuisance,” I said desperately.
“Okay, then. Give me a written complaint. I will look into it.”
“No, Sir. My name should not come out. It was supposed to be an anonymous tip-off. You know how dangerous they are.”
“Really? I don’t think so. Indrajith is not such a bad student either. In that case, I cannot help you.”
That was how that perfect plan fizzled out. I toyed with the idea of going to the principal but, based on my previous experience, decided against it.
I told Saranya about my effort. Without that it would have been pointless. She did not sound so enthusiastic.
“It is nice of you to do these things for me.”
I took it as a signal that I should try harder. I had to show better results. During the next few months I thought about and tried many stunts, but none worked satisfactorily. I was so preoccupied that I did not hang about much with Saranya.
My final effort was to steal Indrajith’s case record. He was a year our senior, and the batch had their exams after two days. When he was in the mess, I sneaked into his room and stole his case record. Without that, he couldn’t have written his final exam. Promptly, I went to Saranya. I wanted her to keep it concealed. It was not safe with me.
Her response was totally unexpected. “Give it back to him right now!” She shouted.
“I can’t do that,” I protested.
“If he is not able to write the exam because of this, I will tell him you took it.”
During dinner-time I entered his room, and was trying to find the table to put it on in the dark when the lights came on and Indrajith’s heavy voice filled the small cubicle. “What are you doing here?”
Like all enterprising young men, he did not stop with mere words, though I had hoped he would. He lunged forward and took hold of my neck with both hands. After almost having choked me to death, he left me panting like a dog in summer.
“I just wanted to wish you for tomorrow’s exam. Honest,” I stammered.
“What are you doing with my case record?”
“J – just looking…”
Fortunately for me, he did not pursue the matter. He had to study.
After this incident, I lost interest in this endeavour completely. I lost interest in Saranya too for some time. It was somehow re-kindled during my internship, and I thought I had made some progress, but the time had come to part.
After internship, Saranya went for – characteristically – Orthopaedics, considered a male bastion, at Bangalore Medical College. I opted for Dermatology and, because my rank was rather low, I had to settle for the institute at Hubli. I had wanted to follow her to BMC.
It would be an untruth to say that I forgot Saranya. The separation whetted my yearning. But I decided never to call her in an effort to forget her, and lost all contact. You cannot say I succeeded though.
I was in the final year of my residency when I got a call from Azman Kurram. Azman had been our class representative back at medical school. He said that he had arranged a meet of our old batch at Hotel Renai at Kochi.
“Oh, wonderful!” I said, excited. “Will everyone be there?”
“Saranya told me she would come, and she is not yet married.”
He had read my mind correctly. I was very much annoyed.
I was at the venue an hour in advance, smartly dressed in a pale blue shirt, dark pants, and spotless black shoes. I had a new haircut, and had trimmed my moustache. I had thought about a facial, but decided against it at the last minute. A few of my old friends had already arrived. I heartily shook hands with a dozen people, cracked jokes, and exchanged tales. There was a lot of laughter, shouting, and back-slapping.
“What happened to your tummy?” Someone made a smart comment, looking at the slight paunch I had developed.
“Pumped in hot air to supply to you fellows today,” I laughed.
A few guys turned to look at the entrance. I followed their gaze. There she was!
Well, she had changed. At medical school she was always in a churidar, with her hair almost always in a bun. Round spectacles and a business-like manner dimmed her beauty. Now she was in a light pink translucent sari made of figure-hugging smooth material. She was tastefully dressed to show off her seductive curves. A rather low-necked blouse showed milky, delectable cleavage. Big black eyes with thick lashes hid contact lenses. Her seductive smile held us mesmerized.
A collective ‘Oooh!’ went up from the guys. She did not notice me at first, and talked to some of her old friends near the door. I approached her diffidently, as if in a hypnotic trance, transfixed by her radiance. She saw me, and stepped closer.
“Oh, Anu, how are you?” She said, and gave me a tight hug. No, not merely a friendly hug. I thought it was tighter than that. A seductive hug. Then she looked up at my face. I could have died for that look. My day was made. We stood there and chatted, constantly interrupted by our old friends.
“When can we meet again?” I was adventurous enough to enquire. “And be alone for some time? I want to talk to you.”
“I am in 567, here, in Renai.” She gave me a sly smile and winked. In my overexcited imagination, it was an open invitation. Then Azman Kurram interrupted everybody by banging a spoon against a table:
“Hey, guys, attention please! In your invitation letter, there was a mention of a surprise. That surprise has arrived. Let us welcome the brand new police commissioner of Kochi, our chief guest!”
This dramatic announcement was followed by the sound of police sirens outside the auditorium. Everyone rushed towards the entrance, and craned their necks to get a better view. I could see a gleaming Toyota Endeavour with lights and blaring sirens zooming into the compound. The imposing vehicle screeched to a halt near the door. A tall young man, smart and stately in a police uniform, alighted from it. The same rippling muscles, the same dark and rugged face. The unmistakable sharp nose. Indrajith! Indra the Terrible.
Azman and a few other guys rushed out to greet him. There was a flurry of excitement. Handshakes, backslapping, and light banter reached a crescendo. Everyone crowded around Indrajith like kids around a football hero. After the initial uproar died down, he looked around and noticed us standing in a corner. He turned and marched towards us with a roguish smile. As he came and stood close to me, I noticed that he had a holster hanging from his belt. He reached inside and took out a sleek handgun. Then he pointed the pistol straight at Saranya’s left breast, right at the nipple that was provocatively conspicuous through the tight blouse.
“Bang bang!” he said, laughing.
He was still a villain. As lecherous an asshole as ever! I wanted to kick him, then looked at the gun and decided against it. To my surprise Saranya also joined in the laughter.
The cocktails started. I remembered very little about what happened after that as I became pleasantly drunk and chatted with whoever came my way. I tried to snuggle up to Saranya as much as possible. But she slipped out of the way talking to her friends and, to my astonishment, downed an occasional shot of vodka. Out of the corner of my eye, I even saw her talk and laugh with Indrajith many a time. How had he become a big shot in the police department? I vaguely remembered reading in the papers a couple of years back about a doctor from Thrissur who had made it to the Indian Police Service.
The evening went by in a blur. Suddenly, the time came for everyone to part. It was way past midnight, and most of the people had left. Slowly, I got up to go back to my hotel, and then stopped abruptly. Room 567. What about the invitation?
I knew Hotel Renai in and out. To get back discreetly and ride up the lift to the fifth floor was easy. The corridor was deserted and the lights were out. 556 … 560 … I was close. I could hear my heart palpitating in excitement. A faint heat stirred in my loin as I visualized myself slowly undressing Saranya, peeling off her pink sari layer by layer. I could see 567 now.
Suddenly, without warning, the door of that room opened, a large dark form emerged and hurried towards me. I ducked into the shadows. The man passed me, neither looking right nor left. His temples glistened with sweat. I recognized him instantly. Indrajith! On an impulse, I ran to the room and forced open the door Saranya was about to pull shut. I felt compelled to confirm my suspicions. Saranya looked at me, wide-eyed and scared. Her sari was in disarray, her hair looked rumpled, and make-up smudged.
I turned and ran down the stairs as fast as I could, took my car and drove like a madman back to my hotel. I entered my room, rushed to the washbasin, and threw up violently. I could never hold whisky, you know. Somehow, it doesn’t agree with me. I have stuck to vodka ever since.