He looked like a giant turd, one that would normally follow hours after hoarding on unhygienic street food served on equally dubious steel plates. After having said that, its needless to say that the sight of him jarred my senses.
This description isn’t physical, not completely at least. It’s the halo he seemed to have woven around himself and the airs with which he seemed to float about, a few inches higher than everyone else around him. He was the quintessential distasteful first-bencher. At an age when the arms of most young boys start to find purpose in a self-serving private fashion, his arms were primarily used to announce his superior knowledge in class before shooting out projectile after projectile of answers.
I have no knowledge of the above in truth. It is all plain conjecture. I didn’t know the guy in school or college and this was the result of my roving eye catching a sight of him for a brief minute for the very first time. An involuntary grimace blossomed on my face and an epithet followed from my lips.
He walked as upright as his limbs seemed to allow, a huge bag stationed on his back. It didn’t help that he was tall, way taller than me. He towered over us.
We later found out that he felt the same way too. Though we were all fresh graduates and new employees in the same company, he had come through the ranks of a national university, an NIT no less. Meanwhile, I had been thrown out with a barely passing degree from Maharaj Vijayram Gajapathi Raj College of Engineering, an institution of repute only within the district it was situated in.
This aspect was touched upon time after time at the lunch table. Though I kept my distance out of disgust from his airs, I could hear his booming voice drop NIT at will every few minutes. I tried to not pay any attention and mingled with other below average engineers who had emerged disgracefully from similar institutes of disrepute such as mine. Until one day my ears perked up at his seemingly innocent question.
“So how much do you local fellows get as salary?” The insulting nature of the query was lost on him. But pat came the reply.
“Why, the same as you guys. Three lakhs per year”.
His jaw dropped like a ball onto the cafeteria table. My eyes lit up with interest as I surveyed his face as emotion after emotion pummeled into it. He stammered for words as comprehension dawned on him. The halo retreated in shame and the air around him, no longer rarefied, merged into the common, the common air of the local engineers like me.
I watched all this with absolute glee. He left his chicken leg piece, one that he had been tearing into with gusto and stumbled away from the table. I almost whooped with joy.
He didn’t show up for three days after that. My interest was piqued at what I felt was a rather hyperbolic reaction to something he should have already known. I went to the home he shared with other despicable colleagues of mine and met him. He didn’t talk much but I gathered a sense of the person in his nest. This was not his arena, that was the classroom or an office meeting, where he could shine. This was him, just him, bereft of glory, he no longer looked upright. I felt bad for the guy. I tried to be friends with him.
As it turned out, he was a fan of Mahesh Babu. I almost hurled up my dinner in disgust but maintained a steady composure. I didn’t want to beat a dead horse. There were other things we had in common though, Mysori Bajji with pieces of green chilli secured as if they were hidden treasure within, MS Dhoni’s over reliance on spin, Classic Milds and Blender’s Pride Reserve Collection aged 6-8 months. I was taken by surprise with the intersection of these points of interest and thought there was enough here to kindle a fire. We thus forged a friendship.
Sometime in the Winter, circa 2013
We were intertwined on the bed, the alarm had been raging for an hour. Two bottles of whiskey were lying beside the bed, the air was full of ash and smoke. The alarm kept going.
I sensed a movement beside me and then a flurry of swear words. I was still drunk even though it was the morning after, I had not yet moved to the hangover phase. Delirious, I couldn’t quite make sense of what was happening. I slipped back into my coma.
A whacking ensued on my butt and I woke with a start.
“Ni yabba, I’m late. Keys, where are the keys”
“It’s my first day today and I’m already late ra! Keys, I can’t find them, the door is locked”
Completely delirious was I.
“There is a HTML scrollbar on the right side of the drawing room. Scroll down all the way to the bottom, you’ll find your keys”
“Thanks ra babu”, he said and dashed off. He also was still drunk.
A few minutes later, he yanked me from bed.
“What the hell, what are you talking about, what scrollbar in the hall?”.
A little better on the senses, I pointed to the window where the keys where and he dashed off to his first day of work as a post MBA at an investment firm. I went back to sleep.
The night before, he had been telling me of why it hurt so bad all those years back then. Of all the sleepless nights he had endured to get into a national institute and why he foolishly believed he was better. He had later on cut himself from the rat race and went on to better things. He was back in town now, we were celebrating. and the turd had turned into a close friend by then.
45 degree summer in Chittor, 2018
“Thatha, this is Christopher. Uday’s first wife”
This was the ungrateful introduction bestowed upon me by his newly and lawfully wedded wife, to her family. I grinned sheepishly wondering what these octogenarians would make of such a statement.
“You need a hatchet to do this”, he said looking at my six month old lockdown beard.
“You don’t think this will do”, I asked. I held a tiny trimmer in my hand which looked impossibly incompetent.
“Not for this, no. God, you look dreadful. How can you even look at yourself”.
I dodged the insult and began removing it. It was painful work because it had grown like an infection all around my face. Sensing my plight, he came over, took a branch of it in one hand, the trimmer in the other and started hacking at it.
I made eyes at him coyly.
“Endhi”, he asked.
“Doesn’t it feel like we’re having a moment here? This is so intimate no”
“Ni bonda ra, ni bonda”.
We’re just two lost turds swimming in a bowl. Year after year.
September 2020, Write Club Hyderabad.