“It’s good,” Ashish said in his whispery adolescent voice, “but I think there’s a little bit of unnecessary metaphor mongering in certain places”
“Really? Like where?” asked Ritankar.
“Oh, you know, there are sections where you can see it could’ve been written in a more straightforward manner, but it isn’t.”
Ritankar looked at Kaushik, caught and held his gaze, noticing his lips begin to curl slightly. Kaushik let his eyes twinkle – he had found about a year ago that he could will them to, while he debated in his head whether or not he should pursue the subject further. Eventually, he decided against it and looked away instead. Ritankar, who always looked to Ashish and Kaushik to provide requisite humour at the appropriate moments, since witticisms and rejoinders did not come as readily to him as the other two - a problem further aggravated by the slight stammer he carried, shrugged and lit another cigarette.
Ashish made comments such as this fairly often, their vagueness reeking of puerility and desperate wannabeism (a term Raakesh and Kaushik used as a generalization for all those they did not enjoy the company of; verb: to wannabe, adjective: wannabeesque). Most times, however, it turned out he had sound logic to back himself, although not reasoned out completely and, therefore, he found it difficult to explain them with clarity. When they were only getting to know each other, Ritankar and Kaushik were put off by it. In time, however, they came to accept it, even appreciate it, for it allowed them to think and figure out stuff on their own.
On this occasion, they were discussing ‘The Road’ and, unlike other times, they thought Ashish was speaking shit.
“The bottle’s empty. I’ll get the next one.” Kaushik said, rising from the couch and walking to the refrigerator.
It was past midnight and Kaushik’s apartment had been and looked like it had been through a lot in the past few hours. Two enormous mattresses covered most of the main area; this is where they would doze off when they would be unable to keep their eyes open any longer. Packets of biscuit and assorted snacks lounged on the floor after they’d been pushed off the dining table by newer entrants. The kitchen sink was choked with dirty plates and bits of uneaten food which they hadn’t bothered to clear before shoving the plates in. In the other room, the aged loudspeakers sang The National’s latest album. The yellow light of the bulb, diffused by the smoked glass over it, fell softly over the scene and invested in it a romance that morning would take away.
Kaushik wrestled with the wine bottle for a few moments before handing it to Ashish.
“I can’t do this. You go.”
“Feel like watching a film?” Ashish asked with clenched teeth, as he wrenched at the cork; only half of it came off, torn cleanly from the rest which still sat prettily inside the bottle’s neck.
“Damn! This is some shit wine, this!”
“What do we do about it now?” Ritankar said.
“It happened to me once,” Kaushik said, “and I pushed that little piece into the bottle. It was fine after that, although the piece kept floating up and choking the bottle so the wine flowed out like whiskey. And it tasted a little more of wood than intended, perhaps.”
“Might come in handy in the future, this information,” Ashish commented, “when we have wine that tastes of wood in some restaurant and they tell us it is because they allowed it to breathe in special oak barrels or some shit like that, we can get all worked up and ask if they dropped the cork inside.”
Ritankar started to laugh in his hiccupy little way, his palms journeying to cover his mouth. Kaushik grinned and pointed towards both, “Bloody Amateurs!” he said in his best British accent.
“So, what about the film? We watching one?” Ashish said.
Ritankar shrugged. He shrugged a lot. Kaushik pondered for a second or two before answering in the negative. “Let’s just talk. If we start watching a movie, we’ll fall asleep,” he said.
They sipped their wines pensively.
“You know, I watched this movie recently, I forget the name…” Kaushik began. “…was made by that chap Moodysson – the one who made that film we watched the other day, Tilsammans…”
“Fucking Amal?” Ritankar prompted.
“No, not that. I saw that one ages ago.”
“You saw Lilya 4ever?” Ritankar said, his eyes widening.
“Ah, yes. Lilya 4ever. Wonderful movie.”
“That’s an awesome film dude! I saw it when I was in Chennai! I think I cried when it ended”, Ritankar said.
Kaushik glanced at Ashish and found him raise an eyebrow.
“Well, I don’t think I did anything as dramatic as that,” Kushal said, “but yes, it is a brilliant film.”
The Nationals ran out at this point and were replaced by The Twilight Sad. Kaushik had discovered them during the week – a Scottish band that played a queer concoction of folk and rock and sounded, almost willfully, Scottish unlike, say, Arab Strap.
Aand so you make it yerr own, they sang
But this wherre yerr arrms can’t go…
And a little later,
So wherre arre yerr maannerrs…
"It's an awesome accent, this!" Ashish said.
Kaushik chuckled. "Yeah, but at least you can pick up what's being said. With the Irish..."
"That reminds me," said Ritankar, "I finally managed to watch The Wind That Shakes The Barley."
"Ah. Isn't it a magnificent film!"
"Yes, it is brilliant."
Now that they were on the subject, Kaushik recounted the episode of the Irishman in Ventimiglia again. Ritankar nodded and Ashish listened with polite interest. It was an unsaid pact between the three. They had all, at some point, gone back to narrating the same stories from their short times in Europe over and over, and the others had smiled and exclaimed as if it were the first time, following it up with a repeat of one of their own stories.
Ashish told them about the time he was on a train from Venice to some place in Southern Italy and had to share the cabin with a young couple, newly married, travelling with the man’s parents. They graciously allowed him to sit although they could’ve refused for they had made reservations and Ashish had not. They also introduced themselves and showed great interest when Ashish told them he was from India. Their English was horrendous. The conversation remained warm and monosyllabic, driven forward more by nods and smiles than actual words. When it was time to sleep, the girl snuggled close against her man and gestured to Ashish to lie down in the space she spared. And so Ashish spent the night there, cramped but happy that his back frequently brushed against hers and that he had another story to carry home.
And then Ritankar started with the story of the gregarious woman, keeper of a makeshift general store inside a caravan, outside the station of Milazzo.
“Her husband looked like a real Mafiosi, man!” Kaushik said, when Ritankar finished, “Pony tail, wide forehead, sleeveless black tees and tattoos all over his bare arms.”
“He probably was one” Ashish said.
And they talked of the Cosa Nostra and the ‘Ndrangheta and The Godfather.
“Bonasera, Bonasera,” wheezed Kaushik as he scratched his chin with the back of his hand and then gestured with them expansively, “What have I ever done to make you treat me so disrespectfully”
Brando’s dialogue was thus reproduced faithfully and without context. But so were any number of them on most Saturday nights. They continued on, discussing the extraordinary sense of drama the Italians possessed, as if they wished their lives could resemble their operas.
“All I need is a small cottage somewhere on the Italian coast, east or west doesn’t matter.” Ashish said, “And I am willing to spend the rest of my life there, idling.”
“I wouldn’t mind Spain either, if it comes to that, although I’ve never been there.” Kaushik said.
By 4 AM, they had begun to doze in fits and starts, trying to keep the conversation going, but finding it increasingly difficult. The Twilight Sad had finished too; the world was unnaturally quiet.
They fell asleep, promising each other that they’d wake up early and go to Café Ideal, fully aware that they wouldn’t.