Sunday, October 03, 2010

Stone Wall, Stone Fence

It was on a cold winter night when Raakesh told Kaushik he would not take up a job. “I’ll do something, maybe try and be a journalist”, he said. Afterwards they strolled around the campus, covered in a thick veil of radiant fog. The vapour from their coffee rose and mingled with the fog, as did their own breaths.

Ever since they’d become friends, Raakesh often hinted at not wanting to carry on with the mistake he’d made. “This MBA stuff, it repels me,” he would say, “I can’t see myself doing this, being surrounded by people such as these. I just can’t.” Kaushik, unsure of what his own feelings in the matter were, remained silent on these occasions. He knew that he too was not thrilled at the prospect of spending years in an elaborate office in formalwear, but in the apparent absence of immediate alternatives, he was loathe to make a choice. He felt curiously envious and, at the same time, relieved each time Raakesh renewed his vow – relieved that it was Raakesh and not he. Raakesh, in the meanwhile, continued to take his exams and prepare sufficiently before them to get by, forever threatening that the next time he would not.

Somewhere in the most isolated corner of the campus when the thuds of the woofers in the Community Centre no longer bothered them, they stopped walking. They sweated lightly inside their jackets. Raakesh still carried ‘The remembrance of things past’, tattered and yellowed with its years in the library, in one hand. For some reason, he had taken it with him to the Insti party. “I came straight from the library,” he’d said by way of explanation.

Two years from then, when Ritankar and Kaushik stood before the grave of Proust in Paris, Kaushik would recount the episode to Ritankar. “Oh, that library version had about twenty pages torn off it. I had to stop reading it because of that.”, Ritankar would say in response.

They stood there for a while, silent, for they could think of nothing to discuss in particular, but unwilling to return to the din or to their rooms. Kaushik leaned against a tree trunk.

“So then, journalism, son?” Kaushik said.

“Yes son, that seems to be the idea.”

“But how do you plan to get in? An MBA degree, even one from the IIMs, does not help much in these matters, I gather.”

“I don’t know son, honestly,” Raakesh flushed, “but there must be a way. I’ll get into a separate course on journalism if need be.”

“A separate course? That is an extra year son, yes?”

Raakesh nodded, a little exasperated. Why must he think of all this now?

“What about the enormous loan you’ve run up here? How do you pay that back?”

“Maybe I will not, son.”

They started to walk again.

“So son, any new efforts coming up?” Raakesh asked.

“I think so son, yes. A short piece about a prisoner and his life. Will probably write it at some point tomorrow. You, of course, will be informed when it goes up on the blog.”

“Of course.”

“You? Anything in the offing? Besides the love poems to be pushed under the door?”

“Yes son, rubbing it in, it seems!” Raakesh paused, “No, nothing really. I am afraid the Booker will have to wait for a while.”

“Listen, lets go to the canteen. I would like some tea, a bowl of noodles too, perhaps.” Kaushik said.

“Sure son, lets. What time is it?”

“Ten minutes to two. Early days yet. We’ve plans for Counter Strike at three. Another hour to pass.’

The canteen was largely deserted; occasionally people appeared in ones and twos, and carried their tea cups, once those arrived, outside. Nobody sat at a table. Outside the canteen, there was a clearing, that looked like it had been commissioned as an ampitheatre but construction was abandoned halfway, and this is where most people sat with their teas. Raakesh and Kaushik chose to sit inside, happy with the warmth and the isolation.

“These computer games you play son, I never understand what is so interesting about them.”

“Perhaps not as interesting as a course in journalism son, yes. But whatever little there is, it is more immediate one feels.” Kaushik chuckled, pleased to have constructed, verbally, a somewhat more convoluted sentence than he usually did. Conversations in English were something he’d never had before he came to Lucknow, and he still found himself fumbling with the spoken word once in a while.

“Really son, that is just a ridiculous comment. What has one got to do with the other?”

“I know son,” Kaushik conceded, “just popped up in my head and I said it. Nothing to get so peeved about.”

Raakesh would indeed take up a course in journalism a few months later and then find himself employed with a well-known English daily, as a Sports Correspondent. In the first few months, he would cover minor Snooker and Table Tennis tournaments and fill his reports with references from The Dante, Homer and the Bible. He would then show those to Kaushik and they would have a good laugh.

On this night, the two would separate after an hour at the canteen. Kaushik would go back to his room and play Counter Strike under the alias of Che Guevara on the campus LAN with a bunch of friends. Raakesh would go back to weed.

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