KAVERI RESIDENCY, JYOTI BALMATTA, MANGALORE:
“Bro, do you fucking realize we are fucking late already? You haven’t even tucked your shirt yet and here I’m, gelling my hair for what looks like the fourth time.” I snap at Shrey, trying to look him in the eyes filled with annoyance but his own are planted at the pages of the damn book he’s buried his head and tail in. Like, I don’t get it at all. Why waste your time and pour all your patience onto those gigantic thick-leather draped books displaying scary cover-images of a half-naked girl in a tattered purple gown escaping into a cave or the trail of a monk’s footprints glistening in the dark? How do I tell you, my brother spends his only days off sleeping on the ‘Game of thrones’ fat collection as his pillows or scribbling random poetry on every piece of paper accessible to his vicinity! Oh, by the way, I’m SWAYAM RAI, if you must know, am suited up in a crisp turquoise shirt with white polka-dots ending with olive trousers layered by a wine-red bowtie I had dragged my brother to five shops in distant streets hunting for the perfect one. “Shrey? Bro?” I strive to inch away to alert him but since 25 whole entire years of our existence, the attempt has gone in vain. “Argh, Swayam, just a paragraph more and the book will end. Crazy, Bro. Jeffrey Archer has done a phenomenal job.” He utters, his gaze without tearing away from the aisle of words strung up on the white pages. “Shrey, my brother, we are going to a godforsaken P.U. college reunion and we get to meet up with our old friends after a chain of ten years, so please pick something other than those nerdy Khaaki pants. You best put on something pretty fashionable from my wardrobe, instead.” I lean over the teak wardrobe, waiting for him to surprise me with his choice.
“Yes, mom. We promise. Not even a sip. No. No orange breezer, either.” I recite in rehearsed tone, a plastic mixture of seriousness and loyalty plastered on my face. And in another splitsecond, mom’s sight is fixed at the flashy pallet-black hometheatre screen stretched across the oak walls of the living area dotted with fragile antiques of Brazilian monks margined by kneelength vases crowded with Persian periwinkles. Ever since we’ve grown up, in spite of the umpteen exams I’ve failed, one of my rigid conclusions has never betrayed my pride- Mum has a taste that could make you puke for consecutive three nights. In addition to the roofless huts she passionately sketches in her drawing room, along the burnt desert immediately merging with a lime-green ocean hemmed by wingless crows and limbless camels, her bedroom is invaded by piles of routemaps and atlas to valleys of Amazon Rain Forest, the study table lined with cuttings of newspaper articles spinning around the cumulative frequency of misery of the world; everytime we walk down the stairs leading into the living room, gory news keep blaring from TV, visions of bloodred ruins feeding mom’s interest, making sympathetic comments like ‘Oh my good lord! Why is this world a bed of burnt coals? Are my rantings being heard?’ fall off her lips and a pained look creep across her face. Mum’s always been ever so weird and dramatic, forcing those two words to regret their existence. Before letting another phrase addressing in it all the tragic gloabal challenges spread around the Planet Earth escape her mouth, we kiss mom a quick adieu, throwing ourselves a final look in the mirror that must’ve been confused by itself to do its job. But no, our mirrors don’t gape at us anymore. No trained maven could pinpoint a jot of difference if we were sent as a live question for the ‘Distinguish between’ challenge in an entrance test. We, I and Shrey are Siamese twins, connected to each other below the armpits of my right hand and his left, skin at that region fused into each other’s body, making us physically, to be precise, morphologically joint. I stand before the mirror, garbed up in my gleaming shirt tucked in trousers, no strand of hair clicking against the taut face, etched by a jawline unshaved of the ten day stubble whilst my twin, Shrey, attached to me, has pulled over himself a loose denim tee imprinted with a blue skull and a khaakhi pant, the blue-rimmed spectacles four-eyeing his similar face, except for the clean shave, he considered missing out, a sin. We were twins, conjoint to each other, absolutely alike in appeareance and had gotten used to the ‘literal’ togetherness, puzzling many a people out there with our carbon-copy looks and conjoint condition. “Oh and mum, we found an extra room key amid the bunch of keys while searching for the key of our file-shelf. Which room’s key is this though?” Shrey asks, just when we are about to slam a semi-creaked maindoor shut. “Uh. It should be of the store room. Shrey, just don’t burden yourself with these weighing thoughts, my child”, instantly mouths mom, a flush of red hitting her cheeks when grabbing a lone key from Shrey like her newborn had till then been trapped in a mammothy monster’s clutches. “Weighing thoughts? Like seriously, mom? Shrey was only asking you away.” I pipe in. “Hush. Time for my evening tea, boys. You lads best take my leave now to avoid any sort of delay over there.” She slams the door shut to our face like as though her pluse wholly works on a mere cup of green tea. Mum’s peculiar, for she thinks having a cup of tea or supper with us around the dining table could drag her to a death statement by Indian law. Her maid Lavina listlessly carries it all upstairs, a tray flaunting its aromatic cutlery, into mum’s bedroom wherein, she tells us, she embraces her strange solace biting on her fair share of food. Weirdness, I told you.
ST. ALOYSIUS P.U. COLLEGE:
Our Mercedes Benz halts and we work our way under the red canopy that twinkles through the dusky evening, February acting all shy to give away any icy breeze. We hear whispers, mutters, we eye new faces pasted with bewilderment and the old lecturers with pepper-salt hair still neatly knotted into decent buns just like ten years ago, beckoning the lashing waves of nostalgia around. Unchanged smiles, matured voices, ecstatic gapes and intimate hugs that no Instagram tags or Facebook messenger could grace us with. There are squad-heads we so loathed we still remember having locked them up in the college loo for two continous days, there are strict lecturers, their dry lips resisting to wear a smile since hair’s turned grey and there are old bestfriends and classmates chirping around, digging out nasty memories and embarrassing scenarios from those days. “Hey, these dudes! Hey, Shrey, you shy little girl on the inside, do you still poop and pee alongwith your twin brother?” A laugh pierced through and it was Elroy, a computer-maniac who had been caught selling the last bench chaps the live porn DVDs for half the rate. “And now how about me making you not being able to pee for next another week, motherfucker?” I yell as Shrey tugs at my right arm that was aimed to otherwise blow a punch at Elroy’s genitals. “Calm down, Swayam. Ignore.” His whispers run into my ears. Shrey has always been a brand ambassador of peace and tranquillity amidst the violent turmoils I’ve raised in the gangs back then. “So how are you brothers holding up?” We turn about, our lips curving into a delayed realisation. “Holy mackerel! Oh god! Ankitha.” I exclaim, trying not to freak her out. She shines in her saffron long piece wisely done with the peacock-feather embroidery, a smile her lips haven’t forgotten to smile, still glistening on the face. “Ankitha Rao. Debut novel being ‘A wingless parrot’ followed by a successful electrifying trilogy of ‘The Bhendi Fry.’ Could any adjective possibly cover your books? Plus, if I’m not wrong, your new book that’s housed a slew of your poetic pieces is getting released soon?” I can see her brows furrow, absorbing the train of information Shrey’s shot, making her mull over her own novels. “Whoa, take it slow, Shrey. Hahah, yes. You still own the same Einstein brain, man. So I figured that you read them all through. Thank you.” The writeress blushes. But there’s something I still remember, in spite of my bad memory level unlike Shrey who could tell you what color frock you wore on your seventh birthday and what flavour chocolate you had distributed to the classmates on the tenth one. But anyhow, I remember that she was the one who had written one line essay stating ‘I want to inspire others’ when the substitute lecturer for a free stat hour had made us write our passages on ‘What would you like to do in another ten years?’ And today here she is, having walked miles ahead of her Flaming Spark journey, signing thousand copies of her brainchildren, outshining as one of the revolutionary figures armed with her verbal swords. “Back then, you would write crunches of free verses too. Have you stopped writing?” She asks Shrey, her brows furrowing higher. “How I wish he did! But no, even when I want to attend an urgent nature call, he’s too stubborn to rise from his study table stacked up with numerous notepads. Thank fuck mom didn’t let him take writing serious. I’d have suffered it all, otherwise.” I sigh as Shrey cuts me short, forcing a feeble smile on his face. “I still write on my blog though.”
Shrey forces me to make a move as the ladies flock up. “Yikes, Bro. This is how you choose to talk to an old classmate you met after ten years? Attack her with her own loads of biography? Are you like gay, Bro?” I suppress a giggle as I enjoy watching a tide of disgust wash over his face. Pulling my shy introvert brother’s legs has been my favourite thing other than staying up to fanboy over football matches. “Chill. A few shots down and you’ll be a charged man tonight.” I hang my hand in the air as he throws me a dead pan look. “We promise, mum. Not even a sip. Wow, Swayam, go join a dramatic association so I could buy the entire Dan Brown caboodle out of your pay.” Its one of the pathetic jokes Shrey occasionally cracks which cannot be disrespected without a laugh. I drag him upto the circular bunch of men, our classmates, precisely, who’ve arranged drinks in stealth. I grab a flute of peel-yellow wine, gulp by gulp, racing down my throat. “Swayam, stop it. You do know whatever the heck you consume does reach my body as well, don’t you? I wouldn’t lose my alcohol virginity.” His shrieks mute away and the hoots echo in my head. And just when the formal function marches toward the apparent threshold, a girl, bare 25 in all, long plum-violet boat-neck dress wrapped around the slender frame ending with the glittering silver high heels thudding against the calm granite, walks past us, frequently smiling the hey-that-is-so-funny smile with a thin flute half-filled with blueberry shake in her hand swaying in all directions round, a wise coat of mascara doing the fluttering lashes all justice. If you want me to be frank, being the Casanova I was crowned as, I had dated almost half the score of hot girls in Aloysius back in my P.U. years, the girls whose facebook profiles were what every guy’s midnight lullabies were. Who else could she have been? Bugs of doubt buzz around, shots of wine playing their part in my blurring vision. “Shrey? Who’s she, Bro? Guys, who’s she?” My tongue fumbles through the words I construct in my head before spitting them out, as her smiles rise on those cheeks, lifting up the corner of her mouth. “Shrey, lets go break some ice.” I snake my arm around his shoulders as we walk up to the enigma flickering amidst the familiar faces. “Hey! Oh Swayam Rai! Oh wait, Swayam and umm…I’m sorry, I forgot your name over years.” She half-hugs us, packing her aflutter burgundy streaks behind her shining trinkets. “Er. Myself Shrey Rai.” He mumbles. “Shrey Rai, the artist, guitarist, poet, reader, Rangoli maven and the one whos used to win all those cooking without fire contests in Aloy. Remember him?” I announce, trying to sound as excited as I could. See, I could be a defensive brother too. Especially in front of girls like these who could nearly melt you down with a mere stare, arresting your eyes. “Looks like you know us, but we won’t fake an Oh-you-are-that-girl-right? expression. So how come I don’t remember having seen you in the corridors years ago?” “Ummm…Swayam, it’s Avni. Avni Rajput.” Her face droops and eyes await a possible nod. “A…Av….Oh you mean the propeller-head with those rotund rose-tinted glasses who always spent her lunch breaks in the bio laboratory, taking down notes on the goddang skeleton in there. Oh the same biology-nut? So what have you soared into?” “I slit open corpse and hum to the rhythm of heartbeats.” She says with an injured voice, the sour accumulated on her face speaking of the offence she has taken from my careless comment. “MBBS?” Shrey catches it before I could even gather it. “Yep, I’m currently doing my internship in KMC.” She utters with a hint of nonchalance evident in her reply to Shrey. Alcohol has conquered my crawling senses and I can slowly see the world spin around me no end. Where’s the beauty I’m talking to dissipating? Metamorphosis does good. It sure does. For instance, take this girl. Oh what’s her name again? Av? Avni? Avni Rajput?