The old graffiti has been whitewashed over. The locked almirahs seem rude almost. Couple of hours back, a dusty curio would have been stashed in hurriedly. Eyes would have swept over the bare-naked room. Fingers would have felt the lock tumblers falling into place; and would have then tugged at the almirah lever – once again – just in case. One can almost hear the cribbing and curses of the poor soul- of his discomfiture on the encroached space. Beneath the bravado, one feels stealth-like – a stranger in a stranger’s room.
All you have is the musty smell and the coffee stain and all I’ve got is my baggage of laundered memories – I feel like saying to the stranger – and all we’ve got between us is the number on the door. Crazy thoughts! Blame that on the twelve hour train ride and the booze en-route. Poetry and piss comes free with a pint of beer.
The tire-swing seems to stagger under my weight; and then it starts to sway in approval. It should look silly. Juggling the coke and vadapav doesn’t help. The New Year resolve of six-pack abs melt away in another bite of sinful fat.
A car cruises and halts on the driveway. A travel-weary couple alight. The faces light up at my sight. Bear hugs and back-slapping follow. Come to think of it, you always back-slap a person twice. One more and the gesture gets too intimate for comfort. One less and it seems perfunctory. As we laze away in the welcome January sun, another odd dozen join the crowd. Still more to come.
Stock-taking follows – of professional conquests, deals won and opportunities lost. Eyes size each other up, measure by measure, and the self keeps falling short of the perfect fit. And soon the sun thaws away the remaining ice. Raucousness rules. More faces join in. Each face retches out an event. As we start walking around the campus, pensiveness sets in. Each sight triggers a memory. And someone starts building on that. And someone else brings in the frills. A long-forgotten tune comes alive and I hum it along. Paths of time turn slippery by the minute.
My mobile starts ringing and I excuse myself and step aside. I spew out instructions to my colleague at the other end. The crowd waits for me, shifting legs impatiently. I come back and walk along. I try humming again but I seem to have lost the tune.
Forty-eight hours have blown away in a gust of gung-ho. The bai is cleaning up the party court-yard, sweeping aside countless cigarette butts and paper graffiti. I feel clearheaded. Only the dull throbbing in the joints remains, reminding me of the mirth and merry of the night. And the slight limp on the right foot too; surprising, considering the fact that all I had were two left feet the night before. No hangover to crib about. Thank God for small mercies!
I light a joint and walk in the morning sun. Some of the old cronies are having their tea at the chota. I join them. Good humored taunting and leg-pulling goes on. Someone cribs on half the batch not turning up. Someone else comments on how the absence of some spoilt the fun of a few. A couple of sympathetic gazes fall on me and someone touches my forearm. I brush it aside and joke about it. I laugh – a bit too loud. And wish for a hangover to settle in.
People start leaving in groups. I should be one of the last to leave. Got an evening flight. Now that the ritual is over, everyone seems to be in a hurry to move on. Back pats and hugs follow. Mail ids and mobile numbers get swapped. Promises to call, to write, to meet up are made. Those should stay alive for another week. That’s the way of the world. Guess that’s the way it should be.
It’s a long walk to the village shop. I go out all the same. The paanwallah has changed. I don’t bother to ask about the old guy. I roam around the streets. Most of the old memories have been discussed and dissected by the old crowd. I nibble at the left-overs. And I savor the fringes which were entirely mine and never up for sharing. I wonder at days bygone when the world revolved around my bloated self. I wonder at the present, of being yet another cog in some godforsaken wheel. And then I laugh at both.
I zip my carry bag and gaze around the room. Another soul should have done the same act a couple of days back. Fear of losing made him do that. It is the leaving behind that I fear.
I walk along with the bag slung over my shoulders. I smile at the guy who walks past me with a bag clutched in his hands. The sleepy eyes acknowledge me. I turn back and see him walking into my room – his rather. The door closes behind him. I walk on.
A wistful feeling creeps over me as I think of things that ain’t what it used to be. Come to think of it, it probably never was. The thought grinds away the rough edges of memories. Some measure of relief! I can feel the past take sepia hues once again – and there it goes back to the back drawers of my thoughts. As I leave the campus gates, that elusive note springs back on my lips. And this time, I hold it tight and hum along.