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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Stories by Aman Chougle

Stories by Aman Chougle

It All Makes Sense

I’ve never seen a girl more feminine than this one, like out from an old Victorian painting. But she wasn’t that conventionally pretty: her face was odd shaped like an isosceles triangle, she almost looked like one those Vicks lozenges, and her features were not that beautiful: her nose and eyes were plain and she had a small dry mouth. Though she had an old time charm about her, and she carried herself well. She wore her hair short, was as pale as fog, and always dressed exceptionally well. Good sense for clothing is a rarity. It’s as rare as finding open spaces in any major city. When we were toddlers she would always hit me. There was this one incident my mother tells me where I and she were sitting on her mother’s lap and she tried to push me. Being the new baby on the block she was obviously jealous of me. I couldn’t help it I was one cute baby, and I was well behaved too. My mother tells me I rarely cried or threw tantrums. You wouldn’t believe that if you saw me now, but it might be true.

She had an odd way of playing badminton. She would never strike the shuttle-cock but always give it a loving tap, like one does when he or she suddenly feels intimate with another. She was just too delicate. But then she’d never wait for it to come to her. She’d do this sort of desperate hop and tap it with a soft, ‘Woo...!’ coming from her lips. It looked quite silly and sometimes it would make me stop playing, and I’d just stand there laughing. But I guess there’s no end to the list of human quirks. I wish the same could be said about individuality as well. The quirk is at the fringe, I’m talking of the stem. I don’t know why but I always feel the modern way of life is solely, or at any rate is responsible a great deal for this narrowing down of individuality, so much so that you now even know all the clichés and stereotypes, me included.

I don’t know why but again her overt delicateness is swirling in my head. Is the trait of being gentle a given in the female or is it because the way they’re raised, or is it both, like a ball bouncing against two narrow parallel walls with no way out? For she was always like that, I remember in the games-room even while playing carrom this same retrograde femininity persisted. She’d never strike the striker hard, even when required, say when hitting a rebound. A trait like that though at first might charm you can pretty soon become nauseating. For it is a weakness. And it even stinks of shallowness. Women today have to be strong, I don’t mean in a wrestler sort of way but you know what I mean. Otherwise they’ll perish under the stacks of chaos of this modern world like they did by way sexism in the old one, though not to say sexism has disappeared altogether. If anything things are still more or less the same, there’re just different things to be taken into account today, for society has changed, though not in its kernel.

During our early and mid-teens she had a crush on me. It’s strange how her hatred as a baby then later on transmuted into fondness when it came to me. She’d always be hitting me and so I’d try and be on my best behaviour. And I guess that won her over, even though it took years and years. I’ve observed this through the years many times: where one person hates the other vehemently, but that other person for reasons only known to him sticks to the one hating like glue and eventually the situation flips. It’s as if the person receiving hate just wanted something from the other and when he receives it, he throws the other away like a prostitute.

Her room window looked down at our play area, and if I were playing down she’d always be at the window staring at me. Even if I were to stare back she wouldn’t budge. You had to stop whatever you were doing, or rather playing, and just keep staring at her to stop her from doing the same. I don’t know what delight she experienced by staring at me like that. I wasn’t that great an athlete anyway. In fact I was jumpy and had no elegance, like you know how some sportsmen have elegance, like Roger Federer, it almost seems as if he’s doing ballet. From downstairs it looked kind of sad though, as if she was a caged princess wanting to break free, wanting something different but not knowing what. Like how some people see through the hypocrisy of their conventions or are simply bored with them. Her face projected exhaustion. She wanted to go against the order of her life. She was weary of it, so weary that she’d try anything, even the unknown black cesspool of me.

For a teenager her pose was unusually that of melancholy, like a young socialite tired and weary of all the wealth and parties. And like it does to the rich, especially women, her weariness gave her elegance. Her parents aware of this always tried to get her to pursue some hobby, like Indian classical singing and dancing. But she’d get disinterested in few months time. Fortunately she was clever enough to always keep her grades well above average, despite her weariness.

In the games-room if we were playing carrom, she’d always try and be my partner. And then she’d stare me in the eye. You’d have to stare back for she was very persistent. When our eyes would be locked, we’d be transported into some unknown world, and made aware of the possibilities that could’ve been between us. I’d feel the pull of her. I could feel her heart burning for me and she knew that mine had to burn for her too, and it did to a certain degree in spite of whatever rationalizing I did on the surface. Eyes truly are the windows of the soul, for in that stare we’d know more about each other than all the conversations in the world. So in some sense she was the new female of this modern world for she wasn’t afraid of asking the question. Why should men always play the lead, when in actuality women have a better intuition when it comes to our private lives? I feel women are closer to the centre, what I call the “all-essentials”, not men.

The situation though reversed itself in our late teens. I distinctly remember this happening in one of our annual gatherings. Our building every January would’ve a dinner party for its residents. I was on the way out for a smoke with the guys after dinner when she suddenly appeared with a girl, a neighbour of ours, and she looked so dazzlingly pretty I would’ve asked her out then and there. She was wearing a white Shalwar-kameez with silver sandals, her dupatta a multicoloured affair was like a rainbow encapsulated in a kaleidoscope. But the thing that made most our heads turn was her make-up. She had made herself out to be like a Bengali-bride. Man…like they say, ‘My brain was in my butt and my butt was in my brain!’ I even distinctly remember getting angry when while smoking one of the guys had remarked that seeing her like that, he wanted to pick her up on his shoulder and take her to some place private. While returning back that anger reflected in few hateful comments against him making the others laugh at him, which were not about the girl of course, but something else. If there’s one thing you don’t do when among guys is censure some guy being explicit about his libido, for fear of being called a sissy. When we returned, finding her among others, it was obvious she had dressed herself up a bit too much for the occasion, which could also be seen in the other girl’s eyes but who cares, she looked great!

They were a group: she, then the other girl who was at the party, and another one who I feel disliked me for some reason. I’d always want to chat with them, whenever I could, but the third one always made me awkward. If I get a sense of the fact that I’m not wanted, I try to jet ’cause I can’t bear thick tension between people, especially when I’m the cause of it. Girls like that, not her I’d say: the one whom these pages are about but the other two, after marriage mostly live for their families. I’d say they’re some of the most important people we need for if not for a good, stable home man has nothing. Girls like that on the whole are full to the brim with common decency. In short they can’t really cause anyone any serious harm, sometimes even if they want to. And that goodness is real like that of friendly dog, and not like the speeches of a vain moralist who in reality is as selfish and filthy a crook as any other. I don’t like it when “career” women look down upon such women, the excuse that, ‘It’s so shallow and old-fashioned,’ doesn’t hold true just because you’re too cold and detached to do it. In this day and age to raise a healthy, stable family is as difficult a job as having any career you can think of. These are the same kind of women who derive their complacency from the fact they’re now doing things that were only done by men few generations ago, regardless of how destructive or pointless those actions may be.

Though returning back to our girl, when my turn came I couldn’t play the role of the chaser as she had few years ago, it wasn’t as obvious as hers anyway. Even though I knew she liked me a lot in the past, I couldn’t use that as a spring to her ask her out. Dating always requires a certain effort and I feel I’ve always lacked the vitality needed for it, even though I’ve had my share. Sometimes I was so clumsy in my efforts with her that they’d leave me puzzled and embarrassed for days on end. I just couldn’t do it. The cheese was right there but I just couldn’t reach it. I guess doubt is an instinct in man, not something external forced upon by circumstance.

They say, ‘The chase is better than the catch.’ But I disagree. I say catch and see how it is. Even today I’m curious how it would have been. ’Cause I always felt she wanted something else than the usual humdrum of dating, something dark, unknown and potent: the unchartered waters, the deep-end of the pool where only few go. There was a definite need to break-away in her as if she thought she was above her surroundings, that it was a temporary muck she had to bear with till what she rightly deserved came to her. And maybe she sought that escape through me, for she pursued long enough.

Anyway her intuition was right, for today, I’d do anything to bypass the usual way of life.    

Gootlimama

The title is a pet-name designed by yours truly. It was the Marathi period. I was seated near the last bench with a friend, and Gootlimama was seated right next to us on the left. Usually he was one those moping around kind of sort. He was very gloomy that way. But on that day during that period, he was unusually straight and attendant. This was of course till I had a look downstairs.

His crotch was trembling, as if there was a big earthquake going on underneath. I showed my friend what I saw but even he couldn’t figure out what was going on. Then I bent forward and noticed his right-hand was in his pocket, and put the pieces together. The teacher was present, the children were present, but of course Gootlimama was in a world of his own with the girl of his dreams. His face was stiff. Caught in the orgasm it almost looked artificial, like a wax statue version of him, and his eyes were darted straight forward as if he were really concentrating hard. For once the teacher didn’t shout at him for moping around.

I and my bench-partner were the first ones to catch him. On that day he was alone, his bench-partner was absent. But what we noticed very quickly was that she being absent or not around wasn’t necessary. If she were seated he’d put his haversack between them, and get on with it. His partner was really short. When seated she barely went over the haversack, but still if you were to constantly look at his face you’d easily understand something was going on. But then again they hated each other. One didn’t even glance at the other. They were like an old married couple: even though they live together, they sometimes don’t have a conversation for months. That was them through and through. They just tolerated each other with an empty hate. The teacher had made them sit together for the girl was a good student, and the boy was not. During the first few days it was only I and my friend, who was seated with me at the time, knew what he was doing, and we’d joke about what if he were to ejaculate, and the teacher were to call him to answer a question at the same time. That would’ve been something to watch, like they’ve those TV shows where goofy instances are caught on tape. Then it quickly spread around among our friends.

After the first few weeks I came up with that pet-name. I had to call him that for he’d do it not once but many times a day, as if it were his refuge, or may be it really was for the frequency of it conveyed so. He’d even do it, believe it or not, while taking dictation, with his right hand holding the pen, and his left hand in his pocket; anyhow what he wrote was...I tell you about that in a minute. The name spread like wildfire, among boys and girls alike. Even the kids from the first-floor kindergarten called him that and ran away. They obviously didn’t know what it meant, but then again the one being teased finds that even more annoying. We even had song about it in which the chorus was just the pet-name repeated thrice. I didn’t expect it to be so popular, like how a talentless singer suddenly comes up with a chart-topping album, and then disappears after couple of years. In poor Gootlimama’s case, it was he who had to unfortunately disappear.

When I had come up with that name I didn’t have the slightest clue that it might be used to completely ostracize him from the rest. That word later on wasn’t just a symbol for his masturbating in class. It was a symbol for his whole freakish persona. If non-conforming behaviour is not tolerated anywhere, it’s most definitely not tolerated among teenagers. He’d always be moping around, and then he had that one dreaded quality that no teen should ever have when among other teenagers: self-sufficiency, a boy who can be comfortably alone. Teenagers, most of them anyway, can interpret that as only two things, either he can’t find any friends because he’s a “loser”, or he doesn’t want to be friends, he has an “attitude” (how I hate that word) problem. It wasn’t that before the masturbating incident we didn’t make fun of him, we naturally did. He had an atrocious handwriting. He just wrote to fill his books. He wasn’t even a little concerned about what he wrote. I and another friend use to borrow his notebooks, sit behind him during a free period or during recess and read them out loud. His handwriting would make letters seem different than what they actually were, so “Europe” would look like “Eurape”, “Father” would look like “Potder” and so on. You can imagine when words like that read out loud in complete sentences, by two teenagers, what kind of ruckus it must be creating. Sometimes we’d actually have a crowd around us, even if there was no one around my friend and I laughing loudly was enough humiliation to bear with. But Gootli wouldn’t say a thing, in fact after the initial period he’d give us the notebooks on his own, without we having to fight for them, as if he wanted to be made mockery of. I know: teenagers can be real assholes sometimes.

There was an incident after which he had to leave school. It was understandable for by then everybody saw him as stale food thrown at the side of the street. During P.E. periods the class use to be empty as all the children use to be down playing. On one such occasion though a girl was somehow late, and Gootli was there too. I don’t really know what exactly happened for I wasn’t there, but some kind of altercation took place between them because he bumped into her or something like that. The girl took the matter straight to the principal, and even brought her parents into the mix. She obviously knew about his masturbating in class, and she was one those “I fancy myself” kind of folk even though she wasn’t that sweet, bright or attractive. Strange how only people like that always fancy themselves. After a day or two when one of the teachers involved lectured the two, I was happy about the fact that the girl was put in her place (everybody needs that now and then), for there was obviously nothing there. Gootli was unfortunately reduced to a nervous buffoon, and so he behaved erratically, you would too if you were ostracized completely. Teenage boys I don’t think should be seen as sexual predators. That’s just another myth convention gives you so we can dice the world with ease, without ever touching its real complexity, which if experienced for real can leave your head open like a nutcracker. Yes they are horny, but they’re also extremely awkward about their sexuality, something that’s not always taken into account. When he was standing there being lectured I could feel his isolation, as if any minute he’d jump out of the window.

He was then put into a military boarding-school. I guess to stop him from moping around, to bring back that vitality he never really had. He didn’t get along there well, though somehow he made himself a better student. Funny how he use to call me up from there; he saw me as a friend, ’cause even though I was always making fun of him, as I’d always be around reading his notebooks and all, the criterion for friendship was passed.

Then when he finished school, his vacations had started earlier than us and so he’d come to meet me after school. The others also use to gather around. He having been away for two years that edge had been removed, between him and them. You could still hear the name, and by the way by then it had been reduced to “Gootlye”, but it was nothing like when he was in our school. Besides, he was use to it. You could see he wasn’t really bothered by it anymore. Maybe he had gone beyond it.

He’d come there to a nearby arcade and we’d sit and have a chat. Naturally I was guilty to a certain degree, and so now I’d go out of my way to be polite to him. And since I’d stopped being a complete asshole with him for some time now, he finally opened up to me. Funny how insightful he was, for his outer persona always conveyed someone weary, like a young female with hefty inheritance, too jaded to bother about all such things as life, hope and freedom. But then pain does that to you sometimes. Pain is a positive element (up to a point ’cause every man has his breaking point) if one knows how to use it properly, like an artist taking inspiration from nature. It can really take you to a place of clarity and understanding.

He now reminds of that phrase, ‘My situation is making me grow too fast.’  And all I learnt was: this name-calling can be risky business.

Changes

I met him through other people at school. Back then, compared to the rest, he was exceptional in that, he had no pretensions as to being tough. In that early impressionable age, unlike others, he was happy being considered soft and harmless, and in that stood his likeableness. Like I heard someone say, ‘The real person is much more interesting than the fake image.’

At school he was known for bringing the best tiffin known to us. He’d actually have to run after boys, ’cause nobody would leave anything for him. He had a very peculiar run. He could form a mirage, tricking you into believing that he could run really fast, with his head bowed, and arms swaying rhythmically as if they were connected to an engine. He couldn’t run that fast, but it really looked as if though he could. He was pathetically goofy, when running away from someone after him, he’d make the most comical toddler-like noises, these odd squealing noises, and when caught he was the only boy I knew who’d beg himself out of a confrontation, even though it was just for fun. He’d do that laugh-begging, you know, ‘Ha-ha-ha, I don’t want to do this, Ha-ha, I really don’t, stop!’

At the annual school athletic meet we had an event called “Crocodile-race”, my friend and I were the undefeated champions of the sport (if it can be called that). It was quite simple: you had a group of two boys, one held the other by the feet, and the other ran on the track using his hands. My friend being short was the one who used his hands, though not to say he was light to carry. But he had powerful hands, you’d feel him pull if you were not at speed with him, and when finally we use to win, his tight hug squeezing the living breath out of me was another sign of how powerful his hands really were. Our secret was simple: unlike others I held him at the knees, most held at the feet, giving me and him better control. And then of course we had his hands, they were the chief weapon in our arsenal.

At first he had a cycle to ride to school. Then when he shifted to an apartment nearby mine he bought one of those mopeds. He and I use to ride together to home after school. He’d always give me a lift when possible. During rains we’d sometimes have accidents, but nothing major, the usual skidding at turns and falling on your sides, though once while going to school we had crashed into a girl and that created a major scene. We were on our way to collect our results, when in the middle of the road he asked for the time, I a bigger fool than he, instead saying the time out loud, show him the watch on my left hand, and this guy, instead of shouting at me for my stupidity, takes a look. My watch had a complicated set of hands and by the time he figured out which hand was what, crash! The girl was just stunned, the bike slipped, and we both suffered leg injuries. I pulled a muscle, and he suffered nasty bruises on his knee, the kind that make you look away. A crowd had gathered, but seeing that it was we who were badly injured and not her, we were let go. We both had to limp from the school-gate to our class. Afterwards though we ended up spending the whole day together, it was one those kinds of experiences where you can find respite only with that particular person, for he’s experienced it too. At lunch we weren’t really talking, but after that when I tried leaving he wanted me to stay and I did.   

When he’d shifted nearby I’d go to his place to study. We’d never study, but that hardly mattered. We’d sit back, and throw fresh remarks at each other, sniggering if something were funny. It didn’t last long ’cause his mother was a nuisance. She’d always be spewing out clichés which would even vex her own son most of the times. Money breeds ignorance, or maybe it’s the other way round, either way the person so afflicted, is always tiresome. My mother and his didn’t get along too well. Their differences were petty, like they always are, but funny how even though we were kids we could see through them. But then as we grew even we started behaving like them. Does age really make you mature, or that “Oh, you’re too young” just an excuse for being aimlessly muddled?
He also had an elder sister who was very loving and affectionate with him, which use to make me jealous, for I always wanted a sibling but never got one, though most of my friends tell me I’m better without. I don’t know why most siblings don’t get along well, if I had one, I’d sort of have a pact with him or her to save ourselves from our parents, but like they say, ‘Easier said than done.’
Later I’d only go to his place to play cricket. They had a beautiful ground, with a lush green coat of grass, and a well cut bush on its bound. We’d play till late dusk for being fairly open, the pale sky with its luminous grey, before it turned purple, was enough light to see the ball. We’d sometimes even cycle race in and around his vicinity for they had good roads, a rarity from where I come from. Once we went off road just for the thrill of it, and I ended up drowning my right leg shin deep in mud. There was no tap nearby, and so my friend had to go home to bring water. He came back with a small bottle of water and I smacked him on the head. When he asked why I did that, I smacked him again. The next time he came down, he brought three big bottles instead.

In our last year in school, I’d mostly hang-out with a different set of boys. I’d hang with the old crew as well of which he was a part, but it was a side-dish order thing, when I felt sick of the new crew I went to the old one, which I guess they realized sooner than I expected them to. When such a thing happens your old friends think you’ve grown bored of them, which is partly true, people do take a toll on each other, like how two brittle objects grinded against one another eventually start to flake. I wanted to know the new crew so bad that I forgot about the old one, or because I already knew them, my curiosity for them had extinguished. He’d still ride me home sometimes, but I had to stop that ’cause it didn’t look good, coming back to him just for the sake of a lift. It’s funny how such an understanding is achieved better non-verbally, than say, if we were to have a talk about it.
Then during first year of junior college the rift grew further, for I didn’t see much of him. The first few months of college always change you in some sense. Given a new environment you have to adapt yourselves to your new found freedom, freedom of wanting to attend college or not, and to the new peers you find around you. College changed both of us, and in such a way that we both started looking the other way. It was clearly marked when I was called to his birthday that academic year. At first I couldn’t point my finger at it, though it was there in its abstraction. When we were leaving he came close to me and asked me how I liked the party. Distant and somewhat lost I replied, ‘I would’ve preferred if there was some beer at the party.’ I don’t know from where he pulled out a sedan (I didn’t know he had one) and took me and some other guys to a nearby liquor store and bought few beers for me and the guys. He didn’t drink, but he drove around as we had ours. From the backseat I could hear him talk about clothes to the guy sitting next to him, and so I looked out and got lost in my beer and the outside view. His birthday came during September. Three months into the monsoon season all the trees, plants and grass were thick lush with growth. Though after about five minutes when my mind returned to them, I could still hear them talk about clothes. I thought it was one of those small talks you’ve about things, though obviously it was not, they were talking about brands, the expensive ones, and how they compared with each other, which I found very shallow and snobbish. Clothes have never really held any interest for me. I am always badly dressed, I always have one piece of clothing on which either needs a washing, or is just too old and should be discarded right away.  

Before going home, as everyone had left, he and I sat at the edge of the ground where we use to play cricket, and had a chat. He was very explicit in that he didn’t want me drinking, or even smoking for that matter. Even I wanted to tell him something about his new persona, but I just couldn’t figure out what to say, and so I kept my mouth shut. I remember he did most of the talking that night.

Then during our second year, we’d joined the same tuitions for our boards. We were in different batches, but still I’d catch him around every once in a while. By this time around our friendship had moved into one of those stages, where when you see the other guy you crack a joke or a wisecrack and move along, you don’t any longer wait and have a chat like you would. By that time I had developed a bad habit of smoking after every lecture. After every period, say after economics, we were given a ten minute break, so in that ten minute break I and few other guys would rush down for a smoke. Now smoking makes one lose weight, I don’t know how, but I had surely lost a lot of weight during my junior college days. This friend of mine on the other hand had started going to a gym, and had pumped himself up like an action-figure. He had grown tall too, surprisingly as tall as me, ’cause of some Tele-brand product which we use to make fun of. I remember after tuitions me and the guys were smoking and I had some work with him so I called him near me. He didn’t come very near because of the smoke coming out of my lips and nostrils. There was a stare between us, and it was so obvious, we disliked the changes, he in me, and I in him. After having asked him for what he was called, there was a pause between us, and I noticed he was looking me up and down. He scolded...well scolded is too harsh, he lectured me on how weak I had gone. And in the middle of the street started flexing his muscles, showing me what he was up to in his free-time. I couldn’t believe my eyes ’cause in school he was the only kid who was free from all that macho pretentiousness. Where was that sweet boy whom I knew as a child?

After that year I rarely ever met him, and even if I did it was mostly by accident. I’d like to meet him now ’cause it’s been awhile, but the way things had become estranged between us at the end, I don’t think it’s ever going to happen.

Aman Chougle is a sound engineer. He loves music, books, and collecting paintings. Besides art and reading, travel, nature, occasional cooking, and meeting the multifarious lives of this planet are his other interests. Currently he’s working on his first novel. These stories are from his anthology titled The Last Soul Children.

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