Pune Memoirs, Third Year (2005-06)
Savera/Namaskar, Pune, 2006:
The ceiling fan slowly whirred to life in BJ Wadia library at Fergusson college and hot air percolated to battle the flies in the British style architectural marvel as the head was buried not inside the boring notes but the wooden table. I was feeling sleepy. It was a tale of swimming against the tide. Exams were around a corner which looked like a marathon run to cover ground and cursing the self for not studying for the entire year.
I accepted defeat and strutted my feet in the sweltering heat to wade past FC gate, crossing the road to land at our mecca, Savera. Sweat dropped on my face and the sticky skin. I ordered coffee and removed a classic mild fag to lit. The huge table was shared by a couple of usual suspects and a dude that I came across and exchanged fleeting Hi struck a random conversation to ask who is my favorite actor. I said Amitabh Bachchan. I never know that the Bachchan tag would stay forever with me by the entire gang and everyone knew me by that name in college. I almost forgot that I am Vishal.
He was a rockstar incarnate with the long hair locks and always sporting an unkempt beard to give the Beatles dude a run for their money. Meet Sudhendu. He became a friend in the short span of time that I have known him in Savera and the gang that we became with Koko, Chanda, Beast, Regy, Ajitabh Bhaiya and so many of us, laughing over mundane stuff and of course, muttering fuck bhenchod, madarchod over every small thing that we fret about. One dude that waded leisurely on FC Road and sitting at Savera with a diary and pen. There was no pretension and he defined what easy meant to souls. I can still see him in the Monsoon wearing his jeans pulled till the knee and strutted as if trouble never existed.
The first monsoon shower hit Pune and in the flick of seconds, heavy rains lashed on the city. I was bored sitting in the flat since during the afternoon and came to Savera looking for people to chill out with. The rain plopped inside our tea glasses as we sat outside in the smoking zone. It was the carefree days. An era to be cherished over tobacco stench and intoxicating spirit of rain, friendship and sprinkle of water. College was over and was just hanging around in the city.
I was sitting at Savera wearing a favorite white shirt tucked inside the jeans. The rain shooed everyone away from Savera but I sat inside enjoying the rain and the crowd. He hailed me from outside, “Bachchan daaru piyega?” I was humphed with an ‘abhi’ expression alluding to the heavy rain. It was simple and casual, “Baarish mein hi daaru peene chahiye (Rain is a good time to booze). He hailed me with his hand to join the gang.
The apartment was 10 minutes walk away from Namaskar. I ran back home to take money and scampered back to Namaskar which was just behind Savera and the inside compartment housing Dewar inside which are all part of the same compound. The entire gang was sitting outside and sheltered by the umbrella under the table with alcohol and starters flowing. I ordered the favorite Imperial Blue whisky and lit a smoke every now and then. In those days, I was a chain smoker like most of us in the gang…carefree smokers and monsoon bhewre. It was a monsoon treat offered by Vasant bhaiya and later Ajitabh Bhaiya joined the fun, along with Sudhendu we were having so much fun. I poured a peg of whisky and mixed with soda and ice. Sudhendu remarked, “Yeh apne hi jaise pita hai.” The rain was not in a mood to be tamed and after fighting under the umbrella, we decided to shift base inside the warm comfort but we witnessed moment with Vasant Bhaiya sitting in the heavy rain outside and adjusting the umbrella to save his alcohol from the rain when everyone was taking shelter inside.
The fun continued inside Namaskar and we were joined later by Koko whom I have met in a blank and eye moment at Savera having chai. It was the start of a long and lasting friendship. I already downed a couple of pegs and found myself shifting from English to Hindi when Sudhendu remarked, “Daaru pee ke ab Hindi mein baat kar raha hai.’ Today, it feels like a life-long memory and a dream sequence as if those priceless moments just happened a few seconds away.
The bamboo thread separated Savera and Namaskar. One moment we were sipping chai, coffee and SPDP. The next, we were having alcohol inside Namaskar to beat the cold that engulfed our legs and warmed the throat after being drenched in the monsoon magic of 2006. I remember that Friday when I was sitting with Sudhendu along with someone else, drinking inside Namaskar when he saw a chick walking out of the college gate past 7 p.m. She happened to be a classmate. We were smoking outside when he saw her. She was quite a hot mulgi in college in those days. He ran in the rain and asked her out for beer. We waited and expected the girl to accompany him inside. Sudhendu came alone. What happened was hilarious. The girl declined the beer invite and came up with this lamest excuse, ‘I am in a hurry. I have to go home for my Mom is waiting for me.’ We all laughed. A sheepish smile flashed on Sudiya bhai’s face.
Our conversation always veered to films, spirituality and of course, chicks. There was not a time when Sudhendu never spoke about girls to me and something which someone remarked just after he left for his destination. You should introduce me to the girls…how do you know her…she’s hot yaar. We spoke about sex life and we were like how things not happening in our lives.
I knew that he has always held me in high regard and remember the day that I hopped to Mumbai for my admission since I was planning to move there when the train blast happened in July. He scrapped me on Orkut with, ‘Bachchan! What’s happening in Mumbai?’ It was his way of checking if I was fine.
There was a book that I was reading in those days, ‘Maximum City’ by Suketu Mehta at a time my fascination for Mumbai grew in leaps and bounds. The days of dreams and nurtured the aspiration of making it big in the film industry the time I would shift base. No wonder Maximum City gave wings to the dreams and the book was passed to Sudhendhu as well as to a couple of friends. It was Diwali when I came back to Pune and we were boozing in the car with C, reminiscing of the times spent with Sudhendhu who told him, ‘bhenchod dhyand se rakhna yaad se dena yeh Bachchan ka kitaab hai. Genuine hai Bachchan.’
There was another anecdote that happened much before we hit it off and it was in the good old Namaskar when he was sitting and drinking with some friends. I said Hi and joined them for a while but sensed some discomfort. I don’t remember well but I think he told me that they are having some reunion. I left but was somehow awkward and felt bad. But a couple of days later, he explained emphatically to me in Savera, ‘Sorry for the last time. But, you know they are very old friends and they won’t understand.’ It touched my heart for not many people would explain things. It’s on very rare instance that you meet such pure souls.
Savera was always the first place I hopped and a second home for us in Pune. I couldn’t imagine spending a single day in Pune without sitting inside our favorite hangout which has now pulled its shutters due to some court dispute. A couple of flaneur days were spent in Mumbai and came back to Pune when I walked past the table when I saw him sitting in the non-smoking zone with some chicks. He was like where I’ve been and me being me said, amchi Mumbai. He was a bit flustered on hearing it from my mouth since I do not hail from there and conveyed to me. I don’t remember what I said but something along these lines that either the city has adopted me or showering love on Mumbai that already embraced me. He cheerfully said, ‘Hum Saab ka Mumbai’ and adding prose to it, I was like, ‘Aap ka Mumbai…Mera Mumbai.’ Such was our friendship with the gang.
Sudhendu was one guy who always gave me cool names and was the first person who christened me with Bachchan pseudonym. But, it was not the last one. Cut back to the final year in college with two new entrants in our gang, A and S, a newly married couple who shifted from Kerala to Pune. It was a lazy afternoon. I took S around for a guided visit inside our huge campus at Fergusson College and when her husband came in the evening, she enthusiastically told him that I showed her around the campus. Sudhendu being him and gave me a name which didn’t stay, Raju Guide.
The last time we had a conversation in Savera was long after I moved to Mumbai in the same year and came back to Pune which has always been home to me. It was probably the last time we met over coffee and smoke. We spoke about the Osho ashram and he asked me what’s the plan post-Mumbai, to which I said it’s settling back to Pune. I vividly remember him telling me, ‘Most welcome.’
The time I moved to the hostel in Mumbai, I lost my brand new handset, the prized Nokia 3330 and was out of touch with everyone. But, Orkut was the grace and small mercies to keep in touch. I haven’t logged on Orkut for a very long time in the cybercafé since I was down with malaria. The rain continued unabated in the city and after I logged, I received a scrap. I couldn’t believe it. Koko sent me, You must have received the terrible news by now…Sudhendu was washed by the rain at Khadakwasla Dam. I didn’t know what hit me on the head. How I hope it wasn’t true at all. A friendship made in such a short span of time but didn’t stay for long. Sudhendu’s death took along with him an immense part of the memories. But, I know he is still here and last week made 11 years when he passed away but I know that some equations are too hard to find but stays forever. He cemented our bond again.
We shall meet my friend someday in the sky and I know you are smiling reading the post.