A certain afternoon, in my second MBBS, I was walking on the shaded avenue between college and hostel, the harsh sun filtering through the trees on my drowsy head, when I came upon Krishnan boss (boss is how medical students address their seniors). Krishnan boss was the sort of person who if given a choice between Pamela Anderson and Jennifer Lopez as companion on a marooned island would always choose Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine. His batchmates had stopped forcing him to attend video screenings of porn movies (which at that time were available only in cassettes) in the hostel, because the sight of the female protagonists always made him remind the gathering that the lymphatic drainage of the breast was very important and likely to be a full question in the examination.
He sighed in response to my hello.
“Which book are you reading these days?” He asked me
“War and Peace”, I lied, because I felt he wouldn’t approve of my reading Penthouse Letters 5.
“I read that in class 6.” He sighed with sad satisfaction. “You do remember tomorrow’s meeting, don’t you?”
“Of course boss. How could I forget it? It’s in Home Science College after all.”
He sighed at my attempt at levity.
“It’s a SPIC MACAY meeting remember? We’re not going there to leer at girls. We’re going there to save our cultural heritage” His sad intellectual eyes threatened to devour me in their sadness.
I hastily apologized and promised to be there at the correct time.
Inside the hostel, I met Amit, the most disreputable boy in the hostel, and consequently, my best friend. I plucked the cigarette from his fingers and sucked greedily.
“Hey man, let’s go to see ‘Beta’ movie tomorrow morning? Heard Madhuri has danced WOW! “Dhak-dhak karne laga!” And he started squeezing his pectorals together in a grossly indecent imitation of the screen diva.
“Stop that disgusting contortion” I said. “I can’t come to witness such promiscuous, crass, brazen displays of populist culture. I need to attend a SPIC MACAY meeting tomorrow and try and protect our classical heritage”
“Oh wow!” Amit said. “I’ve heard that Shikha and Shweta are also a part of your culture-protection troops? You’re right man, protecting Indian cultural music is much more important than watching some silly Bollywood movie. I’ll come with you too.”
“You can’t. Krishnan boss will have a heart attack if he sees you at such a sacred place as a SPICMACAY meeting. Creep back to your dark crevices of sin, and leave the sacred groves of culture for higher souls like me.”
I swerved away from his kick, and went back to my room.
I’m actually quite devoted to Indian classical music. In fact, whenever I see porn movies and hear Mozart and Beethoven give the soulful background to the action taking place in the foreground, I’m often upset as to why Indian classical music isn’t considered good enough to provide the rhythms to the industrious gyrations instead. Which is why I’d joined SPIC MACAY. Also, the fact that a lot of beautiful girls like Shikha and Shweta seemed to have a lot of interest in saving Indian culture, and I felt compelled to support them in their endeavours.
The meeting was presided over by the dean of Home Science College, Mrs Kashyap. She gave a long and beautiful lecture on the importance of preserving our Indian classical musical traditions and the sad fact that our youth are more inclined towards cheap popular music. I kept awake by making careful note of the effect her speech was having on all the beautiful girls present. The end of her speech was greeted with generous applause, and boys and girls dressed in Wranglers and Levis vowed to protect Indian classical music.
Someone put forward the proposal that we should get Pt J….. to play his music under the auspices of our SPIC MACAY chapter. That would get the youth and the gentry of the city interested in our cause. Krisnan boss sighed deeply and said:
“But madam, our coffers sadly are entirely empty. How can we afford to organize such an event, heavenly though the thought of hearing his music is?”
At that point, Atul stood up. Atul was a student in our class, and though quite as young as me, he was well on his way to become the supreme asshole of his generation. He said that he would take care of the funds. He would lead the fund-raising campaign. He claimed to have many contacts with prominent businessmen of the city who would be only too glad to contribute to the sprouting of the holy fountain of culture. Mrs Kashyap’s face grew radiant. All the girls gathered around Atul, while he outlined his plan and distributed responsibilities to the admiring girls. Me and the other boys cast sullen glances in his direction.
The event was finally held at our own college auditorium. All the prominent people in the city, including our Principal and the District Collector attended it. Pt J….. played an instrument that was some sort of a cross between a flute and a saxophone. The music must’ve been divine because everyone said so after the program, though unfortunately I slept through most of it. The only time I woke up was to see Amit and a couple of others being rather ungently escorted out of the auditorium for starting up their own vocal accompaniment from the backbenches. The irate artist was calmed down with great difficulty, and persuaded to continue playing. The cataract of culture continued to flow undisturbed once again, along with my sleep.
To celebrate the success of the grand event, SPICMACAY decided to organize a picnic. Once again, Atul was at the forefront of making all the arrangements. On the eve of the picnic, I foolishly mixed around half a litre of whiskey with about a couple of litres of beer and drank it in Amit’s company. When I woke up with a thundering headache, it was 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and the picnic was already over.
So I roused Amit, and the two of us miserable wrecks crawled up to the college thadi (tea-shop). We were trying to resuscitate ourselves with strong tea, when a buoyant Atul turned up. He was grinning so broadly that I felt like knocking all his teeth in.
“Hey man, why didn’t you come to the picnic?” He said effusively, slapping me enthusiastically on the back. “It was such great fun!” He kept rubbing salt into my wounds. As I kept staring murder at him with my hungover, bleary eyes, he continued to detail all the fun that he had had at the picnic.
“And finally, the boys jumped into the water, and starting splashing all the girls squealing at the bank. But then the indomitable Mrs. Kashyap shouted the war cry and led the girls into the pool. We kept splashing water at each other for a long, long time”
From the pits of misery and envy, I asked:
“Did Shikha and Shweta join you in the water?”
Suddenly, a strange look came upon Atul’s face. Then he sniggered.
“Oh, those two? No they didn’t join us”
“Why not?” Amit expressed my own surprise.”They’re certainly not the shy sort!”
“Oh, but they did not – and I’ll give you a chance to guess at the correct reason” He let the puzzle hang in the air.
Me and Amit looked at each other and drew blanks. Atul sniggered again, and then he said with theatrical softness:
“It was the gory phase of their lunar cycle”
It took a moment for us to register his meaning, and then we were both clapping his back, the thadi resounding to our laughter. Atul was not such a bad guy after all.