"Thoda unconventional likhte ho, magar achchha likh lete ho," Ms A blushed as she commented about my blog. Translation: Your subjects are a bit unconventional, but you manage to write well.
Ms A is a well-bred, sophisticated woman who I was meeting after twenty -- yes, twenty -- years. I had met her only once, in 1989. She must have been 21 or 22 then, and I was 18. She had come to pick up her younger sister from the tuition classes we attended together in Kanpur, and after the classes we all went out for lunch. The younger sister was about my age and I had a crush on her. Though I must admit that I was floored by Ms A as well when I saw her.
When I met Ms A recently after those twenty years, she had read quite a few of my posts, and I could see her searching for words to describe my blog before settling for 'unconventional'. She was being polite, the sophisticated woman that she is. What she clearly meant was: "You write mostly about sex and stuff, but you manage to pull it off well."
But what do I do? If I write about something else, no one reads or reacts. My previous post was about politics and cricket, but it clearly failed to impress people: only four comments for a post that took me as many hours to write. So I better stick to my territory. In any case, I love, more than anything else, to celebrate vices and taboos. It is our vices that makes us virtuous. No vices, no virtues. The Ganga Mail is a lounge where you come to have a smoke and a drink after spending a whole day pretending to be a non-smoker and a non-drinker. So please come, be my guest.
But once upon a time, I used to be a nice boy who had no vices whatsoever. I did not smoke, I did not drink, and I had not seen a naked woman yet. I did not tell Ms A that the process of me becoming 'unconventional' began around the time when I first met her twenty years ago -- when the gates of vicedom were finally thrown open to me.
It all began in 1988. I had just passed class 12 and was legally still not an adult. Seventeen years and a few months old. I was one of the foot soldiers preparing for the great war looming on the horizon -- cracking the engineering entrances. Not exactly the thing I really wanted to do, preparing for the war, that is, for I had found my true calling by then. But then you do certain things because they are expected out of you, and you do tend to indulge those harbouring expectations up to a point.
So I did all the right things. After enrolling in the B.Sc. course, I 'dropped' the first year giving a medical certificate (some form of hepatitis, if I remember it right). That was the way to go about it: you drop the first year so that you can devote yourself entirely to engineering entrances and leave no stone unturned. I also joined tuition classes. The tuition classes were my passport to the outside world. The classes were held at the home of a chemistry professor who lived in Rawatpur, about 15 km away from my home in Kanpur. (About 5 km further down the road from Rawatpur is Kalyanpur, where IIT-Kanpur is).
Chemistry was, obviously, taught by this eccentric but highly committed professor who was on the staff of one of the city colleges, while physics and mathematics were taught by a moonlighting IIT professor. Though I must say that none of them seemed particularly interested in the money. They were both mad men tangled up in formulas and equations.
My exposure to the outside world began with a simple mathematical expression: 4+4. It was the title of the first soft-porn movie (or porn movie for that matter) I'd ever seen. It was one of the D-grade Malayalam movies which wasn't even dubbed into Hindi. Why bother dubbing it when no one had spent those precious five rupees to follow the dialogues or the stories? They were all there only to watch the nude scenes, which were spread out evenly across the length of the film. Most often, the nude scenes had no connection with the movie, which itself was crudely made. But did any of this matter?
Porn is one thing, apart from beauty, which makes language irrelevant. Bare tits are bare tits, doesn't matter if the woman who owns them speaks Spanish or Malayalam. Anyway, the movie with a mathematical title set off a physical and chemical reaction inside me -- someone who had never seen a naked woman before, live or otherwise.
That night when I got home after watching 4+4, I found my father pacing up and down the street. His worry was understandable: it was almost midnight, and it was highly unlikely that I would be so late unless I'd met with an accident. Hell broke loose. I silently cursed the two chaps who had dragged me to the theatre. Actually they didn't drag me, but the way they would describe scenes from movies they had previously seen, I found it impossible to say no to them that night. Those two guys were Pawan and Panku, both imps of the highest order. They, like Ms A's younger sister, were my tuition mates: they were extremely bright and intelligent, but mischief was their middle name. They taught me how to smoke, and they gave me my first taste of alcohol.
I still remember: it was my 18th birthday and my parents happened to be in Calcutta to attend a family function. I called some friends over, including Pawan and Panku, to spend the night at my place watching movies. No prizes for guessing the kind of movies we watched. When Pawan and Panku arrived that evening, they came with gift-wrapped box. It turned out to be a quarter bottle of whisky. That night, Pawan made egg curry and before dinner, we all shared the whisky. A quarter bottle between six people -- it was like having two spoonfuls each of cough syprup. Yet we felt pleasantly high enough to sit through the night watching the movies, smoking Classic cigarettes, which cost 90 paise apiece then.
Today, I do not know where Pawan and Panku are. It is funny that people who come into your life like a storm also disappear like one. One moment you can't do without them, and the next moment they are gone and you don't even miss them because by then, somebody else would have come in like a storm. Progression of life. Many years ago, I was told that Pawan and Panku were in some engineering college. They, in all probability, would be married by now with kids and all and, who knows, might have turned teetotallers and given up smoking too. And here I am, still keeping their flag flying high. In many ways, I haven't grown a day older ever since I met the two of them.