spoon

The Black Sheep

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1

Good storytellers are good liars, you know. And good liars can become good storytellers. I’m a terrific liar; hence I’m a terrific storyteller. I didn’t know it until a girl told me many months ago. One of the reasons she became one of my ex-girlfriends is that, according to her, I talk a lot. There is a specific word for such people: extroverts. So, yes. I’m that: an extrovert. Anyway, she told me to put my thoughts into writing, instead of blabbering away, irritating everyone around me. I gave it some thought and found the idea fascinating. Then, someone told me that one should read a lot before attempting to write. Well, I didn’t find it fascinating though. I mean, come on, you have something to say, and you say it. That’s all. Why do you have to read something written by someone else to write your stuff? Stupid, isn’t? But when I said this to her she slapped her forehead and said, ‘Are you joking? If you are not a good reader, you can never be a good writer.’ That got me thinking. So I asked, ‘What books should I read, then? You know, to become a good writer and all?’ She suggested some books written by these hot-shot IIT, IIM guys. I thought, ‘Right, right. Books written by intelligent people must be good enough for me to get some dough.’ Know what I mean? I started reading.
It should amuse to know that I am a fast reader. Although I had never read a single book until then, I read about seven books in ten days. Some achievement, no? I don’t usually boast, but, well, umm, oh, what the hell! Anyway, after ten days of reading, I started writing. I finished my first story in five days. Here’s the gist: Horny boy meets hot girl. He follows her everywhere. After a few days she gives in. They go to movies, restaurants and other fancy places. One day, horny boy takes the hot girl to his place and bangs her. And then they screw around in the most uncomfortable places: the backseat of a car, in the toilet, in the kitchen, to name a few. Finally, they finish college and go separate ways. Horny boy meets another hot girl; old hot girl meets another horny boy. That’s it. There was a hidden message in the story: Life goes on. Nice, isn’t? I know it is.
I had really worked hard on this, you know. I had taken a lot of pain explaining certain things in detail: sex acts, the girl’s body, horny boy’s thoughts, the way they deal with college life and all. But when I showed it to my girl, she threw the sheets of paper away and broke up with me, calling me a pervert. I was devastated, all right. But experience had taught me to move on. That’s the moral of my story, if you know what I mean. Irony, see?
Few weeks later, I met another girl: unlike the one I mentioned earlier, this one was quite cool. She liked my story immensely. And also made a few suggestions: instead of just the backseat of the car and certain places in the house, make them do on the beach, in a hot-air balloon; climb up a mountain and do it under the stars, etc. I was in love with her. We had a good chemistry, really. And biology, too. Unfortunately, things ended between us. Her ex-boyfriend came to her and begged her to get back with him. She agreed. My friends told me that she used me to make him jealous. I was devastated - again. Another friend told me that I didn’t lose anything after all, and winked. I didn’t understand what he meant then. I still don’t, actually. But my other three friends laughed, and I joined them.
There is a reason I am telling all these things to you. Here’s the trick: always create some gravity before arriving at the main point. That’s one of the rules of storytelling. Anyway, before breaking up with me, my latest ex-girlfriend suggested: instead of writing stories, why not write about your own, real experience? Noting down important things that you see and hear? Get my point?
Anyone who wants to become a writer should be a good observer. And I am, obviously, as you already know, a good observer. So here I am writing down my personal experience. Interesting thing is that when personal experiences are put together with a few snippets of imagination thrown in, it becomes a story. I’m not putting anything extra, except for real things though. So it’s a real story. Oxymoron, you say? Maybe. Read on.
Before moving on, let me introduce myself: My name is, well, umm, let’s say, Kari Kuri; The Black Sheep. I live in Bangalore: the holy land of beer and software. I’m a first year student in some college doing some course. I wear transparent glasses with no power. Why? I don’t know. Maybe I’ll know later; maybe I’ll tell you then. Here we go.

2

It was a Saturday. College got over by ten in the morning. Having nothing much to do, I took a bus and went to Brigade Road. Air was cool; and the girls pretty. A perfect weather on a perfect day. But then I don’t like perfection, you see. So it was quite an ordinary day for me. There is something evil about perfection: it’s ugly, it’s mediocre, it’s brutal. Just imagine. If everything in this world was perfect, there would be nothing to complain. If there was nothing to complain, many people would be jobless; they would be dead from the inside. Thank heavens, not everything is perfect. It was the same with the weather that day: it was bloody perfect. Hence I was restive and cranky. I walked down the road, trying to find something interesting to write about. Well, I did. That’s why you are reading this.
Since it was the weekend, the crowd was amazing. I bumped into people from time to time. I didn’t mind that. Girls and women were dressed beautifully and looked beautiful; boys looked like boys and men looked like men. The smell of their perfume, the look in their eyes, their accent (some of them fake), everything was marvelous. I smiled as I walked on.
A minute later when I was walking in front of a Reebok showroom, I saw a man, not older than thirty, groping a girl’s butt. The girl screamed like crazy. I was surprised that such a high-pitched scream should come out of such a tiny girl. The girl was dressed in blue jeans and white top. She was not tiny when I saw her from a close range. She was great. Anyway, people gathered around the girl quickly. Surprisingly, the man who had groped her was also in the crowd. He stood right in front of the girl. He had his arm around another man’s shoulder (probably a friend or a cousin). He was not exactly smiling, but there was a peculiar look on his face: the kind you see on babas and swamis that come on television. I looked him up and down. He was well-built. I was quite sure he went to gym. Funny thing is that I once fancied going to gym and building my body like that. I did go for a week, too. But then it struck me: Why? Why should I build my body? Whom would I want to impress? Is it the person in the mirror or some girl whose pants I want to get into? Either ways, it was quite a waste of energy. It’s what inside of you that matters, right? Conscience, intelligence, courage. Know what I mean?
The girl was crying now. An elderly lady put her arms around her and asked what it was. The girl told her, in between sobs. ‘Rotten pigs!’ the elderly lady cried. I turned to look at the man who had caused this disturbance. He remained inscrutable. A moment later he turned and looked me in the eye: as if he’d heard my thoughts. I quickly turned away. One of the men in the crowd asked, ‘Did anyone see who did this?’ No one responded. I took a step forward and said, ‘Such bastards should be castrated!’ A few heads turned towards me; some nodded, some turned away. I didn’t mind.
The elderly lady led the girl away from the crowd. The crowd broke, and the man and his friend joined the stream of people, melting away from the scene of crime. I shook my head, put my hands in my jacket pockets and walked out of Brigade Road.

3

It was noon. As I had already got bored with Brigade Road, I decided to leave the place and go somewhere else. And Garuda Mall happened to be ‘somewhere else.’ I bought a Hot Chocolate Fudge from an ice-cream shop, tentatively named American Ice-Cream Parlour, and started walking towards my destination. As I walked on I ruminated on the ice-cream shop. Why the name American Ice-Cream Parlour? Why not Indian? Why not Bangalore? Why not Brigade? Do people get attracted to everything that’s related to America? Maybe faarin names make a difference. It’s hypocrisy, don’t you think? In the midst of these faarin influenced, superfluous shops that resonate false prestige, Indian Coffee Bar on M.G. Road stood apart. I liked that place. But it’s not there anymore. Some big-shot crack-head compelled them to close it down.
All these thoughts caused a stir in my heart, and I threw my ice-cream away. I stood by the side of the road and waited for the traffic signal to change. As I waited there with patience it struck me: Why should I bother about the name of the shop? The ice-cream was good enough. And the man who made it was Indian. So who cares what the name of the shop is? I turned round and walked back to the shop, and bought another ice-cream.
Precisely ten minutes later I was in front of the Garuda Mall, one of the biggest malls in Bangalore. I was about to enter when I heard a ‘thud.’ I turned round. People had already started running hither and thither. Curious, I broke into a trot and joined the crowd. About fifty feet from the mall a biker had hit a parked lorry: Accident!
I fought through the crowd and got to the beginning of the line, or perhaps, the beginning of the circle. The biker lay on the ground about ten feet from me. Although he wore a helmet, I could see blood tripping down his neck. Maybe it’s from his neck or shoulder or something else, I was not sure. He was writhing, perhaps in agony. His hands and legs bled profusely. His shirt and pants were torn. I could see a horizontal cut on his midriff. I then, instinctively, looked up to see the people around me. There must be about hundred people there: from young kids to young boys and girls my age to older men and women, everyone was present. Some of them were talking among themselves, a few boys and girls were taking pictures of the accident from their cell-phones (I bet I recognized at least three i-phones). Maybe some of them were making videos, as the biker was still alive.
A few seconds later, the man removed his helmet with great difficulty. Pushing the helmet away, he stretched his hands towards the crowd. I don’t know why he did that. A few more cell-phones came out of pockets. Now I was sure that they were making videos. Why people would want such videos on their cell-phones, I wonder. Pictures and videos of nude girls are OK, but pictures of a bleeding guy? That’s gross.
Some of them were now talking among themselves: ‘Such a crazy guy! Everyone is in a hurry these days,’ said a man. ‘Such a poor guy,’ said a woman, ‘Look at him. He’s not even thirty.’ ‘Why can’t they ride slowly?’ said another.
As I was busy observing, my phone rang: ‘Kisi ki muskurahaton ke ho nisar… I picked it up before it went to the second line: ‘Hello,’ I said into the phone. It was my friend. ‘I’ll call you back later. I’m busy right now,’ I said and disconnected the phone, finishing the first stanza of the song, singing in a low voice: Jeena isi ka naam hai... As I had got my phone out of my pocket, I thought of checking my balance: Rs. 34/- it said. ‘Hmm,’ I muttered under my breath, ‘Got to recharge quickly.’ I then wondered if I should have called the ambulance or the police or whatever. There are plenty of people, I thought, one or the other will have called already. Having decided on that, I kept the phone back in my pocket.
You must already know this. But to those of you, who don’t know, let me tell you, I’m a very creative person. And creative people get bored with things very soon. I was about to leave the crowd when an ambulance, followed by four policemen, arrived at the spot. The crowd dispersed as four men clad in white clothes approached the biker. As they lifted him onto the stretcher I noticed he had stopped moving. His eyes remained peeled. He was dead.
Crazy thing is that there was a hospital just round the corner. Yet it took them such a long time (about ten minutes) to come. I turned back to go to the mall. As I started walking I saw a beautiful car parked on the side of the road. It was an Audi TT, a beautiful silver-colour coupe. I walked up to it and ran my hands over it, as I had caressed the cheek of my ex-girlfriend. Oh, the things that followed… My stream of thoughts was broken when I felt a push. I cocked my head to see who it was. A 20-something boy stood over my shoulder, with a black remote control in his hand. I instantly knew he was the owner of the car. He was about to open his mouth to say something when a policeman came shouting at us, or probably just him.
‘Why have you parked your car here? Get it out.’
It’s strange and ugly how people come to conclusions. The policeman was sure that that boy, and not me, owned the car. Agreed that clothes give away your identity – sometimes – but aren’t you supposed to make sure you got it right? Isn’t it rude?
‘There was an accident, sir,’ the boy grinned, ‘Thought I’d take a look.’
‘Did you?’
‘Yes, sir. I mean I didn’t see him hitting the lorry, but joined the crowd to see.’
I pitched in: ‘So much blood, sir. Really, sir. The blood flowed and almost touched my feet, sir. He was very much alive until a few seconds before the ambulance arrived, sir...’
Both the boy and the policeman ignored me.
The policeman warned him once again, and left. The boy got behind the wheel. Before he could disappear I asked him: ‘How much is this car worth?’
‘Sixty lakhs,’ he said, beaming, and drove away.
I stood there looking after the car until it took a turn and vanished. I turned round and started walking.
As I walked on I thought about the dead man’s bike. It was an old, Yamaha RX-Z 135; a 2-stroke beauty. They don’t manufacture it now. Wonder what it is worth in the second hand market now! And then a brilliant thought occurred to me: shall I go to the police station a few days later and see if I can get my hands on that bike, and have it altered? I mean the owner is dead now, anyway. I might as well have a chance. I thought I’d look into the matter later and moved on.

4

‘That’s not the point,’ said Jyothi.
‘Then what is?’ asked Shashi Kumar.
‘Why are you guys so prejudiced? Why do you stereotype us?’
‘I didn’t.’
‘You just did. What do you mean by “Girls are unreasonable”?’
Shashi Kumar sniggered. ‘If you say that that statement is stereotyping, then you do believe that girls are unreasonable?’
‘Oh, crap! What kind of logic is that?’
Shashi answered with a shrug, ‘At least you believe that it’s logic.’
Jyothi turned to Pallavi: ‘Aren’t you going to say something?’
‘I’m with you,’ said Pallavi, taking a sip of her frappe.
Jyothi continued. ‘You are such a chauvinistic pig. Why do you have such a low opinion of us? You do realize that your girlfriend is sitting right next me, don’t you?’
Shashi leaned forward. ‘Hey, why are you taking it so seriously? I didn’t mean all girls were like that. It’s just a way of saying. When a girl is pissed off with a guy, she says all men are bastards. But she doesn’t mean it, does she? She is only referring to one particular guy, or perhaps a few guys she has met.’
‘That’s not what you meant when you said it. Even last time when we had gone out on a trip you passed similar comments: “Girls are unreasonable, girls are not good drivers, girls are sentimental, girls love only stupid love stories, girls can’t understand solid thrillers, girls can be easily fooled; girls can only get ranks in exams, but can’t put their bookish knowledge to practical use… should I go on? I know there are differences in our thinking pattern. But what you are saying is downright offensive.’
Shashi shook his head. ‘I didn’t say half the things you said.’
‘You did.’
‘That must be in good humour.’
‘Oh, come on. Such things shouldn’t be said even in jest.’
‘Don’t you all make fun of us, too? You draw a picture of a brain, with a headline that says, “Boys’ brain.” In the left side you write “food,” and on the right, “sex.” That’s a joke, but none of us take it seriously –,’
Pallavi gave a chortle and said, interrupting Shashi, ‘Maybe because you admit it.’
Nobody was in a mood to humour Pallavi. Shashi continued: ‘But if a guy shares a funny picture on facebook, say, about the difference between a boy withdrawing money from the ATM and a girl doing the same, you rebel against it? What’s happened to your sense of humour? What the world is coming to! Girls are losing their sense of humour these days. I make one harmless joke on the opposite sex, and you become a feminist!’
Jyothi cried, ‘You are damn right, I am a feminist.’
Shashi looked to his right: ‘Aren’t you going to defend me, Prabhu? Your girl is all set to kill me today.’
‘Actually,’ said Prabhu, smoothing his hair. ‘I’m on her side. It’s a sensitive subject. I’d better stay out of it.’
‘Fantastic!’ Shashi then turned towards me: ‘What about you?’
Experience had taught me never to argue with girls. ‘I’m new here,’ said I, trying to be prudent. ‘It would be inappropriate on my part to say anything.’
Shashi removed the straw from the plastic container, tossed it aside on the table, took a swig of his cold coffee, and spoke: ‘All right, Jyothi. Let’s finish this. You want to make a villain out of me, and I’ll be one. You accused me of saying that girls were bad drivers. Well, I never said it, but I’ll say it now. Girls are never, and can never be good drivers. You don’t have road manners. When a few girls walk down the road or ride their bikes, they, not bothering about common sense or rules, go horizontally, covering half the road as if they own it. That’s one thing. Let me continue. You can only get ranks in exams that compel the journalists to write: Girls outsmart boys in board exams. But when the time comes to apply that bookish knowledge to practical purposes, you fail miserably –,’
Jyothi slapped her hand on the table and asked Pallavi, ‘May I punch this arrogant bastard?’
‘Be my guest,’ said Pallavi.
Jyothi leaned forward, brushed her curls to the back of her ears, and continued: ‘Careful there. What kind of trash talk is that? You do realize this is 2012, don’t you? Girls are matching up with boys in every way. We are better than you in many things. Ever heard of Krushnaa Patil? She is the youngest Indian to scale the Mount Everest. Need more examples? Look at news channels; look at CNBC, for example. Have you seen those stock market analysts? You can’t ignore them now, can you?’
‘See that?’ Shashi said, quickly, ‘You are belittling yourselves; you are insulting yourselves by comparing yourselves with boys. “Girls are matching up with boys in every way,” “We are better than you in many ways.” When you say, “We can do anything that boys do,” you are actually saying, “boys are above us, and we trying to match up with them.” Why do you have to compare? Just do what you got to do. There is a difference between saying, “I can do whatever he does,” and “I can do whatever I want to do.”
And I know about Krushnaa Patil. I admire her very much. She is certainly an inspiration to many of us. It takes some hard work to climb a simple mountain like Kumara Parvata in Karnataka. Scaling Mount Everest is huge. “19-year-old Krushnaa Patil reached the summit” is quite an inspiring statement. But look how you put it: “In spite of being a girl, Krushnaa Patil scaled the Mount Everest.” Don’t you see the difference? It is a stupendous feat, all right. When you put it that way, what you actually mean is, “Women can’t usually achieve something like that, but someone rare has done it for a change.”’ Aren’t you contradicting yourself by these statements? Aren’t you offending yourself?
‘Oh, by the way, I have seen those stock market analysts. All are good looking. Show me one girl who is not attractive. Appearance plays an important role there. A girl with average intelligence with amazing looks has a high-profile job. It’s not the case with boys, you see. We have to be smart enough to get what we want.’
For the first time I got interested in the conversation. I finished my coffee and became more attentive. Funny thing is that both of them made sense to me. When Jyothi spoke, I was on her side; and when Shashi spoke, I agreed with him, too. Wonder how two people can be right at the same time, although their voices and opinions on the same subject vary? I was in a tough spot.
Two hours earlier when I decided not to go to Garuda Mall, I couldn’t decide where to go or what to do. So I sat outside the mall for a few minutes, recalling the day. It was an interesting day, after all: a girl getting groped, and an accident! Half a day and so much dough to talk about, or perhaps, so much to write about!
It was one-thirty in the afternoon. I was hungry. I checked my wallet. I had two-hundred bucks in it. It was enough. Now the big question: what to eat? When you have money, and when you are in Bangalore, you have plenty of options. But having too many options is a problem, trust me. I say you should always be careful when presented with too many options. It might just kill you. Remember what happened to Emile Hirsch in Into the Wild? He simply had too many options: many different types of plants and herbs and grass and whatever. He made a wrong choice and looked up a book and ate a poisonous plant and died. If he had only one plant around him, he would’ve eaten it without a choice, without looking it up a book. Right? And then, if it had been a harmless plant, he’d have lived; if it had been a poisonous plant, he’d have died. The point is chances of survival would have been 50:50. But here, he had plenty of options, and hence he had to make a very difficult choice, and die ultimately. Get my drift? Oh, wait a second. I think…I think I gave away the ending of the movie. Don’t mind, please. It’s a boring movie, anyway. But did I make any sense? Yes? No? I was famished. And now, as I write this, thinking of my hunger has made me hungry. And you know people say and do crazy things when they are hungry.
I decided to flip a coin: heads, masala dosa; tails, full meals. I flipped a coin. It was heads. I headed to a café, to have a cheese burger and a hot chocolate.
It was ten past two when I took my seat in the café. I was about to order when someone called my name. I swept the place with my eyes and found Shashi Kumar, my childhood friend. I went over and gave him a high-five; it had been a long time. He was with his three friends. He asked me to sit with him. I did. He introduced me to his friends.
‘Everyone, this is KK. We went to school together. And KK, this is Pallavi, that’s Jyothi, and this is Prabhu.’
I instantly knew Jyothi and Prabhu were together. And I knew that Pallavi was Shashi’s girlfriend.
Jyothi looked spunky: short hair (bob cut, boy cut, or something like that), a tiny leather band on her wrist, a few fashionable bangles, an expensive wristwatch, jeans and top. On the other hand, Pallavi looked feminine: a simple green salwar, hair tied back, and a wristwatch on her right hand. Prabhu was in black leather jacket; Shashi Kumar was in his typical outfit: Jeans and shirt, with sleeves rolled up.
‘Hello, everyone,’ I said.
Although it was a Saturday, the café was not crowded. It would be, I’m sure, in the evening. The ambience of the place was good: a nice piece of music played in the background, a few pretty girls around, delicious smell of coffee and chocolate and cheese and what not; all in all, I was very comfortable.
I concentrated on the music for a few seconds. Boy, it was amazing! It then struck me: they never play regional music in such cafés. A few days earlier one of my friends from Delhi had pointed out the same thing: Wonder why they don’t play regional music in these sophisticated cafés. I’ve been around, you know. And it’s quite a big franchise. Although they usually prefer English music, they play regional music quite frequently: Hindi in Delhi, Tamil in Tamil Nadu, Bengali in West Bengal … But it’s only in Karnataka, especially in Bangalore, that they don’t play Kannada songs. I’m sorry to tell you this; but I think some people here have a lot of false prestige.
Thinking of it made me a bit angry, but the very next moment I was all right. I’m not a big fan of music, really. I don’t know what the fuss is all about. When I say this to my friends they react like lab monkeys. No, seriously, what is it about? I don’t enjoy music as the social norm propagates. That’s all. Talking of music, I even admit I don’t like Nightingales. I used to, but I don’t anymore. Those birds are overrated. What’s so wonderful about Nightingale, huh? Even after a hundred years it’ll still make the same sound, I’m sure. Big deal! But I liked sparrows. Unfortunately, they are not around these days. A newspaper article said they all disappeared because of cell-phones. I decided to stop using my cell-phone then. It didn’t last long. Can’t live without phones, you see. I decided to sacrifice sparrows for phones. It’s awful, I know. I’m awful and disgusting. I can’t help it. Nightingales and Sparrows are out of picture now. So it’s the Mockingbird that I like now. They are not as ubiquitous as crows, but whenever I spot them I like them. I don’t like anyone mocking me, but when that bird does, it kind of feels nice; it gives me a feeling that it listens to me. People don’t listen these days, you know. They only want to talk. All the time…
‘You seem lost,’ said Pallavi.
‘No, no, I’m all right,’ I said.
Pallavi was really beautiful; Jyothi was, too. But they were both out of my reach for two reasons: Shashi was my friend; Prabhu was muscular.
The waiter arrived and placed our orders. I was in heaven when I took a sip of my hot chocolate.
‘So, what’s up, KK?’ asked Shashi.
I never understood the deal with ‘up.’ Why does everyone use that word so often? “What’s up,” “Dress up,” “Mess up,” and the like?
‘I’m good. What’s up with you?’ I asked, trying to fit into the group. ‘How did your essay competition go last week?’
‘Fucked up, man,’ said he.
There you go. Another one: fucked up. I never understood the deal with the word “fuck” either. I mean, come on. It’s such an honest word. No ambiguities at all. It’s one of the purest words in the English language. In my opinion, words and phrases like sex, love making, etc. are all euphemisms for “fuck.” I think people should be brave enough to use it. But that’s it. That should be the extent of it. The word should be used only in its literal sense. What I don’t understand is why people use it in every sentence. They are only spoiling the beauty of the word, thereby spoiling the beauty of the language.
‘Why did you fuck up?’ I asked.
‘I don’t know. I wrote well, but didn’t win.’
Pallavi extended her hand and said, ‘Never mind. There is always a next time. Shashi took it and held it for a while.
‘Exactly,’ I said. ‘But what was the topic?’
‘Role of Modern Women in Contemporary India.’
‘Oh, that’s a tough one,’ I said.
‘Yes, it was.’
No one spoke, for everyone knew how much essays and debates meant to Shashi.
‘Do you know who won the competition?’ He asked several seconds later.
‘Some girl, I guess,’ I said, casually.
‘It’s Aashish.’
‘What? Aashish? Are you joking?’
‘Not at all.’
‘You mean the Aashish who slapped his “girlfriend”?’
‘Yes, the same asshole. Such an irony, no?’
‘I bet,’ said I.
‘That girl must have felt awful. To be slapped in front of so many people and all,’ said Prabhu.
It was the first time I had heard Prabhu’s voice. God, it was deep.
‘No shit,’ said Shashi.
All right, another word: shit. But let me not get into detail this time.
Shashi continued: ‘But the girl was pretty dumb, too.’
‘You mean pretty and dumb?’ I asked.
Shashi and Prabhu chuckled. But I didn’t mean it as a joke. It was an honest question.
‘Yes, kind of,’ Shashi said. ‘It wasn’t the first time, I tell you. It had happened before. I mean how dumb can girls be, huh? Her friends tried to speak some sense into her, yet the girl didn’t get away from him. Unreasonable bimbo! Latest news is that she still hangs around with him. Girls are stupid sometimes.’
I was about to say something when Jyothi said, ‘How can you say such an insensible thing?’
Shashi raised his eyebrows. ‘Sorry?’
‘It’s a poor girl you are talking about.’
‘You heard the story, didn’t you?’
‘Yes, I did. I also heard you say, “Girls are stupid,” “girls are dumb.” What’s that all about?’
‘Whoa, wait a second, lady. I was only talking about that girl.’
‘That’s not the point.’
‘Then what is?’
‘Why are you guys so prejudiced? Why do you stereotype us…?’
And that’s how it all began.
……
……
‘…A girl with average intelligence with amazing looks has a high-profile job. It’s not the case with boys, you see. We have to be smart enough to get what we want.’
And now, Jyothi was quick to answer: ‘Maybe I’ll slightly agree with you on this one. But that’s a very small percentage. There are thousands of women who work behind the screens and bring a change to the world. I also agree that when it comes to famous names, we hear men’s names more often than women’s. The reason is simple: women, like our mothers, sacrifice for the sake of their families. Another reason: we are not given enough encouragement. Take Indian Army for example. We can fight for our country, too. Why don’t they trust us? Why do they think we are weak? Sure there are a few women in the Army; but when it comes to bigger tasks, they don’t trust them; they are not sent to fight. They can only become trainers in the academy, or worse, stick to some desk job. In other areas, the so-called Indian culture comes into play. Girls shouldn’t be doing such jobs blah-blah-blah.’
Now I was confused. Where the hell was this conversation going? I was getting bored already.
Shashi threw up his hands in the air. ‘Where are you going with this?’
Exactly my question.
‘Indian Army, Jyothi? You do know how our soldiers will be treated when they get caught, don’t you? Can’t you realize what happens when women soldiers are caught? No government official wants that on his head. It reflects badly on our country, too. That’s the main reason women soldiers are not sent to combat.’
‘That’s exactly what I said. They think we can’t protect ourselves. We always need someone to take care of us, eh?’
‘God, let’s not discuss this further.’
Jyothi continued, ignoring him. ‘Wait a second. “A girl with average intelligence with amazing looks has a high-profile job”? You crossed the line there.’
‘Really?’ said Shashi, placing his elbows on the table. ‘You want more examples? What about those fairness cream ads? Your feministic mind doesn’t get offended? They project as if only fair-skinned women succeed in life. A girl is going nowhere in her life, because of her dark skin; she has an enlightenment all of a sudden and uses a fairness cream, and voila! She is a successful cricket commentator! And the recent ones? Underarm fairness spray? Fairness cream or whatever for a girl’s private parts?! Really? Don’t you get offended by all these? Those models are doing great financially, mind you. If you are so concerned about your feministic ideals, then why don’t you do something about it? I will support you. But instead what are you doing? Sitting here in a cozy café with your rich boyfriend, bumming around, and arguing with me? We hangout together. The four of us, I mean. If that is not the case, you’ll spend your time with Prabhu. Why don’t you spend some time for this cause? How? I don’t know; maybe by writing some articles for newspapers or starting a blog or something. You can’t become a lady Rajinikanth and punish everyone. All you can do is create awareness. Do that.’
God, I was exhausted. I wanted to get out of there. Now I realized how Shashi won all those debate competitions. Sometimes it made me think if he said all those things only to irritate Jyothi and win the argument. Or did he really believe in what he said: including a few offensive things. On the contrary, Jyothi struggled to argue with him. I had always believed that a boy could never win an argument with a girl, but Shashi proved me wrong that day. But whatever it was, I couldn’t care less; for I was beat.
‘I will certainly stand up for the cause. Meanwhile I’m fighting it in my own way,’ said Jyothi.
Prabhu placed his palms on the table and cried, ‘Oh, stop it, both of you.’
Both of them ignored him.
‘Really? How?’ Shashi asked Jyothi.
Prabhu shook his head; Pallavi looked at me and bit her lip.
‘Last Sunday,’ began Jyothi, ‘I’d been to a nearby market in my jeans shorts and tank top. A few perverts kept staring at me. One of them crossed his limits and didn’t take his eyes off my chest. I stopped in my tracks and gave him a piece of my mind. He was embarrassed. A few people laughed, a few came to my support, and bashed him.’
‘If you go in your shorts and tank top, people are definitely going to stare at you. If you are not comfortable with others’ staring, then don’t wear such clothes.’
‘You are telling me what to wear and what not to wear? I shouldn’t wear clothes that I like, because some perverts stare at my tits and ass? It’s they who should be taught a lesson in manners.’
Did she say tits and ass? Have you heard of inception? My eyes suddenly dropped. She wore a violet top. There was something written on it. I focused. “Ogle at your own risk,” it said. So I took the risk and ogled. Staring is bad manners, sure. You become a pervert if you did that. But there is a subtle difference between a gentleman and a pervert: the keyword is “how.” Know what I mean? How you do it makes all the difference. If you do it in a way that she doesn’t notice, you are a gentleman; you make it obvious, and you are a pervert. Crazy how people invent words and judge other people!
‘It’s not only you,’ Shashi spoke at length. ‘Tomorrow if I go out in shorts and vest, the same men will stare at me. And women, too. Of course they do it more if it’s a girl. But this is how they behave. There is something different all of a sudden, and they get curious. Sure, if you wear such clothes and go to a place where everyone is wearing similar outfits, a party perhaps, then nobody is going to react. I’m not talking about psychos here, mind you. For psychos, it doesn’t really matter whether you are wearing shorts or saris. They will salivate, no matter what. I’m talking about ordinary men. It’s bad manners, I agree. But they are not going to change. How many people are you going to blame?’
‘Forget about our dress for the time being. Forget about psychos, too. Let’s talk about your “ordinary men.” Those miserable pieces of shit stare and whistle and try to grope at every opportunity. When I walk down the road I can always feel hundred pairs of eyes all over my body. Some losers even follow us, all the while passing comments. So you think this is all OK? You are saying we don’t have a right to have a cup of coffee in a coffee shop all by ourselves without being stared at?’
‘I didn’t say that.’
‘Then what did you say?’
‘I agree with you on men’s passing comments, whistling, trying to grope and all. They are disgusting. They should be beaten to death. But tell me about regular boys who check you out. Tell me. You don’t want boys to check you out? You go to gym, you maintain your figure, you wear a sexy dress, but don’t want anyone to look at you? You work hard to get those looks. Don’t you feel bad when nobody takes notice of you? You really mean your ego doesn’t get a boost when people admire you nonverbally?’
‘If it’s someone I know, then it’s all right. When strangers admire me,’ she made a quote sign with her hands, ‘nonverbally, even then it’s OK. But there is a way. I don’t mind if someone comes to me and flirts with me and compliments me. But don’t just stand there and stare and salivate!’
‘Well, if you want to wear such clothes, then you should be ready to face such things. Other things, I can’t really talk about. I agree I can’t empathize with you. You know your troubles better than I do.’
‘If you can’t empathize, you should just shut your bloody mouth and let us deal with it in our own way. Instead, why do you speak such nonsense?’
There was an interminable silence at the table. The discussion had gone awry. It had started off with something, took a new turn somewhere in the middle, and reached the climax with something else. I wanted to pull my hair. I could not. So, for want of pulling my hair I took refuge in playing with the tissues. I made two boats out of them, and used straws for oars.
‘OK, let me ask you something,’ Jyothi broke the silence. ‘If you marry Pallavi here –,’
‘What?!’ Pallavi almost screamed. She was the only one at the table who had remained calm till now. Not anymore. ‘What the hell are you talking about?’
‘Hypothetically, Pallavi,’ said Jyothi.
‘Hypothetical, psychothetical, my foot! Don’t bring me into this, for heavens’ sake. I’m not even twenty. You are already talking about my “hypothetical marriage?” What’s wrong with you? And please, stop it, both of you. I’m tired of this.’
No one spoke for a few seconds. And then, all of us broke into a prodigious peal of laughter. Pallavi joined in quietly.
‘All right. Just the last one,’ said Jyothi. ‘So, Shashi? You mean you won’t allow your prospective girlfriend/wife to wear such clothes?’
‘Oh, god, Jyothi!’ cried Pallavi.
‘Damn it. You still don’t get my point, do you?’ said Shashi. ‘Never mind. Let me not argue anymore, and answer your question: It’s all right with me. She can wear whatever she wants. But what about you? Prabhu is OK with your wearing such outfits?’
‘I’m sure he allows me to wear whatever I want; do whatever I want to do,’ said Jyothi, smiling, thereby giving us a hint that she had returned to her normal self.
‘Right, right,’ said Prabhu. ‘I don’t have any problems with that. She can wear whatever she wants. But I don’t think I’ll allow her to be friends with those sick, useless friends of hers. That’s my only concern.’
‘Oh, I have already promised you that I wont mingle with them anymore, haven’t I?’ said Jyothi.
Prabhu smiled. The young couple leaned across the table and held each other’s hands. I was thankful that it was all over. But something kept bothering me. I sat in silence for a minute and thought hard. Then it struck me. One word kept repeating in my head; one word that negated everything that they had said so far; one word that made me realize I had wasted my time; one word: allow.
I took off my glasses, wiped them with my t-shirt, wore them back, and looked at Jyothi and Shashi. I wasn’t sure if I could allow myself to agree with either of them anymore.

5

I am not a tall guy. I stand at five foot two. I don’t have a complex about it. But I really feel sorry for myself whenever I travel in Bangalore city buses: whenever a tall guy stands in front of me, hanging by the ceiling bar, my nose gets smothered in his armpit. Know what I mean? But today was different. The bus was not as crowded as it should be during this time everyday. All seats were occupied, but there was enough room to stand without rubbing my body against others’ and smelling their odour. It was a privilege.
It was seven o’clock in the evening. It had been an hour and a half since I said goodbye to Shashi Kumar and his friends. Hot chocolate and cheese burger were great; Shashi and Jyothi’s discussion was not. But I felt all right when Shashi paid for my high-calorie lunch. I might have put on some weight after having it, but my wallet had not lost its weight. There was something to smile after all.
When we left the café it was nearly five-thirty. Shashi asked me to attend his debate competition the following month. I said no without any hesitation. He said it would be fun and we would go to a restaurant for lunch later. I said OK without any hesitation. And then we shook hands and took each other’s leave. But before leaving I checked out the girls. Jyothi had a nice rack; Pallavi didn’t.
Having roamed around and having nothing else to do, I decided to call it a day. I went to a nearby bus stop and took a bus to majestic. It was a short journey. Ten minutes later I was at majestic. I waited for another bus at a platform. Five minutes later I was on my way home.
I kept my eyes on all the passengers and the door. Grabbing a seat in a city bus is a skillful job, you know. One has to be watchful all the time. None of the passengers showed any symptoms of getting off. Most of them were old men. There is something curious about old men: it’s hard to believe that they were once young – like me. Did they play hard when they were young? Did they have crushes and girlfriends? Did some of them want to become pilots and politicians and sportsmen and film stars and whatever, but ended up becoming…well, I don’t know…old? Did they want to travel around the world, but ended up living their whole lives in Bangalore, traveling up and down the city in city buses? I wonder how their childhood days were. I mean I am talking about forties and fifties, right? Are they in touch with their friends, with whom they played and had fun? If some of them had girlfriends, I wonder what they are doing now and with whom. Or did they get married to the same girls? Maybe they did; most of them. Their options must have been limited back then. Know what I mean?
An old man at a window seat grabbed my attention. No reason. Just like that. He continued to look out the window. Surprise was written all over his face. Maybe he was reminiscing. His face lit up when we passed in front of the Vidhana Soudha. He must be pushing seventy. That means when Vidhana Soudha was constructed in the fifties, he must be a child. He must have taken a lot of trips there with his friends. Or was he one of the engineers (retired) that constructed the Legislative building? Or a politician? No, no; not a politician. Maybe he was…
The bus stopped. Three men got off. I tried to grab a seat, but to no avail. I cursed and stood near the door. Two paces in front of me stood a woman in blue sari, who looked not more than thirty-five. I hadn’t noticed her before. She must have got onto the bus at the last stop. She was talking to a man, who sat comfortably. The man shook his head. I wish I could listen to their conversation. Was he a friend of hers, I wondered. Or was he her husband? No, not husband. In that case he’d have given his seat for her. Or was she a prostitute in search of a customer? I took a step towards my right, and stood, hanging by the ceiling. She was quite plump, but not fat. Although I was nearby, I couldn’t listen to them, because of the sound of the bus and the traffic outside.
The man kept shaking his head. Was he refusing her offer? Was she demanding more? All of a sudden she screamed at the top of her voice. The bus stopped. Men and women got up from their seats, and came rushing towards the woman in blue sari. If I wanted I could have got a seat instantly. But I didn’t want it then. I wanted to know what the deal was. I stepped forward and went as near as possible.
‘What happened?’ somebody asked her.
Tears rolled down her cheek as she answered: ‘This fellow groped my waist.’
I was taken aback by her accusation. I had been watching them for the past few minutes; and I was sure she was lying. But why? I was curious. I had to find out.
But before I could even try as to why she lied, some men grabbed the “molester” by his collar and pulled him up.
‘She is lying, because I wouldn’t give my seat to her,’ cried the man.
All right, that was the reason she lied. But why him? Why not others? I looked around one more time. Most of them were old men; everyone above fifty. Men that stood were younger. The front seats were all occupied by women. The man whom the woman in blue sari accused was probably the only young man (in his early thirties) who sat comfortably. He wasn’t in ladies’ seat though. But I later realized that he should have volunteered and given up his seat, and avoided the trouble.
The woman sobbed. A man slapped the accused. ‘Beat him, beat him,’ cried a few. ‘Such a scoundrel,’ cried a woman. I pitched in: ‘Such bastards should be castrated!’ Some of them heard, looked at me, and started manhandling him again. And then I saw another woman, probably in her mid-forties, fighting through the angry men, trying to say something. I got more curious with each passing second. Someone noticed her and stopped beating him.
‘He didn’t do anything,’ she said. ‘That woman is lying. I was standing in the front and saw the whole thing. He didn’t do a thing. Think before you act, for heavens’ sake. Now get back to your seats. All of you.’
Some of them got back to their seats. The conductor yelled, “Raaiah.” The bus rolled forward. The elderly woman turned to the woman in blue sari. ‘What kind of person are you? How can you accuse someone like that?’
‘He wouldn’t give me his seat,’ she said, tears still rolling down her cheek.
‘So you say that he groped you…?’
A few men who had hung around started murmuring among themselves. The accused man now stood near the door, ready to jump off the bus at the next stop. The bus stopped a minute later. He wiped the blood off his nose, and got out. It was not his stop, I was sure. Although the men who had beaten him now knew that he was innocent, they never apologized. The two women were still talking among themselves. A few more joined. The woman in blue sari stood silently, with her head bowed.
It was around five past eight when my stop arrived. I got off the bus and went straight home. I quickly had my dinner, and went to bed. I usually go to bed at eleven, but today was different. There was too much going on in my head. It was one helluva day. I was exhausted beyond means: the girl in brigade road, the accident, a discussion in the café that almost killed me, and the latest! – The woman in blue sari. All this was too much to take. Somehow I felt that I, in the midst of so many hypocrites, had forgotten who I truly was. I got off the bed, and went and stood in front of the mirror.
I took a deep breath and stood there for a few seconds, looking at myself, wondering what I was. And then I was back to normal. And then I knew. I was/am the Black Sheep.

********************The Beginning********************
Copyright © Karthik 2012

Comments (19)

What a way to begin the morning!
This is you in your element. I loved every word of it. It was as if I was walking along with this guy or may be watching him do all that he did.

The best part is, you know EXACTLY what your readers are thinking and that's a great thing. Only good writers can do that. When you said you felt that both Jyothi and Shashi were making sense during their argument, I was thinking the same. That is even before you wrote that line. When the conversation came to Prabhu 'allowing' Jyothi to wear what she liked, I thought, 'Allow?? Really!' and then you said it, just then!

You really know the pulse of your reader. Keep writing, my friend. I see you going places. :)

My god! That was one heck of a long post.. But my eyes were glued to the screen...

I loved Shashi & Jyothi's convo, though I did feel Jyothi was a tad bit too adamant .. While Shashi made sense.. Can't believe, being a girl, I'm saying that :P

The indifference in the case of the guy's accident.. So common.. we people never wish to get involved and stick to sympathizing or passing comments..

All in all great post :D

hey Indian Coffee House has been shifted to Church Street kano. Ask KK to go there, but I'm not sure if those rude waiters are still around.

Loved the narration. Once again you have created an interesting protagonist.
hmm ivaag noDpa, nin blog ind up-to-date iddEni :)

p.s. I feel like having hot chocolate fudge :-|

Terrific story-telling! just superb :)

Wow...awesome..here after a long time! Keep writing!!

Wow! You never cease to amaze me! Such fine tuned narrative. I have been giving a lot of thought about story telling. I think part of the art is to keep the reader in the present and not let him start thinking about the end. And that is what you manage. It is so interesting all along the reader does not have to think about the plot at all. 3 years back when I started writing fiction you were my role model. Today you still continue to be. Keep writing.

Speechless! You are really our resident wordsmith.

'Faarin' is just perfect, but you should have mentioned that the ice cream was duly thrown into a bin. Good manners and all that, you know :)

MG Road has been destroyed, thanks to 'development'. Reebok – I guess has bid goodbye to Brigade road. But India Coffee House – can be found in the lane right behind the one it was housed earlier. Church Street, I think.

Destiny's child,
And what a way to begin "my" day with your comment! Thank you so much. :)

Confused Soul,
Thank you, thank you!
Yeah, my posts are usually lengthy. Always need a few extra words to make my point, you see. :)
And Jyothi was adamant? I think all girls are. ;)
Thanks again.

Shruthi,
Look who's back to reading my posts! :)
It's character driven as you observed. It was kinda test run. Maybe I'll develop this.
Thank you! :)

Moonbeam,
Thank you. :)

Maddie,
Thank you. :)

The Fool,
Oh, that's very flattering! Thank you so much.
When it comes to storytelling, I think, a writer, sometimes, has to let it go; without thinking too much, he has to go with the flow. And yes; to be in the present matters a lot.
Thanks again, man.

Roshmi,
Thank you! Glad I could amaze you.
And thanks for the corrections. As you know, I'm not from Bangalore. Things like these slip away sometimes.
Will take care of good manners next time. :)

Hey! I wasn’t correcting you. I meant it in good fun … consistent with your writing :)

Roshmi,
Not a problem. Little things matter. :)

Nicely written. I read most of the stories that you put up in your blog. But this one made me write a comment. I don't know why. Maybe, I can relate myself to your story.

Muralidharan,
Welcome to Eloquence Redefined.
Thank you so much, man. I'm glad, I'm flattered. Keep visiting.

Coming here after a long time as I know your posts need time and attention and involvement. And you proved it again. For anybody this is just a regular day to day account of a person, but really it is a reflection of all that is happening around us which we think is common/usual and shrug off. Debate between Jyoti and Shashi irritated me no end. And I almost wanted to slap KK for being a coward to not own up to seeing a girl being molested or provide help to the suffering accident victim. But then such is life. We all are black sheeps in real life, one way or the other.

Wanderer,
You perfectly understood what I was trying to say. And that is a huge compliment. Thank you.

P.S. What happened to your travel blog? I can't find it.


Hi, I just found your web site via google. Your post is truly relevant to my life currently,

"Somehow I felt that I, in the midst of so many hypocrites, had forgotten who I truly was.", I have felt like this many times. Nice one dude!

Hi Karthik,

Found your blog through a kaapizone and have spent the last week or so going through every single story/post. I have to admit.. while you have me hooked in general, this story is by far the best.

Sushma

Muralidharan,
Thanks, man. I think everyone of us feels like that.

Sushma,
Welcome to Eloquence Redefined.
You read all my stories? That's a great compliment. Thank you so much. Keep visiting.

My travel blog is now at http://mytreksntravels.wordpress.com

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