Genetics, for most practical purposes in life, is largely inescapable.
So when our friendly neighbourhood barber, who had been the caretaker of my family’s hair for generations, made a passing remark on how I had begun to resemble my father’s countenance, I merely sighed in acceptance of the inevitable. My days of wooing the fairer sex had been heartlessly curtailed. Fortunately I had only recently befriended a very naïve and beautiful classmate of mine – who, over the course of several bottles of warm, unpalatable Kingfisher, rubbery beef steak, and strategic conversations aimed at poisoning her mind against her ex, had begun to overlook my impending baldness. Eventually, the prolonged exposure to cheap alcohol ended up (successfully) meddling with her mental faculty – as she nonchalantly dismissed a long list of suitors which included a very impressive candidate who insisted on being addressed as “tumi” instead of “tui”, and hitched her carriage to mine.
[While both terms are the Bengali equivalent of “you”, the former is often used by awkward young couples to address one another in corny romances of the highest order, immortalised by the Tollywood masterpieces of the 1990s. A recurrent theme of this unique period in Bengali cinema would be: a neighbourhood lout turned good guy who is smitten by the next door belle who has got her head in the clouds, whose penchant for dancing in the rain borders on the obsessive. Thoughtful conversations between the aforementioned characters can be expected to be tinged with a theatrical “tumi”.]
Of the several unenviable traits inherited from my father, one of them is the ability to embrace a defeatist approach to life in the face of merciless female cross-examination and respond calmly in monosyllables. While an ice-like demeanour under duress may appear exemplary, in reality it is but a defence mechanism akin to that of a tortoise withdrawing into its kind shell at the first sign of danger. Such an approach comes in especially handy when you are dealing with intractable partners or dangerous bosses – in my case, often the same thing. As such, when my parents began there relentless inquisition into my choice of flatmates, (I had moved in less than a day ago,) I predictably withdrew into my shell and maintained radio silence for as long as I could.
“So, are you living in with a guy or a girl?”
“Does he have a girlfriend?”
“No.” (I hadn’t had time to ask my flatmate personal questions, what with our frosty meeting a few hours ago.)
“What is his religion?”
“No clue.” Save a tiny Yoda, I couldn’t find another sign of a God.
“Does he have friends?”
There was a long silence at the other end, before my mother finally muttered, “I hope he’s not a terrorist.”
Having failed in the past to convince my parents of my choices in general (they had only recently begun taking kindly to my girlfriend, her confidence having literally blown them off their feet) I desisted from providing any further explanation.
It took me a couple of days to realise that my flatmate had this uncanny ability of planting doubt and disappointment in one’s mind, even if it were the simplest of all things.
This came to light one evening, when I was sitting with my feet up on the window, after a day of hard labour, staring absent-mindedly at my neighbour’s apathetic Labrador. I grew wary of a murky presence behind me, and turned to notice my flatmate skulking behind the door with a quizzical expression on his face. Caught unawares, he managed a few weak attempts at small talk:
“Hey, the weather’s fantastic today.”
“Yeah, I reckon so.”
“Great weather you know, for a beer.”
“Look, if you are not up to it, we can always drink later.”
“Hey no! It’s a good idea.” Fresh, frosty beer has a penchant for cheering even the most miserable souls in the world.
“Great! There’s a problem though.”
“I just have one can. I didn’t think you’d say yes.”
I wore the grief-stricken expression of a man whose elaborate dreams had come crashing down. With that final blow, my flatmate quietly turned around and left.
Of course, the memories of this heinous act had been buried by the next weekend, when we were ruminating over our disastrous life-choices over generous helpings of economical whiskey and Pringles.
Pune (India), with her rolling hills and gentle rains, has this magical ability to heal your soul and cure you of all the unkindness in the world.