24 August, 2009

The Reunion

“Hey, how are you? What have you been doing all these years?” And similar queries in various forms swirled around him. He even heard a stray “Lovely Silk Sari…Kanjeevaram? No…Ritu Kumar came the frosty reply.” The tones, languages and accents differed though. Wading through with a smile and stretched lips the patience was wearing thin. From the cloth banner hanging over in the Shamiana, one would see that it was a reunion of the school alumni – batch of 1984. It was twenty five years to this day. He had been away for most of these years; twenty of them in fact with a single merchant shipping line, the last five of them as a Master or Captain. The passport looked less like a slim book and more like a Chinese fan now. But he had moved on , when the one question started popping up too often in his mind; Is that all there is to life, the sea and touching base at ports? It had been four years now that he was a landlubber again. He wrote freelance for newspapers & magazines but the big book had not happened yet.

Martin Faleiro…he had dropped the Captain a while ago, was yet to come to terms with non-sailors, let alone civilians and loud ones at that too. It was on such rare occasions that he missed his command with its action and stress. The babble of noise was reaching alarming proportions as people kept piling in & he felt like barking out an order. “Silence on the decks, one more peep out of your beaks and you shall be swabbing the toilets for the next week with no furlough when we shore up”. But then if wishes were horses…He settled in a corner with a drink watching them, a quiet middling tall figure with even features and mouth that didn’t easily smile now, though the steel in the eyes could turn to mischief in a moment.

He saw Chetan bustling about making everyone comfortable, settling them, re-introducing them around. Chetan Godse, an architect who practiced in the same area as their old school. He was the one who had put this act together, found everyone, contacted them, collected the contributions and booked the terrace of his club. Chetan was the very same with the wide smile, the easy laugh and pure charm. The frame was portly but comfortably so as it was during school, only the grey sideburns indicated age. Networking came naturally to him as he weaved in and out of the groups.

Martin had not been one of the early birds and the jig was completely on by the time he reached around 7.30pm. The Invite had said "with spouse/partner" & not having one he had come in by himself. Twenty five years of no contact had created a curious bonhomie in the crowd that was fascinating to observe.

He saw Jitesh Shah the class topper, the one who was naturally expected to do excellently well for himself. Wryly he smiled to himself, what an expectation to live with? Then he had envied Jitesh, but not anymore. Dr. Jitesh looked the part and his bearing seemed to convey some expectation. Did he actually expect the same kind of obeisance the school had paid him when he was the head boy and topper, Martin wondered? Jitesh was an accomplished ophthalmologist, an eye surgeon. But looking at Jitesh & his wife he could see that there was more to them than what met the eye. The pair in the last one hour had not spoken a word to each other. No sooner had they hit the party he had gone about searching for a drink. Topping a class and med school didn’t make him top at home by the sour look thrown at his back by the wife.

The loudest voice came from a corner that could only be Reuben. The pitch, tenor and volubility had not changed one bit and Martin cocked an ear. Reuben was cracking jokes the same way he did, at a nineteen to a dozen speed and had his audience in splits. He always had the potential to be a superb entertainer but it was only recently on TV that his art had found full expression. Reuben was a star comedian. It was a reality show on TV that had made him famous. Out of the 28956 participants who had auditioned and the final 24 who got to be on the show, Reuben had stood in an impressive third. His face was well known now and by the news in circulation he had even signed a feature film. Little wonder that the ladies made a beeline to him to touch base with a celebrity.

Looking at them hanging on to his words, he recognized Sheena of the big heart ( read magnificent mammaries ) fame. Sheena had been quite the heart throb of the school and Reuben then was not her only admirer. Then, he had had to wait his turn for her attention; The few crumbs she threw his way. How truly had the tables turned with her hanging on to Reuben’s every word and he barely noticing her. Looking at Sheena and her animated face, Martin blamed the recession squarely; across the board all her assets had taken a beating. To her credit In these days of tummy tucks and silicone she had resisted the temptation and chosen to remain her natural self. Sensing a stare she looked at him and smiled. He nodded, her smile still had charm & he liked her for the way she looked, big, a little frayed at the edges but happy.

Something waddled in from the door; two huge shapes. They didn’t walk, they seemed to roll was his first impression. Only on a closer observation did he detect a tiny pair of trousers below one gargantuan belly. There was so much gold on them that he mistook them for a famous Hindi Film music composer’s family. It was Ranchhod Gupta or the Baniya. He was called Baniya though he was a Kutchi. His father owned the grocers shop near the school. Baniya had not made to college but had graduated from his fathers shop to wholesale grain trading and made his pile. The colors’ on him & his wife had Martin almost reach for his aviator glasses. Such was the flash.

Looking around Baniya came and sat on the sofa beside him while his wife went to the food table. Baniya looked at him vaguely and smiled, Martin’s solitude was gone now. ‘Guptaji’ he said with a flourish and then Martin knew he was not recognized. He burst out.”Abbey Bhe…c..d Baniya… Gupatji kub se ho gaya re tu ?” Baniya had the grace to look sheepish and said “Martin…right? In all these years no one could swear with such a lovable fluency as you. Grain trading puts me with a lot of uneducated but smart and tough guys and it’s important to create an impression that’s why the Guptaji , Baniya explained. The eyes that twinkled behind the corpulence were Baniya’s. On finding out that he wrote for a living, Baniya was suitably impressed. He had to let go of his education when his father died unexpectedly at his shop and he had to step in. He said that he had done good for himsel and was happy. He got married early like they did in their community and the business grew, but still couldn’t speak or write English very well he said in a typically self depreciating manner that was charming. They talked a while then Baniya went along to meet the others.

He sat with his drink observing yet and lit a cigarette.

A lot of people looked at him with disapproval but the shamiana tent that they had put up was on the terrace of the club, it was not exactly indoors or public so he took a drag. One of the women whom he had not noticed earlier detached from a far fringe group and walked across to him. She was slim and superbly proportioned. Her hair flowing down well below her shoulders she wore a deep saffron colored chikan salwar kameez & looked extremely striking. “Hi Martin”she said & he was embarrassed as he could not place her. Her attractiveness made him cringe inwardly even more. "Can I have one too?" she asked. Even more surprised he fished out his pack and lit one for her. Inhaling deeply & blowing out the blue smoke she exclaimed, "gosh I needed that. All here seem to be prudes or afraid of their wives or vice versa". She laughingly exclaimed, "You still haven’t recognized me have you Martin?" Looking into her laughing eyes it came with a rush. He tentatively said "Miriam…is this you?" Miriam was the petite, slim girl who would sit in the class very quiet and contained. No wonder her approaching him had thrown him off track. Even in his wildest imagination he wouldn't have connected the shy quiet girl from school with this uniquely beautiful lady before him. She had excelled at Art then…yes it was Miriam and had she filled out well? Frankly appraising her, he said as god is my witness Miriam you certainly have changed. ‘Go on now, take a complete look and she twirled around herself and looking over her shoulder pertly asked, Is my ass too as good as my tits that you have been gawking at ?” Finishing her turn she giggled at his discomfiture and she punched his arm.

He choked on his smoke at being caught trying to take a peek at her swells. Well, he had not been very discreet after all. " I am an art designer at an Ad agency and was married briefly but didn’t work out. Thankfully I had not left my job then and continued with a renewed focus. Now I head the creative department there. I do read your articles Martin" and he blushed. "It’s just a job Miriam nothing special." "Still the same guy shying away huh?" said she stubbing the butt under her slipper. "Come let me re-introduce you around to some of the samples from then" and taking his hand she started to walk away. He stayed her a bit and urged her to go on ahead, He would rather be by himself a while more. "Ok" said she, "just don’t leave without a word with me Ok?" He nodded and lit another one. Wow, who would have thought the fine bone structured shy girl would become such a boldly sensual attractive woman as he watched her gently oscillating posterior. At that moment she turned with an impish smile, made a gun with her fingers and shot him. He grinned back.

He looked at the faces again and started sketching from a distant memory, seeing black in the hair that had streaked into grey and hair where some bald domes displayed none.The once firmness of bursting youth that had led to grooves on the faces, ridges of maturity due to the advanced body clocks. Lines added by responsibility, laughter and the weight of the world carried on the shoulders.Some carried it better than the others. Wonderingly he thought that a few of them had been his very close friends then. What had happened in between? Well he would know soon enough if he looked around and he did. Different educational interests, marriages and the social backgrounds had created walls around them all; that they were optimistically hoping to breach in one sudden evening of togetherness. Some retained the enthusiasm of youth as he watched these faces break into easy smiles and laughter. The party or get together was a living mass of people which like a psychedelically colored amoeba was morphing and re-morphing itself around familiar lines. Miriam from the middle of a crowd caught his eye and smiled as the party rearranged itself around a different design and color as people walked about. These lines had a timeliness that was predictable as people out of sheer habit in professions demanding networking did so furiously. Visiting cards were being hurriedly exchanged. Some like Jitesh despite spectacular achievements were sitting deeply staring into their drinks, families forgotten. He smiled and watched the interplay wondering as to how old was this bunch? He had touched forty so that made all of them in the same range give or take a year.Did that make them old and over the hill? He certainly didn’t feel like an old fogey himself but some faces made him realize that the dreams and stars in them had died a long time ago. A striking majority seemed to be in a rat race and running furiously to stay in the same place. 

Luckily the navy job had made enough money to sustain him for some years. He bought a small place for myself in the suburbs and one farmhouse in distant Igatpuri, the rest of the money was parked in secure stocks, deposits and commercial paper and he was set to write. Then when even that started paying for itself, his life was complete. It made him happy. He still didn’t own a car primarily because at Igatpuri he got by on a bicycle. And now looking around it he felt was so much better for it. For some faces here, life and its possibilities seemed to have ended at their parking lots assigned and otherwise.

These thoughts were playing in his mind as he moved along to the dinner table. Chetan was standing here and as he picked up a plate, complimented him on bringing this scene about. Chetan said the whole act was fun but was pleased all the same at the compliment. The food was wonderful and he started filling up a plate as a chiding voice said behind him, "What a gentleman you are Martin, didn’t even ask me whether I had eaten? To find Miriam again at his elbow, quickly apologized & tried handing her his plate. This she refused and said pile it up and let’s go into that corner, We can eat from the same one.

As they ate and talked they shared details, filled in the gaps from the years gone by, about what each had been doing and became friends. Truly speaking, he had not known her in school. Talking to the opposite gender was not such an acceptable thing in those days amongst their peers. This coupled with his being naturally shy had never worked up the courage to approach one at Church or elsewhere. He found it easy dealing with women in professional situations rather than on a personal level. Was this why he was still single? Miriam unwittingly had torn down his reserve quite like the chicken from a leg she was chewing on with eyes half closed. She was so absorbed in this simple act, her whole being seemed to be in her mouth. He wonderingly watched her. She opened her eyes and they twinkled as she said "I do love food, don’t you?" and without waiting for his reply continued "Now Martin, we shall quietly finish the meal and you give me one more of your smokes. Then let’s say our goodbyes and I shall drop you to where you stay." He feebly protested but she asked him quietly "Have you your transport, Nope na? then in that case its settled I shall drop you. I will then even know where you stay & this time I would want us to be in touch, would you like that?" He warmed up to her frank approach and acquiesced to her.

After all wasn’t this the exact reason why they had gathered here? He thought, banishing all his earlier rather judgmental comments on people. All of them were here to reaffirm their places on the terra firma and in time. To be in touch with all the faces who knew each other before the trappings of life had pulled them away on their unique paths. For this one night everyone wanted to be back in the same class, sitting in the same places, looking at life ahead with the same sense of abandon. This he definitely noticed from the people lingering about at the venue reluctant to leave, to get onto vehicles that would take them into their individual wheel of life; where they pottered away creating something new, demolishing something old or simply just continue spinning it. 

Some chords had struck though and the party had been an absolute success. Though most relationships of old were at status quo, time and experience had mellowed people, some friendships had been renewed, & like in his case new ones with some promise had been formed.He conveyed his byes while a voice yelled “Goodnight everyone, See you soon all, Thanks Chetan, Great job” and softly to him “Come Martin lets go” and he looked into the smiling eyes of Miriam.


srinivsi said...

Great piece. Reminds me of the reunion we never had!

Kau Kau goes the Crow said...

:-) Thanks Sumi,

edited the "person" errors...The thoughts flew in first person while the account needed penning in the third..some confusion did exist.Hopefully eliminated.

Yup doesn't it? We have been planning a reunion now for a year...It shall happen when it shall...