I always thought it was a matter of common courtesy to not smoke in front of non-smokers, or at the least, to ask their permission before doing so. As it turns out, it was fallacy on my part to think so. So, I sit here, wedged between Harry and Sally on the park bench, as they puff away to glory and I crinkle my nose.
It’s always been like this. For the five years that we’ve known each other, it’s always been like this. Harry and Sally and me, the token Non-Chimney, to complete the pack.
Sally’s real name is Sharmishta, and she’s still in love with her old boyfriend, the one who dumped her to marry a Monica or a Kelly, or one of the other Makapao women who live and work in Bandra. Harry and I call her Sally, though, because of her penchant for falling in love with Christian boys. Glenn was her first love, the one she lost her virginity to, on his huge blue couch in his sea-facing apartment on Carter Road. Glenn was perfect, she used to tell us, young and dashing ad executive who made it big quite by chance, when the boss noticed his layout on the desk while passing by, and the climb came quickly after that. Sally and Glenn met at a bookstore, as they both reached for Love in the Time of Cholera
, and were smitten.
But today, he’s dumped her, and married Diana. Or was it Monica? Today, Sally’s sitting on the park bench with me and Harry, smoking her Gold Flakes Light because she’s thinking about the cute boy called Aaron whom she met in the yahoo
chatroom at work. She’s furrowing her brows and thinking hard because she’s wondering why Aaron seems so interested even though she weighs 77 kilos. But maybe, he’s a nice guy, she tells herself, maybe he’s not as shallow as Harry.
Harry’s parents named him Haresh. But he found his new name, Harry, in the course of a sojourn in a gay chatroom. In a gay chatroom, Harry would explain to us, no one would ever uses his (very few hers) real name. There would be several Rahuls there, an umpteen number of Sameers, and quite a few Sahils as well. The trick, Harry explained, was to choose a name that sounded friendly enough, fake enough, and definitely not complicated. No one would ever want to sleep with a Haresh, but a Harry definitely gave the impression of a cute Anglo stud.
Of course, Harry had met Sally’s Glenn briefly during the time they were still going strong, and he felt strangely vindicated now after the end of the affair in his initial assessment that Glenn was a ‘fart-face’. Harry liked to tell himself (and others) that he could read people. I, he said, was a pushover. Sally, by the same mystic art, was a sucker for pain. And Harry, the two of us concluded, was a flake.
But the thing he said about me being a pushover is not completely untrue. I’m an ordinary guy, really, and I find myself in a very ordinary place. It’s strange how those ideas of being this famous writer died down. Ashes to ashes, and all that jazz. My dad told me that a chartered accountancy was the best way forward, and since none of my stuff was getting published anywhere, I had no other viable alternative to show him. I spent five years and finally became a CA. That actually sounds pretty cool to say, but not when I see Harry, who stuck to his guns, stood up to his dad and is the lead guitar in a music band today, or when I see Sally, who’s writing feature stories for one of the city’s leading tabloids. O, yes, they bitch about their jobs same as I do, whenever we sit on the park bench, but that’s just natural, or they’re just being ingrates – you can look at it in whichever light you want.
The park lies in the centre of this little square patch of green grass, surrounded by the shining glass towers and concrete buildings where we work. All three of us. Sally’s newspaper has its offices on the first and second floors of Highway Towers A Wing; Harry’s band usually comes to the little studio behind Highway Towers D Wing, and my firm occupies half the fifth floor in Sunrise Towers II. The complex is called Sunrise Complex, by the way, which used to be the Sunrise Mills ten years ago, but none of us who come here every day, six days a week, really care about what the mill was like, what they made, or where the old workers have gone. That’s just reality here in Lower Parel. Hell, people need crummy music bands, tabloids and chartered accountants more than they need parchy old cloth, right?
I hate sermonizing, by the way. That makes me wonder why I like Harry, actually. He’s got issues. All gay men have issues, he tells me, and I must learn to deal with them. You’re the only gay man I know
, I retort, and I actually wouldn’t have minded if you’d never come out to me at all, you know
. To which, he arches his eyebrows in what I call the diva queen mode, and sniffs. Of course, Sally has to take his side here, even though she bitches about him to me when he’s not there. I get quite fed up with the two of them at times – it would be such sweet and divine vengeance if Harry decided he wasn’t gay one day, and the two of them got married.
Haresh weds Sharmishta. Invite for one.
It’s actually funny how similar the two of them are, really. Like the fact that they both ignore my glum face when they smoke right next to me. I’m dying of cancer here, but no, they need their stupid joints. And then, they’re drama queens. When Sally got her heart trampled upon by Steven from Hill Road, she told Harry first, and the two of them went to Café Mocha, within sight of Steven’s house, and drank wine and ate chocolate fiesta, and tried to get over him. Harry falls for most of the guys Sally dates, and in a way, it’s his heart that gets broken too, when she gets dumped. Me? I’m the one who has to drive down to pick up the two drunken sods from Mocha and drop them home.
But Sally’s not exactly sure why she fell for Steven. Not after what Glenn from Carter Road did to her. Her parents are quite scandalized about their daughter’s liaisons with Catholic boys, and have asked her not to have anything to do with them. Also Muslims. Parsis, definitely: they’re sickly. Sikhs are very domineering, they tell Sally, and so a Sikh boy is out for her own good. Any nice Hindu boy is fine. Unfortunately for them, Sally is not as rigid as they would like her to be. She’s a girl who likes the idea of love, is in love with that idea herself, and is quite willing to believe that there exists someone who will fall head over heels in love with her, just as she will do the same for him. She’s not stupid in matters of love, mind you, just gullible, and in a way, that’s much, much worse.
It had been beautiful with Glenn, of course. Glenn and the blue couch facing the ocean, on which they’d made love. When his face was lower, burrowed between her breasts, she would sigh, and look out at the blue-green expanse of sea and tell herself how lucky she was to have found the love of her life. When Glenn told her casually that he wasn’t in love with her anymore, on that same blue couch facing the sea, she smiled back her bitter tears and told him to go to hell. She prays regularly, you know.
No one could ever accuse Harry of being in love with the idea of love anymore, though. Like all men who discover they’re gay relatively early in life, Harry had had his heart broken a couple of times in quick succession by older men who needed a quick screw(driver). Harry was able and more than willing. And since then, he’s come to the conclusion that love is what you make of it. He’s not running after love anymore, but is willing to wait for it. He’s built a reputation for himself in the gay circles of this world called Bombay, and is pretty much satisfied at the whole deal. Sally and I keep telling him to be safe and make sure to use a condom every time, and that’s probably the only time Sermonising Diva Harry shuts up and listens to us.
He calls us his fairy godmothers, and I’m the chief in that line, by virtue of being his flat-mate. I’m the one witness to the succession of young men, old men, bald men, hairy men, swarthy men, boyish men, fat men, thin men that he brings in almost every other day, and I must confess that I’m quite jealous of his bloody-active sex life. Gay men have sex a lot
, I told him one evening morosely, after a certain Dick or Tom had just departed, and he nodded, agreeing. You don’t have to try hard at all
, I observed again, quite sad at the extra effort I had to put in every time I needed to have sex. Harry nodded again, lighting an infernal cigarette now, and replied, That’s true, but that’s why we never have relationships. It’s so much fun having just sex, no?
Try telling that to Sally
, I replied, and he chuckled.
Perhaps, that’s what Ritika tries, when she’s ever here. It’s so much fun just meeting and being there for each other and shagging sometimes
(once in the month she’s here), than actually getting into marriage or an engagement or something silly of that sort, Vishnu
, and when she says or does things that seem to suggest this is what she’s thinking, I can’t help but feel that maybe my life is an acute waste. Harry doesn’t like Ritika (She’s doing the quarterback
, he proclaimed once, looking at a picture she’d sent me, of her with the Northwestern University football team) and it took all of my self control to not smash his head in when he says something like that. Sally’s very sweet and all about Ritika, but I don’t think she likes her much, either.
I get the feeling that both Harry and Sally think I’m being a pushover for Ritika. Again.
So here are the arguments against Ritika: 1) She’s studying in the US, so I see her once a year, and that too only for three weeks or so before she goes to Delhi to be with her parents; 2) She’s bossy. So
bossy; 3) She doesn’t put out easily. I have to literally beg her for sex when I see her, and I hate doing that. 4) She hasn’t been calling me of late, and when I call, she hangs up within five minutes, saying she has to got out with Michael or Todd or Jonas. 5) She may be doing the quarterback. (His name is Michael, I think.)
But on the other hand, dumping Ritika will basically mean admitting that my life sucks. I’m twenty seven and I’ve had three relationships, and none of them worked out. Ritika and I have been seeing each other (well, not literally seeing
, since she left for the States) for three years now. So I’m loath to let go of it. Harry says, I’m just waiting to get dumped. I’ve seen via Sally how horrid it is to be dumped, and I don’t want to end up like that.
“I have to head back now,” Sally says, stubbing her used ciggie on the ground under her feet, “Don’t you boys have to go, too?”
I look at her curiously and then at my watch. Sally hates her boss, and she’s the one who deliberately lengthens these afternoon park sessions. Harry asks, offhand, still puffing on the last vestiges of his cigarette, “What’s the rush?”
“New project,” Sally says, getting up on her feet, and I follow. “Something quite cool on gay rights and all that jazz. You want to help me out on this one? How about doing an interview or something?”
I find that funny, as Harry may be out to the whole world here in Bombay, but his parents in small town Ferozepur still think their son is a sweet natured entrepreneur who will return home someday to marry the next door neighbour’s daughter, and I chortle at the thought of that. “Yea, why don’t you mail a copy of the interview to Ferozepur, na?”
Harry flashes me an evil look that suggests he’s going to put too much pepper in my food when he cooks dinner tonight and sighs, getting his ass off the bench. “Nopes. Will give ya numbers of some other guys you can chat to, though. On condition of anonymity, of course.”
Sally brightens, and says, “Of course. Scout’s honour.”
“Your cheesy newspaper has those too?” Harry quips, but it’s a lame one, as he hands her his cellphone which has the number of a ‘friend’ of his.
“So, how should I talk to this guy? I mean, does he like you? Have you… you know, done him and dumped him or something?”
“Actually, it might help, if you don’t give him my name at all.”
“That bad, eh?” and Harry shrugs.
“He’s immature. What can I say?”