“I will come to the station with you”, insisted Ajit’s father. “No, appa, it is not necessary, why do you want to stay awake till 1:30 in the morning”, Ajit repeated for the gazillion’th time. He had been persuading his father to drop plans of dropping him at the Pune railway station ever since he had come all the way up to the Bombay airport to receive him about a month ago. He had requested Appa not to come to the airport either.
The holiday had quickly come to an end. The last day remained, and sad that he was, that 25 days of bliss at home was almost over, he was looking forward with much enthusiasm for his last day of the India trip. Ajit was due to fly back to Tempe, AZ and his research the next night, and he had planned a wacky day with his college crime partner, Ratish on the last day in Bombay.
The plan itself was made in a brief spurt of madness. Ajit had called Ratish up, and as with most of their conversations across the oceans, it began as quickly as it ended. “What news?”, “All the same”. Then there was a pause, and then, the easiest escape conversation, “Remember that night during our Matheran trip?”. Nostalgia took over the conversation, and by the time Ajit was ready to hang-up, they had hatched the awesome plan, to relive one of their favourite final year pass-time, a drinking binge, in Bombay. Ajit was going to Bombay a day earlier to materialize this plan.
The train pulled into Dadar at 5:15 in the morning. Ajit was surprised to see Ratish waiting for him. He had prepared himself for a long wait at the station. Ratish was never on time. Public display of male bonding, the hug, followed by Ratish suggesting the breakfast at the best idli shop in Mumbai, a small shop in Matunga. As they sat in the taxi, Ajit enquired, “All set?”. Somehow, he had the nagging feeling that they will pull out of the plan to drink all day and sit and watch movies and chat aimlessly. Ratish, however was hyper, and he said that he had planned the day in advance.
After the best idlis in Mumbai, they would go back to Ratish’s flat in Powai, and smoke the ganja that he had managed to procure. Lunch would be at the Dombivilli dhabha that they frequented during college, for nostalgia’s sake. And that would also give Ajit the opportunity to get on the local. They will get back home and drink the beers that has been pre-loaded in the fridge-Kingfisher Premium. “You can have all those imported beers when you get back to the desert”, Ratish said. “We will stop drinking at 6 in the evening”, Ratish continued, “that will give you enough time for you to sober up before you leave for the airport at 2 in the morning”. “Oh! and we will have dinner at Chakras”, thus, Ratish rounded off the plan for the day.
Both of them were hungry, which meant that they cleaned off 4 plates of idli each rather quietly. The conversation started to open up in the taxi back home, as Ajit started recounting tales of the Hollywood trip and the drive to the canyons, Black Fridays and Football games. Ratish (ignorantly as Ajit would later say to his friends), quipped that American football is silly, and Ajit went off on a tangent explaining the game. As they reached the Powai apartment, Ratish started to tell the story of his great search for ganja the previous day, and how he had accosted a unshaven IIT student who had not seen a barber for ages, on the hunch that he might be into ganja to get the stuff.
They rolled the ganja and smoked the first joint, again in silence. Ganja, then started to do its stuff, and the conversation started to become colorful as the old friends opened up to each-other again. Time and distance had made the conversation thus far fairly formal, but in their ganja elevated states, they were back in their college fourth year souls. The conversation, then, quite predictably turned towards girls. Ratish’s college sweetheart had recently got married, arranged marriage, and Ratish, perhaps for the first time in a long time, opened up, and unloaded all his frustration in the form of the best and the most innovative expletives he could choose. Then, he concluded, “You know what, I am becoming more and more like Seinfeld”. “How? Why?”. “I mean, I am meeting quite a few girls these days, in office, in the bars and parties on friday’s”, continued Ratish, “but, like Seinfeld, I find stupid reasons to not approach them or talk to them”. “You must meet a lot of goris there in Arizona, tell me about it”, asked Ratish next, now that the conversation had turned towards girls. “Na re!, bloody, ASU is just like some Indian campus, those idiots give admission to every Indian who applies there man”, Ajit was now cribbing, “I stay in an national integration camp, my next door neighbors are 4 people from Andhra, they are everywhere man, and then there are the Delhi wannabees and the Chennai studs and the Bihari chap who knows to get the drugs”. He had covered every possible sterotype, and that was not far from the truth. The fun meandered into a serious conversation slowly, as the second and the third joints went up in puffs, about love and friendship, companionship, family etc.
At noon, in a drug induced hunger pang, they left for Dombivilli, and in the train, Ajit said what he had been thinking for a while, “It is so glad to get high with a close friend”. “Back in Arizona, I am always careful, and I stop at the feeling good stage, worried that I will blabber, but with you, I know that you will understand whatever I blabber”. Ratish nodded and echoed similar feelings, “childhood and hostel friends are totally different, you somehow stop making such friends as you grow older, the friend is just a casual acquaintance you spend more time with”.
Back at the Powai apartment, the beers kept them comfortably numb. Ajit recounted the happy memories of the trip to Mysore, to meet his grandparents and the extended family, the stop-over for a weekend at Bangalore, and the impromptu party there, in which so many of his batch-mates, all IT slaves, came, many of them he hardly knew that he went to college with. Ratish told about the class reunion to Kerela, shared the photos and discussed the lives of their friends, the marriage parties and the bachelor parties that he had been a part of, and his work, the apartment that he is building in Kolhapur, his stock portfolio and such stuff. It was evening by then, and the 6 PM deadline approaching. They had gulped around 8 beers each, and drowsed off slowly. Ratish woke up again at 10 and dragged a sleepy Ajit to Chakras and they had lasagna.
Midnight, and a hot cup of tea in hand, they sat in the living room, watching “Before Sunset” which was playing on some channel. Both had seen the movie hajaar times, and it was in the background, and they could weave in and out of the story at will. Sometimes, they will stop the conversation to listen to some dialogue, and sometimes, a dialogue itself would start off an philosophical conversation. As the movie was drawing to a close, and Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke were talking on the boat on the Seine; battling drowsy eyes Ajit says, ” I don’t want to go back”.
“What do I do going back man? It is not that my research is going to change the world, and it has been 3 years in the US, and I still feel like an alien there. I don’t think that I will ever be able to call that place home. Ya, I am doing what I have wanted to do, but life is not just money and a good job”.
Ratish was being the good friend, he nodded, but did not know how to reply, and made feeble attempts at justifying his friends decision made 3 years ago to do the PhD.
Ajit, however continued, “My life there is phony dude, I pretend to know many people, many people pretend to know me. Its been three years, still I don’t feel comfortable talking to the Americans”. “I enjoyed this trip much more than I wanted to, and I realized that I miss my family and friends like you much more than anything”. He continued, “You have a good job here, and you are happy, and we are not much different are we?”. Ratish was just nodding, thinking that they should have stopped drinking at 4, clearly, Ajit is not sober still. Ajit continued, “aren’t you happy? You have money, a decent life, much the same that I live in America, and you are with friends and family, and in a country that you can call your own, no matter how much more developed America is, it is not yours”.
As Ajit’s monologue continued, the movie slowly drew to an end. Celine was slowly dancing and singing to Nina Simone, and ever so cutely, says to Jesse that he is going to miss his flight. Jesse smiles and says, “I know”.
Ajit then says,”Ratish, I am much more sober than you think I am, and I think I am going to do a Jesse”, as Ratish points to the clock on the wall showing a few minutes past two. Ratish tries in vain for the next few minutes to ask him to leave. Ajit’s father calls and Ajit lies that he is already in the airport, and then says, without much conviction, ” I can easily find a job in India”. Slowly, Ajit paints an Indian dream, talks about using his saved dollars for some investment, and of the million things he will do in India.
The clock ticks past three. The flight is at 4 am. Ratish has given up, Ajit will be missing the flight. Its 3:05, and Ajit is talking about the kind of job he wants, the companies that he wants to apply to, the work that he wants to do all life. Suddenly he jumps from the couch, “Who am I kidding”, he yells, and lunges for his bags, and leaves the apartment in a hurry, searching for a taxi at 3 in the morning.
They find a taxi soon, and as they part, Ratish says, “You know what, I think Jesse also made the flight to America from Paris.”