The Narrator

  

                                                                        

                              TWELVE

 

 

    As I've grown older, I have become more intolerant of smoking.  I cannot think of any addiction which is as harmful and as troublesome.  A drunk can become a menace through his bad behaviour; but the very act of imbibing isn't directly bothersome to others.  Those who chew tobaco also, by and large, only harm

themselves.  Except, of course, when they spit without looking. I so hate it when a jet of red spittle goes flying past my shoulders, missing me by millimetres, landing in the dirt in an ugly little spurt, thanks to some idiot's casual spit from inside a bus while I'm walking on the sidewalk like a law-abiding and dutiful citizen.  But that damaging and nauseating fallout of chewing tobbaco is, I dare say, an exception.  But whenever a person lights up, he or she is instantly and automatically a

serious health hazard to everybody around.

    Gandhi had once said:  "Hate the sin, not the sinner."  So I have nothing against smokers as such.  In fact, I feel sorry for them.  There's no other habit that takes away so much and gives so little.  Drinking alters one's moods and makes one feel better.  Cigarettes don't even do that.  Some people claim that smoking makes them concentrate better, or becalms them.  But I doubt that.  I think that's their way of rationalzing the tug of the nicotene on their blood.  So what does smoking give you, except something to do, to occupy your time, to coverup the emptyness of soul within?

    My paranoia for smoking has, if anything, grown.  My worst nightmare would be to be locked into a closed room with a dozen smokers.  There would be no option then, but to slowly, silently suffocate to death.  If I pass a smoker when I walk to the bus-stop in the morning, I feel my day has begun badly.  How can

people light up so early in the day, when the air is pure and refreshing?  Just a whiff of the exaled poison stick is enough to give me a headache.

    Whenever I enter a bus for a long-distance journey, my only fear is to be seated next to a smoker.  At night in the bus, with all the windows shut against the chill, I can easily detect the acrid odour of cigarette smoke, no matter which seat it originates from.  I look about, desperately, trying to locate the source.  Sometimes I have got into acrimonius exchanges with smokers when I've asked them, not too politely, to stub out. I've even started travelling in air-conditioned train compartments, well before I can afford it, just to avoid coming into contact with smokers.  This doesn't deter them though; they go outside and light up.  And quite a bit of smoke is dragged into the compartment through the air-conditioning.

    So, no matter what one does, it's difficult to avoid passive smoking.  In fact, I rue the fact that most of my best friends are smokers, Badri being only the latest of the lot.

    My aversion to smoking is not surprising because no one in my family smokes. Only the husband of one of my aunts does.  So it was in his house that Baddy experimented with cigarettes.  He stole a couple and took them into the toilet in the afternoon. He Baddy lit up and puffed deeply.  The smoke entered his lungs,

nearly knocking him out.  He coughed and spluttered.  This is great, he thought!  What a high!  He pulled again and again but was disappointed to find that the heady sensation accompanying the first puff waned gradually, but surely. Instead, he noticed he had a hard-on.  A really good one. Automatically, his right hand moved to grasp it.  Up and down, up and down. Slowly, he began his ritual of pleasure.

    Baddy became a smoker at fifteen.  He also began experimenting with booze around this time.  It happened like this.  My parents were out to a dinner on a Saturday night.  I was reading Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak.  It fascinated me that every two pages, characters swigged on some brandy to warm themselves in the severe Russian winter.  Baddy decided that he would also give it a try.  He proceeded to Dad's liquor cabinet, which was always unlocked, took out a bottle of brandy and began to drink it up by the capful.

    It was delicious in small sips, burning down his throat most pleasurably.  He didn't even realize when he became drunk.  What a wild evening he had.  He had never felt so free, so uninhibited before.  Strangely, he also felt very pure, as if he were a specially endowed human being with magical powers.  He took out his book and began to write.

    I still have a whole notebook of Baddy's drunken poems and sketches.  The poems aren't all that bad; they come up with some really fresh images.  But, of course, they aren't finished. Sometimes, the lines trail off into illegibility as Baddy became progressively more drunk.  There was also a lot of auto-stimulation during these drunken bouts.  Masturbation, attempts at auto-felatio, and the most adventurous of all, anal masturbation.

    In the process, Baddy discovered exactly how men came.  It was all nerves, all mechanical.  You touch the right cord and get the desired response.  It wasn't the head of the penis that was the most sensitive, but the glans, that conglomeration of blood vessels massed under the tip, where the foreskin was connected to the head.  There were a couple of nerves which ran down from there.  Manupilate them, and you can jerk any man off at will.

    The ejaculation, on the other hand, was controlled from the bottom of the shaft.  The semen was stored in the scrotum and drawn up by a pump.  The pump was activated by muscles somewhere at the base of the penis.  One could locate them by feeling inside the anus.  No wonder, when veterinary scientists wanted the sperm of bull, a stimulating gun would be shoved inside their anus and an artificial ejaculation effected.

    Baddy really came into himself when I joined The Tambaram College.

    The college in question was over 150 years old, started during the heyday of the Empire by Scottish missionaries.  It was located about twenty-five kilometres outside Madras.  One had to reach it by the suburban train.  There was a large, semi-wild campus in the middle of which boys and girls from all over India found themselves thrown together.

    The seclusion and the relative self-sufficiency made the college a peculiar place to be in.  The students thought of themselves as the lost generation, India's equivalent of the hippies.  This was in the mid 1970's, after the flower children had begun to return to the establishment in the USA. 

    Two things dominated the college--music and drugs--and both were often linked.  What I saw there was an inversion of my entire value system.  Bunking classes, acting wild, breaking rules, and doing the unconventional thing were considered hip.  There was nothing worse than being a good boy; it was the most despicable way to live.  You had to be crazy to groove with the crowd.

    Baddy really "freaked out" in College.  He was the first of the PU batch to smoke marijuana.  He joined a group of seniors who spent most of their time smoking and listening to music. Each of them had funny names--Beetle, Kino, Dart, Yelp, Porky, and so on.

     Kino was so called because his father was an ambassador to Kenya.  He was a very soft-spoken, dreamy-eyed youth, who played the guitar.  But he didn't play very well.  So whenever there was a competition in College, he got so stoned that it didn't matter if they cheered or booed.

    During my four years in College, I felt that Rahul Patwardhan was totally eclipsed by Baddy.  Rahul survived and to everyone's amazement did quite well at the end of it all.  But it was Baddy whom people remembered--as a debator, elocutionist, singer, poet, and general fun person.  While Rahul lived on quietly, keeping out of everyone's way and harm, Baddy was flamboyant.  He made enemies as much as he made friends.  Once, in a drunken brawl, he was bashed up badly.  On another occasion, one of his friends was stabbed in a stupid quarrel.  But the worst of college was the suicide of one of Baddy's friends.  He consumed half a bottle of

downers and jumped off the top floor of the International Student's Hostel in the city.  The boy's father was in Addis Ababa and the son had gone wild in Madras.  He'd stolen a large sum of money from one of his friends and blown it all on drugs. God knows what got into him, but he killed himself.

    At the end of these four years, Baddy was a much chastened being.  He had sobered down quite a bit.  I was not surprised,  considering what he'd been through.  I decided to leave Madras to join the Central Institute of English in Hyderabad for a Doctorate in English literature.  Actually, the decision to do research in English hadn't at all been easy.  After Pre-University, I could have gone into Engineering or Science, but it was Baddy's insistence, I guess, which tilted the scales in favour of the Humanities.  Luckily, my family were supportive. "Do whatever you like," they said, "but do it well.  Become the best."

 
  Copyright © 2005 - Makarand Paranjape