Posterity will have it that I have always been the blameless kind. I never drove a Bajaj Pulsar down a patchy 100 foot Indian road like one would a Hayabusa down the Autobahn. (In fact, I never owned a Bajaj Pulsar, but even if I did, it is unlikely that I would have constituted a risk to traffic) I never did wheelies to get the attention of the ‘figuru’ walking down the other side of the road. My friends never called me an ‘Aan singham’ (Lion) as I serenaded a passing figuru with a rendition of ‘Kann pesum varthaigal’ (The things that my eyes say) while sitting on a footpath with the airs of a Persian potentate. And if I ever referred to a girl I had never spoken to as ‘aen aalu’ (my girl), I was more likely to be met with hoots of derision than a hushed reverential silence followed by loud ‘Machchi, Siddhu weight party da’ (untranslatable from Madras lingo).
On the other hand, I have been, more often than not, a target of the unwashed Peter bashers that abound in Chennai’s college campuses. I had, over the course of the years, learned to turn a blind eye to comments of the ‘Dai peterae…antha figurae wokkariyaa da?’ (Yo, Englishman! Are you fucking that chick?) kind.
But I had, till my nineteenth year, emerged relatively unscathed from my brushes with rowdykind. This is because I kept a studious distance from any (usually pretty) girl who was unfortunate enough to be the recipient of a poriki’s1 lowe.
For those not in the know, the typical engineering college porikki owes his presence in an institution of higher education to the tireless efforts of Arjun Singh, V.P. Singh and others of their ilk. After having got in, they quickly realize that engineering education in India is unfortunately imparted in English, a language that they had studiously ignored for seventeen years. They also find that working as the right hand man of the local neta would have offered them much better career prospects than attempting (bootlessly) to wrest an engineering degree from the powers-that-be. And finally, they find that the girls do not, after all, want to talk to them, in spite of their wide knowledge of every lowe song ever written in the Tamil language. Life is not, they realize to their chagrin, a Tamil movie.
So, in a couple of months, they discover the joy of consuming large amounts of alcohol, and indulging in a genial punch-up with a rival gang after having consumed liberal amounts of the same. Also, they soon gather around themselves a bunch of other porikis.
The time of the year that the average engineering poriki looks forward to with great anticipation is the time when the first years first walk through the portals of the engineering college. Each poriki chooses a pretty girl, and gets off by fantasizing about running around trees with the girl (who will, almost without exception, be clad in a wet saree) – both of them climaxing when he kisses her navel (don’t look at me that way; if one were to believe Tamil movies, a woman’s G-spot is right where her bellybutton is!).
But, into each life some rain must fall. The poriki has, of course, in the name of ragging, called the girl over to the tree where he holds court and had the following highly-romantic conversation with her (while still under the influence of the best of Kandan Wines’ stock).
‘Aey, enna di…Aishwariya Rai mathiri irruke? Won Paer enna?’
(Hey, what’s all this? You look like Aishwariya Rai! What’s your name?)
To which the girl responds with her name. Her considerable irritation and discomfort is a good sign, murmur all of the poriki’s followers. After all, didn’t Asin feel the same way when Vijay spoke to her first in the movie Sivakasi?
‘Seri, naalekku ingae ithae timeukku vaa. Ippo, kalambu, po po!’
(Alright, come along here this time tomorrow. Now, scoot, vamoose!)
The Alpha Male’s performance is met with a raucous round of whistling by the apostles. The general perception is that he has ‘connected’ the chick for sure. In another two weeks, he will be, they say, running around trees with her. In three, he’ll actually be kissing her navel.
But, the engineering poriki is not stupid. He may not understand Digital Systems, and may find Computer Architecture unpronounceable, but he knows that the campus abounds with Peters – Peters whose sole purpose is to steal all the figurus away from him.
Cut to: October 2002
Kaveri was one of those unfortunate young women who had had incredibly romantic conversations with a poriki under the shade of a tree. For Amar – that illustrious stalwart who had driven his Hero Honda Splendor over the arm of a chap who had disagreed with him - was lowing her. Amar was sure Kaveri lowed her too. For had she not quickened her pace and had a tortured expression on her countenance when he serenaded her with that cult classic ‘Vaadi vaadi aen manmatha raasa’.
When a bloke of Amar’s stature falls in lowe, it does not take long for most of the campus to hear of it. In just a couple of days, most of the other guys on campus began to keep a safe distance from Kaveri.
To be on the safe side, I had decided that I would keep a safe distance from not just Kaveri, but any other girl in the first year who did not actually look like a hippopotamus. However, a capricious fate had different plans.
It was a fine day as I was called over by the head of the English department.
Ms. Peters (no relation to the Tamil word Peter) was a wizened old woman who attained puberty the year Queen Victoria ascended to the throne of Great Britain. She had known Gandhi when he was a mere slip of a boy, and Nehru had called her ‘Aunty’. The reader may wonder why the author wishes to make this known, but the author knows not why himself.
And she said, in the familiar, quivering, Convent-accented tremolo, ‘Siddhoooo, we shall be having an open house in a couple of days.’
I wished to interject at this juncture to find out why she wished to throw her home open to visitors, and why she wished to confide in me. But she waved me down imperiously.
‘Schoolchildren from around the city will be coming along on campus to take a look at the research we’re doing.’
‘But we’re not doing any research within a ten kilometer radius of campus, Ma’am’, I objected conscientiously.
‘Ah, don’t cavil, young man! In any case, the English Department plans to have a display, and it is your responsibility to show the children around.’
Though I could not see what research the English Department could be doing in an engineering college where no research is carried out in any engineering field, I did not say anything. I was happy enough to stick around – I probably would get fed for free.
‘Oh, and Kaveri will assist you. You will be working closely with her over the next one week.’
Though Wodehouse has repeatedly affirmed in his books that the human heart does not actually stop, if someone asked me at that moment, ‘Siddhu, the heart never stops beating.’, I would have cast a very dirty look upon that someone and assured him that mine had stopped beating a few seconds ago.
My working closely with Kaveri would definitely come to Amar’s notice, and the results, I knew, would not be pretty.
I resolved to remain cool and distant, and keep a distance of a metre and a half between the two of us. Even Amar, I thought, could not blame me for what was clearly an act of God. But as events transpired, I realized that I had thought wrong…very wrong!
To be continued…
1. Poriki (n)(Po-ri-key): the lowest of the lowest level flirts. Their daily occupation involves standing under trees and acting shady (pun intended) with anything female that walks past, being aware of the latest lowe songs and being able to say lowe. He is also one who perpetually has an imaginary girlfriend – credit for this definition goes to Ketaki.