Third Year, 2005
I first met Tootoo in Savera. The year was 2005. A thick creamy layer painted the cloud and rain sprinkled in the dense air like an infatuated teenager falling in and out of love. The first city drizzle brought comfort and triggered the mood reading newspaper, smoking and gulping coffee in abandon. The fair Amreekan looking angrez Indian dude speaking in fluent Marathi walked towards me and asked to join me at the table in the smoking zone at Savera. I never knew that one meeting would turn out to be a long cherished friendship where he would often push me most of the time to give my best shot during the lows and restored my confidence as a person. Tootoo was a magician.
We bonded over smoke on the day, guzzling countless cups of coffee and discussing national and international issues, ranging from politics, economics, corruption, and cinema. Tootoo was always a well read person whom I always looked up to and told him so. He is very passionate about Economics and would articulate his passionate views on any subject which serves as fodder for thought or like he called it, intelligent conversations. I remember sharing with him on that day about plans to move away from FC Road and put my ass at Pashan that offered the needed serenity for the soul. Believe it or not, the popular FC Road was getting to the head with the insane traffic growing in leaps by the day. He told me to drive cautious from Sus Road to FC, which is quite a relatively long distance and during morning traffic since the monsoon will soon strike.
One Monday morning, I shifted to the new apartment in Pashan and met my new flatmates Chetan and his girlfriend N. In the evening, the brush of heavy rains heckled us. There was no option but to go for dinner in Chetan’s car, at a hotel which is a walk away from the apartment, to gorge on mouth-watering and juicy Pav Bhaji. Over time, the dish became a favorite. Pashan was love at first sight for its sheer tranquillity and serene walks to the supermarket, cyber market and row of shops falling under one roof. It soon became a routine but pleasurable gait at a stretch.
The sudden shift to Pashan hit Adi who was on holiday outside India like a tornado on his head. At first, he thought that it was the usual lame and crude joke that I am famous for but when he got a hang on things in our sms exchange, my phone inbox was flooded with gaalis and cuss words to express disappointment and sadness. After all, we would no longer be staying together and booze every Saturday but we did.
Difficult to fathom in today’s times that we forked 5k as rent for a fully furnished 2 BHK offering a picturesque and alluring city view from the spacious balcony. I enjoyed watching the vast scenery offered by the stunning hills and lake view in the morning, at sunset and nightfall. Driving at leisurely pace and most of the time wandering aimlessly on the scooter was a luxury to gaze at the scenery, huge trees and breezy air fluttering the hair as one waded past the University Circle to NDA Road, verging to the right at Sus Road that offered seamless joy. Traffic was not dreaded from University Circle to Pashan, unlike today.
I recall Chetan’s parents visited from Bihar. One afternoon, all the three of us sprang on the feet to get rid of bottles of beer, Vodka, and whisky in heap. N shifted to a friend’s place but not without making sure that the house became speckled clean. It was wonderful to spend time with uncle and aunty who never interfered into my life but also respected the personal space. At the same time, they went to an extra length, making yummy food and the mithai treat. Chetan shifted to my room for a couple of days before flying to Malaysia with his parents.
Life lived to the lees. A family that travels together know for sure how to charm and woo hearts bringing back a new member. I first tasted Absolut flavored Vodka with Chetan as we bid farewell to his parents. He always sported a genuine smile on his face and not once saw him angry. One guy who bore no streak of selfishness and never flinched to share his most expensive Vodka with me, saying cheerfully, “Yeh hum dono ke liye laya (I brought it for us)” on seeing my hesitation to pour a drink.
The only time that he got pissed off with me and rightfully so, was when I forgot to switch off the stove a couple of times. I must have left my brain somewhere. One Saturday, I got a call from Chetan while driving back home. He sounded serious for the first time and blunted told me that I forgot to turn off the stove. The time I reached home, the smile was back on his face to cheerfully say, “Vishal, please, gas ko haath mat lagao (Please don’t touch the gas).” There was no aggression or anger but made his point in a respectful manner. It’s one rare trait in a human being. I mean, it’s very easy to get pissed off and shout but dunno how he was able to keep calm, something that I try to learn.
Magic splayed into our lives. The Potter and Hogwarts craze didn’t spare anyone among our generation going bonkers for the next book hitting the market. Aparna was my classmate and a good friend who was an even bigger Harry Potter fan, who stayed not too far away from me which was probably 5 km distance. The love for Potter magic made us click as friends and the best thing was that she was staying at Panchavati which is one of the most fabulous places in Pune which I drooled over. It was such a treat to careen over the spotlessly clean road, serenaded by high rises, brick walls, and trees offering a shade bristling the hair and smearing the face with the cold breeze.
Pure delight to sashay one’s way at Panchavati swiping on the road left, right and center much before Tinder entered the life of millennials. I would often visit Aparna’s house with Adi and at times, popping alone to borrow her vast treasure and the latest HP collection, gulping chai, chatting over everything under the sun, harmless college gossip, movies and of course the world of Harry, Hermione, and Ron. Ah! Days of bliss as one hearken back to the near perfect college days.
The perk of having friends bonding over Harry Potter became a regular trip over time to our chum’s house with Adi and a couple of friends who would often go to any length to pull my legs over the latest antics at the birthday bash. Drunk over Vodka. Everyone pretended to offer me a shot than chai and wearing a pricelessly flared expression on the face.
Punning hoochie-coochie days and I lived to tell endless tales that now gives a feeling of driving a wedge between the years of bliss, friends and the present times. The fleeting days seemed to belong to another world. 2005 was nearing its end and one feels like ballooning in the air when an unexpected invite dropped into the sms inbox. I am lucky, I sold a guitar to strum the heart’s string and got a party invite, I felt like singing.
Stuti was a good friend and the sms read a housewarming party offered by Shivangi, our senior in college. It came as a whirlwind of joy and I swooped into action in the night hailing a rickshaw, zigzagging from one place to the other and flitting past apartment blocks hither and dither like spiders to finally land at the right place. A fun party with friends, guzzling Vodka and strictly refusing to try the cocktail of rum, whisky or wine that would send me straight into the ‘heaven of hell’. I was in no mood for that. I tried tiny and timid dance steps but slouched back in the chair. I instead traipsed on the balcony to enjoy a smoke with my glass in hand. I promised someone a date in my over-enthusiastic sozzled mood which never happened.
I love watching the crowd gyrating and charming everyone with their dance moves but something far exciting was brewing on the balcony. Nopes, no one was making out passionately. There was this funny chick sloshed to the hilt that someone had to snatch away her phone and she was screeching thinking it was her boyfriend calling. Her friend calmed this storm and told that she is so drunk thinking that every caller is her boyfriend. ‘It’s my boyfriend…let me speak to him…why did you take away my phone?’ And, I thought no one could beat me in getting high in the flick of time and hallucinating. Quite a fun sight to see someone high on the booze of life and had an imaginary boyfriend on the phone. It’s something that my brain has captured which I shall never forget during my Pune days.