The Millennium Batch

Part 3 / Series 1

Call it the unsolicited advantages of being a late joiner; it gave me an opportunity to weigh my options before aligning with any of the formed camps or forming groups in the class, unlike others, who had to make associations either as a chance fit or from first formed camaraderie. I let the decision pass, waiting to be pushed to make one. If the push didn’t come to shove, I had hoped to bid my time, well and good – to being pals with all.

But it didn’t take Pam’s ceaseless scrutinizing mind too long, to sense my ambiguous functioning. The matter came to a head, when after one of Rahul’s hasty solo project presentations; I refused to join cause with Atul and Amit in asking some intellect culling, tough questions prepared by Pam to embarrass the hassled guy further. I even pondered aloud my reservations against anyone else guiding my convictions – in class or outside;and let Pam know of my intentions of offering help to Rahul, whenever solicited,for his next assignment or presentation. Pam reserved his comments then, to whisper loud enough later for the sparse morning attendance at the canteen to hear, almost suddenly in between one of our alternate breakfast treats, “Got an adjective for you too baby. Finally!” – Avi (an easy abbreviation for my longish Avinash) the Diplomat!”

It definitely wasn’t a compliment, coming perhaps with a warning to come out of the no man’s land and take a stand amidst the emerging Rahul and Pam camps. I gleefully dismissed the adage to Pam’s surprised discomfort, more so because right now, Anisha sitting five tables away with Rahul had gathered all my attention, with her maiden singing efforts, continuing to be the object of mine and everybody’s concern. And every time Rahul mock cuddled up to her, flinging his arm round her shoulders, and got cozy; someone just looked all over to prevent anyone from noticing how his whole existence had adopted a green hue.

Greener than even the new signboard of ‘Madhuban: A Garden of Eden,’ as they finally agreed to call it. The US-returned, younger son of the restaurant’s owner Mr. Dhirajlal Shah, had been forced to make a compromise after a really long ‘linguistic’ battle with his elder brother, over whether it should be called ‘A Garden’ or ‘The Garden.’ As regards Mr. Shah, he decided he would save his next generation of would-be hotelwallahs (or ‘reh•stuh•ruh•tha’/[restaurateur] as Manish would proclaim) from unnecessary and unwanted education abroad; when all they had to do is carry on the family business. He had, had enough of reasoning with his younger ABCD (American Born Confused Desi) son, Manish who was at loggerheads with his professional and cell-smart, numerology-addicted elder brother Manubhai over little formalities like whether it should be ‘A’ or ‘The.’

Not that the otherwise patient Manubhai had found any grammatical flaws with that seemingly ‘hep’ English add on, it was a purely numerology-dictated objection. ‘The’ spoiled the luck factor, the family numerologist had argued, with a liberal dose of planetary movements related jargon thrown in, to justify his high consultation fees, by Pune’s ‘the elders know-all’ standards. Manish had diligently argued, by using the word ‘the,’ it would mean it’s ‘the’ one (read ‘the’ only garden of Eden in the city and so on), the grammar freak in him had argued. But in India in general and with the business families in particular, elders still remain the decision-makers.

Now one would wonder why so much of a hullabaloo for Madhuban, (I will stick to its old un-anglicised name), just another restaurant. Well before Manish joined us through management quota, and prior to the addition of a new roof-top garden restaurant to Madhuban; it had been witness to countless love stories off our college campus, the tales of which had brewed far and thicker than Anisha’s now-cold coffee, as she took that last puff off her Marlboro Lights ciggy. Well that’s what the America-returned surprisingly non-smoking Manish would dismissively call a cigarette, be it the Monkey brand of down-market bidis or that classy Havana puffer.

Right now, he was gaping through one more of Anisha’s routine antics, waiting for another surprise, as she drowned the remnants of her last ciggy in the teacup turned ashtray. Manubhai was used to this sight, though not Manish, for Indian girls to him still meant the docile, salwar-suit clad impec¬cably sweet and always proper hausfrau material from Sooraj Barjatya’s films. Girls, who were good wife materials, but not the girlfriend, a Rahul or Pam would like to sport on their arm, to avail a discount entry at 10 Downing Street – nothing political – just the suave initials of a trendy neighbourhood disc.

Still Manish went ahead and intro¬duced himself to Anisha, who knowing of his ABCD status, decided to grill him straight on the subject to hers and the others, muted glee. For little did this binge watcher of Hum Aapke Hain Kaun– he had seen its every evening show at the theatre, two weeks in a row through its ‘august’, August release in 1994 – whose present big excitement in life was the Diwali festival release of Hum Saath Saath Hain, know; that Anisha was never going to be his Madhuri Dixit, even if he acquired all the M.F. Hussain paintings in Pune’s private collections!

The writer, a national film award winning critic, has authored three published works of fiction and non-fiction.Website: www.piyushroy.com

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