The cry of a distant voice, shrieking my name, woke me up from my afternoon slumber. The time after lunch was impossible to stand up to the might of sleep. But, as the voice continued with gradual increase in volumes, I woke up with a Hypnic Jerk, to the most repugnant view – Prabhat was sleeping on his bed, on the other side of the room with his back towards me, wearing only, what could be described as, a very short underwear. I instantly looked away and followed the voice to the balcony and looked down to see the known source of the voice in the first floor balcony. It was Harshal, in his standard red underwear and grey vest, calmly smoking away at a cigarette and yelling my name in between puffs. There’s just something about not wearing pants/only wearing underwear that makes men give a real sense of freedom. No pants, no responsibilities, or something like that.
“Chal… Let’s go for chai ” – invited Harshal nodding his head from the first floor balcony.
I nodded in conformity, and went in to put on some clothes, all the while trying to avoid eye contact with Prabhat’s skin coloured undies.
As I came out of the flat I saw Kapil bhai, in the adjacent flat, enjoying his two-minute instant Upma and masala peanuts along with Anna & Shomil while discussing Narenda Modi & Gujarat. I went in and took a spoonful, while all three momentarily raised their heads from the conversation for greetings, astonished at the amount of Upma I could scoop up on the spoon.
I carried on downstairs as sound of heavy music seemed approaching closer. When, I was in the full audible range, I could make out it was “Hope Leaves” by Opeth and undoubtedly the sound was coming from Hridesh’s flat. Damn! The man had good taste in music, I thought to myself. I peeked in to the flat and found Ashutosh, unabashedly, sleeping in the front room with his laptop resting on his tummy, absolutely not bothered by the loud music.
I rang the doorbell to flat E-38, being resided by Francis, Harshal, Neeraj & Rohit, at that time. Francis opened the door, clearly pissed off at being woken up from his sleep but still managed to give me a smile and instantly went back to his bed. Neeraj had just came out of the loo and was getting ready to go for swimming while loudly singing a ‘90s Song that I couldn’t have possibly heard before. I went into the inner room, where Rohit was lying flat on his stomach on his bed, reading a freshly ordered paperback, while half a dozen post-it notes, with quotes and reminders for events due to happen two months later, flapped on the wall besides him. Both of us made sort of a growling sound acknowledging each other’s presence in the room, as I passed it to reach the balcony where Harshal was just about to finish his cigarette.
While we stood in the balcony, in the midst of washed clothes left there to sun-dry, Tanuj crossed in front of the building running on the pavement. He seemed to just slip and fall momentarily, but regained his balance and carried on running. That was just his style… to run and avoid falling down.
Rohit had also joined us in the balcony with the book in his hand, and holding the book up said, “Suno… kya sahi likha hai… Waiting is painful. Forgetting is painful. But not knowing which to do is the worst kind of suffering.”
“Ab iska matlab bhi samjha do…” – said Neeraj from inside the room.
“Saaley! Matlab nahi samajh aaya tumko…” – replied Rohit.
The conversation had turned to bickering between the two, as I left the balcony, signaling Harshal that I’ll be waiting in the parking, downstairs for him to come. Francis had went back to sleep with the blanket over his head, he seemed like a dead body lying in the morgue.
Arora, Gupta and Agarwal’s flat’s open door directly opposite E-38, invited me in as I thought to take a detour before going downstairs in the hope of getting something to eat. Agarwal and Gupta were nowhere to be seen. Arora was sitting on his bed browsing the FLBP (Future Lower Back Problems) section of thechive.com.
“Bhai, chai peene chalega?” – I asked while devouring three Parle-G Gold biscuits from the half consumed packet lying on the side table.
“Na bhai. Tu jaa. Abhi, phone pe baat karni hai” – he replied and stood up to pick an airtel recharge voucher from the shelf and started scratching the code with his nails.
“Thik hai bhai…” I replied & picked up a couple of more biscuits and left the flat.
I reached the ground floor, where Kunal along with Himanshu was just coming out of their flat, all geared up for badminton.
“Aa nahi raha khelne…?” – asked Himanshu.
“Bas, chai peeke aaya…” – I replied.
Kunal, who had walked a few feet in front by now, stopped to remind me that I owe him Rs. 100 as my contribution for the shuttle cocks. After arguments from my side and his counter arguments, we mutually agreed that I’ll pay him at dinner.
I had only reached the outside of the building when Neeraj yelled down from the balcony,
“Veeresh kahan hai bey…”
“Aa gaya, tu neeche to utar” – yelled Veeresh from inside his flat.
By now, Harshal had now come downstairs and he went to Sid Sir’s door, knocked and asked, “Sirrrr, Chai peene chaloge?” Sid Sir, came out of his room, he was on his phone. He paused from his phone conversation and signaled us in a definitive way that he was not interested.
As we started walking towards the parking area, Sunny & Umesh were coming together from the other end of the pathway, probably returning from the library while at some distance from the other end, we noticed Poonia with his bike, probably waiting for someone, and Apoorva doing the same, but only without the bike.
We reached the parking area where the Splendor was parked, and found Gupta walking around in circles of the adjacent cricket field while animatedly talking on his phone.
Harshal wiped the dust off the seats of the bike from a rag borrowed from the parallelly parked R15, as Ashish reached there on his cycle after completing his evening run. We were about to start our bike, when Neeraj and Veeresh came running from behind and forcibly took Ashish’s cycle to go to the swimming pool. After arguing for a couple of minutes and finally agreeing on a solution about who would ride the cycle and who would sit as pillion, Veeresh started to pull the cycle complaining about Neeraj’s weight who was sitting at the back.
Harshal kick started the bike and it started to shake but moved slowly as we overtook Veeresh & Neeraj’s cycle which had barely managed to crawl a few feet. We had only took the turn from the dispensary after crossing the Institute’s Director’s Bungalow, when we saw Badal coming in our direction on his bike with Tanuj as pillion. He had a bag on his back, and we knew exactly what was in that bag. As they crossed our bike they were singing some song in unison.
After pressing our fingers on the biometric access system at the Institute’s Gate, and mutely standing there for the next 5 minutes until Harshal talked to one of the security guards in Marathi, we went to ‘Balaji Tea Stall’ for the much awaited ‘chai’.