Keshtokaka had been on his way to the rooftop to retrieve his gamcha from the clothesline. A gamcha is like a poor man’s towel, a thin rectangular rust-colored fabric used by folk who bathe out in the open, like under tubewells or municipal water taps by the roadside. They wrap it round their waists and bathe, soaping themselves over the fabric, thus giving it a wash at the same time. Then, when they are done, they slip on a pair of shorts and dry themselves with the same gamcha, after squeezing it dry.
Finding my door ajar, Keshtokaka had decided to drop in, probably to crack one of his goofy jokes about Oriyas (Keshtokaka was from Orissa and always ready with self-deprecating Oriya jokes). Instead, this time he just stood there frozen, his mouth gaping open.
The door to the chather ghor was facing the foot of the bed and Rohini and I were right there, in a position that the science of orthographic projections would have termed as being ‘in profile’. I knew, because I had just written a test on it the previous Friday.
From where he stood, Keshtokaka could see maybe just the top of my head, which was bobbing up and down, hidden by Rohini’s thighs. Maybe in a court of law, his identification of me wouldn’t have been admitted as evidence, but besides that, he saw everything else. As he stood there gaping, Rohini heard the creak of the door frame and turned her head to look and immediately I felt her palms release my head, gather up the loose bedsheet in her fist and scramble to sit up, her legs snapping together.
I never saw Keshtokaka but in that instant I sure felt his presence – in the form of a sudden vice grip. In her panic, Rohini had all of a sudden clamped down on my head with her thighs.
“Stop…glub…shlub..you are …glooby shlooby ….choking me,” I croaked, unable to wrench loose from her pincer grip.
“Didi, ki korchen ki? Om Nomoh Shibayo ..Om..…Nomo Nomo…” (what on earth are you up to, Miss? Holy mother of God!)” said an alarmed, quaking, instantly recognizable male voice from a location a few feet away and to my 9 o’clock. I kept trying to twist free till I heard footsteps hurrying down the stairs and only then felt Rohini’s thighs relax and fall open.
Catching my breath, I whispered, “What do you think is going to happen to us, Rohinidi?” The way we had been going at each other the past few weeks, or rather she had been going at me, discovery was something that was just waiting to happen, but still, the enormity of it was too much to bear. I was terrified.
We hurriedly took stock. Guludada had gone to see the Chaplin flick, ‘A countess from Hong Kong’ at The Lighthouse and Ronudada was out with friends. My aunt had gone shopping at New Market and I couldn’t imagine Keshtokaka gathering up enough nerve to go and tell what he had just seen to my uncle who was always buried deep inside the latest issue of The Lancet. Keshtokaka would wait till my aunt came home. We had time, to turn him around. All this must have dawned on Rohini much before it did, on me.
“Shhh! Relax, everything will be fine. You’ll see,” she said. Reaching for a frilly hanky, she began wiping herself off my streaming wet face. She was everywhere, on my nose, my forehead, my cheeks, my lips and even on my ears. Like the many tributaries to the mighty Ganges, they all gathered at my chin and dripped down on my T-shirt.
“I think I need a shower,” I said, my voice quavering. She leaned forward and ran her lips over my face.
“You smell of me,” said Rohini and giggled,” I have to get hold of Keshtokaka. See you later.” Her lips touched mine briefly once more and then she turned and disappeared down the stairs.
Strange, but I never once thought that was yucky.
Keshtokaka spilt the beans to my aunt the moment she returned home, his deep Hindu religiosity unable to contain all the ‘sinning’ that he had witnessed. This was in spite of the Rs 50 (a kingly sum then) that Rohini had passed him, in the hope that he would keep his trap shut. That evening, he excused himself and hurried off to the nearby Kali temple at Kalighat, to cleanse himself of the sin of having seen a 13-year old boy perform oral sex on a 17-year old girl.
The aftermath turned out to be not as bad as Rohini and I had feared it would be. Of course, it wasn’t easy either. We had to contend with even colder stares and longer faces in the house but otherwise, the knowledge that we would soon be off their backs, made things easy all around. Rohini was leaving soon and I was going off to boarding school as soon as that school term got over.
They began avoiding us, all of them. If my aunt saw me in the corridor, she would quickly move into the nearest room. Dinner was left at the table for Rohini and me, which was just great, as far we were concerned. Rohini had the guest room which was thankfully in another floor. The next afternoon, she received a call from her mom in Montreal and it left her flushed and teary.
The whole thing blew over pretty quickly and so did Rohini’s last week in India. We spent almost all our waking hours together. Every afternoon was reserved for the lakeside and every evening up in the chather ghor, just canoodling, nothing more. We didn’t want to aggravate matters by being caught red-handed slurping on each other again.
Boy, was Rohini a great canoodle. We cuddled, kissed long sucking kisses, sometimes just kissing continuously on and on, oblivious of everything around us. We held hands and told each other everything there was to know about each other. Strangely Jean-Jacques Petit never came up in our conversations. When two individuals accept something as temporary, it has this ability to compartmentalize and insulate itself from the reality of the world waiting outside.
We never got to finish that last game of ‘what’s the good word’, though I still remember the word that I had thought of. However, I won’t tell you what it was.
I am too straight-laced for that.