German Bakery, 11:45 a.m.
I, in momentary madness, decide to get a tofu burger. It will take a few minutes because the tofu isn’t ready. Considering how few people actually want it, I think the tofu should be ready and willing at all times. But that is just me. Others will give tofu the time and respect it deserves. The ‘others’ are from Osho.
I wait at a rickety table, sharing it with a group of young people. They are so young, they were stripes and polka dots and at a minimum have three colors (usually, two primary and one secondary) on their bodies. They talk excitedly about everything, including the hostel loo getting a new tap. They smoke cardamom flavored cigarettes and look around furtively to see if any of the other patrons have left behind a pack of smokes.
I sit with them because the other tables, at 11:45 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, are taken.
One member of the group who has been eyeing me with some suspicion, strikes up a conversation.
‘You work for a paper?’, he asks.
‘Where you go?’, he continues.
‘Sorry?’, I ask.
‘Egjactly’, somebody mimics Javed Jaffrey in Salaam Namaste. I have half a mind to hit the young idiot with my copy of Koregaon Times.
‘Where you go?’, he repeats waving his finger like a fairy wand at me.
He leans back and takes a puff from a cigarette that, for all its vices, looks pretty. It’s very long and slim, and has a jute texture to it.
‘You have job’, he concludes. When I hear deductions such as this, my faith in higher education stands reposed.
‘Where do you study?’, I ask him. May as well be polite until the tofu deems it proper to appear before menial office-goers.
‘Iran’, he tells me.
‘Oh’. There’s a whole line of questioning that opens up - the intrigue of Iran, the mystery of the jute cigarette, and why some seventeen year old from Iran should be at German Bakery smoking a jute cigarette during a school term.
But the Iranian student clearly dominates the conversation.
‘They my friends’, he says, something in the manner of Puss-in-Boots showing off his master’s property.
His pals, all of them Indian, look at me and smile brightly. Just as suddenly, they turn away to continue their discussion. I understand the hostel loo now has a new latch after the Physics Department rallied for it.
It seems to be a warm, cohesive group. I’m pretty sure they rummage each other’s closets every three days. They talk to no-one in particular, they listen to whoever catches their eye..it’s a lazy, happy, complete togetherness.
A little later, a very agitated girl comes and joins the group. Her hair is tousled and is decorated with very pretty turquoise beads. Little droplets of an April sky on her head. She is almost in tears and collapses on one guy in the group. He, at that point in time, must have been playing his millionth game of Space Impact. He wiggles a little bit here and there and makes place for the teary girl.
It seems to be an appropriate time for me to leave them alone, so I venture to get up. However, my leaving the table would cause considerable displacement to the young herd that is now precariously balanced on creaky furniture.
‘You can sit,’ says the Iranian pubescent.
I realize that I must sit because well, I have no other place to go until I get the tofu.
The girl seems to be oblivious of my presence. She sobs coquettishly and her pals try to find out what’s wrong.
Of course, there’s been a guy who’s been a jerk who’s been away.
The girls put out their cigarettes and talk to her stoutly, ‘That guy was not good enough for you.’ ‘He didn’t deserve you.’
‘You shouldn’t have dated him so quickly.’,
‘So what if he played the piano and stuff?’
‘You remember that day when he called me and spoke to me? He was, like, so …dirty, man!’,
‘I told you he was bad news..’,
‘He was such a flirt..he asked me out when you were at Pune Central..’
'He did drugs, man..he was so creepy...'
'He had a tatoo on his thumb! Geez!'
15 minutes of incisive and penetrating analysis were dedicated to proving to the distraught girl that the guy she was deeply in love with was a cad. These were the girl friends.
The guy pals looked at each other. One scratched his head and raised his pierced eyebrow.
Collectively, they leaned forward and asked, ‘You were seeing someone?’