It was Brijesh who first pointed it out. We were waiting for the rest of the gang to turn up for the routine Saturday binge when he did something not usually his forte he actually said something that made sense.
Did you ever realize, man, that Anand is the only guy who is totally cool with our late nights out?
That was true. All of us had to run the hazard of irate wives who resented our weekly meets and did everything possible to spoil the show. Speaking for myself, that night I had slipped out of the back door when she was watching her favourite TV serial. As a measure of abundant caution, my mobile phone was switched off. I would make sure to stay out long enough so that she would be asleep when I got back home and couldnt comment on my condition. Strangely, pointed barbs are always easier to deal with the morning after.
But Anand was always cool about it. We had never heard him cribbing about what his wife was going to say if he had one too many. He would smile at our moans about the forthcoming Apocalypse and move on to the next peg without a second thought, with no creases of worry lining his placid countenance.
We decided to ask the man himself when he got there.
For a long time, he played hard to get and wouldnt answer our queries. The rest of the guys had turned up by then and were as deeply interested in the topic as we were. After all, harassed hedonistic husbands have to stick together.
And then Anand told us the secret of his conjugal harmony.
Caterwauling he said
What? We just couldnt understand. What could feline yowling have to do with keeping your bitter half calm when you turn up sozzled at one in the morning?
Well, to get it, you have to know the story of how I got to know Sonia he said.
We were all ears. We knew that Anand and Sonia had met in college, fallen in love and got hitched. But he had never gone into it with much detail.
He poured himself another large one, took a sip, helped himself to a chicken leg, settled back in his chair and began.
It was not love at first sight. No, not at all. I used to see her walking down the corridor with her friends on the way to class. The studious kind, just not my type. But once in a while, as she passed, she would give me a sideways glance and I dont know why, something would make me look back.
We never used to talk, even though her closest pal was quite chatty with me. Somehow I could never bring myself to ask for her details. I was young, life was fun and there were so many girls around
And then one day the hostel crowd decided to have a bucket party. It was a big one. Our candidate had won the college union elections with a thumping majority and he had decided to splurge. As much booze as you could swill, as much food as you could gorge on. We poured various forms of liquor into buckets, added a touch of water and cola and drank it out of plastic mugs. No sipping, no pause between gulps.
That night, the beds in Hostel Vi were on vacation. Bodies lay sprawled in various poses in the corridors, on the badminton court, inside the mess. The Warden had prudently gone to visit his family in town.
Around midnight, someone had this crazy idea of going to visit the Ladies Hostel. No one took the trouble of weighing the pros and cons. At the time it seemed the most logical thing to do, so we followed the Nike Principle we just did it.
We swayed down the short distance to our target, in gay, high abandon. Once outside that darkened edifice, we paused for a moment in silence before someone started singing.
OH MERI SONI.. the voice moaned MERI TAMANNA..JHOOT NAHIN MERA PYAAR
It was not a good voice, not even a passable voice. But it was very loud. The guy was singing at the top of his voice.
I LOVE YOULALALALA..I LOVE YOU..
I couldnt figure out why everyone was staring at me until I realized that I was the singer.
Then, before I could do anything about it, everyone joined in.
Lights began flashing on in the rooms in front of us. And suddenly, outlined there in the window directly opposite me, I saw Sonia. She was staring at me, contempt evident in her expression.
I stopped singing, but that didnt deter the guys. They carried on with their howling until the Matron called the cops.
We scattered. Before I vanished into the shadows, I saw her slamming the window shut.
The day after, the day of the worst hangover in my life, I knew for sure I was in trouble. It was confirmed when the policemen came knocking.
The Matron was serious. She had depicted our nocturnal outing as one intended to outrage the modesty of all her precious charges. Only her presence of mind and timely intervention had prevented mass rapine.
We were lined up before the Principal for identification by the near victims. Sonia was one of the eyewitnesses.
As I stood there in that line as she walked towards me behind the Inspector, I knew my academic career had come to an end. Arrest, suspension, dismissalwhat would I tell my parents?
She was now in front of me and looking into my eyes. I steeled myself against imminent arrest.
She showed no sign of recognition at all, just stared at me for a few minutes and moved on.
No perpetrator was identified. It was too dark, the lights werent on. That was the official excuse. We got off with a reprimand. Later, her friend told me the girls had taken a collective decision not to pursue the matter.
But she had seen me. I was sure of that.
I tossed and turned all that night. By the morning, I had decided. I had to tell her I was sorry.
I tried. She just wouldnt give me the time of day.
But then you know me. When something is on my mind, I am like a Doberman at a jugular. I kept at it.
And she relented.
And then one thing led to another and before I knew it, I was married to her. One of the best decisions of my life, I must say.
She doesnt mind my drinking, mainly because I do it only on Saturdays. That is my licensed night out.
And once in a while, when we take our festivities too far and she refuses to open the door of our bedroom, all I have to do is get on my knees and sing. I know I wouldnt recognize a tune if it hit me on the head, but it seems to make her happy.
All of us pondered over this different insight into how a marriage works, how a man and woman can fall and remain in love.
But it doesnt work for everyone. I tried it out and got a tongue lashing for my trouble.
Brijesh had to spend that night curled up in the garage.