There was a commotion. I twitch and curl the pillow into a ‘U’ shape covering both my ears. The cacophony faded a bit, my brows relaxed and I let myself drown back into sleep. The murmuring, the activity around slowly began to grow again. This fucking hostel. I hate it. I can’t sleep an extra couple of hours even on a sodden Sunday. It wasn’t the sound from the street. That usually started after 9 or 10 AM. It’s annoying. I am not sure if it is the lack of sleep or the overdose of ‘Jäger bombs’ from last night. Must be both. I must be dehydrated. I think I have a headache and my stomach feels fucked up. I am going to do what I did last weekend. Two bananas, some Gatorade and ample rest should help overcome the hangover. I feel the pounding in my head. This is worse than last weekend. Shit. We need to stop having these ‘Jäger bombs’ I promised myself, rubbing my forehead. The noise outside my room was getting louder. As always, I blame Sagar for this weekend of binge drinking. “Bhenchod^^1^^”, I grumble as I remember Sagar and his idea of getting people drunk with his signature recipe.
“Babu Moshai^^2^^, its not a Jäger bomb” he said imitating Rajesh Khanna, the superstar of yester years. “its ‘Sagar bomb’. An original recipe that I co-invented with my dad. Two parts Jägermeister, one part vodka, one part redbull and one part freshly brewn local palm toddy”. Rishab who was setting up a movie on the laptop looked up. He had an expression that can be compared only with the ‘Sagar bomb’. One measure surprise, a measure of exasperation and two measures of “fuck you, I am not drinking that”. Rishab Ray was the best student in the room. A genuine dork who detested other dorks and refused to be called one. He is a short guy with nerdy glasses and vigilant eyes, he always wore a look of suspicion.
Avinash had the same deadpan expression that he always has, when he heard the recipe for tonight’s damage. He let out a simper. He knew exactly what we were getting into. Avinash is Rishab’s room mate. He is a guy of few words… or expressions. I’ve known him for 3 years and still can’t read him. His demeanor belies his excellent public relations. He is very well connected with professors, juniors, seniors, folks from other departments, even the administrative staff knew him. He was the go-to guy if you were in trouble, needed help, need loans, wanted to be on the sports team, needed information… you get the idea.
Something told me this new drink was a bad idea. But we just finished our semester finals and I let myself buy into the ‘Sagar bomb’ idea.
As I remembered the beginning of last night’s drinking marathon, I barked an order to my room mate. “Abey^^3^^ Sagar, shut the windows”. I waited a few seconds for a response and remembered his weekend runs. His weekend routine included two laps around the college grounds followed by a stop at the shack near edge of the street, where he would stop for a chai and a cigarette. I tried the routine a few times with him. It felt refreshing and tiring at the same time. The cold air of the morning seared my lungs which were punctuated with tar. The routine reminded me that I need to give quitting a chance. I sat up slowly and emptied the bottle of water next to my bed.
Sometimes Avani, Sagar’s girl friend would join us for the runs. Sagar and Avani would share a cigarette at the shack while we passionately argued about topics that we didn’t give a shit about. She’s one of those people who can easily fit into any group. We never felt the need to inhibit the use of our cuss words, the double entendres or the need to behave gentlemanly around her. She was one of us. She was a free, strong and independent person who wouldn’t take shit from anyone. I often wondered how she fell for someone like Sagar. Must be his good looks. Or was it his natural charm which was cheesy and entertaining. He is a total film buff, generously used Bollywood movie dialogues and references to entertain people around him. Anybody who knew him would attest to the fact that he was daring, rash, passionate and out of his mind. Well, that probably explains. Still….
I lazily get up from the bed as I hear groans and murmurs from the hallway. “Really…”, “WTF”, “Can’t believe this”. I walked to the tiny balcony that overlooked the street. The fog was lifting , the sun was waking with me and even this pretty picture didn’t make me feel better. Stretched a bit and opened a new pack of cigs after tapping the pack three times on my palm. Lit one and took a copious drag. Oh, the first drag of cigarette in the morning. I looked towards the end of the street at the chai shack to spot Sagar. I saw a hazy figure at the shack and waived at it. The figure waived back while puffing out smoke. Never deciphered how he handled the booze so well. He claims its because he’s Punjabi, proudly. Must be true. I looked down at the gate of the hostel and didn’t find Ramlal, the gatekeeper at his seat. My head is still throbbing. I need to eat something.
There was a sudden violent thumping on the door. “Nishant… Nishu… open up” shouted Rishab. I put out the cigarette and opened the door. “Dude, have a bad hangover… what’s happening?” I said alluding to the murmurs and the activity in the hallway. He was perspiring, beads of sweat running down his forehead from the unkempt hair. He appeared anxious and his eyes were wide open, a little more than usual. Avinash was trailing him by a few steps. “What the fuck happened? You look like a mess”.
“Did you hear?”, Rishab asked.
“Hear what?”, I asked getting a little irritated.
Rishab looked at Avinash as he joined us. “Lets go down”, Avinash said.
“Why? What happened?”, I grimaced at the both as I grabbed my hoodie and slid into my sandals. “I think I have a hangover. Need to eat something” I repeated with a distorted face as I combed my disheveled hair with my fingers. “That makes it three of us”, said Avinash without an expression. We went down two flights of stairs which opened to the entrance of the dining hall. Ramlal, the burly gatekeeper with a twirled moustache had locked the dining hall and was urging the students to go back to their rooms even as students were peering through the windows into the dining hall. “Is it a snake again?”, I asked referring to the incident last week where a snake had found its way into the hostel. As we alighted the stairs, we went to the far end of the dining hall with a window that wasn’t completely blocked with students. There I saw for the first time – a body hanging from the ceiling fan. “Fuck”, I told myself.
The noose was a green cloth with a border. It looked like a sari^^4^^. The body was turned away from the windows and was pivoting with a small angle. We went to the other end of the dining hall which was facing the body’s frontal area. As we went past the door of the hall, I saw Ramlal staring at us. He wasn’t blinking and his gaze followed us till we mixed into the mob of students at the window. We had to push through the crowd to get a good glimpse of the subject. The body was slowly pivoting towards us. Avinash and Rishab were ahead of me and I could hear gasps and chatter. The lighting was dull. Ramlal must have turned down all the lights. The light in the hall was scanty and adding an eerie dimension. The forehead of the carcass was covered with hair. I looked at Rishab and gesticulated if he knew who it was. Avinash responded with a monotone “That’s Sagar”!
1 A curse word in Hindi
2 A style of salutation made famous by yester years star Rajesh Khanna in one of his movie
3 A slightly offensive salutation used between friends
4 a traditional Indian garment consisting of a length of cotton or silk elaborately draped around the body, traditionally worn by women from India