Seven o’clock on a darkling evening. I am a neon hermit in a deserted office. Windows rattle shut, doors close around me, footsteps fade down the stairs. Thunder rumbles far away, a tip of the hat to cliché.
Last train is nearly due / The Underground is closing soon / In the dark deserted station / restless in anticipation / a man waits in the shadows …
There was a dim lamp above a mahogany wardrobe. There was a dressing-table with a three-wing mirror that held more than reflections. Through the two doors of the bathroom lay the drawing-room with its frayed sofa and the cabinet with the television and the music system.
The music system was (then) state-of-the-art, though it would take another 15 years for the phrase to emerge. Sonodyne, with a gleaming brushed-silver amp-cum-deck, toggle switches like a ’50s aeroplane and two speakers in black wood cabinets each large enough to hold a baby. Thin black wires looped across the green wall behind the cabinet, soaring up to the corners of the ceiling where the speakers brooded.
Late at night I would sneak across from my room to the drawing room to listen to music. I was 15 years old and I had just discovered rock. In fact, I had just discovered music, from Kishore Kumar to Don McLean (and kids today know that American Pie is a Madonna number). Holiday afternoons were spent in K*’s room overlooking the Lakes, sorting through piles of carefully recorded cassettes (Sony D-90s, white with a red and black spine, are they still on the market?), checking our knowledge of The Boss’ songs.
I loved those afternoons. Somewhere I have a picture of K**, small dapper person in kurta-pyjama, strumming a guitar in his green-walled room with pictures of The Boss stuck on the wall behind him. I wonder what he did with those pictures when he moved to Bombay? Poor Bangali boy, he got bowled over by a … Person. Married her, too. As a result, we hardly meet even when I go to Bombay. I miss the blighter.
My wife misses him just as much. In one album we have pictures of him taken one December when he came with us on a weekend launch cruise into the Sundarbans. We didn’t get to see a thing except the track of a python in the sand, but the trip is a pleasantly hazy memory of appetites sated on good food, of in-jokes and K**’s snorting laugh, of anchoring mid-stream under a pale moon and singing on the deck “to scare the tigers away” (it must have worked).
Another picture, this one on the terrace of his apartment building the first time we ever won an open quiz, the Argus Losers’ Plate ... Scrawny smug twerps with the wooden shield on a concrete thingummy between us. Under-exposed, out of focus, even after determined Photo Shopping. But you can make out how proud we both felt. And I can remember how non-touchy-feely, intensely homophobic, faintly-repressed K* hugged me spontaneously when we won.
We met up two years ago when I was in Bombay for a bit. There was another guy there; I think that actually made us more comfortable together. K** of the carefully arranged wavy coiffe had become amazingly corporate, all gleaming white shirt and St. Michael’s tie. But after a while his snorting laugh came back. We were still friends.
We mail once in a while. Sometimes I come across something that I just have to share with him, we talk on the phone. Today he called to say he’s moving to the Middle East. For at least a couple of years.
I miss the blighter, I really do. Do you have a friend you miss like that?
I so hate that ... Person … for taking him away from us.
I suspect he feels the same.