New | Novel | Serialized Fiction| Junk Days | Abhimanyu Kumar | Part 1

The Red Bus by Clarice Beckett




Where have all my friends gone?


Robi, I don't care about, sure. We were really thick once. We thought we were like Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac together– but who was who was never clear. Like Kerouac, Robi was a sportsman, played competitive sports, cricket, at the district level; bowled left arm fast well, he could get it to move away from the right hander real swift, I think I could play him decently well.


He always said I didn't roll good joints. He was probably right but I always disagreed when he said so.


Robi was a year senior to me in university. All of us studied foreign languages, including Manik. I met Manik first, I suppose. We were batchmates and he studied French, along with my then-girlfriend Neha which made them classmates.


 Manik could play the guitar and sing well. He really knew and felt for his material. Also, he could remember all the lyrics. He could hit the high notes too when he was high enough himself. When we would go scoring grass from Minto Road, in Old Delhi, last stop on the 615, which was the only bus that went through the campus regularly, he would sing all the way in a low, gentle voice, sitting next to me and I liked it very much listening to him all along. He learnt the guitar from an Anglo-Indian teacher called Lenny who taught him a number of songs by the Beatles and some country numbers, among others.  


Come to think of it, the Party brought us all together. We were all foot-soldiers of the Party, attending meetings in mess halls, putting up posters, and campaigning during elections. It was a Left-dominated university. I had no clue before joining that people cared about the Left. I was really ignorant, of course; the Party ruled two states back then. I quit the party later. We all did.


Manik and I would spend hours listening to the Beatles in my hostel room. I had picked up a taste for rock music in Ranchi, my hometown. Western-style music was not uncommon in Ranchi due to the influence of Christian missionaries working among the tribal community and at least a couple of music shops had a good collection of rock music. Nirvana's MTV Unplugged performance was another favourite of ours, along with bands like U2 and Pink Floyd. 

Manik taught me to play the guitar. I picked the basics fast enough to dream of starting a band. I wrote some poems every once in a while. Nothing very original. But Manik liked them nonetheless, so we tried to put them to music.


Robi, at first, didn't take to our turning his room which he shared with Manik into a practice pad. I remember once he asked us to play something decent or get out. He was like that. Blunt. But then we improved. And he got interested. He said he would buy drums and join us. That never happened.


We had a drummer, in fact. Peter, a Polish exchange student studying Hindi at the university and tabla from an Indian teacher on his own. He was really good. He once asked us to tune our guitars before jamming, embarrassing us a great deal; we had no idea about such a basic thing back then. Robi would listen to our compositions and keep time, slapping his thighs or whatever he could lay his hands upon.



 Music dreams didn't last long. We played at university functions and hostel nights. We had some open jams, and a couple of gigs at the annual Saraswati Puja gala but nothing beyond that. We were not driven enough, maybe. Or, we already sort of knew that it wouldn't lead to much. In any case, Manik had to leave at the end of his second year.



Then came junk. It came unannounced. And with that came Roy. And the fall. It doesn't really sound fair. It looks like Roy was responsible. He wasn’t. It just happened that way.


One day, Manik came back from Munirka, the lower middle-class neighbourhood near JNU, and said he had tried junk. He had tried it with the group Roy had back then. But we didn't meet him immediately. We were quite censorious about what Maink had gotten himself into. We were basically middle-class boys having some typical college fun. Junk was serious business. So, we told him it was not on.  We tried it soon enough. But not before Manik was busted.


A friend of ours who played with us and hung out too, but kept off the grass so to speak, was quite horrified that Manik had tried smack and called up his mom to update her. She did not hesitate to come immediately and take Manik home for good. He had flunked his second-year exams as well so his going home became a bit of a fait accompli.


Manik left and soon, Roy moved in. He was Bengali, brought up in Bihar. He had a curly mop of hair and serious good looks.

Roy was not a student at the university. He was simply hanging out in Delhi, living with friends and this he could do very well for long periods of time. He was very good at making himself comfortable anywhere. He had a keen eye for what he considered to be his interests and he served them regardless of anything.

As company, he was charming, to both the sexes and he was accordingly indulged. He was a bit of a cat, to put it simply. Perhaps our own Neal Cassady.


Like all good things, our friendships didn't last long.  


 I eventually got a job and moved out of Delhi. We didn't really keep in touch, especially Robi and I. In fact, he has simply disappeared from our lives. Now, I don't even want to see him. Of course, there are lots of other things, but I can't tell you all right away.




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