Phone Call from the Border

Diram’s boarding-room was a five minutes’ walk from the main road. The road was asphalted and it kind of felt nice walking on it. There were houses on both sides, but the road looked deserted. The locality had a distinct feeling of being both modern as well as traditional. I wanted to take a piss before I entered Diram’s room. The toilet and bathrooms were at the far end of the boarding rooms. There was a small well on the side to draw water from. The well fascinated me: If somebody fell in it, death was a cinch and a horrifying one at that. Unless the bucket-rope was thrown down to save the drowning man.
Nobody is going to fall in there. It’s just not possible if a man has a mind,” Diram replied when I addressed him my fear.
Once we both were done taking a leak we went to his room. He unlocked the door and walked in and said, “Welcome” from the inside.
I walked in and before anything else surveyed Diram’s room.
Right in the middle was a table with books and notebooks lying about, and a plastic chair. Pushed against the wall on the left was his bed, and on the foot of the bed was another table completely drowned in books lying in heaps and ready to tumble. It was very untidy, and I loved it instantly. On the wall was a rope where his clothes hung like dead animal skin.
“Hey Shantaram is still here with you?”
“Yeah, I give it around to people,” Diram said, “I tell them: read it, experience it once in your life!”
On the bed were blankets the color of dirt, ready to take in and give warmth to untidy men like me and Diram. They reminded me of freezing winters snuggled with friends.
*
They were playing badminton in one of the neighborhoods—Court Flats or Something. I had gone alone to visit a relative’s family, just behind the Ruksin market. I talked to the sister-in-law, drank tea, and took her leave. It took me about half an hour, and it had become completely dark outside. On the road I phoned Puspankar, he told me to go to the Court field and wait at the main gate. Ok, I told him. I had no much idea of where I was. The only thing I knew for sure was to walk away from Ruksin. Ruksin was Arunachal Pradesh, the field was in Jonai, Assam.
Luckily I found a late-running e-rickshaw. The driver took me to the main gate. I paid him an extra ten rupees. It was dark there, and in front of me lay the deserted field. All that undefined and unbounded space in the pitch black of the night was a calming presence. I walked in impulsively and fished out my cell-phone. All of a sudden the soothing darkness had reinforced in my memory what the device on my hand could do. I rang Rinkumoni, all excited to talk to her immersed in that mass of particles that served like an invisibility cloak. She did not pick my call. I rang her again. No answer again.
It would have been nice if she could have picked up the phone.
Then there was a beam of light coming from the distance. It was K.K; Puspankar had sent him to pick me up. I hopped onto the backseat and he accelerated the machine past corners and shortcuts that I had no knowledge of.
*
We stopped outside one of the quarters. Beside the house was the badminton court, illuminated by electric bulbs. That glowing patch of space under a black sky made quite an idyllic picture. Something like, ‘people rendezvous and play: all is fine with the world.’ Diram was playing on one side gleaming with sweat, paired with the ubiquitous Pappu Thakur whom I had met last in Delhi; on the other side was Puspankar paired with a short, potbellied man. K.K , Ribang and two other thirty-something men were watching the game and waiting for their turn, sitting on the veranda of the house. I shouted a few “Good Shot!” and “Well done!” at Diram and Pappu Thakur and walked away from the light. I started scrolling the contact numbers on my cell-phone—it did not feel right. I should not be calling people only remembering them through the contact numbers saved on my phone. So, Rinkumoni again? Nope, even if she is available she won’t answer my call. Not that she does not like me or anything. Then who?
Vali.
Yes.
I pressed Vali’s no. After two rings she picked it up. We had not talked in eight months.“Hi,” she said.
“Hi,” I said, “How are you?”
“I am good, she said, “And how are you?”
“I… am good,” I nodded to myself.
Pause.
“It’s good to hear your voice,” I said.
“Same here,” she said.
“My friends are playing badminton, and I was feeling happy to be here with them and I remembered you and thought of calling you for no particular reason.”
“That’s sweet of you,” she said.
“Thanks,” I said, “What have you been doing lately? How was your day?”
“Well, I have been catching up with some old friends who are back from the U.S,” she said.
“Oh that’s cool,” I said, “Do you want to go abroad?”
“Yeah, actually that was in my cards. Since the University did not accept my proposal on the Australian aborigines. But I have to consider certain issues before I take such a big step. For one, I am used to a certain lifestyle here and I am not sure if sacrificing it for U.S will be worth it. Also, I have to think in terms of twenty years down the line. Five years in the U.S. is alright, but then what? And I need to be standing on my own feet now.”
“Yeah. I feel it’s time to be standing on my own feet too,” I said, “I know you will head in the right direction. Just make sure what you want to be in life… I never quite got to know what you want to be in life?”
“You know, a college professor,” she said.
“Cool!” I said, “I want to be like that guy who wrote The Name of the Rose, what was his name? hmmm Umberto Eco. Yes! Teach in a college as well as write novels.”
“Ok,” she said, “What are you doing these days?”
“I had been working on that same novel, and now I have finished it. So I am taking a break before I start looking for publishers. I am right now on the border between Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. It’s just a walk-across. I was there on the other side and I did not even know until I saw the signboards on the shops. Mongoloid looking people like me don’t need any permit.
“That’s nice,” she said, “My family and I went to Ladakh. I love Ladakh.” I had a vision of her brother alongside her.
“Twenty years from now we should be able to holiday in London and Paris and Tokyo.”
“Ladakh is just fine,” she laughed.
“Yeah, Arunachal Pradesh is fine for me too,” I said.
Pause.
“Hey do you remember that day in the holistic canteen, you had given your IDC presentation that day, and there was this guy from your IDC class. And the three of us were talking and laughing. And only the present moment mattered. With you it was always easy to be happy. I could laugh easily for the slightest reason. That day it was like experiencing moments in eternity. Anyway, the people sitting on the other tables were eavesdropping, fascinated by our effervescent conversation.”
“Yeah I remember,” Vali said.
“And then after eating I wanted to be alone with you, but the guy with us would not stop, he kept talking and talking, so I had to force in and cut him off and pull you away. And then we walked across the V.C’s park. And… do you remember what we did on the way?”
Yeah, I remember.”
“And outside the metro-station we smoked in Public, you had your first smoke in your life, with me.”
“Yeah,” she said.
“I love you I love your voice,” I said.
That’s---” The connection went dead. Balance Over.
That was nice. I walked back to the badminton court.
“Hey! Why are you smiling?” Puspankar asked.
“I just talked to a University friend,” I replied still smiling.

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