At 6 AM the cell phone alarm comes to life. It seeps through the velvety layers of sleep that swathe my mind and rings timidly at the ear of my consciousness. I ignore it. Alarms come and alarms go but a good nights sleep is hard to come by in IMT. Besides I always set the alarm an hour before I have to actually wake up. I choose to do so that I may drift in that delicious semi conscious state where one knows he has more time before he gets up . I am however disturbed by the violent thrashing about of the other body that occupies the bed, my roomie Ankur Poddar.
“Sir!” He croaks, “ I beg you, Switch it off! Switch it off! I’m going to have a heart attack!”. He searches frantically between the sheets and under my pillow for the phone. I fumble about blindly until I find it and switch it off. With an exhausted groan he drops back into bed and then sighs pitifully.
More out of necessity than affection, Ankur and I had joined our beds together so that we could both benefit from the roaring cooler that made sleep possible on summer nights. Unfortunately as a consequence we had to tolerate each others bedside eccentricities. Ankur is an extremely light sleeper and the mildest of disturbances jolts him awake. Even the light that steals into the room from the crack between the door and the floor can prevent him from falling asleep. Thus every night he seals the crack with the jhadoo I use to sweep the room. He in turn has to put up with the alarm I use so that I may enjoy an early morning jog before the sun becomes unbearable.
An hour later I open my eyes and the large framed poster of Swami Vivekanda, arms folded, face determined greets me with great dignity. I had nothing to do with the poster much preferring delicately clad underwear models to spiritual leaders to gaze at early in the morning. My roomie however was so taken with the poster had seen on the road that he’d immediately had it framed and mounted on the wall. “Soon, Salma Hayek will adorn these walls too!” I promise myself silently for the millionth time.
I brush my teeth and return to the room. Ankur has two pillows covering his face. He hears me enter and partially removes one of the pillows. A single horrified eye looks accusingly into mine. I avert my gaze and look at Vivekanda instead.
“Every morning!” he whispers savagely. “Why must you go jogging when the rest of IMT is still dead? Why must you torture me so?”
I say nothing and continue to look fixedly at Vivekanda. I wonder where I’ll stick that poster of Salma Hayek. Not on the opposite wall, Ankur could consider it blasphemy. It would look like the Swami was determinedly avoiding looking at that fabulous body. Hmm…perhaps it wouldn’t be such a bad idea at all…
I turn back to face him. The intensity of the accusing eye is weakening. The eyelid shudders and slowly descends. A gentle snore escapes from under the pillow. I put on my shoes and quietly slip out.
The sun is still mild and I enjoy my run around the ground. I’m mildly pleased with myself for having managed to consistently wake up every morning and pant around the field. Ankur though is beginning to get black circles under his eyes from the lack of sleep. Unlike me, he cannot enjoy an afternoon nap as the sun shines far too brightly through the windows for his comfort.
For all our differences I couldn’t ask for a better roomie. Once properly awake Ankur transforms miraculously into a cheerful, God fearing individual with a permanent smile creasing his face. He gives me a tired smile from the bed when I return.
“What sir, had a nice jog?”
“Fabulous sir, and did you sleep well?”
The smile falters for a second and then returns.
“Sir, why do you even ask me that question? You know I cannot sleep in IMT as long as that bloody alarm of yours rings day and night.”
To an outsider it might seem like a polite exchange of words between strangers. Our habit of addressing each other as Sir might puzzle most people yet it is how we always speak to each other. Ankur started it. When we first met he claimed that as I had professional work experience I knew a lot more than he did and therefore deserved to be addressed as sir. In return I replied that as he was a full year older to me, I had to return the salutation. Most of our friends think we are either nuts or sarcastic in the way we talk to each other. But there’s nothing acerbic in our tones, we sir each other with affection.
I had come to IMT mildly apprehensive of hostel life. Eager as I was though to take advantage of the freedom that the hostel offered, I was unsure of what kind of specimen I would have to share my habitat with. Would he be a tall menacing individual who came in drunk every night and threw up on my bed? Or would he be a Casanova who brought a different girl to the room every night and threw me out? Would he steal my underwear when his own inventory ran low? As I approached my room for the first time my mind conjured up an enormous hairy individual with a bottle of Old Monk in one hand and bikini clad girl in the other. A beedi would hang from his lips and he would glower at me, clad all the while in nothing but my underwear. Instead I got Ankur.
We got along fabulously from the moment we met. The moment he found out that I had no curtains to cover the window on my side of the room, he had them ordered at his personal expense. He bargained ferociously with the cooler salesman and had one installed in the room. I in turn swept and cleaned the room and tried to keep things in order. However we really bonded together when the ragging began.
IMT has a tradition of warmly welcoming all the first year students. The seniors do so by keeping the juniors awake every night for an entire week. I was made to dance, to sing, to deliver long speeches in broken hindi and from time to time act in pornographic skits for their entertainment. I endured it for about 3 days before going out of my mind from the lack of sleep. Ankur went around looking like he was carrying the sorrows of the entire world, with dark circles and bags beneath his eyes. On the fourth night we pledged that we would no longer subject ourselves to this humiliation. We locked the door and went to bed.
It began with a few inquiring taps on the door. It was nothing more than a polite signal from the senior who stood outside our door. The taps meant “Hey, guys its 11 PM and you know what that means. Kindly report to the basket ball court so that we may strip you off your dignity.”
Our hearts went cold. Ankur and I looked at each other and then somehow gaining strength from it we pulled the sheets back over our heads. Perhaps if we were quiet they would go away.
The taps became more persistent. We could sense the anger that was slowly building up in the nincompoop who stood outside. He began to thump on the door.
“Ankur Poddar of HR and Dinesh Devarajan of Marketing, bahar aaja saalon!”.
We cursed ourselves for not removing the stickers that had our names on the door. Now he knew our names.
The nincompoop had actually kicked the door. “ANKUR AND DINESH!, COME OUT NOW!”. He began to rapidly kick the door, each bang echoing loudly down the corridor. We could hear him panting heavily. Each assault would make us wince. We thought it was only a matter of time before the door was broken down and we would be taken the basket ball court and shot.
He was soon joined by some equally boisterous seniors. They held a loud conversation outside our door and took turns yelling insults and accusing us of incestual relations. As the minutes passed by they grew more and more frustrated. It was unbelievable our attitude they muttered. No respect for seniors at all.
Ankur and I lay in our beds wondering how on earth such specimens could be found in a B school. We had come here expecting mature and reasonably intelligent individuals. Instead we had the spawn of Saddam growling at our doorstep. How could these people ever lead organizations one day?
The kicking and yelling continued throughout the night. At several instances both of us were tempted to just open the door and make the noise stop. But then we would look at each other and our expressions would harden. Let the bastards kick all they wanted to, we wouldn’t give in.
At around 5 in the morning they finally quit. Irritable and hurt that our spirit had not been broken, they warned all the other juniors on our floor that they were to be informed immediately if either of us showed faces outside.
For the next couple of nights we bolted the door from the inside and then pushed the table against it. When we said good night to each other we actually meant ‘may we live to see the day’. In retrospect it all seems silly. The seniors couldn’t actually have done anything to harm us and were just looking for juniors to push around. Ankur and I remained a thorn in their flesh till the very end for we never surrendered.
I think the ultimate proof of our friendship came at the end our first year. IMT permitted the students who had the best grades to move to a single room. I was by no stretch of imagination among the top, Ankur however was. I began to ready myself for looking for a new roommate for a single room is highly coveted(especially by those who have girlfriends). But Ankur surprised me by turning it down. “ Would much rather share a room with you” he smiled.
The news spread like wild fire, that a moron had actually turned down a single room. Ankur was immediately flooded with offers for the room he had turned down. All day and night his phone would ring with classmates and friends asking him to take the room and later hand it over to them.
One evening Ankur’s friend walked in and announced that someone on the 3’rd floor was offering to pay five thousand bucks for the room.
“Is he nuts??” asked a surprised Ankur.
“Yeah, I told him he should pay at least eight thousand” snorted the friend and went away.
Ankur and I now remain one of the few room mates who continued to live together even after the first year. “ I need to improve my English sir.” Ankur told me gravely “and you’d better help me.”. I smiled and nodded.
Now at nights as I check my mail before I go to bed, Ankur sits and writes down quotes which impressed him. “ Humans come in all shapes and sizes!” he read aloud. “Sir have you read this quote before?” he bestows me with a beatific smile. “ Humans come in all shapes and sizes and it is upto to us to forgive them.” I grin back at him and slip into bed.
“Good night sir” he wishes me, “Good night” I reply.
Ankur seals the door gap with the jhadoo, turns off the light and climbs into bed. I silently set the alarm for 6 AM and keep the phone as close to his ear as possible.
He’ll sure regret that decision to let go of a single room.