Monday, July 1, 2013

Company In Quotes

Lincoln and Stalin are my friends, but not Nicolayevich. It is tough to explain why that is so without explaining the history of my times. My grandparents and the lot before them were farmers, teachers or physicians. Life was simple with plenty of kids, tobacco, liquor and hard work. They gave their kids the usual tongue-twisting mythological names (like Hiranyakashipu or Ghatotkacha) that looked good on written records. But they were practical too and those names were rarely spoken. For that, they chose a syllable or two from the original that sounded light on the vocal chords (like Chippu or Chakka). Trouble started with my parents’ generation. They migrated from the fields to concrete cells, and became engineers, doctors, politicians or government wastrels. They left behind pragmatism and chased dreams, which usually meant that their kids had a tough time. They wanted their kids to have a future, they say, making it sound as if they were deprived of that. Liquor and tobacco became taboo. Vegetarianism came with respectability, or vice versa. And the kids got names that commanded attention. So, the sons of Chippu and Chakka had to be Lincoln or Stalin. The daughters were less emancipated and had to be satisfied with anglicized but lesser names (like Dolly or Dimple).
But Nicolyevich’s parents went beyond their station. If they had called him Tolstoy instead of assuming overreaching familiarity, he would have turned out to be like the rest of us. If he had been just a bookworm, we could have dismissed the widening gap between his marks and ours as an anomaly. But he could play at least three musical instruments and he excelled in sports. He was an expert in yoga and classical music!
And, worse, a walking encyclopedia of quotes! There is no deviant worse than a sixteen year old quoting Marcus Aurelius, ‘sex… is the friction of a piece of gut and, following a sort of convulsion, the expulsion of some mucus’. Our prurient childhood was nearly cut short by that unsolicited wisdom. Nicolayevich seemed malicious. After all, he could have chosen to be a more salubrious Marcus, ‘the sexual embrace can only be compared with music and with prayer’. Not that that would have yielded the right results. Our music in those days was likened to the sounds of egestion of the constipated, and our prayers must have made Gods wish they were mortal. We were just normal.
After school, our paths and that of Nicolayevich diverged but we kept track of his progress. Four years back, when we heard that his stars had plummeted and that he was doing rather badly, we resumed contact. He was invited for get-togethers and parties. He became our good-luck charm, his dissipated self without quotes left us in great spirits.
  A few days back, I contacted him. I had been down in the dumps for some time and needed his ‘company’. We met yesterday evening at a coffee-shop. He looked suspiciously pert. I asked him what he was up to these days, hoping he would glumly say ‘nothing’ and make me feel like an achiever. Instead, he told me that he had found a venture capitalist to put in funds into his pet scheme, ‘eye eye titty’. That seemed like one eye or tee too many and so I exclaimed, ‘what?!’ He replied with his old holier than thou voice, ‘indian institute of transcendental transactions’. I exclaimed once again, ‘who the fuck put money into that?’ Before he could reply, we were interrupted by a sumptuous svelte sprite. She looked older and wiser (and much richer) than us but still chirped, ‘Nico darling, here you are, have you forgotten Popsy’s party for us?’ That ‘Nico darling’ introduced me quickly to his ‘partner’. I silently cursed his luck to be her toy boy. He must have noticed my bemused open-mouthed drool. He quoted Ayn Rand, ‘the ladder of success is best climbed by stepping on the rungs of opportunity.’ Now, is it a surprise that Nicolayevich is not a friend?

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