Alice felt his shoulder blades first. And then his heels. He struggled for a while with his sheets before wrenching them out from underneath his body. He yawned, stretched, and scratched himself, much like a cat, before he finally sat up. He reached for his mobile which was next to his pillow and pressed the button on the top left. “The time is 9.30 am,” A robot’s impression of a female voice. Twisting himself hip upwards, he tried to look around the room. Everything was still blurry. The pixelated form of Bakchod, his roommate, with his back to the wall, typing away at his laptop, reminded Alice that he was in his own room. His dreams tended to disorientate him.
He felt around under his pillow and found the morning cigarette. He smoothed it out as much as he could, lit its crumpled tip with some difficulty, and blew out rich smoke straight at Bakchod hoping to annoy him. Glaring at Alice, Bakchod continued to bang away at his laptop, now with increased vigour. Alice took a deep breath and shook his head. An involuntary shiver broke at his neck and ran all the way down to the base of his spine. That woke him up. His vision was getting better too.
“Order tea?” he asked Bakchod in a kind of early morning growl-hiss.
“Tea! Now!” Growl-gasp-cough-hiss.
“Order it yourself. I’ve got work.”
“No voice.” And he made a sad face. Bakchod grumbled something, partially inaudible, about cigarettes and a Lancer before ordering four cups of chai and two buns deep fried in lard. “Don’t look so grumpy on a lovely Saturday, Bakchod. Don’t you think it’s finally cold enough for a bonfire party? Play some fiery patriotic songs from Bhagat Singh or something, no. Warm up the cockles.”
Bakchod, virtually untranslatable, is roughly talk-fucker. One who fucks you with his talk. One who talks like a fuck. One who fucks any talk. One whose talk makes you feel fucked. And so on. He had earned this title very early in his first semester as he talk-fucked his way through many a ragging session until the seniors baptized and turned him into a minor college celebrity for a while. With time, fame faded, but the name stuck.
Bakchod physically abused a few more keys on the laptop and squinted at the screen. “Too early for Bhagat, man. Let’s play some soothing devotional songs. I’m in a mood for some Meera Bai!” Then, looking at Alice, he said, “Don’t forget to fold the sheets before you go to the loo!” Alice yawned again and an aimless mosquito wandered into his mouth. He coughed the mosquito out on to the sheets along with some phlegm.
Bakchod and Alice had been living in that room since the fourth year of college.
It was a fairly neat twelve-by- twelve, with an attached bathroom; originally meant to be a part of the servant quarters. It had a couple of windows with a grill that was not screwed in properly and therefore detachable. The safety of the items in the room, Bakchod’s laptop included, depended on nobody realising that the grill was detachable. They had a single key that was always with Bakchod. Thanks to the detachable grill, they never got a duplicate made. The bathroom was tiny but very fancy, with a shower, western commode and a French jet-thingy that shot streams of water directly up one’s asshole. When the chai arrived, the two of them went to the terrace to enjoy hot tea in the winter sun. The urchin had lingered around for a tip. Bakchod rotated his index finger while jerking his wrist and shooed him off.
A resident of the east coast for the first 17 years of his life, Alice had never experienced, first hand, aseasonal change of any sort unless one counted a slight dip in temperature around Christmas and a more than slight rise in it during the holidays. It is for that reason that his 18th birthday had been one of the best, because he got to wear, for the first time, a jacket, a muffler, and a winter hat, valiantly ignoring his brain, which kept telling him he looked like the bearded crook from Home Alone. It was
primarily because of this that he came to love the Delhi winters and consequently the winter sun, which was, to quote Upamanyu Chatterjee, “rare, slim, comforting and therefore, vaguely erotic.”
On weekends, Alice and Bakchod lunched with their friends who lived on the other side of the colony. Nitin and Iyengar (Padmavathi Balakrishnan, referred to by Alice and Bakchod only by her caste name) had been their classmates and closest friends during college and had, despite Alice’s
protests and warnings of impending doom, started dating a couple of years earlier. “Of course you two are happy now,” Alice told them as often as he could. “But soon you’ll have a bitter breakup and expect me to choose. Then, and I kid you not when I say this, I’ll fart in your faces and make new friends!”
On the way down from their room, Alice and Bakchod were intercepted by the landlord’s wife (rumoured to be his second, the one for whom he had had the first one killed) and invited inside the house.
She was a plump lady with small, shrewd eyes, and a fat nose. If this is how the one he fell in love with looks, chuckled Alice’s brain, I shudder to think how dreadful the first one must have looked! The landlord had a real estate agency in the locality that was a front for various shady businesses; it was run by his two sons. Being the retired ganglord of the area, he had many illegal flats around the locality which he very graciously rented out to students at higher prices for the added safety of being under his wing.
Everyone who knew him was terrified of him, including and especially, his two sons, so much so, that they put aside their property disputes and ran the agency amicably. The old man was rather fond of Bakchod and had rented his own servant quarters out to him. Alice was only a co-beneficiary and so was never spoken to directly on matters of lodging and rent.
Excerpted with permission from The Alice Project, Satwik Gade, Harper Collins.