The Trip to Nowhere
(English Translation of the original Tamil novel ‘AVAN’)
(Chapter – I)
The insistent noise showed no signs of fading. Filtering through the mists of sleep it bored into his consciousness. Someone was knocking persistently at his door. It was his mother. He opened his eyes a slit. Light poured in through the window. Gosh! It was quite late. His head ached abominably.
‘Prem, are you planning to get up or not? It’s 7.30.’ His mother was irritating, but right. He stumbled out of bed wondering whether this was what a hangover was like. The kind his father jokingly complained about after staying up half the night drinking.
Last night was strange. He was appointed unofficial bartender at the party. He hated the condescending way his Dad’s friends had treated him as though he was only 10 years old. ‘Have a drink kid!’ his father had said, his voice already slurred by a couple of large ones. Poor guy! He had not known that his young son was smarter than he looked. Prem remembered the guilty pleasure of gulping down several unauthorised pegs without Dad’s knowledge. Not that he could notice much either, in the state that he was in. Unlike his usual judge-like demeanour, he was slightly unsteady, overflowing with drunken goodwill. Prem was sure he would never act so foolish even after several pegs. The old man was quite embarrassing!
‘Open the door!’ his mother’s voice took on a no-nonsense edge.
Prem opened the door and looked blearily at her.
‘Your first day of college and you’re still asleep. You should have been ready by now.’ Revathi, having risen at dawn and freshly bathed, felt righteously indignant.
She could not understand this son of hers. How could someone brought up in her immaculate house, keep his room in such a mess? Her face wrinkled in distaste as she bent down to pick up the clothes and books strewn around the room in wild disarray.
She looked at Prem. He was looking at her amused. It maddened her. ‘How many times have I told you to get into your pyjamas before going to bed?’
‘Sorry Ma, I was tired,’ mumbled Prem, looking slightly resentful.
‘So what? I am really fed up with you, Prem. Yesterday you walked into the party right after tennis. You looked like some rotten stuff the cats brought in. I have never been so embarrassed in my life!’ Revathi could hear her voice becoming shrill. Prem slumped down on the bed, looking sullen and harassed.
Revathi felt a pang. Maybe she was being too harsh. ‘Listen to me,’ she said calmly. ‘I am saying this only because I care for you. Look at Sandhya. Every one tells me how lucky I am to have a daughter like her.’
Prem looked at her indifferently across the chasm which yawned between them. Her soul hardened. An accusing note crept into her voice.
‘Did you drink last night?’ She demanded in a rising tone.
‘Dad asked me to help myself,’ said Prem defiantly.
Finding an opening, Revathi launched into a tirade. ‘Dad must have thought that at 17 you are adult enough to have some sense of responsibility. Does that mean you have to drink a whole glass? A sip would have been enough!’
Prem tried to shut out her nagging comments. Having to listen to her hysterical lectures at this early hour and in a state of hangover added to his irritation. God! He wished he could go back to sleep. Why couldn’t she get lost!
Prem threw himself into bed and turned his back on her. Revathi felt helpless as she always did when Prem acted this way. She looked around. A typical teenager’s room—giant posters on the wall, hairy Beatles and Brooke Shields with a come-hither look. Cars about to zoom off. The room was in a mess—clothes thrown around, guitar propped up in a corner, books scattered all over the bed and his tennis racket flung together with his shoes in a corner.
Prem’s resentful silence and her inability to dent his indifference enraged her. ‘Why don’t you clean your room? You don’t allow the servant to clean it. Can’t you even put out your dirty clothes to be washed? Look at Sandhya’s room… it is spotless. She is busy too. How does she find time?’ Revathi’s voice was shrill and accusing.
‘I am not like your precious Sandhya. I don’t want to be like her! So don’t bring up any comparison. I had guitar classes and then the party. I told you I had no time. Don’t go on and on.’
‘Don’t make me go on and on. I keep telling you the same things. What is the use? Sandhya has NCC, college, French classes. Yesterday she even helped me with the dessert. She finds the time, but you never do!’
Prem felt choked. It was always like this. The pointless comparisons. The attacks on his self-esteem.
‘Ok,’ he said with a hint of tears in his voice. ‘She is a winner and I am a loser. She is brilliant and I am a fool. You like her and you don’t like me. Now just leave me alone!’
The pain in his voice finally reached Revathi. She hugged him penitently. ‘No, Prem. That is not true. You are both my children and I love you too. I only wish you were more responsible.’ Prem turned away, walked into the bathroom and banged the door shut.
Prem was seething with rage. The unfairness of it all! Didn’t they care that he played the guitar almost like a professional? His friends said he had a great future. He was the school champ in tennis, but all his parents cared about was his studies. ‘Study computer science or be an MBA. Education is the only foundation for a great future,’ his father preached solemnly a thousand times. How boring it all was! The future… all of it sounded like nonsense. ‘Bloody nonsense!’ Prem said to himself, with a savage satisfaction, having used a forbidden word.
He desperately needed a smoke to calm him. The cigarettes were carefully hidden under the clothes in his cupboard. What if his mother was still there? She was sure to start howling at him again about dripping water all over the bedroom. That would be the beginning of another lecture on cleanliness, responsibility, blah, blah! Forget it.
After a quick shower he dragged on his old Levis and a T-shirt, combed his hair, ruffling it again to give it a fashionably disarrayed look. Checked his wallet. Twelve rupees was fine for the first day of college. Picked up his half-read Sidney Sheldon and walked to the breakfast table. His Dad was there, dressed perfectly as usual.
‘Good morning, son,’ he said looking up from The Economic Times.
His mouth full, Prem nodded.
‘Good. Now hurry up and change.’
‘I’m ready,’ Prem said.
‘Don’t tell me you’re going to college dressed like this.’
‘What’s wrong with this?’
‘Wrong? It’s revolting. The shirt is not even clean. Go and change at once!’
‘I don’t want any arguments. I’m ashamed of you. Change immediately. And why can’t you comb your hair?’
Prem went up sullenly to change, while his father waited, glancing impatiently at his watch. Mom and Sis were waiting to wish him luck. After all it was a special day—his first day at college.
His Dad drove him down. A special treat on the first day. As usual, his father used the opportunity to advise him on the importance of education. Prem switched off. He had heard it a thousand times before.
He got off at the college, waited for his father to leave, carefully ruffled his hair and walked up nonchalantly to the imposing gates.
He stopped short when he saw a row of boys perched on the compound wall. One of them, a tall, moustachioed young man, snapped his fingers at him.
‘Hi! I’m Sunil’ he grinned looking down at the nonplussed fresher. ‘Be a good boy. Greet your elders! Buck up man. Don’t stare like an idiot. Do it the Indian way. Touch our feet.’
He smiled sardonically at Prem, waiting for him to pay his respects.
Prem is meeting Sunil for the first time today. Let us also get to know a little bit about Sunil at this time!
Sunil is an only child to his parents. His father Bhagvandas started life as a clerk to a wealthy Englishman but hard work saw him rise in life to a position today where he owns tea estates in Kotagiri and enjoys a luxurious life style. Sunil’s mother Rohini hailed from a poor family too, much like her husband. Her husband’s newfound riches though have not changed her and she leads a fairly austere life, spending her time in prayer most often. She is unable to cope with her husband’s ultra modern lifestyle and puts up with all his excesses, clinging on to the age-old belief that the husband is like God himself, and that his word is the law.
Sunil was born to them after nearly seventeen years of marriage, following visits to various shrines and performing numerous rituals. It is quite understandable then why they indulge and cherish him so much, why they give in to his every whim and fancy.
Sunil grew up studying in a convent in Ooty.
He started smoking while in Class VIII and in two years time he had graduated to two packs a day. He had his first taste of beer at the age of fourteen. By the time he was graduating from school, he could well boast of having tasted just about every drink available.
Sunil was able to complete his schooling thanks to the annual fat donations that Bhagvandas made to the school. He crossed the hurdle of Boards as well, since Bhagvandas, fearing Rohini’s tears, tracked down the teachers who were correcting each of the papers and bribed them sufficiently to enable Sunil to clear all the papers. Sunil joined a college in Madras and is now in II Year B.A. Of course, he has not cleared any of his I year papers and the fact that he is a hostel-ite ensures that there is nobody around to question him.
His friend Jagannathan first introduced Sunil to grass or ganja when he was in Class XII. He started with just one or two but is now accustomed to smoking close to a dozen ganja cigarettes every day.
Sunil has no financial worries whatsoever. Why would he with a mother like Rohini? Whenever her son asked her for money, she treated it like a request from God Himself and gave in to his demands unconditionally.
Every alternate day, Sunil would buy a thola of ganja, and use it to make around twenty-five cigarettes. He was very generous with them and offered them to friends and classmates for free, wanting them experience the ecstasy that he did.