This article is in no way meant to be taken seriously. All the characters and events represented are fictional and any resemblance to real life is merely coincidental. Or my mind projecting its repressed onto this psychological space. Either way, coincidental.
Pay attention, dear reader, and imagine these events as vividly as you can. They can only exist if you do so. These are the tales of my adventures with one very curious character. I hope they may amuse you awhile. Oh, and you should totally watch Tatami Galaxy. Seriously.
Two years back, when I was a dapper young freshman, I walked in through those black iron gates and decided to set up shop here, in IIT-K. My goal, I rationalized, would be to hunt down that elusive “best 4 years of my life” college experience. And maybe, along the way, I could have some fun too. A number of doors opened up to me then. I could sing, I could dance, I could work on robots, I could be whoever I wanted to! A fresh life, a brand new start! But of course, I knew, that if I walked into one of those doors, the others would shut. There would be no point in jack-of-all-trades-ing it up here. I would be the master of one, I declared. And so, I shook hands with the coordinator of the Skating Club and shut the door behind me.
This was my chance, I thought, rubbing my palms together, I could be an athlete. I had the physique, the flexibility, the dedication and even a little bit of experience. I could make something of myself here. And didn’t the chicks dig athletes? All those sports movies couldn’t have been lying to me, right?
So I pulled up my socks, greased up the bearings, tied my laces and got to it. The low hum of the smoothly whirring wheels on the hard cement floor became my earworm. I worked my way up from rollers to hypers, gave liners and the board a try, and even dabbled in hockey enthusiastically. I even bought the T-shirt, for a measly 100 bucks. Of course, I fell and bruised myself in ways I didn’t know were even physically possible, but I knew how to pick myself up. The pain helped me grow, I muttered through clenched teeth, and I would take it like a man. Besides, almost everyone else fell too; the rink on some unfortunate days completely resembled a Looney Tunes-esque nightmare. And so life went on for a while.
Then I saw him. The stone-faced gargoyle who had been showing up in an on-off fashion. He was reserved and seemed stoked about the club too, but I couldn’t really say. Something drew me to him, and before I knew it, me and the fiend were hanging out quite often. There was something in his eyes that threw me off like he saw through me and made me feel fake. I pushed those thoughts to the back of my mind and trained harder.
I wore my skates everywhere. I climbed stairs in slow, slippery arduous steps, sat in GBMs with them on, and even slept without taking them off. Even in my dreams, it seemed, I was skating all the while. I mastered the back, the jumps and even could attempt a little flip. But to what end, I couldn’t help but ask myself, as my second year drew to a close. It seemed I had fully explored the medium, and could find nothing left to do. And as I had learnt, skating wasn’t very spectatorial. Sure, chicks came to watch through the grilled fence, but all they did come for was to laugh when we fell. And soon, I found myself wondering if this was all there was to it, if I had exhausted all possibility, it seemed. And the gargoyle’s smile grew wider.
Time passed, and before I knew it, we were practising to put on a show in the orientation. The coordinator looked at me and suggested jumping off the stage at the end of our routine, to end the thing with a bang. I felt my stomach drop. This was a bad decision, I knew. But before I could say a word, the gargoyle spoke up. Of course he’d be delighted to, I heard him say as static filled my ears, he loves expanding his horizons. And so, under the glaring lights of the Audi, as the music drew to a loud crescendo, I crossed my fingers, closed my eyes, and made the leap of faith. The concrete rushed forward to greet me, and when I opened my eyes, I saw a body lying on the floor in a jumbled heap. Whoops, said the gargoyle, before he succumbed to a giggling fit.
“Two broken legs, one dislocated arm and two pairs of fractured crossed fingers”, said the doctor as I lay in that damp Health Center bed. But I had tuned him out, my eyes were fixed on the flowers the gargoyle had gotten me. Drooping dandelions. The worst kind. I wondered if it would have been different had I joined some other club. If only I could go back in time…
“I’m quite illiterate, but I read a lot. ”
A couple of years ago, I had walked into the doors of the Book Club. My mind had been blown. All the books I had ever wanted to read under one roof, and then some. And no restrictions whatsoever. And chicks liked those guys who went about with books under their arms, right? What more could I want?
So, through my first year I read. I went to the club every night and curled up on the beanbags with a good book. It was there that I met him. That grotesque spout bearer. He came almost as often as I did. And we would sit there and pore over the tomes in silence, together but worlds apart. I read Hemingway and he read Fitzgerald. I devoured Homer and Virgil and he mulled on Abbott. And we both adored Watterson. I think I read more than he did, not that it mattered, but I would compare myself to him. And when I told him that, all he did was give me a lopsided grin.
Then in my second year, I became a secretary. I would get to the club before opening time and spend time after closing hours reading. I bought the club T-shirt, without complaint, for 200 bucks. I had even reached an agreement with the other secretaries, and I would be on duty every single day of the week, rather than just one. And because I had the keys, I would spend all my free time turning the pages too. I was tearing through 4 or 5 books a week, sometimes even more. On the days I did not read, I would feel something was off, and could find no peace until I did. I even gave up looking for girls so I could read more. Besides, who even pays attention to the dealer anyway?
It’s interesting how much you can tell about people from their reading habits. As I sat there and checked out people’s books, I found myself ascertaining their personalities based on their choices. The guy who would only check out books before the exams. The girl who only read detective paperbacks. The comic freak. The sci-fi enthusiast. And of course, the gargoyle would be there too, reading steadily. And then, in my third year, it happened.
I had been waiting for the latest issue of Saga, #20. And on that night, when it had arrived, I had hidden it in the Bengali literature shelf, where I knew no one would look for it. After the last person left, I dove into the ecstatic visual feast.
“And what did you do? Join a non-profit organization? Volunteer at a soup kitchen? Or did you lock yourself in a tiny room, shut the blinds and mainline every transmission like a junkie?”
That’s when it hit me. That’s what I had been for the last two years. A junkie. Books are drugs, heady ones. I mean, of course, they let you experience new thoughts and ideas, and, of course, they can change your opinions, but drugs do that too. And if I did not act on them, how was I any different from the average needle-sticker? I understood why the gargoyle had grinned that night. Books should be consumed, yes, but in moderation perhaps, using self-control to make up for the lack of the build-up of tolerance. In my impotent rage, I took my anger out on the only thing I could, scrawled ENABLERS in large letters on the door of the club and walked back, dejected, to my room. Would it have been better if I had made some other choice? If only…
Two years back, when I was a dapper young freshman, I walked in through those black iron gates and… What’s that you say? We’ve done all this before? Funny, I can’t seem to recall. Anyway, the hand I grasped belonged to one coordinator of the Quiz Club, and I slammed the door shut, never looking back again.
It was an obvious choice. I kept up with the news, had a decent general knowledge quotient. I had been casually attending quizzes in my hometown for quite a while too. And chicks dug brainy guys, right? All those awkward genius movies couldn’t have been lying to me, I knew.
So I attended every quiz, read every newspaper, and joined every facebook quizzing group. I would rush back every Monday from my classes to answer the question that would be put up on the blog. I even bought the shirt for 300 bucks, quite a sum. I was going to be the very best, or die trying.
That’s when I saw him. He sat there in the last rows in every quiz, his stony wings flapping gently, a knowing smile plastered on his face. How I wish I hadn’t met this Mephistopheles. There was something fishy about him from the start. I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, so I decided to make his acquaintance. After all, we quizzers must flock together.
And so it went for a while. I won some, I lost some. But that’s the way it’s supposed to be when you quiz. With every quiz, you only get better at it. You learn and climb up the ladder a little every time. But what I hadn’t realized is that this ladder is infinite. You can never reach the top because the top doesn’t exist. Also importantly, chicks almost never came to QC. But I persevered.
In my third year, however, as I went about my now ritualistic life, I could not shake off the question, “To what end?”. Sure, I knew a lot of trivia, quite useful ice-breakers, but hadn’t quizzing turned into nothing more than a boastful way of legitimizing my knowledge? The act in of itself began to be drained of any meaning when the gargoyle pointed this out to me, grinning from ear to ear. He had a way of getting at my insecurities and he knew it. But I knew inside, that he was right. I could learn and know everything I wanted without quizzing. Why was there even a need to legitimize that knowledge? It struck me as though the club had no reason to exist other than to fulfill that need. I had been carried away by the adrenaline rushes and gloating pride, it seemed. And so, I quit cold turkey. It almost felt as though I had lost a chunk of flesh close to my heart. But I couldn’t go on with the charade anymore, not after that. If only I had made some other choice. I wish I could turn back time…
When I was faced with the assortment of open doors two years ago, I chose to grip the knob of the one with the plaque bearing the words English Literary Society and twist it shut behind me. After all, I had my way with the language, I wouldn’t be out of place there, I thought. Besides, didn’t chicks dig guys who had the gift of the gab? Perhaps this was my route into the hearts of lovely maidens, or so I reasoned.
I worked my way through pages of word games, learnt how to talk like a pompous buffoon in JAM and reverted to childhood with DumbC. There seemed to be a glimpse of possibility in the events, like the medium could stand some exploration from my side. And though they did overuse words like dude, awesome and man, I suspect that was merely a defense mechanism of some sort. However, thusly intrigued, I continued to meet with this collection of curious characters of dubious intentions, even venturing so far as to purchase their T-shirt for 400 bucks.
He had been there right from the start, his flinty smile was one of the first things I had seen when I walked in. The gargoyle and I had hit it off for reasons beyond my comprehension. I could not help but make him my yardstick and I would look to only beat him in the events, rather than the others present, seeming to extract some perverse Freudian pleasure in trumping him. But I felt as though I was missing out on the complete ELS experience.
I relayed the same to the flappy brute one night, as we made a beautiful anomaly of a word games together, and asked him if I would be happier by simply dulling out the part of my mind that made me see any extraneous interaction as inherently pointless, if I could stop seeing the obviously stupid for what it was. Would my experience be finally complete if I indulged in that too?
“I can’t say”, he said craftily, “wouldn’t that depend on you?”
And that is the tale of how I became an ELS dude. It was the beginning of my second year and I had plenty of time to observe them and pick up their mannerisms and attitude. I went to all their treats, spoke like them, and for all practical purposes was one of them. I found myself going to the actual events less and less often, but that didn’t bother me. Dude is as dude does and wasn’t this what it meant to be part of the ELS, man?
So, in my awesome third year, I found that I had come back out of the door and was in the middle of burning it down too. The gargoyle suggested we make another of those stellar word games and I agreed, only to find I could no longer do so. I felt so far removed from the event that I could not grasp its nuances, work with its intricacies. Anything I made seemed to be disingenuous and broken, man. And all the gargoyle dude did was give me a sad shrug. What could he mean, my mind screamed, wasn’t I as much a dude as he was? Or was I? I searched for meaning from the whole awesome last year of my life, and strangely it eluded me. Did the club end at the door of its room? In my hunt for the complete experience, had I left the essentials behind? I wistfully wished, as I tried to party my sadness away, that the last year of awesome awesomeness hadn’t been such a complete waste, man. If only I could make amends to the awesome past…
When I walked in through those black iron gates some years back, many doors had opened to me. But I had decided that going through any of those doors would be too mainstream. So, I chose to make no choice and give myself some quality time alone instead. In other words, I would be a shut-in. My mattress was lumpy, but it would satisfy my minimal needs. Besides, all clubs seemed to be was a momentary distraction from the grim spectre of inevitable death, petty escapism.
I went about my day staring at the ground, never meeting anyone’s gaze for fear of having to then indulge in social interaction. I barely spoke more than 3 words a day, one when I asked for two squares of butter along with my bread for breakfast, one when I made the choice between yoghurt and bananas for lunch, and one when I responded to roll call in class. I spent my time thinking on the nature of life and choice. The only thing I did treat myself to was a comfortable T-shirt, which cost me about 500 bucks. But that did not matter, because I could now be a hedonist outside of society’s restrictions, extracting maximum pleasure from life. Nothing got in the way, as I had no vested interest in society and thereby society did not venture to see what I was up to in my room. Life was good.
In my third year, however, I couldn’t help but feel as though something was missing. There should have been no impediment between me and happiness, “the best 4 years of my life”, but it did not seem that way. Through the act of making no choice, had I made the saddest choice of them all? Did the illusion of choice and control only exist to torment me? Sure, clubs appeared pointless, but were they? Did I possess any right to criticize or form opinions of anything if I did not even make the effort to at least explore the medium first? Was it not the case that anything worthwhile took hardship and effort? Maybe clubs did make a difference, but I could now never know. Life began to feel empty. I hadn’t even made the effort to get to know anyone, so there was no one I could share these thoughts with. They would pass with me, like tears in the rain. I had never hit this kind of a low before. What a mess.
As I walked to the dining hall, hating myself for my choices, hoping I could go back and make amends, I realized that could never happen. What ifs would be just that. What ifs. Traps of infinite possibility. You, the reader, and me, the idiot. We are going to be stuck in this loop forever, aren’t we? Regret is a well whose depths have yet to be plumbed.
Then I saw him. He seemed familiar for some reason, like we had known each other forever, somehow. An uncanny feeling of déjà vu. I grabbed a plate, filling it with some of the usual slop and hurried to grab the seat opposite this winged beast.
“Hi”, I said, hoping it wouldn’t seem contrived and stupid.
He smiled back. A broad, genuine smile; the start of a destined friendship. And then I knew, the next two years were going to be the most memorable ones of my life.