Sunday, August 25, 2013

Essence Of Madness

As the two hands of the clock conjoined, I found myself standing outside my house; the office cab that had dropped me here was now flying away in full gear, befriending the dust of clouds that followed it in this moonless night. I took out the key from my wallet and unlocked the door. Having pursued my school education in a hostel in the hilly areas of Darjeeling, and then my engineering in a residential university on the outskirts of West Bengal, I was accustomed to staying away from my family. However, my current job provided me the luxury of spending time with my parents, as I was posted in Kolkata, my hometown.

My parents were already deep asleep. I silently opened the door trying not to wake them up. I stepped into our drawing room and took a deep breath. It was dark except a faint light from the diya lighted in front of Ganesh-ji’s idol. A wonderful you-are-home aroma filled the room from the agarbatti sticks mom lighted for Ganesh-ji before she went to bed.

Another hectic day had passed and the project delivery went successfully. The client was satisfied, and thus was my manager. I seemed to be heading on the right track towards my promotion.

I looked around. I was surrounded with a lavish set of furniture, sophisticated home decorations, and expensive electronic gadgets. I was satisfied. It was a perfect life.

I sunk into the cosy couch, and lighted a cigarette. I inhaled the smoke, let it fill my lungs and do its regular slow damage, and then exhaled. Ah! It was relaxing. I went into the kitchen, and soon was back with a cup of hot tea. Tea went best with cigarettes (worst health wise). As I took my first sip, that strange unique aroma, a mixture of cigarette, tea, and agarbatti smokes, suddenly sent a weird thrill down my spine. The smell was so familiar. There was something so delightfully exhilarating about it, yet something was missing. I tried hard to figure out what, as I loosened the knot of my tie, and then it all came rushing back from past. I got up and sprayed the room with Ambi Pur room freshener -the missing link. In the next few minutes, in the dark, filled with a fragrance of cigarette, agarbatti, tea and room freshener, I walked eight years down the memory lane.

I was sitting on the bed of my stingy hostel room, smoking, with a textbook in my hand. Two single cots were joined together to make enough space for four guys.

Rahul entered with an aluminium kettle in one hand, and a pile of four empty glasses in the other. Manoj was still making rough notes while Satish nervously flipped through the previous years’ papers. We just had two more packs of cigarette and fourteen long hours left before it would be morning. I was starting to worry if we had enough supply of fag to last the whole night. It was the night before the exam-the night when no one slept.

As Rahul handed the glasses, Manoj screamed agitatedly, “Can’t any of you see that my cig’s over? Light me another!”

I immediately handed him my cigarette.

We treated Manoj like God. He was the only one among us with the willpower and brain to fathom those Hebrew lines of the undecipherable subjects of Electronics Engineering on the very last night before exam. We would light him cigarettes (like my mom lighted agarbattis to Lord Ganesha), bring him tea and worshipped him. He would jot down all the key points for us to remember easily, which, of course, we would be too sleepy to read ourselves, and then he would read them out loud to us.

But as it happened, we always used to score about a grade lesser than him, in every subject. Firstly, it was an enigma. But Rahul dug a little deeper and found out that he always elaborately omitted a couple of topics when he taught us. I was hurt.

We were soon chanting the prayer-like lines as narrated by Manoj, when suddenly our hearts simultaneously froze with the knock at the door. There was only one man who could be here at this hour- the Devil himself-our hostel warden. He had a bad reputation of giving late night rounds to check if any boys were indulged in  illegal stuffs inside the rooms, and we were-smoking!

If we got caught, it would lead to an hour long lecture, followed by the dreaded suspension.
We instinctively threw our cigarettes out but it still smelled distinctly of tobacco. After all, we were in the world’s smallest confined space where maximum number of cigarettes had been smoked in the minimum amount of time.

“Light the agarbattis, light the agarbattis!” hissed Rahul under his breath.

We always had agarbattis though all of us were atheists.

I lighted a bunch of agarbattis, as Satish went spraying the room freshener all around.

“We can’t light agarbattis without some God’s idol or photo or something!” Satish squeaked.

“We don’t have one!” I blabbered.

“What do you mean?” Manoj shouted at me, “You know your room is the study room and you don’t have hazard safety equipment! What do we do now?”

The knocks continued, as we heard the man shout, “I can hear you speak, open up!”

I mumbled awkwardly, “we need a God, we need a God.”

That’s when Manoj pulled out a loose sheet of paper and drew the world’s most hurriedly drawn Krishna-ji. We placed it on the wall behind the table on which the agarbattis now stood.

Satish opened the door.

“Yes, sir”, he smiled broadly, “Come in. You have come in the right time. We were just doing our night-before-the-exam puja.”

“What puja?” asked the warden.

We all relaxed tremendously. Instead of asking, “What smell?” he asked something else. Anything else was good.

“Like you know, we are very religious. We pray every night before the exam. See four agarbattis, each from one of us.”

“What is that thing? Where is the idol or picture of your God?”

“Look, sir,” I remarked, trying to sound convincing even though my voice was as shaky as the mobile phone’s vibration, “It is our belief that if we create the picture with our own hands, Krishna-ji will be happier. In case you do not have such beliefs, please do not join our puja.”

The warden frowned.

“Just light the agarbattis, no need to fake a puja. Some people may actually find that more offending than smoking,” he said.

We froze. Satish, the weakest, was going to burst into tears.

“Anyways,” he continued, “Next time I catch you smoking, you are coming to the principal’s office. Now study hard. Only God can save you, if you don’t.”

And he left.

It was then that I realized, he hated us so much that he wanted us to pass out of college even more desperately than we did.

After he left, Rahul shouted, “Ah Satish, your breath must have given it all away! Why didn’t you have some mouth freshener before opening that stupid door.”

The tea in my cup was over.

I was back in the dark room filled with cosy furniture.

Ever since then, I would wake up in the middle of the night, go to the living room where the agarbatti burned tirelessly, spray some Ambi Pur room freshener, sip a cup of tea and smoke a cigarette. Sitting at a living room filled with luxurious furniture and classy decorations, I would inhale the essence of madness and would be lost in the nostalgia of some other exam night in my congested stingy hostel room, my home during my four years of college life.

NOTE: Smoking is injurious to health. It causes cancer.

This is my official entry to "Smelly Air to Smiley Air" contest organized by Indiblogger in association withAmbi Pur.

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  1. Wow Amrit what an amazing not only a talented poet but also a talented writer of spellbinding stories!

  2. Omg! I loved it..a typical engineering student story :P if we medicos (esp girls) are ever confronted with such a situation or maybe a similar one, then God knows who will save us!
    College life is indeed the best. Good luck for the contest:)