I Get Drunk – and Get Sober Again
I had never drunk before, other than a little beer at b-school parties. Raghav and some other friends had had sometimes had late night booze parties, but I had never attended because of my hostel’s 9pm curfew. Raghav now proceeded to help me fill this gap in my education.
He ordered drinks for me as soon as I could finish them. “Trust me,” he said when I looked hesitant. And I did. Wasn’t he my best friend? It was when I was on the fourth drink and began to feel queer that I realized that my trust might have been misplaced. I felt light-headed and giggled maniacally at Raghav’s insipid jokes. After some time he went to the loo, and on returning saw me sitting hunched up, elbows on the table, my head on my hands.
“You okay?” he asked, concerned.
I nodded, and winced. “I’m holding onto my head,” I shouted above the music. “It’s trying to swim away.” He was polite enough to try to hold his laughter in.
Once I felt confident of walking across the room without toppling over, I went to the loo. All was well till I tried to unlock the door to get out. I couldn’t.
My hands were trembling and my mind was fuzzy. I went into a panic. I groped at the door in frustration.
In my head, two voices spoke. “What will I do now? What will I do?” cried Mandakini.
“Calm down,” said Miki. “It’s only a door. You’ve opened thousands of them in your life. You can open this one.”
“I’ve never seen a lock like this. What will I do?”
Despite Miki’s excellent advice, I was too drunk to calm down. I had left the phone in my bag on the table, so I couldn’t even call Raghav for help. I hoisted myself up by the sink and sat there, leaning against the wall for support. Someone was hammering inside my head and I felt like I was floating in a mist.
After some time, there was a knock on the door. “Miki?” It was Raghav’s voice. “Are you there?”
“Yeah,” I cried out weakly.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“I can’t get the door to open,” I wailed. “I’ve been trying for so long and it just won’t…”
“Miki!” said Raghav sharply. “Calm down. Try the door again. I’ll tell you what to do.”
“Okay.” I got off the sink and walked to the door. “Which way do I turn it?”
I turned the bolt right. “Nothing’s happening,” I complained.
“Turn it again,” said Raghav. “Turn it as far as it will go.”
I did, and – miraculously, it seemed then – the door opened. I fell out into Raghav’s arms.
“I couldn’t get out!” I held on to him and sobbed in relief. “I couldn’t unlock the door.”
Raghav put his arm around me. “It’s okay, sweetheart. You’re safe. Come, let’s sit you down and get you something to eat.”
He walked me back to the table and ordered some food for me after I looked at the menu and complained that the letters were moving too fast for me to read them.
Raghav pulled me up by the hand and made me walk around, holding on to his arm. The food came and he forced me to eat. My head seemed to stop trying to float away. After some time I looked up at him and managed a smile. “I’m feeling much better now,” I told him.
Then we danced.
Dancing with Raghav felt exciting – and weird. We had danced together at college parties, but with other friends around, not like this, just the two of us among strangers. And… dancing seems such an erotic activity sometimes. But after a few minutes my inhibitions wore off, probably helped by the drink. The dance floor was crowded, and Raghav fended off dancers who came too close. I remember him holding my hand and whirling me around, and me laughing in delight. By the time we left the discotheque, I was tired and largely sober.
He drove me home. He had stopped right on the road in front of my house, but I said, “Come on in, I’ll make us coffee,” so he pulled into the parking space where my roommate’s car usually stood.
“I’ve never brought a guy home before,” I laughed much too loudly as I unlocked the door. He refrained from retorting, maybe from his newly-awakened sense of politeness.
We sat side-by-side on the mattress in the living room, sipping our coffee. “Mom was asking about your plans of getting married,” I said in a pathetic attempt at conversation.
“Don’t you think she’s a bit too old for me?”
I laughed hysterically before throwing the pink teddy at him.
“I wish she would think of marriage for herself,” I said after I had stopped laughing. “It would take a load off my mind. Besides, she’d be less bent on getting me married, then.”
“Does she nag you?”
“Well, yeah, she keeps telling me about ‘a nice boy’ some or other relative has suggested, and why don’t I agree to meet him once?”
“I’ll tell her a ‘nice boy’ isn’t likely to be able to keep you in check… And have you suggested she find some nice man for herself instead?”
“You kidding? She’d have a fit if she knew I’d even thought it… She’s so traditional in some ways. But I wish she would. She’s not old yet, and I know she doesn’t like living alone. It makes me feel guilty that I can’t live with her.”
“Why not ask her to live here with you?”
“I do! But she doesn’t like the idea. And I guess it’s not fair, asking her to stay away from her work and her friends. She won’t have anything to do here… But I worry about her.”
Raghav put a reassuring arm around me. I smiled at him over my mug.
“You’ve finally learned how to make coffee,” he said. “Remember that one time you tried to make tea in my house?”
I did not want to be reminded of it. I hadn’t found a spoon for sugar and had just poured it out of the jar, realising much too late that I had poured in about five times as much as I should have. I quickly changed the subject.
“What about you, how have you been?”
“I’m good, kiddo. How’re you? How’s work?”
“Work’s great, actually. I love my job – it’s funny, really, because I kind of just drifted into it – I mean, I just sat for the interview and somehow got through… But I actually do love it. I like the research and making reports and doing the analysis on Excel and then making pretty presentations, and I also love that we work on different projects in different industries and regions, so every project is new and exciting, you know?”
“So you’re not specialising in any one industry?”
“Well, there are these different groups working in different sectors. I have done most of my work for consumer goods – though my current project is in pharmaceuticals – but I think I’ll stick to consumer goods.”
“You’re allowed to choose?”
“Well, you do get a say, but it depends a great deal on where you’re wanted and what your skills are. But I get on well with Nilanjana – she’s the head of the consumer products group, and she asked if I’d like to be assigned to her group once my current project is over.”
“Yeah! I said yes, I’d love that. I like working with her too – she’s strict, but very smart, and she keeps us all on our toes. That earns her some enemies, but I love how she drives us hard and I learn so much working with her… I’m working with a much more laidback – and popular – manager now, and sometimes I’m frustrated at how slow and umm, sloppy things get you know? I mean, I know we’ll get around to it in the end, but it’s all rather last-minute and inefficient.”
“Aren’t you leading the project?”
“Well yeah, but I’m at the same level, designation-wise, as all the other members, and this guy, Milind, is the actual project manager. I’m just supposed to, you know, drive the team effort, something like that. Which basically means I do the same work everyone else is doing as well as see that they’re doing their stuff right and report to Milind.”
“Well, it’s not so bad. I’m working on my people management skills.” I winked. I expected him to tell me I needed to, but he was quiet. I felt vaguely unsettled: this didn't seem to be the Raghav I knew, but a grown-up, more mysterious version. I spoke quickly to end the silence.
“Anyway, how about you? Are you lonely, stuck in that godforsaken town?” Raghav worked for a cellphone company and lived in Belgaum. That is, he travelled all over Karnataka so that he was rarely home, but he had rented a flat in Belgaum where he spent at least a couple of days a week.
“Yeah, often enough. But work keeps me busy, so it’s okay…”
“You haven’t made any friends?” I asked.
“Not really. I am friendly with my dealers and with my boss, but no, I don’t really have a friend there. I don’t have many options at work and I don’t have time to seek friends elsewhere.” He smiled as if it was no big deal.
“Hmm. I do have some friends in office, but it’s not the same. It seems much more … umm, professional. There’s no one I can open up to…”
“I know. I miss you too.”
I smiled. “We have to find ourselves good partners, now. We’re getting older and lonelier.”
He was quiet for a while and then seemed to change the subject. “Did you know I had a crush on you?”
“Back when we first became friends.”
“Oh! Why didn’t you tell me?”
He smiled. “What would you have done?”
“I don’t know,” I said slowly. “Been flattered, I guess. I liked you a lot those days. Not that I don’t now, but well, I almost hero-worshipped you then. I used to think you were slightly contemptuous of me.”
“That was just a front. I guess I was afraid of letting you see it.”
I placed my hand on his.
“But… you must have known that you had a good chance if you tried.”
He gave a wry smile. “Yeah, I did. But – well, you looked so innocent, fragile almost. I was afraid of breaking you, of corrupting you.”
For a second, I was stunned into silence. Then I laughed out loud.
“You – were afraid of hurting me? You flirted with every other girl in college – you dated that silly girl for a whole year just because you thought she was hot…”
He smiled. “I know. But you were different. I couldn’t think of you that way.”
I raised a sceptical eyebrow.
“Do you think it would have worked out?” he said, looking away.
“You and I? I don’t know… It would have been good, in a way, we wouldn’t have fallen for those ridiculous people.”
I thought for a moment before saying, “I don’t know, Raghav. I am afraid we are too alike to have been content. We would have cared too deeply, fought too much… I’m glad we didn’t. It would have been difficult to remain friends later. I like having you as a friend.”
He looked at me. “I don’t agree. I think it might have worked. I think it still might…”
Should I have felt something at that moment? Attraction, anger, regret? I realized that if he’d said something like this three years ago I would have been over the moon. But right then, it seemed as insignificant as if he’d asked if I wanted another cup of coffee.
Yet I was tempted, as I thought it over cold-heartedly.
“You are lonely, and you know Raghav well,” said Mandakini. “He’s the nicest guy you know, and your best friend.”
“But what if I accept,” pointed out Mini, “and things go wrong? Our friendship will turn sour, or hollow, and we can never laugh again the way we do now, at our private jokes…”
“You’re only saying this because you’re lonely, Raghav,” I said aloud. “If I agree, you’ll regret it later.”
I stopped him before he could protest. “No. I value our friendship too much to risk it. It’s real. All of that – romance, love – I don’t know how real it is, how long it lasts. But I have this and I don’t want to let it go.”
He smiled and pressed my hand. “All right. I won’t mention it again.”
He left soon after. It was nearly two. I locked the door after him and went to the balcony and to watch him drive away. I stood looking out into the quiet starry night.