‘Is that you, Manan?’ Taiji’s voice from behind the window of her bedroom.
Has she been waiting there to pounce on him? ‘Yes, Taiji.’
‘Tauji is calling you.’
‘In a minute, Taiji.’
Quickly he hides behind the veranda pillar and then crawls on all fours into the side alley. Here, under the shadow of the porch and out of Taiji’s sight, and away from those idiots inside. Tauji is calling him – so what? Why should he answer their calls? He is a full, complete human being, not a toy, not a massage machine: why is he given orders when he never gives orders to them? He closes his eyes and, seething with anger, to vindicate his disregard for Taiji’s request, he summons up an image of a dhoti-clad Tauji lying half asleep on his round belly. The room smelling of iodex and farts. He is asked to climb over Tauji, rather Tauji’s hairy back, and, deeming any show of unwillingness as out of keeping, he does so. Cautiously he treads: from the naked upper back to the naked, sweaty lower back, over the hips to the unstable, wobbly thighs, and quickly onto the calves; the same way up with an about-turn. Tauji farts from time to time and he has to smell the hydrogen sulphide: his hands are stretched for balance, and for how long can one hold one’s breath? This … is wrong. Illegal. Child labour. He could be playing videogames or catch-a-catch, he could be preparing for the debate or dreaming of chance meetings with Hriya – doing things much more useful than this. Why should he go then? When will this sequence stop?
35kg – this is what Tauji is exploiting. 140cm, 35kg, his comfortable smallness. Not for too long then. Puberty will put an end to all these matters soon.
Except that it will raise new ones. It makes timid unruly, clean dirty. Puberty has its rules, its own set of conditions, and its victims, unsuspecting, conform to them even before they know it: that’s what happened to X-A. His friends were unprepared so they got captured. Possessed. They have turned into creatures who like long hair and metallic wrist watches that have large dials and loose straps. They demand pocket money and buy tiny combs and follow girls. Puberty corrupts – that’s a fact; and it corrupts without consent – that’s his concern. Rajat was once obedient like him and now look at him. Look at Vipul. Look at Kshitij. So complex.
Is it just the chemicals – hormones from the endocrine glands? Are they responsible for concocting that mysterious fresh hot blood of youth? When that political science tutor ran away with Kanungo Uncle’s daughter some three years ago, Mummy clasped his shoulder, her face full of awe and shock and disapproval – he distinctly remembers that face – and Taiji said: Fresh hot blood of youth! Reckless! She was such a cow, who would have thought she would do this. And Mummy said: Don’t you dare go off the track, Manan! Don’t you get spoiled in the heat of young blood! Tell us whom you like, we’ll approve. Mummy looked so grave that he could not find her funny. He could not educate her: youth, Mummy, but a drop of water on a petal of a lotus flower. Comes and goes like a dream.
Let’s face it. While he is being delayed, Rajat and Shrey are differing. Differing even from inside. They hate orange flavoured candies now and that is evidence. If he really ponders over the disturbing events of yesterday, he can tell there was distance: his friends, like electrons in Bohr’s atomic model, were in a different orbit than him. They have been for some time. A barrier of knowledge separates him from them and he cannot just spiral his way into their shell. He will have to wait for an external force, a powerful energy impulse to push him from n to n+1. At n+1 you already know secrets, you know what all the adult jokes mean and are not troubled by matters as petty as change of voice. At n+1 you are sure. When he asked the question, they knew where it was coming from – they understood him more than he understood himself, which is why they did not answer. They were ripe, he was raw. Therefore he cried.
Is he ready to ripen then? Is he ready to change, from inside? All he has wanted from puberty is a few favours, a little make-up. But there is more to it than meets the eye. And if he doesn’t prepare himself, what then? What can be the biggest harm?
Mohit Parikh’s works have been published in Identity Theory, Specs Journal of Arts and Culture, Out of Print Magazine, Burrow Press Review, The Bombay Literary Magazine and others. He was shortlisted for Toto Awards 2014 for Creative Writing in English. Presently, he is filming a movie based in Mcleodganj,India. Manan is his first book.