It’s (cough!) that time of the (ack! Ack! Cough!) season again. And perhaps it isn’t a huge co-incidence that my friend Dhanushka, unheard from in several months, chooses to call just now, out of the blue (Oh, ok, out of Sri Lanka, you reality freaks: that’s where he is from).
Now Dhanushka and I have a history together. No, no, absolutely not what your fertile imagination beckons you to believe. ‘Fertile’. You’ll soon get to know why I used that word.
Any how, it goes like this: It all began when I moved to Pune to study filmmaking at FTII. What all began, you ask? My Pune-origin sore throat and allergic cough problems. Maybe I was allergic to the pollution, or to Raj Thackeray, who knows? (Is there a big diff between the two? Yes. Pollution doesn’t drive a Land Cruiser, but the Land Cruiser that Raj T drives causes pollution. In fact Raj T just needs to open his mouth to cause pollution, but that’s another blog-post.) Anyway, so there I was, gaining experience in taking shots (film shots, not tequila, noble reader) and nursing perpetual throat afflictions. And after trying out several systems of medicine I came to the conclusion that Hamdard’s Unani cough syrup ‘Joshina’ did much to soothe the poor throat and resultant rankled nerves. (No, Hamdard isn’t paying me for this). You mixed some of the syrup in hot water and took a swig, and got a complimentary sugar rush, besides. Now, people are known to have got hyper-active and done weird things on a s-sh-sssugar rush, but believe you me, I have never really acted abnormal. And I’m not-not-NOT hype-hype-hyperactive either. (Wait, let me run up and down the stairs for no reason at all, and come back).
(Huff. Puff. Phew!) Now Cut To the location of my story. FTII Hostel. Interior. We had a co-ed hostel. Yes, you got it right, dear reader, men and women in the same hostel building. Please don’t widen your eyes so, gentle reader. You can’t expect budding adult filmmakers (not adult-film makers, noble reader) in their twenties, thirties and even forties to live like chastised children. Some of our batch-mates brought along their spouses and children as well. And obviously there were no timing restrictions et al. Well, what are you going to do if you have to shoot a night scene? Shoot in the day and pretend that the sun is a twinkling star? Yes, it is, in fact, a twinkling star, but so what? We were artistes. And we were not going to be treated like children. Wait a minute, my Mom’s calling out. Yes Mommy, I’ll drink my milk (but I wanna drink with a straw!) and I will wear my teddy bear pajamas and go to bed by 8, only if you read me Winnie the Pooh first!
Now, something about dear ol’ Dhanushka. He was a foreign (Sri Lankan) student, like I’ve already told you, and I believe he had a deep appreciation for Indian culture (more interested in watching Govinda instead of Godard, for instance). He did have a keen desire to learn Indian languages (apart from the abuses which he knew almost instinctively). Hell, he even adapted Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Postmaster’ into a short film in Bengali without understanding a word of the language (this is hundred percent true!). Now the problem was that he looked as Indian as the rest of us. And several people, ranging from faculty members to waiters in restaurants would often start talking to him in Hindi. He wouldn’t know how to respond in what was a foreign tongue for him, and would just nod and smile and say ‘Haan’ (‘Yes’). Sample:
Befuddled Editing Professor: “Yeh kaisi editing kari hai? Film ka matlab kya hai?” (“What sort of editing is this? What is the meaning of your film?”)
Dhanushka: (Nod and smile) “Haan”.
Scandalized Lady Teacher: ”Yeh mahilaaon ka toilet hai, aap idhar kya kar rahein hain?” (“This is a Ladies toilet, what are you doing here?”)
Dhanushka: (Nod and smile) “Haan”.
Angry Batchmates (After Sri Lanka beat India in a cricket match): “Pakdo saaley firangi ko; aaj tera keema banaayengey!” (“Catch hold of the bloody Sri Lankan; we’ll make mince-meat of you today!”)
Dhanushka: (Nod and smile) “Haan”.
You get the gist.
So, one particular late evening, I was in my room sipping my regular dose of Joshina, and Dhanushka came in for a chat. Desirous of learning about Indian languages (especially after the aforementioned India-Sri Lanka mince-meat debacle), and about all things Indian in general, he asked me what ‘Joshina’ meant. I told him that it was a medicine I took regularly, and that Joshina, probably coming from ‘Josh’, literally meant Energy Producing or Vigour Inducing or thereabouts. As soon as he heard this his eyes grew as wide as saucers and he betrayed a strange expression on his face: a mix of panic along with a broad grin. Well, I don’t know whether it was the sugar rush or what, but I gave him a devilishly evil look, flashed my devil’s teeth and laughed, “Guah-ha-ha!” He immediately turned around and bolted for the door. With the glass of Joshina in hand I ran after him. And for the next several minutes, we ran all over the hostel like that: Dhanushka in his vest, clutching his threatening-to-fall-anytime electric blue checked lungi for dear life, hawai chappals flapping loudly, while I chased him up and down the stairs, the corridors and the TV Room. Every now and then he would turn back to see if I was still following, and on finding that indeed I was close behind, he would scream “Bachao! Bachao! Meri Izzat!” (“Help! Help! My Chastity!”). (I guess these were the only other words he managed to learn after “Haan”. Obviously the Eighties’ Bollywood films influenced him more than the syllabus’s French New Wave cinema). And of course nobody ever came to his rescue; he seemed to be enjoying the run as much as I was! Why else did he have a grin that would give the Cheshire Cat an inferiority complex?
Soon, this sort of thing became a regular habit, with me chasing him all over the place, and at times with others joining the fray as well, running along with me, shouting “Pakdo! Pakdo!” (“Catch him!”) or simply : “Josheeeeeeeennaaaaah!” by way of a clarion call. These marathon sessions would end only when the terrified Lankan would have managed to enter his room and safely bolt the door while I would be out of breath from running and laughing uncontrollably. Though, I swear, at times I thought I heard him secretly giggling to himself inside.
So anyway, we passed out of FTII, having learnt a few lessons about life, the universe and everything else, and went our separate ways. And now I return to the phone call I mentioned at the beginning of this piece. Dhanushka had only recently got married.
“My wife and I are expecting a baby,” he said, a tad sullenly.
“So soon? That’s a surprise!” I said.
“Yes. And it’s all your fault!”
“Ekscuje me, but what do I have to do with your family planning?”
“Well, just after we got married, both my wife and I developed a throat infection… And I … er… we … er… aah… took a bit of …uhm… Joshina for it. And then, we don’t know what happened to us! I had never seen my wife behave like this before! We got all charged up for … uhh… you-know-what… And the scenario is that we turned into maniacs, forgot to use any …er…protection, and that’s how we are now about to have a baby! It’s all your fault! You introduced me to Joshina. And my wife…my wife…,” he said, choked with emotion, “she totally went crazy after having that Joshina. Just the way you used to, whenever you sipped it.”
“What utter bullshit!” I spoke through clenched teeth. “Didn’t you ever get it, you moron? Nothing ever happened to my… umm… appetite for you-know-what after having Joshina! I was always faking it! It was a grand joke! And I thought you had understood it then itself!”
“Whhaaat?!” he said almost disbelievingly, “All that chasing after me, shouting ‘Joshina! Joshina!’ and ‘Pakdo! Pakdo!’… You mean it was a joke?!! I used to be scared stiff! Petrified!”
“Don’t bullshit me!” I retorted. “You looked pretty happy, with that grin across your face, even as you tried running as fast as your Relaxo Hawai chappals would let you!”
“Oh, that! That was because… well… which man wouldn’t be secretly happy with a Punjabi Indian girl chasing him…?” he said sheepishly. “But I swear, the Joshina did have that crazy effect on me and my wife…especially on her, in fact!”
Now, dear reader, to conclude, you never know with Dhanushka Gunathilake. I mean, there are certain lessons of life you expect from a guy who escaped almost certain death in a bomb blast in his war-ravaged native country. Dhan tadaan! Presenting Dhanushka’s profound, life-altering observation for all life and death emergency situations: “If you don’t have the time to wash your undergarments and you have run out of fresh ones, just wear the used undies inside out.” Aaah… there’s so much personal, almost painful depth in that sage advice.
P.S. Dhanushka’s wife happens to be a ‘Punjabi Indian’ as well. Uh…just thought I’d tell you.
P.P.S. Creative liberties have been taken, and though some bits of this story are completely true, at least as true as India TV’s strict journalistic code of ethics, other bits are purely fictitious. Now I leave it to you, gentle reader, to decide which ones.
P.P.S. On an unrelated note, Meri twachaa se meri umar ka pata hi nahin chalta. (You can’t figure out my age by looking at my skin.) Possibly my low IQ blog posts and tweets may give a similar impression. I know I sound 13. What a compliment, I’m 16 after all.