It is a full moon night.
What choice does it have?
Down a midnight road devoid of people or traffic, a tall metallic ladder is rolling along in aluminium harmony. It is the kind electricians use to reach high cables, with two ladders joining up to make a platform on top, and four wheels beneath. Two people are pushing the contraption along. They are not electricians. They are Dev and Siddharth.
Nor is the man perched on top of the ladder an electrician. He is, in fact, playing the flute. Krishnaji is the silent presence amid our babble. He is several years older than us and – to my newcomer’s eyes – infinitely wiser. He is doing his PhD at the same glacial pace as much of the rest of the campus, but manages to bring style and dignity to the performance aided by an impressive moustache and a slow-burning smile. By and large, in our liquid evenings, no one pulls his leg.
A fine connoisseur of Hindustani classical music, Krishnaji is now playing a night raag. Looking back on the occasion 25 years later, I see clearly how this was exactly the right thing to do: play the flute, at midnight, when high on grass, atop an electrician’s ladder, pushed by similarly enthused friends, on the enchanted roads of the university. It’s astonishing nobody had thought of it before.
We are all sitting at Ganga Dhaba, as the ladder approaches. Those who have not managed to collect enough money to get their evening’s drink are drowning their sobriety in tea. Those who have finished their quota but have not actually passed out, are nursing their drunkenness – that razor sharp clarity on what should be done about the burning issues of the day which only a 4th peg can bring – also with tea. Rohit is desperate for a non-veg dinner but the dhaba extends itself only to eggs. I’m consoling him with adapted Kishore Kumar songs. “Meat na mila re mann ka”, I offer. He cheers up and counters with “Raat haddi ek kabab mein aayi...”. Subroto is convincing people that he personally saw a girl from Ganga Hostel come to the dhaba with a flask and say, “Bhaiya, do cup chai daal dena... oopar tak bhar dena”. A group of students is playing Antakshari in the distance. Brisk sales of bun-omelettes and coffee, couples returning from the late night movie at Priya cinema, a pamphlet being composed, motorcycles parked near the footpath...
And all the time the ladder approaches with its musical burden.
At this point, higher reality intervenes in the shape of a tree. An inquisitive branch cranes its neck to see what the commotion is all about and Krishnaji gets entangled in it. History does not record if he cries out but Dev and Siddharth move on, unaware of the contretemps above. We don’t know what combination of falling and scrambling brings our flautist down to the earth, but when he limps his way to the dhaba it is evident he did not fall gently like the quality of mercy. Dev goes off towards the dark hinterlands of the dhaba in a vague but determined quest for Herbs That Heal – he is sure they are there somewhere. Siddharth sits silently, and nods gently and often. Useless suggestions are made. The night falls on arranging how an injured Krishnaji should be delivered to his hostel room.
The next morning has a certain charge to it. It seems that Krishnaji has actually given the world a chance to – if not laugh, then – chortle gently at him. At around 11.30 or so, various shapes and sizes of freshly-bathed, hungover, hungry, caffeine-deprived, class-bunking, library-pretending bipeds start homing in on the library canteen. Soon Krishnaji appears on the horizon, a couple of band-aids in tow. There is a lull, and then someone asks casually and with screaming insouciance, "kya, Krishnaji, suna hai kal raat kucch ho gaya? Gir-vir gaye kya?"
Krishnaji closes the matter with a one-liner: “Nahin saathi, wo, kal hum prakriti ke kucch zyaada kareeb aa gaye thhe...”