Francis’s eyes go way beyond the walls of the basement canteen he runs in the School of Social Sciences building, way beyond this cliché I am forced to employ 26 years later: he does look far far away. It is Saturday and we have converged on Francis’s canteen because on Saturday he cooks beef. It is a rare treat in a life punctuated by slightly watery mess meals and dhaba paranthas or bun omelettes. With his Malayalam tongue Francis calls me something that sounds like Juggi – I love it because, even erroneously, it feels like a fellow soul has chosen to feel affectionate enough towards me to give me a pet name. Most of the time, he is in a T-shirt and folded up lungi, tall, smiling, moustachioed, dignified, and during holidays gravely accepting of the drinks his student-patron-friends share with him.
We visit him this Saturday in August. It has been raining and we – young, heady on new friendships, able to quote just-learnt poetry and sing very old songs in giggly tuneless choruses – are very pleased with life. Our hunger is perpetual and pleasing. A hot parotta and beef curry meal awaits. Peacocks are calling out from our hostel Syntex tanks.
It is raining, we tell Francis as we enter the canteen, making the most of the drops on our heads and clothes, making the most of the experience of getting slightly wet. We don’t realize it but already the act of not carrying an umbrella has become an unshakeable brick in forming our anti-establishment personas. We are not just sensual rain lovers, not just adventurous risk-takers, we are also not that which carries an umbrella in the rain. We are not family, or private property or state.
It is raining, we gush, but Francis is not impressed. This is not rain he says, in a Hindi picked up painstakingly over years in conversations with employers, landlords, bus conductors, shopkeepers, students. This is not rain. Real rain, toh, happens in Kerala. Aah, Kerala, we say respectfully, and it sounds far, unreal, redolent with possibilities of travel and discovery. We know it rains a lot in Kerala. “It rains a lot in Kerala, na?” we ask.
That’s when Francis’s eyes look beyond the walls of the basement canteen he runs, way beyond this cliché I am forced to employ 26 years later. He does look far far away, and says: I cannot tell you. It rains so much that it keeps dropping from the trees much after it has stopped. It keeps raining for half an hour after it has stopped raining…