Lest We Forget: PK

I was discussing the Lest We Forget series with Shreya a couple of weeks ago, and realised that the reason why I remember so much about the people I have blogged about is that I lived with them. I saw them every day, and the essense of a hostel is that you're united by unfamiliarity; you're forced to trust and mistrust at the same time, and are dependent on each other for conversation, and at times - moral and financial support.

Everybody, and I mean everybody knew about PK. I first met him at my second hostel, and he was CPK's friend. He visited the hostel in the evening, and we usually chatted while sitting in PT's room. PK was around 5'8", stocky and looked rather old. He often sported a french beard, but sometimes switched to just a well maintained moustache. I was told by several people that he had been in the college for as many as 9 years (some said 10), but that seemed impossible - you were supposed to complete your engineering in a maximum of 8 years. PK still hadn't graduated and was in his final year of Computer Engineering. Of course, I heard of him much before I met him - AKM and PSS had joked about a "Yankee Doodle" who used to frequent the STD booth that also doubled as a cybercafe. I never saw this Yankee Doodle fellow, and it was only when AKM saw me talking to PK once that he informed me that PK was Yankee Doodle: PK had an exaggerated accent which would put call center executives to shame.

PK was everywhere. I met him every morning when I went down to have tea and poha at the mausi ki tapri (the neighbourhood tea stall), chatting with several of the local students in marathi. Our exchange would rarely go beyond Good Morning. PK was extremely loud, and from what I could understand of his conversations, he seemed to get along well with everyone. He would joke with members of the family that ran the tapri, and it seemed as if they treated him like a member of the family. Even at the STD booth, everyone knew him. He wasn't a regular at the mess, but he was always there when there was a match - the mess owner used to take bets on cricket matches, and PK gambled.

PK's parents were in the Middle East and his sister was in Bombay, married. He told us once, at the hostel, about his trips to a dance-bar with his brother-in-law, but after he left, CPK dismissed whatever he had said as bullshit. Just about everyone, except me, referred to PK as budda (old mand), though only CPK called him that to his face. PK, on the other hand, spoke to me with a lot of respect, bordering on reverence, which was rather strange. He always called me Mr. Pahwa, always spoke in English, and always sought my opinion on issues that were being discussed...which was strange because I usually didn't get involved in the discussions, nor did I show any inclination that I wanted to get involved. CPK almost always made fun of him after he left, but was still very fond of him.

PK rarely spoke about what he did in his free time, but chose instead to criticise just about everything and everyone. Except when speaking to me, his sentences were always cuss-ridden. I think the sinister maid complained to CPK about PK speaking too loud. The next time PK saw the old woman, he spoke to her in marathi for a few minutes and won her over.

PK was full of college tales, and it seemed his only problem was passing written exams because the practicals were never a problem. Quite a few of the teachers were drinking buddies of his, and the lowly lab assistants were smoking pals at the tapri after college. PK made friends across the various class and regional boundaries that divided the college. He sometimes passed practical exams after only signing his attendance; the professors filled his answer sheet for him and the external examiner was usually just there for free lunch, and sadistic fun watching students squirm as they ridiculed them one after the other.

PK graduated and disappeared for a while. He surfaced months later, working for some company selling geographical plotting systems or something like that. He moved into a very convenient and comfortable 1 BHK close to college. I spent an entire day there, watching a cricket match. Like several others, I hoped to get that apartment, albeit bare, after PK moved out of it. But then, PK vanished again.

I returned to Pune after a rather long break, only to learn something that I still find hard to believe. PK, and I'd mentioned earlier, had friends everywhere. He had been in that city, in that neighbourhood, for several years and even after he passed out of college, he continued to stay there. It seems that he had come up with a brilliant plan to build a hostel for students. He got a lot of people - the tapri owner, the std booth owners, several former students, current students (mostly from villages) to pool in money for the construction. He brought in some PMC official to show them all a plot which PK had purchased with some of the money they had pooled in. Then, after collecting all the money, PK left town, and that was the last I ever heard of him.


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