Krishna Shastri Devulapalli is a cartoonist, children’s illustrator, graphic designer and writer. He has worked in advertising, designed greeting cards, illustrated school textbooks, written film scripts and original stories for children. His first novel, ‘Ice Boys in Bell-bottoms’ (HarperCollins, 2011), is a humorous chronicle of a 1970s Madras childhood. His second novel, ‘Jump Cut’ (HarperCollins, 2013), is a seriocomic thriller set in Chennai with the film industry as its backdrop. At present, he is working on a book of humorous prose, a young adult novel, the sequel to his first book and a play you might see sooner than you think.
The other day, I went to a bar. I do that when my wife ‘loses’ the key to the liquor cabinet and becomes temporarily hearing impaired, which she’s prone to now and again. My companion on these outings is usually my old friend, the redoubtable Ramki Ramakrishnan. A man who’s always there during alcohol emergencies, no questions asked. Not to mention, a man who can be an alcohol emergency if questions are asked.
Our sms-based communication on days like this goes something like this:
(Name of bar).
We were at the usual five-star watering hole (my favourite place when a friend is footing the bill and putting it down to CSR), where work nights are dull. Ramki and I liked it that way. Ideal for masculine drinking punctuated by the occasional grunt to signal waiter for more, with a couple of urine breaks, followed by staggering home in a cab, collecting key to liquor cabinet from wife the following morning through a pulsating hangover making her realize yet again husband is better off drinking at home. It was a well-worn routine. The only variation was who Ramki threw up on. Sometimes, it was the waiter, other times it was the cabbie, and once, on that vicious beast in his house he jokingly referred to as a dog which in reality was a cross between a snake and a hyena.
That day, second or third drink down, not that we were counting, Ramki became aware of the group seated at the table next to ours. And that usually didn’t lead to anything good.Through the soft ’80s music reserved for such days, when the average customer is a disgruntled forty-something male yearning for his lost hair and gained waist, though I couldn’t be certain, the conversation at the next table was going along these lines.
“Yes, dude, I think he needs to open the kimono,” said a voice.
“Couldn’t agree more,” said another. “There’s serious low-hanging fruit there.”
“Yes, I agree, but don’t you think that frog has already been boiled?”
‘Man, I haven’t seen that needle move in some time,” said the fourth guy.
Ramki Ramakrishnan gave me that look. It was a wonder he’d lasted this long. The old Ramki would have reacted at the ‘kimono’ stage itself. It was a look I had grown accustomed to. The first time I’d seen it was in Class 10 – when we’d had our very first alcoholic beverage together – just before he began howling like an Arctic Wolf in heat. And I’d been seeing it with clockwork regularity for over thirty years now. It was usually followed by something involving a state- or privately-run-law-enforcement wing. Through the crow’s feet and the odd jowl that it was ensconced in, I was concerned to note the look had lost none of its earlier je ne sais pas.
“Are these guys homos?” Ramki said.
Before I could respond, a smattering of conversation carried to our table.
“The thing is, there are lots of moving parts,” someone said.
“Homos, da,” said Ramki, a little louder this time. “I told you.”
It may be appropriate at this juncture to tell you that Ramki Ramakrishnan is the guy who put the Dolby Surround-Sound Six-Track Stereo in the Tam-Brahm stereotype. He hails from Thanjavur, recites the Gayatri mantram every day, doesn’t eat onion or garlic unless it’s in his chilli chicken, thinks N. Srinivasan should be canonized, lives with his mother and thinks homosexuality is a crime punishable by hanging people by their low-hanging fruit.
Instead of getting myself a getaway car, going home and Googling the witness protection options in India, I decided to give Ramki a lesson in political correctness.
“I think the accepted word is gay,” I said.
As the neighbouring table’s conversation started throwing up more suggestive fruit, onions that needed to be peeled, reptiles that needed to be tortured and the word ‘core’ several times, Ramki signalled to Lester the barman who knew us by our drinks (me: watered-down Glenfiddich, Ramki: cola-ed-up Old Monk).
“Sir?” he said, materializing at our table.
“Are the guys at the next table gay homos?” Ramki said.
“What?” said Ramki. “You’re never happy, are you?”
He turned to Lester.
“These guys next to me are homo gays, right?”
Lester nod-shook his head. Ramki usually left thousand-buck tips.
“Do you know it is against my religion to sit next to such fellows,” Ramki said. “See, if I brought the eunuch who comes to my house every day for tips to this bar, would you allow it? Even if the eunuch was wearing leather lace-up shoes with his nylex saree?”
“Transgender, I think,” I said.
“Get my friend a Transgender, phata-phat,” Ramki said. “Thought you were having Glenfiddich?”
“No, I think you call them transgenders, not the other word.”
“But didn’t you just say I should call them gayhos?”
“No, not these guys, the eunuchs…” I said, squirming.
“These guys are EUNUCHS?!” he said.
“NO!” I said, “No, these guys are the homos.”
“Exactly!” Ramki said. “Now get my friend a Transfiddich on the rocks while I deal with the hogays, awright?”
“You’ll do nothing of that sort,” I said. I hated bouncers. They didn’t differentiate between troublemakers and bystanders. They put the same amount of shoulder into both. Meanwhile, Ramki signalled Lester to come close and whispered something in his ear. “Listen,” said Ramki, sipping a fresh rum-and-coke. The first among the six Lester had somehow thought it wise to produce along with six more Glenvestites for me. I could understand his point of view. It was a Tuesday and he had his weekly targets.
“Listen,” Ramki said. “You know me, right? I’ll solve this.”
“What will you solve?” I said. I found I had finished a Transeunuch in spite of better judgement.
“You know? This whole homo thing,” Ramki said, one hand encompassing the bunch at the neighbouring table with a twirly finger while the other fumbled with his wallet and produced a battered visiting card. “There’s this ayurvaid near Kapaleeshwarar Koil. He can cure these fellows.”
“How?” I said.
“He applies gingelly oil on them and beats the living crap out of them with neem leaves every Friday for six weeks or something,” he said.
“How do you know this?”
“You remember my cousin, Sundar, yeah, the guy who used to walk funny. We sent him to this man.”
“Was he cured?”
“Of course. He’s in Vegas now. Goes by the name of ‘Double-D’ Daphne.”
Ramki had ridden in lorries laden with poultry, he had mooned a retiring headmaster, he had urinated behind the reception counter of a heritage hotel, he had removed the bolts from an aged uncle’s wheelchair. Who was I stop him from attempting to cure four drunk men of the love that dare not speak of itself?
I watched Ramki teeter off to the neighbouring table, glass in hand. I took one more swig of my Glenhomo. No harm in being properly anaesthetized for the beating we were about to receive.
Ramki solemnly shook hands with the guys at the table. Then, in one malodorous Technicolor jet, he evacuated his innards of what looked very much like the adai-avial he’d eaten as a pre-drink snack on all four of them.
The next morning, I woke up with what felt like the Wagah border Beating Retreat ceremony in my head, complete with goose-stepping soldiers and tourists taking photos.I turned on my pillow and felt something cold against my cheek. It was the key to the liquor cabinet. I gave it a day and called Ramki.
“Good morning!” he said. He sounded like he had just returned from the temple after performing an archanai in his mother’s name.
“All well?” I said.
“Never better,” he said.
“What about the bar-thing?”
“You know, those guys were not homos,” he said.
“Gay, you mean,” I said.
“No, they were not eunuchs either.”
“I could’ve told you that,” I said. “And even if they were…never mind.”
“They are software types. Good fellows. They weren’t speaking homo, it was just IT jargon.”
“They forgave you?”
“Of course,” he said.
“You paid them off?”
“Even better,” he said. “I bought their start-up.”
“What?” I said.
“Low hanging fruit, dude, low hanging,” he said.