Bharatiya Gymkhana

Bharatiya Gymkhana

by Ramesh Mahadevan

Yaar, I am back. I am presently standing inside the Bharatiya Gymkhana - or Desh Mahal - a dilapidated edifice, rented out by an unscruplous slumlord in a generic Midwestern City. It is somewhere between two and three stories tall. An American flag, an Indian flag and several striped underwears are fluttering on the outside in response to a gentle breeze. At least twenty three Indian students are living out there, of whom at least eighteen are from IIT Madras, of whom at least three are named Palvayanteeswaran and all of them are addressed as 'Machan'. There is always a floating population of five IIT Madras guys from Ohio State University visiting them. There are atleast three guys in any room you go to, including the bathroom, where the community toothbrush forms the centerpiece. All this was made possible by an annual grant of $ 7.62 from all the professional Indians who at one time or another passed through the 'gymkhana', sometimes because they failed to stop at the stop sign in front of the building.

The atmosphere is very Indian. The aroma of Indian tea brewing permeates the building, only occassionally overwhelmed by the smell of 'Aaloo sabji' being cooked in a bottomless pot. The walls are a bright red from all the 'paan' spat out. To simulate the atmosphere better, a million flies and Chotu, the chaiwalla in a local dhabha were imported from Central India. In one corner, guys were playing kabbadi, carrom, chor-police, pittoo and teen patha. Books of Indian origin, including the Bhavan's journal are juxtaposed with Raswanti and Mastram, with all their smudged reproduction of sexy half tone photographs and are placed on the three legged coffee table for the sexually active Indian graduate students. An old Rafi song from the silent movie era is blaring from a n th hand tape recorder which does not fast forward or rewind, much to Dorai's chagrin. The weekends are fun when you watch Sholay for the twentieth time or watch the new Rajnikanth english movie which is listed under tamil movies in the local Indian stores. About twenty guys are smoking one beedi with gusto in another corner.

In the sprawling backyard, an ex-swimming pool is converted to a 'kuan' to give one more desi touch. Two students, Parvati and Gomti Devi (their real names) go there every day to fetch water and trade gossip. A holy cow named Lakshmi (not to be confused with Lakshmi who looks like a cow) is standing in the middle like a large dot, ruminating nonchalantly and listening to Bappi Lahiri songs. A bullock cart is double parked on the street, which is the sole means of transportation for the gymkhana folks and that too might be grounded if they don't pay up the highway speeding tickets they have accumulated. There is a romantic side story about this bullock and Lakshmi, the cow, but then I am digressing.

The tall, gawky desi, in the far corner, who is looking like a quadrilateral, is the fresh arrival, Pal, alias Palvayanteeswaran. He is about 99 % libido, with brains making up the remaining 99 %. He is still evolving into a human being. His leather shoes look like snow tires. He is very amused when people say 'Have a nice day'. He 'fags', eats 'grub shrub' and goes to the 'bogs'. He calls his best buddy on the phone and confides in him "yaar, yankland pahoonch gayen". He has half a million questions like which is the best place to get Pepsi or how much is the subscription to Playboy.

There is romance too in the gymkhana. A sliver of a moon is hanging particularly low over the gymkhana and two shadowy figures, Pinky and Lovely, are holding hands and talking. They are discussing if one can make dosa in the microwave, especially in view of India's nuclear program. They met purely by accident, on a rafting trip over the Niagara Falls. She lets him beat her in Anthakshari and he lets her put elaichi in his tea.

The fat, hairy guy in front of the TV, sucking on a beer can and shouting "Vanna, give me an R", is the 'caretaker' of the gymkhana. He is a tenured graduate student who has a reportaire of dead baby jokes. He is considered a wonderful gentleman ... and a fine lady. He used to date the Indian quintuplets, all of them, Reena, Meena, Tina, Leena and Beatrice. He is majoring in textile engineering and is designing a banian for the Siamese twins. He calls rolls everyday. One time when he was cleaning the simulated fireplace he discovered that two gymkhanites have been sleeping there. He puts fleas and ticks collars on all the residents.

Got to be going folks.

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Copyright(R) Mahadevan Ramesh