What I learnt from a college crush
I thought about this when I hit the gym today for my first personal training session. Romance and magic are the fuel of life. I hope you enjoy this story as much as I enjoy reliving it in words. And I’m late on April A to Z Challenge but I’ll make it up.
I first remember gymming becoming a thing in the 90s. Maybe that’s when fitness fever hit India (let’s take a minute to thank Akshay Kumar, hairy glory and all). Or maybe it’s because I was newly adolescent and my generation was discovering vanity for the first time.
The year I turned 19 was also the year I dropped out of college. We have the lack of widespread internet at the time to thank for that, else I’d just have been pouring my angst and frustration into a blog. I was still on the rolls of the college but as an A.T.K.T. student (that’s actually ‘Allowed to keep term’ but we knew it better as ‘Aaj thoda, kal thoda’).
You know how everyone has a friend who is a bad influence, who is destined to go downhill? It just occurred to me that I didn’t have one; I was that friend. All the friends I can remember from that time were toppers, popular models, upcoming dancers and the like. One of them was competing in a year-long competition for the title of ‘Miss University’. Yes, that was a thing and it involved excellence in academics, sports and cultural activities. She understood priorities and balancing different people even then. I was only informed of this event sometime in February. It was time for the fashion show round, she explained. I’m not sure what association she made between me and style (I was in my grunge/goth phase then) but I was enlisted to help.
Maybe it was because of our colleges. She went to Bhavan’s, which was considered a respectable but tame college. I was a Mithibai girl, which meant I had glamour cred in the suburbs (Madhuri Dixit, Raveena Tandon, Urmila Matondker, Ekta Kapoor, Vivek Oberoi and Shahid Kapoor are some of the alumni). I didn’t care. I was the original hipster and I had decided that Mithibai filmipan was beneath me (never mind that I was going to be part of the entourage for a fashion show).
We turned up at the Bhavan’s campus early in the morning and it was awhile before the others showed up. They weren’t her friends but her choreographer and the supporting male models. One of them had longish hair and I took an instant condescencion to him. Bhavan’s himbo I decided, was no better than the Mithibai ones. The introductions were done and to my surprise, everyone was really friendly. I was used to my own college peers being a bit, shall we say bitchy, to outsiders and each other. It wasn’t cool to be openly nice.
We trooped up to the terrace for a final rehearsal. Someone switched on a battered music system and the strains of Suneeta Rao’s Paree hoon main rose in the air. The four boys positioned themselves at corners, their arms rising in unison. My friend began practising her walk in a heavy ghagara. But my attention was literally snatched by the boy in the front right corner — the long-haired himbo. Each male model had turned towards the center and had begun a strut towards my friend. When they reached her, they fell to their knees, their palms facing her in a gesture of admiration/worship. It was a classical sequence. But all I could think of was that walk, that walk, that walk. I had never consciously experienced male beauty before. And after that, I could barely keep my eyes off him.
They completed the rehearsal and began talking about costumes and makeup. I lurked in the corner, drinking in every detail of his tight black tee-shirt, fitted black jeans and ankle-high brown leather boots. When he turned, the chin-length wavy hair that had made me so derisive, moved like a lion’s mane. It was stunning. He was stunning.
At some point we got to the Mumbai University club house and made our way to the green room. We passed the Mithibai contingent and one of the girls stage-whispered, “Isn’t she from Mithibai? What’s wrong with her?” followed by high-pitched laughter. My cheeks hot, I whirled around and threw out some acidic barb that I don’t even remember. That’s pretty much all I ever had, back in college — the wits to silence the prettier people around me. Cross and bothered, I made my way to the dressing room. The Bhavan’s team had seen some of it but they didn’t comment as I settled into a corner.
Until he spoke up.
“You’re from Mithibai?”
Inside my head, I was quavering down my toes but I fixed him with a cool smile and said,
Before he could say anything, one of the other boys blurted out,
“But, but..you’re so nice! I thought Mithibai people were like…”
I gestured to the other contingent outside the door. He nodded and we all burst out laughing. The tension was broken but I made sure I didn’t look in his direction. Cool was such a fragile thing. I couldn’t afford to lose it.
Later, I went out to fetch something for my friend. When I returned, I literally keeled over. I had almost run into…a mountain of man beauty. There he was, bare-chested (with the aesthetic sense to be clean-shaven even in those hairy-man days), glistening with the barest sheen of body oil, wearing a white dhoti that would be his costume. I spent a full ten seconds drinking in the view hungrily. I only came out of the trance when my friend snapped a finger under my nose. SHITSHITSHIT I thought and pulled back my uber-cool reserve. I didn’t look at him or even talk to him again. But ten minutes later, she pulled me aside and said,
“He’s got a crush on you. He can’t stop talking about you when you’re not in the room!”
I glared at her and told her to go back to practising. She stuck her tongue out at me and said,
“Listen, he’s a nice guy. Don’t be mean to him, okay?”
Still, I couldn’t stop my Cool Self. I told her I didn’t even know his name. It was true. She had introduced us but I had written him off at the time and hadn’t even bothered to remember his name. She rolled her eyes and told me again, a lovely musical, romantic name that started with G. Then we went back into the room.
I settled somewhere in his vicinity and dared to look at him. He was straining with a dumbbell in his hand. Dumbbells always made me think ‘stupid people’ and I dwelt on that idea for a few seconds to reign in my raging hormones. Then I asked him,
He nearly slid off his seat when he realised I was talking to him. Then he spoke and to my surprise he didn’t stammer or look perturbed.
“It makes the bicep muscles stand out. That’ll look good on stage.”
Ah, I nodded and with that sage conversation we went back to an awkward-pretending-to-be-companionable silence where he did bicep curls and I chewed gum and looked around the room. We both realised at the same time that everyone in the room was looking at us and grinning. He shot them a sharp look and everybody went back to their business.
We didn’t speak again till it was time for the team to go up on stage. As he passed me in the wings, I whispered,
“All the best!”
He turned and gave me a dazzling smile and I could swear he was thinking,
“This one is for you.”
They wowed the crowd with their performance and he shone. The dhotis were slightly sheer cotton and one of the other boys was wearing Jockey undies in blue-and-red, which made us all call him Superboy. But G, G was spectacular, dignity and beauty in the flesh.
When the show was over, we wandered around the building. He drifted up next to me as I was staring at a rangoli of flowers laid out at the entrance.
“Beautiful, isn’t it? I would have done it with roses instead of marigolds, though,”
“You make rangolis?”
I asked incredulously. Rangoli-making was not at the popular end of the artistic scale. Besides, it was such a Hindu girl thing, I couldn’t imagine a Muslim boy, one as magnificent as him, making a rangoli. For a few seconds I dwelt on the mental image of his large square-set hands spilling out petals into a perfect design.
We had wandered to a staircase and there we sat and spoke. We talked about art and fashion and friends and life and God. I told him I had dropped out of college but I loved books and why that didn’t seem like a contradiction to me. He nodded in acceptance and told me about gymming and how it was both health and looks.
Evening rolled around. Whenever someone passed us, he’d ward them off with,
“I’m just leaving. I’ve to go to the gym.”
Finally, we said bye and my friend and I made our way back to the suburbs. The college professor who had mentored their team was having a little get-together for them and I was invited along. G had bowed out saying he had to get to the gym. I was disappointed but there was nothing to be done about it.
My friend and I spent the train ride back talking about him and about the show. Since I was never going to see him again, I found it easier to tell her what I had felt and thought. It was a new experience for me, being interested in a guy who was so different from me, one who didn’t read, one who was a Body rather than a Mind. A guy who went to the gym!
We rung the doorbell at the professor’s house an hour and half later. And guess who answered the door? My friend turned to me, wide grin in place and said,
“Ooh, Ramya, I didn’t realise you were the GYM!”
He rolled his eyes but I grinned and walked in. We didn’t talk a lot to each other through the evening but it was comfortable sitting next to each other, laughing with the others, eating chips and cake. Nobody made any further jokes about us after that.
At around 11pm, we started looking at our watches. He stood up and stretched.
“Time to go to bed,”
one of the other boys said.
G pulled out of that wonderful stretch (I was dreaming of rolling mountains that his back reminded me of) and said,
“Nahin, I’m going to the gym.”
Our laughter carried into the night and he grinned at me. But he stood up and left and I was crestfallen. Then, my friend who had been standing near the door saying bye to everyone put her head back in and asked me,
“Hey, phone number? Okay?”
I nodded and smiled, my Cool Self be damned. I was so happy.
I never saw him again. He didn’t call. But I’ve never forgotten him. He changed how I thought about physicality, about male beauty, about attraction and about gender roles. And he was so beautiful. G. G for Gymrat.
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