DINNER WITH JHANKAAR
My childhood friend Jhankaar was back in town after a two-year stint in Delhi. One night, we went to a Chinese restaurant for dinner. We ordered bokchoy, minced pork and a pot of steamed boiled fish. It turned out to be too much food. As soon as the plates and bowls arrived, we realized there was enough to feed two more. Misled by hunger, we had been unable to negotiate our needs. Our dinner conversation revolved around these themes – needs and wants, hunger and desire.
Jhankaar and I pretty much grew up together – same school, same group of friends. But after we went to the US for further studies, our romantic lives forked into opposite directions. Jhankaar found a steady boyfriend in college; I didn’t. His twenties were characterized by this solid companionship while mine was wilder, lonelier, more confusing. Recently, after fourteen years of togetherness, Jhankaar and his partner opened their relationship.
It was mainly due to distance. Professional aspirations compelled them to spend large chunks of time away from each other. So they started playing with other men. We discussed this between spoonfuls of rice and meat.
He talked about his experiences in Delhi. There had been a few successful hookups – a hairy bear and a young Muslim boy, both of whom were quite skilled in bed; and someone else who knew how to use his tongue really well. But this slew of success had started on a rocky note. Towards the beginning of his Delhi stint, Jhankaar found himself in a tricky situation. The boy he had invited to his flat brought another man. “Let’s get him drunk,” the boy told Jhankaar, and started pouring my friend’s whiskey into a glass cup. Jhankaar, not quite a drinker, was confused. The alcohol started flowing. Jhankaar, an otherwise independent spirit, someone who is usually in control, found himself on the sideline, watching the two of them on his bed, not quite sure how he had ended up with this predicament.
“That’s the nature of desire,” I responded. It can lead one through alleys one never expected to take. Once you open yourself to it, it can be a rollercoaster ride. Sometimes it’s thrilling; sometimes it’s scary. Jhankaar looked at me and continued, “But it was more than that. It was disgusting. I was feeling this strange, visceral kind of repulsion. And the whole time I was thinking – ‘What the fuck!”
The minced pork was interspersed with round red pepper. The spices kept luring us, kept inviting us to take more, while the fish, although blander, was more wholesome. The delicate pieces floated in hearty soup. I tried to balance these two dishes while Jhankaar kept going for the pork.
“The worst part about hooking up is the waste of time,” I tried to sympathize with him. “Especially when you end up without any result even after spending hours online. That can be so frustrating.”
Jhankaar nodded. “Ya, and you know how sometimes the person turns out to be so different from the photo? I don’t know how to explain…There is just something that doesn’t click. It happened a couple of times. This guy had come all the way to my flat but I had to turn him away.”
“I know. That sucks. Do you usually host or travel?”
“I usually host. That’s why when someone comes over and I have to turn him away, it just feels awful.”
I helped myself to another bowl of soup.
He continued: “And you know how it needs pretending? Like, Oh sorry, I suddenly don’t feel well? But it doesn’t quite work. They always know what happened.”
“Oh wow. Sounds like all you have been doing in Delhi is having sex – ”
He giggled, “Pretty much.”
“ – instead of figuring out other issues…”
SEX AND THE INHERENT MESSINESS. SOMETIMES IT’S THE SCHEDULE, SOMETIMES IT’S SOMETHING ELSE. BABIES, FAMILY, FOOD, OR THE WEATHER. EMOTIONS, DUTIES, MOOD OR CIRCUMSTANCES. THINGS GET IN THE WAY.
“I know. It’s such an escape. These past two years have been terrible otherwise.”
Jhankaar was struggling a bit. He had moved to Delhi for a project but things had not worked out. He gradually got distracted from work and attracted to the app, spending time, day after day, chatting with numerous Delhi boys on Grindr.
I thought about all this, about Grindr and the hookup culture, while chewing on a strand of bok choy. The topic inevitably came up while hanging out with other boys as well. “I’m so sick of it,” Arun said every now and then. He went through phases. He deleted the app for a few months only to reinstall it again. On the other hand, our European friends, folks who had lived in bigger cities and travelled around, lamented that there were so few guys online in Kathmandu.
But chatting is one thing, arranging a meeting is something else. Grindr could be a fun way to kill a couple of hours, but hooking up brings up a whole lot of other issues. Images from disappointing encounters briefly flashed through my mind. I had also turned boys away. Once, a date I had anticipated for days abruptly ended after a cup of coffee. Numerous times, my messages don’t get returned. There have been guys whom I have lost forever inside the cyber void. Then that man I met last November, that guy who was so keen but so afraid. I could almost smell the fear reeking from his body. He was tall and well-built; smart, well-read. But he couldn’t stop his mind from ticking; he couldn’t give in to his carnal needs.
Sex and the inherent messiness. Whether newly in love or happily married; partnered and perfectly in sync or stuck with a spouse whose ways and wants are vastly different from yours. Sometimes it’s the schedule, sometimes it’s something else. Babies, family, food, or the weather. Emotions, duties, mood or circumstances. Things get in the way.
But I was also secretly amused at Jhankaar’s newfound pastime. It’s always nice to share, and with Jhankaar, I have shared a lot. When we were kids, we shared postcards of Bollywood actresses. In the US, we shared new ideas over many meals; various possibilities of being and becoming.
Those days. Those adventures we had, together and separately. All those humid afternoons and snowy evenings. And random nights, when, tired and empty, I would call Jhankaar, seeking his company, and walk over to the apartment he shared with his partner. During chores, I would ramble on about the previous night – about the new boy, the new uptown bar, the joyrides at 4 am, how I had stumbled home from farflung corners of the city. They would listen to my stories, Jhankaar and his boy, nodding their heads, smiling. And exchange glances with each other. Those glances – so deep, so warm – carried so much. When faced with that kind of warmth, my stories didn’t stand a chance. They crumbled like ice and vanished, leaving nothing behind.