Mongoose by Rohit Chakraborty

An E. M. Forster paperback in the library had caused a bit of a stir among the Uprights. What other designation suited them better? Arrogant, heterosexual bastards. Never cowered nor bent. Proud and blissful in the glory of tradition wherein they nestled in the opposite gender’s pants. Their spines formed that menacing “S” which imitated a cobra with its spread hood, when observed from the side.

Shiva, the god with the blue adam’s apple wrapped the snake like a snood, as any well-meaning gay icon aspirant does. Those who worshipped this icon and his hissing accessory condemned Cocksuckers and Buttfuckers to hell. Among these Uprights, Rishikesh strove for a nickname for himself. He wanted to invent something. They did call him Rikki at home. And he had already assigned a serpentine simile to his adversaries. Kipling had sorted him out.

He had found the book in the section that was out of bounds for the intellectually impaired. It was his right to think so rudely of them. Do you think he came up with Buttfucker himself? Maurice was a bequest from the English teacher who had disappeared unceremoniously from the daily rituals of give-and-take. The ladies in the staff room were not quite pleased with a class he had had with Class Nine students on cross-dressers and homosexuals in mythology and the Mughal court. “Ma’am, do you know Babur liked a boy? Atreyo Sir told us in the last class.” The woman who taught them grammar and composition was horrified; only last week she had skipped the annotation that described Ganymede’s tryst with Zeus in the version of As You Like It which she taught her Class Ten literature students. The news trickled down to the Headmistress.

Rikki was five-foot-eight yet still fooled his classmates into believing that another inch or two would do him good: his back was like the stem of a sunflower in the storm. Bent, he scampered to the library of a Monday during recess and pulled out this Penguin Classics copy of Maurice. Naturally, the library at recess was a ghostland, a repository of printed whispers and that was how Rikki liked it. Whilst the others ran amock in the playground,—now a fallow flatland, for the sun had withered everything that was not in an air-conditioned room,—or stood on the steps of discreet staircases, romancing—they told each other how they would maul the other’s genitals during sex,—which the invigorating teachers overlooked because they were only talking. Rikki sat at the corner of this large room. He had discovered the book only last week when he was looking for Interpreter of Maladies which a teacher he was fond of had recommended to him. Upon the yellow endpaper, its previous owner had scribbled in a long, cursive hand:

Two loves I have of comfort and despair,
Which like two spirits do suggest me still:
The better angel is a man right fair,
The worser spirit a woman coloured ill.


Oh, how scandalous, William. Blond men for dessert? As he thumbed the parched first page of the novel, he noticed a different hand (straight, sharply stroked, the G’s and Y’s freely looped, the titles over the i’s and the j’s imitating zeroes) had left several annotations along the margins. Then he read them. They weren’t annotations. They were stray confessions and ruminations.

I’d love to fuck a boy right about now. Someone gangly and tall enough. Someone with glasses, too. So that when I take them off, I can study them properly. Somehow, the bespectacled look animalistic and instinctive when they take off that instrument which corrects their focus. I’d like someone who is just beginning to grow a moustache, just like myself. I’d like to do it here, too. Between these shelves. They’d expel us. But, what if they don’t catch us. Does that not sound like fun? If you’re a girl, stow the book. If you have a dick, hi.

The fine would be tremendous. And the librarian whose butchery of the English language had elicited an impromptu chuckle from one of the teachers would flare up. He wrapped his quivering fingers around the cap of his pen and sat at the end of a long, deserted table as he heard the beep of the bar code reader. Would he dare?

Hello. I might have what you’re looking for. Describe yourself.

As he let the cover collapse upon itself, Rikki wondered what he would look like in fifty years’ time. In yesterday’s History class, as he sat at the end of the room, the bars of the window nipping into his back, he drew the backs of heads of his classmates, reimagined, as he had, fifty years hence. The boy who was the top of the class, who was a pervert and had trouble at home with his mother, who had pressed his erection against a girl at the playground during recess but was pardoned because his mother taught middle school Biology at the school, who was given a private talking to at the Headmistress’ office, was now half-bald in Rikki’s pages, albeit with shoulder-length hair and Timur Lane strands at the corner of his lips for his struggle for facial hair would be eternal. The Queen Bee whose side profile was accessible as he sketched her, was given a double chin and a bald spot, and an earring so large that it made her lobes droop like the earthen statues of the Buddha. The Woman-at-Sixteen who had had her hair in a bun just like the oldest teacher in the staff room wore it, who paid attention to margins and black clips and scrunchies (no other colour was allowed, as the school had decreed), whose kohl rimmed eyes were permissible because she was obese and had hairy arms, who Rikki suspected would fling the middle finger at her naysayers in a decade’s time was drawn in the guise of a film star, far too stunning for her years, perhaps deceptively so.

Rikki also wondered if the carving knife of puberty had left any remnants that he could capitalise on during flirtations. A bequest from his father, that included hairy knuckles and the promise of an M-shaped receding hairline in his thirties, had been the cause of much trepidation. Yes, he did wear rectangular glasses which fit the requirement of the enigmatic boy. He wondered if his thick eyebrows were an asset. He wondered if his nose was slightly crooked, if one nostril was larger than the other. Until he began to envision the writer:

He must been a curious one if he wanted to make love to someone with glasses so that he could take them off and see what defective eyes looked like. Did he think his… condition… was a defective one? And did he go around looking for defects in others? Rikki recreated him from the fantasies he had had since those first months his penis went turgid at the sight of a boy. A thick neck and specks of hair above the upper lip had always turned him on, but his erect penis at twelve at the sight of the hairless simian boys of the neighbourhood whose collar bones poked from their round-neck shirts, who flitted up and down the gullies, had only confirmed it. According to his fantasies, Rikki thought that the writer must have been tall and gangly (Rikki added hollow cheeks as an afterthought) just like he preferred his lovers (this, of course, might have been a corollary to what the Queen Bee had said about lesbians the other day: “In my opinion, it’s just selfish. Why must you hanker after genitals you already have? Touch yourself and be done with it. Why do you need someone who has what you have? It’s like they can’t get enough of themselves.” Was “corollary” the right word? Was he using it correctly?) But, if he truly conformed with Rikki’s ideals, this writer might have been hankered after by the girls. Oh, how scandalous. Pubescent boys for secret midday snacks, Mr. Popular Hetero / Horny Secret Homo?

The very next day, when Class Nine A had their library period, in search of a book to loan but also to see if the writer had seen his message and replied to it, Rikki found himself once again in the corner of the library which was now uncharacteristically crowded. A group of girls had assembled. One winced, one giggled, while Queen Bee scribbled something at the table. The copy of Maurice was missing from the shelf, until, with a curt nod of victory, Queen Bee had replaced it, recapped her pen and moved on.

When the party left whispering amongst themselves, Rikki pulled out the book. An arrow had been drawn to point at the new message the writer had scribbled on the second page. At the tail end of it, Queen Bee had written: Wily faggots be damned. Buttfucking kills. Death to Buttfuckers. He eyed the message of his prospective lover:

Don’t you think it’d be a little silly to describe myself? Do you want me to out myself to the school. Tell you what, let’s keep this on till a few weeks and then we’ll meet. Tell me a little bit about yourself. Don’t describe yourself.

As he heard the shuffle of the librarian’s footsteps, Rikki settled at the end of the table with the book, pretending to be fully immersed in it. He couldn’t risk it. He took out his notebook from his knapsack, ripped the page where he had made illustrations of his classmates’ heads, turned it over and wrote in a scrawling, untidy handwriting:

Have you read a story by Rudyard Kipling called Rikki-Tikki-Tavi? There’s a mongoose in it that fights two cobras to guard this English family that has adopted it. There’s a musk-rat who lurks along the edges. This is what we’re doing now. Musk-ratting. I hope to be this mongoose someday. Not the kind of mongoose that he is at the beginning of the story but the kind that he is at the end.



As for your fantasies to fuck
(here, Rikki wondered if that singular word would wreak havoc among the administrators of the school if they were to find this book and his note), I have some of my own. I’m neat. But I think I won’t be when it comes to fucking. I don’t think I’ll be able to fuck and discard. I cover myself up real nice so it’ll take a lot for me to take my clothes off in front of you. I’ve only recently read about toys & lubricants & positions & leather. What are your preferences? Yes, I like to cuddle. I’ve seen those hairy white men on Instagram in their thirties married to their boyfriends and I want to be them and be with them, sprawled with their lovers as they are. I’m into the whole domestic arrangement thing. So it’s not just about fucking for me. All that’s coming to my mind right now is how I’d own a refrigerator and a flower vase with a lover. Not a bed or a bookshelf. But a refrigerator and a vase. How do you pronounce vase btw? As in “base” or as in “arse”?

As in arse
, came the reply a week later, still scribbled on the book in the sickly yellow blank space between the edge of the page and the chapter head which was printed in the middle. You and I aren’t very different. I do think lubricants are necessary to make sure things go smoothly (underlined fiercely). Okay, that was a sad pun. Was it a pun? I don’t know. I don’t think I have read Rikki-Tikki-Tavi but I will someday. What are all these drawings you have made? They are great but who are they? Are they people from our school? Are these teachers or students? I think they’re students. But old. Are they? I’m a little shy too when it comes to fucking, not that I have ever done it. But I think I’ll be really messy. I don’t think you will. I don’t know why. But I'm not into leather. I like the classic between-the-sheets naked raw stuff but with a little lubricant. What I wrote in my first message was me trying to be cool and sexy. I came across as a horny dick-head, didn’t I? When I think of domesticity, I think of a cow and a garden. Can you draw me a mongoose?

Rikki’s next message contained no words. He had cross-hatched a cartoonish recreation of a real-life mongoose from Chuck Jones’s animated short film on Kipling’s story, its coat luxuriant and glistening as the deft strokes of black ink on paper suggested. Folding the paper several times he inserted it in the chapter (the one in which Maurice is at Mr. Lasker Jones’s office) when Pervert Topper approached him.

“What’re you doing?”

“Leaving,” he tried to conceal the cover of the book with his palms as he turned to put it back on the shelf.

“Were you reading the homo book?”

“No, I was reading these weird messages people have been writing on it.”

“It’s just those two. They persuaded Brinda” (yes, she was the Queen Bee) “to never write on the book. They all wanted to see how it pans out between the two faggots writing in it. Sensationalists, all of them. They feared that Brinda might scare them off with her own messages and they might stop writing to each other. So, she stopped it.”

“Someone ought to report the book.”

“You think they want anything to do with it? There’s no slip on the endpaper, have you not noticed? The slip which shows how many times the book has been loaned? This book is not registered. That homo teacher probably slid it in here hoping that people would read it and turn into faggots as well.”

“I think so.”

“But I don’t think anyone’ll turn it in. Everyone comes here during their library period to haunt this shelf to see what message has been left. It’s like a soap opera or something, I tell you. One of them writes in the book. The other has separate pages. Brinda suggested that the one who inscribed on the book would probably be a cheater since he was so ready to flout the rules and risk being caught. Foolhardy was the word she used. Then, Sharmila” (yes, the ageless film star who was “yet to blossom” as Queen Bee had put it in the past) “suggested that the one who writes on the torn pieces of paper will be a cheater because he was already scared to commit and wanted to keep things discreet. That’s just bollocks.”

“I don’t know.”

The drawing of the mongoose had been discovered by the Class Ten students. Some girls were positively moved. One of them claimed that it was like an engagement ring. Or carnations on a first date. Or a long, tongue-less kiss that had been yearned for by both the parties. One boy who joined in the “aww”-ing was called a Cocksucker and they suspected him of being involved. He banished himself from the library thereafter.

It was a boiling Friday afternoon. Rikki had finished reading Maurice, giddy with the promise of togetherness that Alec Scudder makes to Maurice Hall at the boathouse. There had been no new message that week. He scoured all the pages. His own folded rectangles of missives had gone missing, including the drawing of his mammalian namesake. He sat at another table, at the aisle right next to the one which had been the hotspot of much gossip and speculation. At recess, Vaibhav Dutt came in his glistening yellow shorts. They had an exhibition football match in about an hour and as was custom, he had been warming up since the third period with the other players of his House and the coach. He was a kind boy. Tall, thin as a knife’s edge, hair that looked like a well trimmed palm bush and a horse-like face, complete with droopy eyes. Although he silently reprimanded himself for it, Rikki felt a tingle in his pleated trousers—damn the uniform. Vaibhav strode with a gait that it reminded him of Daisy from Oswald. The hair on his legs were flat against his chocolate skin from the sweat. He sauntered to the hallowed section. Rikki walked up to the shelf, pushed aside a few books and from the gap, and studied this stunning being. He imagined him sans clothing and wondered if he would look quite so perspired and heaving after they did it. The thought excited him until he caught a glimpse of himself on the window pane and wondered what he could do with his bent back and his puffy cheeks before looking down at his massive thighs and the fat that sat around his waist like a ring. Pace yourself, Rikki.

Vaibhav pulled out Maurice. As everybody did. But, what he did next sent a shiver down Rikki’s body: flipping the book open to the final pages, he brought a pen to paper, and scanned his surroundings. He scribbled, lifted his head, and scanned once again until he saw Rikki and smiled. Rikki scrambled to get back to his seat.

In about a minute, Vaibhav appeared at his aisle.

“Hi.” Oh my, was that what you call a baritone?

“Hello.”

“You won’t tell anyone what you saw would you?”

“It’s none of my business.”

“Besides, it’ll keep those Uprights something to talk about for a little while longer.”

“That’s right.”

“I’m Vaibhav. Class Ten C. And now I guess you know I’m gay.”

“I’m Rishikesh. Nine A. I won’t tell anyone. It’s your business.”

“Thanks. Are you coming down to see the match?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. Thanks once again. Before I leave, you do know that there’s another boy… like me… that I’ve been talking to. Do you know who he is? He draws really well.”

“Haven’t a clue.” Vaibhav’s face fell. “What have you done with the drawings?”

“Took them home. I really liked them.” He gave a weak smile, raised his hand in farewell and left.

No sooner was he out of sight than Rikki bounded towards the book, and found in the very page where Alec and Maurice pledged themselves to each other, a message:

Meet me by the ice-cream cart in front of the school gate at seven in the evening.

A strange paralysis gripped Rikki. For the life of him, he could not place the cause. Damned be those who witnessed now: he took out his pen, and scratched words on the final blank page of the book. He walked up to the librarian with the book in his grasp and brought it down upon her desk.

“This book isn’t registered and students have been mauling it.”

“What?” the librarian was pale with fear as she flipped through the pages. “I’ll see to it right now.” She phoned someone, who knows whom, and spoke of an indecent book with indecent inscriptions sitting like the devil in the library. Rikki walked away when the librarian turned to the final page that bore the fresh input, something he had recalled from a lesson years ago on the life and death of Shakespeare:

Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones.



Rohit Chakraborty was born in Guwahati, Assam, in 1995, and was educated in Guwahati and Calcutta. His debut novel, The Mug of Melancholy, the first in a series of five volumes, was published in 2015. His short story, “Ella’s Song”, appeared in the March 2016 issue of Kindle Magazine. He has also been published in Open Road Review.






Two non-fiction pieces commissioned by
Campus Diaries: an interview with Dr. Ananda Lal of Writers Workshop, Calcutta, and a feature on EndPapers, an archival blog documenting inscriptions left on the fly-leaves of books, administered by English Literature students at Jadavpur University, were published. In 2016, Chakraborty was the recipient of the inaugural Campus Diaries 25 Under 25 Prize in the Writing category. He lives in Calcutta, where he reads English at Jadavpur University.


rohitchakraborty.com
instagram.com/rijuchakraborty