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On Friendship Day

Monsoons are here. The day is a typical Monsoon day, all fresh, washed clean day, as if ready for proper parting of hairs and to be sent to the school. It is a perfect day. I slept through most of it.

In between, I thought about what the day signifies. It is Friendship day. I am at the age, on the wrong side of forty. There are articles in the newspapers proclaiming that forty is the new twenty. But than those are just pretentious words of solace as the life slides faster than before. I feel pre-historic, ancient on the days like this. It is not like we used to jog with the dinosaurs in our days. But we did not have the days like in our days.

I still remember going to Archies, near Sharda Chowk in Raipur in 1993. It was a new entity and was relegated, me and my Engineering roommate had first encountered Valentine day there. My room-mate, Arvind Gupta from Balaghat, was freshly in love and thought of buying a card. We both looked at each other, clueless of what it meant. That is the time we came from.

Friendship day, as we know it, did not exist then. Not that, without Archies telling us, we did not understand friendship. In those days, friendship was not about coffee at CCD. We were not children of liberalization and weren’t rich enough. But friendship meant many different things for us.

It is fun to look back and think of those friends. There were many who came in the way and touched my life in such fulfilling ways. Dileep Dixit shared my table in Primary school. He would make schematic diagrams to explain the story of movies he had watched. We would watch not more than two movies in an year in those dusty days of Kanpur. He was so neat and fair, I always felt that he was going to be a doctor, before we fell on either side of the rolling juggernaut of time. When we met again, couple of years back, he was still neat and soft as ever, not a doctor, but an engineer and a trained Architect, helping set up the Airport in Delhi which was to be one of the best in the world. We met and reminisced the day when eagles would leap onto our school Tiffin Boxes in Kendriya Vidyalaya No. 1 in Kanpur, leaving us scared, before we grew up and made an entertaining business out of it. We would tie envelopes to pieces of Paratha and watch the eagles carry them high into the sky. We would be immensely amused about it. Then I had Rajesh Tripathi, who lived next door, and I would spend winter evenings, playing marbles outside the N-4 Airforce quarters with him. Against the dreamy, idealistic Dileep, Rajesh was more matter of fact and realist even as a ten year old as we grew between Sanskrit lessons of Pandey Sir and loving Social studies lessons of Chauhan Ma’am. That was before teachers lost interest in us and we in them.

Then, we moved to Hasimara, a small town in West Bengal, touching Bhutan and overlooking KanchanJunga, in the thickets of greenery, where it rained every day. It was like dream and if passed away like dream. Not many friends there except few from Phuntschling in Bhutan- Navrattan Jain who had a hotel there, Kamalkant- who we, I guess wrongly believed to know Kung-fu, and Nagendra Jaisawal, who seemed to be the first amongst us to walk out of adolescence. But then, they were mostly names to me and I don’t think I existed for them. Then Patna, family and bad days of broken dreams. The days passed away, no friends stuck on. That is a casualty of transferrable life of parents. You are always the new boy in the school, falling outside the inner circle of kids who grew up together. Those were unkind days. I was a fauzi kid, inept and awkward in the civilian world. Tenth exams were then test of grit and the move into eleventh was an entry into adolescent. Patna was more of family than of friends.

Then it was Guna, the dusty, sleepy world in MP, right on the edge of the dreaded Bhind, known for dacoits. Well, learnt much later that they were rebels not dacoits as Irrfan would tell us in the Movie- Pan Singh Tomar. The small town where nobody lost sleep over tall, thin men, with big Moustaches walking with their bicycle and a Rifle over their shoulder, embraced me once more with friendships which I had lost in Kanpur.  Rahul Mishra was there. Sanjay Tiwari was the first in the circle who I found to be politically aware. Student politics seeped right up the class XI in the DAV School. Rahul was my guide to that world. I was far away from the protected Airforce colony. I was in the Hindu school, away from the sophistication and stories of Christ Convent. Having studied in English medium, I continued with the same. I would attend classes in Hindi, come back translate notes in English and study. I passed with decent scores, English medium student from Hindi medium school. It really polished both the languages for me. It transformed me in many ways. Rahul was my guide in this new world. It was a sweet world, a small town in which everyone knew everyone. Rahul was my first friend, who was brave, understood politics, wasn’t afraid of Police. The entry to engineering those was a deeply contested fight. I moved into Christ School, a convent in the outskirt of Guna, but I kept on with my friends of DAV. I learnt to let the past coexist with the present, without judgment and prejudice. So while Manish Chawla and Dheeraj Oswal, former being the first friend I found to be really in love with a class-mate, and latter, the wittiest and most irreverent person I have ever known became friends, I continued with the Arya Samaj gang. The days were spread between school, walk in the evening to Rahul’s home right at the highway, Deepak Shukla, the sharpest of the lot from Arya Samaj, Tuesday to Hanuman temple with the tallest guy of the lot, Ravi Mishra, eclectic, Shyam Gurjar and Rajesh Arora, who ran a small-shop, the first among us to be independent.

Then, it was Raipur, which was later to become NIT. I was the guy from Guna. It stuck there. There was two distinct groups in the college, which we called Bhilai and Non-bhilai, latter referring mostly to people from Bhopal, and Gwalior part of the state. Funny thing, Manish and Dheeraj were on two different side of the divide, which left me right in the middle. Which eventually did not turn out to be much of a bad thing. I ended up having friends on both sides. Arvind Gupta, who came from Balaghat, always ready for a good fight became my room partner and we got ragged first together. He now is Indonesia. Then Yogendra Nigam was there, my room partner for the first year, who separated when we moved from four seater to two in the second year. But I would spend many nights there in his room, listening to Kishore kumar, assuaging my broken heart in his room. Arvind will be responsible for collecting my belongings from his room, as I would many times, fall asleep there. Shravan Sharma, our beloved Panditji was the fourth partner. He is the one we have lost track up. Rumours have it that he went for his Masters at IIT Kanpur and then went to the US. Sanjeev Mallik was there, a great singer, from Khariagarh, but maintained to be from Bihar. He loved the masculinity of Bihar and identified with it. Bihar also connected me with him, and he was like a brother. Rajesh Bhargava, the specked, studious room-mate of his was a friend within the electrical branch. Raji George was almost like a child, in the next room. That was before one day when me and Raji walked in Jeans to college one day, protesting against the first year dress code and eventually winning the day for the batch. Then Raji went about in a different direction of the power struggle of student politics. But we stayed friends, and I continued to care about him till ever. Pranay, I would discover later. He was a lanky, smart guy, eternally in search of love. He could not find love for himself, but he did, for me. He was my only connect with the girl’s hostel, me- a sad, brooding man, nursing my fresh wounds through a life of isolation. When during vacations, the whole of class would go home, I would stay back. With mess closed, we struggled for food, and Pranay would arrive. In spite of having home so close, he would stay back in the hostel as we tried figure out a way to get fed. He and Sushil Din, a senior, we called Kenchu sir, we stayed back and shared our hunger. Kenchu sir was bravest of us and most irreverent. Sometime we could get good food, and post that even managed amazing music by Shaibal (Bangali).

During Masters, had some friends but few. I was too much in love by then and most in Masters too focused on a career for friendships to deepen. I still had Rupesh Sengar, the effervescent man from Kanpur and the gyani Anand Menon during the masters. But I was more of an engineer, with my past years still wrapped around me as Ramesh Singh- Mowgli  and Buddhesh Vaidya from Raipur who by then had moved to Indore, were the ones with home I spent most time, including the nights at Sarvate Bus stand.

Those were great days. We would not write soft, lovely cards with touching messages for each other. But when police would baton charge us during student’s protests (and there were many), we would embrace to protect one another. Any student getting admitted to the government hospital, the DK Hospital was a nightmare as it meant at least fifty odd students hanging about through the day and night. A friendship day wish is too embarrassing for people of my age. But I thought, I would rather go back in time and remember friends from those day and what they meant for me. We were not friends, we were brothers, brothers of a lost world. We would guard our friend's dreams and love as if they were our own.We were willing comrades ready to live and die for one another, before life found us and domesticated us.

I have missed out some, not because they mean less, but because the space is much less.  I guess, this is the most narcissistic piece I have written in a while, covering my life and my friends. But then, it is friendship day and I thought about them. Forgive my vanity and accept my wishes for a very happy friendship day, for as a writer, now my readers are also my good friends.
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