Some Friends Are Forever
Chapter – 2
I consider myself lucky that God blessed me with such a lot of good friends. Talking about friends, let me make one thing clear here. Some of my closest friends also happened to be my relatives as well. And because I had some of relatives as my close friends, I didn’t really pay much heed to most of those so-called friends.
Bapi (Babna), my cousin, was one of my bestest friends.
Tall, dark with a mass of hair falling down on his shoulders, he was a hunk of a youth. My earliest recollection of Bapi was the day I came back from school to find that there were a stranger along with her children, three in number, from Khiderpore. They were sitting on the chairs around Baba’s study table in baitakkhana (drawing room) while Baba introduced me to them.
“Swagata, this is your aunty from Khiderpore. Go, touch her feet. Don’t forget to touch the feet of your cousin sisters as well. The eldest sister will stay here till her HS exam gets over ….”
I did as bid. Soon, I struck up ( did I or was he the one) a conversation with the cousin brother. I realised that he was far more mature than I could ever be. I was in Class-V at that time, and so was he.
If my memory serves me right Bapi took me aback at the first meeting by talking about his love, Hindi movies and his habit of smoking occasionally! He was in five at that time, mind you.
That more or less sumps up the man for me. He was a romantic to the core. Naturally, he loved Rajesh Khanna, the ultimate on anything romantic in India at that time. The first Hindi movie I watched at Chitrapuri in Khiderpore with my aunt’s family happened to be a Rajesh Khanna-starrer, Hati Mere Sathi. Who can forget Rajesh Khanna in the movie lip-synching songs like “Chal, chal mere hati..”, Duniya me rehna Hain to..” or “Sunja eh thandi hawa” with the petite Tanuja looking as gorgeous as ever? I used to sing the final song “Nafarat ki duniya main..” sung by one of my favourite singers, Md.Rafi till I grew out of my youth.
I have talked about this movie to tell you the close bonding developing between the two of us within no time.
Bapi was very good in Sports and Games. Once he led one of his teams against Padmapukur Park and defeated our local team hands down. The scoreline read 5-0 in favour of his boys.
If he was good in Football, he was even better In Cricket. He was an all-rounder. I have fond memories of a match in which Bapi played like a pro. When wickets were tumbling at one end, Bapi held sway at the other and played a gem of a knock. I still remember the three consecutive fours he got off of their fast bowler. He was always a Captain material and led from the front. He didn’t have to ask anyone to let me play in that match as his cousin. People around him accepted his authority and always looked upon him as a leader. His childhood buddy, Nimai later played for Md.Sporting and earned a fair deal of name and fame as a striker. Bapi and I had a great partnership in that match though I couldn’t have scored more than 9.
Bapi was also a daredevil. I remember that once we – another nephew, Bapi and I, were going towards Entally Market. Debu Lal, who became a friend of mine later, came cycling from nowhere and jammed the front wheel into Bapi’s buttock from behind. Debu Lal was a terror in our locality in those days. But before we could warn him, Bapi let out a series of blows into Debu so fast that he had Debu floored. The point is – Bapi could have been a champion boxer as well. He could have been good at anything, had he been a little more serious about life.
Now, I told you earlier that Bapi was a born romantic. I still remember those days when he would visit 41, Deblane. We would go upto the roof on the third floor, and talking about our lives and all, Bapi would break into one of the magical Kishore Kumar songs like :
Mere Dil main Aaj kya hain
Tu kahe to main batadu…( I have heard some great singers singing this classic, but no one could sing it better.
Jo na piye woh kya jane
Pite hain kyu ham dibane – Bapi was into the habit of breaking into this popular song of the late maestro from the movie, Anand. As he comes from Khiderpore, Ikbalpur- he had great command over Hindi, and even Bhojpuri.
Truth to tell, he was not bad in studies. But he hardly studied. Once, in XI, I scribbled my feelings on Wordsworth’s “Strange Fits of Passion” in English. Not only did Bapi like it, he also translated it into Bengali, and I was not sure which one was the better.
On lethargic afternoons, just before our HS, we two would head to my bestie, Pradip Pan’s house. We would chat, laze around and study together there. Those were the golden days of our lives.
I also remember Tultul, Bapi’s first crush at Khiderpore. We used to play saat ghoti, I Spy and a game in which you had to go on hitting the hand of the opponent while s/he tried to avoid the blow on the palm by removing it before the blow. I would play that game with Bapi’s friends within the enclosed boundaries of the common courtyard that separated the quarters on either side whenever I spent some days at my Uncle’s. That’s how I made friends with Tultul. She was a lovely lass and I made her hands red in our first encounter.
I had no hesitation lying to Bapi about her once. On hindsight, I know now that I was secretly jealous of this cousin of mine. He was a true Champ while I was such a coward! It happened like this, that summer it kept raining heavily leaving most of the bylanes, streets and courtyards flooded. I had been staying at Khiderpore for a few days. That morning I had wandered into the passage behind the quarters, leading up to the desolate temple of Kal Bhairav. I was in half pants so, I didn’t have to worry about folding the edges of my pants and so on. I must have met Tultul there. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have tried acting so smart with Bapi later.
Whatever it might have been, on my return to my Uncle’s, I simply cooked up a story regarding Tultul.
“Tui ki jeno bolchhilis na? Tultul, or character – ei sab niye? I really had a nice time with her in the water this morning…”
Bapi looked crestfallen. But for reasons not very clear to me even today, he seemed to have trusted my story. He trusted me absolutely. This beauti later got married to someone in Bagnan, a place where I work presently. What a small world!
Anyway, to come back to my narration about Bapi, Bapi loved me a lot. On innumerable days he would drop by at 41, Deblane just to take me for a movie. I remember “Noori” starring Pharukh Seikh and Poonam Dhillon. God! First time I saw her walking to the rhythm of “Ajare, ajare mere dilbar aja, dilki pyas bujha ja re…acting as a hilly girl – I just wanted that moment to freeze in my mind. She was a stunner.
I also remember having watched “Iman-Dharam” with Bapi at Magistrate the day before our HS Exam. In today’s context, we did something unthinkable! But life those days were more often than not, a dream, and hard as it might seem, we learned to live our dreams.
Talking about Bapi, let me narrate another incident. We were employed by a Market Research Centre called IMRB (Indian Market Research Bureau) in the mid-80s, when the organisation decided to arrange a picnic. There were some 160+ market researchers like us working there. I still remember some names – Swapnadi, Pranabda, Anindita (someone I fancied) and a host of others. Though amongst the three of us – the third one being my nephew – Bapi was the last to join the company, he became very popular at IMRB in a very short time. While we called our supervisor, Pranab DA, Bapi called him Pranab. Bapi arranged the picnic spot at Triveni at the request of Mr. Noel Nag, the Director. You see, dear Reader, he simply had that aura, charisma – call it how you will, to endear himself to all and sundry at a very short time.
It was a beautiful day in keeping with the mood of the picnickers. While the party was going on in full swing, I was asked to follow Pranabda and my nephew for a unique experience. Unique because that was the first and only time when I got introduced to the locally made alcohol – BANGLA!
As is my nature, I tried acting very smart in front of the other two.So, by the time I was back in the ladies room ( there was only one massive room and out of the 160+ market researchers IMRB had in those days, 150 were ladies!), my feet were wobbly and my head was in a spin. Before I could get to the only large bed in the room, I threw up. God! It was one of the most horrible experiences I have had till date.
The vomit lay there near the French window, while the womenfolk, making faces, ran helter skelter for shelter. The day was coming to an end when Bapi returned from the field where they were playing football ( that’s what I have always admired about him. He is a man in the real sense of the term. Into manly games, manly habits and manly all).
On entering the spacious room, It didn’t take him long to gauge the situation.
“Ei Pranab, Bappa ke ke niye gyechhilo re?” (Way, Pranab. Who took my cousin to the liquor shop?) He asked Pranabda while cleaning the vomit.
As Pranabda kept on looking at his feet, Bapi told him,”Don’t ever dare to do the same again. “Tui janis O kar Bhai hain?” (Do you know whose bro is Bappa?)
Pranabda, the terror for most of the market researchers, stood there with his head bowed.
Despite his notoriety, Bapi never tried to put me in an uncomfortable situation. Never spoke ill of me. On the contrary, he always treated me as his younger brother.
I can write a book about this cousin of mine. He was, and I’m sure, still is, very popular in and around the Bhu Kailash locality. I always used to tease him about his love life. The first time he fell in love with the girl who was to be his wife eventually and narrated it to me – I can still call up to mind.
He came to ours in the afternoon. We went up to the small room on the first floor, inbetween the rooms of my cousin and my own brother.
In the surreal light of the room, Bapi, lying by my side, pleaded with me in Bengali : Biswas kar, Bappa. This time it’s for real. I’ve madly fallen in love …..”
He even introduced me not only to his wife-to-be but also to his sister-in-law.
Today, when I am just back from the crematorium in connection with the demise of a sister-in-law, someone whom I could easily call another great friend of mine, I find myself being torn by this thought :
Why did I severe all ties with the people who taught me the meaning of Love and Friendship? Why?
To be continued…