Some Friends Are Forever - ZorbaBooks

Some Friends Are Forever

Some Friendships Are Forever

Both my daughters look at one another and the elder, who has nearly a hundred close friends, whispers into the ear of the younger, “Baba is a strange creature – FRIENDLESS!”

“Spot on,” replies the younger. ” Have you seen how he treats Debu Uncle? He doesn’t even ask him to come inside. The man must be from another planet to keep calling him even after such apathetic treatments. In his place, I would have stopped coming altogether..”

Both of them break into a raucous laughter. I listen to them and can’t keep from saying,”The friends you have now, will all disappear with the passage of time. I had more friends than either of you could ever imagine. But I have learnt to keep a distance from them over the years. Lucky is the one who finds a true friend in a lifetime. I am thankful to God, I had many.”

“He’s into one of his moods. It’s better to get away.” I hear the elder say as both of them leave me in my room and get back to theirs. Sitting beside the window all by myself on a scorching summer day, I look outside. There is a bearded man walking down the lane. I remember GOPI. Dear Reader, please let me share with you the story of my first true friend. As my daughter’s don’t bother, I intend on sharing about the rest through the unfolding chapters so that YOU at least don’t attach the stigma of being a ‘FRIENDLESS’ man to me and bless me for having had my share of friends in a lifetime. Let me introduce my first friend GOPI to you.

(1) GOPI

I don’t remember when Gopi and I became friends. We were sitting under Time House, a raised platform near a watch-shop in one of those evenings watching the passers-by, when Gopi took out one of those trademark bidis from his pocket and said,”Actually, you were junior to us by a year at school. Then I had to repeat in Ten B while you got promoted to Ten A. Talking about School, I am reminded of your brothers. Dhireshda taught me at school. He even taught my elder brother. What a teacher! And talking about my brother..”

“Ranjitda, I remember how he used to come to our house for..” I cut him short.

“Arey, Bappa,” It was Gopi’s turn to interrupt me. “Rabinda, was the school topper. Who wouldn’t like to have a friend like him. My brother and I are made of different stuff. Gang-fights, politics, laprabaji run into our blood, yaar.” He laughed out rapturously while patting me on my shoulder.”Oh, by the way, tomorrow we are going for an interview to Philips. I have already asked Toton to get a form for you. After you fill it up, we’ll drop in their office near Ramlila Maidan tomorrow, OK?”

I nodded. Though after graduation, I was busy giving tuitions, I was desperate to land up with a job. My friends were aware of my predicament and tried to help me whenever there was an opportunity. Totan, a B.Com graduate turned up just then. He took out a folded paper from his pocket while Gopi lit the half-finished bidi. After a fag, he passed it on to Totan.

“I’ve already talked to the Manager, who is a close friend of Samsurda (the local councillor). This one is up for the grabs for all three of us.’ He said before taking a long drag and handing the bidi to me, “So, Bappa, how’s life?”

A couple of weeks later, the door handle of our toilet got broken. It was in the evening and these plumbers, someone in the house, told me, didn’t work in the evenings. Now how could you manage some primary functions of life with the handle of the bathroom broken? Inspite of being a very lethargic person, I had to go out in search of one. I remembered that sometimes I had seen a group of them sitting near the Gates of Holy Child School. But they gathered there in the early mornings. Would I find someone at around six in the evening? I headed there and there was not a soul to be seen! Extremely frustrated, I started working towards Deb Babur Bazar. Just near the bidi shop, I bumped into who else but Gopi.

“Kirey, Bappa? You seem to have forgotten all about us. You have stopped coming to Time House, isn’t it so?”

“No, yaar. It’s nothing like that. Keeping very busy these days. Besides, of all days, the old wooden handle of the bathroom door had to get broken tonight. Now, where do I find a plumber?”

Gopi was back to his elements instantaneously. “Leave that to me, yaar. I know someone in Kathal Bagan. He’ll fix it up for you.” He paid the shopkeeper for the packet of bidis and holding me by hand, led me to Kathal Bagan.

There was a group of youths sitting on the concrete structure around a tree. Gopi, who was known universally, called out to one of them. “Hyare, Samir. Is Narenda back home yet? My friend, Bappa here has a problem. I want Naranda to help.

It was nearly seven in the evening. Gopi knocked on the door of a small ramshackle room. Luckily, Narenda was back just then, and how could you refuse someone like Gopi anything? The man picked up his sack of tools and followed us back to our house. Gopi stayed there althrough the night while Narenda got busy on fixing the broken handle. His work done, he came out of the bathroom, beaming.

“Thanks a lot. How much do I have to pay him?” I asked the question looking more towards Gopi than Naranda.

“Pay him fifty, Bappa. That should be enough. What say you, Narenda?” Gopi didn’t give a chance to the man to make a bargain with me.

I thanked my lucky star. Any other plumber in his place, might have asked for a hundred at least.

“I’ve already told you about my love, Bappa. I even told her about you. Let’s go to theirs coming Saturday.” Gopi told me on a bright afternoon at our usual place near Time House. He had his hand around my shoulders.

“She is a beauty, yaar as you’ll find out. But what I really like about her, is her simplicity. You know what she told me the other day? You might not believe me, Bappa. She told me that mentally she is already married to me. She won’t marry anyone else. These girls are very sentimental, yaar. If they look upon someone as their husband, they will go to any lengths to get married to the same person…”

For the first time, I noticed the shine in Gopi’s eyes.

“I just want you to go tell her that I love her madly as well. You know, I can never put my thoughts and sentiments into words in such cases. Please make her understand how much love her, what she means to me, Bappa. Will you?”

I nodded my head without being sure if I was capable of doing such a job….

We planned the trip to Taniya’s house in Baruipur, some one hour’s journey by train from the heart of the city.

On a Friday, Ma called me up to her room.”Today is Khokon’s birthday, Swagata ( another Nick name of mine). He will drop by in the afternoon. I want you to buy some sweets for him. And if it’s not a problem with Bouma, tell her to make some luchis. Khokon loves luchis.”

Khokonda was a brother of mine. He was the Headmaster of Netaji Nagar School in Garia. He always made it a point to visit Ma on his birthday. I had hardly gone down to my room when my spouse, Jaya, told me that there was no flour in the kitchen.

God! I remembered just then that that particular day was bandh. The ruling party had asked all the markets and shops to be closed in protest against the Central Government for the rising costs of the basic commodities. Where and how could I find even half kilogram of flour from anywhere on such a day? Just to make Ma happy, I went to the market though. The market looked bare and desolate. All the shops were closed. Just then, out of nowhere turned up Gopi with that winning, infectious smile on his face.

“Arey, Bappa. What luck, yaar! How come you are here?”

I shared my problem, heaving a great sigh of relief. With Gopi around, even the impossible became possible most of the times

“Come with me,” he said. I know a mithai shop here. Let’s see if they can help or not.”

He led me to the confectionery from where I used to buy jilabis in my childhood. The shop had the shutters down. Gopi made his way through the passage leading to the area where I could see some people sitting, chitchatting.

“Bhola. This is my friend Bappa,” he called out to one of them. The hefty man in a gamcha (a towel like cloth) looked up at me. I had seen him a couple of times earlier.

“Bappa, needs a kilo of flour right now. Give it to him from the store.”

What surprised me was how meekly the man got up and got into the store. He came back holding a balance in his hand. There was a the precious flour in a plastic packet on one side of it. Gopi didn’t even stay back for me to thank him properly.

I will conclude my reminiscence of Gopi with something romantic. With the story of someone who tried building a nest in my heart and the small (big) role Gopi played in it.

On a gloomy evening from the entrance of my house, someone called out to me, looking glamorous and gorgeous. I, looking like the proverbial Debdas ( betrayed lover), bearded, bruised, broken internally, came down to find Lopa, one of my brothers’ s students, standing outside. On looking at her, I had a temporary doubt whether the sheuli and kameni flowers on the trees near the entrance of our house paled in comparison to the flowers on her hair.

She looked stunning, to say the least. Her doe like eyes gave extra depth and dimension to her round face and persona. There was a smile hovering over her face.

“Hi, Bappada. Aren’t you coming to Mita’s wedding party tonight?” (Dear Reader, please remind me to talk to you about this great friend of mine called Mita later).

“She is your best friend, right? Won’t it be nice if you can just make it to the wedding? It might mean a lot to her.”

The almost pleading look in the eyes of the most beautiful woman that night, did something to me. She was rambling on, “I’ll wait for you outside. Please get dressed quickly.”

“But I haven’t even brought a gift for her!” I cried out.

“You can give mine or better still, you can buy her a bouquet or a book from Dey Brothers, can’t you?”

I didn’t think of that but there was something in Lopa that night that wanted me to dare, to do the impossibile.

I got into a churidar-kurta within no time and joined Lopa still waiting outside. Her face lit up when she saw me.

“Great. Won’t she be happy?” She spoke to herself.

For the next few minutes, we walked in silence till we got to Deb Babur Bazar. I bought a bouquet of Rajnigandha from the florist there. We were walking side by side, talking over trivial things by the time we reached Time House. It was around 7.30 in the evening, and there was the most glam-girl walking by my side. Despite my heartache, I felt like the most blessed soul on earth.

One from the group of my notorious friends sitting on the raised platform, someone I didn’t know all that well, catcalled. I, as timid as ever, looked up at the intruder, my heart in my throat. I looked straight into Gopi putting a firm hand on the shoulder of the intruder. There came a lull over the group as we quickly passed them by.

How we got to the wedding party, how Lopa took me to Mita and then evaporated into thin air that night, I am keeping for another book, another time. But we would have been in serious trouble that fateful night, had the gracious Gopi, the best of friends one can have in life, not been there near Time House that night.

Oh, I forgot to tell you that I couldn’t accompany Gopi to his beloved’s place that Sunday. I got busy as I received a job offer from the Royal Government of Bhutan. When I came back home after some seven months, I met Totan near Ananda Palit Bus Stop.

“Hi, Totan. Long time, no see. How are you, my friend?”

“Good, how about you? I heard that you left for Sikkim or someplace.”

“You heard it right. But it is Bhutan, not Sikkim. Anyway, how is Gopi? I haven’t seen him for ages.”

Totan looked crestfallen for the next few minutes. “You didn’t hear the news then, did you? Oh, how could you? You had already left for Bhutan by then. Gopi kicked the bucket under mysterious circumstances. You remember that girl, right? Gopi was heartbroken when the girl got married to a banker. He was depressed, even delirious for sometime. His end came sooner than expected. I couldn’t carry his body to the pyre.. Nice meeting you, Bappa.”

And without another word, Totan left me stranded there, leaving me feeling guilty with the memories of Gopi and his lady love. And how cruel Love is most of the times!

To be continued…

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