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The Sunset Journey

inside-victoria-terminus-mumbai-bombay

I dashed through the dysfunctional metal detector at the Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus. Or rather the Victoria Terminus, as it is called by people who want to assert their inherited linkage to the city. The beautiful city by the sea, Mumbai. To me these people are in denial of accepting the fact that the city, which had its origin in the colonial era, had evolved out of its colonial past. I have always been baffled by this strange tendency to keep holding to very trivial memories amongst a lot of people. They clinch to it like a creeper does to a wall. Although accepting the change would not make an ounce of difference. I mean, would the magnificent, imposing Victorian structure change if we called it the CST instead of the VT. But then, whatever the name, it hardly bothered me. I am not made for Mumbai and I never had hesitation in accepting that. As far as the standard Mumbaikar mold goes, I am a diametrically opposite entity. I am lazy and slow; I cannot remain focused for even a minute; I hate crowded places and I really, really hate humidity.  My sprint through the platform was a metaphor for my desire to escape. I felt like a lab rat put in the condition most inhospitable to its species, just to see how fast it escapes. I had already made a fool of myself when I came down to Mumbai wearing a business suit in the month of May. My shirt was already sticking like a postal stamp to my body, all drenched in the costal sweet, beneath the expensive suit.  But that annoying feeling needed to be pushed to a lower position in the priority queue, top place taken by – Make your way through the sea of humanity and board the train before it leaves. Making your way through Mumbai crowds should be a recognized globally as an urban adventure sport.

Deccan Queen, one of the most famous trains to run in India. It plies between Mumbai and Pune on a daily basis since the times of the Raj. Had I not been in a hurry to board it I would have taken a minute or two to wonder about why the name of the train, another reminiscent of the colonial era, has not been changed yet. And how long till someone notices. The insides of the coach was no different from the overcrowded platform, but it had a promise. A promise of escape. In Mumbai you would see creature of only your own species everywhere. This should be what an ant sees when it looks around in a huge colony of ants.

The announcement that the train would be leaving shortly, came like breeze of cool air in hot summer. I tried to figure out, amidst the splendid chaos within the cramped up coach, the seat number that I was assigned by the benign online booking website of Indian railways. The reason why I am talking of the website with such reverence is because the website is a living entity of its own! It is manifestation of the great Indian government machinery, which like a tribal deity needs to be coaxed and cajoled to deliver your wishes. No Indian, willing to travel through the world’s largest railroad network, would risk angering it.

’26’ I mumbled. Sitting there was girl whom I had already noticed through my peripheral vision. Without looking towards her, I started settling my bag above the seat.

“Is 26 yours?” She asked, I was still struggling with the various straps of my bag. Without paying much attention, I just responded in an indifferent ‘hmm’. But as she spoke my brain almost alarmed started sending signals that said something is happening which is departure from the usual

“Actually I have some problem sitting in direction opposite to motion, would you be fine to switch this with mine? It is this one” She pointed to the seat just in front of mine. But by this time the talk about swapping seats appeared to be immaterial.

“Anku!” I exclaimed almost instinctively

“Rohan” She screamed. Her eyes lit up with the same sparkle that I had associated so much with her. Instantly I knew that there won’t be a dull moment in this whole journey. Ankita was seating in front of me. It took me a minute to realise that it has been 4 years since I had last seen her. She was wearing a salwar kameez which to me seemed a departure from the usual Ankita that I knew.

“You can’t believe, can you?” Her quizzing eyes looking straight into mine

“What?”

“That I have changed so much. The bindi, the mangalsutra, this whole Salwar Kameez thing.” She giggled. She enjoyed surprising people.

“Well, I have seen stranger things happen. So, I would not say that I cannot believe that you changed. But what surprises me is that we meet after so many years and that too on a train. I mean, we have so many friends in common but never did it happen that we meet at someone’s place, maybe accidentally. We meet on a goddamn train.” I shook my head

“True. And look at you. All suited up. No stubble. Show your nails to me” She pulled my hands infront of her.

“See. All nice and cropped. Kya baat hai?” She threw in her usual gesture of admiration

“Yes. You are not the only one who has been hit by life. Everyone gets a fair chance. I had a meeting in Mumbai, with a publisher. So had to present my best self.” I admitted

“Publisher! So are you finally getting published?” She almost screamed

“Yes”

“What is the book about?” Going by the Ankita from college I was expecting her to jump up and down, right and left.

“Some science fiction bullshit” I tried to play down

“What!? When did you start writing that? No love stories?”

“Not anymore. And moreover there are too many idiots writing love stories. But science fiction is niche. I wouldn’t have got published for next 10 years had I kept writing those candy floss love stories.”

“Oh my God. I cannot believe it. You know when I used to tell Aakash that you deserve to get published he always mocked you.”

“Well, as it happens to be, he is the one who helped me to get through to the chief editor of this publishing house.” I flashed the information for her

“I know. You guys are like this. You would catch a grenade for each other but would always make fun in each other’s face.” The light in her eyes seemed to die as if the source of her energy had been turned down. I knew what the reason was. When I first saw her calling my name, I knew this moment would come. Could I have avoided discussing on this? I asked to myself. Maybe not. Because Aakash was the link between Ankita and me. It was because of him that we knew each other.

Suddenly both of us went quiet. Unexpectedly we ran out of topics to talk. I kept evaluating things that we could talk upon but rejected each one of those in my mind, because some way or the other each thing linked to Aakash. She kept looking out of the window. The urban landscape of Mumbai, with all the chaos and disarrangement, was getting left behind. The queen, as it is called, raced away from the city by the sea towards the city by the mountains – Pune. The distinct costal smell of Mumbai was getting lighter and the temperature lesser. Sun went down somewhere behind the cluster of concrete giants, which from a distance were looking like half made sculptures of a novice.

“So, when are you getting married?” She asked trying to break the envelope of awkwardness

“I don’t know. Maybe 2 years from now” Unknowingly she had now pushed me into a more awkward territory not that I was comfortable already.

“Why? Are things alright between you and Kalpana?” She asked with a concerned voice.

“Well. She is not there anymore. We separated.” I tried not to look towards her as I kept gazing out of the window. The sunlight still shone on the face of the distant cliffs which came closer with each passing moment.

“Why what happened?” She asked. Although I didn’t want to bring up any discussion about Kalpana with anyone, but the simple fact that Ankita didn’t think twice before asking what happened made me feel glad. It is only with people who are really close to your heart, that you can ask anything without the fear of hurting your relationship. I had always felt that I was the closest to Ankita, among all of Aakash’s friends.

“The irony is, I don’t know.” I shook my head as I half smiled and half did god-knows-what.

“She simply left. And it appears that she doesn’t want to have any contact. Although she never told this to me and when I asked she just said that she needs some time by herself. She seemed to be intimidated by the fact that I knew her too well. I stepped back and it has been two years since then. So many times I think of calling her but then I don’t. We were not in a relationship where we could not have talked if there had been a problem. I mean, she could’ve told me what the problem was.” I just stopped abruptly there were so many things on my mind that I simply could not process the whole chunk of thoughts.

I turned to her. Her eyes still fixed on me. She had a look of a mother who had just seen her child fall down but would not help the child, just to let it learn.

“Don’t worry.” I tried to brush away her worries with a smile

“I am alright now. I am over her now” I assured

“Are you?”

“Well, that’s what I tell myself everyday”

“You know Rohan, people say that all the time that they are over some person. But actually that never happens. I know how it is. Once you are with someone, completely into the relationship you allow that person to touch your life and alter your life like no other. If and when that person goes away the impressions still remain. Like even the sculptor leaves a work incomplete still the work speaks of the sculptor’s art. That incomplete statue will always be there even if the maker has gone away. So don’t tell me you are over her”

“Maybe you are right. But there is no other way to overcome. You know, when this happened I would not sleep for days at a stretch. Everything in my life was a mess. I could not remember even the slightest things. Sometimes I would keep staring at the mirror in the bathroom thinking whether I have brushed or not. I realised how important she was to me. She was the one thing that stablised my life. For a very long period of time things stopped making sense at all. There was no real value attached to anything I did. All seemed worthless

Without her my life was like a plane without a wing, somersaulting on its way to a crash. But then one day I questioned myself – how long would I be living like this? Either I end everything or I get out of this mess. It was not just me but everybody around me who was getting affected by this. And then I think I decided to move over her.”

She smiled as if rejecting the whole justification. I still remember the day when I was leaving for Aakash’s wedding and Ankita bunked her office to see me off. It felt so strange at that time. But now it made complete sense. She would never meet him again. I still remember that wedding, it lacked the euphoria, so characteristic of any Indian wedding. I remember Aakash sitting on the mare staring into a distance while his kin and friends, fuming with alcohol, danced around him. He was unmoved, only if the baratis took the effort of looking at his face.

“It is not that you forget someone or get over them. You just get used to living with the void in your life. Months after Aakash’s marriage I would go into these strange moods where I wished that a car runs me over the next time I cross the road. I would carry on with my life like everything is normal but on the inside I could feel the burn.”

“I know how it feels. I still do not have a routine, you know why? Because there is no one thing that holds my interest for long. I would start off with a thing and by the time I would get really interested in it the thought of Kalpana would strike. How this would seemed if she was here? And boom. I lose all the interest.”

“Is that why you started writing science fiction? Or rather why you stopped writing love stories?”

I was speechless. I was amazed how well she could understand me. It was scary but at the same time, soothing. Close friends always remain close no matter how much time you are away from them.

“Never mind. I know the answer. But yes I know the feeling of restlessness and disinterest. During our courtship, Anirudh expected me to talk to him daily and be excited about our marriage. Initially I had no interest. But then I realised that, maybe I need make him feel that I am interested. Because what I have lost in Aakash is already gone with him. I cannot keep holding onto it.”

“You are contradicting yourself. You just said that we cannot get over a relationship but now you are saying that you realised holding on would not help”

She smiled again as I her follower and she was a seer who knew what I sought.

“Life in itself is a contradiction, isn’t it? We are not born by our will nor we die by it, still we call it our life. Now how contradictory is that?” she quizzed “Also I didn’t say I was able to forget him. It was just that I was able to fake my happiness.”

“But how long can you do that?”

“I don’t know. It has been four years and here I am. You get up every day and put on a mask. As you said, you tell yourself every day that you are over her. That is what I would call putting up a mask. Like an actor training yourself to behave in a manner which announces to the world that you no longer live in shadow of the one whom you loved. You are over her. You change yourself, your habits, your routine, basically anything and everything that people, or even you, associate with her. You stop listening to the song that the two of you sang together, stop going to that restaurant, that book store and even stop eating ice cream of her favourite flavour, even if it was yours favourite too. And you keep doing it every day. You create the mask. But beneath the mask you still are the same. Till the point that everyone else starts believing the mask to be the true you.”

“…And then?”

“Then what? It continues that way forever. You are confused that whether the mask is the true you, which all believe to be or you have lost yourself somewhere in the past.” Her brown eyes were now moist and her voice shrill. She wiped her tears with the end of her dupatta

“Leave it. Thoda zyada funda ho gaya nahi?” she tried to put a smile on her face. Perhaps her mask.

Nahi yaar. I think you are right. Things that hurt us in life change us more than things that make us happy. The fire in the furnace moulds the tool and not the water in which it is quenched. You remember college. How optimistic we were, perhaps over optimistic. We believed everything would work out and we would have our way with life. And look now here we are crying over the memories of people we lost.”

“You know, I no longer die to watch a Shah Rukh movie first day first show. Shah Rukh, Salman they are all the same for me now. I simply do not feel the excitement. Sometimes I miss it but then I do not see the point of that. Maybe this is what people call maturing”

“Somewhere inside I feel that this change that we go through, which you just called maturing, teaches us to adapt. It teaches us to respond to the circumstances and to face this world in a better way, but it drives us away from our true self. We may be best suited to take on the world but we are not the actual us. For example you losing the excitement for a Shah Rukh movie, that’s not the actual you but you have learnt that getting excited earns you nothing. It is survival of the fittest. The fittest version of you lives!”

She just smiled and somehow I knew it was a real one. We just crossed Monkey hill. The train curved on the edge of the beautiful Sahyadri range. Sun went down in the distance, it was orange and almost touching the horizon. The haphazard urban landscape was far removed and the slopes of Sahyadri dried in the sweltering heat lay around us. I my opinion the Western Ghats had the best sunsets in whole of India. I often rode to a small mountain near Pune on the weekends just to enjoy the spectacular summer sunset from there. I loved sunsets. Kalpana hated them. She always considered sunsets as moments of parting, but I detested any such categorisation.

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“Sunsets in Sahyadri are so beautiful” I spoke in its awe

“Absolutely” She concurred

“I think this is the second best part of the whole journey” I told her as the train curved through the mountains towards the tunnel.

“What’s the best part?” She asked

“Meeting you” and we both broke into a laughter which only those would understand who have really close friends, who share a relationship where words are secondary or maybe tertiary.

“Trains always mesmerised me since I was a child. Not just the machinery, but the whole concept of travelling with completely unknown people for lengthiest of distances.”

“Is there any specific train journey that you remember?” I asked her

“Not in particular, but yes there are many”

“I had this one journey cemented in my memory. I was travelling from Indore to Bangalore. And there was this couple from Rajasthan who had a very beautiful baby, just above a year of age. The baby was very cute, but sadly it had a hole in its heart. They were going to the Sai Baba hospital in Bangalore of baby’s surgery. They had just got a phone call and had started from their place without thinking twice. It was really heart breaking. And there was this Bengali gentleman. He would have been around 60 years of age. When you talked to him he was all negative about life. He told me how when he was young his family astrologer had predicted great achievements by him but he didn’t. He just turned out to be a mediocre medical salesman. And in the night when everyone was asleep I kept thinking that will I be the same as this old man towards the end of my life cursing everything and repenting how I spent my life. In the same compartment I saw despair in that old man and hope and optimism in the young couple who were traveling for getting their baby operated without any guarantee, just on basis of a phone call. The sheer emotional expanse of life overwhelmed me. And I cried that night, for hours.”

She listened to me with a radiant smile on her face

“I think, you should start writing love stories again, Rohan.” She suggested

“Maybe one day I would. When I have a name and people would by any bullshit with my name.”

“Oh come on! You would write great love stories”

I shrugged. The train rolled in an out of the tunnel and had covered most of the mountainous terrain, now reaching the plateau. Pune was not far now. Our beautiful journey would come to an end soon.

“But you are right. As we grow up the way we see life keeps on changing. I feel it is because of the experiences that we accumulate throughout our journey that shapes our view of life. And somewhere it is up to us how we treat these experiences. It is like, various combinations of same set of musical notes give us different tunes.”

“True. I think it would be a good idea to just note down our current perspectives so that four years later when we meet again, we would be able to compare how things have changed”

“Shut up! I need to get going. Anirudh will be picking me up at Shivaji Nagar.”

“What? Are we already there?” I asked and looked out of the window and I couldn’t believe we were already in Pune. Sun’s light had almost died and the road running parallel to the rails was full of vehicles, like fireflies in a field at dusk.

The train pulled on the platforms and we bade goodbyes. I would be going on till the next stop. She waved from the platform as her husband stood politely behind her. Would she tell him who I was and how she knew me? I asked to myself.

In the last few years I never had felt as contented as I did that day. Neither she nor I asked to exchange numbers or addresses. Maybe we would meet again, like this, in one of the sunset journeys. Maybe…

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Weekend Engagement

Weekend, what can you do in a weekend? There can be a million answers for this question. Lots of people would have done lots of prolific things during the span of the two days that we call a weekend. I am going to tell you a story of one such weekend.

Friday, 23rd April 2010 6:15 PM

I am sitting in the office cafeteria at my office in Pune with two of my colleagues, Sakshi and Poulomi. We are having snacks and I tell them I have to catch a bus at 7:30.

Sakshi : How are you supposed to reach ruby hall by 7:30? (She asked this because of the distance I had to go to catch the bus from Ruby Hall)

Me: By auto… (Gesturing the handle of an autorikshaw). I have done that in past, last time I started at 5:30 to catch a bus at 6:30.

Sakshi : You see, there is a difference between 5:30 and 6:30. You will see.

Me : I am done with the sandwich.

Sakshi : I think you should leave.

Me : Bye… (half walking half running)

I get out of the office, catch the first shared auto to reach the Hinjewadi chowk. It takes me 10 mins and 10,000 words to convince a rickshaw driver to drop me at the bus stop for mere (!) price of Rs. 280. This comes with an added condition; he will also take up fares all along the way.

During the whole journey he keeps screaming ‘Teshon’ (‘Station’ in local lingo). Thanks to him we stop at atleast 5 places on the way and I get accompanied by a fat and stout Girl going to meet her boyfriend, a cool and sexy girl who is going for a movie and an insurance agent going for a call. Now don’t ask how I came to know about what they were going for.

I reach the bus stop and manage to catch the last bus leaving for Indore. As I am so late to get the ticket the only seat left was the upper berth at the end of the bus. Those who are not familiar with the sleeper buses that ply in all parts of India don’t get surprised by the mention of the word ‘berth’. The sleeper buses are an amalgamation of the Chassis of a bus and the layout of a train. Search Google for picture of these buses, which will give you a visual feel of the interior.

Travelling with your berth at the rear end of bus is what you call pain in ass, head, back …actually each and every part of your body. The ride is so bumpy that during the sleep (whatever I was able to get) I dream of travelling on moon. I bang my head atleast twelve times after which I stop counting.  At an early hour of morning my cellular communication device informs me of a text message. It says

‘Dear Customer, your outgoing facility has been barred due to negative verification of your documents. Please submit correct documents to continue uninterrupted service.’

Now that’s what you call an insult to injury.

Saturday, 24th  April 2010 9:00 AM

With very little sleep and lots of body ache I manage to reach Indore. As usual the city that I love the most welcomes me with a shower of dust and blow of hot air. I see development work going on all along the way to my place. As I reach home, Mommy – Papa and Anand Mama (Chunnu Mama) are waiting anxiously for me. They think my phone died due to low battery.  A plate of Poha is served in front of me along with a glass of Pana (Green mango squash). Man! I love Indore. As always a plate of Poha is never enough for an Indori.

Chunnu Mama is in Indore as he had to leave for some remote place near Mandla for a training camp for 15 days. The place is so far flanged that he has to walk 1.5 kms and climb a hillock to make a phone call.  (He is still there as I write this).

All during the day I complete various important jobs pending to be done. I present you the list

–        Visit to doctor, as a part of my monthly check up.

–        Get my glasses repaired, which got damaged in my back-of-the-bus journey.

–        Catch up on lost sleep.

–        Lunch

–        Visit to a friend’s place to collect a parcel which I was supposed to deliver to him in Pune

–        Visit to Bhua’s place

–        Then paid a visit to one of my cousin who had recently run into a 75 yr old man. The old guy was now in coma, had broken both his knees and my cousin was held responsible for this. (I never felt so as the old guy was driving a Royal Enfield Bullet and my cousin a TVS Scooty. How can a boy on scooty injure a man on Bullet so lethally).

–        Book a ticket for return journey to Pune.

Meanwhile these things are happening I am constantly planning with my friends for the next day. Sunday is going to be the biggest day in life of one of my friend, Ashish Sharma aka Mathura aka Bhata aka Haapshish aka …..(Sorry cannot produce the whole list; it is bigger than the bible).

He is getting engaged after all.

Sunday, 25th April 2010 5:30 AM

I wake up listening to the alarm. I had to get ready by 6:00 AM as Nilesh sir is going to arrive and we would start for our journey.

Nilesh Sir

Nilesh Singh Chandel, he was our senior in engineering college. ‘Berang’ , ‘Bindass’ and ‘Berang Bindass’ are his word whiskers, but with some meaning attached to them. I have provided the possible meaning for them.

Word Meaning
Berang Literal meaning – Without any colour.He uses it when he intends to say that a particular job was done without any fear. It is more like the just-do-it.
Bindass Literal meaning – Without any inhibitionsHe uses it to denote the carefree nature of things
Berang Bindass He uses it to denote the combination of above two characteristics.

Although a senior of ours he became quite a close friend in the later part of our college years. The bond was strengthened by the mutual exchange of favours among us, especially with Ashish. On Saturday we had decided to go to Sihore for Ashish’s engagement on his bike as I had come back to catch a bus at 7:00 PM for Pune.

While I am bathing, I could hear that Nilesh sir has arrived and is talking to my Mom. I quickly come out and get dressed up. It was 6:30 by the time we leave. We refuel the bike at a petrol station just near the city limits before hitting the highway.

The road from Indore to Bhopal (On which falls the town of Sihore, at a distance of 160 Kms from Indore) is named State Highway 18. Now in the part of world where I live, even national highways are not expected to be in a very good condition, leave alone the state highway. But what we come across was much more than a surprise. The road is unexpectedly smooth and broad. The median is as wide as the roads and there are trees all along the way. We are so taken aback by the quality of the road present in front of us that we go almost a kilometer before we realized we are on the wrong way, near Dewas. At this point we check our phones for the time elapsed (as none of us had watches), it is already 7:45 and we are supposed to reach Sihore at 9 o’clock. We have to travel  116 kms in less than 90 mins. Now that is impossible we both know.

None of us spoke a word for the next one hour which we took to reach Astha, a town 40 kms from Sihore. We had to have a stop here because our bums are so hurting that I start believing that I would not be able to return by same means. A refreshing cup of tea and a plate of Poha brings back life into us. It is still cool and sun is not up to its full glory. We gear up for the last leg of our travel.  All through the journey it never happens that due to the quality of the road we had to shift to a lower gear.

Sunday, 25th April 2010 9:30 AM

At 9:30 we reach the venue, as soon as we entered the marriage garden where the engagement is supposed to happen, an SUV also enters with us. Out come four boys, Aanil Pandey, Davendra Raikwar, Vaibhav Gupta, Vipul Gupta.

Aanil Pandey

Anil Pandey, he is Ashish’s school  friend. His voice is so heavy that a you could crush a can of cola under it. Presently in Delhi he is famous among the friends as ‘the confiscator’. He gets hold of whatever belonging he likes of his friends and is reluctant to return that. He is also famous for his love for black coloured clothing.  Ashish attributes his mischievous nature most to Aanil, who influced Ashish a lot in their school days. Pandey now seems to be grown old as considerable amount of his hair is grey and he has grown thin.

Davendra Raikwar

Davendra Raikwar, He is among the people on whom I can go about writing a book. But will wind it up in short. Anna, is how we address him. He has absolutely unpredictable temper. He can make anybody go mad with his annoyance if he wills. One of my favorite partner when it comes to nag somebody. Both of us combined have produced many disastrous incidents where people got very hurt, which can be recalled by lots of our friends (angry friends, rather). He is very parsimonious when it comes to talking and keeps most of things to himself.  Presently working for Delhi Metro, he holds the most prestigious job among us, as majority of us are software engineers. You need to be his friend for a long time before you understand what he really means when he remains quite. During our college times he used to hate the silly text messages on friendship, love and etc. But now he is the one who sends all such messages and the one who sends them the most.

Vaibhav Gupta

Vaibhav Gupta, again a figure who can be a subject of a book. He is the favorite prey for Davendra and me and he also very well appreciates this. Kaka is how somebody from us will address him. The reason behind this is that he used to play the role of famous ‘Ramu kaka’ from Sholay in the skits we staged during our college. He is also known as ‘the altruist’ due to his helping nature. Very few people know that he lives a dual life. For those who see him from a distance don’t know this. And even no one from us know exactly what his other life is like but all of us know discrete bits and pieces. Below is the list of certain things that define him.

  1. Loves listening to songs.
  2. You will find him always chewing cinnamons.
  3. When it rains it is out of his control to not get drenched.
  4. He cannot help helping others, especially if the other is a girl.
  5. Needs Dal-baati at least once a week.
  6. Loves philosophies of Osho, Sri Sri Ravishankar and anybody who can profess.
  7. Visit places with only some of his selected friends, especially by bunking classes.
  8. Occasionally sleeps at night.

Presently at IIT Roorke, I hear that he had created a fan base there with his altruism and stories he narrates to everybody. I think that is enough to give an idea about him.

Vipul Gupta

Vipul Gupta, Vaibhav’s younger brother. If I consider all the siblings of my friends he is the one we are friendliest with. Our relationships with him have reached such a level that Vaibhav doesn’t matter when it comes to rapport between any of us and Vipul. Monu, as he is fondly called, is a humble and happy-go-lucky creature. Although I have heard incidents of his stubbornness from his mother but I have just heard them. He always comes across smiling. He is always ready on his toes to respond to orders of his elder brother. A Charted Accountant in making he is a dream of a brother.

Before me and Nilesh sir finish catching up with these four guys, Ashish, Pavan, Deepak and Anil Upadhyay along with some other friends of Ashish come to us.

Ashish Sharma

Ashish Sharma, already you all are aware of his various names. The most popular and catchy one is Mathura. Now I am not going to tell you about the story behind this name. Mathura, as everybody calls him is a weird character. An ardent gym devotee, he always believes in doing what he wills. He can talk to a stranger for a whole day, till the stranger is no more a stranger. He loves photography but only if the one who is posing is he. He can sleep for days and remain awake for more days. When we were in college he was a terror among the juniors and was the most dedicated junior to all the seniors. Pavan Rungrecha holds the key to Ashish. Nobody save Pavan came make Ashish agree to certain point. One more striking aspect about Ashish is his Bike. A black Yahama Libero is the one possessed by him. He is famous (or rather infamous) for his trademark U-Turns on a busy road. He has achieved various accomplishments with his bike, the latest and the most daring one is a bike ride from Ujjain to Mumbai (nearly 700 Kms) in 16 hours. Now I won’t go boasting about him. He is the one getting engaged and we all have travelled from different parts of the country for him. As I have mentioned earlier about some of my friends on whom I can go about writing a book, the book on Ashish would be the most massive one. Presently, he works for a software company in Mumbai.

Pavan Rungrecha

Pavan Rungrecha, a plump shaped, preoccupied, self conscious guy who wants to look fit without any effort. Genda aka mama aka pakoda … he too, just like Ashish has wide variety of names. He is always bothered about his appearance. During the college time he used to get smitten by every passing girl. He very skillfully pretends to be the most responsible, the most mature and the most thoughtful guy among us, and is very successful in doing so (although we know the truth). If you tell him the symptoms of a disease he is sure to catch that within few hours. He thinks he is the leader of all the mankind and is the one who should speak on everybody’s behalf. Now I should refrain from writing much about him as it will be harmful for him as well as me. Presntly, just like me he is working for a Software company in Mumbai

Deepak Sisodiya

Deepak Sisodiya, a smart looking guy (he just looks smart) from Mandsaur (along with Pavan and Davendra). Pavan calls him Lala and so do some of us. He always keeps smiling and laughs out loud at every joke. You never know when he actually understands the joke and when it’s a dumb laugh. He is one of the few people who actually enjoy listening to incidents narrated by me(this is what he tells).  Apart from Davendra he is the one who sends a message per day. But his are more comic rather than dull sentimental messages. Presently he handles his family run business and manages a sari shop.

Anil Upadhyay

Anil Upadhyay, another character who hails from Ujjain and is Ashish’s childhood friend. He is one of the most astonishing characters I have ever seen. Some of his deeds are so prolific that if I cannot think of doing those. His friends fondly recall his famous suicide attempt. During the college time he seldom prepared for the exams but often passed the exams. Sometimes we knew how he did that and sometimes not. He was managing all the activities for Ashish’s engagement.   Presently he teaches in an Engineering college.

Ashish: BAWA, BAWA, BAWA, BAWA, BAWA, BAWA, BAWA!!! (That’s our trademark greeting. Bawa pronounced loudly 7 times in a rhythm, with your hands up like you are held by a cop. We even have a community for that on Okut!) Abe to bike se kaise aa gaya? (He asks to me).

Me: Kyun, main bike se nahi aa sakta? Koi problem hai kya bikes ko?

Ashish: Nahi be, main is liye aisa pooch raha hoon ki tu itni der bike pe baitha kaise?

Me: Ab teri sagai me aana tha to tere tarike se hi aa gaya….

Soon Naushad, Amit, Pravin and Ritu (Sharma) arrive. Everybody is talking to each other.

Naushad Ghori

Naushad Ghori, tall, fair and handsome (argh…) male (?). I don’t know it is his habit or he does that intentionally but he can never be serious. Back in college he was an integral part of our team that staged skits in which we spoofed the Hindi film industry. And it was during the times of cultural activities that the two of us interacted the most. He used to play Sanjeev Kumar aka Thakur Baldev Singh from Sholay and Vaibhav Gupta was Ramu kaka (Hence he came to be known as kaka). He is one of the most irritating creature I have come across, there were times when during the rehearsals I used to shout like anything at him and Shikar (I won’t describe this creature here). He always tries to impress girls with his greasy talks. Every time you will find him loitering around girls. During our training days in Kerala he still remained the femalephillic organism. We both were put in the same group for preparing a mock project.  There were instances where he did something which could be called as productive for the mock project, but those are very few. I feel I have wasted enough space on this good-for-nothing rascal.

Amit Hasija

Amit Hasija, slim, tall, fair brown-eyed guy. Amongst all these people he is the one whom I had known for the longest. Both of us went to the same coaching class in high school. He and Naushad are schoolmates. Ashish, Amit and Naushad are flatmates. Ashish, Naushad and me are classmates from college. It is interesting to see how the net of friends interconnects two nodes through different paths. So coming back to Amit. To be honest, during our college times I had minimal interaction with Amit. It was only during our training days in Kerala that we got to spend some time together. He used to come and stay at the hotel in which we were staying, even though he was allotted a different accommodation (God knows why).  Presently he is working for the same IT firm as I am and lives in Mumbai.

Praveen Kaushal

Praveen Kaushale aka chupchap, a dark, reserved guy. He also is one of the flatmates of Ashish. He and I used to travel in the same bus during our college times. There is an interesting story about how he came to be known as Chupchap. Once when we were in second year of college there was an event organized by a local newspaper in our college. Somebody from Praveen’s branch knew one of the reporters. They decided to do one piece for the local supplement of the paper where senseless bits of information and meaningless college news are published (Usually the last page on the city supplement). In that article a picture of group of friends was published (Praveen was also a part of it) and there was a small description of every member in it. Praveen was named as chupchap by his other friends and it was written ‘ab mileye Praveen se jinko inke dost pyaar se chupchap bulate hai….’  And some other shit. Next morning he came out in the bus flaunting that his picture has been published in the paper. When Abhishek (another of my friend) and I read out the matter we couldn’t help needling Praveen. It was so hackneyed and so chutiyatic (sorry for the slang). Even Praveen was embarrassed with that, he never mentioned that article again. Presently he is chupchaply living in Mumbai and exploring new boundaries.

Ritu Sharma

Ritu Sharma, a cute, lovable and what-is-happening sort of girl. Hers was roll number 48 just before mine. She has been the victim of my wrath during the practical session in the college. I was always concerned with finishing the experiment as early as possible and she and Ritu Kapse were the two other member in our practical group. I used to tell them to sit quietly and not utter a word till I have done the practical. It was only after I had finished that they touched the apparatus. Presently she is teaching at an engineering college. When I asked her what subjects are you teaching she replied that, who actually teaches at an engineering college, with a chirp.

And our talks continue till we go into bath. The bathroom doors has slits on the top. Somebody starts taking pictures of the ones bathing inside and that turns into rage with each one bullying another. Now I am not going to describe the intricate details of it. After getting ready we sit below a tree which is very soothing as heat starts mounting. While we were bathing Sandhya(Ashish’s fiancé) had  arrived.  Soon two other creatures had arrived namely Kapil Saluja and Banakdeep Singh Saluja

Kapil Saluja

Kapil Saluja, a smart, young and stubborn guy. He is the younger brother of our dear friend Rishi. As Rishi is in Chandigarh and could not come to attend Ashish’s engagement Kapil came. He would’ve come even if Rishi was there. Kapil considers Ashish as his guru. Both share traits as far as thinking goes. He is also famous for his stubborn nature. I had heard incidents of his beating up a policeman even before I first met him. Presently he is studying in Indore.

Banakdeep Singh Saluja

Banakdeep Singh Saluja, a slim, fair Sikh with genuine turban. He is Kapil’s friend and flatmate. I have met him only on certain instances but the impression I got about his is he is an amiable and cool tempered person. It was during Ashish’s engagement that I came to know about the meaning of his name, Banak means Honey. Although we had a very less interaction there have memorable incidents one of them being his bike being taken away by traffic police. At that time he had even lost all the papers for the bike and his license too. He is also presently studying along with Kapil.

The ritual requires the presence of the girl for most of the time. Hence we are with Ashish in a room where he was getting ready while the rituals are being performed. He will only have to make a presence for exchanging the rings and some trivial rituals. But that is also delayed as he had forgotten a special tika that is worn by the Boy at the time of engagement (Anil Upadhyay is held responsible for this). Two of his friends are dispatched to bring that from the local market. As they aren’t aware of where to get it from, it takes them time to find it out. Meanwhile, everybody starts thinking that we have held up Ashish as a sign of the groom’s ego. People from family keep saying that it is not a marriage let him go, and we have to explain them the real problem.

Just before the auspicious time is about to pass, they arrive with the tika and out comes Ashish dressed in Purplish blue Kurta payjama.  He goes straight to where Sandhya was sitting and also the priest. All through this time, Pavan is taking snaps of the happenings. He thinks he is some world class photographer and expects us to feel privileged to get his services.

It is very crowded as everyone wanted to see the exchange of rings. Davendra, Deepak and me slip back and as soon as ceremony is over we signaled the Dholi(Drummer) to start his act(actually he was already into it) and then we start dancing. For next 10 minutes what happens I don’t know. It is so hot and the dancing resulted in sweating and perspiration. I am dehydrated; I go and drink from whiSchever water body comes to me at first. Despite of doctor’s warnings of drinking only distilled water I gulp 4 glasses of water from a drum kept just outside the hall where we were dancing.

After all this we take time to calm ourselves and retire to the same tree. As many of us meet each other after a long, long time we couldn’t get enough of catching up. Naushad, has a bleeding nose due to the heat. Poor guy couldn’t enjoy the whole function. Soon the lunch is served and we the groom’s friends with the entire attitude enjoy the first serving.

Sunday, 25th April 2010 2:30 PM

After lunch we go back to our temporary lounge(The tree shade) and keep chatting. Nilesh Sir points out that it was nearing 2:30 the time we had decided to leave SIhore. We start bidding goodbye to all and it is not before 3:15 that we could actually leave.

This time the heat is on. We cover ourselves with white cotton cloths one of which I had brought with me and one each was given from Sandhya’s family as an acknowledgement of appearance in the function to us. We are now aware of the route and the time we would take to get back hence we are more confident. But certainly the conditions are different, it is almost 41o C and the highway is going to be hotter than this.

Nilesh sir rides the bike for the first leg of 60 Kms till the MP Tourism highway retreat. Then I take over and it is never a time in the journey that we have to pull down the speed due to the poor quality of the road. It takes us just within 3 hours to reach my place. We cover more than 160 Kms in 3 hours.

Sunday, 25th April 2010 6:15 PM

I reach home, took a bath while mommy prepares a cup of tea. I realize that I am having a headache. Papa gives me a painkiller. I quickly pack my bags and leave for the bus stop. When I reach the bus stop, the bus is already there.

Before I could arrange my belongings the bus has left the limits of the city. And here I am wondering about this adventurous weekend that I had. If I see it in retrospect I could’ve never agreed to the idea of riding a bike all the way to Sihore and coming back in one day. But sometimes you do most unusual things for the people whom you love. At no cost I could’ve missed Ashish’s engagement. At no cost I could’ve missed meeting so many friends at one place. Soon I fall asleep.

Monday, 26th April 2010 12:00 PM

I am sitting in my office and it seems as if nothing has happened. Although I have travelled more than 1700 kms by road in just a span of 2 days including 320 kms on bike in one day it makes no difference. I have loads of calls and issues. The usual life has resumed……

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