The day has just begun. The birds chirping and flying in groups are making exquisite, amazing formations with an orange rising sun making for a spectacular background. Plus the cool and wavy breeze is leaving nothing to chance in contributing its part to make the entire setup breathtaking. On some other day, his mind would have started pondering over the observational and artistic understanding these birds have and the even more astonishing communication and coordination these beautiful birds put up with the meagre quack-quack or crow-crow uttering abilities they are provided with. But today he is far more absorbed in the ugly affairs of his life, to give any thought to this lovely alternate reality. Such is the maze of life, that these are the only days he is getting up early enough to witness these picturesque, cheering, heartening views , and he has no heart left to savour the cheer.
He had been a lazy fellow throughout. As a kid everyday in the morning his father would wake him up to get him ready before his school bus arrived. His dad would pack his schoolbag according to the day's study schedule and get his other affairs in order like polishing his shoes, putting his I-card in his shirt's pocket and his mother would prepare a delicious lunch for him, something new everyday, while he would just hurry himself through the bathing and other morning activities in the super-squeezed time left before him. Harjeet was almost in his third year of engineering now, but these things had hardly changed. 'Some things never change', he would jovially say now and then to his friends telling them about his morning routine.
A certain Susheel was the ultimate fan of the tasty food prepared by Harjeet's mother, and happened to be his best friend as well. Day after day, he would lick his tongue over his lips in delight at the sight of his lunch and eventually grab the lion's share of his lunch which had many ardent admirers in the class. He would make up for Harjeet's appetite by offering him his hostel mess' not-good-at-all food which he would have missed anyway. Why Harjeet would gleefully accept this trade policy, was way beyond Susheel's understanding. But he wouldn't push for knowing this too, apprehensive that Harjeet's realisation of common-sense would imply his starvation. Perhaps Susheel needed the sensitivity of understanding what bestfriendship was, apart from the common sense - something he thought he was so rich in, maybe rightly so.
Its summer vacations in the college and these two guys have been out of touch. Surprising it seems considering the two are best of friends, but not so much considering the distance between their residences and Susheel's reluctance towards telephonic conversations. Infact 'out of sight, out of mind' is what he had always been like. Yesterday when Susheel came somewhere near Harjeet's house in connection with some child welfare event he was associated with, he rang Harjeet up. Well frankly, Susheel's primary motivation behind calling and meeting him was bragging about the kind of gracious stuff he was associated with.
"Hello! hey, Harjeet I am here at district centre, how far is it from your house" he roared loudly, the screeching sound of buses and cars in the backdrop making for difficult hearing.
"Just five minutes", Harjeet replied.
"Great, then just come over, I am here at district centre"
"Okay, I'll see if I find time", Harjeet said.
Susheel cut the phonecall abruptly, annoyed by Harjeet's reluctant attitude towards meeting up, that too when he had already travelled some twenty-five kilometres in the scorching sun while Harjeet just had to stroll for five minutes outside his house in order to meet him.
"Who the hell wants to meet him anyway"
"I wont even pass a smile at his sight, he deserves a royal ignore"
These were the thoughts swinging in his mind after the phonecall, an egoist's ego had just been hurt.
The day went on, and Susheel did all sort of work this day. Secretly he was ecstatic about the kind of good deeds he's been doing these days - child welfare and all. And when the day's work was over started leaving for his home, chin up, head held high, shoulders broadened - all signifying his new found pride in his very existence. Standing at the bus stop, he was thinking how bogus some friendships can be ,thinking about Harjeet; and had just begun musing about how he'd narrate on gtalk the day's events and his heroics to a new friend after reaching home, when his mobile phone rang.
"I am outside McDonalds, where are you", Harjeet it was.
"Well I was just about to leave in fact. Anyway, since you've come, ok I am coming, McDonalds right ?", said Susheel, giving himself airs.
"Okay, I am waiting."
Susheel sauntered slowly back to the district centre, his intention being to keep Harjeet waiting for a longer time.
He was a little put off with Harjeet's reluctance in the afternoon but at the very sight of his friend a smile beamed over Susheel's face as if all of that anger vanished instantly into the hot air around, and he started humming in parody spontaneously "Happyian di Happiyan di gal ban gayi" [Mr. Happy grabs a bounty, oh yeah!] as he'd usually tease this Sikh friend of his by calling him Mr.Happy Singh and blending in this nickname in some weird punjabi song he'd little comprehend himself. And he was surprised himself that his anger had disappeared automatically.
Susheel was back to normal, to sum up. And kept cracking jokes and passing funny comments on ambling lovebirds around and every other thing. Harjeet would usually appreciate his knack of making everything look funny and laughed heartily at his jokes, but was unusually silent today. As if he understood no context, he understood no laughter.
Quick to gauge this, Susheel remarked ," aaj tere totey kyun udey hue hain bhai" [Why are you out of your wits, dude?]
"kuch nahi yaar" [Nothing, mate.]
"abe tere chehre pe to baara baje hue hain, bhai bata de kuch hai to", Susheel stuck on. [Then why's your face a stuffed astray today .. don't make a fuss .. just bring it up]
"aise kyun bol raha hai, tujhe pata to hoga". [Why do you act oblivious, you must be knowing everything.]
This was enough to sense something really undesirable had occurred, Susheel hastened to ask, " please tell me yaar,I don’t know".
"My Dad expired a week ago", Harjeet said, the strong boy's lips and nostrils vibrating with agony, with painful memories. Just the other day he was telling Susheel that the only reason he wants to strech the limits, work hard and crack the CAT and enter the IIMs was because he wanted to make his dad proud of him, because he wanted to give his Dad every happiness in the world.
And the world moved full circle for Susheel in these last two seconds. Gasping for breath, struggling to take in this hell of a fact, his throat dried as if it had never tasted water. Speechless, out-of-wits, out-of-words, didn’t know what to say, how to console, and if all that is even meaningful now in the first place. Ashamed of the things he'd been thinking about his friend's reluctance. Ashamed that he didn’t even know about it when almost every little known, hi-hello acquaintance from the class had already paid him an assuaging visit in his difficult time. Ashamed that he wasn’t there for Harjeet when it mattered most. Ashamed that half an hour ago he was mulling over why Harjeet wasn’t there for him.
In five-ten minutes, Susheel came to terms with what had initially been a horrible shock. Gathered courage to console, extend help and enquire about the how? and now? of things. The sun set, the days events far forgotten and they left the place to Harjeet's home. Susheel sat on a stool, in two minutes Harjeet's sister came in with a glass of water, and then Harjeet's mother with a glass of lassi. Spellbound with their hospitality at this hour of hardship, he asked, "Aunty, what's the need, you need not take the burden, just sit down, please"
Harjeet's mother, who had maintained her calm could hold her tears no more and broke down, " Had his father been here he'd have left no stone unturned to make you feel special, whenever any of Harjeet's friend came home he'd just pace here and there just trying to offer whatever nice thing he could, we've got to carry that forward. But we can't be like him" and a tear just dropped and ran across that serene, motherly face.
Susheel tried his best to calm things up, his own heartbeat at its all time high with the surge of emotions. And Harjeet all this while, remained quiet as anything. Almost non-living. Then he brought himself up, calmed his mom, and some twenty minutes of memory-living coloured the conversation that ensued, in which the boy and his mom strived to live those happy moments again, trying to make sure they don't let these moments slip this time. Susheel was overwhelmed by the simultaneous utility and futility, the simultaneous everlasting and shortlived traits of this exercise.
Some half an hour had passed and Susheel's mother was getting worked up since she didn’t expect him to be this late. She had called him up meanwhile a couple of times and told him rather firmly to get back soon, since they had to leave for a cousin's birthday party. Susheel was far from interested in attending the party, but also wanted to avoid the conflicts at home that could arise from his absence, he had the task of not letting his mother get too worked up; she is a hypertension patient.
"Aunty, I guess I'll take your leave" he said.
" abhi nahi , kuch kha ke jaana, dal roti hi hai kuch aur thodi banana hai, koi nahi khaa ke jaana, koi ghar pe rehta hai to phir aasaan rehta hai, akele to bahot kamzor ho jaate hain", she said in a soft tone dressed in affection. [Not so early, at least have your dinner first. You know, when there's someone here, we're still okay. Alone, it gets unbearable, really.]
" please aunty abhi nahi phir kabhi", he mumbled. [Please, Aunt, some other time.]
" achha, hamare yahan nahi kha ke jaoge" [Oh I see, you won't eat at our condemned place!]