Frienship Ties and Time
“Tring,tring…tring,tring…tring,tring…”and the telephone bell kept on ringing.
On the other side Amitabh was about to put down the receiver, when he heard, `hello!’ and instantly pulled it back.
‘May I speak to Akhilesh?’
‘Yes, speaking, who…who are you?’
‘Didn’t you recognize me? Try to guess!’
A silence prevailed for a few seconds.
‘I am Amitabh, buddy…come on!!! How could you forget me so soon?’
‘Err..Really!!! A..mita.abh. Ranjan…where were you? What are you doing buddy?’ Akhilesh shouted as if to reach Amitabh without the aid of electronic equipment.
‘Come on pal, where are you? Where were you all these days, my dear? Where are you speaking from…?’ went on Akhilesh at the same pitch and might have gone, if he hadn’t been interrupted by Amitabh.
‘I am fine and very much in Delhi, but tell me about yourself, first. What are you doing?’
The instant warmth of two friends, who had briefly shared a part of their life together at college had clearly given way to the familiar game of mutual status measurement, without the advantage of deciphering the body language at the same time.
‘Nothing in particular’ replied Akhilesh in a phrase that hides more than reveals and countered the initial disadvantage with an equally smashing phrase that leaves little scope for defense, ‘and what about you?’
‘Well, I am a journalist’, was Amitabh’s instant response. Like certain ambiguous phrases, there are certain professions, whose mention leaves the burden of deciphering the status of beholder entirely on the others.
‘Which Paper?’ queried Akhilesh as naturally as one queries arrival time of a train coming late.
‘Not with any paper in particular. I am a free-lancer’, said Amitabh as mechanically as the person sitting at the enquiry counter, without the least irritation says ‘uncertain’ more than a thousand times, when asked about the arrival time of a train running late.
And that had clearly left Akhilesh with little rallying point to venture into Amitabh’s professional achievements. Nonetheless, Akhilesh put his next question as perfunctorily as one moves his pawn in a game of chess, only because he has to make a move, ‘What do you write on?’
‘Mostly the social issues’, a befitting reply to the hackneyed question of long lost friends striving to bridge the ocean of time, to come close once again, when such questions appear rather trivial against the bond of mutual acknowledgement.
Amitabh was feeling more relaxed with himself and at Akhilesh’s discomfiture. The conversation had to go on since they were close friends. Care had to be taken to avoid spiking intrusion into a friendship nurtured on totality and informality swept aside by the tide of time.
‘How did Amitabh get his number ?’ was the question reeling his mind. But he rephrased his question, ‘how come you suddenly remember me after such a long time?’
Actually, I came across Bharat. Sure, you remember him.’
‘Yes, indeed. We do cross each other’s path at times.’
‘Bharat told me, you are settled in the town and gave me your number.’
‘Oh, I see.’
For a moment, it seemed the two had exhausted. There was complete silence; the silence of boredom and anxiety; the silence perhaps of the two exhausted chess players devoid of intelligent moves, yet not wanting the game to come to an end.
‘Where are you staying?’ asked Amitabh.
‘Shalimar Bagh’, write down my address, ‘A six by thirty nine, block B, Shalimar Bagh, Delhi thirty four’ replied Akhilesh caring little whether the address had been noted down or not. It was perhaps as habitual for Akhilesh or for that matter anyone in Delhi to dictate name and number as to exchange the visiting cards.
Amitabh always kept a diary on the telephone table for such occasions to scribble the addresses, fairly legible at the moment, which with the passage of time almost invariably became illegible because of over writing, re-writing, inverse or horizontal writing. God knows how many and how soon such diaries vanish. Their existence is shorter than their size and the number of pages. On the top of it such diaries are multipurpose, used not merely for taking down the name and number, but also for various other things like appointments, reminders etc. Very soon such diaries end up as a mixed baggage of rubbish, difficult to isolate and decipher their contents. Strangely, such diaries vanish over a period as if being gobbled up by time. No one really bothers their loss, as no one in fact, does watching a lizard gobbling insects.
And then Akhilesh remembered something, ‘take down my number 78643245’, having said that Akhilesh felt as relieved as having just completed an assignment to the last details. On the other end, Amitabh quickly noted down the number, Amitabh quickly noted down the number underlining it twice so as to impress an old friend on his sincerity, ‘by the way what are you doing these days?’ was precisely the question Akhilesh had been expecting now for which, no one under the shadow of anonymity is ever prepared.
‘I have just left a job with an NGO, to start a venture?’
Here is a venture, which has of late breezed across like a storm, leaving the initiated and uninitiated more confused than ever before in human history.
‘Actually, we are a software solution developer, expanding into manpower development and soon going to launch our own portal.’
‘That’s wonderful’, replied Amitabh because every word of the statement sounded impressive and futuristic. Nonetheless, he felt least inclined to broach the subject because, the same Akhilesh, who had been so intimate discussing Marx and Madhuri Dixit in the college days would definitely sound different and distant reeling reams on Y2k, KB, GB, LAN, WAN, multimedia and lovebug. Amitabh had little interest in computers and internet, while every other person across whom he came appeared an expert in the subject.
Again there was a silence of a moment or two appearing to expand into eons. After passing out of the college, a decade long separation had suddenly come to an end via the electronic line. However, the electronic link is yet incapable of connecting the two long-separated friends on the same mental and emotional wavelength as existed a decade ago. Any efforts to fill up the moments of silence appeared only too artificial. The conversation ended, after a promise to meet each other soon. At the end of it, they both realized, they had merely exchanged the banal facts. Facts as mundane as can be found in a telephone directory or the visiting cards. Moreover, the two of them were so involved in their personal life and work that five minutes of conversation had hardly left any impact worth remembering.
Time flies. Another three year passed even more swiftly. After coming to know of Amitabh’s profession, Akhilesh would now and then also glance at the by line, while reading an article. He would feel a strange thrill on coming across Amitabh’s name. This feeling was not experienced in the five minutes’ conversation with Amitabh three years ago. But this was about all, he was in touch with his friend. Amitabh could not keep even this little track of Akhilesh. Last they ever spoke to each other had by now slid ten years back in time, when Akhilesh had said on phone: ‘Let us meet some day.’ ‘Yeah.. of course, why not?’ Amitabh had replied.
Akhilesh got the greatest shock of his life this morning. He sat for hours together with vacant looking eyes and kept fiddling with the morning newspaper turning the obit page off and in. Its very first photograph on the right hand corner was that of an unmistakable Amitabh. He couldn’t muster the courage to read the message in bold and bigger point size…