Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Eternal Duo by K Viswanatha Sastry

K Viswanatha Sastry's character expects a visit from an old schoolfriend, but hard feelings are dredged up.

It was all about friendship that day.

I had just completed reading a book about friendship. It dealt with the subject in vivid detail. It said friendship was a unique bond. Friendship either softened differences between friends or promoted a unique understanding despite the differences. Friendship was no concept; in fact, it was an energy, real like any other energy driving us. Further, the book said, one consumed by the energy of friendship went to great lengths to accommodate friends. In the process, one did not mind the troubles needed to be taken.

The book reminded me of my friends and my days with them. The book was true, every word; only a person who made a great friend himself or herself could author such a book, I thought. Just then came the message; it only added to the mood I was in. The message was that Vijay was coming to visit me in a few hours!

Vijay was my best friend. We had not met for a long time.

Vijay had been admitted into my school in rather unusual circumstances: approaching our school for admission upon his father's transfer to our town and after our half-yearly examination was over, Vijay had faced rejection. Seeing his crestfallen face, I had interceded with my father, who was headmaster of the institution, on behalf of Vijay and secured him an admission. In a voice full of gratitude, Vijay had said, "You are my best friend."

In studies, I had always been a good scorer. Vijay was equally good. But unlike me, he had always felt compelled to emerge as the best student.

In the matter of life-ambitions too, Vijay had displayed a certain degree of mental precocity: he had often said that when he became grown he would have lots of money and would be the best one in his chosen field. Even at school, he had 'goals' and, in pursuit of them, had acted unpredictably many times, no matter if that meant going back on a promise or disappointing or hurting a friend.

After obtaining his engineering degree, Vijay had left for the United States to pursue higher studies. Now he was back, almost after twenty years, having returned, reportedly, not from the United States but from Saudi Arabia. But there was no knowing when, why and from where he had reached Saudi Arabia. Even the Almighty would not know it!

How sweet it was to be thinking of Vijay like this! Memories had strange ways. To one lost in them, past and present overlapped with each other, and, after a while, one would begin to flow in a continuum of memories.

Well, I should not flow in the memories of Vijay and not forget to prepare for his visit in a few hours... I considered how best to receive Vijay and, upon some reflection, decided to treat him to a good lunch on arrival.

When he was leaving for the States, I had seen him off at the airport. Vijay had appeared unusually emotional then. "I should call myself a traitor if I forget the favours you did me," he had blurted out.

"Forget the stuff about favours; what are friends for?" I had reasoned.

That was the last I had seen or heard from him. It was rather unedifying: once in the States, Vijay had never bothered to let friends know of his activities or whereabouts; he had not cared to get in touch with a friend who was trying to contact him. Hearing these unpleasant things, I had refrained from trying to contact him.

I looked at the clock. His scheduled arrival was only three hours away.

Vijay had a fastidious taste for food. So I thought of making his lunch sumptuous. The lunch should make the reunion memorable for him... All these years, when he was said to have trotted the globe like a nomad, he must have spent a fortune on indulging his taste buds. He could afford to splurge on such trivial things, for he had amassed huge wealth, I heard.

Vijay was married - and he was said to have married more than once. But still he had acted footloose. Literally, he had gone on a job-hopping spree: every third or fourth month he would take a new job either because he did not like the earlier job or because he would never stay at a place longer than six months. Of how many kids he had and whether, given his peregrinations, he could take good care of his family (or families) nobody knew.

Presently, as for preparations for Vijay, initially I thought of procuring dishes from a star hotel, befitting his status. But, on second thought, I decided to cook all the items myself, partly because Vijay would be surprised at my culinary skills and partly because it would lend the personal touch to things. From another angle, I held no fancy either for star hotels or the exotic foods that they served. Star hotels and riches went hand in hand. I was far away from riches also. It was not as if I wanted to acquire riches but could not. Acquiring riches just for the sake of it was unlike me, plain and simple.

Recalling from memory, I made a list of Vijay's favourite dishes and put them all on the menu though I myself could have done without most of them.

The details worked out, I walked into the kitchen and began the preparations.

Vijay had never compromised on anything, let alone food or beverages. One incident came to my mind: one of our friends was giving a birthday treat to us... To be with us on the occasion, Vijay had put the condition that he be treated to a favourite beverage of his... The condition accepted, Vijay had arrived and, with that, a big drama had unfolded: for some reason, the promised beverage could not be arranged, and the birthday friend, profusely apologising, requested Vijay to join the party nevertheless. Flying into a rage, Vijay had created a scene.

A guest should never feel more important than the host. But Vijay would! I could recall any number of such instances involving Vijay...

I diligently made the preparations. Seeing the arrangements, Vijay should marvel at how well I remembered his likes and dislikes, I thought. No, it was not merely the question of memory... Mere memory, a recollection, was brainwork and lifeless; memory backed by feeling made the magic...

Vijay had not cared two hoots about hurting others with his strange ways. Only those who suffered from narcissism acted like that: they virtually indulged in self-worship; the existence of others never mattered to them; they never showed concern for others' feelings...

I had never smoked or boozed; Vijay had done both. As a well-wisher, I had tried to wean him away from these vices, but to no avail.

When he was leaving for the States, everybody had given him a treat. As for me, I thought I should treat him the way he liked. So I had taken him to a bar. That was the first time I had seen the inside of a bar. Actually, to go to a bar had been a painful decision for me. But friendship was at work... So, I had made up my mind to wink at my principles, for once, only for the sake of my best friend.

Vijay had sounded surprised. "So, you are going to be drunk, for the first time perhaps!"

"No, no..." I had said, agitated, "I never touch liquor. This arrangement is exclusively for you."

"Sorry for disappointing you," he had said, "for I have promised myself that I will not touch liquor for two weeks."

I had been shocked. Now, what would become of all this arrangement? At once, I had become aware of how it would look if one of my acquaintances should find me here, in a bar.

"You will booze on the fifteenth day?" I had tried to reason.

"Yes, of course."

"Then why this short-lived abstinence?" I had asked, suppressing anger.

He had not condescended to answer me. One could imagine how awkward I had been made to look then. "You see..." I began to say.

Vijay had stood up, indicating his desire to leave. My face had become livid with rage. There was nothing I could do to persuade him to take liquor now. Once Vijay had made a decision, there was no turning him. With downcast eyes, I had to meekly follow him out of the bar.

Even now, the very thought of the incident gnawed at my mind. I began to feel hungry as I waited for Vijay. To reinvigorate myself from the heat of the kitchen, I took a cold water bath.

The clock showed that Vijay was already one hour behind schedule. But there was no sign of him. I contacted the friend who had told me of Vijay's impending visit. He had no further information about the matter, he told me. I called up another friend, hoping to elicit some information. He was not at home, said his wife.

Where did he go?

Vijay had come to their house unannounced and taken her husband out, to where she had no idea, she said.

What was the matter?

No idea.

Did her husband or Vijay give her any contact number in case she needed to call?

No.

Her husband had not even told her when he would return. In fact, Vijay had hurried him, not giving him time for these things, she said.

The same old fellow, I thought, controlling anger.

I waited for some more time. The doorbell rang.

I opened the door. Vijay was on the doorstep.

"Sorry for the delay," Vijay said. "I had to rush to the help of a friend who had an emergency."

"At least, you could have informed me of the delay," I said, a light smile stretching my lips.

"Yeah..."

"Okay, leave it. First, let's have lunch. We can talk later," I said.

"Sorry, once again."

"About what?"

"I have already had my grub..."

"But I was expecting you for lunch..."

"Actually, another friend invited me to lunch. But I did not want to trouble you guys. So I had a few bites at a roadside eatery. Anyhow, lunch was never on our agenda, was it?"

Aghast at this logic, I shook my head. Then it happened! It looked as though there were the three of us suddenly! Vijay and I - but who was this third one? He seemed to have walked out from my thoughts... Every inch he looked like Vijay...

I shook my head again. "But you should eat something. For my satisfaction, at least," I said.

"Don't be formal, you, the same old fool!" Vijay laughed. He put his hand on my shoulder.

"Stop this nonsense," I shouted, my voice sounding strange even to me, and pushed his hand. "The same old selfish fellow... No concern for others... You will never change. All my preparations for you have gone to waste. I am ashamed of calling you my friend," I blurted out, gasping for breath even as I grappled with the explosion within me - an explosion of pent-up feelings...

"Come on..." Vijay said, laughing again.

As I watched, the third one kept moving into and out of me with ease... This irritated me no end. How dare he...

"Shut up, you liar..." I shouted again, this time louder than before. "You think you can take everything for granted?"

This Vijay... how could he laugh? The man who had followed no nicety, crossed all limits and annoyed me in innumerable ways since school days...poking fun at me, breaking promises, hurting and humiliating friends with impunity and acting in unpredictable ways... as if he alone, in the entire universe, had likes and dislikes... this man... laughing now...

My entire body was trembling. There was a look of surprise on the face of Vijay. He stepped forward and was about to say something. But, not giving him quarter, I stepped back, shut the door on his face, bolted it and hurried into the house, seething with anger.

Vijay called out to me, knocking at the door. Needing to support my body, I slumped into a chair. There were five or six knocks on the door and then it stopped. I could not move... just kept staring blankly.

The clock struck 2pm and became silent.

How could he have... I thought even as I became aware of the splitting sensation in my head. Involuntarily, I took the book about friendship into my hand. But, finding myself beginning to think how Vijay compared with what was written in the book, I dropped it quickly, hating to host a thought about him.

As moments passed, with every breath I took came a thought of Vijay. Soon, there was no respite from the wracking he was doing to my brains.

5 comments:

  1. Maybe this guy needs to re-read that book on friendship ;-)

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  2. with friends like that....., if it´s true it goes to show that some of life´s lessons are learnt the hard way.

    Michael McCarthy

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  3. Great job with the buildup to an unhappy ending the reader knew was coming but certainly not this excellent one.

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  4. It took him a while to figure out what a vile friend Vijay was but at least he finally pushed him away. I like how he slowly figured it out, through all his memories of Vijay and then the straw that broke the camels back. The lunch gone to waste.
    Good story.

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  5. Beryl Ensor-SmithMay 24, 2013 at 2:55 PM

    One can only hope the protagonist's faith in friendship, sorely dented by Vijay, was restored by other, more sincere friends! An interesting story.

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