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Note: This was written exactly a year ago, give or take a week, in a different context. An excerpt of a larger piece. But this part talks about the first friendship I built. A friendship across an age gap of 50 years that lasted 23+ years. Till he passed away. Years later, I got a feeling I saw him in a market in Noida. I knew I saw him. Can’t explain how. I still feel his presence sometimes. Allow me to build some preamble.
My earliest childhood memories are me in an all aluminium rickshaw with bags hanging from its side going to Spring Dales School, Pilibhit in my Nursery. They gave me a really colorful handpainted report card, with columns, subject names, scores in colored sketch pens on a yellow chart paper. Very beautiful. I think it also had a picture of flowers pasted on it. I stood first. A few years later when I could understand, I saw that report card and felt proud. Mom told me I had only gone there for a month or so and that disappointed me.
Then, I remember police line scenes with my maternal grandfather. A towering man, with sword like moustache and a voice so powerful, it would freeze your blood if it talked to you in anger. We clicked immediately. Much later, I tried to rationalise it by thinking that perhaps I was the only boy in his family – he had six daughters, he also had a couple of sons none of whom survived and I was the eldest son of his eldest daughter – the first of his grandkids. I liked his gun. I liked how he told me that one should never lag behind in the matters of food. And will eternally love him for the fifty odd times he showed me the legendary Bachchan song, “Mere paas aao mere doston” from Mr Natwarlal in cinema theatres in Badaun – we would go to the hall whenever I wanted to see the song again, he would tell the theatre guy that the boy wants to see the song, we will enter the hall mid movie, watch the song and then leave. Rinse and repeat. I never got tired of seeing the song. He never got tired of showing me the song. Till the theatres changed the movie.
I loved how he talked Urdu poetry with me – a kid barely able to pronounce his own name but just happy with all the affection. And, he would take me to the barracks where I would play doctor to the innumerable cops, I distinctly remember me sitting on his office table using my plastic doctor’s set – using stethoscopes and thermometers and injections on sundry cops. The doctor’s set had other equipments too, none of which I knew and none of which I used.
Images with him fill my mindspace. There are some images from Shahjahanpur and Lucknow KG Medical College when dad fell severely ill and everyone had lost hope. Must have been a traumatic moment for all of them. I dont remember much or the severity as I spent most of the time at his place in Badaun.
He’d gift me a gun almost everytime. And he’d get something or the other everytime he came home. I saw him fire a gun and that segued into my first trysts with smoking, as the only thing I noticed about the gun was the trail of smoke. I was his bright shining puppy and he was my first friend. Interesting that it was across a massive age barrier. I think we loved each other as men.
He continued talking Urdu poetry with me from the days I started walking upright. And he never explained it till I asked him to. He expected me to understand. And that made me push harder and ask for help if I could not. There, he treated me as an equal. He also loved to quote Ram Charit Manas. And he had a big scar on his back. Whenever I’d see him without his shirt on, I’d want to touch that scar. I think I did too once or twice when we slept in the same bed. Or maybe not. I loved his sweaty smell but I hated his blanket. It pricked me.
Much later, as a teen I’d spend bulk of my summer vacations at his place. He’d wake me up at 4 and take me to really long walks. We’d walk some 7-8 kilometers, from his home to roads to fields to the bridge on the river Sot (called Laal Pul – I’d wrack my brains everytime to figure why it was called Laal Pul but I never saw anything red). In class VIII, I told him I wanted to learn Urdu and he taught me to read and write it. I can still read and write Urdu though might need a quick 5 min revision to identify all letters.
They say I’ve inherited his height and voice. Perhaps the dark hard face too. And that scares me. He died of throat and lung cancer when I was in my first term at Ahmedabad. They didn’t tell me he was gone till a month and a half later when I merrily returned home in the term vacation and innocently asked where he was. I also remember him lying on his sick bed in AIIMS, a pipe going through a slit in his throat, his booming voice had left him. That was three months ago, in mid 2000, when I had just been selected to Ahmedabad and was waiting to join.
We had our share of adventures too – like him fighting off a pack of twenty growling, snarling, salivating stray dogs with his stick in a dark night on a deserted street with me tangling behind his knees. But all of that for another day.
Of all the wonderful friendships I have and have had, and I have been very lucky with friends, this, the first and the longest lasting has to be up there at the top. Wherever you are, my friend, hope it is as fun as you always made everything, hope the Urdu poetry still flows and hope that voice still booms.
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