It was a few years after I reached Delhi. I was working in the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. I was staying in a rented accommodation in Timarpur, a few kilometres away from the Centre. I had a friend from Kerala, Mohanan, who was also staying in the same area. Both of us had together joined the distance education programme of the Madhya Pradesh Board of Secondary Education to appear for their Intermediate examination.
During those days Kerala had school education of 10 years. The ‘plus two’ used to be in college and used to be called ‘pre-degree’. It was actually due to the constant ‘nagging’ of my elder cousin with whom I stayed for the initial few years in Delhi that I joined the course. I thought I did study fairly well and I was confident of writing the examination. Mohanan and I travelled together to the railway station to catch a train to Gwalior, which was the nearest examination centre. All the examination centres were in Madhya Pradesh.
We had received the students’ concession forms for train tickets, by way of which we could avail of a 50 per cent concession in the cost of tickets. There was a special counter for concession vouchers and we joined the long queue. We soon found that just in front of us there were two other boys like us who were also speaking in Malayalam. Speaking in Malayalam used to be the direct entry to friendship those days. They were also going to Gwalior, and to appear for the Intermediate examination. What a pleasant coincidence indeed! In the next half an hour or so, or let us say, by the time we were able to exchange our concession vouchers for tickets, the four of us had become very close friends – Balanujan (Bala), Chandran, Mohanan and I. The friendship seemed so strong that we felt as if we had been childhood friends. From that day, till we bid goodbye to each other in Delhi on our return, we lived together. We travelled together, we stayed together, we took food together, we studied together. We commented on girls, together, too.
From the railway station in Gwalior, we went to the nearest place to the examination centre, where lodges were available. We rented a large room in a lodge in Morena where all four of us could stay. The examination centre was a few kilometres away from the lodge and we had to share seats in the huge three-wheeled tempos (http://www.loupiote.com/photos/4160382674.shtml – as on 25 January 2013. The tempos, I should note here, were cleaner than shown here). In the initial days it used to be very easy to get a tempo, since there used to be several of them waiting for us in line. But as days passed, when several students left the place after appearing for a few papers, availability of the vehicles became scarce and sometimes we had to wait for 15 to 20 minutes.
There was this Sikh girl who also had come from Delhi to write the examination along with her parents. They were staying in the same lodge as we were. They owned a sweet shop somewhere in the Delhi University area. The girl used to study walking on the terrace. We used to study walking on the adjacent verandah. It was interesting to see her throwing glances in our direction when her parents were inside the room. I am sure she must have enjoyed it, and so did we. However, she left after the initial few days, which indeed had a dampening effect on our enjoyment. We were no more interested to study on the verandah, but preferred to stay inside. Or on the terrace, which had lost its original charm as far as we were concerned.
The fortnight-long stay in Gwalior was one of the best in my life. I know some of you are smiling meaningfully. But, no, it is not because of the presence of the Sikh girl. But because of finding new meanings to friendship which at that time had felt very strong indeed. We thought all four of us would be friends for ever. We exchanged addresses and telephone numbers and promised, before parting ways at New Delhi railway station on return, to keep in constant touch.
Nothing could be more wrong than expectations of everlasting friendships.
Mohanan and I were staying in the same area and we used to meet on several occasions. Moreover, we were, kind of family friends. I knew his parents back in Kerala. I stayed for a few months with Kunjaphan (paternal uncle) working in his small typewriting centre at Moovattupuzha during 1974–75. We stayed in a small rented portion in Mohanan’s home. There was no doubt that we would be eternal friends. Or so I believed.
After working for some time in Delhi Mohanan shifted back to Kerala and we lost touch completely. Once I did meet him when I had gone on leave. But by then he had somewhat changed and I felt he did not want to go beyond the usual “Hi, hello!” It is several years since we have had any communication. So much for the eternal friendship!
I also tried to get in touch with Chandran a few times, and left a few messages, but somehow our contacts never developed beyond that. Later on I came to know that he had left the organization in which he had been working. That was the end of our friendship!
Balanujan and I, however, kept our communication intact and our friendship grew as years passed by. We also visited each others’ families on a few occasions. After some time, however, the ‘regular’ contacts gave way to ‘occasional’ contacts. But at the back of our minds the friendship always remained strong and even without constant contacts we felt each other’s presence. Once I met him after a few years, during a cultural programme in Delhi. Then again we met during my son’s marriage more than a year ago. I hope these contacts and occasional meetings will continue for a long long time.
I also do not mind admitting shamelessly that I often took advantage of our friendship. Bala used to work (and still works) in the PM’s office and I used to seek his help in getting wait-listed train tickets confirmed during summer holidays when it used to be nearly impossible to reserve tickets to go to Kerala. Not even once did he fail in helping us (and maybe others, too). Not even once did he show any hesitation in helping us.
Bala, I dedicate this post to our friendship.