I met Anirban da today. Seeing him revived all those memories that had been buried under the sands of time. Those fun times in the hostel, chatting away well past midnight, rushing to the desk on hearing the footsteps of the warden, slogging away into the early hours of the morning at exam time, listening to Anirban da play the violin, and… that final terrible break in the friendliness and friendship that pervaded our room.
I remember entering the hostel as a fresher, timid and nervous. When I first entered my room, Anirban da was dressing up to go out, and Pranjal da was reading a book and passing an occasional teasing remark. My entrance caused a momentary diversion: they introduced themselves to me and enquired about my home, my family. Then they resumed their activities. Anirban da went out, shutting the door with a bang, and Pranjal da turned back to his book. I unpacked my things in silence.
Slowly I got to know them. Anirban was all I had always wanted to be: handsome, dashing, intelligent, popular with girls as well as boys. Pranjal was quieter, harder to get to know, but even harder to dislike once you got to know him. He worked for a magazine to pay his way through college: his work and his studies left little time for pleasure. The only diversion in his life came from his books. He was an omnivorous reader – Assamese, English, Hindi, Bengali; novels, short stories, poems, essays: everything was grist to his mill. He was the most helpful person I ever knew. Go to Pranjal da with a problem and he would not leave you until he had helped you solve it. If any boy in the hostel was sick, Pranjal would invariably be by his side.
Anirban da led an easygoing life. He was an orphan without a care in the world. His father had left enough money for him to live on until he could get a job. Let the world go where it will, as long as it didn’t interfere with his life. It was perhaps he had had no one to love him since childhood that he sometimes seemed not to understand the worth of love. Pranjal da, on the other hand, was always respectful of others’ feelings: this trait of his was accompanied by an innate sense of self-respect.
But these two divergent characters were the best of friends. Ani da could often be heard swearing, especially after he had been drinking, that he could lay down his life for Pranjal. Pranjal da never said anything much, but anyone who knew him well could see that he loved Anirban deeply.
Both of them took to me from the beginning. I found it easier to make friends with Anirban da, he was an easier person to talk to. But my friendship with Pranjal deepened with each passing day, until I found my love and admiration for him was second only to that for my parents. He, on his part, cared for me much as he might for a brother. The three of us were a happy family.
I had left all my earlier friends in my town: all except Bidisha, who had been my classmate in both school and college, and had now followed me to the university. It is now almost forty years that I have known her, and I still think she is the most remarkable woman I have ever met. She was extremely intelligent, adamantly independent and uncompromisingly honest. Without being conventionally beautiful, she was rather attractive, with her bouncing shoulder-length hair, her sparkling eyes and her animated talk. I was one of the few guys who had never succumbed to her attraction, and surprisingly, I was also the only boy whose friendship seemed to matter to her.
One day, about a month after I entered the hostel, she came to my room to visit me. By a strange coincidence, both of my roommates were in, although it was a holiday and they should normally have been shuttling about between their various activities. Bidisha proceeded to charm them both. By the time she left, two hours later, they were talking like old friends. I walked her to the gate. She noticed I was a bit put out, and said, “Why are you wearing that tragic look?”
“I thought you had come to meet me. But you were so busy chatting to my roommates that you hardly noticed me.”
“Neeraj, I meet you in the university almost every day. My dear, I only impressed your roommates so that they won’t mind my coming here frequently to meet you.”
From that day onwards, Bidisha often came to my room. If I wasn’t here, she would sit comfortably talking to my roommates till I came. Sometimes I took her out, and sometimes all of us sat talking together.
At one time I began to notice Bidisha’s friendship with Pranjal getting stronger. The affinity which had started with a mutual love for books, deepened gradually into a more powerful emotion. She joked with Anirban, gossiped with him, heard him play the violin, but he could not invade her innermost thoughts like Pranjal had. I also noticed the normally sincere Pranjal let his studies slide while he spent time with Bidisha.
One day, Bidisha decided to confess to me.
“Neeraj, there’s something I must tell you.”
“I’m in love.”
“With Pranjal da,” I finished.
“Yes. He is the most wonderful person I’ve ever met. He’s everything I’ve always wanted in a life-partner – honest, understanding, independent…”
“Why don’t you tell him?’
“I’m shy of doing so. But I will one day.”
Bidisha was my friend. I decided to help her.
“Pranjal da, what do you think of Bidisha?”
“I like her very much – she’s so mature, so earnest about things.”
“Is that all?”
He looked surprised. “What else should there be?”
“Don’t you think she’s everything you desired in your life-partner?”
“Then all you have to do is to tell her.”
They were engaged the next day. They treated me at an inexpensive restaurant as a celebration, and I teased them to death.
Days passed. Bidisha’s visits to our room grew even more frequent, for she now had two people to visit. Her relationship with Pranjal da did not make her move away from me. Anirban was so pleased when he first heard the news that he got drunk that night. After that, It was a happy family of four, not three. We often went out together, on walks, to the cinema, on bread-and-butter picnics.
The final part will be up next week