Part 1 here
A year had passed since my coming to the hostel. Our seniors would leave in a week or two. We gave them a big farewell party. No one slept till well past midnight. Anirban drank so much that Pranjal and I had to haul him to our room at three o’clock in the morning. As we laid him on his bed, he said,
“What is it, Anirban?”
“It’s been two years, man. Two years together in this room .it’s been good, right?”
“Yes, Ani.” I saw a tear welling up in Pranjal’s eye.
“You are my best friend, Pranjal.”
“Pranjal, will you give me something if I ask you?”
“Of course, Ani. Anything you want.”
“Pranjal, I love Bidisha.” Pranjal stood still. “I love her, Pranjal, more than I ever loved anyone.” Anirban da’s voice was pleading. He clutched at Pranjal’s hand. “Pranjal, I want Bidisha.”
This time the tear did roll down. “All right, Ani,” he said consolingly, “you shall have her.”
Consoled, Anirban da shut his eyes and fell back on the bed. Even in his drunkenness, it did not occur to him to doubt Pranjal’s words – if Pranjal said it was all right, there was nothing to worry about.
The next day, Anirban got up very late, washed, shaved and went out without uttering a word to either of us. He seemed to remember nothing about the previous night. His behaviour was normal for him. He would now only return when he had shaken off the effects of drink, and his spirits jumped back to their normal high.
Later, Bidisha came. The three of us sat talking as usual, but something was missing. Pranjal was distracted, and both of us felt it. At last, he said, “Bidisha, I have something to tell you.”
I stood up. “Shall I leave?”
“No, no, Neeraj, sit down. You are our friend and have seen everything our relationship has gone through. I want you to hear this.”
I sat down again.
“Bidisha, Anirban is my best friend.” A chill shiver went through me. “I love you a lot, but I love Ani very much too, and I cannot bear it that he suffers because of me.”
“I don’t understand.”
Pranjal hesitatingly explained. The gist of his words came down to: he wanted Bidisha to break off the relationship and take up with Anirban.
Bidisha predictably flared up. She argued heatedly, protested vehemently. But Pranjal could see no other side to the matter. His friend was in pain, and Bidisha could relieve his suffering. That was all he could see.
In the end, Bidisha lost her patience. Her great respect for Pranjal had so far helped her to keep her temper in control. “I can never do what you suggest. Ad if you can push me away from you to a guy whose most serious thought of the day is which shirt he will wear in the evening, then I begin to doubt your love for me.”
“Bidisha, Anirban is my friend. I love you very much, but my love isn’t so selfish that I can bear to smile by your side, knowing that I’m causing misery to my friend. I know I can’t dictate your life: if what I request is unacceptable to you, then I won’t press you. But I cannot do anything that will increase my friend’s suffering.”
“All right, then. I’m leaving. I hope I never see you again, because if I do, I won’t know what to say to you.”
I tried to stop her. I tried to reason with him. But it was futile. To anything I said, he merely replied, “Anirban is my friend, Neeraj.”
When I met Bidisha at the university, she smiled weakly at me. She had grown pale; the sparkle in her eyes was gone, so was the spring in her step.
“Does he miss me?” she asked. I answered truthfully that he did.
“But he will not send for me. Does Anirban da mean so much more to him than me?”
I had no answer.
That was the end. Bidisha never came again. When Anirban heard of the quarrel, he tried to make Pranjal go to her, and, when he refused, prepared to go himself. But Pranjal would not let him. Anirban had only been told that the two had had a lovers’ tiff. He never knew the real reason. He didn't seem to remember anything of the night that changed it all.
Anirban and Pranjal left the next week. They got jobs and settled into their new lives. Bidisha continued to be my friend, though she never came to my room again. We left the university and got work in the same college. I got married to a lecturer of my college: she got married to a man her parents selected – an army officer, the jolly, hard-drinking, boisterous type. My married life was pure bliss: hers, I know, was not far from hell. Her husband was the worst type of person for her sensitive nature. But she never uttered a word of complaint.
When she first told me she was going to get married, I asked, “Are you sure you’re making the right decision? Is he a good guy? Will you be happy with him?”
Bidisha turned stricken eyes on me. “What does that matter now?”
Pranjal da and I sometimes exchange letters. He visits me when he comes to Guwahati, and we have visited him once in his native town. He is still the same – helpful, quiet and unmarried.
As I said, I met Anirban today. He has been living in Guwahati for the greater part of the last twenty-seven years, but we had never met before. He took me to his house – he seems to have grown rather rich. He is married to a charming woman with a face so made up I could not judge what she really looks like. He too is the same – friendly and nonchalant. As I sat across from him and sipped my tea, I thought of the two people I had loved so dearly, whose happiness he had wrecked by one bout of drunken mumbling.