Today, Viswan, an old colleague of mine telephoned. We had worked together at Kochi in 1984. It was strangely an all-bachelor branch, except for the Manager. We used to call each other the intimate ‘eda, poda, entheda’ etc. Every Friday evening after work, the 6 or 7 of us would gather in the basement of our office and have a party. By turn, one of us would contribute Rs.100/- and the balance expenses would be shared by others. Our head peon who previously had been the cook of the bank’s then GM, would whip up fantastic salads. We usually bought a couple of bottles of rum. The old Manager would sit at the head of the table; he would be content with a double. After the usual banter, we would swing into song session. V was an excellent singer; during festival seasons, he would go with music troupes as a lead singer. His repertoire consisted of Malayalam and Tamil; and Yours Faithfully supplied the Hindi section. Now don’t you laugh, my voice may not be great, but I made it up with a lot of passion into my singing and I had all my Mukesh and Hemant Da and Talat; anyway, after a few drinks, nobody cared much about the finesse of one’s singing.
The session would last till midnight. If the spirits diminshed, it would be immediately replenished from the nearby shop; our spirits soared high with the sentimental, romantic songs and the cozy camaraderie of young men – of modest means we were, yet we reveled in our freedom.
V is retiring tomorrow. I had met him only a few times during the last 26 years since we parted company; he had done reasonably well in his career. V still sings professionally. Family is fine. Two boys, one got married a few months back. Wife is an officer in our Bank.
I wish him all the best. I urge him to take up his musical interest with vigour. I tell him now is the time to start the real life, doing things which you always wanted to do, but never did. After the initial burst of conversation, it kind of tapers down. Pauses, hum-mings, how’s the family – and then it comes – “so, how’s life?”
How’s life? How many times, to how many people have we asked this, how many times people have asked us the same! And we reply – ah, angine pokunnu, appidiye pokuthu, chalta hai yaar, OK not bad, a shrug, a smile, a shake of the head – how’s life?
‘How’s life, my friend? How I have been, how I am, is that what you want to know, or- do you really want to know? Would you really care to know it all, my joys my sorrows, my fortunes and misfortunes?
V is quite likely to disappear from my horizon. Of course, even now we retain that fragrance of friendship we had shared for a few months in the past. But we are like two pieces of flotsam that flowed together long ago and now drifted apart. If you watch the flowing stream as it takes us along finally to disappear behind the bend and to be lost from sight forever, what else is there to do but to turn away and walk back into the woods?
It is Hartal today in Kerala. Endosulfan issue. Hardly any customers in the Bank. Quiet day. I listen to old Hindi movie songs. Pankaj Mullick sings – ‘ Jeevan naiya behti jaaye, ai ho ai ho….
********** Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 29.04.2011