May 2, 1998, Saturday, 9 AM
1st Period – History
The dark clouds hovering above seemed to reflect the gloom in Uday’s puny face. While almost everyone else in the classroom was extra animated and buoyant today – it was the last day of school before the summer holidays, after all – 13-year-old Uday Sharma, of small frame and crew cut hair, felt rather dismal.
Settled in the corner of the front table at the extreme right of his 7th standard classroom, Uday kept stealing furtive glances at a stout, tall boy seated in the middle front row, adjacent to the teacher’s table. The boy, Yogesh Ramanujam, was oblivious to everyone around him and seemed deeply immersed in the book on his hands.
Uday sighed and returned his gaze to the dark clouds from the window on the opposite end of the room. Ideally, this sort of weather would have excited both Uday and Yogesh; they would have planned some eventful activity or would have played a cricket match in the small park outside their building. But things had changed now. Just last week Uday and Yogesh were the best of friends – a friendship they had built for over eight years – and just couldn’t do without each other. But now they hadn’t been seeing eye to eye for over a week.
When Uday thought of it now, the reason of their fight seemed puerile. It all started when Yogesh announced the previous week that he and his family would be shifting to Madras at the start of the holidays. Apparently his father – an employee of the weather department in Calcutta – was getting a transfer to Madras to live with his rapidly ailing mother.
The news had left Uday stunned. He did not know what to say to his friend and silently felt really angry at him. Ever since Yogesh had come to live in Uday’s building with his family about nine years back, the both of them had literally been brothers in arms. They had shared their various common interests – comics, cartoons, cricket and board games – through the years and hadn’t needed the company of anyone else. They had crammed together during exams, had numerous sleepovers at each others’ house and even walked to and from school together every day. In fact, Yogesh was the first and only true friend Uday had.
And now, with the news of Yogesh shifting away from the city, Uday felt betrayed and hurt. What was he to do now? How would he lead his school life without his best friend by his side? Hadn’t Yogesh considered that at all? These thoughts plagued Uday’s mind for two whole days after Yogesh had broken the terrible news.
After somehow pacifying himself, Uday had made plans with his best friend for their weekly cricket match this Sunday – their last one together. But after agreeing to it initially, Yogesh called and bailed out of the plan early morning on Sunday, saying that he had some shopping to do for their shifting with his family. This was the last straw and had left Uday fuming as playing cricket on Sundays with Yogesh was like a ritual for him. They had been doing so for years at end, and it was something Uday always looked forward to. Having been robbed of the chance to experience that cricket match one final time, in the heat of the moment, he shouted at Yogesh and called him an ‘ungrateful friend’. “I am happy that you are leaving. Never come back, okay. NEVER!” he had literally screamed at the phone’s receiver.
They had had their fights previously too. But those had been mild affairs forgotten within a few hours. And neither of them had ever shouted at each other all these years. That fateful Sunday, though, changed everything in the dynamics of their friendship.
After that call, both the friends had not spoken through the entire week and Yogesh had been taking the rickshaw to school. And now, the last day of school before the summer holidays had finally arrived. Today was Saturday, a half day, and Yogesh was to leave that very night.
Uday had regretted his action and had wanted to speak to Yogesh after that day. But he did not how to go about it. Uday was always like that: very uncomfortable in expressing his inner feelings or opening up to someone. He was the subdued one while Yogesh was carefree and outgoing. The two had a very comfortable bonding and Uday never really had to go out of his way to do anything to maintain it; it was organic and genuine.
Today being the last day of school, and perhaps the last day of their friendship, Uday was determined to set things right between them before Yogesh finally parted with him forever. He did not want them to separate with that nasty fight hanging between them. He wanted to say his last goodbye. But how would he do so?
Since Monday this week, Yogesh had got his seat shifted from his usual place from beside Uday to the one in front of the teacher’s desk with Ankit Jha – the class monitor. He hadn’t so much as looked at Uday, who was now sitting in the front corner seat with Adarsh through the entire week and had continued with his activities nonchalantly.
Annoyed and miserable and failing to find a way to talk to his friend, Uday had carried on alone for the entire week but he was desperate to make things right between them today.
Uday was forced out of his forlorn reflections as their class teacher – Ms. Paromita Guha – entered the room. Everyone returned to their respective seats as the teacher settled into her desk.
“Open your notebooks and take down the homework for the holidays first. I will proceed with the first chapter of ‘The Mughal Empire’ after that,” she said in her usual solemn tone. Ms. Guha, a portly middle-aged woman with short boy cut hair and thick glasses, did not like indulging in unnecessary chatter with students and usually went straight to the point.
As the students hastily began noting down what the teacher said, Uday glanced at the wall clock above the main door of the classroom. 9:15 it said. He just had four more periods before he could make things right. Time was flying fast.
He turned to peek at Yogesh. But he was busy flipping through his book. Uday sighed and, despondently, scribbled down Ms. Guha’s notes in his own notebook.
The clouds rumbled, echoing the misery in his heart.
2nd Period – Mathematics
"How could anybody love mathematics?" thought Uday irritably as he looked at the bunch of girls, along with Ankit Jha, surrounding their math teacher Madhumita Ghosh. She had just given out a long list of assignments for the summer holidays to the class and some students, always eager to please the teacher, wanted to get some more crucial information regarding their summer homework.
Math was a subject that both Yogesh and Uday detested to the core. Try as they might, they simply could not handle the geometry figures or the other numbers and equations of the subject. Whenever the two friends would sit together for a math session at either of their homes, they would eventually end up playing Super Mario or Contra or go rummaging through their comic book collection.
The image of them playing Super Mario for hours through Saturday evenings came gliding back to Uday’s mind and it caused him instant agony. While the rest of the inhabitants of the class were busy murmuring among themselves excitedly, Yogesh was wistfully looking out the window at the steadily darker growing clouds. He seemed lost in thought but still refused to look at Uday.
“Hey, what are you going to do in the summer holidays? Any plans?” asked Adarsh, the curly-haired bespectacled boy sitting next to Uday.
Always over enthusiastic and always eager with his never-ending questions, Adarsh was a fairly likable boy. But Uday was in no mood to entertain him today.
“I don’t know,” he answered truthfully. “I really don’t know…”
3rd Period – Hindi
There was absolute pin-drop silence in the classroom as Banarasi Lal Sir, the Hindi teacher, sat on his desk, brooding about something with his eyes closed.
A 60-year-old rotund man with just little tufts of silver hair remaining on the sides of his head, Banarasi Lal Sir was a very strict teacher who spoke very little but whenever he did everyone listened. He was usually very silent but was known to lose his temper every now and then and give a good thrashing to some unfortunate student.
Presently, he had his eyes closed and seemed to be mulling something over (or perhaps he just wanted to catch a wink).
Unlike the other teachers, he hadn’t given the class any serious homework for the holidays and had just asked them to read one chapter – ‘Nasha’ by Munshi Premchand – before the school restarts.
Suddenly, the clouds rumbled loudly and violently. It was fierce and the window panes and tables in the room trembled a little.
The whole class went “Whoooooo” and everyone, including Banarasi Lal Sir, looked outside the windows on the left side of the room.
“Jo garajte hai vo baraste nahi,” quipped Rakesh Pandey, the wannabe class jester, who sat directly behind Uday. He had this really annoying habit of passing an unfunny remark every now and then for supposed comical effect. After announcing his latest one, he looked around at everyone with a wide smirk and with a glint in his eye, as if expecting the whole class to stand up and break out in thunderous applause for his extraordinarily funny remark. Unfortunately, everyone just stared at him blankly.
“Aye tum! (Hey you!)”, thundered Banarasi Lal Sir all of a sudden, with his fat index finger pointing directly at Rakesh’s face and his paan-stained teeth glistening menacingly. “Tumhare muh se ek avaaz nahi sunna chahta mai. (I don’t want to hear a word coming out of your mouth.”
The color completely vanished from Rakesh’s frail face and he quietly bowed his head down, hoping that he wouldn’t be given another flogging by the Hindi teacher today.
Uday couldn’t hold back his laughter and pressed his lips really hard lest he burst out in front of Banarasi Sir. It was the first time he had felt like laughing, or even smiling, in days and it felt oddly relieving. He turned to look at Yogesh, who was smiling as well by cupping his face with his hands, and for a very brief second, they exchanged a look.
The clouds rumbled loudly again and everyone, including Yogesh, turned their attention outside the windows again. But in that second where the two boys had exchanged that fleeting glance, Uday had felt a very tiny rekindlement of their friendship.
Getting annoyed at Rakesh’s terrible quips and wisecracks, and making fun of his absurd antics together, was something both Uday and Yogesh really took pleasure in. Today, for the first time, perhaps, Uday was genuinely thankful for Rakesh’s joke. But as the bell sounded the ended for the third period, he only wished Rakesh had made that joke earlier in the week.
4th Period – English
“Such a beautiful weather today, isn’t it?” Madhulika Kakkar, the beautiful English teacher remarked to the class at large in her lyrical voice, “I hope it rains soon.” It had darkened considerably outside and the clouds looked ominous, almost waiting to burst out.
Young, radiant and always smiling, Ms. Madhulika was the favourite teacher of the class and was the eye candy of almost all the boys in the school. She was twiddling her fingers through her lustrous hair and peered outside dreamily at the clouds, lost in some apparent thought.
She was also the coolest teacher in the school. Even today, she refused to give the students any extra homework and simply asked them to have fun. “Who wants to study on the last day of school, right?” she had said earlier with a mischievous smile.
So while all the others in the classroom were engaged in some merry activity or the other – some played pen fights, some were reading comics, and most were just chatting spiritedly; exchanging ideas for their summer holiday exploits – Uday remained fidgety. He still hadn’t figured out a way to make things right with Yogesh and as he saw him giggling and chatting up with the English teacher, he felt crushed inside. It seemed to him as if Yogesh had already moved on.
It slowly dawned on Uday that this was an exercise in futility. As every second of the clock above took the time away from his hands, he had an impending feeling that he will never speak to his best friend again.
Uday’s eyes moistened up and he bowed his head down on the desk so that Adarsh sitting next to him couldn’t see him. The cool surface of the table felt nice against his temple and he closed his eyes, trying to shut out the cacophony of the world around him. The chirpy noises of his classmates were causing him torment; all he wanted to do at present was to dissolve in his own pain.
The enormity of the situation was now really hitting Uday. He had lost his closest and only friend and with him gone soon, his life ahead appeared dark and lonesome.
The clouds thundered again followed by gentle lightning. The class whooped again.
“Why did it have to be like this,” Uday thought miserably, feeling sick to the gut.
If only Yogesh’s father had not planned on shifting, both he and Uday would have been sitting right here and planning their various frolics for the summer holidays or would have been quietly stealing longing glances at Ms. Madhulika. Uday resisted his sob as the visuals of his past summer holidays with Yogesh swam back to him yet again. The cricket matches, the comic sessions, the gulping down of the ice-creams on the building terrace, and the excitement of waiting for the first rain of the monsoon; all those memories with his friend gnawed at Uday’s insides.
He had been by Yogesh’s side when on his first day in this school all those years back and he wanted to be with him on his last day as well. He wished he could just get up right then and tell Yogesh he was truly sorry and make it up with him. But, as the bell signaled the end of the penultimate class of the day and Ms. Madhulika sauntered out, he knew he was already too late.
5th Period – Geography
Nobody in the class liked the subject Geography or its strict and always glum teacher Ms. Sanajana Joseph. Tall, haughty and unsmiling, Ms. Sanajana never allowed anyone to have even the slightest scope of enjoyment and relished heaping on tons of homework on the students.
The scene in the classroom had transformed dramatically from a few minutes earlier the moment the Geography teacher entered, right at the sound of the bell. Even on the last period of the school day before the holidays, she had already given heaps of boring assignments that everyone was now noting down from the blackboard.
“Mr. Yogesh Ramanujam, why, may I ask, aren’t you noting down the homework list from the blackboard?”
Uday turned around to see Ms. Sanajana standing over Yogesh’s empty desk with her pursed lips.
“Ma’am I will not be returning to the school any longer. So there is no need for me to do the homework anymore,” answered Yogesh back coolly.
“Whether you come back to the school or not is irrelevant. You are in my class at the moment. And you will have to do what every other child in here is doing,” said the teacher, her tone resembling a slight sign of irritation.
“But that does not make any sense,” Yogesh replied calmly. “If I will not be doing the homework, why shall I note it down?”
The whole class was now listening raptly to the conversation. Everyone despised Ms. Sanajana and had always wanted to have some way to get back at her for the constant tortures she had forced on them. This was the first time in recent memory that someone was talking back to her.
Ms. Sanajana, though taken aback, regained herself and replied through gritted teeth.
“How dare you talk back to me?! You think you are very special, aren’t you?”
Without any hesitation, and without any change in his expression, Yogesh replied, “Well…Yeah…I think I am.”
There was a collective gasp at this retort in the class and Ms. Sanajana’s eyes widened in anger.
Uday sniggered loudly at this. He simply couldn’t suppress his laughter.
Every head in the class, along with that of the teacher, instantly turned towards Uday. It wasn’t a very loud snigger but since there was absolute silence in the class, it had echoed across the room like a horse’s neigh.
Her nostrils flaring dangerously, Ms. Sanajana glared at Uday and said, “You…Get out…Now!”
Uday knew there was no use arguing and quietly got up and left the class in one single motion. In fact, he was quite relieved for doing so.
Closing the classroom door behind him, Uday stepped outside into the corridor. It was a long lane with six classrooms dotting one side and a balcony on its opposite end. Uday was greeted with a great gust of wind that hit his face.
Although it was still about 2 PM, the surroundings had become completely dark courtesy the colossal gray clouds. The trees nearby swayed dangerously in the wind and blue streaks of lightning bolted across the dark clouds. Uday looked on above in wonder; the happenings of the minute gone by having been obliterated temporarily in the majesty in front of him.
The door behind him opened and out came Yogesh. Uday turned around and their eyes met, this time not just fleetingly.
Yogesh was smiling sheepishly as if he knew he had achieved something spectacular.
“She asked me whether I would like to join my friend outside. I said ‘Yes, that would be great’ and simply came out,” Yogesh said, trying hard to control his ever-widening grin.
They looked at each other for a moment, chuckled at first and then burst out laughing, at the same time. They muffled their laughter by covering their mouths with their hands. Uday didn’t know why the situation felt so funny to him. But it did. And it made him feel good, almost cathartic. Because it suddenly seemed like the last week hadn’t even happened between the two of them.
“Man, you were awesome in there,” Uday finally said, in between his laughs.
Yogesh snorted and shrugged, his wavy hair blowing all over the place in the fierce wind.
“It was nothing really. I knew I was safe. This was the last day and last period of my school life here. What could she have done? She had no choice. I really got her,” Yogesh said in his usual chirpy voice and ran his fingers through his hair. Uday was yet again fascinated by how carefree and cool he was.
“She had it coming. After the terrible week I had had, I wanted to vent out my frustration in some way. This felt the most appropriate option…My parting gift to the class,” he added loftily.
“Um…Terrible week?” Uday asked.
Yogesh looked at him and shook his head. “You know…After what happened this Sunday.”
Uday kept silent, feeling extremely uneasy.
“I was angry at first. But then…Then wanted to go back to normal. But I…I just did not know how…You know,” Yogesh said, the awkwardness apparent in his eyes.
“Yogi…” Uday finally said. “I…I am sorry, man…I shouldn’t have…I did not know…” he stuttered.
Yogesh waved his hand. “It’s okay. Let’s just forget it. I was waiting for you all week to come up. But then I realized you simply wouldn’t be able to,” he said, smiling slyly.
“So I was determined to mend things up with you after school today, walk home together and have that ‘jhaal muri’ for one last time.”
“Really?” Uday asked, his heart exploding with happiness with every word his friend said. This was just like Yogesh; always making things easier for him, always ensuring that he didn’t have to say or do the uncomfortable things.
“Of course, my friend,” Yogesh said and punched Uday on his shoulder. Uday beamed widely. He was relieved, elated and overwhelmed at the same time. He wanted to hug his best friend and cry. He wanted to tell him that he will miss him. He wanted to tell him how sorry he was and how selfish he had been for only thinking about himself this last week; for not even considering what his friend must have been going through. But he didn’t do any of those things. He just stood there and smiled.
“So…All set to leave then?” Uday finally said.
“Not really, no,” Yogesh replied matter-of-factly and moved towards the railing of the balcony. Uday too followed him. “It’s going to be tough. But I will return here…Eventually. I have to,” Yogesh said with unusual confidence.
He then took a little parchment out his trouser’s pocket and handed it to Uday. “It’s my Madras address. I will send you letters every week and you do the same, okay?” Yogesh said.
Uday nodded and neatly placed the paper in his back pocket.
“And I will come every year during the Durga Pujas,” Yogesh said, and then with an impish smile, added, “I still owe you a cricket match, isn’t it? You are yet to hit me for a six.”
Before Uday could say anything, there was loud roar above and suddenly the skies opened up. With a great gushing sound, it began pouring down heavily.
They could hear students yelling and hooting in delight all over the school at the distance. The entire corridor they were standing in presently was filled with the noise of cheering students. The rain lashed down harder and people below were scampering for cover.
Almost at the same time, both Yogesh and Uday extended their right arms out and let the rain batter it.
“Ah…I will miss the Calcutta rains…” Yogesh remarked and stared above. After a moment, he added, “And I will miss you too, yaar. I really will.” He kept looking up but Uday could feel his voice quivering at that last sentence.
Uday didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to. Both the friends just stood there in silence, allowing the falling rain to drench their outstretched hands and their shirts. Uday wanted to soak in every second of this moment because he knew facing the morrow without his friend by his side was going to bring him a lot of distress. But if this was going to be his last memory together with his best friend in the school, it really was a pretty fine one.
And as the final bell signaled the end of school and he heard the scraping of chairs and delighted shouts of children from everywhere around him, he knew he just had a few seconds left to live this moment. But those precious few seconds, with the pounding rain, the blowing wind, and his best friend by his side, was all that he cared about for now…
And then, of course, there was also that ‘jhaal muri’ to look forward to.
May 22, 2023, Sunday, 5:30 PM
An old woman wearing a floral gown emerged on a tiny first-floor balcony of a dilapidated three-storey building. Stuttering about with a cane in one hand, she finally seated herself on the sole chair kept there. After resting her head back for a minute, she picked up the cup of tea kept on the table beside the chair.
She took a small sip with her shaking hands and as she kept the cup down, her eyes fell on the two lone figures scrambling about in the small park opposite the building.
“Ah!” the woman remarked with a crinkled smile.
Two middle-aged men – one holding a bat and one holding a red ball – were fiercely arguing about something. The old woman had been noticing these two men come to the park every Sunday afternoon ever since she had shifted to this building two months back. She really enjoyed seeing them play and squabble with each other. They seemed to know each other well, and despite their endless bickering, they somehow always managed to go off all laughing and cheerful in the end.
Presently, the one holding the bat – a plump man with crew cut hair – was constantly repeating, “I need one more ball. Just one more”
The one holding the ball – a sturdy, bald man – just snorted and said, “You do this every week. You know that you will never be able to hit me for a six. Even your son was able to do that, but you…”
“Will you quit yakking and just get on with it? We shall see about that,” retorted the other man peevishly and took his position at one end of the rectangle park, with a large brick wall behind him. Holding his bat firmly in his right hand, he was now literally grinding the bat on the ground vigorously.
The old woman did not understand what the fuss was about. But by now she had known not to give any heed to their chatter. She just enjoyed seeing them together. There was a certain freshness about observing their bonding that helped her escape the weariness of her daily life.
The bald man with the ball shook his head, smiling slyly, and went to the other end of the small park, his gait reflecting absolute nonchalance.
The batsman took his guard and the bowler readied himself to bowl. The old woman sat up on the chair and squinted to take a closer look. The sun was rapidly fading and she could only make out their silhouettes now.
The bowler ran up and leaped in the air gracefully before delivering the ball at speed. The batsman shifted to his left slightly, stepped out and met the ball with force.
All rights reserved
I had an interesting time writing this story. I had almost given up on it after a couple of paragraphs. But somehow I determined myself to go through with it and, in end, I am happy I did. I know it is nothing spectacular or special; it is a very simple, uncomplicated and predictable story perhaps. But for me, who is not a natural story-teller, it is another step up. Some scenes and dialogues had really troubled me in the planning stages, but as I sat down and wrote, things became easier. Hence, this story served me another lesson and made me realize that I do have some natural story-forming abilities if I can simply give myself enough time and back my instincts.
The events in this story are not inspired by my life; none of them ever happened with me. The idea for this story was actually formed while listening to an old country song. The first visuals I imagined were, in fact, that of the epilogue I have written in the story. The rest of it took a lot of time to create. I did look for reference points for the basic structure of things in the story from my school life. And it was quite a pleasurable experience. I hope some you enjoyed reading it.)