The three of us did not start out as great friends. Junior School rivalry and individual identity was based on class sections. We did not hate each other. We wanted to believe the other section did not exist on earth! PS and I had developed affinity sooner since we were in the same section. We knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses, general likes & specific dislikes and had each other’s backs when in trouble. SB was in the other section and hence did not exist!
In 1989, we stepped into Boys School. In BS, your personality was defined by your house. More specifically, your house color. Folklore says, I was in the blue corner. But someone else’s luck rhymed with the word luck immensely. Within hours of stepping in BS, I was told I would be moving to the red corner. Interestingly, this was the second time I was part of an exchange program. The first day I landed in Jharipani and walked in JS, I was made to seat myself in SB’s section. But within hours, I was hurriedly escorted to PS’s section. History was repeating itself! Though not immediately, a quick few years later in life, we realized that we were in a love triangle, where I was Miss World, who at one end was being wooed by a short-tempered boy, desperately trying in Being Human and at the other end being pursued by a boy who if need be could make leg split entry on Army vehicles.
The first day in BS goes by quickly, exploring the open campus rather virtually as one is not fully aware what is within/off limits, running between house master’s call for pocket money, count of clothes in our trunks and avoiding a smiling senior whose lip-curve spells the forthcoming degree of evilness! As night arrives, between opening hold-alls, tiding up the bed and helping each other push the immovably heavy trunks below the bed there is small talk between clashing identities of JS, quickly vaporizing into oneness. We are yet to call ourselves friends. But we are made erringly aware that we will be treated the same by the far corner of the dormitory, where the evil curve was about to get an even more evil voice.
Days would still largely go with boys still in groups of their previous section and so much as a house. Short talks in the dormitory while changing into night suits though had started to get longer and deeper. There weren’t too many happy stories of daytime in the first few weeks. But in the dormitory, from having generic conversations, we had started finding humor in each other’s pains and failures. Life was good and getting better. We figured, boys from other section weren’t as big idiots as we thought them to be. Assumptions were being washed away by tears and sweat shed together as a batch. Camaraderie was growing by the hour. I believe, by the end of month two, we had come close enough to call each other friends.
Every second Saturday was a holiday and boys were permitted to visit the town of Mussoorie. On Friday evening, after dinner, we were informed formally that we had grown up from dumb juveniles of JS into matured boys. We were starting to feel good after a long time in BS. Then, we were quickly briefed on how to go about the Mussoorie trip, as matured boys. The brief largely revolved around getting pocket money from house masters, managing to reach town on our own, being available for the roll call just before the movie show outside Picture Palace and to get back to school, dead or alive, for the final roll call, before dinner time. We had never managed currency, we had never booked movie tickets and we could walk all the way to Mussoorie on our own, without actually knowing the way. We were matured and crazy at the same time!
It was on these long, early-chilly-morning walks to town and back to school in the quickly-getting-cold dusk, that boys really got to know each other. We would walk with matching steps, wait for the one falling behind, pull and push on the elevation and engage in banter the entire 1½ hours-7 kms walk to town. In town, we would help each other figure how to spend the royal amount of INR 20/- every trip. There was a pattern, a tradition of sorts. By the time you are back, dead or alive, you are back to square one and paisa zero. You could take the bus, to and fro, or save ticket fare and walk both ways. You would purchase a ‘movie ticket’, have a sumptuous lunch of ‘chhole bhature’ or ‘masala dosa’, play some video games and save just enough to buy Aunty’s ‘bun-omelette’ at Barlowganj on the way back to school. The lightest and fittest boys were paid in advance mostly, who would jog all the way to town to queue up and fight their way to the ticket counter and buy movie tickets for the entire lot. There was consensus eventually on lunch menu, boys moving around in small groups, breaking off for video game sessions or a long walk till Library/Vasu Cinema and back in time for roll call before entering Picture Palace and a few running back to Vasu for their show. The walk back was always a sweet and sour.
PS, SB and I were on our very own golden triangle highway. Every day peeled off a new layer in our relationship, be it one of us getting off the right side of the bed versus the left, one of us wearing all upper body garments before tucking up on the bottoms, one wanting to have baths on weekdays instead of the much-favored weekends while one of us would dodge water even while bathing, et all. Naturally, with every passing second Saturday, our walks were getting slower, talks cozier and the warmth could make Neil, Nitin and Mukesh jealous!
During one of these trips to town, two of us soon realized, that the third vertex had become an acute angle today. He was low on money, energy and words. Movie show was a no-brainer. It could not be missed. We didn’t discuss much. Without agreeing, we skipped lunch. It wasn’t a long movie. I remember us coming out of the hall, taking a right towards the Mall Road for something and then deciding to head back to school. Just at the spot where we realized we would not get a shop for the next couple of kilometers, one of us said, he was feeling hungry. The other two nodded, pulled out the precious gold coins in our possession and stopped at the last shop on the road. The one who had no gold didn’t like cream biscuits, the one with the most money wanted branded cream biscuits and the third and the smartest one muttered that the long walk back and dry biscuits will make throats go dry, so better to buy some water. Instantly and without warning he was pushed off the railings that guarded the small kirana shop entrance. He got upset and walked out. After a while, the two warring kings came out smiling. The third one waiting outside reconciled, that at least the creamy-battle was over. One of them was carrying a fairly large polythene packet with some pretty heavy grub inside. But none of it looked like a water bottle. While walking past, one of the kings said told the Jackass, “there is a public water tap just on the turn of Wynberg. Drink your heart out and die.” The third king without any kingdom snarled, “sure, but first let’s dry our throats. Show me what have you guys got?” Before he could peek in, one of us said, “let’s mix all the grub in the bag and pull out one by one; whatever comes is our luck.” That’s when all three biscuit packets came out one final time before being poured into the polythene. The upset king saw there were coconut flavored biscuits too. He took a look at the other two and smiled. Bastards knew what he liked. We continued with these rainbow treats in many future walk backs.
– Kanishka Mallick (1996)
This piece was shared by Kanishka Mallick on January 02, 2020 via a personal message.