Dedicated to a departed friend,
And his friends, in whose memories, he shall stay alive forever.
I first met Aakash, on June 1st, 2002, when we were in 1st standard. It was his birthday, and our eonian friendship took birth from a handshake, which he exchanged with me, on wishing him “Happy Birthday”. The first inquiry he made of me, wasn’t a clichéd “What’s your name? “ or “Where is your home?” or “My name is ….”. No….not at all……He, like his answers were distinct and unique….something beyond impersonation….He asked-“When’s your birthday?”
I said-“Oh! My birthday is just over….It was yesterday….”
On that day he made a pledge, which he never forfeited in his span, until…….
March 31st,2009, was a Monday. Our school recommenced on this day, imposing a seventh standard badge on both of us. In accordance to his long sustained affirmation,( which made me blew off 5 candles over the past 6 years) he had planned this time’s celebration on a larger scale….perhaps beyond prognostication … he had arranged a small party in school, a vanilla cake baked by his mother, the even more delectable friends’ and teachers’ presence, and above all that, the immutable smile of inexplicable happiness on his face…..What more could I get on such a special occasion!
On the way, back home, in the school bus, I didn’t thank him for organizing the jubilation and for catering adeptly to the occasion. Instead I assured him that I would surpass his anticipations, regarding the celebrations which I would be putting up the next day, on his birthday. But, contrary to my mental prognosis, what I observed was his rather smile ridden face, contemplating some impending engagement in the near future….
“But Aaditya, I’d already planned a trip to my uncle’s home tomorrow….and I almost got it sanctioned by my parents…..And…above all alluring prospects, this time I’m going alone…my first trip alone…isn’t that a thrilling aspect…”
My foiling reply was-“But Aakash, what about your birthday party? Remember, I possess the right to celebrate yours, like you did mine….and right now, I can’t express what I’ve planned for you…It’s that big…Ok…So please….I request….Stay…Just for a day….”
Aakash was certainly moved by my plea, and his murmur, perhaps a shift of plans, heralded a reply I was earnestly awaiting for….
“Aaditya….you’ve struck the right cord….. you certainly know that for me, you’re above an uncle whom I’m going to meet for the first time….”
This was enough for me. This was more than an ‘obligatory assurance’ from him.
The ----------------- words I --------------------from him……..
When I got off the bus, he waved me goodbye and I waved him back. He had that affirmatory gleam on his face when he did that. I stood there and watched him until he, driven by the bus, faded into obscurity as mere atomies, imperceptible for human vision….
I came home, began working on the birthday card, employed my mother to bake- her best three-layered chocolate cake and managed to fetch bouquets and gift wrappers from the nearby mall, with my father’s help. Every aspect was covered, all indispensible requisites catered…. Now it was all up to how well I could garner a birthday present from those materials…..
The next morning, I was having my breakfast in haste, my mind preoccupied with thoughts of merriment, only concerning Aakash and his birthday. A clamour of the telephone bell, urged my father to wash his hands quickly, and to answer the call. It didn’t last long. His keeping the receiver back on the telephone unit was evident from the characteristic “kttkkk”……..
My mother enquired-“Who was it?”
Father:”yeah….ehhh. it’was from the passport office…. remember? I told you that Aadi’s passport will be expiring next month….foreseeing that, I’d made an appointment…and I’ve got today, as the date…. And I think Aadi will only be glad to take a leave from school today…”
Instead of springing from my chair with intended exhilaration, I felt offended at acquiring knowledge of such an impedimental proclaim-“But daddy, I can’t come with you today…..You know that today’s special…and that I’ve been long preparing for it…..please consider my feelings….”
“But Aadi, I’m not the one sanctioning your passport………. and I honestly can’t help the appointment’s availability, whenever we get it….there’s no other way……”
“No father……I’m sorry……Today I ought reach school early and hand over these gifts to Aakash…..I insisted on him cancelling his trip to his uncle’s home, today, just for this reason…..So please….then you can take me wherever you want…..”
“ok then….according to your wish…….”
I belted along the corridor pathway hastily. In my mind, I was rehearsing the lines, which I had prepared, a brief intro, to address the class before inviting Aakash for the birthday song.
When I arrived in class, I saw a herd of my classmates circling around someone. Initially, I came to the conclusion that they would have defeated my purpose by holding a small-scale wishing ceremony for ‘Aakash’……
When I inquisitively peeped inside the circle, I couldn’t find him and I got a bit agitated.
I asked Rohan-“Where is our birthday boy? Didn’t come yet?”
Rohan seemed unusually pitiful that day for a reason which I was unable to decipher.
“No Aadi, he won’t come today….he’ll never come again…..”
I couldn’t believe my ears-“Stop the play Aakash….where are you? Please man….come out of hiding….”
Our class leader Mohit stepped forward and addressed me equanimously-“I’m sorry to say this to you Aadi…But you’ll have to accept the reality anyway….Your friend is no more….He died yesterday, succumbing to a cardiac arrest….”
I felt that my senses were momentarily deceiving me. Or rather, I was behaving oneirically.
“Don’t joke guys….seriously…it’s not a joke….He might’ve gone to his uncle’s home….But this big a lie! To hide that…ridiculous extreme!”
Completing this I turned back feigning confidence or certainty. Behind me stood my class teacher who reiterated the same vicious articulate-
“I’m sorry Aadi, but….I conveyed this message to your father this morning…and asked him to keep you off at home, for a day, citing some reason….but…”
For a mere seventh standard, this was a little too much to endure. I felt my legs giving way to an intense fatigue which generated from my heart. My eyes closed gently and my back kissed the floor first……The first collapse in my life…….
I opened my eyes, snapping the vision of a bright yellow observation lamp, glistening above my head. The green bedsheets with white stripes and the deplorable stench of medicines, were more than vague aspects to approximate that I was admitted in a hospital. I turned my head sidewise, to arrest the vision of my parents’ head-to-head conversation with the duty doctor. I could marginally make out their conversation from my bed:
Doctor:”Your son is perfectly all right…..No need to worry at all…”
Mother:”But….Doctor, are there any injuries?”
“Yes, but not physical…..I presume it’s mental…… perhaps because I’m a bit versed with psychiatry ………I could make out from, his uttering out his friend’s name in sleep, the extent of their closeness…….I think that he’s still not prepared to accept reality….after all, truth is a bitter reality eh? And for a child of his age……..It’s too much…..I would suggest you of taking him to a psychiatrist…..I think hypnosis would help him out of it….”
I felt disappointed at being pitied again and at falsely stating the death of my friend who is alive, now standing, on my right side!
“Aakash, where have you been? Why did you do this to me? They say you died yesterday. I tried defending you by saying that you went to meet your uncle…..Come, say the truth…What really happened to you?”
“Aadi, what they said was indeed wrong and what you say is right. I went to meet my uncle, but that I was unaware of his death, 7 years ago!!! Today I saw him, my grandma, grandpa, and many of my relatives …..A new world…..Better than ours maybe……But I wanted to come back just for the sake of seeing you once again……Now as that’s fulfilled, I think it’s time to leave”
I couldn’t fully digest the meaning of what he uttered, but still replied-“Then please don’t go alone, take me with you…I can’t live without you”
“No Aadi…I can’t do that and I mustn’t …..your parents will lose you….their most valuable possession… like mine lost their…. And….don’t ever feel that you’re forsaken… My absence won’t hurt you more than maybe, a year, or even fewer days….You have our memories of having been together….that’s enough to cherish for a lifetime…..and live upto your span, whatever it may be…..when your time comes, you shall join me at the new world……where earth’s 1000 years is just a minute! A time paradox! Won’t that be great! So it’s just a matter of a few seconds….the time to put a toss…by that time, we’ll meet…there….Goodbye…”
I then saw his body’s lineation fading into a bright white light, merging into the wall paint.
A few moments later, I opened my eyes into reality, when the doctor aroused me from my sound sleep!