The evening had turned to night now, cold and young. Liveried waiters moved around with delicious snacks and drinks. The women sat together on sofas around glass-topped tables and chatted. Children ran around the hall, not paying attention to the stares from concerned parents. We, the men, stood within serving distance of the bar and talked and laughed like there was no tomorrow!
It has been some time now, and my memory does not serve me well, so I do not remember what we were talking about. I only remember the feeling of happiness, light headedness, and careless abandon that floated around the hall that evening.
Macha walked in. Macha was Ashish Kumar Deb, before he was rechristened ‘Macha’. Why? Ha ha ha! He was always full of bluster and big talk and lived life to the hilt. He had his ills too, and many people did not like him, but that did not stop him from living it king size. He had had some reverses along the way, like the rest of us, but for the most part – he was still the old ‘MACHA’.
We hugged. I do not remember when I had hugged Macha last – we were not close that way! Yes, him and I often crossed our paths in our common pool of friends, but no, we were not close. But today, everyone was close.
Macha also looked pretty much unchanged – he had gained weight, but it was difficult to tell. He was portly and stocky of built even in college. He sported the same handlebar mustache that was so characteristic of him. His face showed signs of aging, though. Fat is a great culprit you see. It has a tendency to get deposited in places which tells people that one has seen the years. And yes, there were the characteristic dark circles under his eyes – reminder of the life in the fast lane that he lived. Not many knew the details of his family life, and few bothered to ask, and today too he had come alone.
Children had started to have dinner now, and their mothers were eyeing the dinner stand too, when Sridhar and his family walked in. When I looked at Sri, short for Sridhar, I realized I had forgotten how tall he was. Or had he grown in height after he left college? No, that was not possible. And yes, he had lost hair. Well, he was on his way to being bald even in college, but now he really, truly was bald. And whatever little mope of hair he had had, he had got shaved. So yes, he had a shiny head now. Dark and shiny like a shaligram, that shiny stone found only in some places and revered as an earthly manifestation of ‘Vishnu’, the God of Gods. And it was a coincidence too that ‘Sridhar’ meant ‘Vishnu’ – one who holds Sri, or Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity.
Sridhar had always been soft spoken and courteous, and girls liked him, and that was a problem point with boys. But we were beyond that now, of course. Sridhar lived and worked in the UK. He was an orthopedic surgeon, but in the UK he worked with rehabilitation services for the spinal injury patients. He had recently been felicitated by the royal family for his work with the paraplegics. His work paid him well and gave him enough leaves so that he could travel the world, which he did. He had seen more places across the globe than most of us had even heard of.
Sometimes people said denigrating things about him, but I suppose they were just plain jealous. As was I. What wouldn’t I give for a job like his? It would be a dream come true. I could travel the whole world and write and write and write. Yes, it would be a dream job. But, unfortunately, he had the job and I had the dream.
Anyway, to each his own. We welcomed Sri with greater cheer than we had welcomed the others, since the whiskey was working now. The boys were talking loudly, leaning on each other and patting each other’s back more often than normal – signs that the party was going well.
The children and their mothers had finished their dinners by now. The men continued talking. Sri, however, was tired and he excused himself and had his dinner and left. Swati, Sudipa and Vaishali eyed us while leaving, a gentle reminder to stay within limits of sobriety. We were promised a little leeway, but we had to know our limits – fair enough!
When everyone had gone, Macha pulled a table in the middle of the hall and ordered the waiters to make arrangement for the remaining guests around that table. We sat around the table, our drinks in our hands, and continued to chat. Macha had appropriated the last remaining bottle of liquor now and had brought it to our table. That saved us the bother of going to the bar to refill our glasses.
‘Food, Sir?’ the manager of the banquet asked tentatively.
‘Later,’ was Macha’s gruff reply.
Avinash called the manager close to him and whispered something in the ear. It had been arranged. We will get a little more of our quality time – courtesy Macha and Rajaji. As more drinks were poured the laughter flowed, everyone talking all at once – I, Appu, Sutanu, Shyam, Macha, Avinash.
We were served dinner where we sat. All of us ate, except Macha – he was on a liquid only diet! It was just like college days again!!
The night wore on and soon it was time to go. Rajaji and Macha had to go drive to their respective places. We lumbered back to our hotel; everyone was tired, tipsy but satisfied; and happy! It would be a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow we would go around the temples of the town and have lunch at Rajaji’s place – oooh, I was so excited, I wondered if I would be able to sleep that night!!
To be continued………………………………….
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