Meanwhile the girls of our batch had something of their own cooking. Most of them were dressed in formals – Indian suits, lehnga-chunnis and ghagharas etc. and they giggled and chatted and gesticulated. They had prepared something and were ascending the stage for the presentation. Alka, Srabani, Neeti, Ruchi, Puja, Payal, Meenakshi, Stuti, Monica, Rajul and Payal, stood in a line and started to perform a medley. One by one each of them would come forward, perform their piece, singing, gesticulating, whirling around, dancing a little or more than a little, and then go back to their place in the line. All of us clapped and cheered them on. After this it was the children’s turn to perform.
I drifted away towards the drink stall once more. There was a racket going on there. Appu, Umesh, Rahul, Macha, Maheshwari, Sutanu everyone was there. Some people flitted in and out of the group. DK came, Teju came, Vibhuti popped in for some time, Mona came, even Abhinav and Logani drifted over slowly, chatted, laughed and then drifted back to the main crowd where everyone was sitting enjoying the performances.
Our drinks in hand, we were enjoying the performance of Puru’s daughters to a song by Daddy Yankee when Amita came looking for us.
‘Come, it’s our turn,’ she said, beckoning me and Sutanu. I looked towards the stage, Somnath was already there, as were the other performers, Akhila, Mouli and Sudipa. Amita and Akhila had come up with this idea of singing a medley of songs and they had formed this group and had also practiced a couple of times in the morning, in Sutanu’s room, if I remember correctly.
I looked at Somnath, he had the same mischievous sparkle in his eyes as he had during college – we were going to enjoy the performance. And thus, we started, singing the medley, one after the other. I was keeping the time, giving the cues to everyone. It was fun! I was surprised to see how well the girls sang, and how good our voices sounded together – I wish we had had more time to prepare more songs. It would have been such fun!!
After the performance, I headed towards the stall for a drink; I was thirsty. As I filled my glass, I spied Rahul Joshi walk out of one of the glass doors which led on to a huge terrace adjoining the banquet hall. I smiled; I knew why he was going out. One needed a smoke after a few drinks. I had myself kicked the habit, but a few puffs won’t be so bad after all. I followed Rahul out on to the terrace.
‘Hey buddy’, I called out after him.
‘Aaja aaja. Come along,’ he said.
There was a certain quality to his voice which I found difficult to discern. He was the same old Rahul Joshi alright, but there was something different about him now. This had bothered me even before, when I had met him in his room. His smile and his eyes still told different stories, but the careless abandon was gone. The ever-mischievous Rahul, pulling everyone’s leg, playing pranks with everyone, was gone. This Rahul was more somber.
‘Maybe I am reading him wrong,’ I thought.
‘Maybe he is still the same old Rahul. It’s just been a long time and thus it feels strange,’ I tried to convince myself unsuccessfully.
‘How are you buddy,’ I said walking up to him?
He stood by the parapet, blowing smoke rings, as was his habit since college.
‘All well brother,’ he said.
Strange! Rahul wasn’t the one to talk in monosyllables or even short sentences.
I walked up to him and stood beside him, leaning over the parapet in the cold night. The drinks had hit so we were not too cold, otherwise it would have been impossible to stand outside tonight. This winter had been really cold.
Rahul stood looking down from the terrace, the tip of his cigarette glowing as he pulled on it. I stood silently, watching, knowing when not to disturb ‘a moment’. He exhaled, the smoke condensing around him, forming a cloud of fog, making the ‘moment’ seem unearthly. The smoke mingled with the descending fog and hung in the air, temporarily suspended, refusing to leave, like a persistent ex-lover. Rahul pulled again; his face lit by the glow from his stick.
‘How are things in Delhi brother? How have you been doing? How is Didi,’ I ventured again, unwillingly to let go, even like the smoke which lingered on.
We had visited Rahul’s home in Delhi during the annual festival at AIIMS Delhi, PLEXUS, and still remembered his hospitality warmly. Auntie and Didi had been warm and caring, and had fussed over what we would eat and where we were going and if things were safe etc. Every morning we would be plied with a HUGE cup of delicious and piping hot tea, before we got ready to leave for the function.
Yes, we went back a long way!
And thus, I persisted.
‘All is well brother. I have nothing important going on. Everyone is OK,’ he replied, and then continued, ‘In fact I have realized that ‘nothing’ is the keyword of my life.’ He chuckled. I looked at him, my brows knit together, unable to understand what he was trying to say.
‘Why,’ I asked? ‘Why is ‘nothing’ the keyword of your life’?
‘Brother, I realized some time ago that whatever you do in life ultimately comes to nothing. Buy a big car, have lots of money, buy property, send children abroad, buy jewelry…..then what? What? What after that? What will that change? Nothing’, he said, smiling!
I was shocked beyond words. What Rahul was talking was the gist of whatever has been expounded in Hindu philosophy, in Upanishads, in Gita, in hundreds of thousands of sermons by seers over millennia. But coming from Rahul Joshi! He was the quintessential Charvaka, the materialist philosopher of ancient India. I stared at him, my shock and admiration obvious to him.
He chuckled and went on. ‘Bhai (brother), I have learnt much in the last year or so,’ he said and then went on to describe all that had happened to him in the recent past. He kept talking and I kept listening, unwilling to disturb him, unwilling to break this spell which held us together, praying no one would come to disturb us.
I was surprised and happy that we were having this talk and told him as much. He was happy too and laughed gingerly.
‘There is this town in a country in the erstwhile Soviet Union which I like to visit,’ he continued.
‘You know why?’
I shook my head in the negative.
‘The place I go to can be reached by a long car drive on a very very lonely road. And the house that I stay in is in absolute wilderness. There is nothing there. NOTHING. Just the house and me, and cold mountains and a frozen desert. To see any human habitation, one has to drive miles. I go there frequently. It gives me time to contemplate. To think over things. To experience ‘nothingness’, he kept going.
‘It is in this ‘nothing’ that I have found most peace and have realized my doctrine of ‘nothing’.
I was speechless.
‘Rahul’, I said, ‘You have just expounded the gist of the Upanishads and the Gita. I am so surprised and happy we had this talk,’ I said.
Rahul laughed again, loudly this time.
‘I am happy too brother,’ he said, looking at his watch. ‘Have to go now.’
‘Yes, let’s go inside,’ I agreed.
We walked inside the hall together, the smell of tobacco still lingering around us, as was the aroma of the talk we had. Once inside, Rahul got drawn towards Macha and Umesh, as I gravitated towards Appu and Sutanu and Vaishali and the kids. Each man went his way, according to his own destiny.
I sat dazed for a long time after this, unable to swallow what I had just experienced. Surprised, but happy. I was happy my friend had seen the light, even though the way to the ‘light’ had not been easy but then, it never is.
To be continued………………………………….
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