An elder yet uncynical Yashpal Kumar made his way through the crowded Bombay Central railway station. Waiting for him at the entrance was Iqbal Khan. The only thing that outshone Iqbal’s bald head on that hot afternoon was his warm smile. The two friends embraced each other and began walking towards Iqbal’s home.
Looking around, the area brought back many memories to Yashpal. Just a few miles from here was the college where they studied together. Trying to keep up with the sprightly Iqbal, Yashpal tried to get the latest gossip.
“So buddy, what’s happening among our friends these days? I hope all of them are still alive!”
Iqbal smiled. But immediately Yashpal felt that something was wrong. This was the exact expression of the Iqbal who had been going through a depression after his mother passed away. It was a mask that might fool the world, but not an old friend.
Yashpal gently placed his hand on Iqbal’s shoulders and led him towards a chai tapri. Over the years, their incomes rose. But their love for chai stayed the same.
Between hot sips of a cutting chai, Yashpal got to the point.
“Tell me Iqbal. Is everything all right?”
Iqbal shook his head sadly and sighed.
“Yash, you ask how our buddies are doing. Well it seems like either they have changed or perhaps I never really knew them.
“Because now these friends who got together with me for every Eid suddenly want people of my religion to not do business around Hindu temples.
“Now the people who benefited from minority scholarships in foreign universities have an objection with reservations in our own colleges.”
Gulping down his tea, Iqbal grimaced.
“Forgive me. Perhaps I have said too much. Perhaps even you agree with them.”
Feeling embarrassed, Yashpal looked away. He gently mumbled that these were not his views.
But was that enough, Yashpal wondered? How he wished that what Iqbal said wasn’t all too familiar to him. Didn’t his colleagues, relatives, even his children’s friends say similar things? Didn’t he just avoid the topic when they did so? Maybe it was too easy for him to avoid the topic.
As Yashpal finished his tea, he noticed that the man running the tapri kept looking at Iqbal. Large and brutish, the man had a prominent saffron tilak on his forehead. After another moment, the man reached out to grab Iqbal.
Fearing the worst Yashpal tried to get between the two of them.
“Iqbal sir! It’s you!” the large man exclaimed.
Iqbal carefully peered at him for a moment.
Impatiently the large man went on “It’s me sir! You used to teach me geography in school…You gave me extra tuitions when I was struggling to pass…”
“Montu?” Iqbal inquired.
“Oh you have grown so big my baccha!”
The student and teacher hugged.
This was followed with some haggling over the chai bill as Montu refused to accept any money.
After a while we walked away but Iqbal suddenly looked serious again.
“See there still seem to be some good people out there Iqbal.” Yashpal pointed out.
Iqbal shook his head sadly.
“Dear friend, the problem isn’t that people are bad. The problem is that we require proof for some people to be considered good.”
Walking through the crowded street, the friends settled into a comfortable pace. Soon they would reach Iqbal’s home and enjoy a delicious meal. Around Iqbal’s family, they would just be old friends happily sharing old stories.
But for now they made space for some discomfort. That existed not just between to the two of them, but everywhere around them