I am 32. Yes, with a near-perfect life. But here I am thinking all about those good old days, when I was young, when I was happy, and when I hadn’t lost my best friend. It had been 3 hours now, and Dharnai was nowhere to be seen. I was visiting an old friend, an old best friend in fact. It was a surprise obviously, and I hope he still lives there. We stopped talking ages ago, it was an old argument and it was bad. No one apologized, no one called each other, and that’s how it ended.
I miss him sometimes when I think about those hostel days, the spontaneous trips, the late-night chai near the bridge, and randomly cursing each other. I decided to visit him today and it feels weird. What if he’s a completely different person now, what if he’s not happy seeing me and all these questions scared me a bit, to be honest.
Finally, I saw this signboard- Dharnai (800 meters). I felt a little thing in my chest, maybe I was happy, maybe I was tense, maybe I was anxious, and maybe I was worried at the same time. I parked my car beside the board, and I decided to walk. No reason.
The place was all about the Banyan trees, the roots were massive. I smiled as I pictured myself swinging on those roots. Those were the sweet childhood days. Playing with these branches, with dirt all over you, continuously giggling and laughing with no allergies or anything. What have I become now?, I asked myself as I kept walking.
After walking for around 4 and a half minutes, I saw a man. He was bald, fit maybe, tall, hairy, and my guess is 45 years old. He looked at me and then looked away.
“Hello?” I asked, “Are you from Dharnai?”
“Yes” He replied. His voice was deep.
There was a gap.
“So, what are you doing?” I asked just to break the awkward silence.
“What do you want?”, He sounded pissed
Another awkward silence…. And I started walking.
I had a feeling that this trip was going to end badly. The first conversation was fabulous. I cursed myself as I entered into some market of the village. The place was dusty. The market was not that crowded, so I was guessing that the village was small. I saw an old man sitting beneath a tree eating a fresh cucumber. Old people generally know all the people in the village, so I decided to ask him about my friend.
He looked away.
“Uhm, do you happen to know Mayank? I think he lives here…”
“Mayank?” He replied. He sounded pale.
“Yes, do you know where his house is?”
He showed me the directions using his cucumber as a pointer. I hope he is right.
“Thank you”, I said as I started walking in that direction.
The village was becoming more and more beautiful on the way, with the lush green trees and shrubs laden with fruits and flowers, a small lake and tiny compact huts. Well, I was really excited to see him. The last time I was here was during the summer vacation when mom and dad had finally allowed me to visit Mayank’s place. The lake was huge back then but everything else was the same.
The road was muddy, and I had to be careful. I didn’t know how far his house was, but I just kept walking. I kept looking around. Finally, I had the chance to see birds other than pigeons and crows. The sky was beautiful, and it was a bright sunny day, just the way I like it. It’s funny that even though I am in love this place, something inside me always tells me that I don’t belong here.
I finally decided to ask someone again, so that I don’t waste time in just roaming around. I saw a lady, drying clothes on a thin rope. The hut was surprisingly bigger than the other huts I saw on the way. But, she looked busy, so I went a little ahead.
“Do you want something?”, A voice said.
It was the same lady. Maybe she must have figured out that I was confused by looking at my face.
“Uh yes, I was looking for Mayank. Do you happen to know him?”
“Yes, He is my husband,” She said as she dropped the cloth and started walking towards me.
“Oh, well, I have come to meet him”
“We are not going to move from here. Never. Please leave us alone!” She said as she picked up a huge stick as if to kill me.
“I come in peace”, I replied, but she kept walking towards me. Another lady started walking towards me from the opposite end. The moment was tense, I didn’t know what to do.
I don’t know why, but I picked up a stone. I PICKED UP A STONE !? I didn’t know what I was doing. That made the women stop, but it made the other lady’s husband walk towards me. I hope he knows it was self- defence. I am no fighter, so I put my hands in the air. I know, I am stupid, but I had to show them that I had surrendered.
“STOP!”, someone shouted from behind.
It was the same bald man I met on the way. Everyone stopped. I thought maybe this bald guy was like the head of the village. Surprisingly, he walked towards the lady of the big house and he stood beside her.
“What!?” I shouted, “Mayank???”
“Yes, what do you want?”, He replied confidently. I hate his confidence, And I was scared of this exact statement. He did not recognise me.
“Don’t you remember me Mayank?
“You expect me to recognize you huh. Did you recognize me?? What should I do about the fact that you just walked away thinking that I am some weird stranger from the village?”
I had nothing to say, He had recognized me, but I didn’t. I felt really bad. I kept looking at the ground. All of a sudden, he started walking towards me. I sensed danger……. But then he then paused and then gave me a big hug. This is exactly who a best friend is. Even though you don’t talk to that person daily or on a regular basis, they still love you. What a moment.
“No, I am not 40 plus” He said smiling, “I am still young”
“Alright, I believe you” I replied, and we burst out laughing.
“Come inside, let’s have some chai”, he said as he took my hand and pulled it.
I smiled and followed. The neighbours still looked confused, and the sticks still pointing at me. Mayank’s wife was still looking pissed and annoyed at whatever happened. I wanted to say sorry, but I couldn’t.
The house was so simple that it was beautiful. I hope you know what I mean. Sometimes simple things make you so happy. The floor was uneven, but it felt real. There were rods in between the houses to support the roof. This was still an old house, but it was maintained well. There was an open space in between, with the right amount of sunlight falling over there. That means there was no roof in that small part of the house. It must have been made for a little family get together every evening. It was a great idea.
“Are you the head of the village May?” I asked.
“Yes, I am. Why do you think so?”
“Well, this hut is super big”
“Not as big as your bungalow brother” He sounded a little off now. Or maybe I was being paranoid. I kept observing. This was all fascinating for me, visiting a village after so long.
“This is my wife, Mayra” He said as she brought us chai.
I looked at her, but I didn’t know what to do. In cities we shake hands, but do we shake hands in villages? Or should I just stand up and then take the tea. Or maybe I can just say “OH”
I ended up nodding. Great. I took a sip and GOD, that was like the best tea I’ve ever had.
“This chai is supreme” I said, “What is it made of?”
“Tea leaves and milk Bhaiya”, Mayra replied.
I felt dumb. It wasn’t a literal question. I wanted to reply with a sarcastic statement, but never mind.
“Okay……… nice” I replied. It was tough.
“So, what do you do these days?” Mayank asked.
“I have a small poultry business” I replied as I finished the tea. The tea was too less.
“Oh, what happened to that government job you had?”
“I quit a year ago”
“Why would you quit a govt job?”
“Things change May”
“Just like our friendship changed?” He said as he stood up. He told me to come outside through his facial expressions. We still had what best friends have, sensing what the other person wants to say. I smiled and followed him.
“You could have quit the job back then. You could have come with me. Why didn’t you. I did everything for you. You couldn’t do this one thing for me?” He said. He was really annoyed. I was expecting this, but not so soon.
“Okay, you know what. Let’s clear all of this. Its time you know what happened to me okay?” I replied. I was ready for this. I continued, “I know, in fact, we both know, that after being assigned the land acquiring project, you would quit. And as expected you saw the name of your village in the list and u quit. Because you were rich. You could survive without the job. Your father had kept it all ready for you here. But me? Have you ever wondered what I was going through. You wanted me to leave my parents who lived in some small room in the city. I wanted to earn enough to make them happy. I couldn’t quit May, How could I?”
“I know it was tough for you, but your parents could have come with us here. What I had wasn’t only mine, It was ours. My parents had helped you so much. We could have done farming together.”
I didn’t know what to say. No one was right or wrong here. But the circumstances are different for different people. I hope he understands. I really wanted things to be normal again. I know it was too late, but it was worth a shot.
“Forget it, Let’s talk about something else.” He said. Must have been tough for him. It was getting dark now and maybe it was time for dinner because Mayra waved at him.
“C’mon, let’s have dinner”, he said. He looked normal again.
I nodded and followed him into the hut. I was curious about the menu. The plates were made of brass. I was really hungry as well as excited. Mayra brought 2 small mats to sit on. We then sat on the floor. The menu was pretty simple, but since I was hungry, I was just ready to eat anything I get. They passed me salad, but I denied. It was just beetroot and radish. The only 2 things I don’t like in salad. On top of that they were having it raw. It tastes so much better with the salad dressing. Anyways, I took a few pieces of radish. The dinner was delicious and very spicy.
No one talked during the dinner. I ate to my full. Its very true that when you eat a lot, you feel dizzy and that is exactly what was happening to me. Mayank then took two charpais and kept them on the other side of the street.
“C’mon” He said, “you don’t wanna miss the night sky”
“Perfect” I said to myself.
We were lying on the bed looking at stars, discussing some old pranks, memories. We laughed so much. After a long time, I felt like I was happy. Time went by real quick.
“it's 11:11, make a wish,” he said.
“I don’t have anything to wish for” I replied still wondering if what I said was true.
“Nah, you make a wish May”
“My only wish is to keep this village safe. The govt is sending people regularly to check on us and they are trying to persuade people to move. Do you know anything about this?”
“No, I have no idea.” I continued, “But that explains why Mayra picked up the stick”
“Yeah, I don’t think we have much time. I might have to do something.”
“What are you gonna do May, you have no power here.”
“Why are you on their side?”
“No, I am on your side. And I think you know that you are helpless here. Wish for something else”
“Well, I have nothing to ask for.” he continued, “just give me some followers on Instagram.”
“Wait what? You are on Instagram? Why? I mean. Wow”
“Why? Can’t villagers use Instagram?”
“You can…. You can…but I’m surprised”
“How many followers do you have?”
“Can we talk about something else?” I said.
“I bet you have less followers than me.” He said smiling.
“Good night May.”
It was a good day. Even though I had met him after so long, I still felt the same energy between us. The next day was going to be bad and I was nervous. I managed to get a good sleep.
I woke up because of the flies there. I didn’t know flies were so irritating. Anyways, I took a bath and had a nice breakfast with a nice cup of chai. I prepared myself for what was next.
“Okay May, I think I’m gonna leave.”
“Not so soon brother, stay for at least another day. We have a nice little celebration tonight.” He said excitedly.
My heart sank. Oh May, I wish I could stay. But you have no idea what’s gonna happen to you. Somehow, I gathered courage and called him outside.
“What happened all of a sudden?” He asked me.
“I lied Mayank.”
“I don’t understand.” Now he sounded serious.
“Okay, I lied about not knowing about the land acquirement of this village. This task was assigned to me.”
Not a good sign, I said to myself. His OH’s are dangerous. I didn’t know what to do. He wasn’t speaking and his face tone changed from happy to something else in seconds.
“So, you are here to finally end our friendship?” he said as he sat down on the charpai.
“No, Mayank. Please. Hear me out……”
“No…enough”, Mayank interrupted, “You think I’m in the mood of listening to you? You have no business of poultry. You still have that job, don’t you?........ Great.”
“I trusted you. And you do this to me. How can you even talk to me? Don’t you feel ashamed?! Take your stuff and get the hell out of this village” he shouted.
Now the entire village was gathering around us and I did not like this. He wasn’t even listening to me.
“I quit yesterday”
Mayank, who had started walking back, turned around.
“Yes”, I continued, “The seniors were pressurising me to approve the land acquisition, so I had to…. The officials would have come tomorrow to make a final deal with you. And the deal was bad. I quit yesterday just to buy you some time Mayank. How long are you going to keep doing this? One day, you will have to accept this deal. If not you, maybe someone else will have to. But this wont stop. Now that I quit, you have around 2-3 months to shift your farm. Look for new soil. That’s all I can say.”
“Get lost,” He said and started walking back to his hut. All the villagers too started dispersing.
I realised that it was the end of our friendship.
“I hope you know I tried,” I shouted as I turned back. My heart was heavy. This was all too disturbing. I felt so bad for him and on top of that, I had lost him, this time forever. The drive felt too long this time. The songs weren’t helping and I felt lonely. I thought now that I had quit my job, poultry farming wasn’t a bad idea.
________________________TWO YEARS LATER______________________________
I was in a meeting, finalising some deal regarding the poultry business. My business was going really well. And in the middle of the meeting, suddenly I saw a notification. < follow request from ‘May32’ on Instagram > I just lost focus in the meeting. I kept staring at the notification. It did not feel real.
This is exactly who a best friend is. Even though you don’t talk to that person daily or on a regular basis, they still love you. I really hope this marks the new era of our friendship.