Yaari hai imaan meri, yaar meri zindagi


People makes new friends and acquaintancesall through life, but the most concrete friendships are formed at school agelargely and in college to a lesser extent. Thereafter, new people inpeople’s lives are more acquaintances than friends. This is my individualperception, not a universal truth. It is obvious there is no one formula thatapplies to all human beings’ experiences. And of the friends made during childhood,only a select few become soulmates who remain lifelong BFFs (best friendsforever).After my family’s migration from EastPakistan, I went to Dharmanagar Junior Basic School and then Bir BikramInstitution, but our stay at Dharmanagar lasted only nine months and so I couldnot make any real friend. From Dharmanagar we moved to Sonamura, whereI was enrolled in Class VI in the Nabadwip Chandra (NC) Institution, to becomemy alma mater. Right away, one boy transmitted all the rightvibes to me: Kazi Shah Alam, from the famous Kazi family of Sonamura. He was avery lean boy—dusky of skin and brunette of hair, in stark contrast to me. Iwas chubby (nourished by the milk and honey of East Pakistan) and my skin wasfair, with a faint reddishness. Opposite poles always attract. Shah Alam andI were like the opposite poles of two strong magnets that always seek eachother. I had another best friend, Krishnananda (Krishna) Laskar, but he was notin the same bracket as Shah Alam. Shah Alam and I were cloned from the samesoul. As a matter of daily routine, I finished mystudies by eight in the morning and rushed to Shah Alam’s house. His parentstreated me like their son, and I was a sibling to his brother. I had freeaccess to their kitchen. Similarly, Shah Alam was a son to my parents. Thoughmy grandmother was a Brahmin widow, she never restricted Shah Alam’s  entry from her kitchen. At times, I got thedistinct feeling that my mother loved Shah Alam more than me.After school was over, we went to the sameplayground and later, we were invariably drawn to the bank of the river Gomati,where Shah Alam entertained us with a bamboo flute.When I was promoted to Class IX, my fatherhad to go to Kolkata for a year. It was unavoidable, and we also accompaniedhim.On our return to Sonamura, I immediatelyrushed to Shah Alam’s house only to find that it was occupied by one Sahafamily. At no other time in my life did I feel the pangs of separation ascrushingly as I did then.I returned home sobbing, and my grandmotherconsoled me. I became ill, causing my parents great anxiety. They took me toAgartala for treatment.I came to know later that Shah Alam’sreaction to our separation was on par with mine.  His tears wetted hispillow every night in his new home in East Pakistan. His mother was bent onseeing me or at least getting news of me. She urged my friend to come toSonamura and see for himself how I was. When I heard about this, tears floweddown my cheeks. It is said children are resilient and getover separation pangs quickly. In my case, though, they lasted for ever. Somebonds are deep beyond description. Some bonds last forever: bonds that neithertime, nor distance can erode. . The best things in life, like true friendship,are not on sale. They cannot be bartered or stolen or begged. They can only beexperienced and felt. This story, though, does have a belatedlyhappy ending. Shah Alam found me after 56 long years at Agartala. Shah is an indelible chapter in my memorybanks that cannot be erased as long as  Iam alive.While Shah Alam comprised my strongestchildhood relationship apart from my family, I have been blessed all throughlife with awesome friendships.As with so many of my contemporaries aftercollege, I was directionless, unable to tap into my earlier inner fire, tofocus. The high ambition that had galvanized me all through my academic daysdimmed and I was lost, seemingly forever. While in college, I dabbled in theNaxalite movement, given to voicing empty slogans like, “China’s Chairman IsOur Chairman”. Fortunately, though, I came to realize thehollowness of these beliefs and these slogans very soon, and I then becamecompletely aloof from any sort of political activity.I was experiencing the sting of the realitiesof life. It is one reality of life that even an idle person needs at leastminimal sustenance money. Since I was reluctant to take up a 24 x 7 job, Istarted tutoring students of Classes IX to XI and behold! I was an instantsuccess. I soon had almost 75 students in all science subjects... Unexpectedly, my fame spread to the extentthat I received an offer to teach at a school about ten kilometres awayfrom home. At that school, I taught all subjects to students of Class IX. Mystudents, who included one future MLA and one future central minister, weremost receptive when I taught history. History was my favourite subject; in particular,the history of the Second World War. Among the works I used as text books wereThe Second World War by Winston Churchill; Hitler's War: Germany's Key Strategic Decisions1940-45  by HeinzMagenheimer; The History of TheSecond World War by VivekanandaMukhopadhyay and Panzer Leader by General Heinz Guderian.The best student in my school was a Muslimboy named Moslem. Unfortunately, I lost touch with him later.After I was done at the school, I taught someeligible widows of Sonamura Town. I was paid for this by a voluntaryassociation. Whatever I earned burned like fiery coal through my pocket.Nothing remained for the next day. I did not rue this—a habit that continues todate. I have never been financially sound. My wife has been cautioning me sinceI married her and my son has been cautioning me since he was born, but all oftheir pleas were in a lost cause. I was living for them, and I was earning forthem, but I was also leading my life on my terms, not theirs.My days ended at about eight in the eveningand my invariable pastime thereafter was to visit an adda,a friends‘ haunt in the Nehru Club, as also the famous Matri Bhandar, a sweetshop. Amu, Siddique, Mannan, Pradip Sen, Manu, Jahir, Bhutto da, Badal Ashish,and Goswai were my bosom friends. My most intimate school friends had by thistime gone to East Pakistan. In hindsight, I must admit this: I would not go outof my way for my own brothers, but I would do anything for my friends. Anythingand everything. Heaven is not just an ethereal thought, it isa subjective concept. Every person considers an actual place in this world tobe heaven. For me, it was Sonamura. This is what Emperor Jehangir is reportedto have exclaimed about Kashmir: “Agar Firdaus bar roo-e Zameenast, Hameen ast-o Hameen ast-o Hameen ast.” (If there is a paradise onEarth, it is here, it is here, it is here.) So enamoured was the emperorwith Kashmir that he apparently visited it eight times during his reign. And Iactually lived in my heaven on earth—Sonamura, my Firdaus. I never wanted to beanywhere else in the world. I thought Sonamura and I were eternally linked, butfate had other ideas.In the night, after 10:00 pm, my friends andI would haunt the Sonamura Tank and the burning ghats in the vicinit. Herelived Sunil Baran Dey, an unsung genius. He would play the sitar using ragaslike Hamir and Durga. His close companion was Debendra Kishore Choudhury (theformer Finance Minister) and Shanti Guha, a leading businessman, and a certainpolice officer. They were all connoisseurs of single-malt whisky. I am sure Deyreceived unseen accolades from heaven every day. He was an enigma to me. If I everfind the time and the ability, I will write an entire book on him.But whatever else I did, I would readprofusely, right into the wee hours. I read all sorts of books but focused onthe classics and history. Students often had to rouse me from a deep sleep so Icould get to their classes on time. Ajay, a boy no less than my son once said,“Uncle, I have never seen you without a book“. He gifted me the latest Kindlereading device. Today all of those people who played suchmemorable parts in my life—Shah Alam, Krishna, Amu, Siddique, Pradip Sen, Manu,Bhutto da, Badal Ashish and Sunil Baran Dey—are no more.  I am the onlysurviving custodian of the burning ghats. I am the crazy Meher Ali (a madmanbrought to life in Hungry Stone by Rabindranath Tagore), ceaselessly shouting hisenigmatic war cry, "Tafat jao, tafat jao, sab jhut hai, sab jhuthai." (Keep away, keep away; all is false, all is false).They say all good things come to an end. Andthat has become dreadfully true of my former heaven, Sonamura, which is nolonger the Sonamura of my memories. It is now a smuggling mafia’s den andflaunts black marketers, women of the oldest profession and drug traffickers.To go back now to this Sonamura is to suffer the torture of seeing myheaven turned into hell.I have been trying to find a platform tovent my pent-up emotions. If I couldn't tell you, my friends, who do I tell? IfI didn't say it aloud, will it stay real, or fade like a rudely awakened dream?I could not become anything of note. I haveneither been good nor bad with distinction; I have neither been a renownedscoundrel nor a renowned man of virtue; I am neither a hero nor a villain. I now eke out my days in my tiny corner ofthe world, tormenting myself with bitter memories; consoling myself with theassurance that an intelligent man can never seriously become a noteworthyentity—that is a privilege only fools can aspire to.So then, am I actually a fool with a heartbut no brains, and you a fool with brains but no heart? Are we two souls at theopposite ends of the heart-and-mind spectrum, both unhappy, and do we bothsuffer?I intend to write about my association withShah Alam and the others in Bengali. Your mother language is like mother’smilk, according to Tagore. It nurtures your mind, your soul, your culture andyour traditions. You can effectively put everything you feel in a more poignantway. I am more proficient in Bengali than inEnglish. I used to write Bengali essays for my students at Sonamura. ShaymManikya Lodh of Sonamura Matri Bhandar, who was my student, recited overthe phone one of the Bengali essays written by me. While I bow to theelephantine memory of Shyam,  I also could not believe that it was writtenby me. Time has apparently eroded my skills. I may try a thousand times, butnow I doubt I will be able to write like that. I am nothing special. I am a common man withcommon thoughts, and I have led a common life. There are no monuments dedicatedto me and my name will soon be forgotten, but I have loved friends and beenloved by them, heart and soul, and to me, this means I have led a good life.

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