Stars shone brightly against the dark sky… shimmered a little…and in case you took a closer look…smiled at you too. Rajarshi smiled back as he took another drag of his cigarette. There was a gentle cool breeze blowing across his face…it must have rained somewhere close, he could almost smell the moist soil. All he wanted to do was lie there and let the stars carry on their little un-coordinated dance across the screen…but something was irritating him…someone close… “aah! Those fuckers”, he sighed and turned his attention towards Salil and Malcom, other two occupants of the 4ft by 4ft space floating at 80 ft above ground level of that 9 storey high telephone tower. They had started with a 2 quarters of White Mischief, which had proved quite inadequate for the occasion. Malcom, most resourceful of the three got them 2 more quarters of Imperial Blue and may be a third too; but Rajarshi didn’t remember. After the booze ran out, suddenly Rajarshi wanted some fresh air and so three of them climbed up this telephone tower which was recently put up in their college campus. It was almost 2 am, and if anybody had caught them there, then they would have had a fairly painful hangover, but then Rajarshi wanted some fresh air, so there they were. “The day I saw that collage, I knew it was over. Bloody! Someone looks at those snaps he would be wondering if she ever spoke to me in school or not…forget that we might be going around! And on top of it all her big principles…ideals…bull crap! She didn’t….” Malcom went on while Salil patiently listened and tried drawing parallels from his current seemingly ending affair with Aparna. Rajarshi went back to stars, he had heard Malcom’s break up story some 10 times already and 11 if you count the two times he had left them half finished. Break up stories and link up stories are the two most spoken about topic in engineering college where the skewed sex ratio, makes the young student lose his interest in studies linearly and their interest in women and wine (sometimes in unison…but mostly complimentary..) rise exponentially.
Rajarshi didn’t have any such stories to tell. He belonged to a typical Bengali family. Dad worked in Allahabad Bank, mother a house wife. They lived in Alipore, in the bungalow provided by the bank. Learnt tabla for five years and then one fine day gave up, primarily because he realized he never enjoyed it. Played football in rainy season, cricket in all other seasons; everyday, but never wanted to take up sports as profession. He had to be an engineer since his father couldn't become one, preferably from a college his mama (mother’s brother), whom she idolized, passed out from. Life was simple and he was doing it pretty well, there was no such thing as adventure till he joined his engineering college…not really…till he met the other two.
Malcom D’Costa, son of civil engineer, who worked for West Bengal government. Studied in missionary schools all across West Bengal but mostly in Kolkata; grew up to have more of Bengali-Hindu friends than Catholic. His first girl friend was Marian, who was catholic too…but that was class 8. His first serious girl friend was Riya Mukherjee, whom he met during coaching classes in Class 11. Malcom had lived life at his own terms, primarily because he came from a family where they respected private space and independence, but when he met Riya, his life took a U-turn. Riya’s dad was an author and also an active CPI (M) member while her mother was staunch Hindu brahmin’s daughter. She had grown up in a strange world of confusion- of communism, capitalism,religion… godliness and godlessness. When Malcom first met Riya she seemed like a strange tangled up puzzle and as he untangled her, he was enchanted by the person that she was. Malcom had never thought he was capable of passion and love unless it was Manchester United someone was speaking of, but he soon realized he was wrong. It was during second year of engineering college when he realized that the puzzle he had been deciphering has now gripped his entire life. Instead of curing Riya he had injected the poison in his own system and made it far worse. He was no philosopher to think of life and its meaning…but he knew he needed to break free.
Salil was the quite unlike of the rest two. His dad had carried on family business, which of course he never wanted to join. He had a natural love for science, numbers and a knack for arts. Without much training, except what was given in by primary school art teacher, he was pretty good at drawing and fine arts. When he joined engineering college, he soon became quite famous for his talent. In third year he became the Secretary of College Magazine Club. He had a high school sweetheart too, like Malcom- Aparna. However his case was much different. There was no intellectual mis-match like what happened in case of Malcom, it was far much simpler. One sided love!...well mostly. He had bunked school for her, bunked tuition for her…very nearly bunked engineering entrance exam for her…but she could never love back that much. Salil had kept their relationship going and one day when he let go…it snapped. May be she wanted to come back, as Salil often thought…may be she needed more time…may be… He never spoke to her again, so he never knew.
As the morning sun gained a little more altitude, the air above highway started shimmering and gave the road up ahead that familiar wet look. As the truck raced on, Malcom got up sat on the side of the truck looking back at the best four years of their life. Four years in which he saw so many things… Union strikes… Class bunking…. Riverside dates…random trips to nearby places… fests…tournaments...gang wars… hostel parties…guys crying after drinking… guys crying when its time to leave…but they didn’t. They left with a bang… cracking bombs… on a rented truck…at 4 am in the morning… half stoned…carefully registering the minute details of those faces…of that place which gave them more than just a degree…much more! It was 9 am when they reached Maidan, Kolkata. They unloaded their stuff from the trucks…no tears…no “will miss you…” because Malcom knew they would never be out of touch…Never!
“Hey man! Wass up? How long you been here?” asked Malcom as he took his seat beside Salil in Some Place Else.
“Not too long man…just ordered a beer… I knew you fuckers would be late! Where is our man Rajarshi? Late to his own party?”
It was Rajarshi’s graduation…or rather post graduation party. He had just finished his MBA and got a job in a mid-sized financial institution based out of Mumbai. Rajarshi reached good 40 minutes late.
“Wass up dude? You are already acting like a busy manager even before joining work”, grinned Malcom, as he took a sip of vodka. Rajarshi knew better than to object. He knew that any comment he makes will meet Malcom’s sharp sarcasm without much effect. So save himself from answering he gulped down his drink and looked sheepishly towards Salil for some support. So as the band prepared its kit and did sound checks, they exchanged their stories with same enthusiasm…just like old times. It was classical rock night. Some local band played one cover after another… and just when they started with ‘comfortably numb’…Rajarshi needed some air. So they went to Maidan and sat right in the middle of it.
Through the orange haze of street light lit smoke which hung over the city, few stars could still be seen…they still shimmered…but they didn’t smile any more. Rajarshi had noticed this for quite sometime…they didn’t smile anymore.
“What the fuck is this life for, anyways?” Rajarshi asked suddenly getting up.
“What do you mean?” Salil asked.
“I mean…what is the use of anything? This degree…work…money… any god damn thing?”
“These things individually don’t matter but together in the bigger picture they form the means to the end… to our goal in life”
“What is your goal in life?” asked Malcom, by now fairly interested in the turn of conversation. Though he wasn’t drunk enough, but he knew that when let on, Salil and Rajarshi broke in to these pseudo-intellectual conversations, especially after drinking, which gave him ample things to take their case on, when they were sober.
“I want to be happy in life”, said Salil.
“And what do you think will make you happy?” Rajarshi asked.
“There are no such quantifiable parameters to measure that I am happy or to tell what will make me happy. It’s just an intrinsic feeling man…may be success will make me happy…may be when I become a billionaire I will be happy…May be if I get a job like yours…or be a ranker like you… I will be happy…”,Salil said grinning.
“I bet you won’t be…I know because I am not! Trust me I am not… All this hype about MBA…and rank …fin job…everything is bull crap man!...I slogged my ass for two years…nothing like the life we had in engineering college…and what do I end up with?..Some job in some Indian fin- company…while those fuckers with half my score ended up getting double my salary…big MNC brands…why? Well some needed better pedigree…which might be anything from a better school to graduating college…others didn’t find enough diversity in me. Are these idiots recruiting to make me play beach volley for them? Do things like dedication, persistence mean nothing today? Everyone wants a fucking all rounder…what about a fucking specialist?”
“Hey dude! Chill…I mean…it’s just your first job and you haven’t even joined…isn’t it too early to comment…”
“No man! … My career is fucked… it’s gone! There is nothing much left to it…By the time I make my first switch, my batch-mates will be heading some divisions and all…. It’s all gone….Its all gone! ...”
Salil’s flight landed at 3 pm at Mumbai International Airport, but by the time he could come out after all the custom checks it was already 5 pm. Rajarshi was waiting for over an hour now. “Serves him right…asshole always used to make us wait”, thought Salil. He was glad to finally meet Rajarshi after such a long time. Last time they met was nearly 2 years back in Kolkata after he had just passed out. Recently he had heard about the global recession and seen all this financial behemoths crumble to ground…he had been worried about Rajarshi, but never really dared to ask. Over the years they had fallen apart. Not really, but there was a definite gap. Salil worked for a software company and had been going on-site fairly frequently. Malcom too had been busy with his work. He was working for an automobile major and was now in Germany living his dream. Though they kept in touch, Rajarshi had kind of disappeared from the Radar. Salil was quite surprised when suddenly he got a mail from Rajarshi and when Rajarshi heard that he will be visiting Mumbai on his way back to Hyderabad; it was Rajarshi who suggested that they catch a drink in between his connecting flights. “Anyways they don’t serve alcohol in domestic flights”, Rajarshi had said in his old persuasive manner. To be honest he was quite nervous about meeting Rajarshi…their last meeting kept coming back to him…he had completely broken down…he was a very different Rajarshi!
The man who waived across the rails was his old ‘mate’, “ I am really catching this ‘mate’ shit of Australia”, Salil thought.
“Dude there isn’t much time; lets hit the road…lets go get some drink… Traffic will be killer…today is Diwali here remember...” It was around 7:30 pm, they had a fair bit to drink, but more than that Salil caught up with most of what he missed of Rajarshi’s life. He was hurt and shocked when he heard that Rajarshi’s had been nearly out of work for last 3 months and without pay for last 1 month. Hurt because he never told them and shocked because he looked so much better than he last saw him. As if it had done him more good than bad. His company suffered substantial losses during US sub-prime crisis and was on the verge of being shut down. However now there are chances of it being taken over by some bigger Indian bank and most of the old employees were hanging by that chance rather than asking for severance packages. As the waiter got the bill, Salil asked, “So what are you doing these days? Looking for a job… I have friends in IT companies…”
Rajarshi smiled, “Playing session drummer for this band who are pretty big in this part of India”
“What!” Salil was more than shocked this time.
Rajarshi burst out laughing, “Don’t worry dude, the scene is not so bad… and I have more than enough in bank…its just I am keeping myself busy with these things. It’s like the sauce in the sizzler, to spice up my life while my career gets sorted. My five years of tabla lessons finally didn’t go all in vain. Last year I befriended these people who wanted to start their own band but didn’t have any drummer. Out of curiosity I gave it a shot and to my surprise I found I had a knack for it. So I started playing as session drummer for them in their concerts during my time offs. Now I just play a little more regularly, that’s it!...and frankly I am enjoying it a lot. It feels awesome to find that your life not a mere uni-dimensional pursuit of uni-dimensional dream”
“Speaking of uni-dimensional dreams…I am seeing Aparna again!” and then he waited for Rajarshi to abuse him, which he didn’t but he was visibly surprised.
“But I thought you had enough last time…”
“Yeah…true…and then somehow we met on a flight to Australia… You know …as fate would have it types!...” Salil said, choosing his words carefully… he earlier had a session with Malcom, where he was decorated with ‘chosen compliments’, luckily some of which were German and he didn’t understand them. “I know it’s foolish… I know I shouldn’t have done it… I mean I know all that what you guys would say…but you ever had those questions bother you- Was there a chance? Did I give my best? Was she the one? ... Is there any chance? And worse of them all- Will I be any happier with anyone else? I tried … but I didn’t get any answer to it. I had never heard her side of it… I never really figured what was in her mind… and she has been through hell in last couple of years….and I wasn’t there… No one was… Not that I am to be blamed… but I don’t know…May be I should have been there. Its not that everything will be OK this time and it will work out just fine… In all probability, No! It won’t work out… but so what… what am I so afraid of? Of failing …getting hurt again…right? But I am not afraid anymore… I can’t have those questions trouble me day and night… I need to take this chance and see if it was worth it or not? ... I got to let go of my fears and believe”
“Hmm! Yeah and just in case you fall… we are here for you with a bottle of Signature in hand to drown you sorrow… just a phone call away… Anyways lets hurry up, your flight is leaving in one and half hours” said Rajarshi grinning finally.
As they walked out in smoke filled marine drive, Diwali celebration was in full blast. The road was lined with hundreds of people watching brilliant fireworks all across the sky. There was an amazing order in the sheer randomness of the fireworks…it seemed like zillions of stars dancing all across the sky…changing colours…hiding…dodging… changing shapes and then with one bright flash of light plunge into darkness…till the next one comes… They kept on walking along the pavement, breathing in all the energy…all the hope …all the light… when suddenly Salil turned to Rajarshi and said-“Fuck the flight man…lets go get drunk!”