A pleasant surprise
K S S Pillai
Lying awake at night, half-listening to the chorus of insects, I often think of those who had been my friends at different times. Like the seven-year-old boy who had frantically cut his new pencil into two with a rusted blade and given me the portion with an eraser at the end.
His only worry was to spare me the wrath of our teacher for coming to school without a pencil. He had left the school after the primary stage to help his parents, who were farm labourers. I had met him a couple of times afterwards and then lost all contacts. It is the same case with my playmates, co-workers, neighbours, and many others at different places spread over a long period. After searching various social media sites and exploring other venues in vain, I have given up all hopes.
Recently, I came across the obituary of such a friend in a newspaper. He had been close to me years ago. We had done our post-graduation in a north Indian city together, and he had left for Kerala when he got a teaching job there. We had remained in touch with each other for some time, which slowed down gradually, and then stopped altogether. I had come to know later that he had left for another place. The saying ‘out of sight, out of mind’ had again been proved true.
I was on good terms with my elder brother’s friends at school. He went to Bhopal after his studies in search of a job. There he met some of his old classmates. They shared accommodation for some time and left one by one after getting jobs in different places.
One Abraham was his last room-mate. Then my brother left for Indore, and Abraham went to New Delhi. The usual means of contacting one another those days was through letters that would reach the destination after about three days. They wrote occasional letters to each other for some time, and then the usual thing happened. My brother passed away twenty years ago.
The other day, I was pleasantly surprised to see a news item. It was about the release of a book on Jayaprakash Narayan, popularly known as JP, who had led the ‘total revolution’ against the then prime minister Indira Gandhi in the mid-1970s.
The function had taken place in my hometown. The author was none other than Abraham, who was the personal assistant of JP from 1965 till his death in 1979. The photograph showed an 86-year-old man with gray hair, handing over the first copy of the book to a celebrity. The man in the photo had little resemblance to the Abraham I remembered. I had, somewhere in an old album, a black-and-white photograph of four people in their twenties, taken in Bhopal. One was Abraham, and standing next to him was my brother.
I got Abraham’s phone number from the reporter of the news item, who was a Facebook friend of mine. It was a landline number. He didn’t have a mobile phone or social media accounts. I was apprehensive about the timing of my call to him. Being old, he might not be keeping good health. He might be in his bed at ten in the morning or after eight in the evening. I was also not sure about his hearing ability. However, when I dialled his number at about eleven in the morning, he answered on the second ring itself.
His memory was sharp. He remembered my brother and was nostalgic about their Bhopal days. He sounded sorry to hear about my brother’s death and enquired about his family. When I questioned him about his not having a mobile phone or social media accounts, he said, “I’m retired and feel better off away from the hustle and bustle.”
When I ended the call after promising to call on him during my next Kerala visit and show him some of the old photographs, he was happy and urged me to make it fast.
(The author is a retired professor of English. A regular contributor to The Kashmir Vision, his articles and short stories have appeared in various national and international publications)