Get-Together By Rabinarayan Senapati
The get-together was just over. I met Subas after almost thirty years. Subas!
Honestly speaking, there was every chance, Subas - my best buddy turned fiancée and might be much more than that. But our friendship outclassed any other relationship squeezing them to death. A friendship between opposite sex was a taboo then. With that too it was irresistible from both the sides. We subconsciously tried to disprove others presuming anything else. Monster friendship killed all infatuations and budding attractions.
I am Rina.
Am I honest? Did I understand Subas completely? Didn't I wait for him to go beyond and to ask or beg me my love? I am not sure. I did not do any research about his feelings. It was none of my business as a little woman to initiate from my side. I needed his help all through my career from school to my post-graduation. Finally, when I wanted to join a serious IAS coaching class at Delhi, my parents didn't allow a place that far, but agreed only because he too joined.
I was as serious in my study as he was giving me all assistance. Actually he had no interest in his own academic stuffs and always spent time in the literary corner of a big public library.
I couldn't motivate him.
Earlier in our intermediate classes he went to a depression, when he missed his first division only by six marks. He paid the price of not paying thirty rupees to the Chemistry laboratory attendant Ratan, which was a norm - the price to know the salt for analysis. Ratan used to give a feast to the department every year.
I got the tips without paying. The lecturer on examination duty asked Ratan to help me. He reluctantly did so - urging me his fee. Earlier, the same lecturer asked me questions in the class, affectionately taking my name. He didn't mind, I got embarrassing comments from male students for his silly behaviour. His piercing eyes looked like demons to me. He on occasions wanted me to meet after class at some pretext or the other. I was old enough to hate his activities.
But at last I got the salt tips without paying. It might not be a fault of mine. But Subas! He paid the price of honesty by securing a marginal pass mark in practical. For reasons unknown, in all practical examinations he got poor marks, even if his theory marks were quite good. Was it because we did roam together in the campus and it was yielding a bad impression? Why…. only Subas? Why not me!
Nothing could break our friendship.
He went into depression. I tried to bring him out of it and of course succeeded, but it was too late. I changed to Arts, considering it more helpful to get into administrative services. He also joined Arts, because he did not get an honours seat in Science in the premier college of the state. His compulsion and my passion brought us together again. Luckily he got out of depression although at sometimes I observed his unhappiness. I developed weakness towards him, not good enough to overpower my feminine ego to reveal it. He never asked. He wrote poems after poems, romantic but sad, which I hardly deciphered then.
Once again I can say, our friendship was a monster under which our cravings got suppressed.
I returned from Delhi as an IAS and he returned with his book published by National Book Trust. His popularity grew up keeping pace with my power. But we parted. I worked in Rajasthan cadre. He came back to our native place to work as a lecturer in English, in a new junior college which paid a meagre salary once in every six months.
Rajasthan was my second choice after my home state. There was a reason.
Subas, I heard him speaking at times to stay in Prajapita Brahmakumari Ashram, Mount Abu in future, that might be a good tryst. Rajyoga brought him out of depression at earlier date. I chided the Brahmakumar, "Fool, be a Raniyogi instead". Idiot didn't get a clue. I gained good learning from this shadow journey in his spiritual pursuit.
Mount Abu remained within my service area jurisdiction in larger period by chance, not by choice. He never visited. Whenever I wrote a letter threatening to break up, he honestly cited his financial difficulties. I responded sending money; he had not the guts to reject. But the cruel man spent it for charity. Told me, how desperate the situation was.
"Can we ever solve all desperations?"
He answered. "Can we ever see desperation of monetary in nature, holding funds in pocket?"
I stopped a week or two but not beyond, I couldn't.
Writing to each other, was a weekly affair. Most of his conversation remained confined to my personal comfort and about Mount Abu Ashram.
This continued until I sent him a mobile phone. Idiot could not throw it in charity; hope he used it for helping others in emergency. This modern geometry box killed our letter writing and later conversation too. He never called me, pondering I was busy; but after some period I too stopped conversation. I was no more thrilled to talk to the man. Age changed. Age really changed. Work load increased. I became fully involved in Ashram activities as well.
Later, with advent of social media, old friends connected. They arranged a meet.
Subas! I craved to meet him, like a teenager, yeah true. I wanted to twist his ear and pull his hair.
My friends became very happy to get me in their company and vice versa. I didn't imagine, me within the slave of an officer and the devotion of a Brahmakumari is so wonderful a child that played, just a piano, seeing the children in my friends and their children with them. A thousand splendid rainbows I found in the horizons. I got lost there. And the girl asked a kid Subas, "How do you feel darling?"
"Oye, where are you princess", came the response with a smile.
Friends amused, burst into laughter.
I saw all rainbows dissolved within the mask of his smile, through which I saw my dear Subu is sobbing, a poet, hot and humid in the grinding of the time in last three decades.
I became calm and composed and consciously asked again, "How do you feel darling?" with a pinch on his shaved cheek that has become a hollow in contrast to his age.
This time he raised a slap but refrained,-usual to his habit for years.
Mina, Moti, Pinku, Anil, Amar, Bipul burst into laughter again.
Subas was about answering my question when the anchors Chinky and Pritam announced on pendal.
Let us listen to the award winning poet Subas, the pride of the batch. Subas, Subas! Come to the stage please.
Subas went to the stage without answering me...........
The breeze adding essence,
Ulcers on walls and boundary - healing,
Putting on pink suits of velvet.
Pig’s back roads,
Taking polish to sparkle,
Bluffing the young girl’s eyeliners,
The dry and dirty roadsides,
Converting to tender carpet lawns.
Look at the presiding hostels,
Doors and window panels,
Swinging in merry,
To the tunes of silence, they dance,
The grand old trees, Baulas, and mangoes,
Refilling Royal hues, to regain youth.
Sun over the playgrounds, willing not to set,
Golden deer playing beneath,
Lonely river, beauty nearby,
Picking up party wears of blue,
Glowing Chariot lands on the surface,
Sucking its due.
Once again, and again,
Hibernating words of innocence,
Coming back as floral bouquets,
Novelty so magnificent,
Only because you come,
The campus is converting,
The same Pilgrimage of youth,
And once again...
X X X
Subas returned, with all friends' claps and appreciations. He looked calm. He looked content. He looked searching Rina. He avoided many vacant chairs. He smiled at anyone calling him to sit near. He came to the seat he left. He dared not looking at Rina. His mask vanished, his eyes got moist. None around looked at him now. All left him alone in the bracing length of Rina. It was she to handle.
Rina read the poet, others read his poetry.
He felt guilty. He got a massive jolt inside. None around could guess what happened to a poet who just before delighted the gathering with words of vibrancy.
He now told 'sorry' to Rina as the later wiped out his cheeks with the white hem of the Brahmakumari's Dupata. Time paused there, mother landed to the baby's rescue. He now smiled and begged sorry again.
"Come on Subu, what is there to feel sorry? So what if your poem contrasted your inside. Don't you believe I read them with all punctuations, in front of you and at thousand miles away too? Ok let's enjoy now and will discuss later.
Subas and Rina paid attention to Pinky and Pritam on the stage.
Arjun's daughter, Alka tried a devotional dance on Lord Shiva; the music paused often. After a few steps the girl had to stop and start again. The technical slag didn't deter her enthusiasm and finally she danced to the Dance Lord Shiva with excellence.
"Did you learn anything Rina?’ Subas asked ‘I mean from the kid?"
A seasoned man sobbing just before was seen asking a senior administrator.
"Yeah, we must not give up. Right?"
Many more happenings of the day came to an end after six hours of life journeys of friends, one after another. They couldn't stop time, they couldn't keep dancing, they couldn't keep playing the music chair of memoirs and all came to an end as everyone repacked. The cars started moving, the wheels moved forward.
Rina came with his father's car self driven from Bhubaneswar. Her next destination was Sajanagarh - her native village and not too far was the native village of Subas, Ayodhya. They planned earlier to move together. Rina's parents were not worried. They knew the capability of their daughter to drive that far and they were pretty sure, Subas would be taking care.
Rina's mother had urged Subas to come by bus or train and give company to Rina in the return journey. She rather in private wanted his company to Rina for ever.
They got into the car. Rina drove all the crisscross roads of the college as if to show her chauffeur's skill.
"Oye oye, Subu, you see, the roads are same, the buildings too, the trees stand witness to a countless kisses the lovers exchanged, the lecturer theatres must have remained so and so are the practical halls, how nostalgic a feeling comes! How do you feel Subu? Didn't you remember the adolescent encounters of peeping looks? How do you feel?"
She was not sure what she was asking?
Subas laughed aloud as they moved out of the campus with seemingly happier friends bidding farewell to the Brahmakumari and Brahmakumar with a pinch of prayer for them. The heaven wouldn't be falling if the two progressed souls lead a permanent sojourn together in the rest of the life. This is nothing new. They wished it since their college days. But it never happened; the demon friendship killed any such buds sprouting.
And now the feelings of Rina's mother and those of these naughty friends are nothing but jokes. Jokes even, pleased the two friends.
They now stopped waving friends and raised the glasses.
As they came out of the township, the highway invited darkness, pierced by the head lights. Rina concentrated on driving and once again asked Subu, “How do you feel darling?"
Subu cleared his throat, embarked his emotions and smiled again. The darkness swallowed his smile. The darkness magnified the glow of the white Rajasthani attire of Brahmakumari Rina with whatever and whenever any light tried inside the dark cabin of her father's Small car.
Subas smiled again that once again dissolved in darkness. As if, a smell of smile thrilled Rina.
"What makes you laugh like a monkey?"
"Nothing. When did I?"
"Oh". She remained silent.
This "Oh" remained an old blackmail to Subas. He guessed the anguish of this expression, same as it was ever.
"No no, I should say, what is there to hide anything from you Rina. You know, I just couldn't think a day came when you became a Brahmakumari and I lost that track. You really are looking gracious with white. You know a widow wears white and a Brahmakumari too, both look pious but both look different. This thought came to my mind and I smiled. You remember how you were against my wearing white clothes, and chided my look as effeminate. What an irony! This made me smile.
But when I entered the car I felt so thrilled to get such a highly dignified driver. I would have loved to drive this long way. But how? I never held the steering wheel.
I never initiated, I never ....
You say, how I did feel in the same old campus. Of course I was happy to see friends and specially you. That's all. Campus gives a nauseating sense, if I say honestly. How can I feel good in the institution that cheated me? The cheaters went through.
The system screwed me.
They screwed me in all practical examinations. Mind it dear, the practical examinations essentially were boosters to someone's marginal shortfall. I don't say practical should turn farce. But did not they? The campus brings back those memories. You enjoyed, many people did it, but I didn't. This is not the only reason.
Didn’t a teacher use fowl languages to a girl student who looked outside in the class? The personality of the gentleman made the abuse magnified, but is it not true that personality was nothing but a stack pile of this type of student fixing events.
You haven't the liberty to speak against teachers, I do have. I am a teacher. Didn't a teacher targeted a girl student taking her name time and again asking questions, as if his sole aim to be a teacher was to help only one little woman. Didn't he call her to meet him after class, in some genuine looking pretext? My feelings are the continuation of many abnormal happenings witnessed as a student. The education system that made us capable, we should be thankful about, we should ignore the odds. Having said that, in the same breath being a teacher, I must say, all these negatives are learning experiences and should be discussed and remembered.
Earlier my ideal high school, couldn’t know, I had not a single copy in any subject. I managed with a rough copy. Away from parents in a hostel, none cared to find out. Behind the curtain of many activities and reasonable good result I could mask my deficiency. Ha ha, I got selected to get the "All-rounder" trophy but was kicked away for a teacher's son, two batches junior.
He was my partner in inter-school debate competitions. Always the teacher decided whether I should say for or against in the debate, mostly against my wish. His son told the easier side and the opposite I did.
Should it not come to my mind when I enter the campus now? I don't complain from my point of view. As such his attitude helped me. It helped me find logic contrary to my point of view, an attitude of self criticism.
Let me say you the importance of opposite views quoting an example. My teacher in the primary school was a terror, as fearsome as a tiger. I took pride to be his student. He made me strong; he built an idol from mud. I once expressed this to a senior student, Purnavai. His answer was a mind-blowing lesson to remember. He told that, might be, a few are successful but many students suffered from school phobia and permanently lost their career. Whenever I saw on school wall, 'a punishment free area', I remembered Purnavai."
Subas took a pause, might be he was straining Rina's attention span. He needed silence; he lacked more words, although there was no dearth of ideas and experiences.
Silence prevailed for a longer period. Rina became sure, nothing more he wished to say. Silence became chaotic numbness, Rina looked towards the sky. With brightness nearby, the far distant sky looked dark. She got puzzled, how it was possible, the sky is so dark, no shine of stars anywhere. Clouds! Soon a lightning answered her, followed by a thunderclap. And drops settled on the front glass. The sound of rain on top and around the moving chocolate turned stupendous. Subas remembered Rina's fear for lightnings. But suddenly he got a wet kiss of cold wind from outside, on his left side cheek. Rina, the naughty, has brought his side glass down.
"Up up, mischievous girl, I may catch a cold, without waiting he tried his fingers on the switch panel and at the same time Rina tried it too. With the war between their fingers the other side door opened which was windier to splash Rina's right side. Her dupata swam towards Subu. Subu feared for getting caught a cold. Strange girl didn't care the lightning anymore.
"Oh, the officer has no fear."
"No! Not at all Subu, chicken-heartedness bids good bye, when you are with me."
Subu raised the glasses, Rina made them down. In the war between fingers Rina gave up but not without pinching a few nail marks.
After playing their part the clouds cleared. The car now moved to the direction of the pole star, their mind cleared too.
Rina started again.
"Come on Subu, there is no point to remember the negatives; we have moved on too far in our journey of life, need not keep stirring the filthy. Time too has changed, opportunities have increased, and anyone is entitled to build a career. And you as a teacher have the greatest responsibility to steer the society forward. I am very optimistic for the future, are you not?"
Rina demanded an answer.
Subas this time laughed aloud and started.
" Madam it seems you are invited to educational institutions to deliver inspiring speeches to students and teachers. What you say is not incorrect, but as you know describing the positives and motivating should be a celebration and passion. But the downfall of the society too needs to be addressed, that is a duty. That might be a thankless duty a handful of teachers are doing now. The gloom is not over.
I didn't care to build up a career, to keep doing secret notes, to do boring job of gathering facts which are thrown later in the drain of forgetfulness. My inner sense was searching something else, a greater truth. In the process I got neither.
In the valley of no options I found a plus two college to get the shelter that you tell -teaching. Ok fine, I too started identifying a teacher in me, tried to find students and disciples, got some of them and I got satisfaction. But you know, I needed money at that time. The management had no money, only a little amount I received once in a blue moon. Suddenly there appeared several abnormal requirements. Papa sold some properties.
Whose property? His or mine!
Educated poet, the only son and doing lectureship could not do anything. My spiritual gain I mortgaged in Utkal Laxmi Residential College, I worked there part time. They gave money, they wanted results. The students paid them too much, they needed value for money.
Value was never discussed, value needed to be converted to marks, divisions and grades. That too I tried. Science students lacked interest in language subjects. How much mark a language subject can fetch? I didn't care, I tried to do my duty, and I got some money. I did not resign from my parent college that did not matter, as they paid no salary.
From the students’ point of view, let me throw some light into your enlightened faith on the present opportunities.
A boy paid full dues of first year to enter second year in 2007. His father lost his job in the corporate recession. He anyhow financed the next six months. All delays resulted direct humiliation inside class. I saw the student did not come in the concluding six months of intense studies. He was bright. He left college. None bothered. I once found him and asked for his problem. He tried to conceal facts but couldn't. I approached the management as a guarantor, they became red eyed. A part time teacher's audacity to guarantee a student was nothing but a big zero for the seasoned merchants of education.
Luckily a respected gentleman intervened. He was allowed to sit in the examination.
Several undertaking was taken from him and his father on bond papers.
The practical exams now days happened early. A bribe fee for externals was collected as a norm. The student in question could not pay. That was not a small amount of thirty rupees unlike it happened in our time. He desperately arranged a part and the same gentleman of repute came again. By that time practical exam was over. He only copied down another good student’s practical answer sheets in different subjects which got a back door entry.
The theory examination started with language subjects first.
I was summoned by the director, for one to one modus operandi. The students gathered in a particular hall an hour before examination. A question paper used to be discussed by a teacher to the students for half an hour or more and you know, this was the secret of their success, year after year.
So, I had to do the job for my subject.
I got pain, never experienced before, I was sweating, and I thought to get a heart attack. I just drank the glass of water kept for the director, begged excuse for that, thanked him saying OK sir.
It was one hour to exam. Students already had gathered in the tryst for modern examination. I could not gather the courage.
I ran down the steps. I knew my two months’ salary was to be received on the same day. That tried to pull me back in vain. I reached my waiting bike. I did not look back. I did not went back to collect my forgotten helmet. I felt the same feeling I got entering the female side bath space at the natural hot stream of Badrinath in 1983 June. I felt I got out of the trap of a Satan. The bike was ready to carry me to the next step of progress.
A Brahmakumar in me suddenly woke up and saved.
I came back to my non paying job.
You say the opportunities became plenty.
But to whom these new opportunities help?
Meritorious students suffered for their inflated marks?
I can rather say it to be opportunistic arrangements between greedy business men and paying customers.
That boy could not pay in full. They kept his certificates captive not for months but for years.
The boy could not take legal help, his father did not want, neither they were in a position.
For two long years the father son duo worked hard in a new business. He could clear up the dues in full and got his certificate to join graduation courses.
You have seen students commit suicide for a few marks or for a small frustration. This boy could manage only because his father had some unseen, untouchable, untapped property at a plane higher than what we call grades, divisions and career.
All is not well Rina madam, as we pretend as we try not stirring the filthy.
All these seemingly progress, technologies, developments are nothing but arrangements to keep us away from the truth, from the destiny we deserve in the divine faculty within us that otherwise remained in slumber. We need to build it. We need to save our children from frustrations bound to happen within that arrangements of presumed progress.
I have no burdens now after the death of my parents.
I am serious seeker now."
Subas stopped there. And this time reflected a smile that came from calm, non warring content deeply felt inside.
Rina too was happy with a blissful inner calmness.
Patted his left cheek and asked.
"Why don’t you come to your original destination, Mount Abu. I will wait you there as I am doing forever."
"Yes Rina, I have applied a teacher's job there, but I don't intend to stay there forever. I am unfit for any pattern. That is bondage. After playing my part there and gaining what I deserve I must come back."
"Who is staying where permanently, you know Baba's teaching to remain ready to pack anytime, from this world even."
Let us readers hope, their future remained in a blissful togetherness as progressed Rajyogies, in their native place and they do a lot for the society. I pray for the same. Do you?
Age is nothing but a number for getting together of friends.
About the Author
Rabinarayan Senapati, is a doctor, a Gynaecologist by profession and a bilingual short story writer by passion. His English story book "Twenty Tales" and Odia storybook, "GALPA BINSHATI" have created his literary identity. He is an ardent follower of Prof. Manoj Das. His works are blessed with Das’s blessings.