Nothing lasts forever and this is one of the harsh realities of life. Change is another name for such realities. And Amit and Vijay who are fast friends realize this after they are separated. Although they say that distance makes the heart grow fonder, but many a times we find that the distance and time widens the gap in the best of the relationships. So how do you deal with this?
Amit glanced at his watch. It was half past nine on a sunny morning. He was seated at his desk in the classroom and Vijay was absent. Amit was dreadfully afraid that Ms. R would be angry.
Ms. R. was their social science teacher. She was especially fond of History. And surprisingly enough both Amit and Vijay found it an absorbing subject and they owed their interest in it to her for she was an admirable teacher. History was her passion and she took great pains to get the students involved in the events that seemed dry and lifeless in the text-book.
She was quite successful in her endeavor and normally both of them would have looked forward to seeing her on a Monday morning, had it not been for their anxiety. And the cause for their anxiety strangely enough was Ms. R. and her voluminous ‘Home Assignments’. They didn’t quite relish the idea of the assignments and thought them to be extremely tiresome. Except for a few industrious students, the class too shared their opinion.
Monday was the day for submission of the assignment and this disturbed Amit very much. Soon the teacher arrived and they all greeted her. Meanwhile Amit saw a way out of his predicament and brightened up.When the class was settling down he approached her. He confessed to her that he was unable to submit the assignment for Vijay had taken it and today he was absent.
Ms. R. looked at him fixedly. She knew him to be an intelligent boy and that was the trouble. Somerset Maugham has said,”Driving things into the heads of thick-witted boys is dull work, but when now and then you have the chance of teaching a boy who comes half-way towards you, who understands almost before you’ve got the words out of your mouth, why, then teaching is the most exhilarating thing in the world.”
So was the case with Amit too, only his self-confidence made him rather lazy. Anyway she excused him. The ritual soon unveiled itself and as usual there were many defaulters. Half a minute later all of them were outside the class, kneeling down. Amit was pleased as punch on having thought of a fool-proof excuse. He thanked the Almighty for Vijay’s unexpected but welcome absence.
Meanwhile Vijay wearily trudged towards the classroom. His cycle’s chain had broken into two and he was awfully late. Though it was so late, Vijay didn’t want to make much haste. He too had not done his ‘Home Assignment’.
He walked up to the classroom cautiously. Ms. R. pounced on him with a broad smile. He was rather relieved as he strode in but Amit was full of dismay.Soon enough his foolproof scheme would become the proof of his being a fool! Meanwhile Ms. R. cornered Vijay quickly, thus not allowing Amit to even exchange a glance with him. In the interrogation that followed Vijay agreed to everything that Amit had said. But he thought to himself that Amit had cooked up a fine tale and he would use it for his benefit too.
His thoughts were interrupted by Ms. R. ‘Well, where are the notebooks then?”, she asked. Vijay explained that unfortunately he had left them at home and his cycle too gave him trouble. He displayed the broken cycle chain. Alas! It was just one of those bad days.
And soon it proved to be son indeed for both of them had to stand on their bench. Clearly Ms. R. was not amused. She as well as the entire class knew that both of them were lying. Later she went off shaking her head, unable to figure out how Vijay didn’t fumble while propping up Amit’s story.
Well the explanation was simple enough, thought Ms. R, “They are very close friends.” Indeed their friendship had begun when both found out that they shared common views and tastes. For example both agreed that reading Archie’s comics during the Hindi class and bunking the PT class to have hot and piping samosas at the canteen was the best possible way to spend their time. Their love for books brought them nearer and their aversion to exercise cemented their friendship.
And soon enough they were to be seen together everywhere. They never really attached themselves to a larger group, but kept much to themselves. A third person with them was almost a stranger. They had gradually come to speak in a language so cryptic that only they understood it. It would be rather disconcerting for anyone who tried to join their company. The poor chap was left bewildered, for they shared little private jokes that were unintelligible to others, but which amused them enormously. Given all this, the fellow would soon leave them alone and seek company where he would be more welcome.
In a way they thought themselves to be a class apart from others.And it was true that they shared odd tastes not commonly found among school kids. Like Amit was into telepathy in a big way and was initiating Vijay into it too. Each night they tried to communicate. Though there were no palpable results their enthusiasm was in no way dampened and so they continued experimenting in the realms of extra sensory powers. As a consequence the other children shield away from them which was convenient in a way since for them two was company and three was a crowd.
And so life was a smooth sail for the two of them when suddenly there was an upheaval. Amit’s father was transferred to Shillong.Before they could even fully realize the extent to which it was going to upset their lives and brace themselves for it, Amit had left.
The change was so drastic for Vijay that he almost went about like a lost soul. He was no longer to be seen at the library or the school canteen – his previous favorite haunts. There was no doubt about it, he was moping for Amit. Others tried to comfort him and were ready to accept him with open arms but somehow it was not to be. He looked haggard and weary as his spirit flagged.
Then Amit came on a short visit for some function at his relatives. It was a joyous reunion for both of them. But soon it was time for Amit to leave again. Now since the circumstances couldn’t be helped, both of them pledged to write letters. The first few months saw a flurried exchange of letters. Every week the first thing Vijay asked when he returned from school was whether there were any letters for him.
But gradually the frequency reduced. Time had assuaged the ruffled hearts. And what once seemed intolerable to Vijay soon melted away and only a small pang was left. He found new friends and interests. Amit too seemed to have settled in his new place and did not find time to pursue all his hobbies. They now wrote to each other once in a blue moon. Vijay did sometimes feel guilty about the fact that it was weeks since he had last written to Amit but he rationalized his behavior by noting that Amit too wrote infrequently.
Years rolled past and soon it seemed as if all was over when once day Vijay was elated to receive a letter from Amit saying that he was returning to Pune soon.
Vijay’s joy knew no bounds and he eagerly waited to meet his old friend. They celebrated their reunion at the old school canteen, reminiscing about the good ol days. Initially everything seemed to be as it had been in the past except that now they were no longer the same people. But still they decided to get together and make up for the lost time and to discover each other once again. However it was such pity that it just didn’t work. Time had created a big valley between them.
Their new surroundings and associations had transformed them and they no longer shared the common tastes and views. Their temperaments had become as different as chalk and cheese. And so the gap could not be bridged. The old charm was lost forever. Common sense finally prevailed and they reduced their relations to one of casual acquaintances.
The ideal friendship of Vijay and Amit lay shattered. Vijay recalled the times when he believed that their friendship was forever. Now he realized that as somebody had said a long time ago, “Nothing in life is unchanging and constant forever except change itself.” Circumstances and time undo everything. Change is just a way of life. It is no one’s fault really, but only natural that people outgrow relationships, just as they outgrow old clothes and tastes. The tragic part is that nostalgia doesn’t seem to understand the practicalities of modern life.
And so Vijay and Amit at times get sentimental and fondly recall the times they spent together. Fortunately, though it seems cruel to say so, this doesn’t last for long and they carry on with their lives. Time exposes the fragility of all relationships as they do not come with a guarantee card. But life goes on …
This short story appeared on February, 1 1996 under the Fiction column in the Citizen magazine published by the Indian Express newspaper in Pune, India.
Am sure it is quite obvious that it is derived from own experiences in my school days. To revisit the old memories was a very touching episode – am a bit astonished to reckon the intensity of our emotions when we are in our teens.