Saturday 15 August 2020

Arpita Ghosh, Short Story 2020 Longlist

Feeling Sentimental

I woke up at my father’s call. It’s already 6:30 in the evening. I was supposed to take a short nap after the lunch but it went on to a sound sleep.

Actually my wife has gone to her mother’s place and I am supposed to prepare tea for my father.

As I woke up late, I found that he is ready with the tea and asking me to join.

However, I went to the washroom putting my mobile on charge.

I grew up without my mother since I was ten. My father and I used to manage everything at home. So it wouldn’t make any difference for us in preparing food and all if my wife is not there.

Having entered the dining hall I found my father waiting for me.

Taking the cup I sat down on the couch next to my father and switched on the TV.

“Have you given the P.L.I this month?” Asked my father, taking a sip.

“Not yet dad.” I replied. “Having some sort of network issues since few days. So let’s see. If it’s not fixed by tonight, then I guess I’ll have to go.”

“When will you go?” He asked.

“May be tomorrow.” I said.

“I need to know the procedures. That’s why I am asking.”

My father, in fact, wants to have a recurring account at the post office. He told me earlier also. I, for some reason couldn’t just go over there.

I am a teacher by profession, currently enjoying the winter vacation. This is the perfect time to complete all those pending works. Besides, I must go to the post office not only because of my father but for my own sake in order to link up my Aadhar and phone no. as per the government rule.

I said that I’ll go.

The next day, coming back from the market I took a shower and headed to the post office.

The counter was less crowded in the morning.

Having finished my work as I was about to cross the road, I heard a voice.

As I glanced at its source, it took me no less than surprised. After so many days and so many years it’s he; my once best friend Prantik.

He has been changed a lot in physique but sounds as confident as he used to be in his school days. Having crossed the road he came to me.

“Hello, how are you?” He asked outstretching his arms.

“Good. What about you?” I embraced him back.

“So great to see you after a long time.” He stated.

“Same here.” I said.

The chat went on. When two old friends meet, they get endless topics to share, discuss and talk like family, workplace, current residence, art, culture, politics and mostly the childhood memories.

Only he was talking most of the time while I remained a silent listener.

After a couple of minutes he paused. “Did you recognize me yet?”

“Excuse me?” I asked surprised.

“Do you even remember me?” He asked again.

“Ob-viously.” I said.

“I doubt.” He said sarcastically. “Because only I am talking and you’re just listening quietly. You haven’t changed yet. Quiet and reclusive as usual.” He stated.

“Not even you’ve been changed.” I smiled. “Eloquent as usual.”

“Well that’s true.” He nodded.

By the way, no work today?” He asked.

“Winter vacation has started in school. “ I answered.

“So you’re a teacher?” He asked.

I nodded.

“Great.” I am in my family business.” He said. “I missed you a lot. I have searched you everywhere; on facebook, twitter, instagram. But all went in vain. No trace of you. Everyone of our troop is in contact with me, Except for you. Today in fact if it were not for my mom I won’t have met you.”

“For mom?” I asked surprised.

“Yeap. Actually, I came here for my mom’s BP medicine.” He said.

The conversation went on for few more minutes.

“Hey listen,” he said, “our school reunion will be in 16th we all are coming. And you also have to come on that day.”

“Reunion,” I uttered the word inwardly. I have been aware of this term since I was in school. As a kid I used to believe that as we pass out we would also come and attend the ceremony.

But today’s reality is totally different. I sighed. Things have changed a lot. Presently I cherish no desire to go the school premises again.

But Prantik on the other hand is totally determined in taking my consent with a “yes”. However, for the time being I had to agree to his proposal reluctantly.

In the following couple of days, I went to the post office again. Submitted the P.L.I., linked up my Aadhar and phone no. which remained due because of the network connectivity issues, took a recurring account form, got it filled and again went to the post office to submit that.

Today however, I am not in a good mood, though I don’t know why. In the morning I messed up in preparing tea. The maid has not come yet; even the curry which I prepared today is not that tasty as it was supposed to be. Disgusted, I am hurrying to finish the kitchen work as quickly as possible. Suddenly my dad entered over there with my phone ringing.

“You have got so many calls from this number since morning” He said.

The screen shows Prantik.

“Nothing important dad,” I said irritably without taking the handset.

“Maybe something urgent. Otherwise why would he call you continuously?”Asked my father.

“I’ll call him later.” I replied.

“You should check at least. Your colleague must be having something serious to discuss.”

“Not a colleague dad. He’s just a classmate.” I breathed. “Two days back, when I was coming back from the post office, he met me. Got my number and now insisting me to attend the school reunion.” I finished.

“Reunion? O my god. It’s such a good news. Why are you saying it in such a way?” He said with a great excitement. “Have a word with your friend and say ‘yes’. Of course you should go.”

The call however got disconnected in the midst of our talk. And I focused on finishing my kitchen work.

In the evening, my father asked me about the reunion again.

“I gave him a call but not sure whether I am going or not.” I replied.

“Why not?” My father narrowed his eyes. “As far I could remember he was one of your closest friends in school. Many times in fact I had heard his name from you. Now you’re getting a chance to meet him after a long span of time; and you’re saying that you don’t want to go??” He finished.

Now it’s my turn to get surprised. I can hardly expect him to remember the name of my childhood classmate. I solemnly swear that I have never imagined my father like that. He’s not at all the same person with whom I have grown up. He has always been very strict, very stern, always preferred to avoid outings, social gatherings and all. And now he is asking me to attend the reunion??

His speech just made me kept staring at him bewildered.

“Why are you glaring at me like that? Can’t tally myself with the person you grew up with?”

Amazing. Now he can read my mind also.

“I am confused as well as amazed. You still remember his name.” I said.

“Listen my dear boy,” He chuckled, “I know that I have raised you with an iron fist. But now I realise that some refreshments can bring happiness in our life. And you must have it.”

“I got it” I said sluggishly.

“Then you must know what you have to do.”

“Then what would I do?” I asked back.

“You know very well what I am saying. You’re after all a clever man ‘Shaan aren’t you?” He stated.

“But I had no contacts with any of them throughout these years. So I am just least bothered.” I said.

“My child, I have gone through so many vicissitudes in life. There’s a time when I lost all my positivities. No love, no compassion, no belief and no nothing. I remained with hatreds, doubts and frustrations only. Poverty, starvation, family’s responsibility would extract the last exquisite ounce of happiness. I used to imagine that as everything would settle we’ll be happy again. Now you can see it yourself that everything is settled, but that time has passed away. I wish I could live all those moments again. Especially your childhood and all. But I can’t. I couldn’t have those days back. Today I regret for not living those moments. And believe me it’s a great loss for me. But I don’t want you to regret like me.”

I was still listening.

“As it is. Go and enjoy yourself. Don’t let these moments just go away from your life. Live every moment.” He finished.

After my father’s long emotional inspirational and motivational speech I just couldn’t just say “no”.

In the next few days Prantik added me into the whatssap friends group where I met some of my old friends. Tanay, Kunal, Satyaki, Anwesha, Shreya, Rupam and of course Prantik. The entire troop was there.

Everybody in this group is coming with the exception of Shreya. Only she amongst us will not come as she is expecting.

Everything has been decided in the group; the dress code, when to reach and where to meet and all.

And finally it’s the day when I am standing in school premises to attend the reunion ceremony. Almost every one of us reached on time.

As the nature takes its course, everyone has been changed a lot in 17 years. None of us are students anymore. We all are established. Satyaki is a banking agent. Tanay is a freelance writer. Kunal runs his own restaurant. Anwesha is a homemaker. Rupam is a content writer.

The entrance of the school was decorated beautifully with a hoarding of reunion and the garlands. We all signed in the register and entered.

The school building itself has been changed a lot. A new assembly hall has been setup. The canteen has been renovated. Our old assembly hall has become the new library.

Our then history teacher Mr. Sanyal has become the new Headmaster of our school. We met some of our old teachers too. Some new teachers were also there.

Perhaps I am feeling a little bit nostalgic. Or may be dad was right. Sometimes meeting with old friends brings fresh air in life.

We all received mementoes, had fun and took selfies. We took part in the games like passing the ball, musical chair and quiz. Rupam received the 1st runner-up prize in passing the ball. All of us enjoyed a lot.

The time however passed very quickly in gossips and sharing personal experiences and all.

It’s a 2 kilometres distance from my home to school. I can easily manage it by walking. Besides, walking by the riverside after years, would surely give an immense pleasure while enjoying the scenic beauty of the nature in the afternoon.

Prantik came along with me.

We started walking along the G.T. road. My companion throughout the way kept on talking about how much he enjoyed the whole day.

“Is it your 1st time in the reunion?” I asked.

“Not really.” He said. “Actually I’ve been attending it since 2 years.”

“But I think it’s your first time in the reunion.” He stated.

“Yes it is.” I said.

After a week’s hard work, nothing is more refreshing than a quiet walk along the bank of the river. Walking is good for health. The sunset sight of the river seems to have a peaceful impression in mind.

“Can we sit at the Ganga ghat?” Asked Prantik.

“Right now?” I asked back.

“I won’t force you. If you have no issues, then only.” He said.

“Sure. Why not?” I asserted.

It’s spring time. It won’t be that bad in the afternoon sitting at the riverside with an old friend.

He took out a cigarette and offered me which I refused.

As kids, often after the school we both used to come here and spend few times.

“How is everyone at home?” He started.

“Good.” I replied. “What about you and your family?” I questioned.

“Just going on.” He paused for a moment. “But nobody knows what the destiny has stored for us in the near future.”

I was taken aback by his words. This phrase doesn’t go with a fellow like him who belongs to a well-off family.

“Everything is fine at home?” I asked without showing any anxiety.

“My parents are all good.” He answered.

“Okay.” I said.

“Do you remember Sneha?” Asked Prantik after a pause.

The name however, took me down the memory lane. Sneha is Prantik’s maternal cousin. She was in the same class with us; smart and beautiful in her teen hood.

However, keeping my personal feelings aside I said.” How’s she?”

“She is expecting.”

“Great.” I said calmly.

“Not hardly.” He breathed. “Actually my family very disturbed at the present moment. Her marriage will not last long I guess. You know how she was as young while being in school. As the time passes on, her lifestyle, attitude touched the highest level of arrogance. Unfortunately, her sister-in-law is my wife. And almost every day we are having issues over it. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the end.”

His words somehow worried me. I felt that I should say something at this point. But I remained quiet because of my past experience.

“She was asking about you.” He said.

“Asking about me? Why?” I asked with astonishment.

He threw his half finished cigarette and trod it.

Taking a deep breath he said. “I told her everything.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“You know very well Ishaan what I actually meant. Don’t you?” He said.

“No. I am not getting you.” I said as naturally as possible.

“Fine.” He stated. “Frankly speaking, I told her that I was responsible for the rift between you and her.”

“Why did you say so?” I interrogated. “Are you out of your senses? There’s no need to tell her all those. Besides, it makes no sense after so many years.”

“I know it doesn’t matter anymore but that’s a load off for me.” He said.”

“You must be a stupid fellow.” I affirmed.

“I’ve no hesitation in confessing that I am.” He said.

“As we got separated,...” he went on, “I was feeling very sorry for my deed. Later on many times I thought of apologizing you but after the school final exam there’s no contact between us. Even once I’ve sent you a friend request also on facebook. But you didn’t add me at that time.”

“Good to know that he at least realized his mistake.” I said inwardly.

“Though it doesn’t matter any longer but I still...”

“Prantik please, let’s not discuss about those things anymore.” I said without letting him finish.

“But I want to. I want to apologise for the way I treated you that day.”

“Listen Prantik, what’s done can’t be undone. So let’s forget it.” I stated.

“Forget it.” He repeated my words. “Could you forget all those?”

His question made me stunned for few moments.

The spectacle presented by the setting sun as it sinks beneath the surface of the river has its own mesmerizing beauty. Sitting by the riverside today one can feel that the Mother Nature itself can soothe our soul with her own grace and charm. No wonder the lovers love to spend times at the sunset point.

Even my parents would love the sunset point too. They had a love marriage. But none of the families accepted it in the beginning. Dad however got a job in a private company. He took loan to get a flat. I came into their life after five years. And both the families blessed for the union. But the crisis came after that when my father lost his job. My schooling, upbringings, and home loans all these started making our lives miserable. Everything led us to poverty. Being in the corner, my father took a job at a sweet stall. Since he was a graduate, it would hurt his self-esteem. As a consequence, often he would shout at us, misbehaved with my mother.

Grandpa passed away during this time. And my grandma wanted to bring us back. But my father disagreed. Mom finally got a job as a lab assistant in a school after several trials.

But their problem was with me. If mom would go out then who would look after me? So, Grandma agreed to stay with us.

My mother got some tuition for getting associated with a school. She used to go out for tuitions after the school hours. My grandma would get pensions. She would also contribute in the family. However, the financial situation became a little bit better. But still, a cold war was going on between my parents.

Mum became associated with school whereas dad even after being a graduate had to work in a sweet stall.

He would often air out his despair, frustration on the rest of us.

Dad would often rebuke mum but somehow I too realised that mum is getting attracted to the outer world.

Then one day she left all of us. Though she insisted me but I just refused to go with her.

At first I felt that how could a mother desert her child? But gradually I got used to that. I started believing that it was my destiny. My father’s harsh attitude somehow became pacified. Now, everything has been changed.

While viewing the scenic beauty of the nature a cloud of memories have crowded over my mind and I just engrossed into that so much that I forgot about my companion, sitting next to me.

Suddenly a jerk hurled me back to the reality.

“Are you here or somewhere else?” Asked Prantik.

“I was just.... so sorry. You’re saying something?” I asked.

“Yes I was saying but you’re so much engrossed in your thoughts that you didn’t hear anything at all.”

“So sorry dear.” I said.

“I understand. You must be thinking about family, your life partner, some special moments and all...” he said.

“Prantik, you remember, once I told you about my parents?” I asked.

“I knew. You’ve told me earlier.” Said Prantik taking a deep breath.

“And what do you think why did I share all these things with you?” I asked serenely.

“Because I happened to be your friend. Best friend in fact.” He affirmed.

“Exactly. B-E-S-T friend.” I stated emphasising the word BEST. “Because you were my closest friend. There was a time when I loved you the most. Relied on you the most. We would go to school together, took the practical exam together. Even in the class also we would always sit together.”

“You know,” I continued, “I had never celebrated my birthday at home, but every year it’s you who made my birthday special with your gifts like pens, flowers, and cards. After winning a debate competition when you treated me with chocolates and chips that would make success even more special. But what you had done afterwards I had hardly expected that from you.”

“I know. And it’s not a very easy thing to forget.” He said.

“How can I forget that? In front of the entire troop my best friend had insulted me by saying that despite taking so many favours I was sticking to him just because of my growing interest in his cousin rather than our friendship.” I said.

“Ishaan, I am sorry for what I did.” He apologised. “I was totally out of my senses. And when Kunal said that Sneha is blooming special friendship with you then I just couldn’t stand at that. I could seldom imagine my strong headed stubborn smart cousin could be so friendly with you...”

“You know why you had a problem with that,” I said. “Because you just couldn’t see me as your equal.”

Prantik became silent at my statement.

“But you know, if you had told me for once that you’re having a problem with that I would have never talked to your cousin. In fact I was not at all interested in her.” I acclaimed.

“I was such an idiot.” He said looking down.

“At that point of time you knew me better than anybody else. But if you still had doubts you could have tested me at least.”

“I really didn’t want to do that. But Kunal had washed my brain so methodically that... I just...”

“Don’t blame Kunal.” I interrupted. “You did it on your own.”

“Yes. You’re right.” He sighed.

“You know.” I said, “As you started avoiding me I was really feeling bad. I cried every day after the school. I had a feeling that may be I have disheartened you. That’s why you’re avoiding me. But finally when you humiliated me in front of everyone I understood that you just couldn’t stand at me. However I remained silent to all your insults. And just your sake of satisfaction, I stopped talking to your cousin and in return I got another bash of insult. Hence she insulted me referring my family background. She said that I should have been grateful to her since the super smart Sneha is befriending me whose father work in a sweet stall.”

“She said all these to you?” Prantik asked with utter astonishment.

“Even more.” I said.

“Listen Ishaan, I am responsible for whatever happened with you. Please forgive me. And I am apologizing on behalf of Sneha too. I wanted to talk to you long back. But just couldn’t. First of all, I had no contact of you. Secondly, I could not pull up myself in front of you. And I really am sorry.”

“O really? Now what will I do with your sorry?” I asked firmly.

He paused for a moment. “Right. There’s nothing you can about that. And I think I deserved that. That’s why I am having all these with me.”

Suddenly I felt that I was being too rude. May be, I should not behave like that. I felt that I’ve overreacted like a fool. What’s done cannot be undone after all. After so many days we met. He invited me for the reunion and I just reacted like a...

I said sorry however.

“I don’t know about you.” Said Prantik. “But I am glad that we met. Otherwise I would hardly get a chance to apologize to you.”

“No need of it.” I said, “Besides I forgave you long back.”

“Good to know.” Said Prantik with a beaming smile.

We remained silent for few moments.

“I must suggest you one thing.” I said, “Whether it’s a family or office matter or something else, don’t jump down to any conclusion so quickly. Just try to sort out things through discussion first. Then move on.”

“Hm.” He nodded. “You’re right as usual.”

“Can I say something Ishaan?” He asked.

“Go on.” I said.

“Can’t we become friends like before?”

The question however made me silent.

“I don’t know.” I replied after a moment’s pause.

Another winter has come. I am getting ready for school in the morning. Suddenly, a call came from my old friend.

“Yes Prantik.”

“A very good morning. And a very very happy birthday.”

I was however not expecting any call from him. Even I didn’t wish him personally on his birthday; just left a message in the whatssap group.

I thanked him anyway.

“Any plan today?” Asked Prantik.

“Plan? Don’t you think that I am too old to plan for my birthday?”

“Can we meet today? In the evening? After your school? A new cafe has been inaugurated last week; next to the Axis bank beside the G.T. road. I will treat you; if you come.”

“So nice of you.” I said “Thanks. But I can’t. Exhibition is going on in my school. I will have to go there and I will be late also.”

“Ok then. Your treat will be due.” The answer came from the other side.

“Surely we will meet if the destiny permits. Ok gatta go. Bye.” I said wearing my wrist watch.

“Who’s Prantik dad?” The question came from my five years old daughter Paakhi who is also getting ready to get her school bus. Surely she heard the name when I was on phone.

“Who is it dad?” She asked again.

“A class fellow.” I said.

“Means friend?” She asked with her eager eyes.

“Yes my doll.” I replied.

“Wishing you a happy birthday?”


“And how did he wish you?”

“Continuously you’ll talk and forget to take your water-bottle as usual. Then again I have to run after you.” A mere scolding came from her mother.

“Mum you know dad’s friend called him to wish him.”

“No talking too much while going to school. As you come back I’ll hear everything but not now.” She said while keeping the water bottle in her bag.

I was combing my hair when my father entered the room.

“Ready son? Your wife and your daughter have been waiting so eagerly.”

“What is all these dad? I mean I have never ....”

“It’s your baby girl’s choice dear so I can’t help it. Now stop talking all these nonsense and come to the dining hall quickly.”

“I am ready dad. Just a minute,”

In the mean time I finished combing my hair neatly and put the perfume.

“Anything happened between you and Prantik?” He asked.

His question silenced me with an utter astonishment.

“Don’t hover me like a bat sonny. No one on earth can know you better than I do and I am damn sure that something serious had happened between you two.” He declared.

“Nothing serious dad. Just a mere childhood disputes. And nothing else.” I said.

“Hello, I am the father, not you. I can read your mind from your face, attitude and body language. Several times I have noticed that you were trying to avoid him. Even you are not at all willing to go to your school reunion also. And in the morning when Paakhi was asking you about him you referred him as a class fellow rather than your best friend. Why would someone refer his best friend as a mere class fellow? And most of all, maybe he wanted to meet you but you gave an excuse of school exhibition. There was no such exhibition in your school today but you lied to him. Why Ishaan? He is after all your best friend.” He finished.

I took a deep breath.

“Dad, what exactly do you want to know?” I asked.

“That very particular thing that you have been hiding for a longer span of time.” He continued, “C’mon Ishaan, disputes can happen between friends. It’s so simple as that. Are you a kid? He is after all your best friend. And you have told it yourself that he had always given you the moral support whenever you needed.”

“Dad, trivial disputes among friends can be solved. But what if the friendship is determined by the social status, then? Can you call it a true friendship?” I said.

“Means?” He raised an eyebrow.

“Means that he was somehow under the impression that I was interested in his cousin. That’s why I had been using him or his so-called friendship. In the final year, he in front of everyone of our school group had insulted me. Even his cousin did. They told me a lot of things regarding your then workplace also.” I said.

“O my god. Is that what he said?” He asked surprised.

“Yes it is.” I replied.

“So many things had happened and you remained quiet throughout these years? Why didn’t you share it with me?” Asked my father.

“How could I dad? The entire family’s responsibility was on you. You had lost you job. How bitter you had become at that time you remember? I used to get scared of you. Too scared to discuss or share anything to you candidly.” I stated.

“O I really am sorry son.” He regretted. “Had I known that my behaviour would leave such impact on you”...

“Please dad, don’t be sorry, when my mom left me I got you only. And you did everything for me. So please don’t be sorry.”

“But then...”

“No dad. I don’t want to discuss all those anymore. Let those bitter memories stay in the past only. Let’s go to the dining hall. I am feeling hungry.” I pouted.

“Sure. Let’s enjoy your birthday treat tonight.” He smiled.

And we both headed towards the dining hall.

All’s well that ends well.

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