(Author – Soma Vyas)
“So whose letter is this? Another of your best friend?” my father enquired with a slight smile.
“Oh Papaji, you don’t understand anything about friendship or best friends. You don’t know how important it is to be socially connected these days. I never heard you talking about any of your best friend so stop teasing me.” And I ran to receive another call from one of my “Best Friends.”
This kind of conversation became quite common in our household during the summer vacation when I came home from hostel. During the vacation also I was quite active in maintaining all my social contacts. My father always use to tease me about my long list of friends and I also didn’t mind putting forth my views or how my generation is so advanced in maintaining all this.
That morning when I got up a little late, house was abuzz with activity. Maa was busy making her special Halwa for the breakfast. As soon as I finished my daily chores, Maa called me for help. When I went in the drawing room with the breakfast tray, I saw my father deep in conversation with a man in his thirties. I heard him calling my father as “Chachaji”, they looked so bonded and his eyes were so full of respect whenever he looked at my father. And yet I couldn’t recall meeting him in my life ever, I was really curious.
That night when I slept with my mother, I asked her, “Who is Rajesh Bhaiya Maa? Is he one of our distant relative? Why I never met him before? Why he keeps calling Papa as chachaji?”The answers I got from my mother changed my opinion about my father forever. It was one of those chapters in his life which I never experienced before.
“It was long before you were born….”Maa started in her usual story telling style.
My parents use to live in Jamshedpur before my birth and Chauhan Sahib was my father’s colleague cum friend from the same Technological Institute they use to work. After office he usually stopped by our house for a cup of tea and a prolonged discussion. Soon it became an integral part of my father’s evenings. So one evening my parents were really surprised to see Chauhan Sahib’s wife at our doorsteps, Maa brought her inside. After coming inside she burst into tears as Chauhan Sahib was nowhere to be found. They also came to know that he is a patient of schizophrenia and though he is on regular medication, sometime things get out of control especially during one of his severe mood swings. My father was intelligent enough to understand the severity of the situation as he himself was suspecting since few days that everything was not all right with his friend. He went in search of him and soon found him wandering aimlessly on the roads while people kept staring, laughing, making comments. Though not in a very good mental condition Chauhan Sahib was really happy to see his friend and happily came with him to the hospital and got admitted. It was really sad to see his friend in such a suffering,”Bhagwan kisiko bhi aisi beemari na de “, my father said to my mother in a sad voice.
That was one incident followed by another many incidents and every time my father was able to help his friend in any possible ways, be it financially or psychologically. He tried his best to understand his friend’s situation in a very patient and sympathetic way while others made fun of him. Every time whenever his friend felt low, he gave him the confidence, the guidance, the constant emotional support which is such an important factor in any mental disease.
But soon it started becoming a constant circle of suffering, pain, humiliation for his dear Friend.
“Bhair Sahib, bas ab bahut ho gaya, main thakne laga hoon, kitna pareshaan karta hoon aapko. Besides everything else, every time I borrow money from you, spend it in my treatment, come back to work, return your money and again borrow from you….it’s happening again and again.” Chauhan Sahib shared his feelings to my father during one evening. “Don’t even worry about it, “my father consoled his friend informing him that he is going to visit my grandparents and if he needs some money, better take it now as he will be gone for 10 days at least.
“Not now Bhair Sahib, You visit your parents and come back soon”, with these words he said Good bye and turned to go home. My father never knew that this is going to be their last meeting.
“After 10 days when we came back to Jamshedpur, Chauhan Sahib was no more. People told us that 5-6 days after we left he came to our house, sat in the front yard for a very long time, the place where he use to sit and drink tea with your father and then he went to station and threw himself in front of a train..” Maa couldn’t continue after that nor could I listen more.
“Your father did all he could to help him but God had different plan ….even after he was gone your father tried to help his family in any possible way. With the help of some other people he collected money from everyone and got his daughter married too…par dost ko to kho diya us dukh ka koi ilaaz nahi …kya krein nar socha nahi hoye hari socha ho jaye” my mother took a deep sigh and I was too choked to say anything.
“So Rajesh Bhaiya is Chauhan Sahib’s son?” After 3-4 days I gathered some courage to talk to my father regarding this.
“Yes,he is.”came a very short reply.
“He was just visiting you, after all these years?”I wanted him to speak more.
“Yes he was visiting me …..And also he needed some money to start his business so your father gave him that”, my mother finished his sentence.
“Will he be able to return it?” I asked a little concerned as my father was about to retire himself.
“I never asked …if he can, he will otherwise also it’s all right, “as always my father gave me one of his warm smile.
“Was Chauhan Sahib your best friend”? I couldn’t help myself asking with a heavy heart.
“Yes he was my Friend”….came a simple, honest reply.
I couldn’t look my father in the eyes…..I was so ashamed of myself. How could I tell such a person that he doesn’t know what friends are or what friendship is…I was so shallow and he was so deep…. even after the demise of his friend he maintained the respect and dignity of that relationship we call “Friendship”.
Special Note: Based on a true life incident and real friendship.