Kha Chang and I had joined the same section of the same class of the same school in the same year. What a coincidence! We then studied together from class seven to twelve in that school. No, he is not there in the image above. It has some other friends of mine, and classmates, from my University years. Kha Chang was my best friend for the first three years of the school. Before him, there were some other best friends in another school. I never had best friends in my muhalla, as I was not allowed to mix up and play with the three boys of my age there. I could and did play with many other children of the muhalla, but those three: Madhyam, Shyam bhaiya’s younger brother and Bablu, were all non-studious good-for-nothing types. My parents wouldn’t allow my befriending them. So, my friends were all from my schools.
In my first school there were Achyut Bhave and Manoj. And then, tere were acquaintances who now qualify for the friend position, but were not friends then, just class mates, viz. Anupam, Dashrath, Malik, Amitabh etc. When we meet now, the distance through which we have to look back makes it impossible to re-see parts of our collective past as they were, and we accept that we were friends.
In my second school, there were two distinctly different circles of friends: Bengali and Hindustani. Kha Chang was a Hindustani friend of mine. We were in A2 section, and it had Bengalis in majority. Sections B and C were Hinduastani majority.There used to be a sort of polarization based on the identities arising from language groups of the students. In the Hindustani group of our section there were Ravi, Ranjeet, Prabhat, Dhawal, Vikram Veer, Aalok, Rahul etc. The Bengali group had Diponkor, Biressor, Ajoy, Maity, Mota, Borun, Arnab, Omiyo, Biplab, Pulak, Debopriyo etc.
Kha Chang and I did our best to stay away from group rivalries. I remember very vividly how once we stood on the roof of the hall room while many made a circle around the two gladiators: Ravi and Ajoy (0r was it Diponkor?). We were never interested in physical violence. Or, to judge it from a more conservative point of view: we weren’t masculine enough to want to fight. I don’t remember having seen Kha Chang in any kind of school fights: group or individual, although I was beaten twice (by Rajesh and by Vikram) and I had started the fight both the times by challenging the other party.
It was Rahul, my friend from the previous school who had joined the same section, class and school (coincidence or fate?) and was also A friend of Kha Chang, through whom I came to know my best friend in the new school. I remember our very strict Vice Principal in whose hands, no, through whose elbows, I had received a thorough beating, an open mouthed Kha Chang being the only witness. We, rather he, had converted the whole thing into a kind of heroic adventure in which the hero is beaten by the villain. There are benefits of having a friend as a narrator. He makes you either the hero or the hero’s friend, even when you lose to the villain in the end of the story.
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