Friends in Black and White

vivekanand jha

Shri Vivekanand Jha

Shri Vivekanand Jha (Mantu) was the person who, along with Shri Vimlesh Pandey (Vimlesh Bhaiya), was responsible for my falling in love with the labyrinthine radial and peripheral roads of Banaras Hindu University. I had joined BNS Coaching after not getting admission in any undergraduate course in our university and had made three good friends there. Two have already been mentioned. The third one was (Late) Shri Upendra Kumar Singh. But he was a city friend and the other two lived in the campus of the university. Vimlesh Bhaiya’s Aunt was a Professor and had her quarters behind the University Swimming Pool. Mantu’s elder brother (Niranjan Bhaiya) was doing his M.B.B.S. from IMS-BHU and used to stay at Ruiya Hostel. They used to live with their family members in the campus. Before I move on to the next sentence, I must put the map of our university campus here:

bhumap2.png

(Source: bhu.ac.in)

It’s huge, the campus, and navigating successfully through those hundreds of roads and roadlets is really very confusing. For my first few months in the university I was never sure of my coordinates if I ever strayed from the hostel road and the central road that runs parallel to it. The road that starts at the end of the wall of Sir Sunder Lal Hospital and runs up to IIT Hostels and the road parallel to it to the inside were the ones we friends used to enter from outside the campus. There used to be a narrow entry through the wall of the campus meant only for the pedestrians and cyclists who could lift their bicycle and carry it through. That point was around a hundred metre from the entrance of our coaching and we boys used to enter the campus from there. In shorter breaks we used to stay around the coaching centre but in longer ones we used to go to Ruiya Hostel.

No, at that time the University had still not started becoming high and unbroken boundary walled fortress that it now is. We could pass through the playground behind Ruiya and enter it through the back entrance. There were no hostels there and the whole back section of the hostels of IMS was just grounds. So, Mantu and I used to roam around and enjoy our pre-university days. As I had a bicycle, so did Vimlesh Bhaiya and his neighbour Piyush, so we used to go to his Aunt’s place with him sometimes. It took, or appeared to take, nearly infinite time to reach there and we chatted on the way. That was when the landmarks around were strangers to me. Time taken to cover a certain distance is virtually lessened once we become familiar with the way and landmarks around. (I learnt that people can also be landmarks through a post: http://storyshucker.wordpress.com/2013/09/17/i-could-be-wrong/).

upendra singh

Shri Upendra Kumar Singh

Upendra was a friend indeed, for he was a friend in my not so good times. Taking a break from the studies, specially when one never wanted to, does not improve one’s self-esteem. I could not get a single seat in the undergraduate streams of my choice in my university (our, I should say, for all the elders of the family had gone to BHU), and I would not go to any other. I took admission in a coaching for medical entrances in order to get through the B Sc Entrance Test of the university. That was all that I wanted. Mantu and Vimlesh Bhaiya seldom turned their bicycles towards the city, their world was between the coaching centre and their place in the campus. It was Upendra, my only close friend from the coaching centre, who used to come to my place and I to his.

He used to live with his family in a flat near Kabir Nagar Colony and used to study diligently for the Medical Entrance Tests. He actually wanted to become a doctor. Plain B Sc was not for him. We used to prepare together, ask subject related questions to each other, and generally used to compete against each other. He was the only person, other than Vimlesh Bhaiya, who was sure that I’d get my one seat in my university in the next year. It was not to assure me, his friend, that he used to say so. He was too truthful for that. He said so because he was sure of it. He was right.

We got through the entrance tests of the university and took admission in B Sc (Ag.). For me, I had achieved all that I had wanted in my life till then. What did I need after that. Upendra was not as elated as his friend. He had underachieved, and he wanted for himself, what he had wanted since the very beginning of his preparation year. He kept on preparing for Medical Entrances and stayed more at home than in the University or the Institute. He would not talk to me either.

Something had happened that I could never fully understand, till date. I was among my happily “in” friends of the University then: Debashish, Mihir, Arnab, Swamiji, Raju, Priyank, Seemant etc. I was enjoying my entry into the university of my dreams and my new life in it. I do suspect that caste politics and one certain person in our class were responsible for souring our friendship. I tried to reason with him a couple of times, but something had snapped. So, we stopped talking and went our ways. I wish I could end the story here.

The story has a tragic ending. I remember very clearly that one evening, while Debashish and I were at my rooftop, Arnab had come to my place and asked use to come with him. He then informed us that he had heard the rumour somewhere in the university that something had happened to my friend Upendra. We three went to his place together. I met his younger brother at the entrance of his flat and asked him about my friend. He did not reply and went in to call their mother.

My two friends with me and I were not prepared for what happened after that. She came out weeping and told me that it was I whom she blamed for her son’s suicide. She told me that my friend had actually started hating me of late. That he had actually expressed his loathing in his mother’s presence too. My friends there and I could not understand the reason behind it all. None of us could speak anything as we were too overwhelmed for that. We just stood there and heard whatever we were being told. Then we left.

On the way we discussed all about Upendra and our friendship and what had gone wrong. We had not talked or met for at least couple of fortnights before that day. I was not at all sure of the cause and effect link between his suicide and our friendship, or whatever was left of it by then. My other two friends stood by me and told me that there actually was no such link extant. They even went back home with me and told it all to my father. We were afraid that there’d be some sort of police case. My father went to meet Upendra’s father and returned with the information that they did not think I had anything to do with it.

Later one, some common friends brought the information that Upendra had gone to his village with his father and his father had asked him to study as he had decided to drop his B Sc (Ag.) in order to prepare for the medical entrances. He was already in a heightened emotional state and took selphos in his village. They rushed him to a hospital, but he could not be saved. He died requesting his father to save him as he did not want to die.

He died young: he was younger than even eighteen then. I could never forget that a friend of mine died thinking that I was not his friend, while I wanted my old friend back all the time. I had tried to ask him the reason behind his strange behaviour but he had made some new friends in the institute who were not my friends, just as he was not a friend to my new friends. I also suspect that caste politics had something to do with it. My suspicion was one more reason behind my hatred for caste politics: the hatred that I made public at all times, at times risking ostracism.

swamiji

Shri Rajeev Kumar (Swamiji)

It was my solid stand against caste being used as a dominant marker of one’s identity that aligned me with some other persons from the same year as mine. Rajeev Kumar aka Swamiji was the strongest and staunchest opponent of the caste politics, and one of my best Institute friends for four years. He was in the same batch of practicals. His roll number was 9364, and mine 9368. He got his nickname during the pre-Fresher’s Nite introductions. The seniors had one of their most menacing questions: “What’s your hobby?” To that, a fresher had replied: “Doing meditation”. They had been waiting for such an answer all their senior lives, and pounced upon their freshest prey.

They asked him to meditate in front of the class, using the central table, that ran through the length of the class, as his asan. We, on the first bench got to see it at close quarters. Other juniors were asked to break the dhyaan of the new yogi. They tried all that they could, as touching him was forbidden, and failed. Finally, as all had lost, they broke the condition of touch and rolled him down. Still he remained steadfast. The boy was renamed Swamiji on that very day. Later we had found out that he had some such inclinations already. In our four undergrad years together there were only few people who remained teetotalers and showed unblemished conduct. Swamiji was one of them. Mihir was another. His story must wait a while.

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