Rudra Pratap’s Friend

He’d always been taciturn and soft spoken; ever a gentleman, my friend Chandra Bhaal. Our houses are in the same muhalla. His father was a freedom fighter and one of the first martyrs of an independent India, and mine had only struggled to establish himself during the British Raj as a comission agent supplying sandstone from Chunar and marble from Jabalpur. Our fathers were never friends. In fact they had never known each other.

I had a father I could never admire nor ever want to keep, and he had a father I’d die to call mine: Shri Kumar Sambhav Singh Ji, the role model I acquired a little late: in my early adulthood. It was because he was his father’s son that I had taken him inside my circle. Well, he became my best friend within three days. He was not Kumar Sambhavji’s son for nothing. He is now the friend, philosopher and guide to my youngest son Bhanu.

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Bhanu wouldn’t take even one step without his Bhaal Cha‘s permission. Things hadn’t always been like this. Twenty five years ago, when Bhanu was in his rebellious late teens and early twenties, he was also an active member of the Student’s Union of the university. In Varanasi, there’s only one university that bears the name of the city, and Bhanu was a proud student of the same. Those were the years of protest against the reservation for SC/ST in education and jobs. Bhanu was one of the leaders of the whole protest thing in his area. They used to go to the university to ensure that the classes had no students within, and to assemble as many as possible for their Anti_Mandal marches.

Bhanu had announced at Lanka on the evening of 4 November 1990 that he would follow on the footsteps of Rajiv Goswami. His friend Deen Dayal, Gopal Das Ji’s son, had come home to give Organic Chemistry tuition to Ojaswi Raje that very evening and had told me to be careful the next day. I didn’t listen to him. He had also informed Bhaal, and he did more than just listening. He sat with Bhanu that night and asked him about his self-immolation declaration. And then, he had listened very patiently, asking questions at the right intervals, for the next one hour and five minutes.

Chandra Bhaal had told me the whole thing in the Emergency Ward of Sir Sunder Lal Hospital through the unending night of fifth November. He had told me how Bhanu had begun with his usual paranoia inducing pitch: “Bhaal Cha, how could you not understand? You, whose father had risked his life for his people and motherland? I was expecting that I’d ask you to convince papa. You have to understand me on this. How long will we be penalized for being of high birth? How long will the politicians sell the future of upper caste students to buy their votes? Do you know what reservation is, and what it will do to the job prospects of Rishabh, Madyam and Nishaad? How will Lata get admission to the University?” And had got the brief, “What’s in it for you?” at the end.

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