Leaning against the two motorcycles, we chat for hours. Just like the old days. The masks are a sad reminder though. That life is uncertain, and a strange virus looms nearby.
This is where we usually meet—in front of Charan Das’s red brick house, under the shade of the banyan tree. The house and the tree are entwined. The tree has grown upward with time, its branches spreading far and wide, but its roots still clinging to the house.
Jatin and Moni Lal keep their masks on. Selim and I make fun of them. Selim says he is expecting good sales this year. Jatin says he is expecting the arrival of his mother-in-law this summer. We laugh out.
Selim proposes to go out of town on any coming Sundays. We will start at dawn and return before dusk. Let’s go to a resort, he says.
I nod, citing excuses of this and that. Clerking away the entire week in a government office, the only luxury I can afford on weekends is sleep. That, too, packed with worries. Mother’s medicines, father’s reading glasses, son’s college fees. “Why don’t you ask your friends for help?” Bindu, my wife, said this morning.
We four, old school friends, meet only once or twice in a month. Years ago, we made a rule. We’d only talk about good stuff, happy memories. This is why, perhaps, my finanacial troubles, Moni Lal’s drinking habit, developed after his wife left with another man, Jatin’s illegal business dealings or Selim’s secret mistresses never come into our addas.
At midnoon, a cool breeze blows, hundreds of thousands of leaves rustle overhead. A stray dog howls, a window slams shut and a woman’s shout is heard nearby.
Time to go. Jatin and Selim ask if we want a lift. We do. It’ll save us some money but we decline. They leave, racing their red motorcycles.
Moni Lal staggers through the narrow ally. He will probably go to a bar. I think of my brother-in-law. I better go to his house and ask for some money.
adda: informal get-togethers among friends, neighbours, family, etc.
Photograph – Aritra Sanyal