It was his birthday on March 21 and that reminded me of the fact that we have not communicated with each other for several years now.
We met for the first time in late 1989, soon after I moved to Chandigarh, along with my family. He was among my class-mates at school. Both of us lived in the same sector of the city and used to ride our respective bicycles together every day, at least on the way back home, since I was almost invariably late in the mornings. We were in standard IX then.
After completing standard X, he got himself admitted to a college, while I remained at the same school as before. Within the next three years, we passed the standard XII examinations and then spent a year without having joined any educational institution as he meant to re-appear and improve his scores and I hoped to be able to prepare better for the tests for admission into an engineering course.
During all those years, we remained the closest of friends. Besides being together at school and, later, going for private tuition classes, we used to spend a lot of time in each other's company. He would often come to visit in the evenings and remain seated on his bicycle (which was replaced by a scooter, after he got a driving licence) just outside the gate, while I stood inside, and we would talk for hours on end, even as we ogled at passers-by. At other times, I would visit his place and we would sit in his room and chat, while munching on some tasty snack or the other that his mother plied us with.
More time at hand was filled with long walks or skating along the periphery of the Sukhna lake or hanging out at the piazza in sector 17 along with some other friends.
I often remember some of the pranks that we played on unsuspecting people and smile to myself. For instance, one fine day, when my family as well as the nice folk who lived upstairs had gone out, we climbed up, through the cutout, to what could perhaps be termed as their back-yard, using a stool to get on to the upper rail of a window sash and then clambering up a wall and walking carefully across its narrow top-surface, almost like real-life commandos. We had carried along his .22 calibre air-rifle and a box of lead pellets, in addition to a pair of field glasses. The parapet had been constructed in such a way that there were gaps between the bricks, large enough to pass the barrel of the gun through and take aim without really being seen, except from a very short distance.
We took turns shooting at the window panes of a house across the road. The air-rifle was not powerful enough for any of the shots to break the thick glass across the distance of about 100-150 metres, however, a loud noise was produced each time a pellet found its mark. The occupants of the house must have been flummoxed! At first, an old woman came out to investigate, but went back inside within a minute or two. We shot a few more times. Shortly, her beautiful grand-daughter stepped out to try and locate the source of the noise. That was when the field glasses came in handy!
There were many other such incidents, which I can not recall without a chuckle, during those four years or so, at the end of which my friend joined the Merchant Navy, like his father and elder brother. I recall that I had written "V for victory and V for Vishal" on the card that I gave him, to wish him for his birthday, soon before he left.
Subsequently, I joined a local college to pursue a bachelor's degree in arts, having realised that being the teetotaller that I am, science and mathematics were not really my cups of tea. I did not get to see him until when I was in the third and final year, as he completed his training and then continued to sail from one port to another. Unfortunately, during the days that he came to visit the hometown, I was preparing for the entrance examinations for a post graduate course in management, besides preparing for those of the final year of the graduate degree, and was not able to manage to spare the kind of time for him that I should have. He left without saying farewell, at the end of his vacation.
Soon thereafter, I moved to Indore in the state of Madhya Pradesh where I had secured admission in a C-grade business school. I had taken his mailing address from his mother before I left and wrote to him from there. We corresponded a few times after that and also spoke to each other over the telephone, even after I completed the course and moved to the national capital region, where my parents had shifted residence to by that time.
Then, his brother got married and I sent a congratulatory note. He wrote back to regret the fact that he had not invited me. I responded with a letter full of anger. He never replied. Since then, I have written several times, to wish him and his family a happy new year or to wish him a happy birthday, but have not heard from him. His father was kind enough to call me once to enquire after my well being and to assure me that he would pass my message on to Vishal, which I am sure he must have done.
The Almighty alone knows whether I shall ever be re-united with my friend, but the effect that having lost a friend has had on me is that I have become more forgiving and receptive to sincere apologies.