Quite by chance I met a couple of my childhood friends last evening. I had just returned home at 930 pm when I got a call from Mohan, my friend for over 30 years (and one of my first after we moved to Hyderabad), if he could drop in to meet. I have not seen much of Mohan these days, especially since he moved to Delhi and Bhopal as Associate Professor in the prestigious NIFT and I was quite happy to invite him over. He walked in ten minutes later, his salt and pepper hair drawn into a thick pony tail, a scraggy salt and pepper beard, black t shirt and his trademark jeans. Mohan has always been unconventional, the rebel.
After some conversation he picked up two copies of 'If You Love Someone...' and wanted more; unfortunately I did not have any more. He wanted to gift them to some friends and relatives. We walked out and he whipped out a beedi - 'Tiger brand,' he said, 'from Jabalpur.' Asked if I minded and I did not, so he carried on lighting a few beedis in the next hour we spent together.
I remember meeting Mohan when we were both thirteen years or so. He lived in Model Colony and I was a new entrant in Sundar Nagar. My sister Nalini's friend Usha Bala was his cousin and that was how we met - introduced so we could become friends. We started out harmlessly - playing cricket, exchanging books, going for long walks, watching or discussing movies and implementing our crazy schemes. Mine was to form a proper cricket team while Mohan had his own stream of themes. He had a fancy to be the wicket keeper and was pretty ok at the job, though I think he fancied himself to be Kirmani. Initially we had matches between Sundar Nagar and Model Colony and then we all combined and formed a stronger team which we used to play against ESI, SR Nagar and Vengal Rao Nagar teams in bet matches. It was another matter that ESI and our team merged and we played with teams from Sanatnagar, Kukatpally and so on.
Mohan kept wickets, complaining endlessly about bad throws, bad bowling, bad attitude etc. But thankfully for me he never retired from the game despite his obvious limitations and a not so good track record. The eternal optimist!
One of his schemes was to start a library and we did that, a loss making proposition. We also had several wonderful moments with his dog Jackie a friendly, enthusiastic little fellow. We went on long walks with Jackie in summer vacations. Mohan tied a message to Jackie's neck one day and sent it off as a messenger dog and when Jackie landed up at my house, message and all, was he elated. We built little tents over my terrace and stocked it with soft drinks and comics and felt very adventurous. We became members of a local library and read many books. We saw movies - 'Gold finger' I remember - because we went to Lakdi ka pul to Amaravati, found out we did not have enough money, went to Liberty where his cousin Usha Bala was, borrowed money and came back and saw the movie. We hired cycles and went on long, crazy bike rides. We payed matches and lost many and won a few. We conspired and plotted against the politics in the team.
He banged into bavagaru who was carrying little Ajay in his arms while they were at the busstop - speeding down the incline on his bicycle. He got hit more times than he hit people but he never backed off from provoking needless fights. He got drunk at the drop of a hat - once going off to a bar with another maverick, Sanjay and creating the biggest ruckus one could see. He got into buses with no tickets and would say pass. Mohan lived life on the edge, ready for a fight, ready for some excitement.
And as we grew older, Mohan found his passion - not in girls or cricket as I did, but in 'gangs'. He suddenly started smoking and associating with our local gangs. I remember him inhabiting the cafes and strolling around with all the notorious, unsavoury members in the vicinity. When we met he was as he was always, up to some new plan, some new excitement in his life. For long, even I would sit with his 'gang' as they smoked and drank their evenings away - while we watched. Just when it seemed that Mohan would go off track completely, he somehow found his bearings and joined the Fine Arts course. I joined Civil Engineering at Osmania University. From JNTU to Baroda, Jackie to Caesar and Sultana (all his dogs), Mohan progressed, and we met often enough know what was happening in our lives.
But he was there when I needed him. When my father died in 1984, it was Mohan and I who were together, returning from a first show to find a policeman informing us of the accident at my gate. It was us who downplayed the news at home, took an auto and went to Gandhi Hospital, not knowing what to expect and acting too big for our boots. It was us who found an unconscious father of mine, with severe head injuries, being shaved upon on the floor of a dirty corridor in Gandhi, being prepared for surgery as if he was some ordinary stray body. And it was he by my side when my father passed away the next morning, much to my surprise, crying for me in the dark portals of Gandhi hospital, because I was too dazed to find my tears. It was he who set off with whatever money we had in our pockets to Warangal to get the youngest of my elder sisters, Chanti back - and he did without a question to get the morning train.
We grew up together.
When I released my first book in 2007, he was there despite the many years of not meeting each other. I had a strange sense of satisfaction (still have) when I see that picture of him, in the crowd, standing alone, looking on intently. He wanted to come to Delhi for the launch of the second book but he could not and it was now that I met him after all that.
'I have come to work on my PhD,' he declared yesterday. We walked around the colony just as we used to thirty years ago, aimlessly, talking of things we did then, of people, laughing loudly and making heads turn. Mohan's love for dogs, penchant for trouble, his constant state of unsettledness and movement and the sheer unpredictability of his nature makes him what he is. To me he is Ukridge of Wodehouse in one facet and so many other nice things in others. Ukridge is my favorite character in all fiction.
At the end of our second round of walking we found a car honking at us. Sreenu, (or menti as we christened him for his mad ways), also landed up. From someone who was constantly making up stories but yet being there as a thirteen year old, Sreenu grew up to be a successful businessman himself. He was our leg spinner, the fall guy we all used to target in maram peeti, the chap we'd con most often. But he also was the chap who'd still support all our ventures wholeheartedly. He was there for the Hyd launch of 'If You Love Someone...' (bought five books, he said proudly).
We three went on a long walk to Erragadda, drank Irani chai at 11 pm and returned, sharing stories and memories, older, out of shape, but then the thirteen year old peeping out every now and then. I took a picture of them in my mobile phone and shall upload that sometime. We strolled back, chatted outside my gate till 12, just as we would in the good old days and then split promising to catch up again.
It was deeply satisfying.