“Crossroads”

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Image Credit: FinTech Futures

Rabin Prasad Kalita

Being stayed like a stick with my ailing dad for five long years, I lost two consecutive academic years on his hospitality. For this, I had no remorse. But the lesson I learned while sticking up with him is way ahead of any university teachings. Rather, I was blessed with the ability to surmount any unforeseen situation.

“My son, the early bird catches the worm”, he repeatedly reminded me until the last gulp of air of his life. With his last breath spent on my lap, the curtain marked with ‘the end’ fell down once for all.

I was free then to continue my study and had left for the city nearby, incubating lots of hope in my heart. Thought to study a professional course like Cost Accountancy and accordingly got admitted there.

A small backpack along with two pairs of dresses, I arrived in a paying guest dorm. I was the third person in a dormitory to join with Jayant and Mrigen. Though they were two years senior to me, I used to call them by name as I was two times dropouts until I got through senior secondary. It didn’t take me long to comprehend them. They were much cooperative than I projected.

Cleaning and cooking were done by a prearranged maid named Atul on a monthly basis. We, boarders, had to pay the bill to the house owner at the month-end.

Mrigen with chatoyant eyes was from a well-to-do family and Jayant a smart tall guy hailed from a lower-middle-class. What about me? Happily, I placed myself on the bottom line of the class. Frankly, I had no one who could help me study further. But I was confident that I could earn all my expenses myself. By doing some private tuition three days a week, somehow I was able to manage my college fees and lodging.

Being not much monetarily strong, I was to be much frugal and had to think ten times before I wished to spend a penny. Hence, I thought to clean our shared room to put aside some pocket money instead of continuing with the cleaner. I said my brothers not to worry; I would do even their part too. Every so often, Jayant helped me while dusting and brushing. On the flip side of this, Indolent Mrigen was kind enough to pay rupees twenty to me, instead of paying to the cleaner thereafter.

Mrigen had a bad habit of smoking cannabis (Ganja) made out of hemp putting on a smoking pipe (Chillum). At least two puffs a day he had with some of his local loafer friends, behind a small tea stall, just across the road we lived. At dusk, most of our rented students put up in that area had been gossiping there with cut teas in hands, and also we all enjoyed a single lit cigarette one by one. The issue of paying the cost of the cigarette was decided as per the turn.

Nabin uncle, the stall owner, ran this locally collected cannabis retailing business simultaneously but stealthily. He also primed ‘Roti-sabji’ at night on pre-order. Mrigen never brought anything that sort to fume in our shared room. He was wise in this sense.

In fact, I never saw him studying at the dorm except for intermittently attending classes as a backbencher. Hence, he got a couple of papers back to be cleared that year. Most of his time spent on reading thriller novels and was also a dedicated cinephile. He loved helping the poor found inroads. He loved giving bread to those scraggy stray dogs roamed around for food.

Jayanta was also no less. He too had a habit of chewing Khaini. Khaini has mild toxicity and considered relatively harmless, as was told by one of his friends, and he seconded him without putting forethought. I argued a number of times against this irrational statement but my disagreement went waste, he continued to chew.

Every time after his meal or tea break, he made a blend of fermented tobacco and slaked lime by rubbing together on his left palm with his right-hand index finger or thump, and then used to keep anywhere in between lips and teeth. Then he kept on shifting the lump around using his tongue until the Khaini fully lost its intensity and then, he would take out the waste and throw somewhere.

I heard him saying once that he started this habit of chewing Khaini since he was twelve with a lad of his age. Many times he tried to quit this no worth substance, but he could not. Maybe he was habituated to use this rubbishy stuff.

Despite, having so many different characters of both, still, I never sensed any problem to continue my stay with them. Rather the duo used to admire my simplicity. Reasons, I learned to live somehow with them, keeping the bandwidth tuned together. One, who had suffered so much in the past, can make any situation work. Even though I fell down seven times, but I learned to stand up eight.

Six months later, on the twilight of the last day of our midterm exam, my roommates decided to enjoy drinks at the nearby bar cum restaurant. Categorically, they informed me to attend anyhow. I didn’t rebuff but accepted merrily.

The bar was almost filled up with tipplers by the time we reached. We all were looking for an empty table to accommodate. Suddenly we could locate a table with four seats around in a corner. Out of which, one was occupied by a lone baldy baby boomer seemed like a barfly, zooming around with a half-drunk drink in hand. Though we didn’t want to sit with anyone else, but there was no alternative.

One of us warmly asked the lone occupier, “Sir, can we use these vacant seats”?

The middle-aged replied affirmatively by nodding his head, “Oh sure, I shall be glad.”

Realizing the bustling hour, we all settled down in a hurry before someone reaches out to unfilled chairs. Mrigen called one of the barkeeps and ordered three draft beers from a keg rather than a bottle.

Countering him right away with a mild refusal, I said, “Great Mrigen, but let me sleep on it, if you don’t mind, please order for only two, with a soft pint glass drink for me.”

I wanted to be a designated driver to guide them home. Hence, I wished to limit myself to soft drinks. Moreover, I didn’t want to implant this practice in me, because I knew my reach.

They had mixed drinks on the rocks and kept ready for cheer ups. We sounded cheers by toasting and clinking glasses with each other including the alien and began to enjoy our happy sipping.

By then, the alien barfly cleared his first round and was half-way of the second. Perhaps he was monitoring our actions, enjoying his drinks.

Mrigen was a bit chug, whereas, Jayant enjoyed sipping slow. I was concerned about the wellbeing of the former and to keep him under control.

We all had lots of droll talks in between but the alien remained zipped. Probably, he abstained from taking part because of the mismatch of the age factor between him and us or maybe searching a clue to start with.

After taking a sip, Jayant puts down the glass and said to Mrigen, “Hey man, I heard a new teacher is joining our class from tomorrow.” Hopefully, Mr. Mandal, the one who is going to come, would not be as insolent as the previous one.

“Otherwise, I shall definitely bunk off his classes”, Mrigen said with releasing an unsolicited burp.

In the ongoing talks, Jayant mentioned his inability to answer a couple of short questions in the exam he faced that day. He scolded the one who set questions, and said in anger, from where did he bring out of syllabus questions.

From our conversation, the barfly could come to know something about us. His Facial expression seemed like he wanted to join with our funny chats. So the latter looked at Jayant and asked him by breaking his silence to share the question he left for want of its answer.

Little hesitantly Jayant spoke despite not wanting, sir; the question is about ‘Reverse mortgage and its income tax implications.’

Oh, I see, it pertains to ‘Applied direct taxation paper.’ Isn’t it?

Yes sir, you aptly said, Jayant answered being a bit edgy.

Surprisingly, the stranger explained the answer precisely in two minutes. What an explicit and satisfying reply it was!

One shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, this expression truly applied to him. We three got flabbergasted listening to the alien scholar and curiously requested to talk a little about him.

Assuring us with a smile, he addressed in short, “I’m Mayank, a retired teacher of your college and remained a spouseless wino to date. Don’t worry boys, I know Mr. Mandal personally, he is a jovial teacher. You all will enjoy studying under him.”

An old adage says still waters always run deep. Before this, what we thought about him, felt bad thinking so. We started to see with idiot’s apology towards Mayank sir. By placing our highball glasses down, we paid our due reverence to him. Seeing our insipid faces, he assured us to continue our drinks with the same cadence and make the evening pleasant. He made us relaxed and shared many past happenings generously.

We were oblivious of the last call that rung from the counter. But we waited for the happy hour to avail maximum discount on food. We all spent a treasured evening that day.

A few weeks later, on a fortunate day, I received a call letter from the Air Force Selection Centre, for which I faced its three-tier interviews a month ago. Finally, with soaking eyes, I left for training, leaving behind my friends there.

I missed those everyday flocking fun times at Nabin uncle’s tea-stall from then. Those evening cut teas, a long puff from a shared cigarette, and the pleasure of looking at its bubbles rolling high became a matter of past.

No trace of my brothers thereinafter, due to no mobile phone or any other means of communication in those days. It has been more than twenty years since; all the old memories started erasing from my mind.

By the time, I got discharged from the service, settled near to the Air Force colony, and was urgently looking for a job. My family had grown from a single wanderer to four by then.

Suddenly one day, I saw three men with shaved heads in their fifties came to my home with some leaflets. They came from a drug rehabilitation center for pleading voluntary public donations.

One of them seemed a bit familiar, and similarly, he was also looking at me from a strange perspective. I couldn’t curb my curiosity and asked him, “Are you not Mrigen?”

Yes, Rabin, “I’m Mrigen, happy to see you grow after a long span of audiovisual separation. You might have been bemused seeing this new version of me, isn’t it? Yes, you heard and saw right.”

Suddenly I lost to those happy days once we had together. Reminiscences jammed all through the mind in a minute.

It didn’t take me long to understand, and was sorry to see him that way, coming door to door. But he proved me wrong soon I heard his self-narrative in a nutshell.

He had been dampened in the de-addiction center, several years ago by his family in a wretched condition. Nearly he ruined with cannabis use disorder and other serious complications. Subsequently, he had to undergo years of various therapies to recover from deadly drug abuse. Along with the correction of drug addiction treatment, he had been transformed into a great human being up till then. Standing in a crossroads, he started thinking, which path should be adopted to make his life worth living.

Shortly he invented another world, where he found a unique conduit to live with peace and was determined to immerse him in it. Eventually, turned down his home return and dedicated him to work for the same drug rehab organization since then. Committed to sobriety, helps many others to overcome the powerful cravings from brutal drug abuse. I got contented seeing him happily working there for a great cause. He attested me to his magnanimity once again.

The writer is an Ex-Air Warrior and he can be reached at [email protected]

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