Pranav Jyoti Sharma
“Dikhou noi eribo nuwaru….( cannot leave the banks of river Dikhou)” Lines from a popular bihu song floated into the corridors of hostel no 3 of Cotton College Guwahati. The atmosphere was electrifiying even in the hostel. Most of the boarders had either left for home or would be leaving by night buses or trains tonight. Arun was also going home by the night bus to Sibsagar. He along with some of his friends would board the bus from ISBT tonight. But even if he was going home and it was Bihu, Arun was not feeling the usual joy. He packed and dressed up in the evening itself and sat in his room, lost in thoughts. Thoughts about Korno.
Arun was very good in his studies. He was in fact the brightest in his village, Kamalpur. Being the village school’s headmaster’s son, he seemed to enjoy everyone’s confidence that one day he would bring glory to Kamalpur. And true to everyone’s expectation, Arun fared very well in the matric examinations and secured a seat in the renowned Cotton College at Guwahati.
But away from everyone’s attention, another boy from the adjacent village also made it into Cotton College that year. No one knew much about Korno except for the fact that his father was a havaldar in the army who went astray and died a premature death due to alcoholism. His mother made ends meet with much difficulty. So the prospect of funding Korno’s higher education in Guwahati was a cause of constant worry.
Since both the boy’s were from nearby villages, it was only a matter of time before they got to know each other and became fast friends. Luckily for them, they got seats in the same hostel, the same wing, and just two rooms apart. They would walk together from department to department, go to the canteen together, even visit Nehru park together. They found in each other the support, which was needed to cope up to this new life in Guwahati.
For Arun and Korno, Guwahati was totally alien. Arun had been here once during his summer vacation when his father brought him along. Korno had never been here before. The glitter of shopping malls in GS road left them awestruck. They found the wine shops, the pubs, the multiplexes, and the eateries, all brightly lit, to be very alluring. Although they didn’t have any money to spare except for their basic needs, they would love roaming around in the malls and soak in the brightness and dazzle which was so different from the 60 watt bulb in their hostel room. They felt liberated, as if transported to a different time zone. Here no one knew their past, no one vouched for their future. No one had expectations on them; none derided them for the hopelessness of their future. The city just let things be and for them to watch the city flow by from a distance seemed to be a harmless pastime.
But this is where the similarity of Arun and Korno ended. Even if destiny had brought them together in this crucial juncture of their lives, they had their own theories and interpretations about life. While Arun was the disciplinarian and perfectionist, notes and assignments always up-to-date, always in time for lectures, never missing any, Korno was more casual about classes. Korno did not follow any routine, never jotted down any notes or submitted any assignment without a good measure of reprimand from the teachers. However when it came to examination results, Korno seemed to score well without much effort.
Both boys remained good friends nevertheless, almost always keeping their differences to themselves. They travelled from and to their villages together during semester breaks, had lot of common thoughts to share on village life and city life. Both may have silently shared the same dreams. Arun, of living up to the expectations of the village folks. Korno, of proving to his folks that the son of a socially ostracised drunkard could also be successful in life.
Because of his outgoing nature, Korno became the more popular of the two. Arun slogged with all sincerity within and outside the class, but Korno seemed to be scoring as much with almost half or lesser effort. Korno started becoming popular among the girls too. While Arun had few friends, Korno cultivated quite a few friends, especially among the day scholars, a rare feat for someone from a remote village in Lakhimpur. Korno would stay out till late in the evening, be among friends, go out on every weekend, living life the fun way. A life so different from the idealistic life that Arun preferred to lead.
“Looking gloomy..? What’s the matter ? New love interest” Korno questioned Arun as the two of them walked together for their morning class. “Nothing of that sort. Just a family problem which has been troubling me” Arun replied, “anything that I can do?” Korno said putting a reassuring arm over Arun’s shoulder. “Its my father….He has not been getting his monthly pension for last several months…we are facing tough times at home” By then they were almost inside the class room and the discussion ended there. In the afternoon as Arun was on his way back to the hostel, Korno came running towards him and shouted “ work done sir”. Arun was taken aback. “What work..” he asked. “Worry over, dear. I spoke to Barnali, her father is a senior officer in the Education Directorate. Uncle’s details just need to be sent to him and rest he will take care” half shouted Korno. Tears of joy welled up in the eyes of Arun. He hugged Korno , the moistness in his cheeks spread to Korno’s cheeks.
True to the words of Korno, Arun’s father’s pension was cleared within days. A number of other occasions followed in close succession when, Korno played the role of Arun’s savior from the most difficult of situations. Once when Arun had to go home to attend to his mother who was very unwell, Korno was able to arrange for him a ticket on the train to Lakhimpur when there were no bus tickets available. Arun would even get a handsome helping of chicken in the mess just because the cook knew that he was Kornoda’s close friend.
Korno’s benevolence however had a strange effect on Arun. While Korno continued in his own inimitable style, always confident, carefree and happy, a shroud seemed to have enveloped Arun. A shroud of utter abject jealousy. Arun knew that he owed so much to Korno, and that Korno genuinely cared for him. But he was not able to get over the fact that someone so different, so casual could succeed more than him, in academics and in making friends. Korno’s friendly gestures, seemed like a burden under which he reeled unbearably.
Then, one rainy evening, as heavy showers lashed Guwahati, submerging vast areas in muddy water flowing from adjacent hills, the police came calling to hostel no 3. They acted swiftly and took away with them three boarders, one of whom was Korno. The police party was accompanied by the hostel warden, Goswami Sir, who also left with them, without saying a word to anybody. Arun was in his room, studying as usual. He could hear some commotion in the corridor but such noise was usual in the corridors of their hostel. Only after the police had left with Korno and the other boys, did he come to know about the incident.
All the boys were totally puzzled and stunned. No one knew what the matter was. Late in the night, Bipin, the hostel cook came with some news. He said that the boys had assaulted a taxi driver who had lodged a complaint with the police against them. Arun was silent. He did not react with anger or astonishment like the other boarders. He seemed to get a strange feeling of vindication. This is what happens when you become too unruly, he felt like shouting and telling his other hostel mates. This is what happens when you ignore your studies and make too many friends in an alien city. Too many friends always land you in trouble. He felt like shouting and telling Korno, who he was very sure, would be grimacing in a lock up now. Korno his friend, his greatest benefactor in an alien city has been proved wrong. He has been proved right.
Bihu holidays started. Parents of the other two boys arrested with Korno came and took their sons away. No one came for Korno. He had no one who could come and speak to the police for him. No one who could pay bail money for him.
Meanwhile, Arun also made preparations to leave for his village. He bought a white shirt for his father. White was his father’s favourite colour. He said wearing white made him look like a teacher, the profession he loved and took pride in. His mother liked anything he brought for her. She would clutch the packet close to her bossom and tears would roll down her cheek, every time he took something home for her. This time it was a lemon coloured Sador for her with small green flowers, which he bought from Kolpotoru in PanBazar.
That evening, he completed his packing and waited in his room. They would leave for the bus station in a few hours time. Eight hours of journey by bus, half an hour by rickshaw and he would be at home. Presently they got down from the bus together and then started walking home. Korno walked beside him, hand on his shoulder, happy to be home for Bihu. The road had potholes all over. Puddles of mud had formed everywhere. Arun suddenly tripped, slipped and had almost fallen into the mud, when the strong hand of Korno got hold of his hand and kept him from falling. Arun looked around but Korno was gone. He called out at the top of his voice for Korno…. how could Korno just leave him like that and disappear. How could he?Cold sweat was all over Arun as the hostel cook shook him. “Arunda, get up, your friends are leaving for the station” he half shouted.
Arun knew he was not leaving. He knew what he had to do. He locked his room. Instead of boarding the autorickshaw for the bus station, he ran towards the quarter of their hostel warden, Goswami Sir.
“Arun, what is the matter? You did not go home for Bihu?” Goswami Sir was surprised to see Arun at his gate. “Sir, I have come for Korno. I am not going home without him” he replied. “Are you all right? Korno is with the police. Did those fellows even think before taking law into their own hands? I am sorry Arun. You may go and speak to a lawyer to secure Korno’s bail” replied Goswami Sir and rushed inside leaving Arun standing at his doorway.
Arun could not sleep that night. Sounds of Dhol, Pepa, Gogona from Lotaxil Bihutoli, made him feel lonelier and more miserable. He knew he had to free Korno but did not know how. Finally after what seemed like eternity, the first light of day entered his room. He got up, took a quick bath, dressed up and rushed out. Bipin, the hostel cook, also volunteered to come along as both of them headed for the Deputy Commissioner’s Court.
The night bus left from ISBT on time. It was now cruising through the hills of Jorabat. Arun was tired but too dazed to sleep. On the seat beside him, slept Korno. The events of the day kept coming scene by scene into Arun’s mind. How after waiting in the court and not knowing what to do, he suddenly spotted Bhaskar da from his village who was an advocate and one of his father’s favourite students. From then on, Bhaskar da took over. The long wait outside the magistrate’s office, Bhaskar da running about collecting papers and signatures, and before long Korno stood before them. He looked tired and famished. He embraced Arun and both of them wept. He did not say much. Just that he was hungry and wanted to rest.
The bus pulled into Lakhimpur bus station at the break of dawn. Arun and Korno got down and hailed an autorickshaw for Kamalpur. The friends looked at each other and a boyish grin appeared on their faces. Arun put his shoulder around Korno. This was generally Korno’s prerogative. But Arun was happy today. Very happy to have kept his promise to himself.
Pranav Jyoti Sharma is a civil engineer by training and an officer of the Indian Railway Service, presently posted as DGM, NF Railway. Did his education from Don Bosco Guwahati (1991 Matric) Cotton College and REC Rourkela. Besides balancing his role as a husband, father , son ( not necessarily in that order), he like to sing, click photos, sketch and contemplate.