His name was KC Balakrishna--KC for short. My best friend in school days, probably at an age where my son is right now. I think we shared every damn thing. School gang fights--he would be my side. Lunchtime, we would share food. Comics, Yes. We probably got beaten up by the same school bully, got punished together at the same time by a strict teacher, etc. In the school pic over the years we stood side by side. But there was just one instance where my friendly instinct got over-ridden, and I let him down.
And the reason for that was a piece of chocolate. Cadbury's 5 star chocolate. I just loved it. And a good bar cost a few rupees. I had saved up the amount over a few weeks leading up to August 15th. The plan was to finish the Independence day celebrations in the school, then get the 5 star bar and walk home munching the delicious chocolate.
So the day arrives, the drill and flag hoisting and singing is done, and we're off home. KC comes running to me. In the sweltering heat of August, an icecream vendor is doing brisk business in the school premises. KC doesn't have money but knows that I do. He perhaps needs 50 paise or something, for a small icecandy bar. 'Get me one,' he says.
That's the most horrible lie that I utter. 'I don't have money,' I say, even as my heart sinks. He is disappointed but more than his crestfallen face, I remember the conflict raging inside me. I'm torn between my love for the favorite chocolate, and the urge to give away the money so that he could enjoy his ice-cream. 'Hogli bidu,' he says and departs. I have my chocolate bar, and I walk home eating it, but the chocolate doesn't taste that good. It tastes bitter. KC's dissapointed face haunts me with every bite I take.
The incident was soon forgotten and we were back as usual. Then, as we shifted to a new house, I changed schools. Went back once to see my old friends...and then, it was a yawning gap of 8 years before I met KC...just once. And we got pulled away in our own tidal currents of life.
Independence day celebrations today...and KC comes up from memory. His disappointment and my guilty bites off the chocolate bar. I love the bar to this day. Wondering...where is he now? Does he remember this incident the way I do? It's strange, the way people reside in us, as a part of our memory, our being. Or the way a part of us remains in all those we come across.