How important is the word ‘success’ for you? What if ‘success’ costs you your happiness, isolates you from your closest friends and family? Would you still call yourself successful? Joybrato Dutta explores these questions through the life of his best friend who died of Malignant Malaria, but who he feels became a victim of ‘success’!
August 18, 2002, and if I’m not wrong it was around 12 PM. I got off the rickshaw and was walking towards my junior college. It was my first day in M.I.T. A narrow stretch of mud connected the gates to Paud Road. And I was walking on the mud trying to make sure it doesn’t deface the shine on my boots. Hair oiled, silver rimmed spectacles, double pleated trousers, clean shaved, tip of my tie touching the tip of my belt, I was truly a banker in the making. But destiny got rewritten the moment a white van whizzed past me painting my black shoes with brown. It went ahead and stopped in front of the gates. A tall fair guy stepped out of the van with his father. A man as tall and fair as him. As I walked towards the gates I saw him smiling at his father as he bid him farewell. His smile was the epitome of innocence and the proof of a pure heart. I couldn’t help stop myself from going towards him and asking him if it was his first day. Nodding his head he said yes. I asked his name. Arpan Chatterjee, he replied. And thus a Bengali from Jamshedpur met a Bengali from Ballarpur in Pune.
Our friendship grew in leaps and bounds. Our classmates thought we were childhood friends because of our initial bond. We always sat beside each other in every class. And we did that for the 2 years. Such was his charm that guys envied him and women adored him. He had no match. His every action was appreciated, his every mistake was forgiven. In the realm of green eyes and beating hearts we did find true friends. Saurabh Ambure, a guy whose surname overshadowed his name. Later he was also known as Ambure Papa because of the kindness he bestowed in the form of money and food. And of course love. Raunaq Dubey a.k.a. Ronky Donky. No clue why Arpan named him that, a guy who was born to attain fame. Panchali Gadre a.k.a. Pancho. Unlike her name she never dated a guy. Yet stole the heart of Arpan. Shweta Gujarathi a.k.a. Maggi because of her hair. Payal Chakravarty, she loved us so much that she decided to make us her brother. Later she cursed us so much that till date no other girl has accepted us as their brother.
We were a strong group. We came and left college together. Post college we were usually spotted at Durga or Zest. The waiters knew us by our order. “One cold coffee with 5 straws please”, was our usual order. Back in those days we felt rich even with empty pockets. Childishness, immaturity and stupidity were the virtues we truly believed in. For example it so happened that we were partying at Shweta’s house and Arpan touched something sharp and started bleeding. Any sensible person would have got Dettol but Shweta was different from the crowd. She got phenyl.
Ambure papa wasn’t far behind. A hot girl fell off a Kinetic Honda in front of him. It’s a moment every guy dreams to get. All you have to do is lift the girl and you will be her hero for a long time. But Ambure dreamt different. He didn’t lift the girl. Arpan and I who were walking 10 steps behind, rushed up to him and asked him why he didn’t pick her up. With as serious as expression Ambure replied “Maine isse bhi bura accident dekha hai”.
And Arpan with his carelessness could not have been left behind. On the last day before summer vacations Arpan was so happy that he decided to skip a flight of stairs and jumped only to land with a broken ankle. Of course he didn’t realise that until 6 hours later his brother and I forced him to get an X-ray done.
But like every other dream this too ended. Arpan and Panchali decided to part ways. And that marked the end of our gang. The second year of Junior college saw the meeting Arpan and Janhavi. I am sure Payal still curses herself for this meeting. Such was Janhavi’s aura she overshadowed the rest of us. Some loved her, some hated her. But no one could ignore her. Arpan who was recuperating from heartbreak found peace in her arms.
But Arpan’s love for me didn’t diminish. He loved me like none of my girlfriends did. He was possessive, he was bossy, he was stubborn. If for 2 days I didn’t call him he would call back saying “Tumhaare aur dost bann gaye kya”. But he was the guy who helped me woo my first girlfriend. Not before he had changed my image. Oil gave way to gel. Sleeves were folded. Collar button was always undone. My vision was no more obstructed by silver rims. It was a new me. I was what Arpan made me. And the new me had the courage and confidence to woo Tejas, the most beautiful girl of our college. The four of us spent a lot of time together. From films to road trips. From Durga to Barista. From NDA to ARAI hills, we left no street untraveled.
But time tested us like a mean professor. Just before pre-boards I broke up. Shattered and tattered I was sitting in one corner of my apartment on Paud Road while my friends Ambure, Ronky, Bhajji, Gafoor, Biggie, Ved and Gawade were all trying to empathise with me. But not Arpan. He didn’t believe in empathising. He never believed that to solve one’s problem one needs to understand his/her problem. He simply believed that smile was the solution to all problems. And to make anyone smile one doesn’t need to know the problems. That’s what he believed in and that’s what he did. He danced, he sang, he cracked the most pathetic jokes but that stubborn ass didn’t give up on me. He made me smile. A night before the pre-boards when everyone was scared like hell. Arpan danced like a madman. Ambure, Ronky and I danced along.
After the 12th boards time had come for all of us to bid farewell. And in 2 years Arpan cried for the first time. We didn’t know when we will meet next. But I didn’t know that post this farewell I will meet a new Arpan.
12th results were announced and Arpan had flunked. As of today for most of us it won’t seem like a big deal. Back then, for Arpan, it was. It changed his life. It killed the child inside him. It mocked his beliefs. The teachers who once treated him as a son, humiliated him, the green eyed rivals pounced on this opportunity to desecrate him, people who were really close to him, whom he really relied upon, desolated him. The college which was once his playground, turned into hell.
I was in Bangalore doing my Engineering. From there I constantly called to check on him. As days passed his voice turned paler. His confidence grew weaker. But somehow his determination grew stronger. He wanted to prove a point. He wanted to take revenge. He wanted to humiliate everyone, classmates, teachers and our college. And he grew impatient. That must have been the longest 6 months. After which he could re-answer the boards. And this time he passed with flying colours.
I remember an evening when Arpan and I were sitting at a bus stop on Paud Road near Krishna Hospital. The hospital where once I was admitted because we didn’t have a television and Arpan wanted to see some match. So he thought if I could get a cabin with a television, that would solve his problem. And boy that hospital had celebrated the day they discharged me. Ideally 2 people are allowed but Arpan made sure a minimum of 20 people attended me. The only time 2 people were attending me was one of the most awkwardest moments of my life when I was lying on the bed in the cabin with Panchali on one side and Janhavi on the other. I was anxiously waiting for Arpan to turn up but that sadist was out enjoying with other friends.
Anyways, getting back to the conversation. My apologies for getting carried away. We were sitting at a bus stop discussing ambitions. We both had the same. We both wanted to become filmmakers. In Bangalore while I was doing engineering simply because that’s what 75% small town boys do, he was in Australia following his dreams. He hadn’t forgotten about it. He didn’t let me forget it. His impatience to achieve success fast made him unstable. He hated stability. More than that, he hated me for not following my dreams. He called me every day and tried to convince me to do so. And one day he succeeded. After my second semester I quit engineering and joined a film school. He was the happiest man on earth. Happier than me.
Arpan moved to Bangalore. He joined Arena Multimedia to learn animations. He made sure I regain my confidence after my break up and woo other women. And thanks to him I met the 2 most contrasting women in my life. Anusha and Anwasha. Anwasha was an outstanding student, and undoubtedly the most innocent soul alive. While Anusha was bold, practical and undoubtedly the most matured girl I have met in my life. Arpan was a brother to both. And both respected him equally. While Anwasha and Arpan’s connection was short-lived, Anusha and Arpan had a stronger bond. Even after I broke up with Anusha Arpan was there with her. At times they hated each other at times they loved each other. They were everything a brother and sister were meant to be. After my college got over in Bangalore. I went back home for 15 days. It did seem like 15 years though. My parents who never supported my choice of career had abandoned me. Only my sister, Arpan and Anusha stood by me. And thanks to them I decided to join advertising in Delhi.
I moved to Delhi and so did Arpan. He was my soul. Literally. He joined a small production house there and was doing pretty good for himself. His sense of film making was outstanding and he defeated his counterparts at the bat of an eyelid. But his past kept on haunting him. I wish I had the power he had. I wish I could have stopped him from leaving Delhi. He moved to Mumbai. He joined a bigger production house. He was doing well there too. But then he quit.
Day by day his past was haunting him more fiercely. His dormant anger was reigniting rapidly. He could never forget the humiliation he had received after his failure. He could never forgive them. He had understood that no one supports failures. Even while he stayed amongst friends he experienced loneliness. He had just one dream. He wanted to go back to M.I.T. and invite all our classmates and then to tell them how superior he was to them. He wanted to humiliate each one of them. Everytime he called me, every time we sat to drink he said only one thing “Ek baar Pune wapas jaayenge aur sab ko batayenge aaj apni aukaat kya hai. Yeh saale kal hanse the mujh par, ek din inn saalo par thukunga mai”. Arpan could never forgive his past. This hunger for success led to his failure. It led to his instability.
In the next few years. Arpan travelled from Mumbai to Kolkata to Delhi to Kabul, to Sydney to New York to Ghana. Today I wish I could have convinced him to stay back in India. Today I wish I could convince him to rest for a while. Arpan the dream-child for every parent had succumbed to his anger. He started drinking and smoking. Once when he visited me in Delhi he entered with a crate of beers. My room-mate Abhishek and I were shocked. He drank a bottle after dinner and one for breakfast. That was a time when I felt my soul had been snatched from me. And I was helpless. Each time he called me it was from a new number and he was in a new country. He grabbed every opportunity that came his way. And his career soared higher than any of our classmates. In this process he distanced himself from love.
In times when men hardly find true love he found it more than once. But he distanced himself from it each time. He felt they were speed breakers. But Arpan still had a heart of gold. He just couldn’t tell those women he didn’t love them. Because even if he didn’t love them he cared for them. He simply walked away. Women misunderstood. Some even hated him. But little did they know of the greatness of this man. And finally this year he had decided to settle in life.
But then came the evening of 8th June. When it rained for the first time in Mumbai. I was sitting in my apartment in Andheri drinking and watching a match when suddenly I got a call from Aanchal. In a shaky voice she asked me to check Arpan’s wall on Facebook. I didn’t have access to the internet at that moment so I asked her the reason for her anxiousness. She cried and disconnected. I was shaken by this call. I called Arpan’s dad to get Arpan’s number. I will never forget that conversation. I called uncle and said “kaku Arpan er number ta daao na, aamar kaacher theke number ta delete hoye geche (Uncle, please give me Arpan’s number I have lost it). He replied “Beta Arpan to aa neyi, o kaal rate maara geche” (Son, Arpan is no more, he passed away last night).
(Arpan, after he started drinking and becoming careless about his health)
I don’t know how to describe what I felt. It was something I had never felt before. Being a writer I usually am good with words but I know of no such adjective that can truly explain what I felt. A part of me had died. A part of my existence had died. But one thought kept on lingering in my mind. What was the cause for his death? I don’t mean Malignant Malaria, which was the medical cause. I meant the real cause. Why would a guy who was doing pretty well in his career in Mumbai and Kolkata have to leave for Kabul and Ghana? I don’t mean to belittle the places but they definitely aren’t obvious choices. What was the reason for this instability? A fun loving guy who believed in staying happy and making others smile, why would he impatiently grab on to opportunities that would distance him from everyone who loved him. It wasn’t malignant malaria that killed him, it was his constant search for success, it was his impatience for achieving his dream that one day he would avenge his self-respect. It was this dream that led to his demise. But this was never his dream.
(Arpan and I in a pub in Kolkata)
Ask the 18 year old me who sat with him in the bus stop and heard him share his dream of becoming a film maker. That’s all he wanted. One bloody failure and it ruined the life of an 18 year old. You should have seen the smile and the enthusiasm with which he was talking about his plans of becoming a film maker. Little did he know back then that his dreams would end in a year and his life in 8.
Today as impractical as it may sound I hope he is reading this because that stubborn ass inspired me to write. He read every bloody post of mine. Every pathetic story every crappy poem. And if you are reading this Arpan, I would want to thank you for a lot of things.
(Pic: Arpan’s initial attempt at photoshop. He always went wrong with the spelling of innocence and friends.)
Thank you for changing my look
Thank you for helping me woo Tejas
Thank you for dancing in front of me just to make me smile
Thank you for encouraging me to follow my dreams
Thank you for helping me get over Anwasha
Thank you for helping Anusha and I remain the best of friends
Thank you for encouraging me to join advertising
Thank you for applauding to my boring ads
Thank you for scolding me each time I fought with my family
Thank you for inspiring me to move to Mumbai
Thank you for calling me your best friend
Thank you for forgiving me even when I chose not to forgive you
Thank you for reminding me each day what my name truly means.
They are saying you have died and you are no more among us. Little do they know that you are up there smiling. And your smile grows bigger each time I shed a tear. Little do they know how big a sadist you were. God save the angels!!!