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Amor y Amigo
Friend and Lover
1995: The Reunion
"I'm terribly sorry about my behaviour yesterday," Ankur said over the telephone, late Tuesday evening.
"I too am sorry..." I apologised, genuinely repentant, and relieved that he had finally called.
He was silent for a long moment... and then asked, "Darsh, am I wrong, or do you want me to stop, you know, bothering you?"
I too remained silent for a long while... that same old battle raging in my mind, before finally answering, "Ankur, it's real late tonight, so, can we meet up tomorrow, after your classes get over?"
I could hear the sigh... and then he was laughing, "Sure, classes get over at two, and I can get into town in just under an hour..."
But I stopped him, "I'll pick you up, at the main entrance..."
"Oh, no," he interjected, "you don't need to drive all the way here, I can always get a lift. Besides, tomorrow is Wednesday, I'll be going for my swimming," he paused and then exclaimed, "and tomorrow you'll join me!"
"Ankur, no..." I began, but he cut in, "Why, you can swim, so why not, huh? And later, I'll show you what I had got along yesterday," he said, quickly adding, "Don't worry, I won't insist you take me home," giggly once more.
We talked for nearly an hour before finally saying our good-nights.
Early next morning the call came... unexpected.
With the rains having finally arrived, they wanted me to leave immediately - for the jungles, on assignment...
They wanted tigers, but not the usual ones - roaring into the camera, crouching or pouncing, or carrying their prey between the jaws. They wanted something regal, something majestic... and, with the monsoon showers as a backdrop, if possible. Something totally unique!
Enormously excited, I got out the maps after a quick shower and shave. They had wanted something uniquely different, something regal and majestic...
Something 'Majestic'... I mused, opening the map, already the germ of an idea taking shape in my mind.
Well, I had been after tigers from the Sunderbans to Sariska, from Kanha to Corbett... in fact, to all the National Parks and Sanctuaries, and even to the officially non-notified (and therefore unprotected) forest land... And now, two places came to my mind - Ranthambore National Park and Bandhavgarh National Park. Both having what I wanted, what I was visualising in my mind's eye; both places where I had been before, and therefore knew well... debating... when suddenly, with a pang of guilt thoughts of Ankur came flooding... and also the promised rendezvous that afternoon.
The call had been so sudden, so unexpected, that I had no idea I'd be leaving town... and therefore hadn't mentioned anything to Ankur about the possibility of my going away on assignment. Apprehensive that he might take it as a snub, assume that I was deliberately avoiding him, especially after his outburst last Monday. Realising how much I valued him... how much I wanted him... afraid to lose him now.
Suddenly anxious to get back home early, instead of spending weeks chasing the elusive lord of the jungle in distant wilderness.
Wondering what to tell him, how to tell him... And what about our meeting that afternoon?!
My initial idea had been to leave the same day, after lunch, but now I decided that I'd postpone it by a few hours and leave the next morning instead, after I had met him as planned.
That decided, I got my equipments and camping gears out, doing a thorough check, before selecting and carefully packing the three cameras, an assortment of lens and filters, and rolls of film... taking the special lights (one never knows when an opportunity might offer itself) and the tripods. Once done, I threw in a few changes of clothes... the toilet kit, and my lucky pair of hiking boots.
After breakfast, I made a few calls, got a few things arranged, and then called long-distance - a couple of people I knew (thoughts of Ankur, and the urge to return home early had already decided the park for me) - booking a room at the Tiger Resort for a week, and arranging for my favourite guide to be available. Also calling a very senior forest official I knew, requesting him for a special permit to enter the reserve area, now that it was officially closed for the rains...
All that done, I was ready...
Now, to face Ankur.
** ** ** **
I picked him up in front of the Central Library that afternoon... once more startled by the sheer beauty of the boy... looking on, utterly bewitched!
"Had your lunch?" I asked, as he got into the car.
"How was class?"
"Good," he answered, suddenly monosyllabic.
"And who gave you the ride to town?" I asked again.
"Very silent today, huh?" I asked, wondering if he was just being childishly sulky, or upset about something else.
He shook his head, making me laugh, "Now, who's being the clam, eh?
"Well, trying to practice on being the 'quiet and silent' type," he grinned, turning to face me, the eyes suddenly sparkling. "Since you hardly ever talk..." he stated, the lips curling, "about yourself, or, as a matter of fact, about anything at all, I've decided that I too shall remain silent!"
"Doesn't really suit you," I said, grinning back. "Besides, I prefer the chattering Ankur!"
"You do?!" he asked, eyes wide.
I nodded, and then asked, "Chocolate Room?" starting the car.
He looked at me, grinned and nodded.
"Now, tell me something, how do you manage it?"
"What?" he asked, uncomprehending.
"Getting away from the campus..."
"But... Darsh, I came after my classes got over," he responded, suddenly defensive.
"I don't mean today, I mean you’re always getting away from campus, at all odd hours. Isn't there some rule about boys walking in and out of campus?"
"Aw... you're making me feel guilty now," he said in that special, cute tone of his, a mischievous smile playing on his bee-stung lips.
"Feeling guilty about neglecting studies, eh?"
"Sheesh, no, not that... I mean, about using, or rather, abusing my position." he said with a mournful look and then shrugged, grinning.
"Abusing? Your position?" I asked, curious.
"Oh, well..." he said with an embarrassed shrug, "you see, my family, you know, grandad, father, and uncles... they're like... um, on the boards of various institutes and organisations... and our family also runs a couple of educational charitable trusts, supporting colleges and other educational institutions, and giving scholarships to poor students. In fact, my great-grandfather was a founding member of this institute, and the trusts fund a lot of their activities... and my uncle's on the board…"
"God, this feels so weird, telling you all this!” he gave a self-conscious giggle. “Well, I never tell people about my family, but the guys at the college know, and so they kinda let me be, you know, like, they never stop me from going out or returning late... er, when I skip a few odd classes. It's wrong, isn't?" he asked. "But then, at times it feels great and I do make use of it. You know, as they say, power corrupts!" and he laughed.
We had reached, and as I parked the car, I looked at him, suddenly admiring him even more!
** ** ** **
After dinner we went to the lakeside, the promenade surprisingly empty that evening - peaceful and quiet - the cool, evening breeze refreshingly rejuvenating... openly staring at him... admiring him. Once more realising how important a part of my life Ankur had become in the short period that we have known each other...
"Darsh," he said, "tell me about your family."
I groaned silently, this was an area I never wanted to talk about... refused to revisit...
"Where are your parents, it's obvious they don't live here, in this city..." he asked, “Tell me about them.”
"My parents' are dead," I replied, my breath catching, old memories flooding back.
"Oh, I'm so sorry..." he said in a low voice, grabbing my hand and squeezing, the regret genuine.
I nodded, patting his hand.
"What about your family, I mean, like brothers and sisters? I have an older brother, I've told you that."
"I'm an only child," I said.
“And where are you from?” he asked again.
“Canada, Toronto,” suddenly the past rushing at me… that old hurt ripping at my heart again.
“Canada, you never mentioned that before?” he exclaimed, suddenly excited.
“We never really discussed where I came from, before.”
“Then what are you doing here, in India?”
“I was born and raised there, but moved to India in late ’87,” I replied, gritting my teeth… he was resurrecting a past that I was desperate to bury!
And he had more questions… questions I didn’t want to answer, things I didn’t want to remember…
“OK, I’m sorry…” he suddenly said, seeing my silence, my reluctance.
I reached out, placing my hand on his, “Ankur, it’s not the way you’re making this out to be.”
He remained silent.
“Ankur, we were very close, and I loved my parents… but, I can't talk about it; or about my childhood and youth in Canada, I’m sorry," I said, almost choking on the words, "I just don’t want to talk about that part of my life, not now," I paused, quickly looking away, blinking rapidly. "Maybe, someday I’ll tell you...”
But I didn’t tell him about my terror… terror of the tears that the talking about those years would unleash, tears that I had held back for a decade now, tears that I didn’t want anyone to see…
“I… I’m sorry, Darsh, I really am,” I heard him saying, “I didn’t mean to hurt you… I'm sorry. I’ll never ask again, you tell me when you’re ready.”
We sat in silence for a long while, staring across the rippling waters of the lake... before finally turning towards him I said, "Ankur..." searching for the words.
He looked at me, waiting.
"I... um, I'll be leaving tomorrow morning..." I said, "on assignment."
He kept on staring, the lips pursed, the eyes questioning.
"Got a call this morning..." I continued, "have to get some picture for this magazine..."
"Where are you going?" he asked.
"Um, to the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve," I answered, quickly adding, "will be back within a week..."
He remained quiet, his eyes searching my face, and then he gave a slight smile, "I'm happy, Darsh, happy you have an assignment..."
"Well, they wanted some very specific photographs..." I ventured, trailing off mid-sentence.
"You'll be back within a week?"
I nodded, "Maybe earlier if I'm lucky."
He too nodded, "I can call?"
"Of course!" I exclaimed, wishing and hoping that he would. "But once I enter the core area, there might be no signals for the mobile phone..."
He nodded again. "Will you call when you have the signals, just to let me know that I can reach you?"
"I will," I promised.
"I'll miss you, Darsh," he said in a low voice.
I held back...
I dropped him back at his campus and then went home, suddenly not as enthusiastic about my trip as I usually am... suddenly reluctant to leave!
to be continued...
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