Monday, September 11, 2017

You’ve Got a Friend – A Short Story

September 22, 2018, Vadodara, Gujarat

“Are you done yet?” the man called out crankily while checking his wrist watch yet again. “We’re getting late again.”

“Just another five minutes, babe,” a female voice called out from somewhere inside.

32-year-old Rishi Sood shook his head and grumbled to himself. He looked dapper in a neat-looking black suit which fit his tall and sturdy frame very well. His face, however, was contorted with displeasure.  

He picked up a magazine lying on the table near the sofa and began flipping through its pages thoughtlessly.  

The phone inside Rishi’s pocket began ringing. It had been buzzing all evening. He sighed. Assuming that it was one of his friends calling him to get to the restaurant quickly, Rishi picked up the phone with trepidation.

It was an anonymous number.

“Hello…Hello…Rishi?” a female voice from the other end said. She sounded tense.

“Um…Who is this?” Rishi answered, feeling confused.

“Rishi…Rishi bolcho?” she asked.


“Rishi…This is Paritosh’s mother. Do you remember me?” the female voice at the other end said.

There was a moment’s pause. Rishi stood up all of a sudden.

“Kaaki Maa?”

“Yes, Rishi…” said the voice, trembling a little.

“How are you doing? Um…How is everything?” Rishi asked. He felt a little blank.

“Rishi….Khoka…He…He isn’t doing well. He is very sick. Can you please…Please...Come and meet him once?” she said. Rishi could sense she was choking up.

“What? What happened to him?”

“I…I can’t explain everything. The doctors say it’s some form of depression. He’s...He’s been in his bed for weeks now and refuses to speak at all. I am so worried, Rishi… I feel like I am losing him. Please…Please come just once. I know he needs you,” she said.

“I…I will try, Kaaki Maa. I have this thing, actually,” Rishi said, feeling uncomfortable and awkward.

“Rishi… I…I know you are extremely busy. I managed to get your number after a lot of hassles. Please…Please try and come…You were his only friend…I don’t know who else to turn to” the female said, in between little sobs.

Rishi stared blankly at the floor for a moment. His head spun. Then, something flickered inside. A memory. A very distant memory that he had long buried away.

“It’s okay, Kaaki Maa. Don’t worry,” he said finally. “ I am coming,”

“Shotti? (Really?) Oh, thank you, shona!” she said. Her voice had a trace of sanguinity in it now.

 “You remember our house, I hope?” she asked.

“Of course I do, Kaaki. Of course, I do.”

“God bless you, shona. Please come soon. I am really sorry for bothering you with this. But… I really had no other option,” she said.

“That’s okay, Kaaki Maa. I will be there. You don’t worry now.”

Rishi disconnected the call and slumped down on the sofa. He felt dazed; as if somebody had just punched him in the gut. He covered his face with his palms; trying to block the overwhelming dizziness that was sweeping over him.

“Hey, I am ready. Now, don’t you start lecturing me for being late…”

A curly-haired female had sauntered into the living room Rishi was seated in. She must have been in her late twenties, appeared quite tall and was dressed in a sparkling green saree. It was Kavita, Rishi’s fiancé.

The instant she looked at Rishi slouched on the sofa, she knew something was wrong.

Kavita walked up to him in concern, bent down close and asked, “What’s up, babe?”

Without even glancing at her, he said, “I need to go.”

“Go? Go where?” Kavita asked, sounding perplexed. “You know that we have to be at your book launch party in twenty minutes. There are about a dozen people waiting…”

“Cancel it…I am going to Calcutta.” Rishi stood up and removed his coat.

“Wait…what?” Kavita stood up as well, looking on shocked and baffled at her fiancée.

“I am leaving for Calcutta. Tomorrow morning. A friend needs me,” Rishi said quietly while walking up to the armchair near the sofa. “I will explain everything to you. For now, please just trust me. I have to book my tickets right away,” Rishi said.

For a few seconds, Kavita just gaped at him, her mouth hanging half-open. But she could sense that something had stirred up inside her usually sedate fiancé. This must mean something of serious consequence to him.

“All right. You go book your tickets. I will manage everything here,” she replied calmly.

“Thank you,” said Rishi, heaving in relief as he sat down on the armchair.

“Do you need anything else?” Kavita questioned earnestly.

“Yeah…” Rishi said while starting his laptop.  

The light from the screen reflected on his face; his eyes were fixed on the screen but appeared distant, almost unfocused.

“Can you please get me my comic book carton from the storeroom?”


April 11995, Calcutta

As he stepped inside the classroom, almost all eyes immediately turned to him. Feeling hot under the collar, 12-year-old Rishi Sood quietly averted every inhabitant of the room and made his way past a sea of desks and chairs.  

His bag laden with heavy books, the short and plump-looking boy with crew-cut hair dragged himself across the classroom nervously. To make matters worse, his legs felt like lead. Not wanting to speak to anyone, Rishi began scanning the room for an empty desk. Every seat was occupied, barring one. Rishi noticed a bespectacled boy sitting alone at a desk at the extreme right end corner of the class, right beside the window. The boy seemed to be lost in a book and was oblivious to the cacophony around him.

Rishi decided to move to that spot.

“Hi, is this seat taken?” Rishi asked the boy after reaching the desk.

 He turned around and looked at him.

“This seat is always vacant,” he said plainly and returned his attention to the book in his hands.

“Um, so can I sit here?” Rishi asked apprehensively.

“If you want to,” said the boy without even glancing from his book.

Rishi kept his heavy bag near the chair and sat down. He could notice that several students were still eyeing him suspiciously. It was hot and sultry and Rishi felt even sweatier with so many eyes on him. He hence decided to turn his attention to his desk partner.

The boy had short, wiry hair, an oval-shaped scrawny face and wore really thick-framed glasses. He scrunched his nose from time to time, Rishi noticed, and was munching an apple as he read. He was at absolute ease with himself and seemed to not care about anyone else.

Rishi couldn’t put a finger to it, but something about the boy attracted him.

“Hey,” he finally said. “My name’s Rishi Sood. I just shifted from Rajasthan to Calcutta. This is my first day in this school today.”

“I am overjoyed to know that,” the boy said in a drawling tone, without a single change in his expression; his eyes refused to leave his book.

“So…Um…Can you tell me a little something about the teachers and the subject?” Rishi asked.

The boy finally turned his face towards Rishi. “Look! You really shouldn’t be speaking to me, okay? You are already at the risk of being branded a geek for life and will be treated as an outcast if you continue sitting here,” he said, slowly and firmly.

Rishi was perplexed. “Okay, then,” he muttered and picked up his bag. The first period was about to commence and he needed to get his new text books out.

As he was scouring for his books inside the bag, the boy suddenly said, “What is that?”

Rishi looked at him and saw that he was pointing at a particular book inside his bag. It was a comic book with a glossy cover. The title read: “Chacha Chaudhary, Billo aur Pinki.”

“Oh, this? This is my new Chacha Chaudhary comic book. I just bought it yesterday. I have kept it for my comfort. Don’t tell anyone, okay? I know we aren’t allowed to read it at school,” he said.

“You read comic books?” the boy questioned him, almost defiantly.

“Uh…Yeah…I am a huge comic book fan.”

“Are you now?” the boy said, smirking.

“What is the name of the creator of the Chacha Chaudhary comics?” he asked all of a sudden.

“Uh… Pran Kumar Sharma,” answered Rishi, feeling a tad odd at the abruptness of the question.

“Hmm…” the boy’s eyes were now narrowed.

“What is the name of the first Super Commando Dhruv comic?” he asked again.

“Pratishodh ki Jwala,” Rishi replied calmly.

The boy was now keenly scrutinizing Rishi. After a moment’s pause, he shot another question.  

“Who illustrates the character Suppandi in the Tinkle comics?”

“Oh, that’s easy,” smiled Rishi. “Ram Waeerkar. He’s my favourite.”

The boy appeared to be a tad annoyed.

“What about Shikari Shambhu? Tell me who draws him?” he asked sharply.

“That would be Vasant Halbe. Another favourite,” Rishi said with a wide grin. He was quite enjoying this question-answer round now.

The boy’s eyes lit up. The glasses of his spectacles glinted with the sunlight coming in from the window behind him. Rishi could detect a faint trickle of a smile on his face.

“Okay, let’s see if you get this one. In his initial appearance in the Chacha Chaudhary comics, what was Sabu’s character originally shown as?”

“A genie,” Rishi replied coolly. “I remember that particular chapter very well.”

The boy nodded. He didn’t say anything, but Rishi could clearly sense that the round of questioning had left him impressed.

Rishi smiled and resumed extracting his text books from his bag.

“Our class teacher’s name is Indrani Haldar. She is strict and boring,” said the boy suddenly. “I will tell you about everything else at Tiffin break,” he added.

Rishi was about to say ‘Thank You’ when the boy cut him off and showed him his text book. There was a comic – a vintage Tinkle magazine – concealed inside the text book the boy had been holding.

“I am a comic book fan too,” he said, beaming widely.

Rishi returned the smile. The nervous knot that had formed inside his chest at the fear of attending the first day of a new school was unfastening slowly.

The class suddenly hushed up and students scampered to their respective seats as Indrani Haldar – their surly-looking class teacher – made an entrance.  

As everyone in the room stood up to greet the teacher for the morning wishes, the boy whispered quietly to Rishi.

“By the way, my name’s Paritosh," he said while extending his right hand, “Paritosh Banerjee.”

April 23, 1995, Calcutta

“Wow! You have the entire Indrajal comic collection?” exclaimed Rishi in wonder.

He looked in awe at the sea of comic books around him while Paritosh smirked at him.

“Phantom…Mandrake…Bahadur…You’ve got them all!!! Wow!”  Rishi said.

The two boys were at Paritosh’s residence located in a little lane of Hatkola in North Calcutta. The house was small but very tidy. It had just two rooms and a small kitchen.

Presently, the two boys were sprawled on the floor of Paritosh’s little room which was colored entirely in hues of dark green. It had one wrought-iron bed at the center, a large Goddess Kali photo frame above it, a little armchair on the bed’s left, and two rickety cupboards on opposite ends teeming with books. The room had a single large window – a shuttered one having large and slender pillars – facing the bed. Warm sunlight streamed in from the open window, shedding light on the sea of comic books strewn across the floor the two boys were drowned in.    

This was the first time Rishi had come to Paritosh's place. Their common love for comics had made them great friends in a very short time and today being a Saturday, Paritosh had invited him over to his place to show him his comic book collection.

“And you have Chaturang Katha as well?” Rishi said as he picked up a comic book titled ‘Roopmati’. “I had only heard of these,” he said while slightly shaking his head, marveling at the enormous collection in front of him. He felt like he had entered a comic heaven.

Pretty pleased with himself, Paritosh pulled out a stack of books from the bottom of the cupboard near them.

“This is my Tinkle collection. Many date back to the early 80s,” he said and offered the pile to Rishi.

“Man, you are awesome!” Rishi said as he placed the comic on his hand on the floor and began exploring the stack of Tinkle comics. He opened each comic and inhaled its pages deeply before browsing them.

“Smell good, don’t they?” Paritosh said with a slight smile.

Rishi just nodded. His eyes were closed, allowing the smell to invade all his senses.

Somewhere outside the room, there was a noise of a door opening and a woman’s loud voice flowed in, “Khoka!!! Kothai tui? (Where are you, Khoka?).”

A moment later, a stout-looking woman entered the room. She must have been in her late thirties and had short, curly hair. Draped in an orange saree, the woman was carrying a basket on one hand which seemed to be crammed with vegetables.

“Oh…” she paused as he looked at Rishi.

“You must be Rishi. I have heard a lot about you,” she said. The woman had a heavy, scratchy voice.

Rishi felt awkward and uncomfortable. He wanted to mutter a respectable greeting, but somehow the words were caught in his throat. He always felt uncomfortable talking to elders. All he could manage was an uneasy smile.

“Ahh…Ki mishti chele ta! (Ah, what a sweet boy you are!),” she said with a beaming smile.

Rishi did not understand Bengali but he gauged the meaning of what she was saying. He could feel himself flushing at his plump cheeks.

“Maa…Tumi jaao! (Maa, you leave!),” said Paritosh irritably.

“Jacchi (Leaving),” she said, her eyes still on Rishi. “What will you have, shona?” she asked.

“Um…Nothing, aunty. I…I am full,” Rishi replied uncomfortably while running his fingers through his hair.

“Nonsense! You are the first friend of Khoka who has come to our home. I will make you a special lunch,” she said with a glowing smile and left.

“Maa, get us two glasses of Rasna first. It’s so hot today,” Paritosh hollered after her, scrunching his nose again.

“I…I really don’t think I should have lunch,” Rishi said. “My parents will be expecting me home by then.”

“Well, there’s nothing to do now,” Paritosh said matter-of-factly. “Maa loves feeding guests. And you are a new one. So you will have to bear with it.”


“Here…Look at my Chacha Chaudhary collection,” Paritosh said, ignoring Rishi completely and handed him another batch of comic books. “It has all the ‘Raaka’ comics…”

Rishi sighed and moved his attention to the bunch of comics.

“Can I take this one home today?” he asked while leafing through the pages of ‘Chacha Chaudhary aur Raaka ka Inteqam’. The cover had a giant of a bearded man wearing a  sleeveless t-shirt and holding a sword in one hand, looking on menacingly while a building burnt behind him.

There was a brief pause where Paritosh considered his friend for a moment, unflinchingly. It seemed he was struggling with himself.

“Okay,” he said finally.

October 1, 1995, Calcutta

Rishi was mesmerized.

He stared transfixed at the group of people at a little distance from him. Outside a pandal with a goddess Durga idol inside, four men wearing shirts and lungis were steadily playing large drums hanging around their necks, with the help of two thin sticks. The sound emanating from those drums was so enchanting that Rishi remained rooted to his spot, staring at them hypnotized. His feet tapped on their own and his head swayed with the entrancing rhythms of those drums.

Even though it was 9 in the morning, there was a healthy crowd streaming in and out the pandal. But Rishi’s eyes were glued on the four men with the drums outside it. That music. He had never heard anything like that in his life. The more he listened to it, the more he felt pulled towards it. Like he was being absorbed into a different world.

“Come on, let’s go.”

Rishi was rudely pulled out of his reverie as Paritosh, who had just appeared behind him, began dragging him forward, by his hands.

“Hey, wait…” Rishi protested. “I want to listen.”

“Darn it, you imbecile! They are just dhakis,” Paritosh said, sounding restless, “They will be everywhere for the next three days. Hear them later. We don’t have much time.”

It was the morning of Ashtami – the second and the most significant day of the Durga Puja in Bengal – and the street around the two boys was bustling with energy and colour. Men and women clad in the most colourful traditional attires rushed past Rishi and Paritosh as the two young boys made way through the jostling crowd.

“I just have fifteen minutes,” Paritosh said as he dragged Rishi ahead, “Maa is waiting for me”

“Why?” Rishi asked, feeling peeved. He was still craning his neck to have a look at those dhakis.

“Because today is the day of unending traditions that I must follow,” said Paritosh through gritted teeth. “Now, stop talking!”

Paritosh finally came to a halt in front of a magazine stall. Since it was the first day of the new month, the two boys were eager to lay hands on one of their favourite Hindi children’s magazine, Champak. The stall was a stone’s throw away from Paritosh’s house and on every first day of the month, the two friends would come here to buy the latest issue of Champak. They were even more eager for the current issue as it was supposed to be a ‘festival special’.

“Finally,” Paritosh said as he picked two copies of the new Champak from the magazine stand. Handing one over to Rishi, he immediately began scouring the pages inside.

“Excellent!” he remarked in delight, “Sixty-four pages this time. These Puja holidays would be awesome.”

Rishi smiled too as he checked out his favourite comic strip “Chiku Khargosh” inside the magazine.

As the two boys paid for their purchase and began walking back, Rishi noticed Paritosh was wearing a turtle-green kurta that he had buttoned up right up to the collar. Rishi had never seen his friend in a traditional dress and noticing him dressed like that at present brought the image of a skinny tortoise in his mind for some reason.

Rishi snorted. “Oh, wow! Khoka Babu is wearing a kurta today!”

Paritosh withdrew his face from the magazine in his hands and just stared at Rishi with his usual deadpan expression.

“Just be at my place by five, will you?” he said while returning his attention to the ‘Champak’. “I don’t want to go pandal hopping alone. Maa makes me crazy.”

“You are crazy,” Rishi said, laughing. “I am so looking forward to this. My first Puja experience it will be. I have never experienced anything like this in Rajasthan,” he added while gawking at the endless sea of tiny bulbs and billboards everywhere he laid eyes on.

“Good for you,” Paritosh said as they reached the crossing of the street they had met earlier.

The sound of the dhak punctured the breezy morning air again as the two boys stood there, leafing through the pages of the Champak in their respective hands. Unconsciously, and almost at the same time, both of them began tapping their foot on the ground with the frenzied beats of the dhaak and swayed their heads from side to side.

People hustled past them. But they seemed not to care. They had forgotten their need to hurry for the moment. Right now, they were at peace.

July 14, 1996, Calcutta

“How are you today, Khoka Babu?” Rishi said as he entered his friend’s room.

Paritosh looked up at him from his bed; his eyes were red and puffy. He had been hauled sick at his home for the past three days and had not been able to attend school. Today being a Sunday, Rishi had come in to check in on his friend.

Paritosh shrugged lazily and closed his eyes. He seemed exhausted. His bed was littered with comic books but he was gazing outside the window in front of his bed.

Rishi settled himself in on the little armchair beside the bed and began unzipping the bag he had brought with him.

“Don’t you worry, my friend. I’ve got the perfect thing to recharge your batteries. You won’t need any medicine after this,” said Rishi as he extracted a bundle of comic books from inside the bag.

On the top was a comic titled ‘Billoo Digest – 2”. The smiling face of a teenage boy, with thick hair that covered his eyes, beamed brightly on the cover.

“You got it?” said Paritosh, while getting up a little. His voice was throaty but his eyes sparkled with excitement.

“Yes,” said Rishi triumphantly. “Today morning. From the Shovabazar magazine stand.”

“Excellent,” said Paritosh.

“Arre, Rishi, you came?” said a female voice.

Rishi turned to notice that Paritosh’s mother had just entered the room. She looked very tired and seemed to have just come from somewhere. She was carrying a polythene bag with some medicine’s shop name on it.

“Hi, Kaaki Maa,” Rishi said with a smile and tried to get up.

“Arre, bosho, bosho! (Oh, sit, sit!),” she said seriously. “I am just glad you came.”

“Maa, tumi jaao! (Mother, you leave!),” said Paritosh weakly from his bed.

“Please stay for a while, Rishi,” she said earnestly. “We don’t have anyone else to fall back on here. You are the only friend he has,” Her eyes became a little moist.

Rishi remained silent. By now he knew that Paritosh’s mother had shifted from Durgapur to Calcutta with her son about seven years back. Paritosh’s father still stayed there and apparently had not maintained any form of communication with his family. Rishi never asked his friend about this, but his mother had brought this up on several conversations, much to Paritosh’s dissent. Paritosh’s mother worked at a local bank as a teller and was managing everything on her own.

“Don’t worry, Kaaki Maa. I won’t go anywhere,” said Rishi quietly.

“God bless you, shona,” she said, wiping her eyes. “Now you boys enjoy. I will get you a glass of Rasna.” Saying so, she left.

“Right, now can you just read me the comic,” Paritosh said scrunching his nose, clearly disgruntled.

“Read it?”

“Oh, I am too weak to hold and read this myself. Just read it, will you?” he said.

“All right, you weakling. But it won’t be the same,” Rishi said and opened the comic book.

“I know. But something is better than nothing,” Paritosh said.

“Okay then,” Rishi settled himself back on the armchair.  “The first chapter is titled ‘Shehar aur ghaati’,” he read out aloud.

“First panel:  Billoo and Gabdu are traveling on a scooter. Billo says, “Alvida, Comicpur!”.

Paritosh shut his eyes. He had a faint smile as his friend narrated the chapter. He was weak. But he felt comforted with every passing second.

“Second panel: Joji enters the scene…”

Rishi was right, Paritosh realized. This was all the medicine he needed, after all.

November 23, 1996, Calcutta

“Oww…!!!” Paritosh yelped as the ball hit his left ankle. Dropping the bat from his hands immediately, Paritosh bent down and began rubbing the area that had been hit.

“I told you to bowl slower,” he said in anger.

Rishi howled in laughter and had to sit down on the floor to restrain himself from falling.

The two boys were playing cricket – an activity they rarely indulged in – in the little backyard of Paritosh’ home. It was a tiny area – about twenty feet in length – and was covered with little tufts of grass patches all over. It was a Saturday afternoon and both had time to kill.

On Rishi’s insistence, the boys had taken a break from their comic reading sessions and had decided to play a game of cricket instead, much to Paritosh’s chagrin.

“You are hopeless,” Rishi said in between his guffaws, “Absolutely hopeless.”

“I told you I hate cricket,” Paritosh said irritated and flung the bat a few feet away.

“Dude, we were playing with a tennis ball and that too underhand,” Rishi said, still chortling away.

Paritosh grumbled and sat down on the stone porch that led to the back door of his house.

After a couple of minutes, Rishi finally got up and joined him there.

“You really are a geek,” he said as he sat down next to him. “I mean, you don’t play any outdoor sport and all you do is read comic books and watch cartoons.”

“Yeah. So? I like it that way,” Paritosh said simply.

“I know. But you ought to shed your image of a geeky kid a bit,” Rishi said while gulping down Rasna from the bottle that they had placed near the porch, beforehand. “That is why they tease you so much at school. I mean, just look at you…Why do you wear such thick glasses, man?”

“These are my Clark Kent spectacles. Don’t you dare say anything about them,” Paritosh said firmly.

Rishi smiled. “I see. You are Superman’s alter-ego, then?”

Paritosh shrugged and said, “I like the way I am.”

There was a sincerity and confidence in the way he said those words that struck Rishi. He realized Paritosh really did not bother what others thought of him. He loved being in his own little world.

The two sat there silently, watching the orange sky littered with flying birds.

“Sometimes I wish I could lose myself inside the panels of the Chacha Chaudhary comic books,” said Paritosh, puncturing the silence all of a sudden. He was staring at the skies, apparently lost in his own world.

“Pran Kumar Sharma has created such a charming world,” he said. “The trees, the skies, the homes, the characters themselves…Everything is so alluring. If I could somehow escape into it and never come out, I wouldn’t have to face this stupid world and its stupid rules.”

Paritosh generally spoke less, but sometimes he had a habit of saying such deep things that Rishi had no answers to them.

“Maybe someday you will, brother,” is all he could say finally. “Maybe someday you will…”

March 28, 1997, Calcutta

“What time is your train again?” Paritosh asked.

“8.30 PM,” Rishi answered quietly.

The two boys were seated on a bench in a garden. It was afternoon and little kids were scurrying about everywhere around them.

Paritosh took a deep breath and looked skywards, lost in apparent thought.

Rishi felt heavy. Like someone had poured a barrel of lead inside his chest.

“You know I don’t want to leave, right?” he said morosely. “I would never want to stay in Ahmedabad instead of Calcutta. I…I feel so nervous…,” he stuttered, “But…But dad’s government job is such that they keep shifting him every three-four years.”

“That’s okay. I understand,” Paritosh said, still staring at the skies blankly.

The two sat there silently for a couple minutes, just staring at the bunch of kids playing football merrily.

After a while, Paritosh pulled up a worn out nylon bag he had kept near the bench. He withdrew a stack of comic books from it and handed it to Rishi.

“Here…These are for you,” he said plainly.  “These are some of my favourite collection of comic books. I couldn’t think of any other gift…” he trailed off.

Rishi looked at the pile. There were about a dozen or so comic books of different shapes and sizes, neatly wrapped with a cotton thread. He felt overwhelmed and embarrassed. In all the haste of the previous week, he had forgotten to get anything for his best friend before he left.

“Thanks…Thanks, man!” is all he could say.

Paritosh nodded and resumed staring at the skies.

“Tell Kaaki Maa that I will call her once I settle down in Ahmedabad,” Rishi said, trying to get a reaction out of his friend.

Paritosh simply nodded again.

Rishi sighed and brought the stack of comic books in his hands to his chest; as if embracing them tightly.

“You were a good friend, you know,” said Paritosh all of a sudden, and very matter-of-factly.

Rishi turned to look at him. Paritosh blinked a couple of times, while still steadily staring skywards.

“We…We will keep in touch,” Rishi muttered.

Paritosh did not respond.

“I wish we had more time,” he finally said.

Rishi looked at his friend and felt a wave slap at his insides. He clutched the pile of comic books tighter to his chest and closed his eyes, not wanting the moist in his eyes to escape.

“I wish we had more time, too,” he whispered.


September 23, 2018, Calcutta

Rishi Sood took tentative steps up the dingy and dimly lit staircase. His heart pounded with each step he took. Nothing had changed, it felt. Even the peeling, yellowish paint on the walls near the stairs was the same as ever.

As he approached the first-floor landing, Rishi’s breathing got heavy. The echo of two young boys bounding about these very steps reverberated inside him. Rishi paused and placed his luggage on the floor. He took two deep breaths, grabbed his luggage again, and moved towards the door.

Although he had knocked on this very brown wooden door so many times a lifetime ago, he felt odd, almost nervous, as he was about to do so again. Rishi steadied himself and knocked the door firmly.

A few seconds went by and then Rishi heard some movement inside.

“Ke? (Who?),” came a female’s voice.

Rishi said nothing. He just gulped down some air.

The door opened and a woman appeared in view. She wore a red floral gown and squinted at Rishi through her half-moon spectacles. She had short, curly hair which had strands of grey all over.

“Bolun? (Say?)”, she said.

Rishi gaped at her, his voice stuck in his throat.

“Kaaki Maa,” he mumbled.

For a few seconds, she looked confused. And then recognition dawned on the woman’s face and her eyes widened in surprise.

“Rishi?” she said, sounding astonished.

Rishi smiled and took a step inside the little corridor of the house. He bent and touched her feet in respect.

“Rishi…,” she almost whispered. “Amar shona…You…You really came?” she uttered in hushed tones and caressed his hair, his face. Her eyes gleamed with tears.

“Koto lomba hoye geycho tumi! (How tall you’ve become!),” she said, gawking at his six feet two frame.

Rishi laughed.

“How are you, Kaki Maa?” he asked.

Her face became solemn as soon as he asked this.

“Rishi…Khoka…I don’t know what’s wrong with him,” she said, sounding completely exhausted.

“He is not responding. He just stays there on his bed. Just mumbles,” she added, her voice breaking with each sentence. “I have taken him to so many doctors. So many…They say it’s a form of depression. But are unable to find a cure.”

“How long has this been going on?” Rishi asked while closing the door behind him.

“About four months now,” she said, wiping her tears. “Actually he had been slowly retreating into his shell for a couple of years, but now he has completely shut himself off…I…I am losing him day by day.”

“Don’t worry, Kaki Maa,” Rishi said, putting a comforting hand on her shoulders. 

“Everything will be all right.”

“Rishi, I am sorry I caused this inconvenience to you…But…” she trailed off.

“You did the right thing,” Rishi said. “Let me see him now.”

Rishi walked along the little corridor and then made his way inside the room at the left corner.

He pushed the doors open and pale darkness greeted him.  The windows were closed shut for some reason.

“Khoka…Khoka, dekh ke esche!…Rishi! (Khoka, look who has come! It’s Rishi!)," called out Paritosh’s mother who had just entered the room behind Rishi.

A man wearing a light-cream kurta and pajama lay on the bed, blankly staring at the ceiling. He wore thick glasses, had an oval-shaped face and a curly mop of hair. Rishi felt like his friend had just grown in height and had developed a patchy beard. The rest of him felt almost the same as he had last left him.

In fact, the room too felt much the same as Rishi had last seen it more than twenty years back. There were the same two rickety cupboards crammed with comic books. There was the same dark green color, albeit a little faded now, on the walls. There was that same little armchair in the left corner of the bed and the same Goddess Kali portrait atop it on the wall.

The only addition Rishi could notice was a messy working table on the right side of the bed. It was stuffed with various drawing materials: bottles of black ink, a few brushes, and a dusty old drawing board.

Rishi put his luggage on the floor and moved forward cautiously. “Hey, Khoka Babu,” he said as he reached near the bed. The man’s eyes moved towards him, but he did not respond.

Rishi noticed a pile of comic books lying on the arm chair. He picked it up. All had covers of a mustached hunter in different locations, wearing a khaki uniform and holding a gun. The titles were the same – ‘The Adventures of Col. Patterson’– while the subheading of each comic had different taglines. A line at the bottom caught Rishi’s attention. “Illustrated by: Paritosh Banerjee” was written on each of them.

“Wait… what!” Rishi exclaimed.

“He draws a comic book series for some UK-based company,” said Paritosh’s mother, proudly.

Rishi checked each title again and smiled widely. “Way to go, Khoka Babu!” he said looking at his friend who refused to say anything.

Rishi placed the comic books on the side of the bed and headed towards the window. He opened the shutters to let the early morning light stream in through the large and slender pillars of the window and lighten up the entire room.

Paritiosh’s mother looked on curiously as Rishi removed his jacket and picked up his little bag from the floor. He then sat on the armchair beside the bed and began unzipping his bag.

“You know, Khoka,” Rishi said as he extracted a pile of comic books from inside, “I have got the perfect medicine for you.”

He held the stack firmly in his hands and began displaying each title to his friend one by one. “Tell me which one do you want me to read and I will. These are all vintage ones, you see,” he said exuberantly.

“See, this is Tinkle Digest Vol.1. This is Champak Vol. 25. This one is Chacha Chaudhary aur Raka,” Rishi said, after showing each comic to his friend.

Paritosh’s eyes moved as Rishi held each comic book at him. They narrowed a bit with every title. But he still remained silent.

“You know,” Rishi said, “I wish I had the first sequel to the Raka series. What was its name? You had that one, right?”

Paritosh stared at Rishi, his eyes were still narrowed, as if trying to make sense of something.

“Ah, I forget the name,” Rishi said, snapping his fingers and shutting his eyes tightly. “What was it? ‘Raka ki Vaapsi’, ‘Raka ka Hamla’, or was it ‘Raka ka Challenge’?”

“Inteqam,” said a hoarse voice all of sudden.

Rishi flicked his eyes open to see Paritosh looking at him directly, an almost exasperated expression on his face.  

He cleared his throat, scrunched his nose a bit and said, “Chacha Chaudhary aur Raka ka Inteqam, you imbecile.”

 Rishi beamed widely. He felt like getting up and embracing his friend. But he didn’t.

“Yes, yes! You are right. You are the master, after all,” he said and turned to look at Paritosh’s mother.

Rishi could sense that she was quivering all over. She appeared stunned and was attempting to hold herself back.  

She looked at her son and then at Rishi again. Her mouth opened, as if she wanted to utter something, but could not form any words.

 “Don’t you worry, Kaaki Maa. I won’t go anywhere,” Rishi cut her off with a smile. “Not until Khoka is perfectly fine again,” he added and settled himself nicely on the armchair.

“What shall I get you, tell me?” Paritosh’s mother asked eagerly. Her tired and wrinkled face looked a little relaxed now.

Rishi pondered for a moment and looked at his friend, who seemed to be observing the comics in his hands intently.

“A glass of Rasna would be good for now,” Rishi said.

“Of course! Of course!” said Paritosh’s mother, as tears trickled down her face. “You boys enjoy. I will be right back.”

Rishi picked up his pile of comic books and addressed his friend again, “So, Khoka Babu. Tell me which one shall I read to you today?”

Paritosh got up slightly and picked up one comic from Rishi’s pile. It was pale and the cover was extremely crinkled.

“This one,” he said throatily.

Rishi looked at it and beamed. “Ah… ‘Chacha Chaudhary, Billoo aur Pinki’. Excellent choice,” he remarked.

Rishi opened the first page of the comic and dusted it a little with his hands. He brought the book close to his face and smelled its pages deeply. Then, he got up a little and extended the comic towards Paritosh’s face. Lying on his bed, Paritosh too inhaled the pages of the comic.

“Smells good, doesn’t it?” Rishi asked his friend with a smile as he withdrew the comic.

Paritosh nodded; he had a satisfying look on his face.

Suddenly, Rishi’s phone buzzed from inside his shirt pocket. He picked it out and saw an unread message flashing on the screen. It was from his fiancée, Kavita.

“Hey, babe! Hope you reached safely.

Buzz me once you are free. And I hope Paritosh is fine, too.

Can’t wait to come there and meet him. See you two soon.


Rishi smiled and placed the phone back inside his pocket.

“Right,” he said, “So the first chapter is titled, ‘Chutti ke din’. First panel: Sabu and Chachaji are sitting outside their house. Sabu says, ‘Chacha ji! Sab log hafte me ek din chutti rakhte hai. Hum kyu nahi?’”

Paritosh smiled, for the first time in what felt like ages, and closed his eyes. The warm sunlight felt good on his face and so did his friend’s voice from close to him. The gloom that had engulfed him these past few months seemed to be clearing bit by bit.

“Chachaji says, ‘Sabu, humein bhi araam ki zarurat hai’,” Rishi’s voice echoed across the room.

With each word of his friend, Paritosh felt lighter, calmer; like somebody was siphoning off something dark and murky from inside him. Paritosh let out a soft breath of air, while his eyes remained closed. 

Rishi was right. This was all the medicine he needed, after all.

All rights reserved

( End Note: 
The inspiration for this story primarily came from this song.

Yes, I have borrowed the title of this song for my story, but that is only because I felt it suited it pretty well. I had initially titled the story, "My Friend, Khoka". But this one just seemed better. I can't really explain how or why, but while listening to the song, the idea for this story took birth; especially the character of Khoka. Hence, I am grateful to it. 

The story is dedicated to the imaginary friend I never had in school life. I always wanted a comic-friend in my childhood, but never had a serious one who shared my intense love for comics. Hence, this story is kind of a tribute to that friend. 

I know this is a simple and unassuming tale. But it took me a really long time to finish it and it has been a learning experience that I shall remember. Hope that some of you might have liked it.)


  1. I loved it. could relate to my lonely childhood spent with chacha chaudhary and Tinkle. Your character sketch of Paritosh is so well done. Keep writing. Have you thought of writing a story and sending to the commonwealth writers competition? :)

    1. Hi, Nithya.

      Thank you so much for your lovely comment. I am so thrilled that you liked this story. I had severely low expectations from it. :) And Paritosh's character was someone I really wanted to be interesting. Am glad you liked it.

      I have not heard of the commonwealth writers competition. Will certainly look it up now. Thank you so much for this. :)

  2. Wow!
    NO ways you can end it that way and not get "aagey kya hua......??? " Chakoji style (from Movie Daud).
    Terrific Man.
    Amazing story yet again and you call this long? It was too short, just when I started to enjoy it, you abruptly ended it.
    Totally amazing and Rishi is 6 feet 2 inches that got me LOL.
    And all those mouthwatering names man, you are making me big time Jealous of your passion and collection both. Someday I will fly down to Calcutta and check it out myself :). I have none from that time whatsoever I loved.
    Gotta get some myself.

  3. Nice Bhavesh!!
    Simple yes.. unassuming.. No! It was heartfelt and touching.
    Loved the story. Keep up the good work

    1. Thanks a ton, J! Man, I did not expect this. :)

      Yeah, most of my stories are simple. Glad you liked it. Can't tell you how much this will help me move forward. Thank you so much! :)

  4. Omg i m so honored that you thought of me (even if it was only for few sec) while writing this. Comics are really our medicine. Wonderful date/year wise description of incidents. Diction is superb as usual. I m so happy to have a comic lover friend like u. Baaki ka feedback call karke dunga. Keep writing coz we love it ☺️