Poor Old Radhey
Do people really change in time?
I just met a classmate of mine after thirty-four long years. The chance encounter was on the railway station of my hometown, where I had gone to see my relation off. I could not have recognised the fellow had I not been helped by the person I went with.
'Look, your friend is there,' my relation said. Finding me unable to get him, he added, 'It's only your friend Radhey'.
I remembered Radhey. He was my classmate in my sixth and seventh classes. Then he was robust, much stronger than I used to be. Obviously he had started his schooling at an age much older than I did.
There were many small things that I could remember about Radhey. But one specialty about him that instantly came to my mind was his cunning. A small example could be how he used to conduct himself in those gardening classes. Yes, we used to do gardening work in our school--that was a part of the school curriculum those days. I was then a very skinny fellow and my stamina was naturally limited. But when it came to give my contribution, I was not legging behind. Radhey, on the other hand, was capable yet had a different agenda. He would stand and watch me hoeing the flowerbeds and panting for breath. But sometimes he would say, 'Ah, you're too weak for this kind of work. Give me the hoe'. Without waiting for me to give him the tool he would snatch it from me and start working.
Then in a minute, the teacher in charge of the gardening class used to come for inspecting our work. He used to become happy seeing Radhey giving his best.
'Radhey, you're too capable, I must say. Good! Keep it up,' our teacher would comment. Then looking at me he would give a smirk. That implied, 'You're not like Radhey; you're just useless.'
Then the teacher used to leave us and go to another group. No sooner did the teacher leave us than Radhey would leave the hoe. 'Take it and do the rest,' he would direct me.
Not that the game Radhey played was not clear to me then. I remembered how I used to marvel at his smartness. A school bully he was and I was just cautious in all my reactions.
Now the first warning bell rang to indicate the status of the incoming train and I was jolted out of my rumination. Then I asked my relation, 'Let's go and talk to Radhey.' But he was not willing to accompany me. I did not insist either and went to Radhey alone.
It was a cool ten minutes of conversation. Somehow I felt Radhey was not so much outgoing at the beginning, but my cordiality began to make him comfortable. What I gathered about him was not very exciting; rather everything was banal about him. He said that he was a painter of the buildings, a manual worker, and he had been managing his family with difficulty. He could not pursue his study because he saw to it that his sister continued her studies. Her sister was a nurse in a government hospital and then he was going to meet her. He would be taking some financial help from her.
Then I came back to my relation. Before I could enquire, he explained me why he spurned my proposal to come with me. According to him, Radhey had taken advance wage from him but did not come to whitewash his house. Howsoever he reminded, the fellow remained adamant and my relation had to stop reminding him at the end. It was eventually a bad debt so he allowed it to remain like that. As such he was fed up with Radhey and did not want to have relations with him.
I was not fully convinced. In response I said that Radhey should be commended for giving education to his sister and making her eligible for a decent job even though he himself ended up doing the job of a day labourer.
'Tosh! That's not true. On the other hand, Radhey exploits the poor girl bothering her all the time for money. She's a spinster and has no money left with her to think of her own marriage,' quipped my relation.
The train had come in the meantime. In time it left the station.
As I came back to my car and started revving the engine, I still wondered. 'Was it true that my friend Radhey has not changed at all?' At least from the physical appearance he had not--still retaining the feature of the same corpulent, cunning, gunny sack of a person.
'Has he been only maturing all these thirty-four years?' I sighed and put my foot down on the accelerator. Nonetheless I was happy that I could meet my old friend.
A. N. Nanda
Labels: short story