By this time around venkat's father was very clear about the shape of things to come. He got himself a hefty insurance policy and grumbled much more than before, much to the discomfort of his wife.
Meanwhile Venkat contracted some expensive habits. Though he cleared each paper at school , like the high jumper's Fosberry flop - clearing the bar by millimeters, he kept collecting all available IIT - JEE study material. What was not available nearby was promptly ordered VPP. Value Paid By Post - by his father.
While his father read news paper, Venkat flopped on the sofa directly opposite and went through the motions of going through the IIT-JEE material.
"Some of these solutions given are obviously wrong" - Venkat expert commented, more to himself but loudly.
No new solutions were arrived at, nothing happened. But as the expert comments became more frequent, the news paper along with Venkat's father travelled to the verandah.
Venkat himself read the newspapers rarely. But when he did, he preffered to read something connected with the IITs, or atleast technology.
But with the academic draw backs and all, Venkat carried some positive trends. For one - he was liked by all. Teachers who marked him average in exams, still entrusted him with important school projects.They trusted him. His classmates came alive around him and missed him when he remained absent. They all liked him.
All said and done , the moment of reckoning had arrived. The entrance results were out one by one. As his friends left for the various professional colleges around the country - expanding their horizon, Venkat went deeper into his shell. Many a days he never ventured out of his room. Though his friends came home on vacations, Venkat avoided them. Now he belonged to a different and definitely lower world. His friends too had added many a new name to their list of friends and hence had little spare time for venkat. The world outside his home had started forgetting him.
His family kept him engaged by making him join the local college. He did humanities. Though his dreams, created by himself, lay shattered he still managed to do the usual Fosberry flops in his exams. He did a Post graduate degree later on because he had nothing else to do and they were ready to admit him even with his low second class for the fee they will receive.
Under pressure from allround he kept applying for jobs. After long, a small start up IT company offered him a position in their HR department. Nothing great, still he wanted to get away. Away from everyone and everything.
This was in the early 1990's.
I too had lost touch with venkat. As my father was transferred we had moved on while Venkat's entrance preparations were in full swing. Venkat had been a very good friend of mine. But my ability to sustain friends over a period of time has always been suspect. Time - sort of consumes them and leaving just the gap for me.
A hell lot of water had flown under the bridge since then.
I was waiting in the departure lounge of Mumbai domestic for the 9.00 pm flight to Bangalore. A stop over for a day with a few long lost friends before moving on to Cochin.
The plump guy who was checking in at the airways desk in the executive class looked vaguely familiar. "That happens always" I said to myself.
I shifted my gaze to a more comfortable area of a lady clad in jeans.
The man had finished checking in and turned around.
He certainly looked familiar. But I couldnt locate him. As he walked past me , I sniffed the air . Sometimes the perfumes and scents help you to figure things out.
No. It didnt help now.
Instead the lady in jeans (now standing beside me) got suspicious. She brought out a shawl from her bag and covered herself over. I had that sick feeling yet again. And she must have felt the same about me - Sick.
As curiosity always gets the better of me, I decided to try another line. I walked past the plump gentleman (now seated) and peered at his name plate, that i had noticed before, on his blazer (remnant of some recent meeting from where he must have rushed). After all I was in safer territory- he will not atleast cover himself with a shawl.
"Venkat Subramaniam............." it said, along with the name of his company.
I tried to fix a moustache and a stitch mark near the lip, on to the face of 'the Venkat ' whom I had known some good 20 years back. I made the face a bit chubby and wrinkled it here and there.
Yes - certainly possible !!
since Iam already used to putting my foot in my mouth and since Venkat was not a lady- I apporoached the plump, jovial looking fellow.
"Hi" I said.
"Hi...." he replied , not sure of whats coming.
But I guess my face must have started to register, as some figment of pleasure and familiarity had started appearing somewhere at the corners of his face.
"Are u Venkat from Bhavans, Cochin......errr..1986 batch" ?
"Yes, thats right" he said
"Iam........" I said. His face shone with recognition and pleasure now.
The stewardess was kind enough to put me alongside Venkat in the executive class, because he being a privileged executive class 'frequent flier', they would have brought the captain himself , caught and bound, if he wanted to have a chat. I hoped the lady in the jeans would have noticed my status change to 'executive class'.
The sparsely occupied executive class allowed us to fill each other up , animatedly, about all those intervening years, without difficulty. The bald man on the other side of the aisle had started to snore and the portly lady two rows behind us was totally unconcerned.
"Yes, those were really dark years; sort of pre- renaissance I should say" he admitted.
"Almost 7 of them" he added
I nodded. Just to acknowledge the dark days that he had. But I could never have fathomed the depths to which he had sunk in those days.
Suddenly he pressed the overhead button summoning the stewardess. He asked her to pass him his brief case from the overhead baggage hold, which she did. He quickly opened the same and brought out something.
"Have a look at this" he said handing over to me a strip of tablets.
"Whats this"? I asked. The strip was empty , the hollows for holding the tablets were hollow and a bit flattened. The empty strip was of becosules, and must have been atleast a decade old.
"That strip once contained a couple of Potassium Cyanide capsules, he stated. His face still and taut. You know Raghav the Jeweller? I got it from his son."
Stunned , I could only ask him, "why?"
"I wanted to end it all. It was too painful. I was alone and there was no point. I carried the tabs around for almost a year, everynight I decided to postpone it by a day. A life taken on lease from myself on a daily basis"
An awkward silence fell upon us. Words were too shallow to give meanings.
"well..." he said to break the silence and ofcourse to bring himself back from those days, the pain of which was still evident from his face.
"Well, my company is lucky though, since that was the only thing I procrastinated - ever" this time he smiled.
"You came along way since then" I sort of complimented him.
"Yes, and whats more I now participate in our recruitment from IITs." he laughed. I joined weakly as I was not sure about rousing his emotions on the IITs once again.
His likeability among his friends and teachers once had truly reflected his Human Resource management abilities. He had indeed come a long way. Also he had joined the company when it was only his size. Later it grew phenomenally and took him to heavenly heights.
The IT start up whose top echelons that now he occupied was 'Infosyx'.
We exchanged our cards as we came out of the bangalore airport.
"Do come home before you leave Bangalore" he invited.
"Certainly, I shall be able to meet uncle and aunty too that way" I said.
A salwar clad women emerged from the crowd that had collected at the entrance to receive the arriving passengers.
"Meet my wife Aarti" Venkat introduced. After pleasentries and promises to visit each other we parted.
As venkat was slipping in to the passenger side of his Honda City, he said " By the way Aarti did her BTech from IIT chennai" He smiled mischievously at me.
As I waited for my turn at the taxi stand, ruminating on the events of the day, the jeans clad woman appeared . She still had the shawl wound around her tightly.
She was not taking any chances - for the night seemed to be bad, and what with the man who sniffed and hopped classes being around too.