The day they finally hid Jonathan Bakshi in a box And lowered him behind a church that was marked orthodox, Although he wasn’t one, that I can say For I have known him for years, maybe months and even days. His wife departed him—a stroke she couldn’t evade. Behind the same orthodox church, her mortal body was laid. Since the day he outlived her, two decades have gone Leaving him to raise his son as a father and a mom. His son later settled abroad and has two sons of his own— Their faces soothed Bakshi when he saw them on the phone. Bakshi’s pension served him well with rent to shelter him And food to calm his stomach but not the nightmares in his dreams. I still remember searching for meaning and a place Six of us in seventy-six, hunting dorms in Rishikesh. Beside the turbulent Ganges, we engaged in debates— Was India on the right track? Would all of us get laid? Was Indira on the right track? Were the poor getting their due? Was three decades of freedom not enough for a review? Was socialism a concern? Was population a constraint? That’s when we met a full time saint and a part time merchant. “Would you want some of these—the finest of the fine? You’ll never find these elsewhere—they’re one of a kind. These dark sticks are stuffs that gods have always used To design and build the cosmos, its bolts and its screws. You'll unlock the secrets they have hidden all around Inside your mind, above the skies and beneath this holy ground.” Six of us paid in cash—caught up in his praise Of the promises of discoveries in the hash of Rishikesh. Banerjee’s discovery lasted for a couple of years more. His father had enough. He was off to prosperous shores Where he discovered more banks—unlike the ones we were on. Rode the bulls for gourmet and ladies, big palaces with lawns. Until the bear took everything, but dues had to be paid. Colt finally offered him a choice—through his mouth or against his head. That Bannerjee was still three-and-a-light years away— He was not his upper-class self—not his father’s protege. A red bandana for a fedora, checkered kurta instead of suit, Pocketed hands in a thin frame, slippers instead of boots. He wrote poetry and published op-eds in local press; He wrote about the downtrodden, the oppressed, the distressed. We smoked up the hash, as we heard Banerjee paraphrase Lenin, Marx and Engels on the banks in Rishikesh. Banerjee felt they were poster boys of religious tolerance— Tiwari and Ali in reality were just childhood friends. They didn’t care much, other than the company that we fostered And taunted Banerjee if he had painted Bakshi in his poster. Puff in the air, every future they spoke, raised their hopes As they planned hotels and inns, and skiing resorts up on the slopes. They would later follow their dreams, the cash, and the hand. They followed up with what the tourist-market would demand. Made friends with the politicians, the administrators, and the wise. Our part-time merchant helped them out—deals were legitimised. Tiwari’s daughter is married to a well-known TV star. Ali’s eldest of the three puts a red beacon on his car. Twenty thirteen would annihilate their family and progress. No one found their bodies. They must have washed through Rishikesh. “Don’t you guys feel the flow; this place where Beatles had been— Somewhere under the Ganges, they have hid their submarine,” Paul mumbled as he stumbled through the same chords in circles, And climbed the stairs of Zeppelins, and smoked up Deep Purples, And shredded Hendrix’s electric solos on a cheap acoustic guitar, And flew amongst the colours of Gauguin, Gogh and Renoir. “This hash is definitely stolen from the gods’ abode. This surpasses the sunshine we have imported from abroad.” But his body was too frail to hold the drugs and the chords, As cancerous cells began to grow—unbounded of sorts. Six months later, Paul threw up blood on the floor Doctors strapped and tubed him and said, “Maybe six more.” Paul dreamt of tangerine trees as he counted down his days The sky would turn marmalade for him in Rishikesh. “Who has died?”—it’s not the right question my friend, The act of dying is always a lonely journey in the end How about we ask instead, “what then has died?” Idealism, youth, utopia—philosophies side by side. Six friends were six different individuals, too— A ragtag group of young men with different world-views Who in turn grew and morphed as time passed by, And begs us to ask the question, “when do you think has died?” Enthusiasm has dulled itself. Novelty is mundane. What once eased our raging blood now soothes arthritic pain. Generations will make new friends, new Rishikeshes they will find, Their Gangeses will morph their views and flow with the times. Bakshi, say I’ve missed them. They are not here in flesh. Soon I’ll join to laugh with you guys—just like in Rishikesh.
Notes: None. Nil. Nada. Zilch. Took me freaking six major drafts to write and I still feel it can be better. —S.B. (28.05.2020)