It was a dusky evening. I was driving back home, weary and weak from yet another client presentation. The ringing cell phone broke my momentary trance and I parked to the side to steal a glance at the small screen of the tiny instrument. Picking up an unknown number did not seem a good idea at the fag end of the day. Neverthless, I pressed the green button.
The voice at the other end was distinctly familiar. Yes, this was my pal from the formative years of my employment. I was overjoyed with the telephonic reunion. Many years had passed by but our conversation seemed as if it were plucked right from the past.
Those were the days...
I remember his first day at office. Whsipering into my ear as discreetly as possible,he had asked "Can I go home for lunch everyday?" The innocence was 24-carat and paved the way for an enduring relationship - at least it seemed so then.
He had a natural way with stocks. At that tender age, he could feel the pulse of the market. And his confidence was contagious. With all my academic credentials, I didn't have half of his energy and assertiveness. In his company, I found my poise that only enhanced the analyst in me.
We were a pair to envy. Our chemistry seemed celestial. He exceled at making calculated predictions, I had the flair for deeper analysis and articulation. Whenever I felt short of confidence, his electric enthusiasm came to my rescue. Whenever he went overboard with his growing vanity (Hum hai to kya gum hai was his favourite slogan) , I would sober him down.
And the personal warmth was beyond words.I still remember the time when a salary raise motivated me to look for a new home in Mumbai. I was fed up of the commute between Virar and Churchgate, desperate to shift residence to any suburb in the bustling city. But when I realised that nothing was within my reach, he helped me face the fact with a smile "Just spend some bucks on renovating your home and you'll feel fine" he told me, sipping coffee at a modest Udupi joint.Such towering maturity at his age!
As time passed, I ventured into unknown territories - all grand vacations in the name of vocation. He stayed put in the same industry. We met once in a while but only till a point after which we lost all contact.
After so many years, he tracked me on Face book and now ...this call. In the telecon, he stressed the need for some help in content development. He was now the head of a division with a leading financial house. I was so immersed in the celebration of our reunion that I took many things for granted.
To my utter dismay of course.
All subsequent meetings with him now had the flavour of a typical vendor-client interaction. He was now careful of the "official stance" - those irritatingly slow, measured remarks in line with his new-found status. Hard as I tried to ignore, the distance between us was disturbing.
He was now "handling" me - every interaction smacked of corporate artifice - carefully drafted emails subtly urging to "keep in touch" but from safe distance, a non-commital nod to any suggestion, and lots of patronising, winsome smiles.
Probably he feared the worst - that I may soon ask for favours. That I would make dangerous in-roads. Probably some of my humble observations against his company were found intimidating and uncalled for.
I will never know the truth but I care a damn. I still wish well for him but the yesteryear music of our association has been needlessly remixed.
I know for sure that in the meteoric rise of his career, our friendship was buried alive. Now I wish he had never called back and I would have never known of his brtual transformation.
But perhaps I should have known better. The neuralgia of nostalgia can be agonizingly painful.