By Ranjit Kulkarni

I don’t know who I should call a friend. Friendships happen out of nowhere when doing things together. And once they happen, I often find myself keeping them going whether I like it or not.

I have made friends when I chanced upon someone who read a common book. I have made friends when I have gone on a bicycle trip or to the cinema together by chance. I have made friends even after having a lonely dinner in the hostel with someone.

By that definition, Vishal was my friend. By virtue of being college mates, he was someone more than just a known face. When we were younger, we ended up doing a lot of things together. Most of the times by default. As we got older, life got in the way. Most of the times, it was by my design.

We were quite different from each other; he was an out and out extrovert, and I am a lonely introvert. That was, to start with, the basic difference. He was flamboyant. I underplay everything. He was straight and direct, and with me, you have to read between the lines. He didn’t like studying and I have always been a good student.

But the main difference between us was his approach to the opposite sex.

Let me just say that Vishal had a roving eye and an active mind. It often got him into trouble, when we were young and even after he got older. I never liked it, but what can a friend do? One has to neglect some aspects of one’s friend for other aspects that keep the friendship going, isn’t it?

Vishal was tall and had a fair skin that was the ideal mix of a Pathan and a Westerner. A well-shaped nose and grey-green eyes added to features that the opposite sex liked. A physique that was fit and muscular but not intimidating, and an outgoing personality almost always endeared him to the fairer sex, at least for the first few meetings till they got to know him better.

Most importantly, he knew his strengths and how to use them very well, both physically and verbally, especially when in the right company.

In college, Vishal had a constant and everchanging list of women he was with. At that time, it wasn’t as common as it might be in today’s time and age. And it was considered amoral and amorous, which it was, and perhaps still is. But I don’t want to be patronizing or moralistic or judgemental. The fact was that I didn’t like it, but what can a friend do if he turns up with someone at odd hours?

I remember spending many nights in someone else’s room in the second year of college because my roommate Vishal drove me outside the hostel room in the middle of the night. He was conscientious in the sense that he called me back in the wee hours of the morning when his job was done. But that often ended up spoiling my sleep even more. I didn’t quite like it but then again, as I said, what can one do? One learns to neglect a few things. Among all the things we tolerate for the sake of hostel friends, you know, this was one of the most irritating ones. I changed my roommate in the next year.

I went on to my higher studies after that and lost touch with Vishal for a few years. He wasn’t made for studies, so one degree was enough for him, which he somehow managed to complete.

I had heard that he had a fling with a young teacher who was a newly joined doctoral candidate, a few years our senior. The news doing the rounds of campus was that her special affinity towards Vishal was, in some way, responsible for his clearing the final year exams. Vishal definitely knew how to get things done, something that I never learned in my life.

A few years later, he called me saying that he was joining some company which happened to be in the same city that I lived in. He just landed up at my flat and said he was sharing the rent. Being a bachelor and always short on funds, I was open to having flatmates, but honestly, Vishal wasn’t my ideal choice. But I found it difficult to avoid Vishal. It turned out to be one of those things one does for friends. I didn’t know what job he did, but it didn’t seem to have changed any of his old ways.

As a matter of fact, more money in the pocket seemed to have only made him better at his art as per my observations (and those of anyone who cared to see him with their eyes open). The company he kept started getting classier, and his reputation followed him, attracting the right type of crowd.

After a few months, the landlord put in a word to me about things people in the neighbourhood had started saying about my friend Vishal. I silently changed my flat, my flatmate and even my job in a few months. One has to tolerate a few things about one’s friends, but one always has a choice when it comes to certain things, isn’t it? For the first time in my life, I realised that there was a choice.

Vishal did quite well for himself over the coming years. I lost touch with him except for occasional meetings and phone calls every few months which I tried to avoid over time. I tried to keep our friendship limited to those Happy Diwali and Happy New Year calls after a point. After all, I had a family to take care of, and didn’t want them to get close to such predator friends from my past.

It was only recently when there was a reunion after twenty years of graduating from college, that I met Vishal again. His hair had thinned and had got many tinges of grey; the tough look had softened somewhat, but the features remained the same. The skin and the eyes still offered a peep into the man that he was inside. He came to the reunion with a woman who looked like a recent trophy addition. Having known Vishal for many years, no one asked him who she was. Some things never change, some people never change, and we just accept some friends as they are.

I realised that he lived close to where I lived. In fact, he was the CEO of a large departmental store chain that specialised in women’s wear. Quite an apt career choice for someone like Vishal, I felt.

There were rumours that his roving eye had got him into trouble in his previous job, and he had landed this top job due to his close relations with the promoter of this women’s wear chain, who incidentally, happened to be a woman.

Well, Vishal and his ways! I never liked them, in all honesty. But then what can one do when a friend is like this? I had been tolerating his ways, neglecting them, and extricating myself out of the way to leave him alone for the past thirty years.

But recently, Vishal got into some real problems due to his roving eye.

It was too close for comfort. I didn’t like it at all.

He had always had one mistress at any point in time. But having multiple at the same time was asking for trouble. On top of that, playing around with the life of the young daughter of a close friend and expecting nothing to happen was too farfetched.

On Sunday, my friend Vishal was found dead with his throat slit. A sad end to the life of an otherwise good friend. But there is a limit to which one can neglect the roving eye of a friend, isn’t it?

Ranjit Kulkarni’s work so far includes short stories, articles, and novellas, many of which, he is told, have made people think and smile. His work has appeared in Literary Yard and Indian Periodical, and a collection of his short stories is forthcoming by the end of 2021. More details about his work can be accessed at https://www.ranjitkulkarni.com

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