Scene: Shankar folds the newspaper near the teacup. Looks at the wall clock. Struck 10. The bell rings. The servant comes quickly to open the door.
Visitor: I am Paritosh Banerjee. Is Mr Shankar there?
Servant: Yes Sir. Please, come in. He is expecting you.
Visitor: One minute.
The visitor loosens his slippers. The servant accompanies the visitor into the living room. Shankar stands up.
Visitor: Remember me, Shankar?
Shankar: Paritosh, what in god’s name happened to you? You look so different!
Paritosh comes forward. Picks up his both hands. Shankar with a little hesitance he shakes hands after a long time.
Paritosh: It’s a long story, buddy. Long story.
Shankar: Have a sit.
Paritosh sits opposite to Shankar in the single sofa.
Shankar to Servant: Serve Paritosh a cup of tea and some pleasantries.
Paritosh: Shankar, there is no necessary for that.
Shankar: Ah. Paritosh. Spare me the politeness.
The servant leaves. Shankar sits in the sofa. Looking at Paritosh.
Shankar: It’s been…
Paritosh: Fourteen tedious years. I am just only living.
Shankar: After our graduation party, you went abroad to…
Shankar tries to remember his graduation days. The appearance of Paritosh is a total mismatch in today’s meeting. Paritosh looks so pale, nearly hairless, darkened eyes, thin, and malnourished.
Paritosh: I know what you are thinking. After I left India, got settled in Singapore. In that meantime, I got married arranged by my parents. I have a son who is in his sixth grade. After working there for six years, my company had become a victim of frauds. My entire project team was sacked and served three years of prison time.
Shankar: How come?
Paritosh: Greed. Ignorance. Jealousy.
Shankar: I couldn’t quite follow you!
Paritosh: I wanted something but turned out different. My ignorance for becoming the top manager failed me to see the coming problems.
Shankar: My dear friend! What made you to be ignorant?
Paritosh: My friend, have you forgotten me, that I was an ambitious, highly competitive at times during our time at college. You were the only friend sticked with me till the end.
Shankar: Even though you were the topper and the most intelligent student in the class.
Paritosh gives a faint smile.
Paritosh: Yet, with all those traits of mine, I failed. I failed miserably. I became too greedy for success.
Shankar looks at Paritosh.
Shankar (inner): After all these years, why has he come to me?
Paritosh: My son is very intelligent and hardworking, just like me. But the behaviour he has been groomed with is just like my wife. Humble, easy to talk, with no upstart attitude. I was quite the opposite during his age even being rude to my parents. But, I don’t have anything at this moment to continue his education. I am at a loss.
Shankar: Hm. So, what are you doing now at this moment?
Paritosh: Begging, Shankar, just begging for breathe to live.
Shankar: That’s outrageous. It can’t be…
Paritosh: No, Shankar. Not that kind of begging. I am an Insurance agent. Begging to sell hope to people. And there is not much money into it. Assurance is something you cannot sell easily. And there are targets to be met. Whatever I earn it goes for my Son’s education and my wife’s support to give us the strength to stand up straight the very next day.
Shankar (He gets the hint where Paritosh is driving at) : Well, why have you come to see me then?
Paritosh: You know Shankar, for the last few days, I have been thinking about the old days, before I made the call to meet you at this particular hour.
Shankar: Yes, one way it was quite surprising, I wasn’t expecting a sudden call. After you left for Singapore, I got busy to get a job. Two years later, got my first break in writing. And still, nothing stopped me from earning after that.
Paritosh: You have recently won the national literature award.
Paritosh scans the room for the moment. Looks at the Family photograph hanging near the mantelpiece.
Paritosh: Beautiful wife and two children.
Shankar: Yes. They are my world. All my writings are dedicated to them and my parents.
Paritosh: Nice. I have never been a bookworm. That’s why we never felt the competition against each other.
Shankar: Hm. But do you remember the time when we used to race against each other in our hostel life?
Paritosh: How can I forget that? That’s the only time I felt competitive with you.
Shankar: Ha. Competitive. You and me, competitive, that’s a laugh.
The servant arrives with the pleasantries and a cup of tea. Paritosh picks up the cup and takes a sip.
Paritosh: Ah! It’s been so long, that I am tasting such a flavoured tea.
Paritosh: Won’t you be having tea?
Shankar: I already have.
Paritosh (takes another sip): Shankar, my son is such a wonderful child. I don’t know how I will pay the fees for his school the next six months. I just don’t want to think myself that because of my failure that he stops his education.
Shankar: You need some cash, right?
Paritosh (He picks up the Banana Slice Cake): You are straightforward, Shankar. Always speak your mind. If possible if you can give me around twenty-twenty five thousand rupees. You see, my son…
Shankar: Sorry, Paritosh.
Paritosh (He stops after the second bite): What!
Shankar: Very Sorry. Right now I am in short of cash.
Paritosh (he keeps the cake on the tray): Shankar, I am not begging. I just need it. It’s our son who needs it.
Shankar: How am I supposed to believe you? Fourteen years is a long time.
Paritosh: Don’t you believe me, my friend?
Shankar (Dilemma. Scribbles his own hand): I do believe you. Yet, there are chances of mistrust! Maybe…
Paritosh: Maybe what, Shankar? Do you want to see the picture of my family, Shankar? Shankar, please I beg of you.
Paritosh: Gambling! Me! I am broke, my friend. I don’t have a single penny to spend on my own comfort. For the last four years, I have walked so many miles to reach each client. There are times I didn’t have a single drop of water until and unless the customer gives a nod of acceptance of relief to me. And Target! And Target! Target! Target is what my employer wants! He doesn’t understand what kind of hell we are passing through the streets. Every household is different. Distance of locality to another, finding new clients, what shall I do Shankar! WHAT SHALL I DO SHANKAR! Go out and beg for money from some people who looks at you, peeps at you like an insect so that we die in this heat. Only thing that matters in my life is my son and my wife.
Shankar feels embarrassed for the moment. Paritosh looks at him straight with an eye of begging for a little happiness. Shankar feels for his friend’s dreadful situation.
Shankar: May I see the photograph of your family?
Paritosh cleans his eyes. Brings out his torn wallet. Just a few notes to travel. Some clients’ card. Brings out his family Photograph.
Shankar: When was this taken?
Paritosh: Around seven years back.
Shankar: Is it before your jail time?
Shankar: It seems that you all were quite a happy family.
Paritosh: We were. Only my ignorance and jealousy ruined this picture.
Shankar: Okay. Done. Tomorrow I am going out of station. I will be coming back after three days. So, come on Sunday.
Paritosh (Glimmer of Hope in his eyes): Really! Really! Am I so lucky today, my old friend!
Shankar: You are my friend, you are.
Shankar gets up from the sofa and holds his friends tightly into his arms to give him hope. All is not lost.