Short Story 2018 Longlist, Sonali Rasal

The Awesome Foursome

They were no longer the ‘Awesome Foursome’. That Rascal Gupta had ditched. Always the late-comer for morning walks, Gupta was the youngest of the four friends. They had been together since school, living in the same neighbourhood, flying kites, playing cricket, watching cute girls and movies …secretly. Pune had been their home all their life and they loved it. Post-retirement the gang – Gupta, Doctor, Vinay and Joshi had enough time to get back together and restart the ‘Awesome Foursome’ they always were.

Every Morning they would walk up the neighbouring hill “Vetal Tekdi”, discuss current affairs, children and grandchildren, spouses (Yes.. two wickets gone already) and Ehem – old flames who were almost on the verge of extinguishing now. The most favourite topic however was the newest item number in the neighbourhood and Gupta always had all the inside information.

Yes! Always the latecomer and the youngest, but in his final quest, Gupta turned out to be the first one to pack up. Last night the sly fox died in his sleep. The doctor wrote ‘silent Heart Attack’. The ditcher!!!

Gupta the ‘jaan’ of the gang, called himself Katrina Kaif’s secret boyfriend, giggled hysterically watching Tom and Jerry cartoons, Whatsapp-ed the most inappropriate jokes with his signature punch lines, loved to eat ice- cream in the rain and could recite Mirza Ghalib with such élan…he would always get a ‘once more’. That rascal was no more and no ‘once more’ would ever bring him back.

This was the rude wake- up call they had all been avoiding to talk about….

The sudden vacuum that death would create between them someday!

“The Funeral is at four – Vaikunth Crematorium” said Joshi behind dark goggles. It’s difficult to hide tears at this age he realised; and more difficult to show them!

“I can’t go… NO!!! Arrey I can’t see that pig lifeless!!” Vinay choked! In all of his life of 72 years there were very few moments when he had allowed himself to be shaken by emotions.

“Hmmm!!” sighed Doctor. “It’s not in our hands, we all will go someday….but I too don’t want to remember Gupta on his pyre. I’ll make some excuse.

Let’s not go…!”

The afternoon was scorching hot and time was almost still. Suddenly Vinay got a call from Doctor. “Its 4:00 Vinya…I am so restless!!…Let’s have our own farewell for Gupta…” he said slowly. There was silence on both ends. Finally Vinay found his voice “What? I don’t understand what you mean!”

“We need to say goodbye and find closure yaar. Gupta deserves a good farewell. Don’t you think so? Can you get Joshi and come to our favourite spot on the hill in an hour?”

By 5:00 p.m. Vinay and Joshi arrived at the tamarind tree they sat under everyday …their regular ‘chatting hot-spot’. The silence was eating into them but there were no words they could think of.

Doctor came huffing up the hill with his signature bag slung on his arm. “Sorry Sorry! I am late this time” he apologised. “So let’s start the programme?”

“Start what?” Vinay screamed. ”Have you lost your mind?”

“The farewell! Come on, Gupta will haunt us forever if we don’t bid a decent adios”

“What the heck do you want us to do? Jump off the hill? Cry? Deliver speeches? What?” Joshi fumed.

Doctor smiled. “Gupta’s spirit will never like that. Let’s celebrate him instead. His jokes, his affair with Katrina Kaif, his out of tune Mohammad Rafi songs, his claim to have kissed when he was barely fifteen, his bragging about being the Sachin Tendulkar amongst us and so much more. Why should we mourn his loss? He has given us so much joy!!”

“All of us are a part of Gupta and Gupta is a part of us. Even death can’t take that away!! His spirit is what we have in us. Why do we need his ugly, obese, diabetic 90 kg body?”

Vinay couldn’t control his tears and still he was smiling, thinking of what a brat Gupta was!!

Doctor removed a newspaper from his bag. He laid it carefully on the bench. Then came a packet with the signature aroma of Chitale Mithaiwala’s samosas. He unwrapped it carefully. Besides the samosas, he opened another parcel of the most luscious jalebees in Pune. “Yes!! Let’s start the party! ” beamed Doctor rubbing his hands together.

As they munched on the samosas and jalebees, emotions flowed. Tears to laughter and tears again. Each one recalled Gupta’s whims and idiosyncrasies. Joshi also demonstrated the ‘Bhagwandada dance’ Gupta had taught them when they were in school. It was a surreal moment. Gupta was almost there again. No one wanted it to end.

And then it was Vinay who had a brilliant idea. “Friends, this party will be incomplete if we don’t go for that new Katrina movie ‘Dhoom Dhadaam’. Gupta wanted to go so badly. She wears a golden bikini in the movie and dances to an item number.”

Yes they had made it!! They had decided to keep Gupta alive in them. They would all die someday for sure but before that they would live like there was no tomorrow. Just the way Gupta did!

Next weekend you will probably meet them on the Guhagar beach in Konkan, drinking beer, crooning sad Rafi songs and cracking stupid jokes.

They will always be the ‘Awesome Foursome’ come what may!

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