“I never brought any tiffin to school; you were too scared of Preeti to try any hanky-pankybusiness with her and, as for your beer, who cares for that shit anyway? Not me. Once avodka man, always a vodka man. And, you still have opinions about what you call‘unpleasant things’.”“Okay, I choose not to dwell over my opinions. I do not want to…”“You are afraid of your own opinions?”“Who’s afraid, eh? I just don’t have the time for…and, who’s afraid of Preeti? Me? Me?”“Not have the time for your own opinions?”“Don’t care about them. How does it matter? I am not afraid of Preeti, okay?”“It matters to me.”And that was that. I mattered to this imbecile. What I thought mattered to him. After anera of staying together and sharing everything, familiarity had still not bred contempt inhis case. He genuinely sought my comments and I had still not been able to deal with hispaintings in a detached manner. They were too intimate, too close to the reality I wishednot to see – or, at any rate, think about. More than anything else, in all those canvases, Istill saw my friend the way he was all those years ago when I sized him up for the firsttime – a self contained boy with an unflinching gaze who’d never make it big in life.Many a times over our long association, I tried to assist him in finding a steady job. Heobliged and twice accepted decent, stable openings to earn a livelihood for himself. Heeven tried hard to stay put. I guess he tried too hard, poor fellow. A job is a job. Youcannot take it too seriously. But this amiably reticent idiot never understood that. Hescrewed up on both occasions and the only saving grace was that before they could firehim, he resigned. Thereafter, he picked up a brush and started to paint for the first timein his life– a queer full-time occupation and a downright ludicrous one for someone agedforty-two with a wife and two kids.That was fifteen years ago. He learnt to paint; he learnt to live in anonymity; he learnt tolook at his kids without feeling guilty about denying them so much; he learnt to approachPreeti without feeling the need to explain his failures; he learnt to share some hours withme every week without having the urge to tell me to go to hell with all my sermons of “drop this nonsense!” He learnt.He dragged me along on his steep learning curve. I was made to witness his graduationfrom disproportionate figures and shaky lines to accurate renditions of landscapes andfigures and then to his “version” of the sights before his eyes. He was no van Gogh buthe could read the story in those trees, in those rivers and in those faces he drewceaselessly and, almost always, the story hurt just like this latest painting of the beggar which stated clearly that were I to approach this beggar with a coin, he’d probably get upand thrash me- not out of anger at me but at his own self, his own wretchedness. Themore troublesome part was that I knew I’d feel just as helpless as he would –I had nomeans to restore him his right to live without the indignity of surviving from one meal tothe next. Now, who wants to think of all this on a Sunday evening? I shuddered.