This post is a part of 24-day Marathon fiction called Yaariyan.
There was a regrouping of members and the gang now had four other members in the car.
Sahil and Stuti Ray are married since three years and have their own fashion boutique. They’ve decided to stay fit and trekking to Kashmir is going to be the test of their level of endurance. They are Bongs from Kolkata – Niket loves their sweet accent. Kanishka and Pawan are also in their car.
After chatting with Kanishka and getting out of topics to discuss, Pawan turns behind. The bongs have slept. He asks the gang about their work profiles, and later they get into various coding opportunities available in start ups in India.
Kanishka tries to change the topic, ‘So how did you guys meet in college?’ Arpit replies, ‘How each person joined the gang is a different story. It’ll take a lot of time. Which one do you want to know?’ ‘Lets start with how did you meet Niket.’ Arpit and Niket grin at each other, they can visualise the college canteen and the carrom board in front of them. Arpit takes a page out of the canteen diaries.
It was the first week of college. Our college had an amazing canteen and a games room just next to it. Abhinav and I had come from Jaipur and were roaming around the campus. We decided to check out the games room and play carrom. Niket was there; he had won a game and was about to win the next one – he got the queen, now was planning on getting the cover – He said to his opponent in a peppy tone – ‘Beta, Rani to Niket ni!’ (The queen always belongs to Niket!) and played the winning shot. There were claps after the intense match. Never earlier had a first year student won against an experienced fourth year player. I was good at carrom – I misunderstood his vibe for his arrogance and challenged him to play. Abhi backed me and we started the game. In his first strike, he had already pocketed two whites; I was struggling behind. He always had an edge on me – he was playing to have fun while I was playing to make him loose. When he had one coin left, I had yet to pocket three. He easily won the game, and concluded happily – ‘Beta, Rani to Niket ni!’ I lost the game; but won a new friend for life!
Over the coming weeks, we ran into Niket quite a few times in the canteen – until we realised that he always is there only. He never attends classes; he had done some jugaad so that he doesn’t get blacklisted. Niket was a businessman from beginning – always looking forward to make money. But he had some weaknesses – food and friends. He loved eating out and stood for people whom he considered friends.
The more Abhi and I got to know him, the more we fell in love with his simplicity. Niket was a pampered kid – his dad had gifted him an i20 which he drove to Mumbai from Rajkot. Niket loved his car a lot; we all loved it – we took it to out for so many long drives! He was staying at his aunt’s place in Vashi, travelling to and fro in his car. Together the three of us formed a gang; and our lives changed forever. We were collectively termed as the backbenchers.
‘Wow! Interesting, I’ll listen to the remaining ones in the coming days!’ mentioned Kanishka as the car stopped – they had reached the end of road and had to now walk with their backpacks towards the basecamp which was one kilometre away.
Arpit got totally silent as he thought about the story he just narrated – he had stopped talking or even thinking about Abhinav after 2011; for the first time in four years the door had opened, that too unknowingly.
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