It was a normal evening. Old friends caught up. They laughed, made fun of each other, did all kinds of silly stuff like always, and said goodbyes, promising to meet again soon. The night went peacefully. Then morning arrived and brought with it the news that one of them has broken the promise. He felt like leaving for the next station all alone and never even thought about informing the others. He probably thought the others would see the humour. It was another prank after all. Only they lost their sense of humour somehow. It was not a prank. It was reality. It was death. He played the funniest joke of them all, yet nobody laughed.
They thought it was a joke too. They refused to believe the news. They did not care for the evidence. How could such a thing be true? People do not leave just like that. Even as they stood before the morgue; even as they pushed back tears to see that pale face clearly; even as they went with him on his last ride home, they could not believe the world could change so much so quickly.
Yet, it was true. The world had changed – for better or worse. Despite trying as hard as they could, discerning the part that was better from all that was overwhelmingly worse seemed impossible.
Oh, how overwhelming was the worse! Was breathing always so difficult? Eating was never this painful. Moreover, since when did they become so fearful? They were fearful of laughing – even smiling. They were scared of talking. They were even fearful of crying. They were fearful of their own vulnerability.
Hope felt dangerous. Ambition seemed worthless. Love stopped holding any meaning whatsoever. Relationships became chains. Family started to feel like a burden. Faith shook on its foundations.
These young men searched for that feeble ray of light that would show them the purpose of life. Try as they might though, it remained elusive. The black hole of death had sucked it into inexistence. All that remained was darkness.
They realised pain was now a companion; a friend they needed to embrace. Embrace, they did. Hurt became healing. Despair replaced hope. Indifference trod down aspirations. Emotions became symbols exchanged over texts, but never felt in real life. Blocking out became second nature. Suddenly, it seemed easy. This was all they had to do until they too left for their respective journeys.
But the world was not ready for that. Society frowned upon them. They were outcasts. Grief was not supposed to be felt for so long – that too for “just a friend.” Moving on was mainstream. Bury the dead – they said. Bury the past. Burn down the memories. Pull back the tears. Be men, or at least pretend.
Therefore, they started pretending. They put on masks with smiles painted on them. They pretended to laugh at the joke life had played on them. They became skilled actors. They faked emotions. Pretending to love, pretending to become angry, pretending to be men; pretence came subconsciously. Society accepted them again. People invited them for gatherings. Life became normal again.
However, nothing was normal. Nothing would ever be normal, ever again. As they met on another normal evening, they laughed, made fun of each other, did all kinds of silly stuff like always, but never “promised” to meet again. Promise was the joke that made life and death laugh. They understood it. As they parted, they thought that one dead old man (Ahmad Faraz) told the truth when he said:
“Hua hai tujhse bicchadne ke baad ye maaloom
Ki tu nahi tha tere saath ek duniya thi”