It was impossible to find two other friends who were as close as Karan and Guddu.
You don’t have to take my word for it.
Their parents said so.
Their siblings said so.
Their other friends said so.
Their relatives said so.
Their acquaintances said so.
Their colleagues said so.
Their neighbours said so.
Everyone within a five-mile radius of their apartment said so.
But it wasn’t always so.
For, you see, till the time they were twelve years old, Karan and Guddu were sworn mortal enemies, what Bollywood so aptly refers to as khandaani dushmans (Family rivalry, loosely translated, in which the son of one can never marry the daughter of the other, so naturally they (the son and daughter, not the parents) fall in love, and when the families do not agree to their match, commit suicide to stay together in the afterlife at least. I have been told that Shakespeare borrowed this concept for one of his plays, having learnt about it from an Indian girlfriend, whose family was against their marriage because Shakespeare was a foreigner, and as a result, the girl had….not committed suicide, but happily married a rich Indian prince and moved back to India), without the khandaans being involved in any way at all in this case of course.
Their rivalry had started quite early, in fact, it could not have been earlier. It had started right from the time they had been born.
Their mothers went into labour at the same time, went to the hospital in the same ambulance, and gave birth to their respective sons at the same time, to the last second. And this marked the start of their race to get ahead of each other at any cost.
Karan blew the first bugle in this legendary battle spanning generations (OK, OK, not generations, but years, fine? Nitpickers!) by bawling nonstop for 48 hours, without sleeping a wink, till the hospital paid his parents a million Rupees just to incentivize them to leave the hospital and take him back home. They reached their apartment building to a loud and raucous welcome from all their neighbours and friends. And everyone was so tired with the partying, that when Guddu and his parents came back from the hospital, no one was around to welcome them.
Score: Karan-1, Guddu-Nil.
But even at the age of just three days, Guddu was not one to take things lying down (figuratively of course, since being unable to sit straight as yet, all he COULD do was to keep lying down). He had his revenge the very next day, when he caught the hair of their common maid tightly in his cute little fists, and refused to let her go to Karan’s place the entire day, resulting in Karan being forced to lie around in his dirty diapers till late at night, when his mother finally got irritated with his constant bawling and threw him down from the balcony of their 16th-floor apartment. Oh wait, that was just her dream, though she did feel quite good for a few minutes after waking up, till Karan started bawling again of course.
Score: Karan-1, Guddu-1.
And so, as the two neighbours grew up, their rivalry blossomed as well. At the age of two, Karan invited all his friends to Taj (Their neighborhood bakery, not the five-star hotel, he was not THAT rich, at least, not till then), but ‘accidentally’ forgot to invite Guddu, who pestered his father to buy ALL the items of the same bakery for his birthday, (which, if you remember, was on the same day), just a few minutes before Karan’s party was to start, leading to an extremely embarrassing situation for Karan.
Score: Karan 26, Guddu: 27.
At the age of three, both got admitted into the same pre-school, the elite PSM (Prabhadevi Shishu Mandir), on the same day, and got kicked out on the same day too, for forming rival gangs and attacking each other on their first day at the pre-school.
Score: Karan 74, Guddu: 74. Aah, equal again I see.
The rivalry continued in school, from almost blinding each other with their pencils for ‘winning’ the higher roll number among the two, to breaking the legs of all the chairs in the class except one, so that only one of them would be sitting, while the other would be forced to remain standing (along with 40 other students, but they did not matter of course).
Score: Karan 232, Guddu: 231.
And so it continued, for the next one decade, with neither giving the other even an inch of leeway, and the score kept on piling up. And now, they were in the Eighth Grade. The year that would change their lives, forever.
On the first day of the new session, the Principal came to their class and announced that one lucky student from the Eight Grade would be selected for a month-long National Summer Camp to be held in Dehradun. The entire class was agog and atwitter with excitement, but Karan and Guddu just looked at each other with a smirk on their faces, and growled in a low voice. The race was on!
I won’t bore you with the details of the various levels of contests and examinations that students were put through for a chance to represent their school in the Summer Camp, but suffice it to say that it was a memorable experience for the Eight Grade. Not because of the actual activities, but because of lengths that Karan and Guddu went to in order to win each task. From greasing the floor (and the rope, for good measure) during the Tug-of-War to almost setting the Chemistry Lab on fire in order to distract their competitors during the written test, absolutely no holds were barred.
One by one, their competitors had fallen by the wayside (sometimes literally), till only three contestants remained standing (again, literally, as many of their classmates had been nobbled by our disastrous duo)- Karan, Guddu, and Ranjeet.
It was the morning of the final contest, in which Karan, Guddu, and Ranjeet would be competing with each other for the Grand Prize- a seat in the National Summer Camp. The final task was a suitably tough one- an Egg-and-Spoon race….with a difference.
The first was a technical difference of course. As theirs was a Gujarati, pure-vegetarian school, the Egg-and-Spoon race was being conducted without an actual egg, with a Table Tennis ball taking its place on the spoons.
The second difference was that they would be running, or rather, hopping, with only one leg.
The third difference, just to make things even more interesting, was that their arms were tied behind their backs.
At exactly 0900 hours, the Principal fired a gun into the air (leading to a passing pigeon falling right into the huge cauldron in which Undhiyo (a Gujarati delicacy containing a variety of vegetables) was being prepared for the party after the race), and the race was on!
The three contestants started hopping towards the finish line together, but very soon, a clear gap emerged between the three. Leading the race was Guddu, with Karan just a couple of steps behind him, and Ranjeet following way behind.
Karan huffed and puffed, much like the legendary wolf who had blown away the houses of those three little pigs (though being a vegetarian, he would not really eat those pigs), but he just could not catch up with Guddu, who kept on looking behind to mock him.
And it was then that it happened. The finish line, with its trophy, the ticket to the Camp, and the pigeon Undhiyo, was just 10 meters away when Guddu turned to laugh at Karan again, and lost his balance. BAM! he fell to the ground, with both arms tied behind his back.
Karan saw his rival fall, and changed course immediately to avoid colliding with his fallen body. Serves him right, he thought to himself, and hopped on towards the finishing line. No one could stop him now. He would win the contest, and represent their school at the Summer Camp. He would be away in cool Dehradun for a month, while his rival Guddu would languish alone in Mumbai’s sweltering heat for an entire month….For an entire month….For an entire month…..
And just like that, as the crowd was on its feet (whoever could still stand, that is) cheering him on, just half a meter away from the finishing line, Karan looked back, and deliberately fell down and started rolling back, towards Guddu. And as he came to a stop right next to Guddu, he saw Ranjeet slowly hop across the finish line to claim the sole available spot at the Summer Camp.
His eyes filled with horror and disbelief, Guddu, shouted at Karan, “Why the hell did you do that for?”
Karan smiled through tear-filled eyes(I would like to clarify here, as per Karan’s explicit request, that the tears were due to the fall and the roll and not because of any stupid ‘girly’ emotions(his words, not mine)) and said, “I realized that winning the contest would mean staying away from you for an entire month. And then it hit me- Ever since we were born, we have never stayed apart for even one day, how would I survive for a full month!”
Guddu kept looking at Karan as if he had gone crazy, and then…he started laughing…and laughing….and laughing….and Karan joined in, as the school looked on at the crazy duo.
And this mad laughter, dear readers, continues to this day, for almost two decades have passed since then, but Karan and Guddu have still not stayed away from each other even for a single day. And before you ask, no, not even when Karan got married two years ago….But that, as they say, is another story, for another time!