A Well with No Water
The Contemporary Pacific
Ram, my best friend, is unwell. High blood pressure, failing kidneys, and rampant diabetes have all taken their toll on his health. "Not long to go, Bhai," he said to me the other day, managing a characteristically resigned smile. He is living by himself, alone, in a one-bedroom rented apartment in Bureta Street, a working-class suburb of Suva. I visit him most evenings, have a bowl of grog, and talk long into the night about the old days. Both he and I know that the end is near, which makes
... h visit all the more poignant. As Ram often says, repeating the lines of Surendra's immortal fi fties' song, "Hum bhor ke diye hain, bhujte hi ja rahe hain." We are the dawn's candle, slowly going out (one by one). Ram and I go back a long way. We were fellow students at Labasa Secondary in the late sixties. He was easily the best history and literature student in the school. He knew earlier than anyone of us what Lord of the Flies and Lord Jim were about, the two books we were studying for the exams. I often sought his assistance with my English assignments, and helped him with geography, at which he was curiously hopeless. I still have with me the fi nal-year autograph book in which he had written these lines: "When they hear not thy call, but cower mutely against the wall, O man of evil luck, walk alone." Ekla Chalo, in Mahatma Gandhi's famous words; Walk Alone. We both went to university on scholarship to prepare for high-school teaching in English and history. I went on to an academic career while Ram, by far the brighter, was content to become and remain a high-school teacher. One day we talked about Malti. "I wonder where she is now?" I asked. "Married and migrated," Ram said. "No contact?" "No. There was no point. It was all too late." Ram and Malti were "an item" at school. Their developing love for each other was a secret we guarded zealously.