Like olden days, friends from the past acquire a certain halo. The author describes some lasting friendships that have defied changing times

With the film Yaariyan turning out to be a success, septuagenarian Shujat Mian’s mind goes back to yaarian (friendships) of old that have not dried up and vanished with the passing away of the yaars (buddies). For how can one forget Shaan Elahi, Hamid Sethi and Nawab Shauqat, whose affair sent Chawalwala Nawab to the gallows? A big yaar was Farooq Mian, who smoked English Manila cigars, bought from the then exclusively mod Habova Stores. The person who fetched the full box for him got a princely Rs.5 in the 1950s, plus one cigar to be smoked away from prying eyes, lest it was reported to the elders. Chotte Mian was a nawabzada, the youngest of three brothers, of whom Fazlu Mian (Thinnie) was the eldest and Fattu Mian (tall and flabby) the middle one or Manjle Mian. He and Bade Mian didn’t smoke but liked having snacks at forenoon and again after teatime and then while playing Patience before dinner, in which Chhote Mian too sometimes joined.

Farooq Mian also had a great fondness for hunting, along with his friend, Rajinder Singh (Raja). The two usually went in a discarded Army weapon-carrier for shikaar in Gurgaon at night, and Fazlu Mian often accompanied them. Once they entered a reserve forest and when a guard stopped them, Chhote Mian asked him in his grandiloquent style why the gate had not been opened despite clear instructions to the Forest Ranger. “Don’t know Sahib,” said the nonplussed guard. “Go get the keys from him then,” replied Mian. The guard went running to carry out the “order”. But as soon as his back was turned, Raja backed up his vehicle and knocked down the gate. The party then drove through the forest in search of game.

When not engaged in such quixotic exploits, Chhote Mian would find it difficult to pass the time. While Fazlu Mian went looking for the washerwoman behind their kothi and Fattu Mian kept gazing through an open window for a glimpse of the girl who lived on a top floor, Farooq Mian would put on his fancy flowery kurta and, along with chums like Munne Bhai and Chunnu Bhai, go to a popular cinema house for fun. All three brothers are dead but what yaars they were, and Shujat can never forget them. Raja is still around, but good boy Khalil, who had joined Habib Bank, died young, to the regret of many.

Mota (fat) Masood used to come from Firozabad to pursue court cases in Tis Hazari. He was fond of eating and litigation. When there were no more cases to be fought, he filed a suit against his younger brother, which kept him occupied till his death. But people have not forgotten him since he never ate alone and always invited whoever was around to join in for a free bite, no matter how costly the stuff.

Akbar Mian was a great lover of cards and when not minding his shoe shop in Ballimaran would spend time playing rummy. He won sometimes in nightlong sessions, smoking cigarettes all the time and sharing dinner with friends. Sayeed Bhai, a lawyer, joined him sometimes and when he returned home late at night, his wife, a reputed beauty, would refuse to open the door and he had to spend some hours stretched outside on an easy chair. His father was the one who would alert the Begum Sahib saying, “Sayeed has gone with Akbar Mian and wherever the latter goes there’s bound to be gambling.” Sayeed Bhai’s great friend was Sayeeduddin, who was unfortunately killed. And who can forget Abid Bhai, who had lost his mind after an affair with a courtesan and was always enquiring about Mujra?

A true chum was Karim Beg (great-grandson of Munshi Abdul Karim, Queen Victoria’s Urdu teacher). In a tiff over a girlfriend, daughter of a famous bishop, he shot another student in the college hostel. Even the ingenuity of the reputed Barrister Nuruddin Ahmed (thrice mayor of Delhi) could not save him and he was sentenced to life imprisonment but was released for good conduct after 10 years. He married and settled down but fell from a parapet while cleaning a house window and died.

Mirza Arshad Baig (Ladle) was the handsomest bloke of his time and half the college girls were after him, but he had all his affection reserved for his closest friend Marris though his mother misconstrued the friendship.

Ashok Bhai, who was known as Devanand, is still around with his imitation puff, and so is Qadir Mian. However, Kailash Bhai, who sang soulfully — especially the song, “Jane woh kaise log the jinke pyar ko pyar mila” — with his eyes closed, is no more. Also gone is Wajid Mian, who looked and acted like Ghalib.

However, there is no trace of Sahir Bhai, who became a veterinary surgeon and began to be called “Municipality” whenever he came from his dispensary near Arab-ki-Sarai. He was a timid chap, too shy to even give an enema to a horse. Some others are settled in out-of-the-way colonies in Delhi, making the West Nizamuddin oldie moan, “Yaaron ne itni door basai hain bastian” (Alas friends have settled down so far away).

Still these “yaarian” cannot be forgotten and sometimes Shujat Mian gets up in the middle of the night shouting, “Cyril shoot the damn crocodile”. It’s only when the good wife calms him down that Shujat goes back to bed again, muttering, “Kya yaar the aur kya yaarian” (What friends they were and what friendships).

(Some names have been changed.)

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