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Between being a timid kid and a teenager to an even more timid adult, a lot changed for Shanky. At the age of forty, when the years of his youth were behind him and he was a father to two fifteen-year-olds, he discovered the treasure you could say he had been searching for a long time. The treasure he could define himself with going forward, one that could possibly end any and all insecurities he had been living with.

One that would finally… deliver him.

It was a hard fought victory, and he thought he deserved it. About time, was in fact the first thought to cross his mind when his agent called to inform him a publisher was interested in signing a deal with him. Sure, there was elation in the deep, dark corner of his mind. The corner he seldom put on display, the one that housed all the terrible, agonising thoughts he never showed to people; the same thought that would, in the years to follow, come out in the form of his writing. The thoughts that, when read in his books, would elicit both surprise and shock from those who knew him. 

People are monsters inside, was how he had begun his first book; a perhaps banal idea that some people had called suffocatingly cheesy, and yet thought perfectly captured the newfound avatar of Shanky Vai.

The ever-changing nature of time may change landscapes, but it can never bury the memories of the world that once was. Even in the fourth decade of his life, Shanky, a happily married man who had lived a life of reasonable and uncomplaining comfort, often found himself going back in time. 

To the place the sun had set many years ago, one which was buried beneath the sands of time. And most importantly, one he didn’t have any business digging through; one he shouldn’t have dug through. 

But they say pain engenders art, and he found that to be true. This art, at least to begin with, was a series of three books a publisher had bought. Now, about how the pain led to his glory is something no one but he knew. 

And maybe even he didn’t. Or at least didn’t want to acknowledge. 

Be that as it may, all three books, the first lot of several others to come in the next few years, were a success. He was far from finding himself on the map, but the numbers reported to him by his publishers assured him he was getting there.

But if we were to take a little peek into how he arrived at this particular juncture of his life – because what are we but curious spectators in the life of the four boys covered in this tale, right? – we will learn about the pivotal moment when things… turned on their heels, so to speak.

Remember how a fondness for writing had developed in Shanky when he was seventeen; and how he was dissuaded from pursuing it, even forced, by his mom? The Chill Dad had died only a few years previously, and Mrs. Vai didn’t want the responsibility of a struggling artist on her shoulders, when she was already buried in a mountain of debt her husband had left behind. Shanky and his two sisters had always believed the debt wasn’t as monumental as she made it out to be; they were all too familiar with her habit of inflating things out of proportion.

Be that as it may, Shanky nursed this fondness for the next few years; entering creative writing competitions, all of which he would lose, and attempting to become part of the school editorial team, the application to which was politely rejected.

In these years, the ties that had held the decade long friendship between Shanky and Bandem had unfortunately thinned considerably. Shanky and Mompy did keep in touch for the next five or so years; but when Mompy moved to the south of the country, this connection weakened too. With The Four Boys Club virtually ceasing to exist at the end of their seventeenth years (or maybe it was sixteenth, for neither of the three could accurately put a finger on it), Shanky was perhaps the last of the lot to learn about Anpag’s fate.


Shanky was well into his twenties – 26, in fact – when, during an idle Wednesday afternoon, he found himself looking up Anpag on Facebook. By then, all three were living lives none of the other knew about. Oh, Mompy and Bandem did comment on each other’s Facebook posts once in a while, but the conversation never went beyond, “Hey, what’s up?” and the reply to which, no matter who asked the question, was always, “Nothing much, man. Same shit, different day.” Shanky, who logged into his Facebook less than sparingly (and in the next few years would give it up entirely), had drifted too far away because of his inactivity on social media.

Nevertheless, the Wednesday afternoon we are talking about was bleak work-wise. even after exhausting an hour reading articles about political conspiracy theories and controversial aircraft accidents (two topics he had become deeply interested in in the last year) and having gone for three cigarette/coffee breaks and a twenty-minute walk outside the compound, he still found himself getting bored. he pulled up Facebook on his phone and, what was nothing more than a whim, looked up Anpag. 

The page still bore a picture from when they were young. Intrigued, Shanky scrolled down and saw the last post was from his cousin – a status message, proclaiming Anpag had succumbed to his illness and died. 

Incidentally, the details of Anpag’s escapade of the last few weeks of his life had not been mentioned. Anpag was discovered by a shepherd, who then called the local inspector; who – and this was nothing more than a stroke of luck – knew Mr. Benza (also known as The Fat Dad from the previous season) from years ago. The Fat Dad was informed about Anpag, and the parents then drove up to the hills and took Anpag with them. They had decided to keep their son’s leaving to themselves. The friend, the inspector, obliged.

Underneath the status message, people had left comments of condolences. 

Learning about it had knocked the winds of Shanky’s sails. Sure, The Four Boys Club ceased to exist a long time ago; was nothing more than a faint reminiscence in the farthest corner of his mind, a shadow of the childhood memory that shot into the foreground of his consciousness every now and then. He had, in every sense of the word, moved on. But learning about Anpag’s demise – that too after a struggle with cancer, something Shanky had never known – had hit him like a punch in the gut. 

And it stayed with him. He didn’t eat much that day, even slept uneasily. He shared this discovery with his wife, his college sweetheart, and she said she was sorry. Shanky had mentioned his friends to her once or maybe twice, but nothing that told her he shared a deep connection with them. She asked him if he needed to talk more about it; and, when he said he didn’t, she told him time would take care of it. 

But time didn’t. We can arguably say his discovery of Anpag’s eventual fate was the pivotal moment when his life till then – and everything that happened going forward – radically changed. 

For starters, it sowed the seeds of his disinterest in a lot of things that were an integral part of his life – work, which was far from what he saw himself doing for the rest of his life but didn’t exactly despise, keeping in touch with his friends from college, and, something that troubled his wife more than anything else, his taste for travelling (a common interest that had brought the two together in the first place). He became aloof, distant, even emotionally unresponsive. 

In the next eight years of his life, the very nucleus of his identity, his true self, as if altered. He remained frustrated, even wearing it around himself. She had an idea about the reason behind his distressed self – the death of a childhood friend, no matter that the two had never been so close to begin with, had affected him terribly – but didn’t come out and say it outright. 

In hindsight, after the trilogy of his books did stupendously well (and, more importantly, restored his true self), she wondered if she should have; maybe that would have sped the process of the reinstation of his sanity. 

Despite the newfound calmness in him, something appreciated immensely by his wife, he couldn’t let go of Anpag. The boy who died all those years ago would never leave the little nook he had found in Shanky’s mind. The discovery of this new trajectory in his life had numbed the pain, sure. But it didn’t cure it entirely; and it never would. 

A more cynical mind would perhaps argue that Shanky was merely using Anpag for his glory. But, because Shanky never told anyone about the pain from where the ideas for the rest of his life originated, his readers were none the wiser.

Anpag, despite his fate, and for all intents and purposes, had become Shanky’s muse.

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