Ever since I could remember, I had always considered Nik as my alter ego. Nik, Niharika Sen, was my best friend, my close confide, my greatest strength and my never admitted weakness. Friendship ran in our bloods – my father and her daddy were best friends since college and we grew up hearing the stories of their togetherness through school to college to life after that. So it was only natural that we were close. However, Nik was everything that I ever wanted to become. She was good in studies, excellent in sports, a darling among her friends and the coolest girl that I knew. She was the center of attraction, no matter where she went. She grabbed the eye balls of the guys in the school and their mothers in the colony. If you had lived in Shankar Nagar in the times I did, you would probably understand when I say she was all that a girl could be or aspired to be.
I do not know at what point of my life I actually started to envy her. I was mediocre in studies, non athletic and never had the charisma to attract people’s attention. Whenever we went out, unless it was for something very personal, we always went along with the Sens. In fact, my father never considered his family complete without the Sens. More often than not, when we went out I used to stand and watch as people praised and complimented Nik. No one ever noticed me in her presence and I used to hate her for that. She was the cynosure of every party in the city, the talking point of the entire colony and I was barely recognized. Even my father and mother never got tired of praising her in front of me and I clearly remember the days when I had gone to bed wishing I was never born, all due to Nik.
But all said and done, we were still best friends. I still remember the day when Nik fought with a guy and scratched his cheek because he was bullying me in the playground. It took three teachers to separate both of them. After we all got the expected reprimand and while we were driving back home in my dad’s car (Both our parents were called. Nik’s dad could not make it.) Nik gave me her tom boyish smile and told me in her childish tone “Never worry. I gave him a scratch that he will carry for the rest of his life.” I remember I was not thankful at all. Rather I was angry on myself for being such a weasel. I was angry on Nik for coming to my rescue and making me feel like a weasel.
During schooldays, I remember telling everyone that I liked literature more than science and mathematics because Nik was too good at science and mathematics. I told people I did not like outdoor sports a lot because I did not know one sport that we played in the colony and in which I could beat Nik. I told people I like music only till Nik learnt how to play the guitar. She made it to the school rock band and I remember feeling angry on my parents for teaching me Hindustani Classical. In a way, I was looking for my own identity because if there was something that we both liked and did together, eventually Nik overshadowed me and got all the attention.
I always wanted to be her but I knew that I could never compete with her. So I started living in my own world taking care that our paths and interests never crossed. She went to one of the top engineering colleges and to one of the best business schools. I stayed back at Shankar Nagar doing my BA and later my MA in English and slowly the geographical distance between us over a period of time strained the best-friend relationship that I had with her. And I was glad it did.
Even though the childhood friendship withered after my father’s death and the Sens moving out of Shankar Nagar to live with Nik, I still kept a very close watch on Nik’s life through the numerous common friends that we had. It was true that a lecturer in a small college in Shankar Nagar stood nowhere in comparison to one of the high flying executive of a top MNC but somehow I always waited for a chance when I would be able to do just one thing that Nik will not be able to. I just wanted to defeat her in one game of life. For once, I wanted to be her as she always has been.
I did not attend Nik’s wedding though she sent me an invitation mostly because I had not invited her to mine. I had not invited her to mine and did not want to go to hers because I did not want to disturb my new found peace with myself by inviting Nik and the obvious comparisons between us that would follow into my life again. But to be honest, I was never really able to shut her out of my life.
Nik divorced her husband three years later. She was always like that – ambitious, moody and temperamental. Not that I was too happy with my married life either, but divorce was never an option I considered. I was used to be a loser in whatever I did; marriage was no exception. Nik on the other hand had never felt the taste of loss. I therefore completely understood her reasons for divorce – she did not feel the same way that she used to for her husband anymore!
Nik had come to Shankar Nagar once after her divorce – to sign the papers for selling the Sen’s patriarch property. We met. She lived with her mother now. Mr. Sen had passed away and they no longer intended to come back to Shankar Nagar. They had nothing to come back for, she told me. As she bid me goodbye that day and left in her chauffer driven car, I felt a sense of gloom in her voice and melancholy in her gait as if something is restraining her carefree and confident walk that I was so used to.
Days followed and I grew less obsessed with Nik. I had my own problems – financial, emotional and personal, though most of it was financial – and I do not remember when I stopped comparing Nik with myself in between them. Just as I had never realized when I had become so bitter against my once-upon-a-time best friend, I never realized when all the bitterness faded away. True, we were no best friends as we used to be but now I did not compare us on the same platform and wailed over my miserable life. I had stopped being jealous of her. She had stopped being my alter ego.
It was a Thursday morning. As I was getting late for a 9 O’ Clock lecture, I suddenly saw my cell phone beep and the message read “Nik killed herself. Seems like she had emptied a full bottle of sleeping pills. You are coming to the funeral, right?”
I was struck. On my table were two bottles of sleeping pills. I had bought them two days back, the day Sravani left me with a court notice for divorce. I had been trying for the last two days, but the loser that I was, I could not gather enough courage to pop the pills in.
I smiled. For once, I had defeated Nik in a game of life. I had won the game because I did not play it. I did not play it because I was afraid. I am sure Nik wasn’t – even a little bit! She was my alter ego – even in her death!
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