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Madhurima Vidyarthi

  • Writer's pictureMadhurima Vidyarthi

The Parasite

Updated: Jan 24, 2022

First published in the Literary, supplement of The Sunday Statesman, 24th March 2002

We called him ‘the parasite’ when we were being polite, which was not very often. At other times, he was simply known as choshok, an epithet the vulgar and the refined used with equal enthusiasm and which became, with the passage of time, a term almost of affection, if not of endearment.

To be honest, there was not much in Vipul to endear him to the crowd. He was neither an outstanding student nor a daredevil sportsman. Nor was he exceptionally witty. Or even particularly good-looking. He was in truth, a very ordinary boy and had it not been for his extraordinary talent for sponging on others, we would not have taken any notice of him at all. Surprisingly enough, there was none of the fawning or flattery that characterises the hanger-on. Vipul was a sponge, not a sycophant. To him every individual was an opportunity waiting to be explored - he only had to fit it into his scheme of things. He was audacious, irreverent and blatantly opportunistic. And he always got what he wanted.

The only friend that he had, if that term may be used, was Dheeraj. A hardworking, reserved kind of chap, Dheeraj was the quintessentia goody-goody boy whom people usually knew little about. The general public held that he was as foolish as he was good and the general public is apt to sympathise with fools rather than admire them. It was common knowledge that Dheeraj took notes in class more for Vipul’s benefit than his own. It was also well-known that the first visit Vipul had paid Dheeraj had been on the eve of the annual examinations. Not only had he stayed on for dinner, but he had kept Dheeraj up the whole night, going over the year’s syllabus.

What benefit Dheeraj derived from this collaboration is hard to tell, but Vipul’s grades that year were unexpectedly high. If Dheeraj’s scores were lower than usual, none noticed the fact. Within a period of time, it became a routine affair. We grew used to the sight of Dheeraj and Vipul huddled up on the same bench during the exams, Vipul sitting as close to Dheeraj as he dared. We also grew used to the sight of Dheeraj handing over his answer script to Vipul and waiting patiently till the worthy had copied down as much of it as was relevant. And it came as no surprise to us when Dheeraj’s grades slowly, but surely, began their alarming descent.

The few well-wishers who tried to remonstrate with the pair were rebuffed - politely by Dheeraj and sarcastically by Vipul. There were many who liked Dheeraj for his own sake, but even they gave up after a while when all their protestations were met with a patient smile and a “Dost hai yaar!”. Incensed by his obstinacy, one of them expressed his unqualified opinion that if Dheeraj preferred Vipul’s company to their own and was bent on making a martyr of himself, he wouldn’t be the one to stand in his way.

But Dheeraj was just a small cog in the wheel of Vipul’s existence. The latter’s well-planned network only admitted those from whom he could extract a favour. There was the college bookstore with whose aged proprietor he had struck several dubious deals; there was the canteen from which he managed more than one free meal on occasion and the library, as well, of which he was a privileged member with his fine disregard for things material like due dates and fines.

How he did it, we could never tell. What charm he used to attach himself firmly to the willing and unwilling alike, was never discovered. And to top it all, there were the girls. Apparently, there was no girl in college at whom Vipul had not looked with interest. We did not know the exact number, but it was generally accepted that he had dated more than most of them. What they saw in this squat, scheming piece of humanity was a matter for debate, unless it was the same hypnotic charm that he worked on the rest. And yes, his charisma, worked with the girls, too, if the rumours were to be believed. There was nothing more than rumour to go by, because no one asked Vipul for the truth. The only person in whom he possibly confided was Dheeraj and the loyal Dheeraj told no tales. When questioned, he would quietly chuckle to himself and shake his head with a brief “I don’t know.” With that, we had to be content.

Then, one day, Vipul had an accident. He had borrowed Dheeraj’s bike as usual and had driven it headlong into a truck on his way home. The uncharitable said it was because he was drunk and couldn’t see straight, but then the uncharitable are honour-bound to say such things. The uncharitable also declared that it served Dheeraj right and that Vipul wouldn’t be the one paying for repairs. And with the last comment, we regretfully had to agree.

Anyway, an accident, even if it was Vipul’s, was an event that brought some variety to the mundane order of our daily routine. We visited him in flocks at the nursing home where he was laid up, Dheeraj, the Faithful, hovering about in attendance. Vipul, bandaged up, was just as audacious as Vipul unscathed and Dheeraj recounted with considerable enjoyment how he was using his charm to the fullest extent. Already, the nurses were under its spell and the doctors showed signs of capitulating very soon.

Vipul became the most pampered patient in the place and was granted favours his fellow men dared not even dream of. The doctors allowed him, visitors, round the clock. The nurses brought him their own TV set - some even came to watch the programmes with him. When he was allowed to eat, the amount and variety of food showered on him were unbelievable. When he left, they even gave him a farewell party.

But the masterstroke was yet to come. A month after Vipul had been discharged, Dheeraj came to college on a brand new bike, grinning from ear to ear. As we listened open-mouthed, he gave us a version of what amounted to further proof of Vipul’s greatness. The very day he was discharged, Vipul had, apparently, gone, plaster cast and all, to the home of an uncle he had last visited five years ago. What elaborate lies he fed the unfortunate man we never knew, but the long and short of it was this: on the fateful day of the accident, Vipul told him he was bound for this same uncle’s house, for the express purpose of patching up the family quarrel. But fate had intervened and Vipul with his noble intentions had been rendered helpless.

Such was Vipul’s eloquence that he soon had the poor man weeping copious tears over his long-lost nephew’s magnanimity. Needless to say, the family dispute was settled right away. Not surprisingly, Vipul’s uncle redeemed his debt by paying Vipul an enormous sum of money which covered not only the bills for his prolonged hospital sojourn, but also for Dheeraj’s new bike! If it weren’t for men like Vipul, the world would be a boring place to live in.

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