The Best things in Life are Free
Come every Eid-ul-Fitr Ramzan Miah exchanges gifts with his long-time buddy Shukoor Ali. Underlying the respect and camaraderie that these presents express, there is an unsaid gopon competition going on among them, albeit one-sided. Unfortunately, every year Ramzan is outdone by his good friend's generosity.
One year Ramzan bought his pal a wristwatch, which he thought was a winner, but he was zapped on chaand raat by a wall clock. Nobody wanted to know the price of the Swedish-made 18-carat timepiece when the one hanging on the wall sounded a definitive gong every hour and even had a cuckoo stretching out of the box each hour. The children went crazy. Ramzan was uncomfortable at the passing of the hours.
The previous year Ramzan Miah presented his chum with a really fashionable shirt, cuff-links and all, and received a three-piece suit made in Italy.
Ramzan would really like to put 2005 behind him. That was when he thought he did especially well by gifting his friend a state-of-the-art electric shaver made in Germany; low sound, double-edged blades, close cut, auto-moistening, built-in chime, etc. Guess what! Over Ramadan that year Shukoor Ali had decided to maintain his beard. Ramzan thought it was a deliberate act to see him second. Ramzan begged for his friend to try it only once, but Shukoor reminded him of the religious prescription. Ramzan wanted to bash him up so bad that his dosto would require a medical one. But friendship came first.
Over the years it has dawned on Ramzan that if he was to win in any of these annual battles, or at least look good, he had to have a sneak preview of what was coming his way, and then act accordingly. This was war. This called for espionage.
And so, year before the last Ramzan rang Bhabi, Mrs. Shukoor, and asked her surreptitiously what was on his friend's mind. 'A bottle of eau de cologne has been gift wrapped', whispered the lady on the mobile. Ting! Simple! Ramzan thought of buying two bottles of body spray, and thought of it loudly to bring Bhabi into the fold. Although endowed generously, the lady had a thin tummy (read patla pet) and informed her sarkar over dinner. Ramzan ended up on all fours, and received a large set of personal hygiene, packed in a masculine bag, comprising of colognes, creams, gels and oils.
It was then that Ramzan decided to take the aid of counterespionage. Last year he informed his Bhabi that he found it increasingly difficult to see in high sunlight, how he had never used spectacles, which country was the leader in making sunglasses, and how some people looked so different in goggles (heh heh Bhabi), which Dhaka store was giving away bargain on specs, and so on. Certain that a pair of French-made eyeglasses was all Shuks would be able to think of, Ramzan went off to buy his friend a MP3 player, the very latest. Ramzan was at a loss for words when returning home from the last day of work before Eid he found a sleek and slim DVD player, plus Lost.
Another year, another holy month, and Ramzan this year is as determined as ever to outdo his nonchalant friend, particularly because it marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of their joining university as classmates.
Ramzan had been planning this for weeks. He downplayed his enthusiasm and was sure that Shukoor had forgotten all about 1983. He will get him this year, he was sure. So what would it be? Should he go for the 25-volume encyclopaedia? Or, perhaps he could stun his friend with a latest model 'His' and 'Her' mobile set. An all-paid-for three-day holiday to the world's longest beach for Mr. and Mrs. Shukoor would be a new one. Decision! Decision!
Counterespionage! Ramzan picked up the phone and began to talk about sports and badminton and shuttles and... Bhabi stopped him, saying his friend would not be able to buy him anything this year; he fell ill the night before. A walkover! Impossbile!
Ramzan rushed to the hospital and there lay in bed his friend and competitor (?) for decades.
'You can't do this Shuks. You have to get well quickly! Who's going to buy me my Eid gift? Bhabi! Hey Doctor! When are you releasing him?' Ramzan was talking non-stop, the way some people do to hide their grief and fear of losing a dear one.
Shukoor Ali parted his lips barely to manage what may pass as a smile. He was under medication and barely audible, 'I found out about your competition. You were a winner every year'.
'You are making fun of me, eh! Wait till you get well', said Ramzan.
'No, I mean it. I could never defeat you. No one can', Shukoor went on.
Ramzan was perplexed and thought it was his friend's illness talking until Shukoor said the final words, 'You have given me friendship, and that brother is a gift blessed in heaven'.
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