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Of course, we never got a chance to make any of those ridiculous claims into reality, being two states away now, and instead fell into the easy habit of catching up with each other every now and then.
It began, because it always has to begin some way, from a simple, seemingly inconsequential decision, to open a Facebook account, freshman year in college.
Having moved around a lot thanks to my father’s job, I often fell out of contact with close friends of previous cities. Over time, it just seemed natural. So opening an account at a place supposed to bring people together, was a strange and alien concept for me back then.
Still, intrigued, I filled out the details, added my sister as a Friend (after she instructed how to do so over the phone – what we refer to as dabba phone now, in light of smartphones), and called it a day.
In its off time, my account had received a Friend Request within a couple hours of its inception. Even though over two years had passed since I left Bhilai, this person was someone I had not forgotten. Maddy.
Studying in DPS, Bhilai was one of the best privileges I have had in my life. Six years passed by in a happy blink and left an impression so strong, neither the teachers nor the classmates were easily erasable from my memories. The only downside was that I was an unimpressionable personality there. I did not expect anybody to remember who I was (which was true for majority of the friends I reconnected with over time, but that’s a different story).
Maddy, despite remembering me, did not quite remember me either. His first message was the question – Are you the bespectacled one who used to sit before me in pre-school?
Me: I was three states away when we were in pre-school.
Him: Oh?…Oh! 10th board exam!
To understand the extent of our anonymity while we were in the same class, you have to know that neither he nor I used to be comfortable approaching someone new. There had to be some connection beforehand, some way of beginning a talk, or else it was an awkward five seconds of staring and then walking away in opposite directions.
The connection was divined by CBSE Secondary Board Exams, when they put my name behind his while giving out registration numbers. Everything related to the exams happened according to this new numbering now, including our Computer Practical Exam. Our programs for the same had to be stored in something special, which had a reputation for failing all the time – the infamous floppy disks.
I had on me three of those, for backup. Black with silver tags that moved from left to right and back again – locking and unlocking…something. (My memory fails on their exact functioning.)
“Don’t just put the registration numbers on them,” came the booming instruction from the visiting invigilator. “Put the first three initials of your name too.”
‘First three initials? So…including the initial from my middle name? Why did he say ‘initials’ otherwise?’ While my mind worked overtime to figure this out, I felt a tap on my shoulder.
He took his time forming the words, avoiding eye contact, while I stared at the disk in his hand with the letters MAD on them. ‘Ah. I remember his name now.’ Relieved, I switched my attention to what he was saying.
“Could I…I mean, do you have an extra? Floppy disk? CPU is not reading mine.”
“Y…yes. I do. But I can’t guarantee…”
He scratched his hair and interrupted, “That’s okay. It can’t be worse than ‘not working’.”
I chuckled and handed one of my extras to him. Before he could turn back to his work, I asked in a hurry, “But, um, about the initials thing…does it mean first letter of first and last and middle name? Or…?”
Honestly, my mind had no “Or” in it. Initials meant only one thing!
He looked uncertainly at his unusable disk and shrugged. “If it’s three letters mandatory, I can’t do that. I don’t have a middle name. So.”
“Okay. I’ll do that too then.”
It did not cross my mind to check with anyone else. I wrote MAN in the filename and on the disk beside the registration number, and let it be. The consolation of there being one other kid who had done the same was enough!
The combination made me snigger and he looked at me questioningly. I shook my head and turned to my screen.
As the chat progressed, we talked about how silly those exams had been, how we had all been talking with each other without reserve, and none of the invigilators seemed to care.
It did not take long to move from online chatting to phone messages. We made crazy plans to drop by each other’s colleges unannounced. How would we recognize each other in real life? Easy! Wear multiple colours – purple pants, green jacket, yellow shirt and throw in a hat for a good measure too. The shoes had to stand out as well, no exception!
“Hey, I got one article published in our college magazine. Did I tell you about it?”
“No! What are you waiting for? Send it over!”
“I got a job!”
“I got one too, but I’m not sure if I wanna go through with it. Are you giving GATE this year?”
“Yes, but I’m not sure if that’s what I want to do.”
“You know you will do great whatever you do. How’s writing coming?”
“Very badly. College work is taking up time.”
“I…didn’t make it through this time. I’m taking a year off to prepare.”
“I’m sorry to hear about that. Coaching classes?”
“Yes, in Hyderabad.”
“A change of scenery would be nice.”
“It’s getting depressing here.”
“I’m gonna be there soon. Job training.”
“Oh! Don’t forget to drop me a message when you get free time.”
“Goes without saying!”
And so after seven years since last seeing each other, Maddy and I met face to face. It was almost like the first time. Five seconds of awkward staring, minus the walking away part. Just nervous chuckles till the rhythm fell in on its own.
We had met during lunch on a day when he was fasting. He was on a break from his studies for that hour and I was free from job training too. It was a hard time to match. He ranked well in the exam that year, and went on to do his Masters in one of his favourite universities.
Thirteen years on, we do not talk everyday or every week even. Most of our conversations are limited to the spectrum of “What movies or series did you watch? Did you watch this and that? What are your favourite songs these days?” (These questions, at the start of our friendship, resulted in long, long lists – which, unknown to him, I still carry, scribbled on rough papers back then or typed in Notepad on the computer.) And after discovering our mutual love for The Office (US), fangirling and fanboying over it.
There’s times we talk long about what’s been going on in our lives. Even without practice, our first response to each other’s craziest decisions is an enthusiastic “Sahi hai, yaar!” (“Way to go, buddy!”). It’s a reassurance like no other.
As is his support for my choice of career.
“Arre, someday write a novel with me as the hero. Handsome, dashing. I won’t read the book, but I’ll definitely buy it!”
Disclaimer: All conversations between Maddy and me happen in Hindi and they have been badly translated (by me, thank you very much) for the sake of this narration.
Editor’s Note: #FriendshipDay2020 is on Sunday, 2nd August 2020. We’ll be running a series of friendship stories that break one or more of 3 myths about friendship – that women and men cannot be friends, that friendships necessarily happen among people of similar ages, and that friendships never change. What is your story?
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Clumsy. Awkward. Straight-forward. A writer, in progress. A pencil sketch artist by hobby.
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My house-help asked excitedly, “I am going for wedding. Can you let me wear your red & black saree? To be honest I was stumped for a moment; I didn’t know what to say but I still said yes.
I lent a gorgeous saree to my house-help for a wedding in her family. Soon I stated getting questions if I would wear that saree again or if I was okay to be seen wearing the same saree my house-help was wearing?
We are all so conditioned to give our used clothes to our house-helps but are we okay to wear the clothes they were wearing?
A few days ago she came excitedly to me, “I am going for a family wedding. I want to wear your red & black saree, Ill wash and give it to you after the function. Please can you let me wear it?”
Beauty is a very clever, very evil capitalist tool. It traps those who have it into hanging on to it for dear life and those who don't into mutilating, torturing themselves to achieve the unachievable.
I recently wrote a piece about MP Shashi Tharoor’s tweet in which he had shared a pic with six women parliamentarians tagging them and saying “Who says the Lok Sabha isn’t an attractive place to work?”
There was a rash of comments on the post shared on Instagram, which ranged from “chill, it’s just a compliment” and “stop overthinking compliments”, to (worried) men lamenting about “these feminazi”.
Here’s my answer to all those comments.
Many a times, we live with people who don't exist. In this story of longings, loneliness and silences three women tell one story. Read on!
Sundays are my days. I always cook the Sunday lunch. It has been my speciality for the past six years. Nani is proud of my cooking as well as my hair, which is long and black. She never forgets to add that I have inherited her culinary skills and that her coconut oil massages every Saturday made my hair the crowning glory it is today. My skin tone is dark and Nani named me Krishna because Lord Krishna was dark in complexion. I might be dark-skinned which is looked down upon, but I still have the ticket to be charming like her Lord. It’s been ten years since she started living with us in Lucknow. She moved here after Dad expired in a car accident. I was twenty. Nanaji expired even before I was born.
“Oh! Yes Nani, it will make me fairer and I will find a better qualified groom.”
But it had an abrupt end when the whole village found out that she fell in love with a young British boy who served under the British Raj as a clerk.
Nothing that had any association with that woman had any entry in our house. He did not allow your mother to go for walks with her friends.
Nani lived all her life trying to be better than the other woman whom she had only heard about.
When I was seventeen, I had a huge crush on a new boy who came to our class. By that time I was convinced about the other girl. I completely believed that he will fall for some other girl.
I could not breathe or talk for months. I lived in a daze. The only saving grace was the Tanpura, Maa taught me to play when I was a child.
First published here
Letting a girl fly comes hard to Indian parents - but it needs to be done.
I had watched her tentatively spread her wings as she ventured into a hundred year old college. Frankly I was worried. What if she could not find suitable friends? What if she was ragged? What if she could not manage notorious Pune traffic on her brand new two-wheeler? What if… the list was ever growing and I worked overtime to sort out any wrinkles in picture developing on the canvas of her life.
I was roundly accused of pampering, a charge I sometimes admit to… had I forgotten I too had been to a college or my first days there? Our parents were tougher I think, as we fended for ourselves quite easily. There was not such a hullabaloo about ‘healthy interaction’, a polite term for ragging – as mostly it stayed just that. Being in Bombay (as it was called then) we all travelled by bus or train with no mobiles to stay connected. Yet never once did we feel disconnected or unsafe. Actually parents too never felt the need to constantly be in touch with us. (more…)
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