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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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