It has been an incredibly hot few weeks and I am drooping with each passing day. My promised trip home has not materialized as yet and I get grumpier and grumpier as the days keep passing me by. I am missing all the beautiful winter days that are still chilling the bones of everyone at home while I suffocate in the heat here. Anyway, a few weeks back a friend of mine dropped by for a weekend visit and that did make me feel a little better about being here. Also, it reminded me to write this post that has been in the making for quite some time now.
Its about friends.
See, I realized after I met Madhabi Di that you must never let your friends disappear in the everyday rush of grownup life. The people you grew up with in school or college or your neighborhood know you like nobody else ever will. Those who have been there through your transition from gawky teenager to somewhat stable adult will always be kind and understand the slight deviations to the absurd you might lapse into sometimes. Since they have seen you when you had that horrible hairstyle( which by the way you thought was out of this world), the baggy sweater phase, the slob phase (when you loved nothing better than your worn down pajamas) and heard the ‘kindergarten’ answers you gave your harrassed college professor in your viva , you really do not have any need to pretend or present a stoic front to these people. With them you can relax, kick off your heels, sing an off tune melody, pour your heart out about an irritating boss or pushy mother in law and come out feeling rejuvenated for life as an adult.
Of course, some people are embarrassed by their friends or perhaps by the absurdities of growing up and put up high, spiked walls to alienate themselves from the past. It is almost funny to see those walls shake to their very foundations around a childhood friend who knows exactly what it is you are hiding and why. But don’t worry old friends will never give you away to those who are now important to you.
A dear friend of mine called me for the first time in almost 4 years. I had been talking about her to someone the day before and then apparently that very night my husband ‘absentmindedly’ dialed her number (which I still had in my phone) while I was sleeping. She called me first thing in the morning causing me to promptly burst into tears. The reason she didn’t get in touch all these years was probably because she failed to attend my wedding and was afraid of my diatribe and then as the time went on it just became harder and harder. I on the other hand had decided I would never call her before she did and so a little nothing dragged on resulting in a lot of wasted time.
All the talk of old friends leads to opening of albums and browsing through pictures from college and beyond. For some reason I always carried a camera in my over sized bag and therefore have the largest collection of photographs from college than anyone else in my class. Remember, this was the pre ‘mobile phone with inbuilt camera’ period. Mine was an old camera which needed a ‘reel’ and it used to be so much fun to get it developed every few months and come across photographs I had completely forgotten I had clicked.
Here are a few of them, with a bit about the stories behind them
This was my room in the hostel which was beautiful and comforting and cosy even if there were three students in it. It looks so unbelievably girly now that I look at it. The balcony overlooked the fisheries pond and it looked absolutely stunning on full moon nights.
Now there’s no use hiding the fact that it was Pooja who called me after 4 years. She used to be my roommate before she moved to medical college in Tanda. For some reason I formed this bond with her because I felt so protective about her, not that she needed any protecting. All through my degree and post graduation while she completed her medicine I made regular visits to her and she to me. Pooja, Shikha and Shariqa are very important in my world because they were the ones to accept me as I was the day I stepped into their lives. They were a year junior to me and I came to know them really well when I moved to hostel and Pooja became my roommate and the others shared the same floor with me. We have laughed and cried together and had so much fun that it is impossible to let go of that beautiful time spent with each other. She is a mommy today, and for some reason I still think of her as the kid from the bed near the window, draped in a shawl with a book on her lap. I want her to know that she will always have a place in my life no matter how far I go or how busy I become.
This pic is from sometime in August 1999. All those people who read ”Gone with the Wind’ and found the character of Melanie too ‘nice’ to be true meet Shariqa Sheikh nee Quereshi. She is the sweetest girl I have met in my entire life who genuinely qualifies to be in the category of angels. She trusts everybody and will always try to see the goodness in everyone around her. Which is not to say that she is weak or boring. I have never seen such fortitude and strong will and optimism in anyone else. Talking to her always makes me feel calm and quietly happy. I pray that she sails through life never having to question her belief in humanity.
This was a class trip in the summer of 2000 and the bus had stopped for a potty break. We were of course busy with photography which we later had cause to regret. We have just started our journey and are therefore looking very fresh and happy in this snap. The black bag slung from my shoulder is the one I slugged around for my entire degree even after the zips had stopped working and it was twisted completely out of shape.
This is again the same trip with my entire class. Most of us are still in our awkward phases here. Look at the length of our kurta’s and the boys with their fake sunglasses. Ugh!
We look like street urchins in this one and I simply love it. We were staying in a really horrible guest house and were tired after having traveled many miles. Sonia here is trying to form some letter with her fingers that I have completely forgotten. She was such a hardworking person that she inspired even me to take up a book now and then. We had ‘group’ studying which was always easier and fun. I remember how she would take a whole day to finish one chapter but once done she would remember it for the rest of her life. I think in my undergraduate days she was the only one of my classmates with whom I have spent maximum amount of time. Of all my college friends Sonia is the only one whose present whereabouts are a complete mystery to me. It might seem strange in this era of Facebook and social networking but nobody I know has any clue where she is. So, if you stumble across this post Sonia, give me a call. I worry about you and think about you a lot. One can never really have too many friends you know.
Yes, there will always be moments when we will look back and say ‘What were we thinking?’ . I think this is one of those. It was such a blatant tourist trap to dress up like this and then have a picture taken. Sonika and I started off as good friends since we were both day scholars but then by the second year we had shuffled into different permutations of acquaintances. Of course we were still friends but I will always be sorry for letting that closeness of the first days together fizzle away. She is an extraordinarily strong willed person, fiercely loyal and honest apart from being incredibly intelligent and hardworking. Who wouldn’t want such a person for their best friend.
This is from the same trip. I was running a temperature of 102 on this day and I was absolutely happy to immerse myself in the cool waters of the holy Ganga. I had never really seen a river in its full glory before this and was surprised at the swift current which seemed to try so hard to take us along for the ride. The pole you see behind us has chains to hang on to in case you loose your footing. It was an overwhelming experience even for someone as non-religious as me and Sonia, the pundit, went completely berserk with happiness.
These are all the girls from the college gathered for moving to main administrative building for a strike. I have no idea what the strike was about but we just used to be so happy to get a day or two off and shout some silly slogans. I don’t think any strike ever did any good. The one is purple sitting on my lap is Devina di. She was a year senior to me and maybe one of the first people to make friends with me outside my class when I joined college. I will always love her for immediately accepting me even though I was so prominently labelled the outsider and all too forward girl from the new batch in those days. I think that was because she had the sweetest temper and is a great listener.
This is another trip that I can’t remember. I love this picture because we were harassing Kajal who was still in the throes of slumber and it was like playing with fire!
Playing Holi in the hostel probably summer of 2002/03. We are not drunk, we simply danced like drunkards. And we never did get to eat ‘bhang ke pakore’ in the entire time we were at college. What a waste! I think we were too inhibited by social norms and maybe our own self inflicted ideals in those days to really step out of the box once in a while. Obviously, there’s a time and age when you can do crackpot things and hostel was probably the safest place for it however, no use crying over spilt milk.
Vet Fair was an important event, whenever it happened, with dance rehearsals and set decorations and dress fittings. Studies usually went for a toss as the whole college got busy with preparations in one way or another. Here me and Ruchi di, who was a senior, were trying to take a picture when everyone rushed in from all directions. The result is a truly memorable photograph.
This was backstage before a performance at vet fair. The best part of this photograph is perhaps the photographer. He was an elderly Sardarji who came to all our functions and probably knew all of us so well. It was always fun to see the girls haranguing him to take their pictures when he was trying to cover an event in the university. And he always obliged.
This is a click from the pathology lab. It was just supposed to be us till Yudhvir insisted he should also be in the frame! He was a real simple, straight-forward kid and a good guy.
The pathology lab was the only class from which us girls were thrown out in all our years of college. It so happened that there occurred some misunderstandings between the girls which we thought fit to sort out right before pathology practical. It turned into a bit of a screaming match and then everything was cleared up and all of us trooped very happily to class no more than 20 minutes late. As luck would have it, our professor, who was slightly eccentric, was not in an accommodating mood that day. So we asked, ‘May we come in?’ and he responded with a loquacious ‘Get out!’. We were so stunned that we all immediately burst into silent giggles and decided to take the day off. That was the height of our rebellion in college.
When we came to our fourth year in college we were asked to get dungarees for the work in the farms. Now it is obviously a very sensible decision but everyone was in one way or another a bit intimidated by the prospect of a body suit since not everyone was blessed with the perfect figure. But once we got over the initial hiccup I remember getting so comfortable in them that we thought nothing of even visiting the university library in our smelly dungarees much to the chagrin of the well dressed girls from the other colleges. I must thank the genius teachers who didn’t allow any leeway to us in the dress code for apart from being practical it did have an effect on our way of thinking. In the primarily orthodox society we lived in, it gave us the confidence to look different and be proud of it without being bothered about ‘what will people say?’. Though we shed the dungarees a long time ago, that lesson has stayed with all of us as we scattered all over the globe, doing (or in my case not doing) whatever we wanted to.
This was the last impromptu trip we took as a class together, before saying goodbye a few days later. Its always a bittersweet feeling to see the pictures from this trip as I realize that we will never all be together again. I love this one because here I have just fallen face first into the water, Shweta has slipped and is holding onto Kajal’s neck for support which gives the impression of throttling her and Dushyant, Subhash and Anuj are doubled up with laughter over my accident. It is a moment of sweet, innocent, childish fun, immortalized forever.
Shveta is about three years junior to me and we got to be good friends when I started working. We met for sunday lunch at Taj ( which is nothing like the original at all, but great as a small town eatery) , where we always ordered veg manchurian with naan and gossiped about everything under the sun. This picture is from when I was doing my post graduation and they were in their final year, sitting in the hostel enjoying the winter sun.
To understand college politics you must know that there was always a great divide between the day-scholars and the hostelers. So, even though I had lived in the hostel for 4 years, when I moved out I was immediately an outsider again. That is why this picture is so important because these girls who were almost four years my juniors were the ones who made me the most welcome there. I was overwhelmed by their bigheartedness and will never forget the pains they took to make sure I never felt excluded. Heena, Tina, Anoop, Priyanka and Deepti ( who was also my roommate at one time ) need to be told today that they made me feel very special and they are sweetest friends that I could have wished for. They made me laugh, gave me company and kept tabs on what I was doing. I will be forever grateful to them for the love they showered on me when I was lonely and alone. And this was where I learnt that small gestures are the ones that can make somebody’s day. A simple statement like ‘have lunch with me’ or ‘why r u sitting here alone?’ can make everything seem that much brighter.
This was the group of friends in college while I did my post graduation. Jagdev and Roy were the ones who listened to all the my laments on everyday life and gave sound advice. Dr. Dandi was an angel when it came to helping with all the work with the biochemicals. They all kept my morale up and were forever joking around and making me laugh till I was ready to explode. We would all sit in the canteen and gossip like old ladies for hours in the canteen (where this picture was clicked). It was a way to escape the dread of ‘what happens next?’ in our lives with jobs, family and responsibilities looming large on the horizon.
Shweta and me really started spending time with each other during post graduation as we made our ritual trips to Dharmshala to unwind from college and the burdens of work. I love this picture because here Shweta made me try ‘logo momo’s’ which is a Tibetan delicacy. You can see me struggling to gulp it down in the vain hope of pleasing Shweta and the vendor. She and I have kept in touch over the years and when she visited me a few weeks ago it was so much fun to sit and gossip about old days and really get to know each other for the very first time.
Susheela Di was a senior in the hostel and I simply loved her. Although she deserves an entire post to herself, I will try to fit a little bit about her here. She was affectionate and honest and caring and level headed and very very kind to me. I remember bursting into her room in the evenings and declaring hunger and then sitting back and watching her whip up something out of thin air. I think she was born with the ‘Mummy’ gene. She loved looking after people and everybody who came in contact with her immediately fell in love. For the entire time I was in hostel with her, she ate white’s of the boiled egg we got for breakfast and let me have the yolk and never let on that she hated the egg whites too! When I moved out of the hostel I remember feeling a pang of jealousy for the first time in my life (for a friend) as I walked into her room one day and realized that someone else had taken my place as the object of her care. I never told her this till the day a puzzled Susheela di came to me and told me that the ‘replacement’ had complained about her paying more attention to someone else! Poor Sush! I still remember the surprise on her face at the extreme childlike behaviour surrounding her. Now she has a son, I wonder how many people are jealous of the poor little guy. Sush was really a very quiet person till she met me, after which people commented on how much she had started talking. So, that is my sole contribution to her life – I made her a ‘batooni kachua’.
Madhabi di and I became friends when she moved into a house in my colony. I met her for the first time at a mutual friend’s place where I was told that she has a gorgeous collection of books. So, the next day, I reluctantly knocked on her door wondering if she will probably think me too forward, but instead was immediately engulfed in her friendship and love. I have spent so many gorgeous evenings with her and her family that it is impossible to put into words the connection I share with them. She is such an intelligent and talented lady with such equilibrium in life that if I manage to imbibe even a handful I will turn into such an exemplary human being. I want to say thank you to her for all the times that she calls up and asks me when I will be coming home and for all the impromptu picnics she takes all of us on and for the times that she would come over and drag me out for a walk and for the countless dinners that she cooked for me and the patience with which she listens to me and for all the trips that I have taken with her and for introducing me to a side of art that I would never have encountered without her.
Radhika and I were schoolmates for 2 years in 1997-98. Then I came to do my veterinary degree to Palampur and she joined Medicine in Patiala. We never met each other in college but we always wrote to each other and sent birthday cards and then thanks to the mobile phone we have always kept in touch. I met her next when I showed up for her wedding and then she made it to mine. She is another one of the sweet, slightly shy and introverted people that seem to surround me and keep me grounded. She made a trip recently to my home with her little kid and I was blown away by her mommy skills. It was so much fun to stroll around town with her and talk non-stop about topics old and new. When she left, my throat was hoarse for days and I couldn’t be happier. I can’t wait for another trip from her and her cute little one.
I see that I have described a lot of my friends as ‘sweet’ and ‘understanding’ and I realize that I am perfectly justified in that. You see I have always gravitated towards people who are calm and balanced and a little restrained and of course sweet since those are the qualities I would have loved to have in me. So be it Shariqa or Radhika or Susheela di or Madhabi di you will find all of them are women who are strong and mostly quiet and very balanced and very very patient. Over the years I also found out that these are the type of people who for some unfathomable reason really like me and don’t get too irritated by my continuous blabbering.
This has turned out to be an inordinately long post and with an extremely juvenile style of writing but one I really wanted to write for a long time.
To all my friends who even with husbands and jobs and babies find time to call up and talk to me for hours – thank you from the bottom of my heart.