Saturday, 13 December 2014

Of old friends

Manu da sat across the room from me, at the door of the balcony, under the sun, rifling through the newspaper supplement. Every ten minutes or so, he would look up to stare at his shut bedroom door and sigh wistfully. He had a mug of tea at his side, yet untouched. I sipped mine in silence. I had winced at the first taste, and shot an accusatory look at him. He had orchestrated an elaborate bow at that indictment of his culinary skills. Then reverted to his ritual of staring at the bedroom door. Malini di was getting ready inside, before they stepped out for a winter afternoon date on a Saturday. The door had closed exactly hundred and two minutes earlier. I knew because I had begun dressing at exactly the same time, and emerged within ten minutes.

“How much more will we have to wait for her? Should I just go?” I asked half-heartedly.
“What time are you supposed to meet them?” he asked.
“Half an hour back”, I drawled.
He smiled. “If you had any talent, you would make a wonderful artist. Reclusive and people hating. The media would love you”.
I protested. It wasn’t people I hated. Just the stepping out to catch up with people I knew long back in school, and who had gone all weird on me.
“Weird, how?”
“One of them got married.”
“That is the worst”, he dead-panned. “The other?”
“She is an MBA. All ambitious and everything. She is probably earning pots of money”.
“So, you are jealous?" he wondered out aloud, his eyes narrowing. (I could see them because he had recently got a haircut, so the famous curls didn't cover them anymore.)
 "Well no”, I answered. “But she will wonder what happened to me, how I lost all my drive”.
“So don’t tell them the truth”, he answered, matter-of-factly.
“What do I tell them?”
“Whatever suits you”.

He was right, I thought to myself, as I made my way to Warehouse Cafe in CP, an hour later than planned. The place was dark, there was loud music and I missed my step and stumbled. A waitress came to my help but she said “Ma’am” in the disapproving tone my mom adopted when two minutes before the school bus arrived, I would start a frantic search for ‘chart paper’ for the SUPW class scheduled that day. It was ominous.

I spotted them at a corner table, both fashionably thin. I walked towards them and both saw me at the same time. And then something happened that I hadn’t for a minute thought out in my head. They spontaneously called out my name while breaking into the happiest of smiles and I mirrored them. And while we hugged and talked at the same time, I was glad to be there.

As it turns out, you don’t mind when school friends point out that you have gained weight (maybe because they don’t worry that it will hurt your chances in the marriage market). You can call them snobbish and forgetful without hurting their feelings. You can say elitist trash that comes to your mind, which you would filter out in different company. Everyone gets less ambitious and less serious and less intense as they grow up. Marriage does not cause personality makeovers. It might actually help people open up more. You can be honest about your career plans with your school friends. They knew you before you started understanding yourself better, so they understand what could make you happy. They ask about your family, and you genuinely care about how their kid siblings are doing. You want to know about what their old colony friends are up to, the ones you used to hear about all the time. Friends’ husbands don’t necessarily have to be people you don’t like. When they walk you to the metro station before they leave, it can leave an incredibly nice feeling in your stomach (especially after your relentless independence). And even though you are now more different from each other than you ever could have imagined, you know that you still have some solid friends.

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