(This was written four and a half years ago. But I didn't have the heart to edit it (or maybe I was just too lazy). Kindly bear with the wordiness.)
I was facing an unenviable prospect. A 2000 word article on the viability of complete Capital Account Convertibility for India is never an easy task. That, at 11 o’clock at night, and with an hour left for the deadline to expire was impossible to achieve. Especially when I still had 30 of a 56 page RBI paper to read before I could commence writing. I decided I needed a break- procrastinating for another ten minutes could hardly hurt. Accordingly, I turned to the one source of relaxation that, as I had recently started appreciating, never failed to provide succour. Facebook.
My account showed that a certain Sanjri Mehta wished to add me to her already burgeoning friend list. I stared at her profile picture for a good 35 seconds out of pure surprise. I knew her, from school. She looked different now, much thinner, but with the same angelic smile that unfailingly melted the heart of even the most hardhearted of disciplinarians. It was no surprise then that all the children of Nursery A fell in love with her the moment she entered the monochromatically green classroom for the first time. It was not long before I learnt one of the most fundamental truths of life- looks could be deceptive.
That day, I waited patiently for my chance at the swings (patiently for a three year old in any case) while Sanjri took what seemed to me like her 18th turn. No longer being able to control myself, I told her to let me have a go as well. In response, she stuck out her pink little tongue while her minions (yes, in kindergarten) shrieked in delight at their leader’s wit and presence of mind. I appealed to my class teacher, but not wanting to be labelled a complaint cock (in nursery A parlance), omitted the part involving the tongue showing. Eventually I could enjoy the pleasure of the wind blowing in my face while my toes pointed at the sky, for all of three minutes but it still seemed a victory to me.
Of course, the victory was even more short-lived than I had imagined. When we trooped back to class after the PT period the teacher stood in front of us and extolled the virtues of sharing-our books, toys, food, even the swings and then went on to reward my adversary with a chocolate for having shown the that particular behaviour in the playground. Appreciating the unfairness in the world, I decided to drown my sorrows in the nimbu pani with which my mum had filled my Little Mermaid water bottle that day. But I had only to take the first sip when I found out that the cool drink had metamorphosed into sand-the kind that prevented kids from getting hurt, when they fell in the playground. I looked up to find Sanjri and her three friends pointedly giggling in my direction.
It all came flooding back- all the memories of kindergarten. Of having been teased mercilessly for having oiled hair. Of losing my favourite crayon and being scolded for that even as I was certain that it had been pilfered by my devious foe. Of never being allowed to captain a team during an intra class kho-kho match because it was invariably always Sanjri and one of her friends. You might call me immature but at that moment, I felt a certain power. With one click, I could ignore her friend request- the ultimate snub in the virtual world – and that would be my revenge for all the injustices heaped on me during my childhood. After all, Sanjri was an important reason for my premature loss of innocence, responsible for making me realise early in the day that the world was evil even though my world was confined to the toys-filled corridor outside the classroom.
I recalled the gigantic dollhouse in the centre of the same corridor. It had a big and ugly doll inside that we named Martha, after one of the Nursery teachers. She was soft and cushiony and immensely huggable, the doll I mean, and I remember slipping out of class with my best friend, Madhulika, on the pretext of going to the washroom (truancy at three) to play with her.
Madhulika’s dad was a journalist, the free lancing kind (which I did not understand then), so he generally made the time to pick her from school in the afternoon. At times, he took me too, and dropped me home in his car, after treating the two of us to ice cream at Nirulas’. I always chose the 21 Love flavour while Madhulika tried a new one each time. Uncle sometimes had a Banana Split, which I thought was a disgusting combination but I could not be sure since I was too meek to try it. I also loved their car-my parents did not have one then, actually not until much later, so the little doll that hung from the rear view mirror of the white Maruti800, and made a squeaking sound every time the car crossed a speed breaker never ceased to amuse me.
Their house was another novelty, very unlike the boring government quarters that I lived in. It was not big. Just a small whitewashed bungalow, I am not sure where, but with a tiny garden in front. They did not have a drawing room with stuffy sofas, like my house did, where you couldn’t even sit with your feet up. They just had some mattresses and lots of colourful cushions and Madhulika and I could mistreat them in any manner. Her mother was always too occupied to reprimand us, and naturally, we took full advantage. They also had a room with three walls covered completely with books, all kinds- thick, serious ones and the ones with a lot of pictures as well. Her mum told me I could borrow any when I learnt how to read properly. That made me pay a lot of attention to what the teacher used to recite in class, and the stuff about the alphabet that my mother regularly tried to drill into my head. What they did not have was a television set so Madhulika could not watch All The Best or Super hit Muqabla on DD but besides that, she did not miss much. I, for one, could never understand my parents’ enthusiasm for the Sunday Matinee Show. It only aired old movies anyway, that invariably ended in a fight sequence and a death (never of the hero or the pretty girl he intermittently hung out with, on screen) but generally of the hero’s mother or friend (who had had a thing for the pretty girl too).
When things became more interesting with cable, Madhulika’s parents might have got her a TV, I never knew, because sometime after kindergarten we stopped being friends. It was not a squabble or a fight, just that we were shuffled. While she went to II-C, I remained in A section. We might have cried and sulked for a while but soon made new friends and forgot all about each other till our citation ceremony in 12th standard when Madhulika (now predictably called Maddy by her commerce classmates), overcome with emotion, gave me the tightest bear hug. For that moment, it seemed like we were back in the green classroom and the 14 years that had passed when we had last been there, all but vanished. She promised to call that day and I likewise vowed to keep in touch. I did keep it- I occasionally comment on her status on Facebook and she posts a ‘Wassup’ on my wall every now and then.
I was about to visit Madhulika’s profile for the same ritual, when my phone lit up- a message from the editor reminding me that my article was not in yet. The clock on my computer screen showed that it was 11:35 pm. Sanjri’s pretty face was still grinning mischievously from the screen. I looked at it one last time, then clicked on the Confirm Friend Request button and logged out.