when your 'best friend' from school calls you up, out of the blue, eight years since you last spoke? well, first I told her that I was climbing into a plane and would call her the next day. And then when we chatted, I swallowed my reservations about telephone conversations and really enjoyed the moment. She kept complaining that I sounded older, but me, denial-queen that I am, insisted that we both sounded exactly the same as all those years ago (what was it now, twenty years? even more!) when we used to go round and round in our cycles (mine red, hers a stately maroon) with kilos of oil in our hair reciting hindi poems for the upcoming test in school.
Does your child know about me, have you told her, she asked me. I had a quick turn of guilt. Of course, I had told the monster about her, but the rest of the gang had been swept away to the sidelines. I had not mentioned how we used to laugh at EG for her tuneless singing, how I used to exchange sweaters with Amulya so that we could con someone while playing hide-and-seek, nor that crazy thing Durgamba got us into, you know, stealing cherries and getting chased by the gardener. Fear of spiders that Chandrika had that we never really believed in, sporting girl that she was, she followed us everytime we told her, we have a surprise for you under the stair-case. AAAAH SPIDERS. Nope, have not mentioned these things. Only about cycling and reaching out for gulmohar flowers and sticking that part of it on our nails and going GRRR MONSTER.
We should meet, please visit Mumbai soon, I said. Sure, pop by the next time you are in Gurgaon, she said. I have never been in Gurgaon, would love to! I piped. Han its a bit of a village, she said, dripping disapproval. I like my job though, she said, sounding oodles more confident than back when we would ask questions about the Civics exam to each other. Hey do you remember, I said. Yeah, do you remember, she said.
Of course we remembered everything. What are a few decades in between? Like the time we went on an NCC camp (remarkable how I managed to pull that one off, you know, my mom being mom, she should technically have ignored all pleas and put a blanket ban.). Anyway, it was a camp, and had the usual nasty camp food. Not to mention pits in the ground instead of a loo. We went to bed on night three (or four). The whole camp settled down. Then I HAD to get up and throw up. I would never have managed to reach the tap on the ground floor if not for her. She held my hand. Promised to not tell mom when she visited in the evening (she would have insisted I return home and meet the doctor and what not). And then I felt fine the next day, we fetched our cycles from home, riding victoriously in a big fat truck through the streets. We cycled all the way to Srirangapatna, and carried banners and took an oath WE WILL NOT INDULGE IN DOWRY.
Oh yes, what a glorious time, school. With my best friend by my side, none of the politics mattered. We could always always count on each other. The ten years passed like ten minutes. And the deep regret I felt when she joined another school in the eleventh, I don't think I have gotten over it yet. College and gradschool and marriage and life in general have put a lot of distance between us, but deep in there, I can still picture that girl with the humongous two plaits holding my hand and singing 'Father Abraham' in our first ever stage performance at five years of age...