Thursday, May 24, 2007

F.R.I.E.N.D.S

On my to work a bit ago, I bumped into a whole bunch of giggling kids who had scurried away from college to catch an early show. Obviously brand new at the bunking college enterprise, they were giggling more of nervousness than anything. Metal mouths snickering between conversation, downy fuzz on their upper lip, wearing tiny tees for the first time, they were meticulously counting out change just to see if they could pay for the movie, all the being ridiculously loud and attention seeking. They were making a complete nuisance of themselves and I wasn’t the only one burning in envy.

Man, the worst thing that can happen to a person is to grow up. For me, doomsday arrived the day I finished my education and I have yearned for it ever since.

I hate being a responsible adult, hating having to worry about grown up things. They say when you die and hopefully get to heaven; you will live your life when you were the happiest. I would probably be living my college life all over again. Not that I went to a fancy college or anything. All through school I made a horrendous fuss about going to a “cool” college but my overprotective parents wouldn’t hear of it and sent me off to a geek college. Ruparel College, Ruia College, Mumbai University, Max Mueller Bhavan, hardly cool material places. But I met the coolest people out there. For the first time, I made friends for life, people who taught me something and didn’t judge me by the clothes I wore and the language I spoke. They didn’t bother with the fact that I still hadn’t decided who I wanted to be as a person and they didn’t care. They didn’t judge.

I did meet people outside college obviously. People at work, people I generally know, my roommates, workmates and so many more. But these were among my oldest closest friends. Still are.

A mutual hatred for the college brought us together and we stayed together. There were additions and subtractions to the core gang, boyfriends and girlfriends came and went, some fo the times we stayed away from each other but we all came back together. Drifted apart, yelled, called each other names, cursed each to oblivion and came right back together.

Of course, we had common interests. Books, movies, sarcasm, life were always scrutinized, whined and bitched out and finally immolated in three drinks. But they stayed.

There were some who were came into my life just by chance meetings and stayed on and others who’d been there from day one till date.
There’s one friend who I met for the first time while she was going through an apoplexy in Hindi class.
Another who was introduced through a friend and we 20 questioned our way to a close friendship.
One I met on the second day of college. I complimented her milky pink nail colour. She took the bottle out of her bag and offered it to me. That simple.
One I was already friends with before I met her. We had both heard tons about each other.
One is a former workmate at IE.
One I met in a freelancer meeting exactly twice and we’ve stayed friends since although he isn’t in the country.
One joined college, hung out with us for a week, quit college but never stopped hanging.
One was a just a guy in college that spoke English.

Although most of them seem very normal to the disinterested observer, they are extremely talented and phenomenal people in their right. They all took their own different paths but always paused to see if any of their mates needed help and actually did help. Anytime I faltered, they would all protectively swoop down on me, scrape me off the floor, put me back together and sent me on my way. They saw me through most things in life, supported my decisions whether idiotic or not. Most were.

Right now, most of them are scattered around different parts of the globe and we never really get together. I see them very rarely. Emails are rare, sometimes not there at all. Although when I do see them, there is a familiar connection, I’m left wondering. Everytime I meet them, they’ve evolved beyond belief and once in a while I end up wondering if the magic is gone. For a long time, I didn’t get any answer about that one.

Then one day I did. July 11 2006. The day of the train blasts. I happened to be the only one in the city at the time. Also among the luck who didn’t step out of home. A viral or something, if I remember. The minute the phone lines came back on, I got 11 frantic phone calls demanding to know where I was. Yep, the magic was still there.

So, here’s to my buddies, you know who you are. Thank you for being you.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Ode to a Stranger

It was a long Geneva- Rome – Delhi – Bombay flight. I was 12 and bored. Sitting in a completely different part of the airplane, far away from my parents and brother, my ADHD ridden mind was going completely haywire. I remember having finished Anna Karenina and the in-flight magazine and three glasses of juice and being irritated out of my skull. We were stranded in Rome for about an hour and everyone was edgy. People kept telling us that someone’s luggage hadn’t been loaded in and we were being held up because of that. Sitting in the first class of a fancy airline, the very propah crowd kept murmuring about people who had no consideration for other’s feelings. There were plenty of empty seats around, including the one next to mine.

I sighed and looked out of the window for some excitement. A heavy sigh made me around. A corpulent Indian old man, sweaty and tired, with a grim face and a bushy mustache had flopped into the seat to my right. He made quite a meal of putting away his luggage and getting a drink and sighing loudly. Perfect. That’s all I needed. I took a second book out and began to read. Five minutes into it, I heard a “harrumph” and Mr. Growl. Looked at me and said, “Is that for school?” I was an arrogant kid. I tried my best to look down at him and said, “No, it’s for me. I read for school in school.” (Don’t think I was a wiseass, I was brought up on communist literature. Enid Blyton came later.) He looked surprised and said, “Isn’t that a bit high for you?” I just looked at him funny. He took the hint. I went back to my book. “You know, that’s one of my favorite books.” Now he got my attention.

“Really? Why?”
“Sure, he was the hallmark of social democracy”
“Really?”

This led to an entire discussion on the demarcation of social democratic parties and movements and democratic socialist ones. Marxism, Socialism, Kapital among others. Of course other writers came into the picture. Apart from other Maxim Gorky works, we slaughtered Greene, Pushkin, Chekov, even children’s books by Russians. I had never met anyone who could explain the nuances of books to me. That gentleman brought the dusty streets of Russia and the communist strain to life for me. I could see the chucking uncle and the golden bodied mistress through the eyes of young Gorky as clearly as I could see the snow topped mountains. Looking back, this was probably the first time I thought I could study books for the rest of my life.

“So how do you know all of this?” I wanted to know.
“Same way that you do. Books travel, age…”
“Where do you live?”
“Bulgaria. Have you heard of it?”
Of course. The capital is Sofia. The major crops are wheat sunflower grapes cucumbers..”
“Okay, how do you know this?”
“I studied it for a U.N test.”
“Oh, but that’s not all. It was a part of a medieval empire…”

And we were off again. The UN and NATO were discussed to bits, maps, drawn on tea cosies, flags discussed, topographies compared, a huge thrill for someone so young and naïve. But now when I think about it, I marvel at the sheer patience of a man who spent more than 16 hours talking to a 12 year old, only because he wanted to. He showed me pictures of his family, his two daughters, the dogs, the gifts he bought for them, the hundreds pf movies and books he was carrying with him. That old gentleman is single handedly responsible for my nearly religious interest in movies, books and writing today.

In all that time, not once did he talk to me like I was only seven. For the first time ever, I was given credit for being a person and my intelligence was challenged. I was given credit for using my head and for airing my opinions, however immature they may have been. And believe me, they were. But the greatness of that gentleman lay in the fact that he didn’t laugh, snicker, or do the”kids-these-days” headshake either. If he thought I was being an idiot, he explained his point of view and then would listen to mine. If there wasn’t a mutual meeting point, we agreed to disagree. We talked about deadlines, curfews, dating, boys, martial arts, traveling, languages, romantic languages, religious texts, eclipses, food, paintings, popular culture, you name it. We talked through three transits and two continents.

In the meantime, my mother came along to check on me, saw me jabbering away and leaned down to say hello. I still remember that conversation clearly.

“Hello. I’m Renu. I hope my daughter isn’t bothering you.’
“Not at all. She’s quite a smart kid. Knows a lot.”
“If you want to shut up, you can just tell her to. She knows she can be painful. “
“Why would I want her to shut up. Children have the best perspective. They look at life untarnished.”

That was his take on the unending trauma that is the conversations of a pre teen. I of course didn’t make anything of it. At Mumbai, we made our farewells, exchanged numbers and waited for respective cars together, When his car did arrive, I looked at it appreciatively.
“Nice car.”
“Thanks. One of the perks of the job.”
“Oh yeah, what do you do anyway?”
“I’m the Indian Diplomat to Bulgaria.”

I didn’t know anything about that except that it’s a fancy job. So I shrugged noncommittally. My mother’s jaw dropped to the floor. He got in his car, offered a ride and sped away. That’s the last I ever saw of him. I have no name or no number. That has completely slipped my memory.

I hope and pray that I meet him someday, that I recognize him. I want to tell him that he has influenced my life in ways I haven’t even known, he cultivated half my interests and fired my appetite for art of all kinds. Someday I hope to meet him and thank him. Someday I hope to talk to him about Bermuda Triangle and the Aghoris, to tell him about the little temple I found in a nook somewhere. I want him to explain the Tiger Valley theory for me, tell him I finally saw the Picassos but not the Louvre. Above all, I want to thank him. For listening to me. For acknowledging me. For validating me for the first time.

So, if by some happy serendipity, if you’re out there reading this, sir, with my hand on my heart, I thank you. Profusely.