To S, with love…

On that foggy morning, as I waited for S to pick me up, I wondered what I would feel. I was meeting S after 12 long years. Many things had changed for both of us in this period. She had done her postgraduation and settled into a job, got married and she was now a mother of three. I was still unsettled in every sense, but my life had been a story of metamorphosis on its own terms. Over the texts and phone calls, she had sounded warm and receptive. But I wasn’t sure if we could bridge this gap of 12 years. We had moved too far away from the people we used to be.

My first thought as I saw her walk towards me was- ‘Wow! She looks just the same!’ As if reading my thoughts, she said to me, “You look the same!” I wondered if she could see beneath my external facade the scars from life. As I sat beside her in the car, I went momentarily back in time. We had been very good friends in the first year of medical college. We had somehow drifted apart thereafter, but I couldn’t exactly recollect how. What I do remember is that we were different in many ways. I was impish, unstable, fun-loving and immature. I was not one to take life seriously. She was stable, composed and far more mature than most girls in our batch. I don’t remember what brought us together. What I do remember is that I felt secure in her company. Her independence, composure and maturity shielded me from the anxiety I felt in my first year of college. There was a certain silence about her persona that spoke of some void in her life, but she never really talked much about it. My instability in those days was as attractive as it was detrimental. But I was unaware of both these facets. From a distance, the instability projected me as a person complete by myself, for I seemed to move on effortlessly. But that was far from the truth. The truth was that I had never introspected on my personality or emotions and ignorance is sometimes bliss. When I moved on to a new circle of friends who were as impish as me, I never really thought much about its impact on S. But today, I feel it might have hurt her. I looked at her driving and talking, and I wanted to ask her if I had hurt her. But the question seemed obsolete now.

Her apartment came into view and put an end to my memory trail. She took me in and my focus shifted to the new people I was being introduced to. I have always felt that kids ease the process of adapting to a new environment, and I was delighted to see 3 kids. The older ones left for school and I entertained myself with the little one. There is no man-made perfume that can supercede the natural fragrance of a baby….nothing that can substitute the softness and warmth of a baby. To hold the little one and carry him around reminded me of my baby cousins whom I would refuse to part with.

The next bout of nostalgia set in when we were at Miller’s Road. I remembered the times we went out together. She had invited me to her house several times and we had spent a laid-back time, munching on titbits, petting and taunting her dog, talking about everything and nothing, listening to music and relaxing in the balcony. I still remember her house- it was beautiful and set back from all the traffic and noise. In Bangalore, it was a luxury by all means. Then the visits to Commercial Street where I would watch her run through Western outfits and salwar fabric and make choices. I would try to understand how she made these choices, for she had a lovely collection of clothes. I remember pillion-riding with her on her bike and floating merrily into some imaginary world free of the burden of academics. I remember wishing my parents were as cool as hers, in terms of the freedom she had. There was nothing I loved as much as riding around the city in the late hours of the evening, feeling the breeze on my face, wiping off the assaults of a long day. The nights I loved the most, for the city gleamed with lights and I found myself merging into its happiness and beauty.

Time flew in the company of the kids. As always, I felt at home with their ignorance of the norms of the ‘adult world’. They gave me their old toy planes and suggested that I could give them to my sons. When they discovered I had no sons, they asked me if I had a husband. That was no again. What about marriage? No again. They had a solution. They would find for me a boyfriend from mom’s/dad’s friends so that I could marry and have sons and gift them the toy cars. So I could keep the toy cars for now. They were relieved now that they had found a solution and I was most amused.

It was like a movie. I kept switching between the past and present. S taking care of her children. S and me in college, sitting next to each other in class. S juggling between chores. S and me relaxing on the balcony in her house. Present and past. Maybe that is how the mind bridges the gap…12 long years.

And what S helped me realize was that despite all the changes that life brings in us, there is that fundamental core that remains. With her, I still felt naive, dependent and immature. But I was comfortable because I knew I had her. I knew I could entrust myself to her care. I felt pampered and cared for. Without being asked for anything in return. I hadn’t been pampered in a long long time. My layers of defense acquired over the years melted and on the day we parted, I sobbed like a child. So did she. But it was like having rediscovered my raw self.

In the rick, all I could do was thank God for reminding me of all that friendship used to be…for having given me a dream I had abandoned. And today, I can see myself reexperiencing all that was most precious to me once upon a time. It keeps me going. Sometimes, all we need is to recreate old memories…do things we did…go to places that were part of our lives then….let our pasts transiently spill into the present. It changes the perception of the present phenomenally. Thank you, S…for everything then and now! A big hug 🙂

A Benign Infatuation

To realize the place that noise, nonsense and infatuation have in life, I had to lose them and rediscover them.

After a long long time, there came into my life this fleeting infatuation. I had almost forgotten what it was to have a crush. I had tucked away all memories of love and infatuation; they seemed to have been from a past life. In this life, I looked upon them as a luxury that I couldn’t afford. I felt too worn-out to look beautiful or appealing. My mind had sunk into some abyss from which I couldn’t see any way out into the sunshine. In the darkness of that abyss, the only sound I could hear was my own. It was frightening to hear my own voice in that eerie silence. My heart pounded so loud that I thought it would pop out! I felt terrified, uncertain and thoroughly muddled. I was so exhausted from fear that I wanted to sleep, but every time I closed my eyes, I saw myself. I had never imagined I would be terrified of my own reflection. The conflict within me threatened to break me into a million pieces. I fought to be left alone…to be rid of my own burden…to close my eyes and go off to sleep. But my mind fought back to confront me with nightmares…to keep me awake…to echo into my ears a million voices that sent me into a chaos. I had never before known that the most fearful vision was to stare into the abyss of one’s own unconscious. I almost thought I had left the realms of reality and crossed over to the opposite side. I dreaded the setting sun…the dark hours of the night…and its deafening silence.

It was at that point that I pulled myself together, realizing I had to stop looking inward. I guess I had been forced to look inward for a long time now. I was progressively moving into deeper planes of my mind, failing to see how deep I had travelled. It was time to look outward. I booked my tickets to Bangalore.

The night I left, I felt lonely and sad because I had no one to drop me. At other times, it had never mattered. But this time, I wished I had someone with me- a friend or a relative or a neighbour. But there was none. It had never been like that in Bangalore. Once in the bus, I felt better as I preoccupied myself with thoughts on how I would spend my days in Bangalore. I slept eventually and when I woke up, it was to discover that we had hit Bangalore before sunrise. It was 4.30 a.m. when we reached our destination. I hopped off the bus and smelled the air, as I always do. The question I always ask myself as soon as I land is – ‘Can this city succeed in its magic again? Would I still relate to it? Would it still instill in me all that I wish to feel?’ The breeze felt cold and nice, almost as if answering my question.

I don’t know why, but my first memory in Bangalore is always of dad. Perhaps because right from childhood, I would follow him dutifully as he took me around the city, lost to my perceptions of the city, trusting his ability to find his way around, irrespective of which part of the city we were in. The consequence was that I never learnt to find my way around, left to my own. To this day, I feel lost when commuting. Yet, I love exploring the city to dig out familiar vestiges….and collect as many as I can.

I guess I stood frozen there, lost in thought, my eyes silently caressing this vision of a city that has always received me with open arms. So I was a little startled to realize that I was being spoken to. I looked in the direction of the voice that had broken my reverie. A man with a boyish gleam in his eyes was the source of this voice. He was stretching his arms and legs and he probably realized that I hadn’t really been on this planet for the last several minutes. So he repeated,” Where do you have to go?” Someone from the travel agency patted him and walked by, and I realized that this man who had spoken to me was from the agency. ‘Hebbal’, I said. He looked away, stretched again, and then stared into the distance. For a moment, he too seemed lost, almost as if captivated by the feel of this beautiful city. And then he suddenly replied, ” We don’t have our buses going to Hebbal”. Meanwhile, another man from the agency walked towards me and suggested I take a rick. It was just 5 a.m. And I didn’t want to barge into my friend’s house that early and wake her up. I thought for a while, but there seemed to be no other option. I started walking towards the rickshaw stand, when the first guy called after me, ” Hop on to this bus.” I turned back to see him point at a bus that was parked there. I didn’t know what to make of it, but I boarded the bus. I asked a passenger where this bus was off to. Marathahalli was the answer. To my surprise, the man who had asked me to board, hopped onto the driver’s seat and started the engine. He turned to me and said,”You can get off at Marathahalli. You will get enough buses to Hebbal”. I nodded and sat back. Meanwhile, the other guy who had suggested me to take a rick came running and asked me why I had boarded this bus. “She can’t walk to the rickshaw stand with all that luggage. Instead, she can get off at Marathahalli and take a bus right there”, the driver answered for me. He took off with the excitement and exhilaration of a teen driving his first motor vehicle. I looked at him as he drove. He had a boyish charm and an infectious happiness that were hard to ignore. I looked out of the window- Bangalore city awakening from its slumber, gathering momentum…striking a chord with the momentum of the bus…the music playing up to this momentum…the boyish zeal of this man percolating my heart…my heart soaring. It was too good to be true. I wanted to hold on to this moment forever. I had forgotten what it felt like to be happy…zealous…light hearted.

When it was time to alight, the man gave me directions like I was a retard, but I absolutely loved the attention. As I walked towards the door, I could feel the happiness spill into my stride…the smile lighting up my face…and perhaps a tiny blush that burnt my cheeks. I summoned the courage to look up and thank him. He flashed a smile that made my heart skip a beat. “Happy?”, he asked, pointing at the bus bound to Hebbal. I was tongue-tied, so I just smiled. For a moment, time stopped as i met his gaze. This was the magic I had wanted to feel. “Stay happy always”, he said. I came around and hopped off the bus. As the bus moved off, I could see my reflection in the mirror. The reflection shrunk and the bus finally disappeared from view. But I was aware that my reflection in somebody’s mind would last a trifle longer. And that was the magic of a benign infatuation.