Coming from Bombay, right to Noida, and that too straight into a CBSE Hindi class in progress, was torture. Thirty six pairs of eyes were glued on me as I introduced myself in English, and that did not go well with the Hindi teacher. And as a lesson, she asked me to read a page of the Mahabharat chapter of the day. I was a nervous wreck. I stammered to take those 36 pairs of eyes off my shivering hands. This boy next to me kept prodding me, more to show off his skills. He and I were sitting facing the teacher at a right angle to the class. I had sat that way alone for 3 years in Bombay as a class prefect. This was a punishment posting here. When that class got over and before the next teacher came in, this bunch of girls came over, touching me and speaking in perfect Hindi. I figured they wanted to know if I had seen their favourite actors (Gulshan Grover to be precise) and if I could describe what a film shoot was like.
It was a rough start.
Even though I hated the city, as the years passed, I fit in. I studied as hard as I played and partied. I made the best of those years from grade 7 to 12 and excelled. I was friendly, but I kept my distance. I had five close friends then, of whom one remains my closet. The rest just got lost once we moved on.
Life bloomed. CBSE, PT, high school rivalry, pimples, crushes and the school grind got replaced by career, new friends, travel, marriage and motherhood. As an adult, I made life connections with so many people, yet nowhere on my To Do List was to ‘trace schoolmates’. Then social networking snowballed into my life. Long lost friends got reunited, old crushes were located, classmates reconnected – but seriously, I hardly remembered anyone.
Or that is what I thought. Until two days ago. 12 out of 140 met.
Just before I walked in, I wondered whether we would be awkward since we have not seen each other in over 20 years and have missed being in touch as adults. I would not say I was great friends back then with all of them, or bonded at some level or subject, or even ever had a conversation that was remotely cherishing. And in the last two years of school, I was not even in their class!
My brain drew a lot of blanks. But for a very very short time.
You know what it felt like?
Friday afternoon after school. We are the inseparable lot. In the back of the bus, going home. Raving and ranting about the week that just went, care-a-fuck about the coming week, worn out by the day, excited about the weekend and yet no earth shattering plans for it, and too much to say and hear before our individual stops come.
What was I thinking of not being their friend back then? I spent six years with this bunch through the same corridors for six and a half hours everyday, five days a week, every week. Was that not sharing a history? We were together during a phase of our lives when every bond was unconditional. When we met, we did not have to seek each other in conversations. We were able to laugh together and pick up right where we left off. Isn’t all this called being great friends?
I have a confession, you bunch…
Meeting you all after being away in an altogether different world, was like meeting my old self, which I often forget while navigating through life. There was something about seeing you all in person. Something about hearing your voices as you stood in front of me, bringing back memories forgotten and repressed. Something about seeing you laugh, now with those little signs of wrinkles and grey hair. Something about forgetting everything and just immersing yourself in those moments of real togetherness with you.