Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Sunday Scribblings - "My Oldest Friend"

I’m not sure what “oldest” should denote here… age? length of time known? the first one? the one I’m in touch with still? Does it count if my "oldest friend" has not been in contact for over 20 years?

Oh well. Going back to my earliest memory of someone I considered a friend, someone with whom I “clicked”, I guess that would have to be Salma, when I was maybe 8 or 9 years old. She was a couple or three years older than me, a lot more mentally and emotionally mature, very pretty, tall and slender, with her hair in a “Sadhana cut” (short fringe on the forehead). She was an Ismaili Muslim – something I only gradually realised later. (I think I considered everybody to be like me. Indian or something. Religion didn’t come into it, anyway.) Salma was very fond of the daughter of an acquaintance of my dad’s, who was her neighbour – oddly enough, the little girl looked like Salma, fair and with the same hairstyle! We both loved the little girl, but Salma was her favourite.

Salma and I used to play elaborate games of make-believe when she came to my house... mostly her make and my believe. She was fun to be with, but she grew up a lot quicker than me and away from me. Maybe she even moved away, I dont know. A couple of years down the line, we met by chance on the street near my house. She was with her friends, a gaggle of teenaged African and Indian girls, but to my surprise she not only remembered me, she stopped for a chat and gave me a hug when we parted. Good ol' Salma.

When I was in the 6th standard, my best friend was a Bengali girl called Mahua. Again, she was vivacious, athletic, great fun to be with, very good at maths but appallingly bad at written English. I helped her a lot with her English homework, and felt excruciating jealousy when she seemed to play more with another girl than with me. I'm sure it was all in my mind, but I remember telling Mahua "Go and play with Pratibha, you're not my friend any more" and walking off. It was very satisfying (and oh the relief!) when she ran after me and said she liked playing with me more!

In the 7th standard it was a Mallu girl called Sunita Nayar with whom I had the best fun in class. Oddly enough, we never met up after school, never visited each other's homes, because for one she lived too far away and for two, our parents didn't know one another. Sunita had lived all her life in Gujarat (before her parents came to Tanzania, natch) and considered herself Gujarati, although she had traces of a Mallu accent (which she strenuously denied). She wasnt the most studious of girls, hated books and did quite poorly at school - worse than me at maths, which was quite an achievement. But she excelled at sports and games and had a great sense of humour, which I guess is why I liked her so much. Sunita and I kept in touch through letters for many years after we'd both moved back to India - me to Madras and she back to Vadodara, or Baroda as it was then. I think she was a State champion in table tennis and a kho-kho champion as well.

I was living with my grandparents when Sunita gave me the surprise of my 17-year-old life by simply turning up at the door one evening, along with her parents and grandmother. They were apparently spending a couple of days in Madras en route to visiting family further south in Kerala, and Sunita had insisted that they should visit me. When I saw her face at the door, for a few moments I was a total blank because it was so unexpected - a familiar face, grown-up, in a completely unfamiliar context - and then my jaw (and the penny) dropped and I flung the door open, yelling "SUNITA!" We had a great time reminiscing over our childhood days, and I still remember her telling me that if I had not recognised her, she would have just gone away without a word. I'm very glad she didnt have to do that. Unfortunately thereafter, she moved away and grew away as well, and the letters became more infreqent from both our sides, and eventually we lost touch altogether. I havent forgotten her, though, and I can still see in my mind her dark face, framed by curly hair, laughing like a loon at something rude I'd said about some innocent passer-by. I hope she thinks of me too, sometimes...

I guess this means I dont have any childhood friends that I grew up with to adulthood - unlike my brother, whose best friend now has been his best friend from kindergarten. The closest thing I have to an "oldest friend", known from school days, is probably Swarna. Brainy, very pretty, hard-working, intelligent, artistic Swarna, always fighting the world and sometimes making things more difficult for herself than they really were. She thrived on dramatic situations and lived and breathed for romance in her life. Unfortunately she was married off at 21 to someone who was the polar opposite of her, who had a job which meant much moving around, and over time we lost touch.

Ten years of total silence later, I suddenly got an email from her - she had moved mountains to somehow get in touch with me through an old classmate of ours who was in the army. She had remembered his battalion and gone to great lengths (and many many levels of army officiousness) to get a phone number for him, speak to him and get my email address (which was very nearly defunct, I'd checked it by sheer chance after a long time) and thereby get back in touch with me.

It was fantastic and very exciting to suddenly re-acquire a friendship that I had thought was extinct. But, best friends though we were then, time and tide and circumstances had changed, and changed us enough that we've had to kind of feel our way back into an adult friendship, try and re-discover things we have in common. But yes, she is the mother of two teenagers, still beautiful, still intelligent, still cynical, still very fit, still seeking romance and drama in her life... and still my oldest friend.


??! said...

When that last happens (old lost friends re-initiating contact), it's the nicest feeling, isn't it?

Teesu said...

NICE, shyam.:) Now, reading this also gave me some PANGS!Sigh.

Shruthi said...

What a lovely post! I feel I know your friends too! Inspires me to write about my oldest friends.

surya said...

Very Nice..Interesting.. Wow..

Good friends for ever.


mumbaigirl said...

Lovely post. Not sure I want to be in touch with all my childhood friends, but some of them I do miss.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post. I'm still in touch with a large group of school friends, many of them friends from kindergarten, but sadly like you said, we've changed too much to find more than the cursory How're things, to talk about. But it is nice to get together & reminisce about old times..they're always fun!

Indyana said...

Lucky you! Not everyone could expect a successful re-union with an old long lost friend! Sometimes it goes all boring...! Great to hear!

s said...

Nice. Just felt nice reading that shyam!

shyam said...

??! - oh YEAH! Just knowing that they've gone to the trouble of locating YOU... yep, nothing nicer.

Teesu: Sure your tears arent falling plop? :D

Shruthi: Please do! I'd love to read all about them...

Surya: Thanks. :)

Mumbaigirl: Same here.

CW: Of course it's fun to reminisce, but after a while, if you have nothing else in common, you get into the area of awkward silences. There is only so much past that to up with.

Indyana: True, it doesnt happen very often.

S: Thanks :)