Friends down memory lane

It is in the thirties that we want friends. In the forties we know they won’t save us any more than love did. ―F. Scott Fitzgerald

We sit around a huge bed covered in a thick, rough, cotton fabric next to huge windows overlooking wide expanses of this city of asbestos roofs, open dumpsters, pretty apartment buildings with AC’s hanging off the walls and rickshaws and BMW’s parked next to each other spanning a vista that looks almost pretty in the bright sunlight if you had the eyes to see it.

We’re still sitting in a circle, almost happy, almost young, almost twenty.

Some of us (who can) look over our shoulders in a familiar gesture to see if auntie (one of our mothers) is at the door to supervise us. But she has become too old now and retires to her room in the afternoons.

At first, we start talking like we always did whenever we met for the past ten to twenty years, since the steady decline of opportunities in the city and this age of globalization showered it’s bounties upon some of us and catapulted us to various parts of the globe.

Other schools, other cities, other jobs, other husbands, other children, other friends, other neighbours, other colleagues, other languages and other ways of life while some continued here in the city, swaying with the pull of distant lands or staying steadily rooted, yet none being able to ignore the loss and gain of bonds in our new and changed world.

“Howz Ari? Is he doing well?”

“Howz the new job going?”

“Do you know Sheetal’s all a settled housewife now?”

Laughter all around. “Remember how she was caught reading Mills and Boons in Mrs. Rajan’s class?”

“What about the time all of us rushed down in a crowd to spot Mrs. Goswami’s good looking son on sports day?”

And then it all starts. The trip down memory lane. The reminiscing. The travel on this cotton covered seat on the time machine.

Now we’re sitting in a huge, empty gymnasium in a circle, on a floor of smooth, grey cement having changed into regular clothes from our school uniforms. Most of our parents know where we are but they will not come here. This is our space of freedom, of trying new things that are only for adults for the first time, for schoolgirlish transgressions that we will avoid talking about when we get home.

Yet, now and then we look around at the door, wondering if auntie, or Sheetal’s impish younger tell-tale brother might find an excuse to drop by and peep in.

Twenty years later, not all of us are here. We haven’t thought about Shikha in many years but now, in this group, we miss her. She was supposed to hold the flag on sports day and lead but she never came to school that penultimate year of high school when we had the chance to bask in the glory of being school Captains and school Prefects and school Presidents.

A few years after that, we learnt that impetuous as she was, she was destined to remain fixed in our memories as the beautiful young thing with curly hair that age could not wither nor custom stale. Deepa, on the other hand, would take her last swim a few years later and Shefali would also bid farewell leaving behind a teenage son.

Times had changed though by the time Shefali left the group which was just this year. Thanks to Facebook, Shefali’s farewell was known instantly by all of us around the globe while Shikha’s goodbye, a decade earlier, was a much slower, painful affair to spread.

This circle this afternoon is one that we would’ve thought very strange all those years ago in the gymnasium.  Not only were some people missing entirely, but some were missing arms, legs and the lower parts of their bodies.  One turned her camera around and showed a very metallic, very familiar bridge behind her window –familiar to me but not to others in the “room.” A sunny, beautiful place where I had had the best cherries in the world as compared to the almost constant supplies of the best mangoes I was having here this summer. Another “girl,” because of a low data rate, kept swaying around her screen slowly and kept having to get reconnected. She didn’t have the view of a landmark next to her window but I knew she was at a place where she could probably have the best dates in the world should she go outside and buy them at a local bazaar.

All of us talked. It was as if, for that hour, anything beyond the frame, including the present, was non-existent. We were, for that hour, back to being schoolgirls just starting out on our story of life when the tale now was half-told already. It was as if we had clicked on the magic hyperlink that had taken us back to the beginning.

Yet, the second time around things are always different.  

And so we continued on.

“Howz Ari? Is he doing well?”

“Howz the new job going?”

“Do you know Sheetal’s children are already in high school now?”

We were waiting for that moment when things would gush out of us like they were wont to do. I mean really gush. Yet time had calcified the walls we had erected and the perfect pictures we had painted of our lives that filtered out the present.

We had decided to be strong for the camera unlike those monsoon afternoons (just like this one) in that asbestos covered gymnasium twenty years ago in Calcutta when friendship had meant sharing and analyzing every little detail of our lives that had seemed quite the matters of life and death to our young selves.

But twenty years later, here in this circle, we didn’t gush because we wanted to show we had now what we had really lost somewhere along the way between the circle then and the circle now.

It was the perfect life.

♥♥♥

 

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25 thoughts on “Friends down memory lane”

  1. Holy cow. Found you through FP and wandered here. And this post has left me breathless. It is both utterly mysterious and crystal clear: those voices, those women, that kind of friendship.
    As for your take on memoir, I can’t help but wonder, if we’re not going to write about the things that matter most to us, then why write? And how could we ever all value the same thing on the same day? And so burbling with everyday memoir, trying to snatch the bubble out of the air (before it lands on the keyboard or the bills tucked next to the printer), rather than let it float away… well, why not? (And congrats on FP!)

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    1. This point is very insightful: How can we value the same things everyday or the same things all the time the same day? Who is to say the one story about our lives written as the one authoritative, well-thought out narrative is going to be the authentic one and not the other thoughts recorded every moment on social media? Thanks!

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  2. In the grand scheme of things, no time is really better than any other time.
    It is how we place it in our own involvement and comfort level, etc., that we make these comparisons. The grass can still be greener, but that would have more to do more with the treatment of the grass, not what year it is. Memories are not actualities. But what we see, and how we want to, feel to see it. How the exposure is taken is affected by our own mood, important for the moment at least.

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  3. I don’t have such long-term friendships but my best friend from college and I still keep in such close touch there isn’t the need to put on the perfect front…. we know how it really is 🙂 I can relate to the tentative conversation that takes place after long periods of not being in contact, though, but I’ve experienced that with more distant family members.

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    1. Agreed that it wasn’t the perfect life. Couldn’t have been. Memory has selected only the perfect bits. Besides, my emphasis was on the *seemingly* perfect life then and the desire to present life as perfect now. Also, on the perfectness of the life in front of you (when you’re three, you can imagine that you’ll be the Prime Minister of your country one day!) Thanks for your comment.

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  4. Fascinating look at bonds outside the family. As a peripatetic child, I never made these bonds. My children, born and brought up in one village, did, and I am amazed at how, in their thirties, they still meet up with and depend on these friends.

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    1. Peripatetic people are often better at adapting and in the current world, are often at an advantage it has seemed to me. But there is also something to be said about roots to which one can return.

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  5. Poignant and thought provoking, as your posts tend to be. My mind lingers on the calcified walls that separate the friends now, while each reaps the harvest where she is, in mangoes and cherries,but also in new memories and new lives.

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  6. This is lovely, BW. I don’t have a large circle, so the old friends I’ve remained in touch with are still close. There’s something extraordinary about those few friendships that last through time, space, and changed circumstances, a “knowing” that we can’t find with friends made later in life.

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  7. I’m older than you, so I’ve already been through quite a few gatherings with old friends. The twenty- year reunion carried the burden of wanting to show (as you say above) that our lives were perfect. Now, years later, my high school classmates are retired. Many of them have moved back to our hometown. And now, when we get together, everyone seems relaxed.

    I love the way your final two paragraphs touch on two truths: the desire to present one’s life as perfect and the feeling that one’s past was perfect, although unrecognized at the time. Masterful.

    What a melancholy and lovely quote from Fitzgerald!

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    1. Thanks. I know what you mean–I see my parents relaxed in that way these days with their college and school classmates.

      Your second-last paragraph sums up what I was trying to say so well which I was afraid wasn’t coming out. Writing those last few lines was challenging because I wanted to be subtle and not spell out exactly what I was trying to express. At the same time, I wanted to provide enough cues so even a casual browser of the piece would not simply make the most obvious binary assumption that one makes when one comes across such a topic–that old is gold or that those girlhood days are always better than adulthood. The feeling that I had was more nuanced than that but it was difficult to convey it.

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  8. I have always favored your pieces that tell of your native land. Memory is a tricky human ability. Being able to share moments of the past in the present while anticipating the future is complex.
    “It was the perfect life.” Was it? Is the past better than the present? Is traveling memory lane painting the past with better colors?
    What makes your piece special is the fact that over the years you and your relatives and friends have experienced the new tools of communication that have allowed you to remain in touch and yet unable to stop the passage of time and its wounds.
    I love this sentence a lot: “The travel on this cotton covered seat on the time machine.”
    One of your most moving posts, BW.

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    1. Thanks Evelyne.No one can say if the past was better than the present except that the past has the advantage of being looked over from the present vantage point which the present doesn’t. Hence, many simple pleasures we fail to appreciate in the past because we’re overwhelmed with what is present then reappear as things that were really valuable later perhaps never to come back. Also, there is an ability the young have to bond and to expose vulnerabilities to those they bond with that we lose with age.

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