I took out my cycle and rode out of the basement of my apartment. I was filled with hope; for I now knew the colony and thus could narrow down my search by great lengths. This had become my daily routine over the week- to be off on my cycle for hours together in search of that one person- Shruti.
Now before you get the wrong idea, she was a very dear friend of mine. You know- the types you see in movies. Like SRK and Kajol in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai- fighting one day, making up on the other, and always hanging together.
I was in my third standard when she first coolly strolled into my class. A newbie- straight out of Mumbai who immediately caught everyone’s attention for her quick-fire no holds bar chattering. As I rode across the busy lanes masterly riding my bicycle- I could almost see my times with her unfolding in front of my eyes.
When she had found out that I was a hindi speaking guy in our predominantly telugu class- she strolled over to me and asked if we could be friends. Who am I to deny that to anyone- especially someone everyone else was only looking from a far off distance! I readily agreed.
School’s a fun time. Even small things make up for big issues back then. People where already linking us together; saying that we are a couple- made for each other, and that I’m forgetting my actual friends in the wake of her barging into my life. I didn’t care- we were in third standard- the notion of love and breakup meant nothing to us in the early 2000’s at the age of 10; and we had a blast of a time until…
“Hey, planning to get yourself killed or what?” screamed the bus driver in front of me. I just looked back and made an angry face for the interruption of my string of thoughts. “These kids- the older they grow, the stupider they become” he remarked as the bus sped on its way. As I look back at this incident now; still a youngster with confused and impressionable ideas of life, the simple bus driver’s angry remarks seems pretty profound to me- as we get older, we complicate things; friends become girlfriends and spats become break ups and mood swings become heartbreaks and phases of booze and drugs that we are only going to relent later.
I entered the lanes of our school of which I was still an active part- but the same couldn’t be said about Shruti. I parked my cycle at the gate and went in to collect my bag. Some kids where playing on the stage- which had a surface you could skid upon and make an entry like some hero. Not very long ago, even I played on that stage- the same game , with the same person.
Boys vs girls- all you had to do was not lay low and skid and make the other person fall. I didn’t care about who won or who lost- all I cared about was making her fall and then making fun of her later on. Simple pleasure of life, don’t you think?
“Abbo, Abhishek! Don’t you have to study for the exam tomorrow? What are you doing at school?” came our Hindi teacher out of nowhere. “I just left my books teacher- came to collect them. Have a good evening” I said and turned and left immediately before she could quiz me about my brother of parents or about anything.
“Saale, I’m gonna kill you” screamed some guy to his friend on the volleyball court who was ridiculing him. I couldn’t help but smile. Back in our third standard itself, Shruti had asked me to be her cuss teacher to teach her all the cuss words I knew so that she could use them on other guys!
Boy oh boy! Those were happy times. You could go and talk to a person whatever you felt like- there weren’t any filters in our minds. We thought and did it or sometimes just did it and then realized what we had done! Now, all we do is sulk or put a status update or look for opportunities to raise the topic and be diplomatic about stuff. So much for growing up!
I reached the colony. Just like the hide and seek games we used to play in our break periods at school- I knew she was somewhere in this Mvp colony – which happens to be one of the largest in Asia- but not exactly where. But I had done the hard work over the last week and had narrowed down to a single sector that was surely her hide out- sector 8.
We started having our more serious childhood fights in fourth- when one of my friend’s Ramakant was madly in love with her. That was in fourth- and you must be thinking we were already the little rascals right then. Well-yes, we were, and I was the head of the rascals- the head rascal; you could call me- and as Daniel said in the movie horns- I had to look the part of a little rascal as well; and I managed that pretty well. With four rings each on my fingers of both my hands- a gold chain with a rudraksh and long straight mushroom cut hair falling over my eyes for no particular reason- I definitely looked the part.
Getting back to the incident- it was the day Ramakant had finally decided to propose her one fine day in the class. We- that’s Harsha, Pramod, Ash and me , had gone over the plan over and over again. He was to write the letter and I was to go drop it into her bag as the others gave guard. He wrote his love letter over the first three periods- and in the break time; I quickly went and dropped it in her bag even as the whole class who already secretly knew what was happening looked on. Like everything at school, we made a sensation. Everyone from the other classes were looking through the doors as news spread of our actions. Someone must have informed her in the toilets about it, coz she walked in and handed it over to our science teacher, mr Sharma, as he came for the class. Even though I was just the helper- everyone had seen me in the act of putting in the letter into her bag and not the others- and since it was I who was always around her and it was I who looked the part of a little rascal and not the rest- I got two tight slaps while the others got one- Ramakant got none for he began to cry and was thus spared. That was the only time in my life that I was ever slapped- and boy it hurt, add to it the humiliation of being slapped publicly in the class. We were still in fourth, but the ego and inflated feelings were still there; something that ruins our years of puberty. But for now, all it did was stop me from crying in public- no mean feat considering my reputation of being the cool dude was fucked and that my cheeks were red with pain. I looked angrily at Shruti as if it was all her fault(it was actually, for she had given over the letter, but then it would hurt our inflated egos to point out that its us who wrote it in the first place, so yeah- she’s the devil!). I made up my mind-stay away from this girl. All she will ever get you into is trouble.
We were put in separate sections in our 5th standard, and got to see each other only in the hindi class. I wasn’t exactly missing her(the inflated ego speaking)- but yes, I would have loved to have her company back(tada).
As fate has it, we came back together for a lil while in 6th, but then there was another incident in which she accused me and then we were back to square one.
After that, there was no looking back. We barely talked in all of 7th and most of 8th. I was always thinking of going and apologizing, but then(yeah.. yeah… the very same). But I always knew deep down that we would get back together. We still had 2 years of schooling, and things could only get better, until…
“ Hey Abhi, Shruti gave you this chocolate” said Sravya, handing me the toffee. “what for?” I asked, already smiling thinking that she was also wanting to get back with me and so I didn’t have to take the first step. “her dad got transferred, they are leaving Vizag” I couldn’t manage to say anything and just took the chocolate and left.
At the recess, I could see her sitting in her class- and so I thought that I could always go and talk to her and be friends again. I made up my mind to do it tomorrow.
But the tomorrow never came. It was her last day at school yesterday. And I didn’t get to say goodbye. It was only after 2 days that it actually struck me that I might never get to see her again. We always take things for granted- there’s always a tomorrow for almost everything- I’ll apologize tomorrow, I’ll propose tomorrow, I’ll finish my work tomorrow, I’ll tell her how much she means to me tomorrow, I’ll do it tomorrow. But then suddenly, reality strikes- and there is no tomorrow- and you realize you haven’t done anything but postpone things and people and everything- and now all you have is regret.
All these thoughts were too emotional for my 13 year old mind; and in the solitude of my room; I cried profusely; and decided to make amends and go in search of her before she leaves town- yeah, I’ll do it tomorrow!
________________ End of Part-1