Monday, October 23, 2006
GOING BACK TO TIME
I was driving fast. I did not want to get late. She must not wait for me. I was checking my watch and cursing the red lights. The traffic was dense and irritating. I must not loose cool, deep breath. Saira! I was telling myself.
It was seven-thirty. It was the arrival time; the flight must have landed by now. I hope she gets out fast. I parked in a jiffy and ran towards the arrival lounge. She was there, coming with a trolley. Wow! She looked stunning. To be honest, I felt a slight pang of jealousy. She is my best friend, I should not think like that.
"Hi, Priya!" I ran towards her with open arms, and we hugged each other tightly. It was like coming home. We were meeting after fifteen years! She was in London for last fourteen years. Last year she had shifted back to India and was settled in Mumbai now. Since last year we were trying to meet, but could not. Yesterday, I received a phone call out of the blue that she was coming to Delhi to meet me. Sandeep was out of station, and was supposed to come back next week. Son was in the hostel and I was alone. So this was a welcome change. When the luggage was finally set, and we relaxed, I looked at her; she was changed. My roly-poly Priya was glowing, her shinning hair was cut in the most fashionable style, her dress sense, which was awful, when we were in the college, has improved to the perfection. She used to hate make up, but now she was loaded with it.
"You are looking gorgeous Priya!" I finally told her. She started laughing, "Thank you dear, but so do you!"
"Excuse me! You don’t have to be formal, I know I am looking dragged in front of you," I was laughing too.
The fifteen years of gap was flying out of the window. We both were changed a lot in our appearances, but inside we were the same. Slowly coming to surface was our childhood dreams and ambitions. We were excited, like schoolgirls. She wanted to catch the last fourteen years, and so was I. The driving was bad at that peak hour, I was concentrating on it, and so we were casually talking about the weather, and the roads, and the poor traffic sense of people here. It was already ten when we reached home.
"Are you tired Priya? Do you want to sleep?" I was trying to be a good hostess.
"You must be mad, I didn’t come here to sleep, dumbo, we are not going to sleep. Let’s get going. I am dying to know about everything." We went to the bedroom, and she threw her duppata and sandals, and jumped on the bed.
‘Make yourself comfortable. I am going to get the coffee, then we will talk’ I was very happy.
"Are you in your senses? I want something hard, where’s the bar?"
‘O.K. Come with me’ I took her to the drawing room. So my roly-poly was changed. She never used to drink, but fifteen years are hell of a time to change.
‘What you want to have?’
‘Vodka with Limca will do. You have Limca?
"Yes, of course." She made two drinks, and again we were back to the bedroom. In the dim light, I could see her sparkling diamonds. My rough tough, far from show-off, friend was definitely changed.
‘How’s Sandeep and Sunny? Show me the photographs.’ Her curiosity was child-like. I took out all the albums and we started going through all the fifteen years passed by. My marriage was the occasion when we met last. She was married to the wealthiest man in town and after that she went away. We were in touch through e-mail and phone, but not regularly.
"Sunny is growing as a handsome man like Sandeep, how old is he now?" She had a twin, a son and a daughter; they were elder to Sunny.
She started laughing like the same old Priya when she saw Sandeep’s latest photo. "He has started balding, Saira! You remember our history-sir?"
"Of course, I do!" He was totally bald and we used to laugh at him, often wondering how would he look-like if he had hairs on his head! His name was Chand, which was very appropriate for his receding hairline. Both of us were rolling with laughter. We were college girls again, carefree and sharing the old times together.
"Hey! Any news about the gang?" She was serious again.
We were five friends, the five most intelligent students, and equally famous for our pranks. We were in touch for quite a long time, but slowly, that bond loosened and we lost track of each other. Just Priya and me were in touch.>"Priya! Do you remember Shobha and Deepak?" Suddenly I thought that I should not be telling her, but this was the last thing I knew about the gang.
"Come on! How could I forget the girl who stole my boyfriend?" She rolled her eyes in mock horror. "Are they married?"
"No, Deepak died in a road accident just before the marriage."
"Oh, my God! When?" She was sad. We were friends after all.
" Long back, just after my marriage, I think."
"Oh! Poor Shobha! She must be heart broken?" Her eyes were moist.
"Yeah, she had a nervous breakdown, then I lost the touch too. No news after that." I went to get the second drink. She came after me and brought the bottle to the bedroom.
"Don’t be silly, you don’t have to go again to fill the glasses, dumbo!" She kept the bottle on the bedside table. We were laughing and drinking.
"Now, tell me something about your hubby and the kids." I was wondering, because she did not mention them even once.
"Oh! Debu is fine, busy as usual, and the kids are doing well in their studies." It was some off hand information, something was there, which did not come out.
I remember Priya was the most sensitive girl in our rather tough gang. She was delicate, down to earth, and a poetess at heart who used to dwell in the imaginary world. She was always happy, helpful, and dreaming about a beautiful future for herself—a loving husband with a great sense of humor and out of the world intellect, lots of kids, and a great career. As a writer for herself, these were her dreams, which she was sure is not asking too much from the life. She was a writer who used to write for the local newspapers, and the school magazines. In the college too she was writing and quite famous too. She was always giving autographs to all her friends, and telling them that she won’t be entertaining them in future, as she was going to be a famous and busy writer! She was the darling of the gang. We used to make fun of her dressing sense. Usually she used to wear a long kurta, churidar, and kohlapuri chappals. It was her style and she was least bothered about her appearance. Deepak had a huge crush on her, but it did not affect her.
"Not my type." She used to say as a matter-of-fact tone. Then Shobha came in the scene and he lost all interest in Priya. Even this did not affect her.R>We loved to eat in the canteens or the roadside stalls, but she used to spend all her money on buying books, which we never did. She was like that, and we all loved her for whatever she was.
After two drinks, we were little tipsy. I could see something that was hidden behind the glittering of the diamonds under the layers of the make-up. She was changed; she was just the other woman, not the special Priya anymore.
"Priya! Are you happy?" it was a stupid question, of course she was.
"Happy? What’s that? Ok, if being a wife of a millionaire is happiness, then I am certainly happy." She was smiling, but what was that? There was a faint trace of tears in her eyes. I must be drunk.
"Do you still write?" what was wrong with me, for god sake? Why can’t I keep shut?
"Yes, I do! The list of groceries!" She was smiling again.
"I am serious, Priya, tell me, it was your dream to become a writer." I was persistent.
" No, Saira, I don’t write anymore. My brain is jammed, I can’t think, so I don’t write. Just can’t." She was crying.
"What is this? Can you be a little clear? What’s the matter?" I was cursing myself, why do I ask such stupid questions? She is right - I am a dumbo.
"You see, I am no longer Priya. I am Mrs. Mehra, a great wife, a good mother, nice daughter in-law, a good everything, but I am no more a separate identity, I am just a something to others. Priya is lost." She was sobbing. Priya is lost under the relations, buried under the social obligations, Priya is dead under her own morals, I live for everyone, but nobody is bothered about me, no one is concerned. Everyone is happy, but what about me? What about my happiness? Everything is fine, as long as I don’t speak. The moment I open my mouth, I become problem for them. So, my dear, I learned to keep mum, to play a dumb. I am getting the best food, expensive jewelry, my clothes, I have a social status as Mrs. Mehra, and what else does a woman need? Nothing. So I should not complain. Yes Saira, I am happy, very happy," she was sobbing bitterly.
This is not Priya! This lost, tired, broken woman is not Priya. She was there for some time, but again she was lost. She wanted a third drink, but I did not give. She refused to eat, so we did not. I didn’t ask anything, she didn’t tell. It was a moment of weakness, which passed. She washed her face and came back, much composed.
"Saira, I didn’t want to be pathetic. Nobody is to be blamed. The fault lies somewhere in me. I was always at the giving end, happy; for me, this was the ultimate happiness. I was so engrossed in giving that I forgot to receive. I didn’t demand and they did not give. After so many years, I felt cheated and started asking. It was unnatural, uncalled for from me for the people around me. They were shocked. How could I need something? I was not supposed to. So, problem started. According to them, I was getting everything, so I should not complain. Yes, I have a big house, but I feel unsheltered, I have money, but I feel poor. I have a husband, but I feel unwanted, I have a great sex life, but I feel unloved, I have a family but I feel lonely. Why? I can’t explain. These are very stupid things, so I must not think that I am not happy." She was looking at me, trying to make me understand the things, which even she never understood.
"Let’s celebrate our time together, let’s forget about the worries, and let’s be ourselves. We are always living in the pretence, let’s be us, what we are, not what we pretend to be," she was again the same old Priya. "Give me another drink, dumbo. Don’t sit like a tragedy queen."R>"Of course!" Tears were falling from my eyes now. I too wanted to go back to those carefree years where we were happy and least bothered about things.
I made a drink, and again we started talking about our English research scholar who once proposed to me; we were all taken aback! He was already married! And about that Sardar boy for whom I had a huge crush, and when one fine day he offered friendship, I refused! I cried and cried for days. Why did I refuse? Oh! I was a dumbo, what else!
We were laughing again. The dawn was coming slowly, and when the sun rose, we were sleeping like babies.