Saturday, February 9, 2008

And that's how it all began...

Part I:
I first met Tanuja in a remote village in Ahmedabad (That’s where my college was). She was specializing in Public Relations and her batch commenced few months after mine, so technically she was my junior. She was surprisingly inconspicuous through out the ragging session. I don’t even remember seeing her in the freshers party (Though she is there in the party pictures). So In real sense, I met her for the first time in the college canteen (we had the most amazing open air canteen). It was around ten at night and I was waiting for my maggi, when she walked in with a friend of mine.

We didn’t even exchange Hi’s and she decided to sit two chairs away from me. The first thing I noticed about her was ‘Pink’- dressed in a pink Capri and a pink jacket and a complexion matching the same colour, her fetish for pink was quite evident (To be frank, I found her quite cute). I was the one who initiated the dialogue- “I didn’t see you all this while? Did you join late?”

I remember my question, but I don’t remember her answer, may be she didn’t answer at all. I am not the kind who gives up easily- “where are you from?” I asked. “Jaipur” she said and as a customary she asked “and you?” That was it. Whenever someone asks me about my origins, I almost transform into a History Channel- educating them about where I was born to all the places that I have stayed at and finishing with a list of my favourite cities. But just when I was about to begin my journey “I am from Agra, but you know…” she interrupted “Oh. I have been to Agra many times. I like that city”. Then what, if someone likes my city, I like them. It’s a weird logic, but then I never said I am normal.

We moved from acquaintance to friendship swiftly.We were not best friends but whenever we had conversations, they were meaningful and warm. There was some honesty in it which is indescribable. Once in a while, we used to chat up on messenger and even go out for after-dinner strolls. She was finding it difficult to adjust in this new environment for more than one reason- she came straight out of an engineering college (the new place was somewhat a culture shock) and was missing her old friends desperately, also, she was anxious about her performance in subjects (which were non- technical in nature) like Economics and Accounting.

To comfort her I advised her two things “Tanu (that’s when I called her ‘Tanu’ first time) you either live in the past or you are worried about the future. Start living in the present and enjoy this phase. Things would look much better. And as far as subjects like Economics are concerned we are all there to help you. You would not believe but I am good at economics, if you need any help in understanding any concepts you can always come to me”.

She didn’t take my first suggestion seriously (she is still in past or future) but she took the economics part too seriously (I was never good at economics, why economics, I was never good at anything that has to do with academics). Next evening, on the messenger chat, she invited me to her room. She looked disillusioned and the books were spread everywhere. She had to submit an assignment (Yes. Economics) next morning and needed my help. I was caught and my truth was busted. I made a fool out of myself trying to explain her some theories which were Greek and Latin to me. She figured out my uneasiness and in the most polite way said “you know, you emphasise on making the basics clear and then looking at the solutions…that’s a good approach of teaching, but I need to submit this tomorrow… and …so…I will ask my classmates… and… umm…probably take proper lessons from you sometime” . I was relieved and promised to self that I would never again discuss economics with a girl.

I remember a summer afternoon, when the whole group was going for a movie, I saw Tanu wearing a black cap. For the clothes she was wearing, the cap was a total mismatch. I started pulling her leg, trying my best to make her remove the cap. She smiled at my remarks but refused to remove it.

Finally getting impatient, I said “Ok mam, I lost. What is so special about this cap that you don’t want to take it off. I am telling you it’s looking funny with your dress”. She smiled and said “this is my elder brother’s cap. I lost him few years back, when I am missing him- I wear this” I felt like a bloody fool. My foolishness was too monumental to even make an apology. I just felt like hugging her. She was much more mature that me.

On the last day of my college, I exchanged a host of hugs from my batch mates and juniors, but Tanu was missing from the scene. Even her phone was not reachable. As I was moving out of the campus in an auto crowed with my luggage, I saw her walking out of the admin section. I shouted her name and the auto came to a halt.

She came running to me and held my hand, I wanted to step out but there was this huge bag on my thighs. I said “I am leaving, but you stay in touch and be a good girl. I will miss you”. She squeezed my hand and looked much hassled; she said “All the best. You know my internship is starting in fifteen days and I have just got an offer from Bangalore. But I am looking at opportunities in Delhi so that I could be closer to home” Immediately I pleaded “Come to Bangalore na. I am also going there for the first time. I will give you a good company” She smiled generously and just to console me, she said “Pakka. Now you take care”. That’s how we parted.

Part II:

Three days after I joined my new job, Tanu came to Bangalore for her internship. Coincidentally she took a PG closer to my home. As I had just moved in, she helped me set up my house. So the first few evenings, daily after the office, we used to spend time (in a café) making lists of household items (like dustbins, mattresses, brooms, utensils, salt, turmeric, ghee, phenyl, Harpick, soaps, shampoos and hundred other things that make a home) and then scouting for them.

In a supermarket we used attack separate sections and in a pre-planned manner meet every five minutes to discuss what we had found and what was missing, finally returning home everyday with dozens of bloated, identical white plastic bags. I never enjoyed shopping (for anything) so much ever.

Once we accomplished the task of setting up the place, we had dinner mostly at my place. Sick of feeding on insipid sandwiches, idlis, dosas, vadas and noodles churned out by identical ‘Sagar’ joints in the city, home made food was an indulgence. Even a simple ‘daal chawal’ would bring us so much happiness and we would spice it up with hours of pointless discussions.

Tanu became my best friend in Bangalore. With her I could be myself and more importantly in her company even the most basic and the monotonous ‘chores’ seemed so very interesting. On many weekends, we would be together, doing our own different things like she working on her presentation and I finishing my novel, hardly a spoken word, but I still cherished that feeling of togetherness.

After dinner, everyday I used to walk her to her PG. On one such walk we started discussing our idea of an ideal life partner. It was Tanu’s turn first and she started with ‘tall’ and described him in a choice of adjectives which conveyed that she wanted someone who is exactly opposite of me. Don’t know why but for the first time I felt bad about what she said. It was my turn then, my heart wanted to say that my idea of a perfect woman is her, but my ego intervened and I sketched out a fictional character.

Two days before her internship got over, it was her birthday. She threw a dinner party for all her friends. I was confused what to gift her. In a toy shop near my house, I had seen a stuffed hippo. It was red in colour, bulky, disproportionate, overweight, and ugly, but there was something very cute about him, which had amused me when I saw him for the fist time.

I picked him up on my way to the party. It was impossible to gift wrap this creature. So I tugged him under my arm. People on the way and even in the restaurant gave me curious looks. But it was worth all the effort. Tanu loved the gift. She made him sit in her lap gave him more attention than any other guest. In a strange way, this made me feel so special.

On the day of her departure, I went to the station to see her off. The fact that she was leaving did not sink in still. Only when the mike announced the departure and the train howled, did I realise that this was real.

She was going away from me and I didn’t know when I would see her next. I hugged her tightly, like I was refusing her to let go and I whispered “I love you”. She repeated the same three words for me. The train started moving and she kept waving to me till I could see her no more.