“Sometimes, being with your best friend, is all the therapy you need” -Unknown
The rays of the morning sun light up the world around us. We are five years old and dressed in cotton frocks. Yours is white with red straps and a smocking across the span of its bodice. Mine is yellow with black polka dots and frilly sleeves. We sit in a muddy ditch by the side of the tar road. What were our mothers thinking dressing us up pretty like that? We fill the little pockets in our sun dresses with jagged edged stones and smooth pebbles.
A hop, skip and jump later we are in the garden outside your house. The trimmed bushes and manicured hedges only lure us to pluck some of their leaves off. Our pockets are full, so we gather as much as our little hands can hold. We drop our loot in a nook by the edge of the garden and rush back to the row of trees that line the other end of your garden.
Every morning, a fresh layer of ‘Parijat’ flowers lies scattered on the ground all around the trees. The fragrance of the white flowers with bright orange stems beckons us. These night- flowering jasmines bloom in the stillness of the dark and leave the comfort of their branches when the first rays of the sun fall upon them. Neither our hands nor our pockets are big enough for these gifts from nature that lay strewn around us.
So, we turn the hemmed edges of our dresses upwards and in delight, collect as many flowers as we can in our makeshift pouches. Backs crouched, we hurry back in a slow run holding our precious cargo, close to our bodies and hearts. Did we ever walk in those days? There was always so much to do, to explore.
Back in our nook, we put on a show, just for ourselves. This is Broadway at its rudimentary best. We play house and the first scene is of our family preparing a scrumptious dinner. You and I play multiple roles. and the loot we have gathered are used as props.
The leaves are vegetables that we chop and sauté into an aromatic curry. The pebbles are naan that we bake, and the flowers complete the feast as a bowl of saffron rice. The stones are money and we have used it all at the grocery store. Our make -believe world is made up of the elements that truly matter to us. Food does, bills…they don’t exist.
Now, you are raising a family of your own and I am raising mine. Our lives are not as simple as the world we created at five. Bills and worries are a big part of it. You’ve taught me though to remember that I do need sunshine and nature to satiate my heart.
The afternoon sun blazes in all its glory. We are ten and dressed in blue denim shorts and colorful tie and dye t-shirts. No more dainty frocks for us, we choose our clothes ourselves. As we get ready to play a game of lagori, you stack the seven tiles up neatly in the center of the playground. We are on opposite teams. It’s your turn to break the tower of tiles. You take aim and throw the little red rubber ball right at the tower. ‘BAM’…You’ve done it. The tower crumbles. Your aim has always been so precise. I am the sloppy one, the ‘kaccha limbu.’
As the tower falls apart, your team runs away from us as far as possible. Our team has to hit one of you with the ball now, before you can stack up the tiles again, to score points. I aim the ball and clumsily throw it at you. It grazes your sleeve, I think. ‘OUT’ I yell, a victorious grin on my lips. You shake your head in denial.
“NOT OUT! It didn’t touch me.”
“IT DID. I SAW IT.”
We get into our first major fight. You are the all-time lagori champion, the MVP of our ‘gali’ and get the benefit of the doubt. You win. Tears roll down my cheeks. I walk away to sit on the rock. A stony structure on the other side of our apartment building, our haunt. Despondent and alone, I vow to never play this game again. I find a twig nearby and begin to sketch stick figures in the mud. Just then you come along, with a little steel dabba in your hand.
“Amma made gulab jamuns, your favorite. Here, these are for you.” Your big, brown eyes look at me expectantly.
“Gulab jamuns! Yay!!!”
As the juicy sweetness of the spongy dessert fills my mouth, my heart dances again. What were we fighting about? I don’t remember anymore.
Now when we talk, we discuss the conflicts in our real world. Rifts with family members, bosses, jealous colleagues…there is so much to cope with. You’ve taught me though that sometimes the solutions are as simple as savoring the sweetness of a dessert. In tough times, I try to let the resentment in my heart melt into the sugary syrup of a gulab jamun.
A gentle breeze brushes against us. The evening sun casts shadows that make us appear to be taller than we actually are. We are on a stud farm which belongs to your family friend. We are fifteen and dressed in jeans and pretty blouses, accessorized with dangling earrings and chic shoes. We are on a farm yes, but don’t we need to exude a sense of style wherever we are? We walk to the lake with Charlie, a lazy, yellow Labrador who belongs to the farm but has been inseparable part of our unit since the time we arrived here. We don’t walk very much as Charlie plops himself to the ground. 300m is his limit. We prod, push, even try to carry him but he does not budge. So, we stand rooted to that spot for a while. There is nothing much to do.
“I’ll tell you a joke.” you say, “Have you heard of the woman with three hairs?”
“No-No. Tell me.”
“There was once a lady who had three hairs on her head. She wanted to style her hair, so she walked into a salon. ‘There’s not much I can do’, said the exasperated stylist. “Ok, then just make a braid.” As the stylist began to do as she was told, one hair broke. “Eh! It’s ok. Just tie a ponytail” Unfortunately for the lady, the second hair broke too, when the stylist attempted to tie a ponytail. “Hmmm. Never mind then, I’ll just leave my hair open.”
We fall to the ground, in splits with laughter. Charlie raises his sleepy head and looks at us bewildered. Not sure if anyone will find this joke funny but we do. We find the absurdity of it hilarious. The world around us comes to a standstill. Only waves of our raucous laughter resonate for miles and miles.
Even now at times when I feel despair, I go back in time to that day…you’ve taught me to laugh at the ironical situations that life metes out to us..
We are twenty. You touch up my lipstick and I tighten the clasp of your oxidized necklace. The night is still young as we dress in rustic ghagras and colorful cholis, complete with ethnic, chunky jewelry, ready to play dandiya-raas. Raas -Lila was a dance that Krishna playfully indulged in with Radha and the gopis. We carry on the tradition today. For the nine nights of Navratri we dance with friends in gay abandon. This year is extra special though because T is going to be at the dance. He is your first crush. As you turn to me one last time before we leave, your dreamy gaze says it all. ‘How do I look? Do you think he will like me?’ your eyes question.
‘Who wouldn’t? You are the best’ I beam in return.
As we head towards the venue hand in hand, I feel your heart pound in my sweaty palm. I tighten my hold over your hand in an attempt to soothe your anxious nerves and let go only when you when we see him approach. You dance with him well until midnight and then you and I talk about it until the wee hours of the morning. You describe his every gesture, his every nuance. I listen, lapping up all the itsy -bitsy details. I wish your love lasts forever.
I know now the tenderness of first loves do not last forever. You’ve taught me though to cherish heartfelt connections.
Three years later. We are at the Mumbai airport. It’s 3:00 am. Your family is relocating to America. I am here to say goodbye to you. As I hug you tight, I try hard to fight back tears. I do not want the farewell to be teary yet it’s hard to fathom how my days will be without your presence. I feel your tears drop on my shoulder. There is only one thing that will keep us from breaking down.
“You remember the lady with three hairs” I ask, while I continue to embrace you. And you giggle uncontrollably.
We part ways. I vow not to dwell on the void created by your absence but to celebrate the joyous moments of our friendship.
Twenty-one years later, we are still the best of friends. You are 8000 miles away. We do not talk often yet when we do, it’s as if you have never been away. It’s a bond that will only deepen as the creases on our faces ripen. After all, you have taught me to rejoice the little moments of life. You’ve taught me to live life king size.
Parijat – Night-flowering jasmines
Lagori – a game played between two teams involving a ball and a pile of flat stones
Kaccha limbu – a weak player
Gali – narrow streets of a city
Gulab jamuns – a sweet made out of milk solids.
Dabba – a box
Dandiya – Raas – a traditional folk dance from India
Navratri – an Indian festival that is celebrated for nine nights.