We had, of course, kept in touch all this while through the internet and the telephone. It is interesting to observe how these methods of communications ascend and descend in importance as relationships wear on after they’ve lost their purpose. The telephone carries most of the burden for the first few months, while the memories still retain their freshness and one still believes in the immortality of them. Gradually, as memories turn into nostalgias, email takes over.
Our friendship had, in these years, morphed into two phone conversations a year, one for each’s birthday, and the occasional forwarded mail, marked impersonally to a half hundred people, most of whose existences I was unaware of. However, when I learnt I’d be in Delhi this weekend, I decided to catch up with them anyway.
We met on Sunday afternoon in one of the many malls that dot the Delhi landscape. Strangely, these days, it is these crowded public places that are the most preferred for such companionable meets as ours. Nevertheless, the exhilaration I felt and hoped they did too, on meeting old friends was certainly not manufactured.
It was the middle of January and afternoons were the only time when the fog betrayed the existence of a Sun. In these hours, the city basks in a warm laziness; a hazy spectacle whose majesty can never quite be captured by a lens. It also makes multiple layers of warm woolen clothes a necessity; a condition I generally disapprove of since it shows my already bloated self in even poorer light.
And so it was, that the first thing both my friends told me after we’d waved at each other, embraced and smiled warmly and awkwardly, was that I’d pile up a few more kilos. The matter of my weight and general physical appearance has long since ceased to be the cause of anxiety to me, and I responded with a joke I’d repeated and perfected over the years and do not want to reproduce here.
To my eyes, the two of them had remained much the same, barring a marked improvement in the state of Sunita’s bosom; a shortcoming that we had spent many hours ridiculing when we were in college and one that had caused her some heartburn. I thought about sharing my observation with her but the interceding years stopped me from doing so. I satisfied myself by stating that she too appeared to have put on weight and hoped feebly that she’d get the drift. If she did get it, and I personally opine that she did not, she did not show it.
The mischievous glint in Nishant’s eyes was intact.
We’d never planned out an agenda for the reunion and it came back to haunt us now. We stood sheepishly near the entrance to the mall, looking at each other and at the people around us, cracking an odd joke and sharing through our eyes and expressions the common thought that we were making fools of ourselves. Eventually, Nishant suggested we continue doing the same in a café, and we agreed gratefully.
Having spent a few minutes discussing and ordering our drinks, we felt the awkwardness slipping away gradually. We caught up on what each of us had been doing in greater detail than the restrictive nature of long distance communication had ever allowed us to. I found that Nishant was planning to marry the girl he’d been going out with for more than a year now within the next one year. And that Sunita’s quest for a long term relationship had remained incomplete and would probably remain so, for her parents had decided to take matters into their own hands. The mandatory digs about my relationship status were made and my college crushes discussed. I bore it with a dignity that, I thought, befitted a more mature person than the one they were discussing about.
It is always difficult to meet past friends who have not, in the eyes of the world and in their own, fared as well as one has oneself. One measures and fumbles with each syllable; fearful that the odd assertion here and there would be perceived as boastfulness. And one cannot quite go back to being what one was all those years ago, simply because one cannot.
Nishant and Sunita told me about some of their capers after we’d left college (being in the same city, they had met every once in a while), which they thought hilarious and which I found little more than faintly amusing. They were the kind of incidents that appeal only to those that are present while it unfolds. I told them about some of mine which, I am sure, they found as uninteresting.
We talked some future. Nishant told me how he planned to move to the US soon after his marriage. I told them what I thought I would probably end up doing. Sunita cribbed for a while about her job and stated that she’d look for a switch in the near future.
By this time, our first coffees were drunk and more ordered. Talk veered to those days. All the good times spent. The drunken fiascos. The uninvited dinners at marriage parties. The professor everybody feared. The professor with the sleepy eyes and deadpan expression who could never figure out how there were only ten people in the room and thirty on the attendance sheet.
Most of it felt distant and filled me with a sense of weariness. It vexed me that it should be thus. I had had such great times recounting these exact episodes to friends I’d made since, that I had assumed it would give me greater joy to do so with those that were part of them. I realized, then, that it was not they who brought warmth to those memories; it was the me that was with them there. And, therefore, I figured memories are savored better in the absence of those that they are built of.
We spent three hours together, at the end of which, I was more relieved than rueful that it had ended. These were people that did not belong anymore. They were of a different time and place and it was wrong to force them into my now. They were better off being in those two phone conversations and forwarded mails.
I’ve been to Delhi many times since, but have not met them.