By Rimli Bhattacharya
Rummaging through the old albums I found that picture of mine with her. These days the term ‘friendship’ sounds like a cacophony and here I discover her – picture of the person I thought was my best friend. I take a closer look at the picture. I a lanky and dusky kid and she a chubby and also a dusky child like me. We are looking straight at the camera holding hands. I was smiling with my front milk teeth (incisors) gone and she with a somber straight face. Her smile was missing. Yes it was clearly visible in the picture that I was holding her hand gleefully, while she stood without displaying any emotions. Something which I did not understand back then. We had been together since our nursery days but it was only in standard four did I realize that she was my best friend. We shared our benches, tiffin during lunch breaks and … Snap! I come out of my nostalgia. We shared nothing more.
I smile at myself, get up and walk towards my daughter’s bedroom. Jhilmil, my daughter, is fast asleep clutching her doll. Whenever I had asked her if she had any special friend, she would look at me flabbergasted and answer, “Mummy, all are special friends.” Aside I had always heaved a sigh of relief whenever she made the statement of not having any special friend unlike me. It was a holiday and I knew Jhilmil won’t be up before nine. Now that I have some time to introspect I settled on the couch with that picture and a cup of tea.
“Okay, write an essay on your best friend,” our English teacher Mrs Jacob’s voice echoed in my head. I would happily write my friend’s name, show that essay to her and proclaim inside the classroom that she was only my best friend. I would also add that no one can use her name to write the essay. I always chose to overlook the uneasiness in her whenever I made that statement. She on the other hand would write the essay but wouldn’t share details with me. I did feel hurt but the very next moment I would happily assume it was my name which she had written as her best friend. While I was a rank holder in the class, she was an average student who excelled only in Mathematics and Science, a quality which I always admired. My primary charm of coming to school was my best friend and once in school I used to constantly chat with her. She was a girl of fewer words. She would reply in monosyllables. Also I could figure out her growing popularity among the ‘other’ classmates, as I grappled to keep my friends and friendships intact. Back home I cried and my mother consoled; in the school I landed up fighting with those ‘other’ girls. I got punished for such anarchic behavior and to my surprise I never found her feeling sorry for me.
“It was for you I got punished,” I had sobbed and told her once.
“Are you crazy? Go and check yourself with the doctor. You aren’t well,” she had retaliated.
I tried ways to keep our (my) friendship intact by coaxing and cajoling her and in the process failed miserably. On the other hand, she started faring well and the once good me was reduced to an ordinary fan of her. By the time we reached standard eight we had a new girl in our class and my worst fears came true. Both their tunings matched and my friend preferred the new girl over me. We still shared our benches and this time I could sense her queasiness in sitting next to me. I even spotted her speaking in sign language with that new girl from our desk, something that broke my immature heart. But still she was my best friend, my special friend. I chose to shrug off the act. Then it happened during our Diwali vacations. At home I was burning the fire crackers on the occasion of Kali Pujo when one of the faulty fire crackers blew up in my hand. We lived in a small town where news would spread easily. So I reckoned my episode had also reached my friend’s ears. No she never came to see me. After I had joined back school and the tuition classes she had come running to greet me. She had hugged me and I had cried. Those were happy tears; my friend was really special and loved only me. I thought it was me who had been weaving stories in my head.
I get up to keep that empty cup in the kitchen. I have an obsession of keeping everything in a proper order. Yes ‘OBSESSION’. It was equally applicable in her case as well. While she made friends with everybody, I remained extremely obsessive and possessive of her. I would not like to share her with anyone. For me, I just needed her.
I didn’t notice the teardrop trickle down my cheeks when I recalled telling her once, “I heard you had come to Rajarshi’s home? Why didn’t you visit my place?”
“It was exam time. I had gone for notes and not for gossiping. Board exams are hovering and it is no joke,” she had snapped.
During our farewell we classmates exchanged our addresses and phone numbers so that we all could keep in touch. Those days we had no social media and we were dependent on these meager means of communication. I didn’t have a phone in my home while she had one. She shared her number with everyone including me. I was like everyone to her. By that time our friendship had developed a crack and I would silently watch my best friend play, laugh and chat with my other classmates. Though my obsession with her had reduced considerably but being a sensitive girl by nature this sudden change in her conduct deeply affected me. I stopped going to school citing reasons of board exam preparations. Then our exams started and we met every day. No, we didn’t chat; we studied during recess but not together. After the exams she vanished in thin air without bidding me a goodbye. No phone calls, no visits and then I heard through a common friend that she had taken admission in a boarding school in the hills. Here in the valley I ached for her and there she was miles away from me. I felt betrayed. I felt cheated. I shed bitter tears. But something in me had changed. I could no longer make close friends. In high school, in the college and in the university, I met new people but I would maintain a distance. I could never call any of them as my best friend. I had no special friend and I couldn’t get over the fact that I had lost the one whom I had thought so.
Several years later when I was a brand new mother, my once ‘best friend’ did come to visit me.
“We are meeting after two decades and you look different. Ah! Now that you have a little daughter, I am her ‘mashi’ (aunt) and will call her Jhilmil. Are you still angry on me? We are meeting after so many years; let’s not keep any malice for each other.” She chatted with me for two hours; she spoke about her permanent government job, her husband and her kids. The past was not discussed. She sang lullabies to the infant and then left my place but not before giving her new address and phone number with an invite for me to visit her any day. I was quick to notice this change in her and also had a reminiscence of our farewell day.
It had been three decades since then. I hadn’t visited her. I never called her either. It was the hurt and humiliation which I was unable to forget. But, yes, my special friend lived with me forever. I christened my daughter as ‘Jhilmil’ the name which she had pronounced for my little girl. She did try to contact me later but by that time I had lost all my trust which I once had in her.
I didn’t realize I had been weeping until I heard Jhilmil call me from her bedroom. It was already half past nine and Jhilmil was up. Shoving the picture back in the album I moved towards Jhilmil’s room. It’s Sunday and the domestic helps are on leave. I need to attend to the household chores today.
Rimli Bhattacharya completed Mechanical Engineering from National Institute of Technology. After obtaining an MBA, she worked in the corporate sector. Rimli is a trained Indian classical dancer, based out of Mumbai, India. She tweets at: @rimli76
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