It was the first day of the IIT classes. And, he was lost in the bylanes of South Calcutta, looking for the house number 1402, to let himself to be tutored by the best Math teacher in the city. Surprisingly, the address of a man so popular was so obscure. He, then saw, an equally confused her, walking down the other side of the road, and then he noticed the puchka waalah, standing at the corner. He and just moments later, she, reached the puchka waalah, and blurted out the same question at the same moment. The puchka waalah did not know, but now, they were partners in searching.
That’s how they met.
When you meet an unknown 11th standard student searching for an IIT-JEE math tutor, you just ask two questions. Which board? How much did you get in the boards. He asked her. She said, CBSE and 411. The coincidence surprised him. Friendship blossoms in the most unlikeliest of situations.
Time flies when you are in 11th. And, with time swirling, the bond grew, in trams and the share autos, at the friendly chowmein store accross the tution centre, at Ekdalia evergreen sarbojonin pujo, at the book fair, and at Vibes and and over the phone.
The IIT fiasco, left them both attending different colleges in Chennai. And for anyone not knowing any Tamil, Chennai is a nightmare. Hostel, was no home away from home either, with sambhar and rasam everyday and 99.99% telegu population. A known friend, in a sea of unkown is a solace, and every saturday, he would make his way through the city to meet her, and return, to his room-mates asking him about his girl-friend, and he would spend the evening, convincing that they are just friends.
As he took his shower, he wondered, how time loses essential details in the story. About, how you remember the event, but you forget, the thread of events and thoughts that lead to it.
That’s precisely, how he remembers, the long bus journey to her college. Of, how, suddenly, she felt all different, a touch too special, as the best-est friend. But she was still casual, chatting about labs, about the movies, about the good-ol’ calcutta days, about the books that they were reading. In the sepia-tinged flashback playing in his memory, there was a golden hue around her on that saturday. And the next. And the one after that. (Her sepia tinged memory still was sepia tinged)
There are some events that you just remember more. And, the memory time, contrives this by making that memory so slow comparitively, that everything else seem to be the duration of a lightning strike.
The evening on the Coromandel express was that memory for him. Time had come to a standstill.
The semester (which one?) was over, and they were on the train back home. He was in the hot sleeper coach, and she in the relative comfort of the air-conditioned ones.
It was dusk, when he walked into her A-2 coach.
The sun was setting, as the train sped past Ankapalli station. The paddy fields, green till infinity swayed in the light breeze, the setting sun painted a golden hue accross the sky, the hills just beyond, played with your vision, purple images of hills, flirted alternately with your belief and disbelief that they exist. And, through the other window, the long highway that jogs parallely with the tracks, and a lone bus, overflowing to the brim chugging along, falling behind the train continuously, till you lose sight of it, and just beyond that, a temple atop a small hill, with lighting on it, a carnival about to begin. And, all this, seen through the muted doors of the AC coach, with a slow periodic AC hum in the background, and a muffled sound of the train speeding. It almosts disconnects one from the scenery around, until, another train shouts past, and the increasing horn of the other train, and the noises of the other train speeding, revives you.
Over the din of such a train going in the oppositte direction, he proposed to her. The train went past, and once again, the disbelief of the coach set in. The disbelief reflected on her face, as she asked him to leaver her alone.
Later in the night, Vishakapatnam came and went. The train reversed directions there. Suddenly, you feel that it is retracing the route back to Madras, undoing the journey of the day in the night, but then, there is no undoing. It just goes on a new path, and the older one moves farther and farther away.
Late in the night, he was standing by the door of his S-6, smoking his last ciggarette for a month (his parents did not know about it). Inside, people settled in to sleep, trying to forget the heat of the resin berths that they were on, trying first,to be oblivious of the sound of the train speeding, and slowly sleeping to the periodicity of the sound, and then to be rudely awakened, when the train pulls into the station and the sound dies. The night lamps were on, and except for the bright light at the two ends of the coach, everything inside was dark.
Everything outside was dark too. Darkness engulfed the feeble attempts of the moon and the billion stars to brighten the night. Darkness engulfed the paddy fields, and the road, and the hills far away. And the bright lights of the town far away, looked surreal, out of place. Periodically, small stations flashed by, with just a light on the name of the station, indicating the exsistence of a village.
He stared into the darkness, and tried to figure out the fields and the houses. He stared into the darkness and searched for meaning. She came to him, and told him, casually, matter-of-factly, that she does not reciprocate his feelings, the she had never thought him to be anything else but a friend. She walked away, as he continued to gaze into the darkness.
As he dressed up, he wondered, about the feeble attempts at forging the relationship again, till, one day, he (and her) just stopped trying. His life, also, tried to retrace back, but was foreced to go on a different path.
He put the diary back inside, stuffed the memories back in, put on the smile. And, convinced himself that he had to be happy. Afterall, it was Pentane’s wedding. Pentane was marrying his best friend for God knows how long, and as he backed his car out of the driveway, he pondered, once again at the question.
What/ Where is the line between good friends, best friends and that someone special?