I picked up the iPhone from the passenger side seat as I hit the road for a two hour drive to an offsite meeting and gingerly pressed the numbers. The familiar wait and then the familiar ringing tone from India. And then followed what seemed like endless hours.
What if I found the wrong person? I had gotten her phone number by putting together a few breakthroughs I had had and a few phone calls I made while in India and on my way back. Even then, Suparna (who was the final link the in the chain) and I had doubts whether we were talking about the same person.
Worse, what if she did not recognize me at all? Would she believe me if I named a few common friends? Can I jog her memory by specific incidents that I remember? That would be a total anticlimax for another painstaking search.
If I reminded her that we studied together in the same class and section – although just for one year, 1975 – would she remember? If I told her that we used to go in the same school bus and we were separated by one bus stop only – would she remember? I had vivid recollection of her. Every morning, I would get in the school bus and by the time I would settle down in the first row of the bus, the bus would have stopped at her stop and picked her up. Almost always I would be the first person to greet her as she got on to the bus. And she was always the person who would wave me good bye when I got down from the bus after school and started my walk to my home.
I remembered her first name distinctly – Malabika. For the life of me, I could not remember her last name. The closest I had come to tracking her was about a few years back while looking for Arghya (who lived close to Malabika then). Fortunately, I was able to track him down after another long search, but not her.
Somebody picked up.
“Hello?”. It was a female voice. Good first step 🙂
“Is this Malabika?” Good second step 🙂
“Yes. Who is this?”
Now came the most difficult part.
“I actually studied with you for a year. That was way back in 1975 in Benachity Junior High School. Do you remember me? My name is Rajib Roy”.
Pindrop silence. Dang!!!
“You lived on Ranapratap Road, did you not?”, I asked starting to lose hope.
“Yes, I did”.
“And you did study in the Benachity Junior High School, did you not?”
“Yes, I did”.
“And you took a blue colored mini bus to go to school everyday, did you not?”
Bingo! I had the right person!! Now the problem was to see if she could remember me.
“Do you remember me? I lived in North Avenue. I had a very close friend Arghya who lived near you”.
I don’t think she could hear everything I said. But she heard the “Arghya” part.
“Is this Arghya?”, she asked with some excitement in her voice.
Dang!!! Striking out again, I realized 🙁
“No. This is his friend. And yours. The name’s Rajib Roy”.
Something stirred in her memory.
“What did you say your first name is”?
“Rajib – maaney amader class-er first boy?” (Rajib – you mean the guy who stood first in our class?)
“Well, I did stand first in the section you and I were in. Not for all the sections combined. I think Nishi beat me that year”. She was clearly jogging my own memory.
“Of course, I remember you. I forgot your last name.”.
“That’s okay. That makes two of us :-)”.
Forty five minutes later, I realized that in all those trips to my dad’s house in Kalyani, I have been literally driving past her house every single time!! But what was most inspiring was to learn about some steep challenges her personal life had thrown her way and how she conquered all those challenges and came up on top of the heap of those difficulties.
To become a single mom supporting two daughters and one daughter yet to be born and then single handedly raise them to be successful human beings is not exactly for the faint of the heart. Especially in India.
One unfortunate part – I missed her mom by a few weeks. I remember her because she used to come to see Malabika off at the bus stand. Regrettably though, she passed away in the very recent past.
You can only guess what one of my goals for the next India trip is going to be!! Apparently, we are not done with waving each other good bye yet….
For once, I will admit that there is some good that came out of my parents constant nagging me to study hard when I was a kid. I wonder if Malabika would have made the connection had it not been for the report card that year!!!
This was the other defining moment of the trip. My brother took this picture. The first reaction of my cousin (who lived with us and literally helped me stand up when I was a few months old) when she saw me after all these years and realized that I have indeed finally stood up in my life. Priceless tears of happiness…. Was absolutely worth daring that broken bridge over the river just for this moment…
This was the defining moment of the trip. It was a very difficult angle to take a picture from (it was a three feet wide corridor). You could see peace had dawned on his face – the constant frowns and upside down lips were gone – as he sat down on the floor on the temple that his dad built – for the same God that he named his son (my dad) after. The close up shows the deep thoughts he was in as he stared at the idol inside. I can only imagine him having strong flashbacks and memories of his late mother, late brother and all that he had heard about his dad.
Going through my camera pictures now (not iPhone pictures) finding out some shots that have captured the moments very well…
My brother, here is intently watching my dad’s reactions (you can see a part of him on the right side of the picture) as he enter’s his birthplace for the first time in over 75 years….
I was enroute from India to USA when I got a call from one of my nephews with the following math problem he was stuck with. I am posting that as the puzzle of this week.
There is a jar with 50 pieces of paper written “1” thru “50” in them. You pick 5 of them at random and lay them out in increasing sequence. What is the probability that the middle number is 30?
One more in the series of India trip this time. It is more of a non-post than a post.
I am the last one who is at a loss for words. Right words, maybe. Words? Never 🙂 And yet, I have failed three times to lend words to my feelings of meeting Moniruddin (Khokon) and his family. You may remember how my first friend of life suddenly vanished from my life one fine day without much of a notice. And then how that started a very very long search to find my first friend of life. I distinctly remember the frustration and fear I had some days that I probably will never get a chance to see him again.
And yet, I did manage to see if – thru a lot of perseverance and a very well timed encouragement from Sharmila to keep looking. I had poured out my heart explaining the search and that first phone call I ever made with him after I was able to locate him.
Then, in a few weeks I actually visited him and his mom. My mind was an absolute etch-a-sketch of emotions – of actually getting to see in flesh and blood somebody that I had searched for a long time, somebody who was my first playmate in life, his mom who took care of me so much and that I had missed the chance to see his dad by a few years who simply used to dote on my the-then-very-young brother. For a couple of weeks, I had attempted to write out the experience of meeting him. Eventually I gave up. I was getting too overwhelmed to find any words.
Then I visited him again a few months later. This time, his mom and I sat down and talked endlessly about our lives. I know I had a lot to write about. I was not wanting in materials. And yet again, I could not find a way to express my feelings properly.
This time, I took my parents with me. It was almost like an action packed movie. My parents were so thrilled to see Moniruddin that they forgot to even walk to his house. They stood near where we had parked the car (See pic) and kept talking excitedly till my brother reminded them that his mom was probably waiting for us.
My mom and his mom were very close. And they got to see each other after a long long time. For the first few minutes they could not even talk without holding each other (see pic) – probably still not believing that they actually got to see each other. Unfortunately for all of us, uncle was not there to join in the get together. But you can see in the picture how my dad and my friend were having a great time together.
Now I know why cannot ever write a good post on meeting my long lost friend who appeared again. It is that last picture. It is that poignancy of his mom standing at the door of her house every single time silently. Every time I start writing I start imagining what must have been going thru her head – perhaps wondering whether she will see each other again? And that is the exact question I carried with me almost my entire life.
I think I need more time to express what it really means to get back your very first friend of your life.
This one has an intriguing twist at the end…
Having already met two friends from school days, I still had some time left before my flight was scheduled to leave Dubai. Fortunately, Shirshendu had said he would be free after office. That was the opportunity I needed. We got together at a bar near the airport for a couple of hours. We had been trying to co-ordinate a meeting for a long time.
Of course, it always starts with updating each other on our old common friends. And we had a lot of those to catch up on. And there was the Kalyani connection – his sister and his parents (separately) moved to Kalyani. As did my sister and my parents (separately).
Then we got to know about each other’s families and how he moved to Dubai to sell books and eventually worked his way into a successful executive in the construction business. I also learnt about his mom today. At the age of sixty five or so, she decided that she needed to learn something new. So, she took classes in recitation (elocution, reading poetry or as Bengalis would say “abritti”). Here is a stunner – within a short period of time she excelled in it and has given multiple performances. She now performs in TV too!!! Evidently, nobody has heard her complaining! She always has a solution ready before she articulates a complaint. I absolutely need to meet her. And probably take my mom with me too 🙂
If you saw us for those two hours, going thru the updates of friends of different stages in life – early school, late school, college, work etc etc – one by one in great detail (including the names of minibuses one of our friends took to meet his girlfriend – yet another common friend of ours) you could be easily forgotten for not realizing one small detail. And that twist is that you would have never guessed that Shirshendu and I had never met each other ever. Till today!! We never studied together in the same school at the same time. We were never classmates in our entire life.
But we had a zillion common friends. And through those friends, we were always deeply aware of each other. It is like we ran in parallel lines intersected by many many friends at the same time but our lines never intersected!
It was great meeting Shirshendu for the first time and catching up on all those old friends…
That is how my friend from school days Sanjay Sethi wrapped up our meeting. I had not met him and Saji Abraham ever since we finished our tenth grade. I had a thirteen hour layover in Dubai. That was as good a reason as any to catch up with two friends that I had not seen for 32 years!! Saji was kind enough to pick me up and drop me off.
The three of us went thru the whereabouts of about half our entire class (we had a total of 103 students). What was most heartening for me to see was how two of my friends from very early days have become such great successes professionally and personally. One has a thriving business here in Dubai and the other has globe trotted thru his entire high flying career in the banking sector. But above all, they always have time for our old school mates.
Got some real inspiration talking to them today.
Sanjay’s description aptly described how we felt walking away from that coffee place….We missed Sanjeev Gupta – the other high flyer today….