Maybe this is why my parents always insisted that I study hard!!
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!!!