In the graveyard of lost friends
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This opening story is from a friend. Last year, my nephew sent me a picture from Kolkata of the building I grew up in for part of the 1970s. Brick. Mortar. Lifeless. And yet every staircase in that building, the water tanks at the back, the tinny garage roofs, are full of memories. I can see my friends’ faces even now, Toton and Yorick, can smell their mother’s cooking, can hear Yorick’s scratchy violin from downstairs and remember his dad’s old Bug Fiat, can see Toton’s grin and the birthday parties in his house where we played memory games. Everyone moves on and I haven’t seen them for 30 years perhaps. More perhaps for Toton. But for a while we discovered life together.
If you’re not the sort of person who needs to pay homage to friendships lost to geography, swallowed up by life’s relationship hierarchies, felled by some petty misunderstanding that you can no longer even remember, this column is not for you. “I still talk to everyone,” one friend said when I asked her to share memories of long-ago friendships. “Even all the guys I’ve ever slept with.” I don’t know too many people like her.
My life is full of the shadows of lost, but not forgotten, friends.
This crowdsourced column is a tribute to those pals (not lovers) who still haunt the edges of our memories, whose absence we could never have imagined or predicted when the two of us were playing out in perfect sync. We long stopped being central characters in their lives, though we may still proffer birthday greetings and cheer for their children on Facebook.
Each memory is from a different person. Each paragraph is a different memory. Any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely intentional. All names, characters and incidents portrayed are real. Identification with actual persons (living or deceased), places, buildings and products is welcome.
I remember staying over at his place. At dinner, his dad offered us a bottle of wine. He told me afterwards that his dad had never done that before. It was also my first time drinking alcohol with an adult—or anyone.
She lived next door in a hostel. We shared a secret that she had secretly married her best friend. We visited her family frequently and we really had to be careful about not telling them. We would laugh later, about our fantastic “acting” abilities.
It’s weird but she taught me to give smoky “hotel-like” flavour to jeera rice. We stopped talking over a guy. If I think more, darker memories will surface. Like how she made me explain history to her, and then fell asleep when she needed to teach me the Constitution.
In engineering college, my closest friend was this big powerlifter from Tiruppur. Once his mother was coming to visit and his room was a complete and utter mess. So he suggested we swap rooms for the duration of the visit. This super-dignified, almost aristocratic Muslim lady comes, sits on “his” bed, looks around. And then asks my friend: “Sheikh, why do you have a massive crucifix on your table?”
I can’t forget the way she always clapped her hands when she laughed.
I remember painting watercolours sitting side by side, in silent camaraderie. She painted people, scenes from life. I painted flowers, faces. The love for colour and form was the bond. I haven’t painted in years.
She was older, I told her a terrible secret that I had kept tightly hidden within myself for 10 years. She knew exactly how to respond.
In college we tried every trick in the book to meet boys, from signing up for home guards to enrolling in Persian classes. Alas the instructor was an 80-year-old grouch. When she went away for the summer holidays, we wrote letters where we addressed each other as Sweetie Pie and Honey Bunch.
I still remember the time she fed me Indian style with her hands when I was recovering from general anaesthesia. I was very groggy and confused.
She was my school friend. Once while “exploring” her dad’s bookshelf, we found a Nancy Friday which we read aloud, dissolving in giggles at first, soon replaced by awkward uncomfortable pauses. We decided to take turns and read it alone in silence.
Impulsively, we went on a trek to Khandala. We were hostelites with very little money, so we rode the train ticketless. We reached at night, then decided to halt at a temple but dogs and pandits shooed us away. We finally slept under the staircase in an apartment building in one sleeping bag, to the horror of the woman who discovered us early the next morning.
Earlier this year, the Health And Retirement Study, sponsored by the US’ National Institute on Aging and conducted by the University of Michigan, sought to analyse if friendships become more important as we grow older. It found that while placing higher importance on family and friend relationships was associated with better health, greater happiness, and greater subjective well-being across the lifespan, individuals who valued friendships were much healthier and happier as they aged.
It’s great to have a head filled with brilliant memories of friends from the past, to wander through the graveyard of lost friends, remembering a phrase here, a smile there, a song that makes you think of them every time it plays, and wisdom you will never forget. You’ll always have that train journey where the two of you stayed up all night to count cockroaches. You started out as acquaintances but somewhere in the middle (Bilaspur Junction, I think), cockroaches were forgotten and life stories with secrets tucked in were exchanged. You’re not exactly sure where she is these days. You just wished her Happy Birthday on Facebook.
It might make more sense to invest some time in nourishing relationships instead of sighing as they evaporate slowly into unforgettable memories. Your future happiness could depend on it.
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