Friday, October 14, 2005

Coffee Break

Man’s thoughts consist primarily of memories. It may be those of people he has met in his lifetime, or places and things; of books he has read or news he has heard and even conversations he has eavesdropped upon. I guess it is safe to say that even the past minute is a memory, stored in the vault in my head along with other such previous minutes, to be dredged up sometime, I don’t know when, maybe even a time when I am least expecting it. But as long as it is there I am safe; because without my memories I am just a hollow shell of nothingness. Just as you would be without your memories.
Having spent the majority of my childhood in Calcutta-I refuse to call it Kolkatta now because when I knew it, it was still very much Calcutta- I made friends that remained in my memory long after I left the city. I kept in touch with the closest ones, and with the others, I followed their progress through the various levels of life upto adulthood, sometimes even establishing some sort of a communication with them. In those times there was a lot of excitement, on my part at least, I don’t know how it was with them, as so much would have happened in the intermittent years, so much news to share. I would always be left with the feeling that old friends were friends for life. The feeling persisted through all the friends I made in all the other cities I lived and left. The same cycle would continue but yet the first friends, the ones I made in those carefree kindergarten years were the ones I looked upon most fondly. When I struggled with being a loner through teenage years it was of great consolation to me to know that my friends were in Calcutta, miles away from where I was at that moment and this distance was the cause of my loneliness- I even told myself that the only reason I was unable to be as close with the people I knew at that point was because just as my real buddies were from childhood, theirs too were of a different circle. Thus each of us had no space or inclination for new friends in our lives.
It was,therefore, a very joyous moment when a childhood friend from Calcutta turned out to be based in Chennai, which I currently inhabit. Of course, the plans were made. We had to meet. It would be our first meeting in twelve years- we went through lower kindergarten to class four together, were in the guides together and were even in the same house! Hell, we even shared the same surname. In fact that last factor had brought us together way back in Lower KG! And finally the day came when we were to meet. In a way it was a symbolic day that we chose to meet- I was attending my very first Durga Puja in over five years, and so meeting my friend was only another reason to look forward to the day.
When we set eyes on each other the first time that day, all I could think was that it was like seeing her in Carmel High School, Calcutta all over again, in class 4! And all she could say was, ”How much you’ve changed!!” I think I underestimated that statement at that moment but in retrospect I realize that so much had changed, most of all, me! The change went beyond the obvious, it was so much deeper.
After spending time chatting up about the years that we had missed out on in each others’ lives I introduced her to some of my friends here. That, I think, was the moment that the truth hit me that day.
As I observed my two friends, albeit from totally different phases of my life, interacted with each other I was aware of how out of place one was with the other, like somehow the scene before me didn’t belong. But the person most of place there was none other than me! I felt like I was stuck in between time zones, one from the past and one from the present, and sadly for me, they both couldn’t meet and couldn’t live together.
I came back home that day, feeling more confused than ever.
I found, much to my disappoint, that both of us had changed so much that the present day me had very little in common with the present day her. She grew up to be the type of person I had always known she would be, but I never expected to feel so disjoint from her. All we had between us were the memories of our childhood, which were slowly being replaced by memories of more recent times. I was disappointed because my belief that my true friends were the ones from my childhood had been misplaced.
On that day I learnt a very important lesson. There is a time and place for everything and everyone that walks into our lives. A few lucky ones cross our paths again, but not to continue a relationship from where it was left off, but rather to take that relationship to an all-new level. I guess there is nothing wrong with that. I look forward to an altogether different kind of relationship with my friend now, one that has firm roots in our childhood but whose branches are more relevant to our present day lives. I know, now, to give more into my present day relationships, because I realize there is no point in holding back- I am only denying myself a good friend! Of course, the old friends remain, to discuss life and times gone by over a cup of coffee!
I remember reading about this kind of thing many years ago, in The Telegraph newspaper of Calcutta, in a column called “Coffee Break” by Pakshi Vasudeva and my mother had ,upon reading that piece,urged me to read it too. Its funny how I remember it so vividly even though I haven’t read that newspaper in years! Perhaps because I understand only now the true meaning of what that columnist wrote so many years ago, and why my mother had wanted me to read it.


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