I met her in my 2nd year of college. I was new to the city, to the college. She was a much sought after girl. A real beauty with enviable long hair, a ranker, a horse-rider and an Odissi dancer. On a hot summer evening, we discovered that we were neighbours too.
And being neighbours, both of us started going together to college and we developed a friendship. After college, we moved to Delhi for our higher studies. Both of us wanted to be roommates as life definitely seemed tough in the last range of Arravalis amidst nameless faces, courses that seemed like tough nuts to crack and meals that didn’t really taste heavenly. We discovered the huge campus together holding a battery-operated tape-recorder in our hands ( Gosh, there was no I pod those days). Not even mobile phones. She was the one who introduced me to country singer Ronnie Milsap. Even now, once in a blue moon, I listen to Ronnie Milsap’s ‘I wouldn’t have missed it for the world’ on you tube. When we felt hungry at two in the night, we ate cookies with pickle. She was having a troubled relationship then and I often saw her crying. Even when we were trying to settle down in Delhi, he came down to meet her. She was at her lowest ebb. Subsequently, her relationship ended.
Then in the campus, she met a senior from her school who used to really bully her. She was at her wit’s end when she suddenly bumped into him one day at the chai shop in the campus. They fell in love with each other in no time. I, being the roomie, was introduced to him. He was from Western Orissa and being a senior, he told me to call him ‘Dada’ (‘bhai’ otherwise). We got along like a house on fire. Soon, I was the person both of them turned to in times of joy and tiffs. Dada was a very generous person. He was the one who treated us to a real lavish meal at Moti Mahal in Vasant Vihar. I have very fond memories of having meals with him at Udipi, Osaka in Green Park and Golden Dragon in Panchasheel Park. Our university with its aesthetically designed red brick structure is famous for academics, politics, endless debates, cotton kurtas, kolhapuri chappals and of course romance. All in equal measure. Lovers are always known to go for post-dinner walks (after 9.30pm). We were part of a liberal campus that reeked of freedom in every sense of the term (pls no archaic rules for us… I don’t know about the current situation). The post dinner walks always stretched to late nights. The night is always young when you are in love.
We had a practical problem to deal with. Both of us were equally bad in losing keys. And in the end, we decided to leave the key in the letter-box so that it’s convenient for both of us. However, on many occasions, ‘Madam high in love’ used to carry the key with her and go for those romantic walks. And there I was (after coming back to hostel) sitting on a chair in the hostel lawn and giving company to the watchman (in absence of the key). Every minute seemed like days and every hour seemed like decades. But then what can you tell to a woman in love? Dada being the gentle man compensated the next day by offering a nice frothy milk coffee.
They got married later and both of them shifted to a nice little place in Orissa. She came in between to hostel life for her research. Those days were ‘India free’ days for her. She was ‘graciously’ allowed to sleep late and I used to serve her breakfast and tea in bed as a gesture to pamper her as the hostel was her ‘maike.’ Then she got a scholarship to study in UK. Dada was definitely sad but he was also happy and proud to see her pursuing her dream. We remained in touch through letters (India was still far away from internet revolution). In between Dada also went to be with her in London. She came back to India in mid August, 1996 on a vacation. And after being in Delhi for a day, she went to Orissa to be with her loved ones and August 17 is her birthday. And Dada was on his way from office to spend the bday evening with her. He met with an accident on the way and died on the spot. Just hours before his death, he had bought a watch for her. The receipt was there in his shirt pocket. The watch was missing from the accident site.
When I heard the news, I felt a part of the ground beneath my feet slipping away. I was in a daze and it all seemed so unfair. I spent the entire night in the university campus (by then I was staying in a rented apartment in Delhi) sitting all alone on a bench where three of us had spent innumerable hours talking, laughing, singing, eating bun omelete. I booked my ticket to go back to Orissa to be with her. I had no option but to lie in office to get leave from work. (Very few bosses would have understood why I must take leave for a friend. No matter how emotional we are as a nation, we are pretty bad in understanding emotion.). I can never forget that gut-wrenching moment when she saw me and hugged me tightly and just wailed, “Deepika…. And then went on calling out Dada’s name in utter despair. Till then I had seen only break-ups in relationships. I saw the finality of death that moment. I can never forget that moment of deep intense pain and loss. Her pain was so raw that you just had no words to console her.
But then as they say life has to move on. She went back to London after a year to pursue her Ph D. Afterwards, she got married to Dada’s best friend whom I also know. There were tears of pain and joy when I talked to her over phone in 1999 from Banaglore (just a day after her marriage).
Much water has flown under the bridge since then. We have moved away from each other. We have not spoken to each other since ten years. We can easily get in touch with each other. Both of us are on Facebook, we have common friends. But somehow, I feel it’s better to be like this when there is so much of shared history and pain squashed between us. Sometimes, death settles things in a different way.
(Today is August 17- her birthday and his death anniversary too. Today, I know how final death can be. I say a silent prayer for his gentle soul to rest in peace and a happy long life to her)