In the long life I have been blessed with I have made many friends. While some of them have been keeping company with me still (though out of touch) it is sad that quite a few of them have dropped off midway leaving nothing but a few photographs and sweet memories for me to mull over.
The earliest one I remember is my friend Anu*. Spending my first two years of college with her, I was shocked to hear that she had become mentally imbalanced and had killed herself by drowning in the bathroom tank.
The second, closest and dearest one was Sudha*, a very sweet, loyal, affectionate and placid girl. Staying close to each other we would not only walk to school and then to college together, we would spend the evenings also together__ playing or chatting. We would be so reluctant to part from each other at the end of the day that we would extend it by escorting each other home, sometimes even two or three times in an evening! She was the recipient of all my teenage secrets and confessions. Our common interests, reading books and Hindi songs-filmi, geets and ghazals had reinforced our friendship further. My mother would trust her to that extent that she had no compunction about sending me to movies with her and her elder sister.
After marriage we had kept in touch through visits (mostly on her part) and letters for quite a number of years. On my All India tour in early ‘80’s, I had managed to spend a night and a day with her and her family at Bombay. Imagine my shock when I heard that she had expired as early as in 2000 itself! Due to gradual slackness in our correspondence, I was totally unaware of what had led to her death. The irony is when I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis I had written to her dramatically that it was ‘the beginning of the end’ for me not knowing that death was already waiting to knock on her door and that it was going to ignore me for these many years !
The next one was Ganga* whom I met in one of the Air Force units. Our quarters were opposite each other’s. We were of same age and we had been married for the same number of years. We both had baby daughters of the same age. Her thick long black hair was the striking feature of her lovely personality. She was a very chirpy, cheerful person cutting jokes all the time. Comparing my hyper active child with hers she would good naturedly say, “Oh, look at the fat lump of my daughter. She is wholly content to sit in one place with her toys and play”. Being a medical graduate, she was teaching part time in a local prestigious medical college. Being of a similar disposition, we had a great time together.
Next time I met her in Delhi; it was a shock to see her with a silk scarf tied around her shaven head. My friend Ganga was counting days to meet the Creator. She had terminal brain cancer. She was happy to see me and she tried to be her usual jovial self. But she could not help confiding in me, uncharacteristically enough, “Vimala, I wish I had died with all my hair intact because now this is how my husband and children will remember me”. I took leave of her with a heavy heart never to see her again.
The fourth one to drop off in the journey of life was Preeta*, a vibrant, jolly, intelligent girl fond of adventure. In fact I had met her mother earlier when she had come to give a lecture in an educational seminar and I had not been much impressed by her. So when Preeta joined the teaching staff in our school, I was quite surprised to hear that she was the daughter of the lady educator I had met earlier. With her joie de vivre, Preeta fitted easily into our group of three musketeers (like D’Artagnan!) During the time we were together, we had a great rapport. But later I lost touch with her.
One day I was unpacking the paper bundle in which the provisions from the grocery had been packed. With my habit of reading anything black on white, I started going through the news items on the slip of paper. A picture and the write up underneath caught my eye. It was my friend Preeta’s death report. She had married a German gentleman who shared her love of mountaineering. Her death, an accident, had occurred on one of the treks in the hills. One more untimely snuffing out of a bright and lively human being!
It is pre ordained when we should meet our end and nobody is capable of reversing what is in store for us. The least we can do is to leave a few sweet memories behind enriching ours as well as others’ lives.
* Names changed.