Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Sruthy John. My 2 am friend you couldn’t be, what with us discovering our friendship only when you were 5000 miles and 4 time zones away. In school, you were the one kid I truly admired, albeit secretly. Oozing with confidence (having a 5’6” frame did give you an advantage over the other puny 6th graders!), that maverick spirit of yours was like no other I’d seen. Heck, you were twelve and already seemed to know enough about history, literature, classic movies and vintage cars than people twice your age! You introduced me to Juanes and the Sadie Hawkins dance and Susan Coolidge. Like Katy, I saw in you the same unbridled spirit, waiting to escape, over the hills and yonder. I used to marvel at the ease with which you questioned facts, challenged conventional ways of thinking and brought new dimensions to the class discussion. We had a book club of sorts, you and me, its sole members. Reading and sharing stories of fictional characters was how we connected at that time; I astill cherish the “grown-up” conversations we used to have about Ruskin Bond and Roald Dahl’s literary style and prowess. Other than that we kept to ourselves, never suspecting that just a few years down the line we would still be sharing stories, only this time, of a different kind.
The end of the prologue came with the announcement of your moving to Australia. Australia! The continent that had captivated my senses ever since we’d studied it extensively in Geography two years before. It was the land with the strikingly beautiful Great Barrier Reef, the (seemingly) cute Koala bears and the fantastic tales of gold-diggers and convicts and you, oh Sruthy, were going to live there! My envy knew no bounds. The last day of school, you handed out (the now embarrassing) “autograph” book and I wrote you a small note wishing you love and luck, and almost as an afterthought, included my email ID. “It’s a pity you didn’t come home; we have a street lined with coconut trees, leading up to the house, which you would have liked.” you told me. And then you were gone, beyond the hills, to make new adventures. You became a fictional character for me in an exotic land; your emails- the chapters of a book I couldn’t put down. We wrote of big events in our lives, of friends, parties and summer camps and those ordinary, no big-deal moments that are so special too. Exchanging thoughts and dreams, hopes and fears, on life and love, we sealed the bond of a friendship that may have not happened at all, but just, thankfully, did.
It was in Ammichi and Appachin- your grandparent’s- home in Quilon, Kerala that acquainted me with the motherly side of you. You took me by hand and showed me around the quaint house, in which not only you but also your father had had many a happy memories. There was something in the lingering smell of the old wood that permeated every nook and the fragrance of the jasmine and orchids that Ammichi grew in the garden, which evoked memories that I couldn’t quite place; a familiar aroma here, a wistful touch there. I was about to fall asleep till you incidentally began speaking of albinos after the lights were out. And then I needed a glass of water and begged you accompany me to the kitchen. Never had I seen you so shocked! Sixteen years old I was and still afraid of the dark, of what I'd find, or wouldn't, if I rummaged through its shadows. After politely asking me to grow up, you pretended to be asleep. But after my persistent whining, took me firmly by the hand and led me to the kitchen, talking to me about the latest George Clooney movie and chocolate doughnuts till I forgot my fear. Below that sturdy exterior, was a heart full of kindness and I smiled, knowing that you were definitely a keeper. Over my first typical Malayali breakfast of putta and palam (steamed coconut rice cakes with mashed bananas), Appachin regaled us with stories of his days as a sailor, on adventures of a lifetime, out in the open sea. So this is where you’d acquired your free spirited and unafraid nature! And from you I imbibed a strong sense of independent thinking, a passion to delve into causes I believed in and the courage to see them through. You stimulated me by pushing boundaries of our conversations to new levels till I struggled to keep up and began questioning my own comfortable beliefs, finally learning to be undaunted in the face of the uncertain.
“What’s this?” you ask me, as I request the rickshaw driver to take the road that leads us away from our destination. “A good way to start the day”, I answer vaguely. You are surprised but I keep mum till we’re almost there. “Hey, this street looks familiar”, you say and I laugh. We’d reached an end to one phase of our lives and were now embarking on another. Like Appachin’s journey into the boundless sea, we too were at the threshold of new beginnings and unknown destinations. Yet I knew our story would remain incomplete till I’d walked with you down the road lined with coconut trees, leading up to your home. Smilingly, I took your hand and we began walking.