I was feeling dizzy & nauseous in class[8th std] one day; the teacher asked for a volunteer to accompany me outside & when Neetu was the only one who put her hand up, I was pathetically gratified.
The next day I had forgotten to bring my lunchbox & Neetu who went home for lunch came back with 4 slices of Masala Bread from Iyengar’s bakery. I decided then & there that I’ll be her friend for life.
Her house was very close to our school. Very soon we were spending all our time in & out of school together. She was the only child to her parents & luckily for us her parents took a liking to me.
I say luckily because there were quite a few instances we got mad at eachother & it was her parents who solved our issues & got us back together.
We were not at all alike Neetu & I……infact when I look back now I cannot imagine how we ever became friends & spent more than 13+ yrs in eachother’s company.
We both loved books; but she preferred gritty hard hitting novels like Jeffrey Archer & Sidney Sheldon whereas I leaned towards the mushier stuff like Danielle Steele & Mills & Boon.
We loved music; she preferred English head banging stuff & was crazy about George Michael & other boy bands; I enjoyed 60’s & 70’s Hindi music.
The only things we unanimously agreed upon was…… our mutual dislike for kids. Our favourite timepass at Christmas & other get togethers was to make grotesque faces at kids, scaring them away & grinning conspiratedly at eachother.
So many memories…..
*She always dragged me along when she was buying clothes. It just happened that whenever we went together she always got exactly what she was looking for.
*We’d order something at a restaurant & my meal always looked & tasted better than hers. She used to be so peeved & cunningly talk me into exchanging plates.
*She had 4 dogs……one of them was named after her cousin Johnnie & cousin Johnnie had a dog named Neetu. U can very well imagine what transpired whenever they met.
Both my dogs Toothie & Cookie were gifted to me by her parents.
*Can never forget our trips to the Mecca library at Commercial street & Cox town where we whiled away a lot of time.
*She was the one who enlightened me that babies can also come out from the passage below[till then I was under the impression that the only option was to cut open the stomach to take the baby out]
*Death by Chocolate at Corner House, Residency Rd was our favourite dessert. It cost a whopping Rs.35 that time. On special occasions, we’d both order 1 each. She would eat hers quickly & then impatiently wait coz she knew I’ll stop halfway & give the remaining to her….infact most of the treats ended the same way.
*She loved the cocoa cakes & appams my mom made.
*If you pulled up the mattress on her bed, you’ll find tiny paper packets of chilli powder & salt underneath……..she always ate it while reading a book.
*On one of her birthdays I gave her a gift wrapped package. She opened the wrapper to find a cardboard box which had Prestige Pressure Cooker written on it. She tried hard to hide her disgust & then was so thrilled when she saw a pair of sports shoes inside.
Around 6 years after we became friends we were nostalgically discussing how highly unlikely our friendship was, if not for that single act of kindness at the beginning & I find out that she volunteered to accompany me out coz she was bored & was looking for a way to get out of class.
Though I threw something at her at that time, I grinned understandingly as the explanation made complete sense.
In college we were in different classes & made other friends but always found time to spend with eachother.
Her mother is a well known gynecologist who had a hectic schedule. To get away from all that stress, every year they went on a 1-2 weeks holiday to some vacation spot. I was always included since Neetu would refuse to go without me. Thanks to them I’ve been to many places in South India like Madras, Kodaikanal, Ooty, Goa and stayed in the best places. Sometimes Aunty would generously tell me to bring my sister along too but Neetu was not too enthusiastic about the idea coz it meant that she had to share me with my sister.
Even today when I see Hersheys chocolates & those huge Danish biscuit tins I think of Neetu. She had several aunts & uncles abroad who would send her delicious chocolates & biscuits. Like a typical only child who didn’t know how to share, she would open the box & pick out the thinnest ones to give me. As an afterthought however she would promise to get me 1 whole tin when she went abroad & got a job.
I loved her……..quirks and all. She was older to me agewise but I was incharge[atleast I thought so]. After college she went away to Chennai to study a complex course in Computer Science but we kept in touch with letters. When she came back after a year, we got together & it was ‘almost’ like before.
I worked somewhere close to her house, so was able to drop in to chat & catch up every opportunity I got.
Her parents were looking for a groom for her long before mine started to but somehow her marriage never happened.
Then I got married & left to Dubai. We wrote mails to each other every once in a while & spoke on birthdays & special occasions but after sometime we sort of stopped communicating.
But every year when I go on vacation I visit her without fail. We are happy to see eachother & catch up on the latest with each other but somewhere something’s missing. We are no longer able to just carry on where we left off. Conversation dries up within 20-30 mins after meeting. Then its just about the weather & other general stuff. My kids don’t interest her at all…..I smile resignedly….she still hasn’t changed in that respect.
I felt like the smallest thing on earth, when once in a moment of weakness she told me how hounded & pressurized she & her parents felt because of her unmarried status and that she deliberately looked for a job outside the country so that she could escape from it all.
So when she asks me the standard question “So how’s married life???”, I act quite bored, pretend the grass is greener on her side & that she’s lucky to have escaped the noose.
I see the sadness in her parents’ eyes when they see me with my kids. I feel guilty somewhere inside me for leading a normal life in contrast to their daughter. Just for a moment I feel like as if I’ve deserted their daughter after being by her side for more than a decade.
She is somewhere in Singapore now & our vacations to India don’t happen at the same time so I haven’t seen her in recent years. But there are so many things which remind me of her almost everyday….
...My firstborn is named Nikita because Neetu & I loved the name.
...My wedding anniversary falls on her birthday
...Archie Comics & Mad Magazines always remind me of her.
...'Sacrifice', 'Final Coundown', 'Careless whispers' & 'Last Christmas' teleport me straight into her messy room.
...When I bake a cocoa cake I wish there was a way I could send some of it to her.
I've written quite a few mails asking her how she’s been, reminiscing our days together but haven’t received a single reply back. Once upon a time I could have given you a detailed account of how exactly her mind worked.
My mother tells me that they have shifted their residence to another part of town & for the 1st time I realize I don’t have another contact number other than their old house phone number[I lost my cell phone & in the process lost her contact number].
I know she’s decided to cut loose…….decided that old memories & connections don’t serve any purpose except to remind her of the void in her life.
It hurts that she doesn’t want anything to do with me, that she finds it so easy to just dismiss the times we spent together. Worst of all it haunts me that I never tried hard enough to keep in touch with her.
But even today if I have to talk about her it's always "My best friend Neetu used to........".
I guess, old habits die hard.