A Very Long Time Ago, in a city 1781 kilometres from here by train, there lived a MinCat. In those days her exciting pseudonym was something else, and she was a bright-eyed, bizarrely squirrel-like 20-year old.
One year, by a spate of terrible bad luck, or by just being a horrible person, she lost almost every close friend she had. She barely passed her last exam and ran home to lick her wounds. The next year she had, perforce to return and finish her degree. The first term she spent in the library and on her bed in the hostel, reading. The very nice girls in the hostel coaxed her back to some socialising, as did the very crazy people in the theatre club. A classmate invited her to come along and see a short play she was acting in at another college and sitting backstage she made friends with a lovely boy, whom, for the sake of discretion, we shall call Chica. He was very lovely, and played the guitar like a god. We began to hang out more and more.
The previous year I’d been co-opted as crew member for a trip to Bangalore, and had discovered my talent and love for backstage work. That year, when madness happened and the costume chief for the mid-term production went cuckoo, my friend, who was Joint-Secretary, asked me to step in. Three days of madness and esoteric costumes for an esoteric play (Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia) that I had never read, sewing up people’s chinos, while they were still in them, to make pantaloons, and fumbling in the dark backstage to redo the seams that had split managed to reorient me into college life, and soon Chica and I were fast friends.
Come November and we had to cast and execute the annual production, and during the long winter rehearsals of basking in the sun on the lawn I came to know Chica’s friend, whom some readers already know as OOF. OOF was (and forgive me for this love) a not-tall, skinny boy with acne and wire-rimmed spectacles. He sang along well to Chica on the guitar, and soon enough the two of us became the three of us. People began to call Chica and OOF my left and right hands, only no-one know which was which. Many mornings, spent productively bunking classes that were so behind schedule that my revision was ahead of them, consisted of chai and the guitar sprawled on one of the lawns.
OOF was, irresistibly, sweet to me, He sent me smses – we even had one code one – and we talked about books, we bitched about the other girl who hung out with us, and giggled endlessly on long rickshaw rides to Chung Town. When I went home for the winter vacation, he wrote me emails almost every day, and we spent a lot of time chatting. This was the days of dial-up mind you. On New Year morning, I woke up to an email in my inbox, sent at 3.30am.
FIRST eMail I’m writing after getting back home: HAPPY NEW YEAR!
That’s it, I was done for. For the first time in my life, I fell in love with someone, and he was only 18. I know, I know. He was also close to being my best friend, so when, one drunken night at a friend’s house, she urged me to tell him, I did. He replied: I’m flattered. Right.
Time goes on, we’re still close and we acquire a fourth person for the gang, whom y’all know as the Dragon, and she ended up with Chica. It was difficult to see them being a couple when OOF and I were patently not (or so I thought. I later discovered that rumour had us a couple). But we were very close, the four of us, and that’s how we stayed.
March trawled around, and I didn’t go home for study leave. The highlight of that month was one cellular service provider making incoming calls free a whole month before the rest – which meant OOF could call me and we could talk three hours a night. And we did. I was raised to be in bed at 9 and up by 6 and everyone knows that you’re not allowed to call me after 11pm unless it’s dire. When he called me every night at 12, I’d wake up and grab the phone and pretend to have been awake. It didn’t help that my phone was temperamental, and the battery died halfway through the ring unless it was plugged in. My roommates, and all the people in the hostel who had to go through my room to get the loo got used to ducking to avoid the wire that hung across their path. They also teased me mercilessly about the phonecalls, once even chasing me all over the hostel making kissy noises at the phone. (Yes we were silly. Isn’t that the point of college?)
These phonecalls were difficult, because OOF had several girlfriends through all this time, and he’d talk to me about them. Or about his first love. Or some friend of mine that he found irresistibly hot. And while I didn’t want to hear about it, I knew that the only way I could not damage our friendship was to be his friend, because if I refused to listen to parts of his life then he’d slowly forget me. The phonecalls were also the highlight of my day, because we also just talked. About everything! Once he took me to breakfast. I was over the moon. At the cast party for that play, he kissed me. I couldn’t believe it had happened, and he acted like it hadn’t.
College was drawing to an end and it was breaking my heart. I had never been in a place that didn’t penalise me for being an intelligent but conventionally unattractive woman, and it was exhilarating to be around people who DID read in their spare time, DID speak English and COULD do many things and excel academically at the same time. I was torn because I had a gang, these three people without whom I couldn’t imagine life. But my academic interests were leading me back home and I couldn’t imagine ever being happy like that again. And I couldn’t imagine ever meeting anyone else who, once I had expressed my interest, wouldn’t run screaming (which is what all of them pre-OOF did).
But I had to go. And things with OOF just got worse. He’d shower me with attention, and make promises to spend time with me, and then vanish because of another girl. He swore himself blue in the face he’d be there for my birthday, and then vanished to see another girl. He told everyone we both knew how much he missed me, but he wouldn’t reply to my emails. I did some crazy stuff too, but nothing terrible given the periodic encouragement he gave me, besides, it’s MY blog, I ain’t gonna document it ;) There was more kissing followed by more ignoring. Everyone told me to cut him out of my life, because he was patently bad for me. But whenever I went back to visit, we had our gang and I couldn’t break it up.
I went to spend New Year with them, and made them dinner in my friends’ house. It was perfect, just the four of us. We ate, drank, talked, laughed, did our usual silly stuff. Then, about half an hour past midnight, OOF decided he must leave, because he wants to call his then girlfriend. We tried to convince him to stay, because it was supposed to be a gang reunion, and it wasn’t the safest thing to be out driving past midnight on the 31st of December, but he wouldn’t listen. Something snapped. I got up, walked to the front door and said, fine, leave. Slammed it behind him, locked it and collapsed in tears. I cried for hours that night and poor Chica and Dragon had to pet me and soothe me. I decided that the time had come, he was no longer my dependable friend, and I just could not handle how much it hurt every time he let me down anymore.
I went home the next day, and the next time he saw me on chat, he tried to apologise but I politely told him to have a happy life, and keep me out of it.
Time went by, and I was kept up to date on his antics. Suffice to say they were disturbing. Chica and the Dragon began to withdraw from him as well, and shook their heads saying they didn’t know what to do. In August that year I had to go and visit. I was dreading it, because I was going to need a ride in his car, on his birthday. I decided to be polite. So very polite. “Thank you so much for giving me a ride, I really appreciate it.” “I’m so sorry to impose, but I need a ride back to the Dragon’s house. I had something else planned, but it fell through. I really hate to impose, but could you please give me a ride? Thank you so much.” “Could you please pass my bag?” And so on, until one day he snapped, “STOP BEING SO POLITE”. And then ranted all the way back. When I got home that day I was elated, because for the first time we’d had a conversation where he had been emotional and ranting, and I had been composed and distant.
The antics got worse. I won’t detail them, because they aren’t my stories. Suffice to say there were destructive, juvenile, selfish and very painful for people caught in them. I was even more grateful we were no longer friends.
A lot of time went by. I got over the scars, and stopped telling the story of the cruellest thing he said to me. I made other friends, met other boys, even fell in love a couple of times. We were in touch through the Dragon, and I was sardonically amused when he ended up working where my parents live, after breaking two promises to come visit me. I called him on his birthday and made fake promises to meet up that I fully planned to break. I delayed meeting him and his girlfriend. Then one day, I was desperately lonely and sad and decided that I needed to get out of the house. So I met them. And I LOVED his girlfriend. I went home and texted the Dragon: how the fuck does he land these incredible women when he’s such a chhooth?
I went back to NY, and forgot about it. But then I came back and he was the only person I knew. He called me and said let’s get a drink. I thought, what the hell. We had fun, because we’re people who click. Then he called me again the following week. We went to karaoke, and sang college songs. We called the Dragon from the bar and she promptly came down to visit. We spent three days together, like college, except the two of them were discussing their true loves and the babies they wanted to have. It felt a bit weird, because they are both two years younger than I am. OOF came to my parents house and we had a long, alcoholic and hysterical sleepover. the Dragon went home. OOF and I started to hang out twice a week. I was cut off from the fairly full life I’d had in NY, it seemed I was unemployable, and his girlfriend was on a very long business trip. Every time I felt like I was going to burst, I’d text him: WEP? And he’d show up. He brought his friends to karaoke, and I brought mine. We all got along. Suddenly, he was my dependable close friend again. Suddenly, it was back to five years ago, except we were both grown up.
Today we are those kind of friends who are beyond fights. We can say and do almost anything (except talk of you-know-what after dark), and argue and lose our tempers, but it won’t destroy what lies beneath. Not one of my friends from college and just after can believe that this relationship exits, heck OOF and I sometimes have to pinch ourselves. The last time I was in Delhi, I had to field four interrogations about him and deal with four sets of utter disbelief that we are friends again. And yet, here we are. A place where, no matter who told me I would be I wouldn’t have believed them; a place where OOF and I would have been if we had never gotten derailed.
And every time we think about it, it gives us hope.
“MinCat, if you and I can be here, then anything is possible.”