By Deepika Sahu

I was in high school (in small town Orissa) when Aseema, my eldest sister went to Hyderabad to do her masters in political science. The admissions to JNU was restricted that year due to some student unrest. So she went to Central University, Hyderabad to do her masters. It was a new university... Theirs was the second batch of students. So if it was a new beginning for my sister's batch, it was also a new beginning for the university trying to find a foothold in the high brow world of academics.

In many ways, my sister's going to Hyderabad opened new windows for me. Through her, I experienced a whole new world---- different from the soporific world in which I was growing up. Their campus in the city was called Golden Threshold --- which was named after a poem by Sarojini Naidu, India's nightingale. So, suddenly GT in Nampally Station Road became a reference point in conversations with my sister.

We used to always eagerly wait for her semester break in both winter and summer. She not only brought lots of goodies for us from Hyderabad, she also brought back a suitcase full of stories for us. She was the first one to go to a hostel. So, we all looked forward to listen to her experience, her rendezvous with the exciting outside world, her tryst in a big city. Through her stories, she slowly brought in a whole lot of new faces into our young world. She brought us photographs of her friends ----- Rajyashree, Venkat, Satya, Kamal, Jaba, John, Gayatri, Sabita and regaled us with her stories about them. Suddenly they were not just her friends. They became familiar faces. When we wrote to her, we asked about them though we did not meet them. Then as the months passed, some friendships grew deeper. Outside the comforts of home, some of them became her new family as they studied together, laughed together, ate together and of course fought on some occasions. She told us how they bullied Venkat into doing things they wanted him to do. How he never hurt them but sometimes he didn't talk to them for some days together. But then they were too close to stop talking for a long period. So the fights were buried too soon to start another new chapter in their friendship. Venkat and my sister became close friends. And she used to talk about his fascination for playing table tennis, his helping nature and his humble family and more.

From Hyderabad, my sister moved to Delhi. So also Venkat and some of her other friends like Satya, Gayatri and Sabita. She did her M Phil and moved back to Orissa to take up a job. And then following her footsteps, I moved to Delhi for my studies. And there I met some of her friends who were still in the campus Suddenly they came into life from the pages of album. They were there in front of me in flesh, blood. I could see them laugh, argue and have endless cups of tea in Ganga Dhaba. I no longer saw them through the lens of a camera. But through my own eyes. And I must say almost all of them were really nice to me because I was Aseema's sister. I understood the thread of their friendship, I understood the language of that delicate bond called relationship.

Then as they say life took its own turn and twists. They all got jobs and moved out of the red brick campus of JNU to fight their own battle in that war zone called life. Occasionally during my annual visits to Orissa, my sister and me talked about her old friends over a cup of tea. She talked about Rajyashree getting married to her old boyfriend, she talked about gentle-at-heart Venkat making to the Indian Foreign Service. When she came to Delhi, she went to Gayatri Didi's house for dinner to talk about old friends, new acquaintances, aging teachers, new passions for buying saris.

The rigours of life brought in new challenges. Even as we chased new goals, most of these faces again went back to that album of life called memory. They were there ----- but one did not take out the album from the cupboard everyday to see their faces. But somehow, you always had this secure feeling that they will be there --- safe and sound. Nothing can harm them.... at best they can just gather dust. And then you can wipe off the dust with your soft hand and they will all again smile and look at you with the same tenderness.

But destiny willed it otherwise. On 7th July, I got a call from sister in the night. She's the one who switches off her mobile at 9 in the night (and we have quite a lot of fights on this issue). It was almost 10 O' clock, so I asked her "Hello, what's the breaking news? You are calling up at this hour and your mobile in not switched off." She said, "Oh, you know Venkat died in the Kabul Blast.(He was the diplomat who died in the suicide attack in the Indian embassy in Kabul). Sabita just confirmed the news." Suddenly, words became too meaningless as my mind went back to all those years when she used to tell a hundred stories about Venkat, their close friendship and their carefree years in Hyderabad and Delhi.

And ironically, 7th July is my sister's birthday. Who will bring life to that photograph in the album which has yellowed a bit, torn a bit on the backside but still very much there?


Selerines said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

A very touching story. May his family and friends find strength to cope with the loss.

Anonymous said...

Good stuff

Video Interviews