Years ago, I met a woman amid a sea of people in the big, big city of Delhi. She happened to be from my village, which was a great discovery in itself, and we became neighbours too, which was a bonus. When you live so far away from home and chance upon someone from the same town or village as you there is a natural bonding. But more than sharing the same background of descent, though not familial, we developed a unique friendship. I call it unique because we are different in so many ways.
In 2007, I had blogged about her because I was so touched by her story. Read Grim Predicament. It was not the ‘woe is me’ kind of story but it had a different appeal, the kind where you just lack the support to change your life. I don’t believe in crappy clichés, things like one can bring epic changes upon oneself. Seriously, you have to be a Mother Teresa or a Gandhi to do that. It is easy to say ‘I will change my life’ but life on an everyday basis needs a helping hand from those around you. Laymen like us do need help. I myself am a big sucker for help and company.
My friend Poonam did not complete school, got married early to an army man and spent most of her life post marriage outside her village living in different parts of India. Those working in the armed forces in India are on a transferable job every three years. While it is enjoyable seeing different parts of the country, the flip side is the constant change and instability, no sooner have you settled in than you are trying to pack and move out. Three years is a short time if you are trying to measure stability. It was in one of this ‘shift and move’ phases that she got pregnant but lost her baby when he was just one week old. The medical complexity was such that she could not conceive again. Worse is the emotional trauma she faces till today with her mother in law and husband’s relatives in the village busy looking for another wife for her husband because she has not been able to produce an heir. It is like one of the stories of yore which our grandmother narrated during bedtime – of witches and evil people. I have been totally mortified by her story.
Behind all this is a woman with the greatest sense of humour and a generous heart. Perhaps this is why I enjoyed her friendship so much as a neighbour and compatriot. She could get up instantly and dance in her bikinis to a song. She was a great entertainer. I could call her anytime and ask her to cook for me if I was lazy after a night shift. She was my pick up friend. I used to pick her up anytime for a chit chat or a drive or a laughing session. And sometimes, we had deep, deep conversations, and they were deep because we talked about life. I didn’t care we were not discussing a Murakami book. But the proximity of our lives, the details of our conversations, the sharing of the ordinary things was great fillip to the friendship. And in her house, she had a big photo of me up her wall. I liked that, it made me feel so loved.
I guess my friendship with Poonam is one that has no complexities. There is no ‘woman envy’ with her at any stage. By that I mean no streak of jealousy or affected feminism. I have felt that with a few women friends who even after years of friendship suddenly become ‘odd’. Are they envious of my life, I wonder? I used to make endless fun of Poonam and she did the same. One of the quirks of friendship is that you know it is on a firm footing when you can say offensive things to each other but still be sensitive about a few things. For instance, I would not call her fat!
Last week, a phone called stirred up the comfort of my past life. The sound of comfort, I call it. I had lost touch with Poonam as she was on the move again. But I was thinking about her a lot and had even asked my family if they heard from her. Meanwhile, Poonam said she kept seeing me in her dreams and was desperately trying to find one of my family members. The power of telepathy! She had lost her phone with all the contacts in it so it was almost like trying to find a needle in a haystack. To her good luck she found out someone who knew my uncle in the village. Through my uncle, she got my brother’s number and through my brother she got my number. “I thought I would die without meeting you… I kept seeing you in my dreams… talking to you is like being reborn…” Her words kept coming. “Hingchaaaaaaaabi (man eater)… where the hell were you” I screamed in excitement. Through the telephone, we connected again, a tangle of closeness that I hope will always stay. She is now using her husband’s Facebook to look at my pictures.