Friday, 11 November 2016

Gone girl.

Now that we're all grown up, our mentors must be hugely relieved. The pathologically troublesome duo, magnets to everything that was frowned upon and forbidden, doing precisely what we were told not to. Born one street and two days apart from each other, we were joined at the hip by crime, transgressions and loads and loads of laughter.
School was a game of dodge. Dodging the headmistress who'd stand watch at the entrance gates to greet us, the invariable late-comers. Dodging uniform checks, there was always something out of place, the hair wasn't tied right or the shoes, or socks or..we couldn't keep up, or didn't want to. Dodging homework collection, dodging something or the other. Notoriously infamous, every teacher had an eye on us. 
We couldn't even take the straight road back home, meandering between snack kiosks, food carts, and Popsicle stores. Finally falling into an endlessly looping drop-off routine. First you drop me off to the door, then I to yours and then, because we still couldn't bear to part ways, you at my door, and on it went... Until we were caught out by either your father, the die-hard disciplinarian, or my meddling brothers, the die-hard meddlers. The only one that sped up this ritual was a donkey. India, being India we faced-off rather unexpectedly one time with a charging donkey. Chatting as we always did about the world, teachers and boys, we had startled to see a large donkey galloping purposefully in our direction. A screaming, crying hysterical race ensued - us against the donkey! Only when it caught up, hearts pounding, pulse racing and...ran right past us, did the warm sweat of foolishness flood over. We went from screechy screams to belly aching laughter so quickly, it sounded all the same!
Neither of us ever had two coins to rub together. Luckily for us, we both came from parents that believed in earning money first, to have any to spend. So whenever we got really desperate for a midway snack of those spicy hot, deliciously savoury potato dumplings in bread (vada pav), we resorted to devious tactics. One that was repeatedly pulled off with consistent success, was the 'we are foreigners' trick. Hovering around the vendors’ kiosk, putting on fake American accents to play the 'foreigners', we would enquire most affectedly after the 'vada pav'. Explaining we were from out of town and would like to try the local food. Asking him for a taste in our practiced 'posh' manner. And when we'd had our fill, the panic search for money - our last act - played out. Why he humoured us every week for years, I'll never know. At some point we dropped the foreign accents and claimed to have settled down permanently. We still have a long standing debt with this dear, if poor, migrant vendor who never did let us settle our debts but remained our friend, always. How many such relationships we struck along the way, I don't know. Often people were appalled at first at the obnoxious audacity of our antics and then somehow won over by the ingenuity and gall of it all.

Either out of intrigue or excitement, over the years other little girls joined our alliance, struck easily and innocently, as is the case with children. Some recruits were as crazy as we were, gladly getting into all the trouble we did. Some others were just in it for the ride. Not her though, she was different. I can't recall exactly when or how we became so close. She wanted in and yet was careful to eschew our embarrassing ways, withstanding any peer-pressure. Mostly, she watched disapprovingly as we, her ever closer cronies, found new, more deliciously ridiculous ways to make public spectacles of ourselves in a constant quest to rise from the inconsequence of early teenage girlhood. To be seen, to matter and entertain. It was a total clash of personalities. Her distinctly feminine, shy, soft, sweet ways. We stomping around, loud, pushy and fearless. Keeping our awkwardness all the way from little girls to gwaky teenagers. Unmoved by any dignity lent through her presence. Occupied more by the insignificance of our existence. Constantly devising means to counter it.

To rebels like us, she was little miss goody two shoes with the fetching smile, and effortless kindness even to the less fortunate children in class. Deeply empathetic people are often as deeply sensitive and easy to hurt. There was no telling what or who would yank her into a river of tears. 'Water tanker' is what the girls in their cattiness called her. Perhaps it was that vulnerability that tugged at very boy's early protectionist instincts, enchanting them into a hopeless infatuation. Or perhaps it was simply the fact that she was so exquisitely, obviously, naturally pretty. Either way, every boy we ever knew fell for her, lock, stock and barrel. While the rest of us tom-boys brooded over one-sided crushes, doomed to single-hood forever. She didn’t even seem to notice the string of broken young boy hearts trailing behind her. We grew up alongside her, learning little. It's funny though, how some impressions from eons ago stay indelible. Carved into the deepest recesses of memory. To stay, whatever else transpires. To date I recall vividly how her head bobbed when she spoke. Her eyes twinkling, trimmed by long glorious eyelashes. I daresay if I was a boy, I'd have gladly joined the trail of broken hearts.

In one of the more constructive moments, our masterminds of nonsense founded a girl group of 11 year old's - 'The Dynamite Girl's'. Without resistance or participation she had included herself in our schemes, indulging us. Top on the agenda for 'The dynamite girls’ was saving the world. From what and whom could be determined later. The most action we ever saw was scaring each other off at the local grave yard. Undeterred, secret girl group meetings convened after school, in the scorching heat, on the roof top of an old gate. Admittance was only permitted to those that knew the secret password. The group was serious business. Serious about making someone, anyone, curious about our activities. A secret code language was devised to communicate with. Letters were written diligently every Wednesday to practice and learn the code, and most of all, to keep up the illusion of relevance. We were all sold to the idea of the group, which we stubbornly held on to for quite a while. Everybody but her. I think now, that she might have actually hated it. Nevertheless, she played along. Without resistance or participation. Mindful not to hurt our feelings. Always mindful not to hurt anyone’s feelings. Even providing our sorry ambitions with not only her company but also lunch box provisions. Generally opposed to our behaviour, she played along to please us. Maybe she stopped practicing the code language sooner than others, but other than that, she never protested. Never told us off. Never broke away. I’d like to think that despite our differences we enjoyed each other. Opposing and attracting, that's how it goes, right? We, the audaciously brazen balanced off by her graceful gentleness. In transition, at the edge of childhood, preparing each other for everything that comes after.

It didn’t work out both ways, I don’t think. Perhaps those wonderful childhood memories are not equally wonderfully shared. I recall her as the most pleasant person from my growing years. Of hatters, craziness, bravado and brilliance there were many. The ones that painted the town red, and delighted in it. She stood out with plain and simple pleasantness. Kind, smiling, soft, pleasant. Pleasant, also meaning pleasing. Pleasing her friends, pleasing her teachers, her family. Pleasing her siblings, the baby brother. A polite, God fearing, ardent catholic. Conforming to everything people expected.

Until she finally rebelled. Disappearing into the oblivion. Tired of all the nice pleasantness. For years now nobody’s heard of her. She’s left us no trace, nothing that would lead us back to her. Gone. No one more to please.

Caught in the busyness of mid-life, we're attending to Instagram-ed projections of our perfect lives. How to get thinner thighs and thicker hair. Where to live next, what our kids will become. Remembering to forget. Afraid to face the effects of all the mistakes we made with her. It's easier to add to them, now than mend any. Too far gone, too weak to take responsibility. Easy is the popular choice. 
So, no one knows what became of her. Does she still smile that fetching smile? Do her eyes still twinkle under those glorious lashes?

You are missed, gone girl. And we are sorry. We have failed you. 

St. Johns School - Thane

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