I do not have gazillion great pals. What I do have are numerous acquaintances spread all over the globe, a few good friends I exchange warm “hellos” and “how dos” with, on and off and fewer great buddies who I love with all my heart, but don’t have the good fortune of keeping in touch with as often as I’d like to. But I can safely boast of a handful of absolutely fantastic pals (and I do not mean this in an academic way), who know me as intimately as only best pals can- friends in the true sense of the word. My relationships with these people go a long way back and somehow instead of growing apart (as people normally do with increasing distance and passing time), I have actually gotten closer to them than I would have ever expected. This doesn’t mean that I chat with them night and day and see them every other week. Far from it. But what I feel for them goes beyond the physical limitations of time and space.
“Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.” ~Oprah Winfrey
I will not name the gazillion acquaintances (who wouldn’t really care two hoots were I to fall off the face of this earth) since that would not only be a repugnant waste of time, but also not central to the theme of what I am about to say. I will mention two people though who through the many years of knowing me, continue to remain the two friends closest to my heart. I will not nominate either as my “best” friend, since I love them both equally and attributing the “best” tag to either one of them would not be justified. Of course there are others who probably know me better and are closer to me, such as my both my parents, my husband, my Cleo and most importantly, my beloved divine guru. But I want to speak of the people who are not my immediate family and yet, almost as close. Therefore, I talk of Shalini and Wilson- my best friends.
“It is the friends you can call up at 4 a.m. that matter.” ~Marlene Dietrich
“Shalu” as I have been calling her for as many years as I care to remember, has always been my “best friend” in the traditional sense of the word and veritably the only “girl” pal I’ve ever had- both for the longest period of time ever. And yes, she has also been the only friend I ever got used to calling at abominable hours in the day (and night) and I was never uncomfortable doing it.
We got to know each other when we both moved to Jangid Complex, a combination of housing societies which has evolved over time with a life force of its own. I had moved in from Santacruz and Shalu had moved in from another housing society within Mira-Road. We were both thrown into each other’s lives along with a bunch of other fresh faces and confused characters, with whom we grew up in Jangid. I went to school with a few of them (my gang pal Sujith springs instantly to mind), although shalu’s schooling happened elsewhere. Even though we spent the majority of our daytimes apart, we got to know each other better during our designated playtimes in the evenings (we were allowed to play after school for an hour or so before heading home for grub and homework). I remember so many evenings spent playing what would now seem silly games like Lagori, Dubba I Spy, Saankli and Kho Kho to name a few. We were especially good at Kabbaddi and somehow…in the boys vs girls kabbaddi matches, Shalu and I would often be playing on the boys team. Don’t ask…why that used to happen is a mystery that has eluded me all these years and still does. I was always the tomboy, while she was more balanced in her ways. I used to float around aimlessly in worn blue jeans pants and baggy t-shirts, while she would alternate between skirt-top pieces and pant-shirt ensembles. We became especially famous (or infamous-depending upon one’s point of view) among the entire group of kids belonging to our age group. We came to be known as “one of the guys!” the “Gangsta girls!” all in all the opinion that used to follow us wherever we went was, “Cool Girls! Great fun! Lekin Panga Nahin Lene Ka!!!!”
Soon, we began spending more time together when we got to the ninth grade and enrolled in the same coaching class for the ninth and tenth grade school and board exams. We began attending the classes together and the regular norm was that I’d take my cycle to her place –three buildings away, then we both would cycle down to Sukh Sagar Classes (Yep that was the name of the place where we and a few other distressed characters spent a bulk of the frustrating early teenage years). I would always be amazed at how Shalu was able to cycle so skillfully in a skirt. She would be equally comfortable cycling in pants and also in salwar suits!!!!! I used to be a spaz with anything other than my regular Jeans-t-shirt apparel! And Shalu has more than once (that’s an understatement) been critical of my dismal wardrobe.
“A friend can tell you things you don't want to tell yourself.” ~Frances Ward Weller
I must admit-my wardrobe has never been something I’ve been proud of…only something that I’ve been extremely comfortable with. And I would have continued to live in that comfort zone oblivious to the surrounding environment and what is required to be worn in certain situations-had it not been for Shalu. In fact, my mother and Shalu used to kind of gang up together (individually of course) and tell me off about my depressing and dysfunctional wardrobe situation. Slowly but surely, they got through my thick headedness and my choice of clothing has significantly improved since then (at least I think so), although the old fashion sense keeps creeping in every now and then (and I must say I love it when that happens). Of course, being a business correspondent I have had to make some rather unsavory changes to my clothing- so hurrah! Shalu (and mom) emerge victorious.
Of course, clothing is not the only thing Shalu has been critical of. She has systematically dissected my life and my personality and critically analyzed it and not hesitated to mince her words when it boiled down to the nitty gritties. I have also always acted similarly when it came to her life and her personality traits and the funny thing is, it began most naturally for both us. Even funnier is the fact that neither of us ever thought it weird on misplaced and we have always been brutally open with each other when it came down to the finer points. Funniest of it all is the fact that neither of us ever felt hurt or misjudged. In fact all we ever felt was a sense of gratitude that we both have someone to point out things about us that we ourselves would not care to perceive consciously. I personally am thankful that Shalu told me off in the past and continues to do so even today when millions of miles and time differences separate us.
“A friend accepts us as we are yet helps us to be what we should.” ~Author Unknown
Just as we have been critical of each other, we have also been appreciative of each other’s positive traits and achievements. She particularly has always been emphatic about her pride in who I have been and become, the person that I am within, the things I have managed to achieve (there’s not much…really!) and most importantly- she has always spoken of how important I am to her. Don’t get me wrong. I am not her ONLY friend. Shalu is the kind of person who naturally tends to have the limelight focused on her (whether or not she voluntarily makes it happen) and she has been very lucky to have had a very good set of friends all through her life. But she says (and I know she means it) that I have always been her BEST friend. That goes for me definitely, since I have never had the HUGE circles of friends that she has been blessed with. I have always been the “different” one- the one with the weird traits and funny ideas, the one who doesn’t always “fit in”. Thankfully, that didn’t matter to Shalu and she accepted me with all my weirdness. For that I am grateful.
“You can always tell a real friend when you've made a fool of yourself and he doesn't feel you've done a permanent job.” ~Laurence J. Peter
Shalu and I used to talk about everything. Multitudinous topics would float through the air- sometimes over the phone; sometimes in the day over a plateful of her mum’s Vada Pav (I used to compete with her brother to finish the most vada pavs in fifteen minutes-of course I won more often than not) and often late into the night when we used to have our regular sudy-overs and sleep-overs. Our talks were never girly. In fact they used to be the exact opposite. We never gossiped- we mostly talked about the future. What life would be like when we were 30, 40, 50 etc, what kind of guys we would marry, where we would be living thirty years from then etc. We used to chat about our prevailing lives, the weirdness of the change that inevitably accompanies adolescence, the trials and tribulations our respective families were going through- stuff like that. Of course boyfriends were a HOT topic of discussion. Considering the fact that I was hopeless and had never had any boyfriends, and she had already had a couple, it usually used to be a monologue- Shalu giving me expert details about what we thought we knew about “relationships” and me listening with rapt attention to the “love guru”. We used to share almost all aspects of our lives. And what we didn’t share, we didn’t question each other about. We respected the other’s privacy which has always been a sacrosanct aspect of our relationship. But when either wants to talk, the other is there. Even now.
“A friend is the one who comes in when the whole world has gone out.” ~Grace Pulpit
I have had my fair share of troubled waters. I have been through enough nightmares to last me a lifetime. Cancer has ravaged my home, broken my family and depleted our financial, physical and emotional resources. My teenage years were fraught with financial problems, unemployment, hard work, struggles, sickness and many painful tragedies. I do not care to relive them as I have finally managed to come to terms with the fact that these are but ebbs and flows that come through every life at every turn. What I will never forget though, is the strength I found in God during those tumultuous years, the deepened love and kinship between me and my parents, the timeless companionship of a dog who was more human than animal, and lastly, the support and love of a friend who was by my side as humongous tsunamis threatened to engulf my life. Shalini lulled me to sleep when my grandmother's last cancer induced coma robbed the sleep from my eyes. She cycled with me the next day to procure the required stuff for my grandmother’s last rites. That was the first time I stared death in the face and she was the one friend who stood by me when I did. She was with me when my grandfather died and just being able to talk to her about distressful monetary situations, was a relief in itself. We laughed together when our SSC results were announced and we were cried together when leukemia threatened to take one of our best friends away from us. We went our separate ways through college- she went on to become an engineer and I graduated with a Life Sciences degree- but we never grew apart despite the different lives we had begun to lead. Even when her family decided to move far away to Navi Mumbai (that was a big blow to me), our relationship never changed…even though our telephonic conversations reduced in frequency as time went by. When I fell in love for the first time in my life, Shalu was the first person to know about it, and as my whirlwind romance progressed and culminated in marriage, Shalu was there by my side. When I completed the saath feres with my new husband, seeing her happy face was a joy in itself- a testament to all that we’d been through and to the hope that good times were finally here. The day I left Jangid, to go to Singapore, to a new home and new life, Shalu was there to bid me farewell. She knew things would be different and she didn’t hesitate to give me the biggest bear hug she’s ever given me and she didn’t hesitate to let the tears flow freely (we rarely cried in each other’s presence). I saw her one time after that when I visited India. It was like old times, sitting on her bed, eating sev puri and chatting away to glory as if hardly any time had passed. I still remember telling her about the wonders of married life and listening to her about how much she would like to have a mangal sutra “just like Twinky’s”.
"Good friends are like the stars- you don't always see them, but you know they are there" ~Author Unkown
I have not seen Shalu in a long time now. I don’t even recall when I saw her last. After I moved to Singapore and began fighting my own battles here, Shalu moved to Infosys in Chandigarh (North India) and then whooshed off to Germany where she still is. Lives have become busy. The world has become more competitive than it used to be during the simple days of Sukh Sagar. Responsibilities have piled up and ambitions are making their presence felt more and more as the days go by. As such, Shalu and I don’t speak as frequently as we used to or would like to. We call each other once in six or seven months (she does mostly) either on special occasions or simply because one of us needs to or wants to talk. Surprisingly, every time I answer the phone or hear her at the other end of the line, it’s as if she was still three buildings away and no time had passed at all. I have had that experience with only one other friend and I must admit- it is a joy in itself. And I don't mean to be dramatic. Time normally stops when two people meet/talk after ages. With Shalu and me, time just continues moving at the lazy pace it used to- more than 11 years ago.
You believed in me when I myself did not,
You trusted me- with your secrets, your fears, your loves and your despairs,
You stood by me, when I needed a friend
And you stuck with me, when I had found the ground beneath my feet.
You lauded my aspirations
And you urged me on to realize my dreams,
And when my priorities altered,
So did my dreams,
And you spurred me on to realize my new dreams.
Years have gone by and things have changed,
But memories of our friendship never grow stale.
The candid talks and the vada pavs,
The daal batis and the sev puris from Gupta’s,
Your mathematical prowess and my way with words,
Prompt and expressive birthday cards,
Friendship bands, with Disney characters on them,
Your eyes lighting up with pride every time I sang,
Your fashion tips for me-
Teaching me about eyeliners and lip liners,
Lipsticks and nailpaints,
Through all the years of studying together, planning together
Dreaming of green sequined dresses and Harrison ford,
Discussing Indian nerds and certain Filipino jerks,
Watching movies and playing Monopoly,
Sifting through boyfriends galore,
In the eternal search for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,
You were the friend on my youth
And I pray that 50 years from now,
When time has wrinkled our faces,
Scarred our hearts, fulfilled our dreams and satisfied our souls,
You will be my best friend still.
“Yesterday brought the beginning, tomorrow brings the end, and somewhere in the middle, we became the best of friends.” ~Author Unknown
"You meet people who forget you. You forget people you meet. But sometimes you meet those people you can't forget. Those are your real 'friends'" ~Author Unknown
If I had to write a short story about my friendship with Wilson, I’d probably call it “Lost and Found (that it was never Lost)”- I know its cheesy and I can probably do better with the way I title my stories, but nothing could describe my relationship with Wilson any better.
I first met Wilson Picardo (aka Willy) in junior college. I had just enrolled in Bhavan’s College, Andheri West, and found to my delight that another girl from Mira-Road, had also enrolled into the same course and as such we could travel together. Shruti Kand was her name and she used to live a few blocks away from Jangid Complex- the place where I lived for nearly ten years of my adult life. It was Shruti who introduced me to two of her school friends-Jay and Wilson and the four of us kind of ganged up and started travelling together to college and back. Shruti and I had many classes in common, so we spent a great deal of time together during college hours, while Jay and Willy attended different (mathematics oriented) classes. However, we still used to make it a point to meet during lunch breaks (or bunked classes) to hang out together. Before we knew it, we became fast friends and started calling ourselves Guns n Roses (the boys were crazy about guns and other violent behaviors and we girls LOVED flowers-I know-it gets cheesier). Somehow, Wilson and I shared a special bond (FYI, we both used to be nerdy characters with messed up lives) and the friendship that developed between us was more different than anything I have come across ever. Willy and I used to stick around with each other more frequently than the rest of the gang. I used to be a frustratingly consistent tomboy during those days. I was rebellious about everything and I hated convention from the bottom of my heart (still do). And Willy used to be the eternally myopic pessimist. He used to love going around with his zanily dry sense of humor-pouring cold water on the general cheerful state of the world. I wasn’t the type who used to have boyfriends and Willy used to be the evergreen lover boy- eternally on the girl hunt brigade. Together we made a great team.
“True friendship is never serene.” ~Marie de Rabutin-Chantal
In fact within a few months of meeting each other, we made an ominous pact. One day we sat together in the small tea shop outside the college, stuffing ourselves with samosa pavs and sev puris, when Wilson commented about the bleak future he foresaw for both of us- relationship wise. The conversation was brief. It went something like this.
“Shreyasi, I don’t have a girlfriend yet, I’m depressed.”
“Uh huh.” I grunted- mouth full of pav.
“Apna kya hoga samba?”
“Kya hoga? Nachenge Khayenge, Ghumenge, Firenge, Aish Karenge aur kya?” I had begun acting Ghulamish and effectively started getting on his nerves.
“Dude we have to think of something, we need a backup plan of some sort, we can’t just hang around without any insurance for the future.”
“Uh huh,” I grunted again.
“Will you quit hogging?”
“Hmmm.” I shoveled in some more food. Dammit it had been a long day.
“I think,” he sighed. “If by the time we’re 40 and neither of us are married/ engaged or about to be married or engaged- which I think has a high probability of happening the way we’re going, we should get together.”
I choked. And I gagged. But it didn’t matter. The immortal words were spoken and the tea-store keeper was witness to it (I don’t think he cared either way). From that moment on, I became Willy’s backup girlfriend-ready to spring into action, should bachelor hood or spinsterhood devour our destinies. Unfortunately that wasn’t valid for very long. I got married in 2004. I still remain Willy’s back up though-for moral support during the tough times, if not anything else.
Disclaimer:- The abovementioned conversation may have been doctored by the authoress a wee bit- please attribute it to long gone days or long-term memory loss on the part of the authoress.
“Friendship isn't a big thing - it's a million little things.” ~Author Unknown
Those two years we spent at Bhavan’s were the most significant for our friendship. In fact those two years were FUNDAMENTAL to our friendship. Lots of trials had come my way and hanging out with Wilson took a load off my shoulders. Although I never spoke to him of my troubles (he used to be so morbid, I didn’t want to add to his morbidity), we shared other aspects of our lives, which made the companionship a whole lot deeper. I still remember us lounging around in the temple inside Bhavan’s, under the Banyan trees, or walking around the campus, in the gardens, strolling through the back area making faces at the khadoos cashiers , wandering out into the race course, or meandering through the buildings housing the biology, chemistry and physics laboratories and the psychology/language classes. Sometimes we used to just sit on the washed out stone chairs and gossip about random people passing by. Wilson often used to slap me on the back and go, “Hey check out that babe yaar.” Or “Sahi item hai re- Intro kara na.” It used to be very annoying- especially since I had told him a million times that I wasn’t friends with every Sita, Gita and Neena in college and that I hardly knew my own classmates.
Soon, Wilson fell in love with a common friend of ours, and our time together declined. I am thankful though, since she seemed to infuse some stability in his wandering ways and some positivity into his despicably negative mindset. We still chatted randomly over the phone and also met up in college sometimes.
“A true friend is one who thinks you are a good egg even if you are half-cracked.” ~Author Unknown
This rings very true in my case. I believe I have been a half-cracked egg for a long time now. I wasn’t born like that, but I have brought over some past life tendencies and of course, the crazy world around me didn’t do my cracked-ness any good. Thankfully, Willy was just as cracked up as I was (possibly even more) and that was fine by me. Having a similarly oriented person as a friend always helps one- especially if one is a chronic misfit in conventional society. We used to be misfits together. Wilson had a rather depressing view of life though. I remember one day Shruti, Jay, Wilson and I were holed up together in my room, listening to music, chatting, snacking and doing the general oddities that teenagers do, when we started talking about dreams and wishes. The general question going around was, “If you had one wish, what would you ask for?” Shruti, being the eternal peacelover that she has always been, asked for world peace and universal love. I asked for one chance to sing a duet with Ronan Keating. (duh! just like me to waste a wish on a singer, but I’d still wish for him…or one evening alone on an island with Johnny Depp...sigh!) Jay asked for a limitless credit card I believe (he was always the smart one). Then we turned to Wilson, our eyes shining with childish grins and hopeful faith. He said, “I’d like to be left on the moon to die alone in space.”
I think that was the end of the conversation for that day.
We all went back feeling as if we had just slipped and fallen into 32 feet of glacial ice. But it was this very peculiar characteristic about Wilson that we all found so very endearing. We adored him for his wistful demeanor and general dry humor. I at least always loved spending time with him…possibly because my humor has always been similarly dry and it was like finding a kindred spirit in him : - ).
I do remember the Christmases at his place though. He lived with his parents and sister in a small house- as small as mine, but they always made time and space for a Christmas tree and a lovely nativity scene near the TV. I always thought his mum and dad were adorable, though Willy was perpetually at war with his sister. Now I know how much he loves her. I remember a few Christmases I spent at his place. I remember the smell of freshly baked Goan rum fruit cakes and the marshmallows! Ah! The marshmallows and little colored cookies used to be lovely. There used to be shiny trinkets on the tree and baby Jesus and all the angels, shepherds, wise men, Mary and Joseph would be lit up. I can imagine how much Wilson must be missing Christmases at home. I do too.
“There is no distance too far between best friends, for friendship gives wings to the heart.” ~Author Unknown
I haven’t seen Willy in ages. I can’t even begin to count the years. Wilson went off to engineering college and then to work in the USA, while I got married, came to Singapore and set up shop here. For a few years I lost all contact with him. No telephone calls or messages, no emails. It was as if he had vanished off the face of the earth. Completely disappeared off the Shreyasi radar. I had seriously thought at the time, that I had lost my ex back up boyfriend and one of my best friends.
However, one day a year back, the internet in its own magical way, helped me find Willy. It was all quite sudden. Somehow, Willy appeared “online” in my address book on gtalk and I said hi and we got to talking. It was like finding a $100 note in your pocket when you didn’t know it was there. I was thrilled. I had “lost” my best friend and I had “found” him again. It was only after we had chatted online for almost 45 minutes, I realized that I had never lost him in the first place. He was always there and our friendship was surprisingly intact. In fact, when we talked, it was as if we were picking up from where we left off so many many years ago and it made perfect sense- there was nothing out of the ordinary. He was still Willy and I was still Shreyasi and our relationship was still the same. There is a certain joy in that continuity amidst so much tumultuous change that I find hard to express.
“The friendship that can cease has never been real.” ~Saint Jerome, church father & saint (374 AD - 419 AD)
Wilson and I still live at the opposite ends of the planet. I wake up when he is drifting into deep slumber and when I’m done with my day, he gets ready to battle out a new day. Time differences and the incredibly huge distance between us do not make it possible for us to talk as often as we’d like to, but somehow, we make time to “chat” online. Messengers and social networking sites have been a boon and I can safely say, I’m back in touch with Willy after almost a decade. And it feels great!
Wilson knows me for my idiosyncrasies and he, like Shalu has accepted me for what I am. He is proud of the person I have become and I am of him. He has a more positive, bright attitude towards life now than he used to earlier and he has become a survivor. Life has taught him a lot, as it has done to me and we both have grown separately with individual lessons. But we haven’t grown apart. In fact we’re closer now than we used to be in college.
Willy, I don’t have an poem for you- not yet. Probably because I don’t yet have the words to describe exactly how wonderful it has been to be your friend. Of finding you when I thought I never would. And of knowing that you’ll be around for a while now. But I’d like to refresh your memory about something you had written in my slam book many years back during our frolicking fun loving college days. You said, “Thank you Shreyasi for being my best friend. I know there will be many ups and downs in our relationship,we will have our differences,but I want our friendship to last the test of time. Thanks for putting up with a crab like me.”
I know you meant that and see? our friendship has lasted through time...just like you wanted. As for putting up with a crab like you is concerned, I did it effectively in the past and I will be around to do it again. I promise.
“True friendship is seen through the heart not through the eyes.” ~Unknown