Dedicated to a devil who changed my life forever, with the wave of an invisible wand. Its nice to have an alter ego for 25 long years…as Shalu says, 25 years of unending suffering !!
The phone rang this morning. I grinned at the number as i had been doing for 25 years. The voice on the other side began with the customary gimmicks and i giggled in the usual silly fashion. Not once, all these years has the drama changed it script. Not once have we changed the title to " Familiarity breeds contempt".
1986, one of the many Tuesdays in June, I think.
My first step in Ambalamedu.
Existence was morose during days prior, a routine trip from home to school and back. At 11, I did not have many friends. I was to join the new school at Ambalamedu, happy to escape from the previous one. I suffered a serious complex those days, being heavily taunted for my dusky complexion and hoped there would be no discrimination here.
At the new school, my parents entrusted me to the care of a very shy girl in class who had one of the most extensive set of teeth and a subsequent toothy grin . She was extremely plump with flawless complexion, dense, long, lustrous hair soaked in the most aromatic oil, securely braided in thick plaits that fell beyond her waist. In all earnestness I conjured up visions of her being my best friend and hovered around like a fly, almost a virtual pest , when there appeared on the arena a self appointed guardian of the oil plated lass – another classmate, one of the most villainous looking creatures I had ever set my eyes on (the likes of which comes in your worst nightmares). She was pretty though -- tall, with a ballooned tummy, very fair complexion, and with the same length of hair her saintly ward had, though devoid of oil. Her cold gaze sent shivers down my spine. I wished I never existed.
Before Miss Oily Hair could take charge, Miss Sinewy Face, with a ruthless expression barked that I could follow them wherever they trod. I gathered that they were the best of buddies—Miss Oily Hair, AnuRadha Venketachalam and Miss Sinewy Face, Shalini Unnikrishnan .They were also inmates of the new place , the township where my family had come to live. I decided that the new school was a carbon copy of the previous one. I felt my fate sealed and knew was doomed.
And so it began - my brief interlude with a fresh set of nightmares. The girls were tall and seemed like pompous princesses, lashing about their luxuriant hair like cows swishing their tails.
And poor me! --I could do nothing less than linger pitifully. My tiny stature, short dumpy hair and dusky complexion made me feel pedestrian. Subsequently I maintained a distance in the seating arrangement in class, crouched in a corner, far away from this colossal monster.
During school hours and after wards, I would faithfully follow the two friends like a menial, laughing even at the most putrid jokes ( part of an unsuccessful appeasement policy). My doubts, both specific and general, on every occasion, were carefully directed to Anu, who would answer them with a pedantic air. Her responses were gospel for me. During these moments the monstrous sentinel would throw annoyed glances at me, revealing in the most powerful , unspoken language ever invented on earth that I was nothing less than an unending irritant.
Sanskrit was my second language at school and the classes heightened my emotional trauma. A separate room, the space spoke of the architect’s vengeance against the school authorities – dull, dingy, cheerless, humming of despair .It appeared to have been designed for a small closet that was suddenly canceled to create a room of learning.
There were a total of five set of desks and benches intended to seat a pair of students but our population outran the expected ten to a shocking eighteen – the boys themselves exceeding ten by a unit while the girls remained a moderate seven . Four lean girls managed to squeeze themselves into the first row. I had no option but share something less than quarter of an inch in the second row with Shalu and Anu. I hardly dared breathe – because a small heave would send her into a fury.
How i suffered !! After days of torment, I decided that I never wanted a friend. Freedom was precious and the need for a friend stood no where. After all, relationships were best when born eternally, not created artificially . Unfortunately I was not granted liberty either. Shalu’s stuck-up, snooty gawk made me return and hang around meekly like a fly caught in a vile net. She would occasionally lavish me with the iciest stares and size me up and down.
It probably boosted her ego, I decided.
It so chanced that once, Anu happened to be stuck for an answer to one of my silly queries, and instructed me to jot down her phone number, which I did without demure. Instinctively the custodian snapped her number as well and commanded that I give her a call, instead of bothering her poor protégé.
I knew I was done for.
8 pm - with a racing heart I lifted the receiver of the vile instrument that would put into my ears, words of that frightful creature. And so I dialed 411 and held my breath. A shrill voice sang from the other side. It was Shalu, who answered with pride that she did not have answers to my questions, but had wanted me to call her for no special reason. Further instructions flowed: I was to call her every day from then.
In extreme dread, I stuttered affirmatively.
That was God’s answer to my incessant yearning to have a true friend. I am sure my fingers have tapped those blessed digits more than any breathing body on earth, after that day. On that glorious day was born, an unsurpassed rapport of my life which I cherish as priceless, inestimable and limitless till this living moment.
She continues to adorn the cold, poker faced look, but beneath it I discovered unalloyed genuineness. Ambalamedu, the lovely spot gifted me with Shalu, who, as the saying goes, one good deed leads to another, steered me through various episodes in life.