‘Thank God it’s Friday’, the thought crossed Charu’s mind as she entered her apartment complex balancing her laptop bag, a lunch bag and the ubiquitous and voluminous handbag wondering for the nth time, why women couldn’t carry just a wallet. Despite having her hands full, she succumbed to the temptation and purchased the particularly green, crunchy guavas from the street vendor who was standing strategically right outside her complex gate. Despite carrying more than she could, she had to stop by the mailbox.
Except for a few notices she rarely received any mail of importance, yet it was one ritual she performed religiously every evening as she was one of those creatures of habit.
Frowning, she managed to extricate the extremely heavy looking Airmail wedged in the narrow space and almost lost her balance when she looked at the sender’s name neatly handwritten on the south west corner of the envelope. Familiar handwriting and even more familiar hurt transported her back to high school. Kaleidoscopic images of them in their neat plaits and their ridiculous blue and yellow uniform which was any school goers nightmare, holding hands, talking nineteen to dozen and laughing at everything and nothing at all flooded her as she struggled through myriad emotions. She squashed a fleeting thought of making confetti out the envelope, reminded herself she was never one to cut her nose to spite her face.
Supriya was a veteran of confidence and self-assurance no matter what she wore unlike most batch mates who squirmed when they compared their own uniforms with those of other schools. Whoever designed their uniform should never rest in peace!
An eternal wall paper, Supriya helped her bloom yet the minute she left her high and dry she turned reclusive. And now almost 35 years later…a letter from her nemesis.
Mechanically, she tore open the envelope as soon as she stepped into her flat in the 8th floor of the complex.
Roses are red, Violets are blue……
Hey, I know you would be startled to receive this and wonder at the silly line from the nursery rhyme I begin with… I sincerely hope your bitterness and hurt will not prevent you from reading this rather lengthy letter till the end. Yes, I did behave despicably and broke up our friendship at 15 without giving you rhyme or reason…if I were as mature as I am now…now that we are entering our 50th year on this earth, I might have done things differently. Remember, the silly time we both thought that it would be nicer to be born old with all the wisdom and experience of all those years and later have some kind of reverse ageing…we laughed like a couple of hyenas all the way from school to the bus stop at Nampally and all through our journey from there to Yousufguda…really, can we have been that dumb? But you know Charu as I am writing this…I can’t help sputter with laughter all over again at our own silly and ridiculous jokes and many more. Every day, the long walk from Church street to the Bus stop at Nampally and sometimes up to Public Gardens to catch the bus as it makes a stop to help the conductor issue tickets …it was a cakewalk when we were together and today, I take the car to the washroom within my own house!
I know I should come to the point….that was my intention to just write the reason for my cold shoulder. I had to write…more of it later. You must have lived a life time of agony not knowing why?
I am sorry.
I wish I had this ‘gyaan’ then. I am rambling but Charu , I am nervous, nervous because I have to relive the reason behind my action and the fact that I feel quite uncomfortable .. make that seriously uncomfortable talking about it even today. I have to open the Godrej cupboard that I had kept locked till now…
Charu smiled at the last line..trust Supriya to come up with a different expression than one the world and his wife uses. Restless, she got up to rummage in the kitchen to prepare something for the night for Rohan and her, yet she had to continue reading.
Well, Charu..you still with me? What I need to tell has a little background. You were more sheltered, sensitive and an introvert. I liked you for what you were despite both of us being diametrically opposite. I wanted you to be my friend from the day we learnt that silly rhyme together and trust me it fitted you to the T. Roses are red, Violets are blue, Sugar is sweet and so are you. Unfortunately, neither did you have confidence to see that nor the worldliness. Remember Charu, all that birds and bees’ jokes that we used to share as we entered our 7th standard. You laughed the loudest but I knew you hardly understood them. I did not have the heart to call out your lie. Your parents bless their souls in their infinite ostrich mentality did not prepare you for the world and thus the backdrop for the rest of the story.
Charu blushed recollecting. She was a little bit of a prude. Even her relationship with Rohan despite their marriage entering their 22nd year was almost clinical and staid. Maybe, that’s why they were childless, no passion to make a baby! Now their activities between the sheets were intermittent and insipid at best.
In contrast, my family was the ultimate party animals. You remember my uncle…my father’s youngest brother? I am sure you do.
A little shy of 15, Charu was just unfurling into ambivalent yet exciting sexuality when she met Vijay for the first time. A few months back she had attained her menarche and all the latent emotional flux happening within her made her all the more aware of that dashing young man whose booming laugh and dark, smoldering eyes transfixed the young lass and his return from ‘foreign land’ added to his allure. His bear hugs made her want it more but also push him away from close proximity. It also made her uncomfortable because he hugged Supriya alike. Why then did she feel there was more to it?
There were times that she felt he held her hand a tad bit longer and that his hug was more intimate. It was more a caress as his hand slid down her back. Was it her imagination that he often brushed his hand on the underside of her ‘oh too tiny for her liking ‘breast with a faraway look making her think if she had imagined the whole feather like caress? Whatever be the case that was then and today, she wasn’t even sure that he was over stepping an unwritten boundary or that she was right in feeling that he did overstep his boundary which he shouldn’t have. Isn’t that always the case? You the victim is always left wondering if it was all in your mind.
Well, I did notice that he was a little more affectionate towards you…initially, I was jealous. I wanted him to myself. Then I realized with horror, that he was touching you needlessly, asking about you and came home too soon whenever we were doing group study. You remember our group studies, Charu. It was more of a laughing session.
But then our group study fiasco isn’t the topic, right? I am digressing because I am ashamed.
Well, he was always there whenever you were there. It was easier to blame you than to face the reality. It was easier for me to hide under a rock…I don’t know Charu…I loved my uncle too much for me to have such uncharitable thoughts about him. It was between accepting that he was one lecherous man or to say to myself that you were somehow leading him on. At 25, he should have known better or is it that at 25, he wasn’t getting enough? We are one repressed society, aren’t we? We feel we should support the family come what may. I was ashamed of what he was doing and at the same time wanted to protect him from the world. I did not want anyone to look down upon my family.
I am not making excuses but trying to find out why such an educated and seemingly good person had such lowly thoughts? And why I behaved the way I did. Recently, I called him out during this #metoo movement that was raging in India and told him, “Chachu, you too might be called out.” You know Charu, it was a watershed moment for me. I had after all humiliated you.”
Charu hardly surfaced even when Rohan entered or ordered a home delivery. She hardly remembered handing him over the first few pages.
She relived her friendless and demoralized state when Supriya gave her a cold shoulder. Charu left clueless, had turned to books. Remembering the number of times that she practiced in front of the mirror demanding explanations of Supriya and then being reduced to a stuttering heap of misery and tears when it came to actual confrontation. Angry that family came first despite the wrongdoing, the rawness of the hurt came back with vengeance as she continued reading.
I could feel your eyes on me as I pretended to enjoy the friendship of others. I cringed each time you went further into your shell not knowing why I suddenly distanced myself from you. But I was afraid..afraid that I couldn’t call you home anymore..couldn’t actually protect you but what I needed to protect you from was also hazy. I felt that your innocence was a challenge to him..so it was easier to blame your innocence rather than my uncle’s roving eyes. Please remember he was my hero. I worshipped him. I loved him to smithereens. I was in awe of him. I couldn’t see him doing any wrong so if he didn’t it has to be you right? Moreover, he was family and I too was that family.
How could I have convinced myself of that is beyond me.
Charu wondered why now..why rake it up after so many years. It was all water under the bridge. They always had the ability to think as one…and hence it was no surprise….
Why now and how did I manage to contact you?
I will answer your second first
I tried hard and long to get your mailing address. I did get your email id easily enough but I wanted to send a handwritten one…mainly because it was therapeutic to me too.
Why now? When my daughter had a falling out with her best friend and at 15 it was the end of her world, the fact that your world too must have hit rock bottom made me reach out to pen and paper. It was catharsis of sorts. I also realized my love for my uncle doesn’t make me his accomplice nor does it make me condone his errors. I loved him but not necessarily like him.
It has taken me years to realize that I am not my family and hence the guilt is not mine!
If you can forgive me….contact me please.
Would await your call…I wish you would so that we can plan a trip to Hyderabad on our 50th.
Hope to remain your friend
Discussing and re-living, Charu spoke to Rohan at the unfairness of it all…and the suddenness with which the ball was firmly in her court. Tossing and turning, late into the night, she oscillated and wondered if too much water had flown to submerge the bridge…or room yet to build a new bridge?
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