A story of friendship that began decades ago, in a small town and blossomed over the years.
When my parents moved back to Agartala I was just 5. As my parents wanted to educate me in English medium I was admitted to Holy Cross, a Catholic school and the best-known English medium school in Agartala in then. New town, new school far away from home can be a little disconcerting for a little girl. I remember the uncomfortable first few days when I would be headed to the bus stop holding my mother’s hand, reluctance to let her go when the school bus arrived. Of course, like other little girls, I made friends in no time both at the bus stop and class and school seemed fun.
Our school buses had had fancy names, mine was Flavia. As I boarded the bus and sat quietly on the first day, I noticed a girl with curly hair and a friendly smile board a few stops later. She had an unusual name, Swadhinata. She was in the 1st standard like me but in a different section. Though I made her acquaintance, I was more friendly with kids of my section and was quite happy hanging around with them. Things were going great till 3rd standard when they decided to split up out section. My friends and I were in different sections now. I was in the same section as the curly haired girl. After the first few days on discomfort in a new section, I remember making friends with her. I don’t remember all the details now but very soon we were best of friends. Be it in the class or in the recess we were always together. We made other friends as well, especially two other girls from the class Jayeeta and Nilanjana. Four of us would hang out together all the time, playing Hide & Seek, Colour – Colour or having lunch under a tree. With our long plaits dangling we would huddle together and whisper little secrets. Holy Cross of our times had a huge campus with many trees. We would sit under a different tree every afternoon and have lunch. I remember one afternoon it suddenly started raining and by the time we ran back to the classroom we were all drenched. Be it our lunch, discomfort of our first periods, our first crush, our first love letter, we shared everything.
Though the four of us were usually together and we had many more friends, there was a special bond between Swadhinata and me. We shared everything, was privy to each other’s every little secret, hopes, dreams and fears. Silly as it may seem now, a boy staring at you or your favourite teacher not paying enough attention were matters of grave concern then. There were other important things like occupying our favourite seat on the bus, having lunch under our chosen tree, being selected to the school choir. In senior classes we would go for tuitions together, save on rickshaw fare to have mutton chops on our way back. Roadside mutton chops or chanachur (Bengali mixture) sold for five bucks were the only things we indulged in then. I remember we vouched to stay in the same city, close to each other once we grew up. Promises that little girls make to each other!
Life had different plans for us though. After school, we went to different colleges, then left Agartala and went to different cities for higher studies. There were no mobile phones then, no Facebook, not even email, but we stayed in touch, our friendship only grew stronger with years. We took up jobs in different cities, she was in Kolkata while I was in Delhi. We would meet only a couple of times a year, but nothing changed between us. We would talk and laugh like two schoolgirls, pick up pieces from where we left as if distance and time were no factors at all. Then one day she told me that she was started seeing one of our former classmates Saptarishi. The news took me by complete surprise, in all these years I had never imagined her to be even remotely interested in him. But things happen when they happen, and they happen for the best. They got married soon after and her husband, who I didn’t particularly care for in the school, became a great friend as well. We are in different corners of the world now, hoping to meet sometime this year, but distance only seems to make our bonds stronger. They say friends are the family you choose, but I would say friendship chooses you stays with you for the rest of you