During the past one month or so, thanks to Facebook, I have bumped into a number of my schoolmates -- people I last met some 20 years ago. Go through the friends' list of one and you find two others, and then you go to their friends' lists and discover a few more, and so on. It is strange, rather not strange at all, that you remember their names without any distortion that time might induce. As if it was just the other day when you sat in the same classroom -- oh well, it was.
Twenty years is a very, very long time -- toddlers get past teenage, teenagers become middle-aged, the middle-aged become old -- but the moment you reconnect, it all comes back in a flash. As if time never passed. Suddenly the cacophony of the classroom begins to hum like a bee around your ears. You find the pranks, the rivalries and the bonding being played out in front of your eyes on the screen. Time may be a great healer, but it is powerless when it comes to dimming the memories of your childhood, your adolescence.
I distinctly remember an incident that took place when we had just moved from Class 7 to Class 8. It was our day one in Class 8, and the new class teacher -- a good-looking but stern woman who had newly joined the school -- was laying down the do's and don'ts for us when an impish classmate (he's now on my Facebook) drew my attention to the girl sitting ahead of us.
He whispered to me, "Yaar, tujhe lagta nahin ki uski jeb kuchh bhari bhari si lag rahi hai?" -- Pal, don't you think her pocket looks a bit filled out? He was right: the breast pocket of her shirt was indeed bulging, which was not the case when we saw her in Class 7. To my great horror, the girl turned her head and gave us an amused look before returning her attention to the new teacher. She had heard the whisper. I was so embarrassed and angry that I ignored my impish classmate for the rest of the day.
Life is all about physical change. Some changes are welcome, some have to be reconciled to. But change one must, in order to live. The physical changes that take place in the two months that partition Class 7 and Class 8 are the welcome sort: the girl eagerly wants to be a young woman, while the boy eagerly wants to become a man.
On the other hand, the changes that take place in the 20 years that partition the Class 12 farewell party and the discovery of each other on Facebook are the ones that have to be reconciled to. Girls with bulging pockets suddenly become women who worry about their pockets drooping, while men who till the other day found it funny to see hair sprouting on their genitals now worry about losing the hair on their heads. The process is called aging.
Aging can be easy and acceptable if two people watch each other age. But it can strike you like a thunder if you reconnect with a classmate after 20 frozen years. You look at your respective profile pictures and suddenly realise that you are no longer those two boys in the classroom. That's not all: what's more heartbreaking is when you realise you are no longer the same people. It is so easy to reconnect, but so difficult to connect after the reconnection.
Why I am saying this is because AM and I bumped into each other on Facebook only two days ago. AM used to be my best friend during my adolescent days, and life was unimaginable without him back then. He was the smart, handsome guy, who the girls in school and college had nicknamed as 'Aamir Khan'. It was he, and his two outrageously mischievous friends, who taught me how to smoke and it was in their company that I had my first ever drink in life. And it was they who introduced me to the world of porn: how can I ever forget the countless Malayalam movies we'd watched in Kanpur theatres!
Today, I am a habitual smoker and I cannot write meaningful stuff unless I am sure there is enough alcohol to last me the night. And when I am unable to proceed from one sentence to another, I often seek distraction in porn in order to clear my head. All this, because of the training I had received from AM early on in life.
I spoke to AM yesterday. After 18 years! What a joyous moment. Like me, he too remembered names and details. It was as if we had met only the night before. We spoke for about an hour and promised to meet up soon. He also suggested that we all -- his two impish friends included -- meet up once again in Kanpur for old time's sake.
"Do you still drink and smoke?" I asked him.
"No yaar," he replied, "I gave up all that seven years ago."
Their boyish faces shone clearly in my mind as I visualised a get-together. What fun it would be. Would it be? The men who taught me how to smoke would perhaps ask me to step out to the pavement to smoke during the get-together.