I was a party this week. The kind that’s thrown for people who are close to the host and know each other through posing on either side of the host for birthday photos and through hearing about each others’ exploits in conversations. The kind you wouldn’t think of as friends, but you know quite a lot about what’s happening in each others’ lives, simply by how much time your friend is spending with them or talking about them or missing them. I last saw some of these people, years ago. In the decade that I’ve known my friend, I’ve bumped into other people in his life off and on over the years and formed certain impressions of them and they of me.
I remember being teased mercilessly by one of them when I was sixteen and another mock-bowing to me when we bumped into each other at a restaurant and all of their gang rolling their eyes when I attempted to scale a wall after them instead of taking the stairs like the other girls did.
I called out to one of them from the lift just as the lift doors shut, giving me the glimpse of slightly blank expression on his face. He hadn’t recognized me. Upstairs as we caught up, his eyes grew round and he said, “You’ve really changed.” Have I? I wondered…in the years that have passed since our last chance encounter, I’ve grown my hair, cut it short, grown it out again, changed my look several times, graduated, got a job, quit to study again, got a job and changed again, been in love and out of it, shifted two houses….yes, I guess I have changed, but is it that noticeable? I realised he was thinking of the wild teenager in torn jeans and cropped hair, skinning her knees to prove she was ‘as good as the guys’ – and trying to relate to this lady in high heels and lipstick. Men are such visual creatures.
We talked about his job, the state of the job market, the education system, the corporate world. The last conversation we had was an argument on how fast the ‘drop-home-after-a-party-car’ should go. He was driving (on a faked license..since he was underage) and I was in the backseat.
His friend introduced me to his wife. The last time we met was at my favorite restaurant. I’d just finished an early birthday celebration and he was having a ‘pre-wedding-night-out-with-the-boys’. He smiled at me across the room and when we stopped to talk, he asked me if I’d celebrate my birthday along with his wedding.
My first thought when I saw him this time was “He’s lost his hair!!” I remember this man mercilessly teasing me at one party, mock-bowing to me at another one and announcing me as her Royal Angriness. He smiled and said “You’ve changed”. I said “You have, too.” And I knew we were both thinking of the years that had passed.
I had my eye on the door for one particular person and I spotted her soon. As she turned and caught my eye at the same time, she grinned and waved while I let out a mock-whistle and said, “I was wondering if Miss Universe would have time to grace this party with her presence.” She giggled and said, “Great to see you again…how DO you manage to keep in shape?” A repeat of the same greeting that has taken place over years and years. Then we hugged and went off for dinner together. My earliest memory with her is a fight over who was ‘best friend’ to our host.
And of course there was Ms.Kid Sister. I remember this quiet, plaited-hair, salwar-kameez kid who gave me a polite smile and sauntered off the first time I was introduced to her. And here she is, so many years later, resplendent in a kanjeevaram saree and proudly introducing me to her husband. I asked her, “Any good news?” She grimaced back at me, “What’s wrong with you yaar…asking such nonsense?” I grinned and said, “Well I don’t know what else I’m supposed to ask the new bride.” “What new bride? I’ve been married for two years now….I’ll never forgive you for not making it to the wedding.” “Umm…ah…not even if I go down on bended knees?” “Too late…my husband’s already done that” “Yeah…real slave-driver you…”
Did I forget to mention the reason for the party? My friend of ten years is finally settling down. His fiance is his colleague and has been meticulously introduced to his family, friends, classmates and other acquaintances. In this crowd of people, I think I know more about the people who make up her fiance’s world than she does. Strange it seems now, she’s going to be the most important person in his life now and I know so little about her.
Relationships are complex and not always classifiable…and the world is unimaginably related. I guess there will always be someone who recognizes you even if they don’t really know you.