Just a few days ago, I was woken up by the phone ringing. Someone called up; the only thing I heard for sure was that Radha's mother had expired the night before. Radha and I are kindergarten friends; she is married and settled in Kolkata. I had spoken to her a few days back; she said that aunty was suffering from jaundice. And the next I hear is that she is dead.
Radha is the only child of her parents. And recently we discovered that this year marks our 25th year of being friends. I come from a very small town. While growing up, I only knew four streets. One took me home, the other to school, the third to my tuition teacher's house and the last to Radha's home, which was definitely my favorite.
It's difficult to guess the roles people end up playing in your life. I lost my father when I was hardly eleven. As a kid who was just preparing for her Hindi class test the next day, it was a numbing feeling to see so many people crying. I still do not know how I must have felt. But I knew from then on, I was expected to act differently and do things differently. That day was the last day I was a child.
From that day, there were no holidays or drives to distant places. But God can never leave nothing to a child. In the bosom of heartaches, Radha and I became close. It fascinates me now, how she, who was also 11 then, accepted my fate. She did not ask me what happened or anything else. She was just there as a friend. There were two paradises I knew then: School and Radha's place. Saturday was half day at school and most of the time Radha would invite me for lunch. My happiness knew no bounds when aunty would ask me to stay over. I had free access to her place. I have lost count of the number of lunches and dinners I had at her home. Now that I look back, I think of her mother with the deepest gratitude and fondness for giving me a home.
Being with Radha gave me solace. I felt special. All her birthdays, I got to stand next to her when she cut the cake. I never liked my tiffin at school. I always ate hers. That's still a joke with my friends that I ate others' tiffin. Though I was so young then, those days, everything at home felt gloomy. Life seemed longer than destiny. But I had Radha, life moved on, we grew up and she got married too.
She came home after the demise of aunty, I did not ask much. I just talked about everyday things - I guess I was doing what she did seventeen years back; accepting destiny. Our old school friends also came, we talked and chatted. With all of us, that was the only time Radha cried. I still do not understand why everyone who came to meet her kept asking how it all happened. I do not understand how knowing if her mother was in ICU or not can help. Grief is something very private. The only time she cried was with us, for we did not ask a thing. We understood that mourning does not need provocation; it needs its own time.
On the day of theShraddh, I was one of the last to leave. Vicky, one of our school buddies, drove me home. Just before leaving, I looked back. I saw Radha in front of her house. I watched her 6 year-old son playing. It was the same road we must have walked more than a thousand times with each other, played in the same space as her son is playing now. Everything has changed. Aunty is no more but amidst all this, our friendship has stood by.
As, the car drove off and I saw the dim lights and Radha's fading figure, I just realized that no matter what, a woman will forever need another woman close to her, to survive and grow. I am glad, Radha and I have each other in life to grow, love and survive.