Aug 6, 1999

My Friends

I still remember seeing her for the first time, beyond the glass panes, on a lazy afternoon, gazing wonderingly at us. A school girl barely into her teens, with two long braids, looking very conscious, she immediately caught my attention. I was very much surprised when after browsing for a little while she chose to go home with me. So, she thought she could understand me. I found out later that day that she already had a small but interesting collection. We were all clumped together, in a wooden shelf and since I never had any interest in interacting with my mates, I was content in observing her and her family and friends. 

It was pretty obvious she loved us all, well some perhaps a little more than the others. She would make a beeline for us as soon as she came back from school, and having flung her bag in some corner, pick up a couple of us and retire into that oversize chair that was her favorite, and stay in the patio till the late afternoon faded into dusk and till her mother came back from work, and forcefully made her get up and eat something. I have seen that dreamy look in her eyes so often that I have wondered if she was seeing the words or some miniature figures enacting something for her on the white pages. The summer holidays were both happy and tiresome times for us. She would wrap us up, sometime with brown paper, sometime with a color paper according to the subject and then we would get numbers stuck to us according to authors. She would torture us to so much of disorganizing in those early days. She would throw us all down from the shelf, clean the shelf and start picking us up one after the other. Then after putting back about a third she would decide to give in to the temptation of reading just one. And soon it will be late evening and upon hearing her father's return she would shove us under the cot and leave us there through the night. Sometimes she would read us with a torch light in the night with her blanket covering us. 

We were proud of our influence on her thoughts and deeds and we loved her so much. Then came the time when she got into lots of fights with her mom over us. As soon as she came back from school, she would pick one of us and carry with her all the time. Her grandma's endearments would go into deaf ears. Where do you think I got that stain on my back from? From drops of rasam she spilled on me while eating. Her habits really annoyed and worried her mother, oh I remember the day her mom pulled a 'Sujatha' from her hands and flung him across the room. The poor chap still has a dislodged back. And the Ee.Pa her teacher confiscated. And the day her grandma hid the keys from her. Thrilling times indeed. 

Pretty soon she had her own tastes and individuality. She would wear those glasses and a long shoulder bag and talk of her opinion on this and that. But to me she was always that little girl. I remember the times she started bringing the psychology books. Freud was beginning to make us all nervous, thankfully she didn't fall much for him. She couldn't fit us in a couple of shelves anymore. And what a varied lot we were now. There are some scintillating poetry (I dont like them, they made her cry), some boring historic accounts, those mythical ones who talked about ancient Greece and Egypt and India,some religious ones, oh the whole nine yards. I remember the day she brought in those new French guys, old Barathi who was by now in a really worn condition with marks all over him and clinging on to his pages, jumped up as much as his weak physique would allow, and went on in his booming voice about the French revolution. The two new guys blinked and muttered something charmingly in French, turns out they were into fashion and had no idea about the revolution.

Then when she went off to work in another town, after losing a few of us, she decided to lock us up in a big old wooden box. It was safer but I missed the ability to observe the people who walk by me. At the least then she would come home every weekend and spend long hours with us. She told us one day she was getting married. We all sat proudly on display the day the groom came to see us. As they inspected us, she pointed to 'Love Story', in response to which he pointed at 'The Future shock' with a twinkle in his eyes. We all liked him. The next day came the shocking news that she was going to go to that far away land. I remember that day. It was a gray autumn day. And we were waiting for her to open the box that weekend. Unlike the other times she didn't come to us till much later and when she did she just stood gazing at us with a strange look on her eyes. There was a long silence in the box that day, in spite of the crowd. Our fears came true when she told us she couldn't take us all with her. I could see the tears in her eyes. Except for a few of us who she took for sentimental reasons I am sure, the rest of us were banished into this cold dreary box.

We just sit here day after day, surrounded by the stuffy smell of wood, moth balls, with faint light, untouched, waiting to hear the creaking of the box opening...

August 06, 1999