There she was!
Although the restaurant was crowded with many families and friends busy catching up over a Sunday brunch, it wasn't difficult at all to spot her as she walked in. She is walking slowly towards me and smiling. We are meeting after a sabbatical of 15 years (I'm still clueless as to who decided to take a break in the first place.). She has always been pretty for me, but today, Shashi looks ethereal in what appears to be a typical Sabyasachi's sari - white (her favorite color, but of course), self-on-self print and a strikingly large yellow border. Must say madam is aging gracefully and elegantly and what am gonna say to her? “O my God! Just look at you S (I've always called her that). You look stunning!”, I stammered and spoke, gushing like a teenager as I threw my arms open to give her the tightest hug ever (how much I missed you). In response, she just rolled her big hypnotic eyes, broke into her naughty smile and landed into my arms to hug me back. That very instant, all those golden years of my life that I spent with S came rushing back into my head and that's exactly what I wanted. A slow, carefree walk around memory lanes, with her by my side.
I pulled out a chair for her as she gently sat down. I noticed how lady-like she became. How subtle and poised were her mannerisms. “Thank you darling”, she said as she placed her bag on the vacant chair beside her. “You came alone?” I asked pretending to be surprised. Pretending because I wanted her to come alone without any distraction. I did not want to share S with anyone...not even her family, at least for a while. “Yes bubba,” she said, “this is especially for you. Look how I have jhazzed up for you?” We both laughed. It was always challenging for S to say Jazz and even her best effort would make her say Jhaaz.
I have always remembered her naughtiness and comic-timing to the core during our college days. Every act of her has left an impression on me. I remember her enacting the whole episode of how once she got cornered by three men, whom she was suppose to pay-back some money, But the Chaalbaaz that S was...she started narrating a sob-story in full Meena Kumari style of her cancer-struck mother for who's treatment she used up the money and actually wanted some more. Seeing her pitiful state, the men ended-up lending her more money. 'How would I ever repay this debt and reciprocate your favors?' she asked them putting on a dramatically sad face, to which they replied together in sync, 'slowly, slowly Manju, (Manju was one of her con names!) slowly slowly.' All of us were in splits on hearing this ridiculously funny incident. With her oval looks and big eyes, she could easily fool many. Remind her of that today and she burst out laughing with embarrassment, “O god, you fraud, how do you remember all this?” and broke into more loud laughter.
Coming back to her switching-self, I must add that S was quiet popular with her 'double-role' act way back in 80s and 90s. Once while dating this guy, she turned her modern-look (Rita) into more apt 'desi' one (Radha) because, “he thought women who wear sari are good character ones than those who wear western clothes”, how foolish and narrow minded, she said and wanted to teach him some lesson. Poor chap, he fell for her antic and made a big fool of himself and got ditched later. Must have got to do something with his bad Karma. LOL!
“I cant believe it (ahem ahem she still got her madrasi accent intact and said BEELEW instead). “Now that you're bringing these up, its slowly hitting me how much fun we used to have back in those days,” she said, winking at me and hinting at her biggest achievement in fooling people.
“CHARLIE CHAPLIN!!!!”, we both screamed instantly. I guess the lunch place came to a stand-still for a moment as everyone stared at us.
Okay okay, THE Charlie Chaplin episode is her alter-ego. Being a biggest fans of his work, she immediately agreed to don the hat, literally, for our colleges annual day function. The principles (yes we had two) Mr. Teja and Mr. Dhaga (affectionately called Bheja (brain) and Dagah (betray) by our darling S) were not sure and okayed her for a mere five minute part. It did not take them more than a minute to extend her part after she greeted them with “good morning, good afternoon, good evening” in oh-so-perfectly Chaplin avtaar and the mannerism. So in the end the five minute part became her 15 minutes of fooling-dancing-fighting and gripping the audiences attention, on the stage, episode. Very memorable episode that we keep rewinding in our memory.
“OMG I will die, main mar jaongi”, she said laughing hysterically, while clutching her mouth with hands and freshly painted red nails. “do you still get into those shoes”? I asked her after catching my own breath. “hhmmm not Chaplin but my younger one always ask me to do a Michael Jackson (another favorite of hers) moon-walk-step to please her. And yes I do it secretly”. And I bet she does it with élan.
Moon-walk reminds me of her infatuation with color white, sheepishly I asked her to recall her obsession with the name Chandni! “ that was some phase and I wanted to move from routine”, said S. Routine surely can be boring and for S it was just an excuse to break away from the mould. The otherwise full of life, S started wearing whites, yellows, oranges and blues, all pastel colors related to moon and became sober! Thats so not her guys. She even thought of re-locating to Delhi as the name Chandni goes well there more than Mumbai. Illogical. “My name is Chandni Mathur, I've completed B.A and knows short-hand. I work with Hansa and Hansa travels and since then life has come to a halt!”, was her by-hearted-drama-dialogue, incase if anyone ask her what will she do in Delhi? For once we thought that she is possessed. Her, then boyfriend, Rohit, tried to put some sense into her. But to no avail. Without her and her parents knowledge, one day Jaggu (a neighbor who was lattoo on her), took her to a tantric baba for a 'treatment'. S was so furious with him that she broke into a tandav and scared the hell out of everyone! This bubbly girl rarely got angry but when she did, then good lord, there ain't no place on earth where one could escape from her wrath. And when she got furious with rage, her jet black eyes would undergo a sudden change of color and turn blue. (I loved when that happened and have always wondered how in the name of God did she do that.)
“ Oh those were glass-lenses from Beauty Shop that I picked up for fun, and I thought you knew of it?” she looked surprisingly at me with those big eyes again and before she change color, I nodded no. “ Well as I said earlier I do get bored doing the same routine stuff and decided to do something extraordinary, so I always used to slip them on when angry to show my other side to people”, she also revealed to me today, that after what I thought was her magic side, almost every-night S used to wear blue lenses and do a Nagin(a) dance in her bedroom only to get some solid trashing from her mother later. “Am just crazy about dancing. Incidentally everyone in my house thought i'm a good dancer but aisa kuch nahin hai, it comes naturally to me”, she declares finally. I can vouch for that. The lady had once danced non-stop, pretending to be with someone imaginary, wearing a blue chiffon sari in the rains, all by herself. Another revelation about her. Breathtaking!
Its been an hour since we met, talked and laughed and haven't ordered anything. Finally we did. S ordered brocilli with some veggies (madam is on strict diet, you see), while I settled for my Hyderabadi Biryani.
Hyderabad reminds me of one of her pulling-legs-act where she spoke in typical Hyderabadi dialect (picked up from me of-course) with ease during our college days. Anyone asked her for anything—a glass of water, her notes or to shout out a proxy during attendance—pop came her reply “itte haule kamaan mai nai karti, naaji miya.(I don't do such stupid work)”. She was amused at my memory. “how can I not do that, it was such a sweet dialect to mouth, and I got away doing anything with those lines taught by you. Magical line”, she concluded.
S was a fast-learner and quickly picked up new things or ways. Once she shocked us all with her behavior akin to that of a 6-year old's. She dished out an old skirt and blouse from her wardrobe, tied her hair in a ridiculous plait with a red ribbon and claimed to have had a memory loss after a heavy Sadma. She played with her little puppy all day. 'Hariprasad' was what she called him, named after her Hindi professor whom she detested. Such a mad-house S was!
After few tit bits, yahan-wahan ki batein and inquiring about our families, we both went back to relish our respective lunch plate.
Lunch finished and it was time to take each other's leave although we both didn't want to. We hugged and promised to meet regularly from now on...no excuses and strictly no more sabbaticals. “I missed you so much S, we all did”, I exclaimed, almost screaming it out loudly. “Aww, I'll most certainly be in touch from now on,” she said in a little-girl like voice, clenching my hand into hers tightly.
She left the restaurant before me. I stepped out feeling happy and content with a big smile pasted on my face. S did not let me down. She was back into my life. I have always followed her very closely even when she was away. I still knew from common sources of her well-being. After all she was and will always be my best friend with her Jhaaz-Vaaz et al. I have literally grown up with her when I was a mere 16 years old. When I fell ill, my family would ask her to come over and dance and put up one of her acts before me and I would miraculously feel well. Everyone thought I would marry her some day or someone like her, for the least. My undying love for her made them believe that, I suppose. S was always up there for me. And well, life had other plans in store for me.
My thoughts were broken by a voice that said “sir, your cab is here.” I reached out for the taxi door, when suddenly from an unclear source I heard this song...
“Rekha ko dekha tune, Hema ko dekha,
Nargis ko dekha tune, Nutan ko dekha,
Zaraa idhar palat ke dekh, Main lagti hoon, Sridevi lagti hoon...”
and the big smile that was pasted on my face throughout, came back.