Arki Singh, my long lost sird friend, and I have known each other since we were four years old. There are photographs of us playing in cantonment mud pits, each with our own toy pails and yellow shovels. In one of those round-edged photographs, I'm wearing dungarees and am half way through a karate-split. My hair is scattered across my little forehead. Chin is tilted sky ward. Arki boy is in a tee shirt and shorts. Frowny as they come, his kiddie patka (baby turban) in the pre cut-sird days is very bright. Whoever clicked that snap needs a solid rebuke. Making toddler subjects face the sun, just because camera person can't seems like a bloody insensitive way of taking a photograph. End result being that the picture is composed bright and fine, but we're both wincing.
There are more pictures with Ark. This other one is taken at someone's birthday party on a later date than that mud pitt because we seem to have grown a few inches. It's 1989 or something. Common friend circles, of course. We're at one of those 5 p m gatherings with parents, streamers and a dining table laid full with finger food and gulab jamuns. Arki's in the same patka-serious mode; always clicked at a wrong moment. I'm amused looking at his expression. Even back then it seemed obvious he would grow up to be a brooding Pablo Neruda meets Sarson Ka saag type boy -- Shahid Kapur in Jab We Met, even. In this birthday photo though, I look positively gleeful. Dressed in a pretty smocking frock, so much the rage back then, I'm eyeing one kitty-cat birthday cake, with gems for buttons. Standing a good three people away from the center, all our noses just about reach the rim of the table. And there I am, making hollow attempts to blow out candles of a birthday cake that isn't mine.
He's always been intense, this little sirdy boy. Always a little quiet. We went to nursery together, were classmates in the third standard, caught the school bus back together and then again in the sixth. Understand that this wasn't the norm. Our defence background meant being uprooted and starting afresh every two years. It just so happened that our fathers got posted to the same three places in the same couple of years.
In the third standard, and both of us at age nine, this boy was my first major crush. Kids have always been growing up early; it's not all to do with the Internet and tasteless MMSs. Anyway. So I have the most vivid recollections of how hopelessly smitten I was. Naturally then this was also the year I first knew jealousy because I hated this boy for loving my best friend more than me. By then, the cute little patka had gone, and in our class photograph 1993 maybe, he's the one with floppy hair across his forehead.
Later, in the sixth standard, when Wonder Years and Small Wonder were the evening telly treat, sweet revenge was to be had. This time around, it was I -- I had a thing for his best friend. Ha. And best friend was one real sweetie who came dressed as a wounded soldier to a combined fancy dress birthday party that my bother and I sort of threw. The Best friend – Arki's -- even said in his little speech that he almost couldn't make it -- what, bleeding as he was with red ink -- but that he wouldn't have missed my birthday for the world! I was completely floored, and must have been grinning like a mule for a month after! At his own kiddie bash -- obviously we were a very social lot -- he cheated and let me win musical chairs, by putting the music off when I was closest to sitting! My grand prize was a blue geometry box. Back then I may not have known the difference even if they were diamonds. All that mattered was HE made me win, HE gave me that silly geom box, and after all these years, if I go through my childhood junk, those strange poky compass weapons, I bet, are still very much intact. Think Julia Roberts wearing pastels and mouthing Notting Hill lines: I'm just a girl standing in front of a boy asking him to love her.
Anyway, histories recapped and back to Arki Singh, the original heartthrob: we lost touch. No trace of him after sixth standard. And then exactly about a year ago, I did a little spadework and hunted sirdy boy down. Yep, sure enough, same Arki, same laugh, just ten years older than and bit of a manic depressive.
We caught up. Didn't talk on the phone too much but when bombs go off in our cities, we make quick you're alright na phone calls. Over the last year we've been in touch almost fortnightly. Arki, is an architect, hence the nick. And so it goes to reason that now he randomly messages to ask what I would want in a library because he's designing one for one heritage building in Kerala. I replyleather couches and big windows. And to not forget stepladders because not all book worms have our punju height blessing.
But those are just the random messages that are mostly a relief from the other depressing ones about the turmoil in his love life. The boy's been heartbroken for the major part of this year. Which is where it gets filmy. His girlfriend, the love of his life, woman of his dreams – and pretty she is too – had to call it off with him because the family – hers – wanted her to go the arranged marriage route and so rather quickly, they found a nice boy for her. She couldn't say no. Subsequently, my friend's been enraged, shattered and reclusive. Three months of having an earful of this, I told him the majnu act really needs to stop, it's been too long. Either do something about it, go marry her, or shut the f*ck up. But apparently sitting in a different city and saying to him get a grip, move on, shit happens, time heals, doesn't help.
Why now and why today am I thinking of his plight? Well because he woke me up in the morning. Rather, the message beep did. Turns out she got married last night. If I didn't care at all, I might thank him for early morning melodrama-fix, but the poor boy is a despairing train wreck of emotion. I spoke to her a week ago. She was howling for me to come get her. I know she's going to be okay eventually but I crave for her with all my soul.
I don't know what to say to him. I haven't replied, dithering as I am between writing him a long email and calling. Except, write what, say what? There there and this too shall pass sounds bloody feeble for a bleary-eyed friend who lost his milk teeth the same time as you.