These are hard times. Friends are leaving town. Rumman and Shrabonti are heading Bangalore-wards (not because I shouted when Shrabonti referred to Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg as "that French film, the umbrella of Thing"). Geetika has already left for Mumbai (not because I accused her of being humourless).
Now two old friends from school, both now based in the US, are here for a few days, and meeting up with them has been, apart from the inevitable nostalgia exercise, an eye-opener. These are guys I’ve looked up to in many ways (though I know they’ve also looked up to me in others - blogging, you see, isn’t the only Mutual Admiration forum!) - partly because they always seemed much surer about career direction than I was. But it turns out things weren’t that simple. Somewhere down the line, Anubhav moved from what seemed a sureshot career in architecture (he’d graduated from the SPA before going to the States) to graphic designing, after numerous twists and turns. And while Rajat’s quitting his secure, high-paying job with Ernst & Young to do an MBA at Wharton wasn’t a drastic professional change, it still represented a big financial risk - plus the overcoming of many demons on the personal front.
It’s disorienting to learn about the hardships and insecurities of people you’ve always pegged as being very stable and well-balanced: stories about living and managing things alone in another country; about not having a friend to call up casually in the evening; cobbling together decent meals when you’re a vegetarian abroad; struggling with project deadlines all over again. These are guys who were popular, sociable types in our last years in school together. They mingled with others in the batch and participated in events while I brooded on the sidelines; so it’s unsettling when the mask slips even a little. I’m at risk of sounding patronising here but that’s not the intention; after all, I never myself got around to taking a Big Step comparable to Anubhav’s and Rajat’s (my own Big Step, such as it was, was considerably less dramatic and certainly didn’t entail spending years away from family and home comforts).
The other thing is that when one meets old schoolfriends who have been away for a long time, it becomes a pretext for discussing the countless ways in which Things Have Changed. So here we all are, at the grand old age of 27, going on like a retirement society. Look at the PVR Saket complex now, was it really all that long ago that the greasy Punj-Chinese food at the drab little Madhuban restaurant was the only eating option in the area? Oh, I went to school the other day, met Miss David, she gave me her cell number. Class teachers have mobile phones now?! That feels so bizarre, so wrong. When we were in school, remember how strange it used to feel to even use the office phone to call home if the schoolbus was late; kids these days probably just message their parents.
On that note:
We had joy, we had fun,
We had seasons in the sun.
But the stars we could reach
Were just starfish on the beach
- Terry Jacks, "Seasons in the Sun"
Old friends, memory brushes the same years,
Silently sharing the same fears
- Simon and Garfunkel