Saturday, March 14, 2009

Small town girls

I'm a small town girl. Born and brought up in Gandhinagar, a dusty and shady small town, where only bureaucrats and government officers/officials live. Growing up, surrounded by friends from the same family background of hard-working parents, book-filled homes and serious political discussions over endless cups of tea, it was like an extended family, where everyone knew my folks, and they'd know if I'd been in trouble before even I knew about it. And like everybody else, I couldn't wait to escape it.

The capital of the state it may be, but Gandhinagar has always been what other city residents call it, 'an old age home'. We had no places to shop for the kind of clothes we wanted, no places to pick interesting hair accessories. For everything, even a fairly decent dressing sauce, we'd all troop into the car and drive up to Ahmedabad. When I go back today, I barely see any young people there. There are the school-going kids and then there are the parents whose nests are empty and whose children have long flown to more interesting pastures. There are things about it that I loved, and love still: like how it just smells so clean, so green. Driving down from Ahmedabad, a mere 40 km away, I roll down the windows as Gandhinagar appears and just take in deep lung-fulls of air, the smells of childhood that I've come to miss: the smell of dusk, a mix of dust and cow dung, called godhuli so beautifully in Hindi.

Of course I loved my schooling years there: and it is here that I found my first friends, faced my first bullies and had my first few crushes. Last night, a few of us classmates met again, nearly ten years after we'd parted.

After a long time, I dilly-dallied over what I'd wear, knowing the guys would surround me and rib me silly about going from Somalian to gargutan. I settled on jeans and a silk paisley top, low-slung enough to fit my more feminine state of mind now, and yet, comfortable enough to face people with mindframes I'd no idea of.

There were meant to be 11 of us, but only four of us turned up. Most of the class doesn't live in the state/country, and reunions have somehow never worked out because of those logistics.

Last night, as we three girls and one guy chatted, we relieved those small town memories, recounted to exact and embarrassing details by D, the only guy who'd come. Like how I once wore a mini-skirt to a friend's birthday party, and had probably never realised that my then-hair, were longer than the skirt. Or how the first time a guy 'proposed friendship' to me, I'd burst out in tears leaving him and the class wondering if I was a lunatic.

And like all friendships, it got cemented over some skeletons. Some of them our own, some of those who had not made it to the reunion. One of the girls has been through a physically abusive marriage and is now living in with an Australian guy who loves her to bits. Another classmate ran away from home and community and married a guy who she later discovered was already involved with another woman. Another had an abusive father who'd beat her in such a way that we'd never be able to see it, but the bruises and welts would all be there, hidden beneath her school uniform. Or like how the guy who was a write-off was running an uber-successful ad agency, the guys who were the flirts and mr-commitment-phobic's were the first ones to get married. There were the regular juicy bits of affairs and divorces, success stories and unfathomable failures. Open, frank discussions of sex and what works and what doesn't. Random kaleidoscopic insights into the one-dimensional memory I had of the faces I grew up with.

It was vaguely unsettling: more so because one of the reasons I wanted to run away from my city was because of it's 'simple' residents, their 'boring and uneventful' lives. All this while, there was an underbelly to these residents that I'd not noticed, in my immaturity, in my need to get away from it all. It was also ironic, that I'm one of the few that still lives in the vicinity, when I'd been most vocal about my need to get away and see the world, while everyone else lives in countries I'd not even heard of when I was a kid.

Without Nino, and Nino's Dad, it was also my first time, in a long time, meeting people only I knew, who were in no way involved in the social circle I inherited when I got married. It was refreshing re-living school stories, crushes, laughing at the absurdity of teenage and its short-sightedness, of mourning friends and friendships that had passed on. It was humbling knowing that while our girths had changed (some of us, some are still lucky!), our faces hadn't, our expressions hadn't. We still punched and kicked and laughed raucously, ate from each others plates, enjoying a camaraderie we probably din't even have a decade back.

It was a trip back in time, a flash-back, but not grey or ochre, instead brilliantly hued and humbling in all the wisdom and hindsight it brought.


Anonymous said...

Another one of my favorite posts! You make me wanna see my long lost friends again. My oh my! you had such lovely hair, you still have those tresses then?
How our mature lives turn out is sometimes so much in contrast to what we think of us when we are young. Its been a long time since I met some friends 'alone' we are usually accompanied by spouses and now some with kids too!

Altoid said...

Oh wow, I had one such experience last year and probably would never have been able to verbalize it as well as you have. And the last line, was befitting and brilliant!

choxbox said...

awesome as always.

relate to it too - am a small-townie myself (though ypu cant call hyd anywhere even close to 'small' any more).

and whoa your hair was THAT long?! hats off to your mom (so says a mother of two girls)

momstir said...

How well you describe your reunion, NM. I love the way you describe your inner personal self, the 'I' and then intertwine it with the sights, the smells and people of the city.

I have really enjoyed reading this. I wish I could meet my school friends too and on the same comfort level.

Loved your description and reasoning behind your choice of outfit.

Sujatha said...

So glad you had this time for yourself NM!

Really enjoyed reading this post.

Nino's Mum said...

Preeti - So true: and yet hidden under those contrasts, we do get a fair bit of what we expected, no? You should try the husband-child-free outing sometime :) feels good.

Altoid - Welcome here, I love your 'handle' :) kept me grinning for a bit, I recollected the first time I had really really sour altoids!

choxbox - I know: been there a couple of times, I like the place. My mum's hair-raising tales are worthy of another post, which I'm tempted to do, now that I'm looking back at how I've grown up from then. :) It touched the middle of my thigh at its longest: thick and straight and shiny in all its south Indian glory.

Momstir - Actually I was worried about whether we'd have that same comfort level, so this was a relief. Sometimes when something that moves me is happening in real time, it's like I'm hovering above the phsyical space watching me and my interactions at that time. That's how I write the descriptions too. The husband ventures at this point that I'm bipolar or loony, or both!

Suj - thank you!

Anonymous said...

Hi Nino's mum, nice post! It struck a chord as i too recently met a few school friends in Delhi. I sometimes feel because of the kind of peer pressure there was in school days, it was not really possible to show that one is not perfect, that one has lots of issues growing up. Now when i too hear of classmates who have had bad times, i wonder at the vulnerability of all of us. It makes me wonder when did we really grow up, and have we indeed grown up...

Best wishes, Anjali

ra said...

lovely post.