After years that seemed like eternity; it was nothing less than a delight to meet one of my best friends. We were friends…sorry…we are friends and one thing that has not changed between us is friendship. We were not the kind who would forward jokes over Whatsapp or chat endlessly over the phone. She had completely vanished from social networking sites and changed her mobile number. Since I was one of those lucky few with whom she shared her contact number, we did speak over phone a few times. Maybe a phone call, that too once in a year, was the only thing that testified that we are friends still. I have changed a lot. That is true. And she herself looked more poised or even refined in her thoughts, words and attitude towards life.
It was in 2009 that I had seen her last. We both passed out of our respective engineering colleges and set out to chase a dream like millions out there. My belief was, getting a seat in a good engineering college was great. And being a computer engineer was an even greater achievement. But biggest of all was getting placed in one of the top 5 MNCs in this country and do a 9 to 5 job sitting in front of the computer. Dreams that became true yeah… great success indeed!!! And I did succeed. Well, my life was like that dull village that magically turned into a buzzing metro overnight. Life started racing like a Ferrari that gave no control over its speed to its driver. Well, I was that driver. I got a car (not a Ferrari), expensive gadgets and what not. Everything on credit though. I finished two years and was lucky enough to go onsite (the back end politics I had to play for that is worth another blog). But yeah, somehow I managed to grab it. Everyone was jealous and I enjoyed the smirk on their faces. After one year I returned, but this time like a king with a bag full of dollars. Now that called for marriage!!! Marriage, inturn called for a flat plus other amnesties that confirmed to certain standards of an onsite returned software engineer.So here I’m, in a 2 BHK flat in Bomasandra, with a beautiful wife and rooms filled with the best of the best furniture and appliances (which are again on credit).My married life is quite satisfactory. Let me not make it look small, it is a dream marriage by all means. We (me and my wife) hardly fought because we hardly saw each other. In a nutshell, my life was nothing but a 2 BHK flat in Bhomasandra, a Bajaj Pulsar motorcycle, a Santro car, a purse that bulged with credit and debit cards, and finally a bunch of appliances and gadgets that defined my social status (Almost my entire salary goes in paying instalments). And not just that, I was proud, even happy. I keep posting on Facebook and Whatsapp about my mind blowing flight trips from this terminal to that terminal. I keep loading photos of my team lunches so that the world knows that I’m here, I’m happy and I’m successful. Enjoying team lunch with so and so in ABC restaurant, then another crappy meal with so and so in XYZ restaurant (as though people give a shit about these things…well I thought they did).I watch movies in PVR worth Rs. 250 or even Rs. 500 a ticket and update that as well over FB. At the end of the day, the people who really make profit out of these FB posts are the Cinemas and restaurants ‘coz they get free publicity and empty my purse all the same. To be frank, sometimes I did not have any clue of how days and nights rushed past me. Was there perpetual happiness in materialism? No…there was just pursuit of it, just like that Will Smith starrer Hollywood flick.
But today was different. I never thought I would come across her. It was more of a delight than a surprise to meet one of your best friends while shopping in Big Bazaar, Palakkad. We started speaking so loud out of excitement that other shoppers started glaring at us. I noticed that she still had her trademark lush beautiful long hair (my hairline was receding and I looked really old for my age), her eyes dazzled with excitement; her tanned skin glowed like smooth chocolate under the bright fluorescent light of the supermarket. Overall she looked like an Olympic swimmer ready for action. She looked beautiful in a blue jeans and white T-shirt.She asked me where I was and what I did these days. I gave a proud speech on my adventurous conquests as a software engineer, starting from those training days in Mysore to the 2BHK flat in Bhomasandra. She looked at me in bewilderment and amusement. I thought that she would be flabbergasted at my achievements. Proud moment yeah…?? I was there to buy some grocery for my old parents. Once in a month I did that as a part of my obligation as a son. She told that she was done with her shopping and joyfully accompanied me and helped me pick things. I asked her what she did all these years. Six long years stood between this encounter and our last meeting. She talked about her work with an NGO that operated all over India to increase the ground water level. She extensively travelled the length and breadth of our country, working on forestation projects, tribal welfare and woman empowerment. For almost one year she taught English and Hindi to destitute children in rural UP.She read extensively all these years and as was exuberant about the breathtaking experience of understanding the history and geography of India…The Real India. Her eyes were sparkling when she said that she was still working hard and wanted to make a change happen. In the middle of that conversation, her phone rang and she took her old Nokia 1110 phone from her purse. She cut the call and smiled at me. I felt pity for her, but suppressed my instinct to ask her why she still carried that junk of a phone (I had an iPhone 5s…another great success!!!). I asked her if she was married. She retorted saying there was lot to be done and she hardly found time to think about settling in life. But she confessed that her parents were getting serious about her marriage, but she was least interested in that perspective.
By this time we finished billing and were out of the shopping mall with our grocery bags. It was time to say goodbye. Twilight sun showered its orange rays on everything around us. From where we stood, we could see the setting sun and the grey-blue sky. The parking lot in front of the mall was buzzing with people. So I asked her:
“What are you doing these days?” At that instance a policeman came from nowhere and took the grocery bags from her.
“Give it to me madam…” he said and she handed those over to him. I was a somewhat confused and stared at her. She looked at me and smiled, then signalled with her head to follow the policeman.He walked us towards a white Toyota Innova. It was a brand new car, looked fresh out of showroom and carried the temporary registration sticker.
I could not make sense of what was happening and we kept following the policeman in silence. As we reached the car, the policeman opened the door for her. She turned, looked at me, and then extended her right hand. She said:
“OK Srinath… it was very nice meeting you after such a long time… anyways see you…”
I shook her hand and for some strange reason I could not speak. She stepped into the car and closed the door, so did the policeman who turned out to be the driver as well. He started the car and she lowered the window pane.
“Your number is the same…right??” I croaked like a frog.
“No, it has changed. Take down my new number…and give a missed call…OK” and she gave her number.
I took my iPhone. Swiped and unlocked the screen in style and then typed the digits into the keypad. Before I could hit the call widget, she waved goodbye. And as the car moved out of the parking lot, she shouted:
“Don’t forget to give a missed call…”
“OK…” I shouted back and hit the call button. The true caller showed “Arathy Menon* IPS”. I was dumbstruck. I stared in disbelief at the speeding car. Glued on the rear window of the vehicle was a big yellow sheet of paper. And over that it was printed , in bold, big red letters.:
“Asst. Commissioner of Police, Kozhikode”
I stood there for a long time. Then, silently walked towards my car,put my grocery in the trunk and started the engine. As I drove through the small town traffic, I thought about how eagerly we all expected to see our nation change when we ourselves did nothing for that change to happen. Achieving distinction in 10+2, cracking the entrance exams, getting a seat in IIT/NIT/Govt. Engineering colleges, then banging a campus placement, working in an MNC, flying to some foreign country (get PR and probably settle there- that is how we repay the poor tax payer who is squeezed out of his hard earned money to fund our education), marry a beautiful or handsome techie, buy a flat and then later a car, then pay EMI’s all our life- it is all we dream of. That is what we are trained to dream. Drilled to dream an average dream. But there are people like Arathy, who make change happen. There is nothing more blissful than touch the lives of millions out there, for good. Let alone touch others life, I was struggling to run my existence from dawn to dusk. Forget nation, state or district, I did not know what was happening in the adjacent flat. It dawned me that people like Arathy are the real engineers, the unsung heroes who design and mould a better future for a big, developing nation like ours. I tried to figure out the meaning of my existence, but answers seemed to fail.
The sun kept sinking into eternity as I drove back home.
*Name has been changed to protect privacy.
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