Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Kilimanjaro Girl

 We learnt to cycle around the same time. She, a few weeks earlier. And by the time I managed to comfortably get to the seat and pedal, she could double carry her sister. I remember the evening I met her, at her neighbour’s. The first thing she told me was, “oh I have the same skirt; maybe we should wear it on the same day someday.” It was yellow polka dotted skirt with a matching top that had a little bow.

We went to school together, she was my best friend through grades 3, 4 and 5. We got our barbies married and then graduated to paper dolls. Those three years were pretty packed. Under a shaky mulberry tree, we would discuss menus for the aforementioned weddings and what we wanted to be when we grew up. While I would settle for anything ranging from an airhostess to a forensic expert; she was set on being an army doctor, because she would say, her father was in the army and mother a doctor, and hence, wouldn’t like either of them feeling shortchanged. At age 9, it totally made sense.

Endless hours of house-house later we would be mostly quiet. Pretend accents and impromptu adult dialogues can be very exhausting. The town we lived in hadn’t seen a coke or its variant yet. Newspapers were a weekly feature. Every Sunday, we would get the last 7 days newspapers. [If you are curious about the town, it’s Tezu in Arunachal Pradesh, though I doubt its googlability. During the rainy months [9 months a year], it would be cut off from rest of the state and the world.] Yeah so we made do with chilled glasses of kissan orange squash. Deep orange in colour and deeply satisfying. 

She was my first introduction to the cool. Cool in the form of luncheon meat. It was lunchtime. We decided to not go too far into the playground with our lunchboxes. We sat on the edge, where we could discuss grades, the importance of good handwriting and how unimportant boys were; and then she opened her lunch box. I am yet to taste a better sausage. That with some sticky rice, and salad. The perfect lunchbox that I often think about.

We were hardly adventurers but there's this absolutely random thing we did once. On a Diwali night, we overdozed on a certain sweet made with cashews, pistachios and sugar. We just couldn’t stop. Finally, after we could no longer move from our chairs, she looked at me all wide eyed and asked me to stay still, said she was sure the sweets had drugs and our parents would soon find out what we had done and it would all be over for us. The tale of two girls who had ODed on suspicious diwali sweets, disowned by families and friends roamed cities in search of the very sweets that took them down. Noooo, we shook our heads that can’t be our story. I am happy to report, it wasn’t.
I remember that moment when we started whispering our borrowed knowledge of periods, breasts and boys. She had an older sister who made us paper dolls and would sometimes would offer sage advice. Wide-eyed, hushed voices, followed by nervous giggle; that was our first real adult conversation. Nine seemed the right age to have that kind of a conversation, especially when done wearing faux-sarees and sitting crossed leg.

And then we moved to different cities. And because it was way before Facebook, we wrote letters. We spent a few birthdays together, eating too much cake, talking too much, listening too little and watching Steffi Graf play Monica Seles. She was a Steffi fan. I was not.

Soon after we got busy with our new lives, newer friends, entrance exams and then jobs. Then I found her on Facebook, spoke a little at first, almost shy, without any idea what to say to each other. And then we spoke about lives, paper dolls, jobs, men and that mulberry tree. She grew up to be a beautiful elegant woman living a very wholesome full life that we often see on pinterest. An experience-rich life. We never got around discussing pinterest. We should have.

She supported Amnesty, baked strawberry sour cream cake, traveled far and wide and climbed the Kilimanjaro, living a very full life. And then she left.

Soon after her climb, which she did as a part of amnesty challenge, I remember telling her how while she was busy doing something as life changing as this, I was busy living a very pedestrian life, chasing the unremarkable and being bothered by things that are trivial. She said we should be more. I told her I want to work towards my very own Mt. Kilimanjaro.

She lived. And she lived it really well.  

I often think of her, picture her in my mind. Not like how she looked on her Facebook albums or atop Mt. Kilimanjaro. I try to think of her in that yellow polka dotted skirt, smiling with her eyes.


  1. Took me on a re-visit to my childhood days. Life surely gives us our mountains to climb, many Kilimanjaro's isn't it?