July 7, 2008
I didn’t recognize this thin, pale woman when she said ‘Salam’ to me. I answered her ‘salam’, but still I didn’t get her. I gave her a questioning look.
“Hey! I’m your friend at school!” she said.
Friend? But I don’t remember this girl. She was not a girl, looked some 30 years! How can she be my friend at school? I looked at the two kids staying close behind her and the kid in her hand.
“You must have mistaken.” I said.
She looked at my face.
“Are you not Najeeba?” Sha asked.
I was surprised. She knows my name. But I didn’t recognize her. ‘Oh! God, please help me get this women!’ I prayed but without success.
“I’m Seena, your classmate at higher secondary.” She introduced herself.
“Oh, My God!” I shouted. “What a pleasant surprise!” I could not believe it. “You hav echanged a lot.” I told her.
“You haven’t changed a bit!” She responded. I know I haven’t changed a lot after school days. Everyone tells me that.
“These are my kids, she is 4 years old, her younger one is 2 years old and the baby boy is six months.” She introduced all of them.
“That’s great! So many kids around you! Hope you have a busy and happy time with them.” I said. “And your hubby?” I enquired.
“He went to that shop to buy milk for the kids.” She pointed out a shop.
“My hubby has gone to his office. So I thought I would buy the vegetables today.” I said. “We live in the next flat. Would you like to come for a coffee?” I asked her.
But I think she was busy, because she declined my offer. We exchanged our numbers and said goodbye. I felt very sad when I saw her get into her car and go with her hubby.
She was my friend in our higher secondary school, a two year course after the high school. We were in the same room for that two years, with another 20 to 25 of us, I don’t exactly remember the number ( but I remember all of them – in the order of their bed. Too lazy to count now), and so almost all of us were like sisters – so close to each other. The years at school were the happiest years of my life, with so many friends always around you. The daily comers usually fight with their parents asking for permission to stay at their friend’s home, but we were lucky to get friends all time. At that stage of your life, you rely on friends more than your parents for everything except money.
But how much she has changed! She was an enthusiastic, fair and well build girl when we were at school. A person who was careful about her looks. She used to jog and take exercise in t he morning to keep herself fit, when most of us took the granted time for a one hour sleep until the bell for the study time rings. She was sweet in her nature and beautiful in her looks. She had nice soft and silky long black hair. I remember her combing her hair carefully without breaking any hair, which took almost half an hour, while I took only less than five minutes to do with my hair! Now her hair looked like a thin coir piece! I wondered, how much does time change the life of a person?
She had good skill in writing. I sometimes envied her at her skills in writing. During school festivals, I used to get prizes in versification, essay writings and story writings in both English and Malayalam until she arrived. From then on, it was her chance to win the prices, and I had to satisfy with the second or third prizes. But we were very good friends, and had lot of similarities. She was also a quite girl like me, with little sound for the world to record. Both of us liked writing, drawing and making handicrafts. We used to create our own cards and presents together for our roommates and friends for their birthdays. We were well known among our friends for that. That was a beautiful life for both of us, or so I thought.
It was the inter-school essay writing competition that changed her life. The competition was held in a far school, which took us a whole day’s journey to reach there. We missed 3 to 4 days of our class at school. But who minds that? As usual, she got the first prize for the competition. We were so happy and were shouting and enjoying ourselves on our return journey. But when we reached school we found her father waiting for her.
“Where were you?” shouted her father. I understood Seena was going to have a bad day.
“T-o the c-o-mp-eti-tion…” she stammered.
“Who let you go there?” Shouted back her father.
Seena stood silent.
Her silence made him more angry. He hit her hard, and our teachers came for her rescue. Her father started shouting at them.
“I haven’t sent my girl to this school to take her to silly competitions. I am spending money on her to make her a doctor so that she can return the money back to me.” He was shivering with anger when he was saying those words.
“Damn you all. Sending her around and missing her classes!” He did not stop shouting.
We were all dumbstruck. The whole kids of the school were watching us.
That night I was sitting near Seena, who was crying. Her trophy lay on the floor beside her bed. She looked at me.
“Najeeba, is it that every Papa’s are like this?” She asked in between her weeps.
What do I reply? My Papa is not like that. But will that answer make her happy? No way. I don’t know any other Papa’s who acts like her father. But she didn’t wait for my answer.
“Najeeba, I wanted to be a writer. Not a doctor.” she said.
“You can be a doctor cum writer, Seena.” I replied. “There are many doctors who are writers. Haven’t we read the novel MindBend, its author is a doctor.”
“But Najeeba,” she said, “I wanted to be a full time writer. A journalist.”
I sat silent. What to say?
“I wanted to be journalist from the first day at my school, when my teachers clapped after I told a story to them….” she trailed off.
“… I wanted to be a journalist when I bagged the first prize at the All-India junior essay writing competition held at Delhi when I was in my fifth grade.”
She sat silent , immersed in the thoughts of those days. I felt sleepy, and so went to my bed.
Days, weeks and months flew. Before we knew, our exams approached and we became busy with the records, practicals, labs and also the exam. With the exams, our school life was also put to an end. We were departed to a whole new world of college, with new faces, new experiences and new friends. I tried to keep in touch with her for a long time. I came to know she got admission in a medical college through her letters, and then her letters stopped. I wrote to her a number of times, but without replies. I tried to call her, and get in touch, but were always unsuccessful.
After my college, I got married. I tried to find her and get in touch to invite her for my marriage, but it seemed she had disappeared from the world.
A friend of ours who came for my marriage, said the remaining part of story I haven’t heard.
“She got married some years ago.” My friend said. “She was so upset in not being able to make her loved career. Her depression took away her studies, and she started taking medicines. She discontinued from her studies, and got married.”
“Her father…?” I asked. “He wanted to make her a doctor, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,”said my friend, “he is angry with her for not becoming a doctor that he won’t call her or talk to her.”
I cursed him for doing that.
Now it was that girl who have just walked away from me, downtrodden, with no hopes in life. My friend. A good writer. The society would have got another well-known writer if her father had an understanding heart, and less greed for money. But who cares? Isn’t this also a part of child labor? Don’t people realize that their children are not them, but a different individual with their own likes and dislikes? Why do they push their children to extremes to make them fall off the cliff?