The LAST BENCH…
It was the start of summer of 1997, and I had successfully completed sixth standard and got myself admitted in seventh. Usually the session began from April and all the new admission happened by then…but there were a few who would join the session a bit late sometimes in May and some even later than that after the summer vacations got over.
Our class had a rotation system, in which every row of student got to sit in the front row once in a week. By then most of the class knew my ways…I had the last row just to myself…with no one ever asking me to rotate.
It was a sunny morning and we had returned to our classes after the morning prayers. My south Indian Class Teacher who happened to be our English teacher was taking the roll calls. She had reached midway only…when a female voice interrupted her, ‘Ma’am!! May I come in’? She was another of those late admissions. Hardly had I known then that this girl would turn out to be one of closest friends I’ll have for two decades. (Yeah you heard it right…TWO DECADES).
‘Ma’am!! May I come in’, she asked for the permission again. The sound of a girl’s voice was more than enough for all the students to gaze towards the entrance especially the boys from all the rows…from first to last…and hence my vision was also scanning her. The first thing I noticed (which I remember) was her free flowing golden brown hair on an unusually tall girl for a seventh grade. Modern would be the wrong word to use here, as she looked more urbane than others. When the length of other girl’s skirts tip toed with their matching socks’ she stood out with just knee length ones. Her tall, waxed (I should not mention here but was uncommon in those days) legs added to the allure.
The teacher gave her permission to enter the class. She got her name registered in the attendance register and started looking for a place to sit. Unfortunately for her the girl’s row was full (Yeah we had a separate girls row ) and Fortunately for me I was the only one sitting on my Last bench. She walked between the girls and the boys’ row and everyone from the first seat to the last followed her with their salivating stare till she reached my bench. I was no dud either but never…ever had any girl asked me, whether she can sit next to me…and hence with my unprepared nervous look…I nodded. That’s how my last bench friendship started…
She came across as a brat to me and would carry the fanciest of things you could imagine…from glitter pens to different type of colorful pencils…from unusual hairpins to…colored covers for the notebooks. There was a child in her who decided never to grow up even to this day. She was careless at times…was extremely pampered and amusingly clumsy with things and at times with herself too. The more I got to know her…the lesser that feeling got, ‘where it was a big thing to sit next to a girl’ and in no time we were like buddies and had our gang.
Giver her height, she took the utmost advantage of it…she was an athlete and played a lot of sports. When other girls were busy chitchatting and playing stupid games she would be around us on the field or on the basketball court. This made our bond stronger. Whether it was recess or sports period or just chatting in the canteen we were everywhere.
All this gave a tomboyish feel to her. There would be occasions when we would be standing in the canteen and she would have her arm around my shoulder and it was the onlookers which made me realize that it’s time to take that arm off from there. She hardly gave a damn about those kind of people and that was the most likable thing for me in her. She knew what was good to her and always followed that…though that can’t be said for the bad ones.
Slowly the standards n years passed…the gang got bigger…and we were something BIG back in those days. From academics to extra-curricular…from dance to sports…from good to bad…our group had a presence.
I was always worried for her as she was a bad judge of friends…she was very poor in knowing people’s intentions behind their smiling faces. And more often than not she ended up in tears…which infuriated me a lot.
At times she found scoring marks a little hard in the science subjects and hence opted for commerce stream as our sections changed. She found new friends…newer interests…and newer connections. Our time together lessened…some of the recesses went in just waiting for her…and soon the group began to decrease in size. Meeting her on rare occasions…seeing her happy…enjoying and having fun with her buddies…made me realize that it was in her best interest that we don’t force her to join us.
Though we were still in the same school but the last two years passed with the minimal of interaction between both of us. We knew we were still good friends…she knew I would be there for her every time she needs my help and the same was for me…but sadly the ‘fizz’ was gone from the bond.
As it happens in most of the cases the people who were best buddies in their school time…hardly are in touch after that. The same happened with us. We both were busy pursuing our own bachelors in different cities…we hardly spoke leave alone meeting, as the era of social media was yet to begin. Just an occasional visit to her house on festivals or public holidays and it was still not a guarantee whether I would see her.
Some two years later we were accidently in the same city and decided to meet up that evening in a mall…but on one condition that I will have to drop her home as it would get late by then. It was our chance to catch up on those lost years and to put a dressing wherever the cracks had begun to appear in our sweet special bond.
She shouted out a long ‘Hiiiieeeeee’ with her ever-sparkling smile the moment she saw me. She was wearing a white ‘Punjabi’ salwar ‘n’ kurti and was simply looking flawless. A small ‘bindi’ amplified her beauty many folds. In fact this was the first time I was noticing the feminine qualities hidden in her. She was more confident and surer of herself both in her looks and talks. For the first time I saw a beautiful girl in her and not the tomboyish brat who sat next to me.
I still remember, after about eight long years, each and every word she spoke…the conversation we had…where we sat…what we ordered. After the initial hi and hello…we began opening up about our lives…the harsh realities that she encountered during the last few years. I could see and sense the matureness, though it was not a lot, in her. She was not the same careless kid anymore. I personally believe, no matter how rich or happy you are…but the meaning to one’s life add only when they have had their share of the bitter truths.
Listening to her story…sharing my own…saw her eyes brim with tears…my heart went out to her and just wanted to hug my old buddy with whom I once shared that bench. But I refrained…don’t know why. We spoke for hours and then I dropped her home. She hugged me while I was still on the bike (such an idiot I am). My mind couldn’t detach itself and my thoughts kept on lingering with what all she told me.
We met a couple of more times after that, in fact on one occasion I met her with my girlfriend. But again the years passed…I left the country…she went back home…changed cities…changed professions. This time luckily the technology had taken the leap and we were in better interactive stage than last time.
Recently I got to see her again, this time on a promise of a Royal Enfield ride back home. We met at a café where she reached before me. Dressed casually in a jeans and top with a tinge of reddish color to her hair…she was looking cool. It being lunch time and the café not serving any intoxicating beverages…we opted for a pizza and ice teas. We chatted and chatted about…life…jobs…not getting married…parents…pressures…everything. Her eyes brimmed a couple of times and I refrained and restrained myself again.
It gave me goose bumps when I realized how time flew and it’s been like two decades when we first shared the bench together. For a moment I felt as if we were those kids back from the school days. She told me about how she enjoys her single status by learning all kinds and forms of dance and how it has made her a dance freak…that I actually love.
The sun was about to set and she had a dinner plan…so finally we got on my Royal Enfield and headed home. I did not make any efforts to prove that I am lesser of an idiot now and again hugged her while sitting on the bike. Gifted her some chocolates, which I got from my eurotrip for her. While hugging her, my cheeks accidently felt her cheeks, which were already being kissed by her hair. For the first time I felt like kissing her…felt as if that moment should remain forever. She crossed the road and went inside her home…I was still standing in that moment…wishing her to come back. Would have got down from my bike…removed the hair strands playing with her face…embraced her nicely…looked into her deep dark eyes…made a promise to them that no tear of sorrow will ever hug them…all your worries are mine now…and…would have asked, “Will you be my Dance Partner for Life”?
For all those who were back bencher,
For all those who were first bencher,
For all those who still can’t convince her,
For all those who had a brat as their best friend,
For all those who never had any,
For all those who love her smile,
For all those who want her as their dancing partner for life
It’s not a GoodBye,
But it’s a GOOD BYE…aur han Happy Women’s Day to her and all the women out there as everyone is special and beautiful in their own way. Cheers!!!
Manas ‘Sameer’ Mukul