(As told to Pooja Priyamvada)
(Names changed to protect identities)
How I met my best friend
It was the early ‘90s in Nainital. I’d just stepped into teenage and submerged deeper into my recluse life, which was only about books. I had very few friends from school, the overweight geek who didn’t love the outdoors and whose routine was six days at school and if an evening/weekend was free, stroll up to the library on The Mall alone and look for more books to read.
I lived with my parents, cousins and extended family in an old heritage building that also housed the office of a students’ organisation and several other offices and homes. It is there that I had first met Tarun.
I was in school then, he was in college and a regular visitor and active member of the organisation. That’s where our friendship bloomed.
Tarun, being his usual friendly self, would sometimes barge into the game of “Pitthu” or cards. We were both keen readers and that’s how we got talking more and more. He would always bring something new to read and share, “Here Priya! Read this, you must read Kerouac and Bukowski.”
I soon learned to make chai/coffee the way he liked it best. I had begun to love this local Che Guevara of mine and would often shout from my attic window to call him over, “Hey Tarun! Come when you are free, let’s have chai!”
We vetted each other’s friends
A few years later, all through my college in the pre-mobile phone era, pestered by my friends I would ask him, “Tarun, can I give your phone number to Ruchi, she wants to speak to you?” Or “Hey, you know Isha my friend has invited you to her birthday party with me, will you come?”
Tarun would never respond positively; however, he was critical of all the boys I met or dated. He wouldn’t even mince his words speaking about my then boyfriend, “Priya, I don’t like this Verma guy you are with, please don’t go anywhere alone with him.”
My friends would often tease me, “This is confusing. Does he love you like a boy loves a girl or like an elder sibling would?”
Tarun’s popularity as a political figure in the state was growing, so he travelled a lot more for political work and we met less often then, but he remained in my heart my special friend. Subsequently we both entered respective serious romantic relationships and even both our families were surprised, because we were so close that even they had even begun to think that there was more than just friendship between us.
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Then we got married, to other people
By the time I reached university, Tarun had an arranged marriage with Reema, the way his widowed mom wanted for her only son. I was happy for both of them and knew that there wasn’t anything romantic about my love for him.
Ours became a long-distance friendship now; we met less and less while he juggled his time between his growing political career and new fatherhood. His wife was cordial, but I could sense her discomfort whenever I went over or even met them briefly in public.
A few years later I was married too and a mom. My husband also told me that he didn’t like my deep concern for Tarun, so I stayed away from him even more.
We maintained a cordial distance as both our respective spouses wished, but Tarun was always there for me without fail, whether it was some logistic help in my hometown or some health emergency of my old parents. To me he was always my good old ‘T’.
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He told me years later, “You know, Priya, whenever I struggled to understand Reema, I would think of how I would have reacted to the specific grouse if it was from you and not her and that made me understand her better, her need to have her space and aspirations better.”
He was there for me, even from a distance
Unfortunately, when my marriage turned unbearably violent and I had to go through my divorce, he was in Europe for a fellowship and there were huge gaps in communication. But when he came back, unlike the usual advice from my women friends, he said, “So it’s over now. Get the hang of your financials. Let’s set you firmly on a career path, the rest will follow.”
We now live in different cities. Between his active political career and my single parenthood, we hardly speak or meet, yet he is the only one to whom I am accountable for my physical and mental health issues.
It is such a soul comfort to have a bond forged over decades that means we will be home to each other and while the world around us may still conjecture about a married man and a single woman’s friendship, we know we are “just friends” in the most special and empowering way.