17 October 2007

Ameeta and I

blogdate 17th October 2007

Spent yesterday (16/10/07) trvelling to Jalandhar to ketchup on Ameeta and Bobby. Ameeta and I were in school together. Bobby is her brother who lives in Paris now, he was in our class too. The year was 1973. I had just returned from Bangalore, I think, in August 73. I remember returning to Jamnagar about a month after Jasbir was born. He was born in the end of July, hence, it was end of August or thereabouts. Dad and Dona returned to Delhi and sent me to join Santosh in Jamnagar. How exactly we became friends with each other I dont recall. I do remember there were only a handful of girls in my class.. not more than 12 in a class of nearly 40 students, hopelessly outnumbered. Most of the girls were the colourless sorts, self conscious and quiet. Ameeta and I were loud, giggly and runny..

WALK

Okay that last word i have just coined. By runny i mean we never walked if we could run, and arm in arm too. It was almost like doing the three legged race, but only with your arms tied together instead of your legs. Every now and then we would be chastised by some teacher in the corridor to 'walk properly', meaning we were not supposed to link arms and run, but delink arms and walk like ladies did. The 'lady walk' usually lasted till the teacher was out of sight.

TALK

We knew absolutely everything about each other barring what we had eaten for breakfast. We were totally clued in to each others likes and dislikes, music tastes, reading tastes, the kind of boys we liked. My kind of guys were clumsy clots, and her kind of guys were Diddoes (dont ask me what that was supposed to mean - I dont remember exactly, maybe it was a sort of uselessness). For a long time we kept calling each other clumsyclot and diddo. Now we forget sometimes who was who and call each other anything. I am glad to work it out finally and put this on paper so we may be able to refer to it in case of dispute.

BUNK

This magic word spells what is the most enjoyable at school. Our aforementioned colleagues, ahem, sat in the class, at max attention. never stirring out of their seat except at bells for lunch or water recesses. We, on the other hand, moved at our sweet will. Library classes were of course for fultoo fun. Craft classes were when we could sit in a sunny room and do anything but stitch. We were supposed to learn stitching, hemming, embroidery, knitting in the Craft class. The boys got practical lessons in electrical fittings, like fixing the fuse and stuff. The offshoot of this? I cant fix a fuse or change the tubelight, which i need to know. Though I can mend a tear and sew on a button. Anyhow, I digress, back to bunking.

Classes like Library, Craft and Games were meant for doing your own thing. But the best part was the Mathematics class right after the lunch break. Royals that we were, the normal lunch recess was never enough for us. We would either sit under a tree and eat out of our tiffins, or zoom off on Ameeta's bike to her house which was close by. In case it was the latter, we would dawdle over our lunch, have a leisurely coffee and return only when the math class was in the full swing. We would wait under a window or a tree and stroll into the class after the teacher had left.

Needless to say, we passed our math exam. We were smart.

PEANUTS AND WHAT OUR SCHOOL WAS LIKE

Ameeta was crazy about the roasted peanuts that were available in the private canteen right outside the school boundary. If we ate at the school, we would often walk into the canteen later for 10 paise worth of peanuts that were served in a paper cone. Not a single peanut was wasted and if one were to slip out of our hands, we would hunt it down on the ground and eat it. Well, we aint dead yet !

There is a reason why we were able to enjoy our school so much. It is time to map it out a bit for the readers so they can get a picture of it in their minds. It was situated inside the Air Force Campus in Jamnagar. The boundaries of the school area were marked by an occasional hedge or a nallah. There was no barbed wire or a wall, no gate at the entrance, no chowidar to keep people out or students in. Students walked into the school from all sides, whichever was closest for them. The majority of the students lived on the campus, so they needed to pick up their bags ten minutes before school time and just walk in. If they were late for the assembly, they just sneaked in straight into the classroom and blended in.

The only way students could be monitored was through class attendance, if the teacher was weak, and did not scold efficiently, the student had a merry time. The airforce landing strip was right behind the school and we were used to the sudden noise of a plane about to land, or right after a takeoff. The new teachers, however, were badly startled initially. It was a treat to be able to watch a teacher jump out of his skin at the sudden burst of sound. Some enterprising students liked to whistle loudly in the deafening sound and create some further disturbance.

Apart from the noise factor, there were many other things we enjoyed because of our school being on a defence campus. We enjoyed interacting with the defence kids. They rarely stayed in one place more than 3 years and were full of anecdotes about the various campuses and places they had been to. A new student was never asked his name and religion, the first question posed to him/her was 'Which station are you from?'. A rigid upbringing ensured that the kids were well instructed in etiquette. These kids were a good influence on civilian jungless like us. We got a proper Military band with bagpipes to march to. Even our piddly little sports/cultural events were presided over by the likes of Station Commanding Officer, who often delivered a rousing speech for the event. Too rousing for the event actually. But it was fun to watch, and made us feel important. The serenity and the security of the campus was was an added advantage. There were sufficient grounds all around for us to play in. In fact we had different fields for basketball, cricket, football, Kho-Kho, Badminton. When we required a field for football, we were asked to clear stones and weeds from a ground closeby and use it. We had a pucca stage and a cemented area which was used daily for assembly and doubled up well for our cultural events. All this space would not have been available for us, had we been situated in the centre of the town.

TOO LITTLE TIME

Fun times end too soon, Ameeta's father was posted to Jodhpur and her family left soon after. I was in 10th when Ramni came in from Jodhpur, she had been Ameeta's friend there and became mine by default. But god had made only one Ameeta and broken the cast after he was done.

We kept in touch via long long long letters. Four pages of a notebook, equal to one A4 sheet, written closely on front and back was the minimum accepted. Reading and writing them never seemed to take a toll on our minds, and we shot off letters to each other as easy as breathing. These letters made sure we kept in touch for years.

Needless to say that thanks to all these prolific exchange of letters, we had memorised the addresses too. For a long spell, I kept writing to 169 Model Town, without getting any replies. It was weird, but we were used to weird, so I did not pay any heed. Suddenly one day I got a reply from the address. It seems I had memory lapse about original address, which was 139 and was sending the letters to a wrong address. A young guy lived at the wrong address and when my letters started landing up there, his parents thought I was sending love letters to the boy under some kind of a code language.

I have no idea what kind of idiotic stuff I wrote in those letters but it must have mystified those good folks a great deal. When it got to be too much, the boy wrote to me saying that no Ameeta Singh lived at the address and if I was actually writing to him, I should use some other 'safe' address as his parents were giving him woe.

So this went on till one fine summer in the year 1982 we found ourselves stationed in Jalandhar and Patiala. I was in Patiala, staying with my father who taught at the University there. Ameeta was in Jalandhar, staying with her father and grandfather, and working as a schoolteacher.

LOST LETTERS AND MEETINGS

On my birthday that year, I took a bus from Patiala to Jalandhar and caught up with Ameeta. We lunched together, talked to each other to our hearts content and I took a bus back by the evening. Sometime later, Ameeta came to Patiala to visit me, but I wasnt there. She stayed talking to my father and my brother and went back.

Life was begining to catch up with us. Ameeta had lost her mother, did not get along with her father and was struggling for survival. I never had requisite support from my family, and was struggling to find a foothold in life. It was the best time of our lives and we failed to convert it, a price we must pay till now. We allowed ourselves to be limited by the negetivity around us.

Anyway, we had one more dhakkad (a word kids of my gen used when they meant 'wonderful'and 'forceful' combined) meeting which remains in our minds as the BEST ever. A year later, I relocated to Chandigarh where my mother had started working for a newspaper. Chandigarh is seen as the Paris of Punjab, and Ameeta could not resist hotfooting it there. She had an interview offer from Yadavindra Public School which was in Mohali. That gave her the chance to convince her Grandfather to let her visit me. I was new to Chandigarh and we just could not locate the school and the interview never took place.

On a budget or not more than Rs.10/- per day, we had the best time of our lives. We climbed into buses, visited the University, YWCA, Lake, Rock Garden and more. While hunting for YWCA, we lost our way and found ourselves, thirsty and lost, behind the DAV School. We spotted a canteen there and jumped the wall of the boys college to get ourselves a glass of lassi. We also had a delicious thali of Kadi Chawal and lassi in dhaba in Sector 19 or Sector 7.

We roamed the lake, got onto buses and lost our way. This was a little while before I got married, and it was like a bachelorette outing. It gave us a chance to renew our friendship.

We have met often after this, usually once in a span of 5 years and kept up with each others lives through children, 2 each, divorces (mine), increasing weight, decreasing beauty. The way we are carrying on, I am sure our friendship will last till the end of time.

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