Mampi was my first friend, my fast-est friend, and is my firm friend still. She lived next door to my old Barrackpore home, and was a frequent visitor to my home, as I was to her’s. A few months younger than me, she and I met when I was two-years and she was a year-and-half. None of us, of course, remember that meeting, but we do remember hundreds of others, spread over three decades of playing and secrets-sharing, voluble speech and comfortable silence, growing up and growing apart, and then reconnecting through the Internet.
I don’t remember quarrelling with her at all. Which is quite strange, because being a hot-tempered, opinionated little person, I usually flared up at the slightest provocation. But she never provoked me, and her dainty, fair and docile presence (in complete contrast to my fierier nature) always had a calming effect.
We would play harmoniously for hours on end. On weekend mornings and rainy afternoons, we would invariably be with each other, either at my home or hers. None of us were too fond of dolls, but we loved make-believe games, and would often play out our versions of Rama-Laxman (from the epic Ramayana) and Krishna-Sudama (mythical exemplary frinedship between a divine and a mortal being), or cook elaborate meals with shredded leaves and vegetable peels in our little clay and aluminium pots and pans.
Out of doors, in the green field and cemented courtyards, we would gang up with our other pals, Soma and Sujata (and a whole pack of others), and play gully-cricket and net-less-badminton in winter, skipping and kitkit (hopscotch) in summer. We would run amok in the winding bylanes, playing chhoa-chhui (tag) and luko-churi (hide-and-seek) – simple games full of speed and sweat which we would sometimes complicate by accusations and counter-accusations of cheating and unfair practice.
But never against each other.
We went to separate schools. She studied in a Bengali school, I went to an English-medium school (the language of instruction was English). Maybe the seeds of divergence were sown there.
When I grew up, I moved to Kolkata to stay in hostels and guesthouses and study in colleges and universities in the metropolis. Mampi remained rooted to our small town, studying in the local college, and even getting married to a local guy (whose house could be seen across the pond bordering our – and her – backyard). She quickly became the stay-at-home mother of two boisterous boys, reveling in her domesticity. I got married much later, shifted out of Kolkata, and till date am playing the balancing game between work and home.
Our interests and destinies may have diverged, but when we did meet this year (after a gap of over seven years, courtesy e-mails and cellphones), I was hurtled back into my childhood for an hour of giddy, catching-up, packing-years-into-minutes conversation. Sharing similar memories, I realised how different we had become from each other.
DO YOU REMEMBER ANY SUCH SPECIAL CHILDHOOD FRIEND?