His name was Joshy, named after Jesus and he was from Kerala. I was eleven and the only other state I had ever visited apart from Odisha was West Bengal. I knew Kerala was somewhere at the bottom of India but wasn’t quite sure whether to the left or right. That night after meeting him at school I looked at the Atlas and placed my finger on Trivandrum, it seemed quite far from Sambalpur in Odisha. Joshy had said that his father was a Central Government Officer who got transferred to Sambalpur from Hyderabad where they had previously resided, though he was born in the state of Kerala with the tagline, ‘God’s Own Country’.
He was almost my height and the girl who sat beside me had left the school for some reason, so Joshy was asked to take the seat. Our school, St. Joseph’s was on a hill top and we had classes from 8AM to 2PM every Monday to Friday. I hadn’t sat with a boy before but Joshy gave me a broad smile and that was it. People rarely smiled at me those days as I spoke less, contrary to how much I speak today and seldom showed any interest to play games. Solidarity had never bothered me, being the only child of my parents I had never experienced otherwise. I would spend most of my hours with a book in my hand reading or pretending to read, until I met Joshy. He shook my world and embraced some part of it so amazingly that things would never be back to normal again.
For the first few days I tried to bury my head in the text books and didn’t look at him. I would have rather died in oblivion. When he asked my name I answered, ‘Renu’ without even looking out of the book and he could sense that I wasn’t interested to carry the conversation forward. He seemed a little matured for his age or maybe I was refusing to grow up. Few days later he observed my hesitation to go to the playground during the games period and suggested to play chess. I told him that I had never played it and didn’t know how to. To that he simply said, ‘Oh you will learn’. Over the next thirty minutes he taught me the moves and I started playing but lost two rounds and was already tired to play the third. I complained that it required a lot of thinking and he tried to convince me that I would soon begin to enjoy it which I actually did, after a few days or so. He had this way of thinking that things appear to be difficult only in the beginning. He seemed wise to me. I then asked him to start a game I know and we played Chinese checkers for a while. I didn’t win that either, however when the school bell rang we were already friends.
Joshy also liked reading and we started exchanging books. He mostly read adventure books and I was more into the classical short stories like Panchatantra. The change in genre was rather welcomed by both of us and we kept discussing what we read. He was a music lover too and had cassettes ranging from English rhymes to the Bollywood songs of the nineties. He introduced me to his collection and I loved them all. Between the classes which we called the zero periods he would tell me funny jokes and sometimes scary Dracula stories, though I asked him to stop telling the latter for obvious reasons! I never got addicted to anything, be it books, music, food or anything in particular. But for Joshy it was different, he read passionately, loved music, enjoyed food, and I had perhaps refused to let passion in.
Well that was the year when Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated. Of course we were kids and the news was shocking. When I asked Joshy what he thought about it he answered with a serious look on his face, ‘I think everyone can’t be your friend, there will always be enemies.’
‘But if I am all good why should I have enemies?’ I asked, trying hard to understand.
‘Renu everyone is not alike, everyone won’t agree that you are good. That’s why there are groups. The whole class here can be divided into three groups, boys, girls and the girls who talk to boys. Then there is us, we don’t fit anywhere do we? We are good but they somewhat avoid me because I am new and I chose to be your friend who chose none of them.’
It was actually true, those days’ boys and girls didn’t talk much and the girls who did had their own group, we belonged to none.
The days passed by, I had even defeated Joshy in few chess matches and just when the year was about to end my father informed me that he was getting transferred. We were about to move to a new town which meant I had to change schools. So one fine afternoon I bid goodbye to Joshy, he gave me his postal address and asked me to write letters to him. I did write to him every month for one year and he wrote back but then we obviously moved on. Everything was changing, we were changing and transforming into adults. Among the confusions and challenges of teenage we slowly happened to drift apart.
Years later when I was in my mid twenties, still single and on a business trip to Chennai, I met Joshy. I stood before the Marina beach watching the sunset with my colleagues when I heard his name. There were a group of guys in the sea asking him to dive in and there he was waving his hands and saying his friends a no. I knew immediately that it was him, though he looked much taller than me and was very well built now, perhaps he exercised regularly. My heart skipped a bit, I realised that very day that there was some place in it that was never taken by anyone else. All those memories came flooding back to my mind. He looked at me for a moment or I just thought so and though it was for a fraction of second it seemed to have lasted for hours. The sun was setting and I just wished I could stop it. Some things don’t change, some memories never get erased and they just lie somewhere hoping to be recalled again.