Bonds between people play out over a lifetime of their own. They fall prey to neglect and rust and when traversed after three years, I did not expect it to carry us over to the other side, like a strong bridge on a mellow river. I expected it to creak, to sway and to threaten to give away. Instead, it hardly seemed touched by time and Olivia and I enjoyed the walk.
I call her shamelessly out of the blue and ask her if she can meet me. According to her, I was in another state, a thirteen hour train journey away and I was asking her if I could walk to where she lived. She sounded angry and on the edge over the phone, still she granted us audience. Jigi and I were going to meet Olivia, the girl I haven’t met since school.
The walk .
Chennai is very humid and the evening was just around the corner when we started walking. I wore a chiffon dress which clung to me for dear life after 20 steps and as the walk progressed, the dress and I became one. Jigi was sweating in his own glory beside me, his’ is another story. He speaks to me like nothing is amiss, his face is a playground of anguish and sweat and I look at him in absolute horror as he smiles and almost looks like he would burst like an overripe fruit with delight. His nonchalance to the humidity was annoying me.
“Look at you, you’re drenched”, I tell him, hoping for some kind of acknowledgement from him towards the absolute horror of the weather.
“Ah”, he nods, “This is me now..” , he says and continues to lecture me on encroachment of lands.
I still was very conscious of wallowing in my own sweat, in spite of, or maybe, more so because everybody else seemed to be enjoying the city sunset. I came prepared for an evening of strolls under arched ancient trees. I did not sign up for the “Experience the true Chennai” tour. I got one anyway and I wasn’t happy about it.
The walk – Part II
Olivia suggested meeting in the allegedly subsidized Café Coffee day outlet inside her campus. I found it too suffocating to sit inside glass door-ed, dimly lit corporate coffee house. Chocolate wasn’t on my mind, a very long scrubbing session, a tryst with hot water and soap, a sensual dialogue with shampoo was what I had in mind. Soap bubbles drifted across my field of imaginary vision as Olivia came walking toward us, as the last of the bubbles popped, I was hugging Olivia. Her long hair was freshly washed and I wished for my shower more passionately.
I introduced Jigi to Olivia and we start walking the lush campus of IIT Madras. It was quiet and cut off from the outside world. There was life inside which thrived at an entirely different frequency than the life outside. It was a high tension, low voiced, complacent environment where according to Jigi, the rivers would flow unabashed due to encroachments and where I sensed, thoughts would flow a very retarded course due to a lack of judgement.
Deformation of thoughts would come naturally, where silence meets knowledge of a thriving business beyond the compound walls.
Jigi and Olivia get along well. Olivia is the perfect tour guide. She guides us through the campus, as much as she tells us about her life there and her devious plans to marry a professor, so she could live on the campus. She doesn’t know which one, and a good part of me is scared to admit, she doesn’t care which one.
Olivia and I exchange very intimate eye contact now and then as Jigi says something funny or witty. This was two girls, acknowledging and assenting, evaluating and accepting, finally, nodding a silent and decisive “yes” to the evolution from adolescence to early adulthood that we missed witnessing in each other. It was a rewarding experience.
The walk was a long one.
The dehydration was taking its toll and we stop for supplies. I buy guava juice, Jigi grabs the chance to have something else other than sambar and buys himself a puff and Olivia gets entrusted with extra strong coffee, thanks to Jigi. That man is a person of habit like I have never seen anyone be. Olivia texted me about the coffee two days after the walk, telling me how she won’t ever forget someone ordering something that they like for a person they just met. She likes him.
By the time we reach the other side of the gate, the talk isn’t exhausted. Olivia hugs me real tight again and we wave our goodbyes. Jigi and I had another 30 minutes of walking to do through winding lanes, in chunky heels. There was a festival afoot that day. The loudspeakers played a very pleasing song, very loudly in Tamil and we passed by smoldering fires, heaps of flowers, women dressed for a coronation at 8 in the night and streetlight after streetlight, we reach the desolate stretch of Jigi’s college.
The night life of his college milled around the tea shop, as I bid him goodbye and got into the taxi. I watched him walk to the tea shop, becoming one among the many aspiring journalists, among a cloud of cigarette smoke.