I've been thinking a lot lately about my cousin M. With less than three years' difference between us, she and I had always been very close, from the time we were both toddlers. She was my first playmate, my first actual friend, and I loved spending time with her. Part of it was some sort of hero worship, because she was funny and pretty and everyone around us, young or old, really liked her. As a kid, these things put me quite in awe of her. The good thing was that she remained sweet, cheerful and completely unaffected by all the renown she was getting for being some sort of singing prodigy, exceedingly good at art and good at most things in life.
I remember her telling me that she was convinced that Vivekananda was her grandfather, because she thought his name was Vivek Kanungo, which matched with her surname. I, of course, was thoroughly convinced. She used to live across the street from my house, and everyday after school we spent our time playing and coming up with elaborate games. On weekends, her mum used to give her a bath in the courtyard while I used to stand at the gate with my arms stretched out wide so that no one could see her from the street. Such naivete seems almost precious now that I remember it.
After my family moved to a nearby quarter complex, our interactions became less frequent, except for those three odd years when we commuted to school and back together. We used to get the princely sum of two rupees for the bus fare to get back home. We always walked instead. It was a long walk, atleast a half hour long. We spent the money on roadside aloo chaat, the dirtier the better. One rupee was saved to buy sweet lozenges in case the chaat proved too spicy. We were quite the resourceful team.
On our walk back home, we discussed the impossibility of God, the perverseness of God in creating boys, the shapes hidden in clouds, the way our shoes squelched when we walked in the rain, how Shillong was doomed because of pollution, the fascinating polka dots made by mud on our white socks in the rain. What strikes me now is how these conversations were held with such seriousness, punctuated by the sound of our huge umbrellas tapping on the ground. We could have been a couple of miniature British adults on our way to the pub after a hard day's work.
The inevitability of growing up did put thousands of miles between us as I moved away and she stayed put. We met when I went home on vacation, and there was no need to reconnect. It was always there, what we had, the bond forged in childhood that had transcended time.
The last time I went home, I learned that she was engaged to be married. As I write this, less than a month remains for the wedding. I would have been happy for her had she not told me the precise reasons for the wedding, none of which had the slightest relation to love, or the longing to be with someone, or even companionship. She's a stronger person than I am for walking down this road, and this time I can't keep her company. I hope that eventually she is happy, and the ones who 'love' her do not manage to completely wreck her life. I feel a strange sort of disloyalty in thinking these things. I really wish that I could toe the official line and make merry at her wedding. But things are hardly ever as simple as that.
So, M, I don't think you should get married, but I know you will. I hope that you get everything you want, but I pray you get what you need more. And I wish I could honestly say that I'll always be there for you. Such things don't happen; we hardly even manage to keep in touch. But maybe when I go down the corridors of our memories together to a time when we were both truly happy, I hope to believe that this sort of unqualified joy will find its way back to you. And I believe that whatever else happens, we will always be the ones who can see roast chicken in the clouds, surrounded by mounds and mounds of vanilla icecream.
Luck and love, S.