In late years of school I blossomed into this ugly tom boy with close-cropped hair and jack-ass attitude and used to get into fist fights with my local urchin friends.
I remember one boy who was particularly well-fed and had wire-rimmed glasses. I could pin him to the ground in five minutes flat. He would not want to hit me because I'm (snigger) a 'girl' and would then run to complain to my father.
My dad would solemnly ask him, "she hit you? that's really horrible. Did you get her back? a couple of pushes at least...? no? you should settle this among yourselves although I WILL take it up when she comes home." And that would be that.
A bunch of us used to hang around the local alleyways regularly and polish our slangs. I could cuss like a 'real' boy and they were proud at my progress. No amount of socking/slapping from my elder brother could change the habit. How old was I? probably 14-15 and we had our twisted sense of group loyalty. It was the time of blossoming love in the pre-internet days and postmen did brisk business of ferrying cards/letters and gifts wrapped packages on valentine's day.
I never got any roses or cards because I was "one of the boys" I grew up with and they would eat their sweaty sneakers before they got me a rose. I never knew what I missed (yewww...this card has perfume on it...snigger).
They teased me mercilessly when SJ proposed to me on a fit on passion during a school fiesta. They drove him into a towering/stuttering fury and me to tears. They were disgusted when I cried, because never in their seven years have they seen "stuff flow out of my eyes." I was apparently "crying like a girl, having become one."
"Awwww... look ritu carries a teddy bear these days..." and I threw away the small stuffed toy that SJ gifted me before going away to Bangalore for his college degree. It didn't go with my baggy pants and dad's castaway shirts anyway.
In a week's time when S's body came back to Calcutta after he crashed his bike on a highway in Bangalore, I crept away from the group and searched for the now-haggard looking toy from behind my pile of junk. The teasing did not stop but now there was a fierce protectiveness in their voices.
How could I confess without sounding like a terribly cold person that SJ's dying meant nothing to me. That I was not having nightmares and that people really needn't speak in hushed tones around me. But as usual, they guessed. And R said casually "we know yure feeling guilty because you are not feeling guilty about SJ dying." Complex? That's life.
I got 12 messages wishing me 'happy friendship day' today, surprisingly none from my childhood friends who have lied unabashedly to our mothers to cover for me, who still bear deep scars on their bodies as tokens of brutal fights. (I pushed one down a high drain during a cycling race and for years he maintained that another boy at a soccer match gave him the deep gash down his right leg. bless him.)
They saw me slowly changing and become more secretive about my life and accepted it without hesitation. I have never stopped criticizing their girlfriends and wives and they have put up with it with a smile. (And gave me a lot of sarcasm about my crushes)
I guess I have not really thanked them for beating up an eve-teaser from a different colony who made a pass at me once. ("If any eve teasing is to be done with our girls, we do it. Not you buggers from another area. Now get your ass outa here.") Weird, twisted, perverted logic.
I have also not thanked D and T for running away from hostel with me once and trying to flag down a boat on the open Ganges that we presumed would take us far away from our "jail-hostel" to the Gangotri. (Didn't all boats end up there?)
D do you remember that smoke we shared for the first time on that steamer on Ganga with our feet dangling over the edge and the pile of fish we used as cushions? Singing off-key a famous song by Bhupen Hazarika that pleads Ganga to speak up more often for atrocities committed on her banks!
R remember how you got the wrong movie tickets once and told the entire gang that we were about to see 'Mission Impossible' which actually turned out to be a horrible potboiler called 'Mera Desh Mera Gaon'?
Also the time you asked me to pick up a Valentine's Day card for your girlfriend because you didn't have the time and I accidentally picked out a Get Well Soon card which you gifted to her without seeing what's written inside. You and your aversion to fine print!! Boy! was she hopping mad!!!
I sit today to compile these thoughts. Its a huge blog post and its your choice to read it to the end. You probably won't even have the time, but still its what I do for a living. and so I thought I'll write out my feelings. Thanks for your kick-ass selves, your endless taunts, your accidental mushiness, unsuspecting kindness (that you desperately try to hide lest any of the other guys think of you as soppy :)) You guys rock. You aren't the best maybe, but you are getting there.