Between 2001 and 2004, I was doing my bachelor’s degree. Three years in one of Chennai’s so-called “top” colleges. The place was, initially, a huge culture shock. Having grown up in a co-education school, it was hard for me to fathom an educational institution that comprised of only women. Some women seemed better at it than others. Some of them came pre-programmed with a big circle of friends and rules and regulations and who they liked and who they didn’t like. It was all so easy. Or so it seemed.
From the outside, aka, the bakery across the road, my college was a dream. A place full of all kinds of women. All shapes and sizes and personalities. It was, in short, dream land.
I met some of my best friends in this place. I remember dressing up to go. My mother checked what I was wearing. Since I was going to her alma mater, she assumed she was the best person for these things. Of course, this only meant that I fought with her almost every single day. She had problems with everything I wore and then she’d sit and complain about how un-hep I looked. It was extremely strange.
I’d completely forgotten by then that my mother was the crazy lady that dressed me up when I was a little girl. Perfectly delightful frocks, stockings, patent leather shoes, a handkerchief pinned to my frock and a perfect smile pasted on my face. I was, in some sense, the quintessential cute little thing. I could also roll across the floor much better than I could walk, I was that fat.
College was also three years of the worst dressing of my life. The worst. The nuns were obsessed with how we were dressed, so much so, that after a point, in my final year of college, I took to wearing sarees more often. It saved me a lot of trouble. The nuns were only too happy to encourage girls who dressed like that.
My three years in college also meant, Bhuva. S Bhuvaneshwari Rao. SB Rao. SB. She was one of my best friends and one of my biggest fans. I loved her and loved the contents of her lunch box. I remember her in the first year. She had long beautiful hair and she seemed to know how to be a friend. She was the girl everyone liked instantly. That was just the beginning of it.
It was only in our second year that Bhuva and I became close. Apart from constantly eating each other’s lunches and helping each other out with work, Bhuva, S and I would sit for hours having long conversations about life and so many other things. There was so much to talk about. So much to learn. So much to understand.
It was many conversations later that I began to notice something. My friend was in pain. She was hurting, worrying, traumatized about something and there was nothing any of us could do to help her. We knew that she was finding it hard to move away from her strict and orthodox upbringing and do things that she wanted to do. Simple things like cutting her hair.
By the time we were in the final year of college, she was in a relationship that was not helping her in any way. There were too many things going on in her life that no one knew too much about.
For all outward appearences, she was still the happy, sunshine person she was when she walked in to college.
We didn’t know what to tell her. We kept telling her break-up with him. Stop falling deeper into this mess. Get out of it. But, words were the only things we had. Words, words, words, useless fucking words.
The night she sat at home, crying her eyes out, telling us that she wanted to leave but that this guy had a knack of making it all feel right. It hurt me physically to watch her in so much agony. Again, all we had was only words, words, words.
After college, I left for Delhi. Far away from everything familiar. Far away from Bhuva. She would send me texts, inspirational texts, good mornings and I miss yous that made my day in a city that I loved and loathed in the same breath.
I remember the thrill of flying down home for the Diwali holidays. I stayed from my parents’ anniversary until my birthday. The day I landed, Bhuva came over. I remember the welcome back hug. That was her thing, hugs. She always came to you with her arms open, her smile on her face and you knew that it was going to be okay.
A few days later, my best friend called me to say that Bhuva had killed herself. We don’t know why. We’ll neverk now why. We tried so hard to search for an explanation. To figure out if we knew what the reason was. We wanted to know if we could have prevented it. She never told us once that she was in that much pain. Sometimes, I wish I knew someone who could have intervened.
Six years since it happened. I went back to her house to meet her parents just once. I didn’t want to go back again. It was like she never existed in that home. Her room had been cleaned out sanitized almost of her art work, her trinkets, her glass bangles, her spirit.
I could go on and on about this girl. But I remember her for two things – my mother and her shared birthdays and behind the cupboard.
She’s given me so much to smile about. I don’t know why she’s not around any longer. There are landmarks I’ve celebrated where I wish she was around, laughing her inimitable laugh and hugging me to celebrate.