I have a friend called Poongothai.
She is a year older than me and I have known her for the last sixteen years. We met in Class III. I had been in the school since my nursery, she on the other hand, had just moved in to Madras from Tirunelveli. Mine was a typical Brahminical school with a strong Iyengaar skew. P was the first non Brahmin I met. I remember a number of people at school asking her, What is your caste? Where are you put up? What is Nadar? Basically, they asked her the kind of stuff that only children can ask, without ruffling feathers and getting people self righteous.
Me and P, hit off instantly. She was a lot like me. And most critically, she was my height. Given how much of a complex I felt about being much taller than everybody else in class that was important. She made me feel - less awkward, less ugly and more Tamizh.
P also stayed in T Nagar and that helped I suppose. Most of my free time, I spent at P’s house. This because P’s house was much nicer than mine. They had antique furniture, a large swing and everything in the house sparkled and shone with the glitter of old money. My house, in contrast had god pictures wrapped in transparent plastic bags and stuck on to the walls and the cane chairs that left a criss-cross of marks on your butt and arms if you sat on it for more than ten minutes.
Also her thata told us many stories and was indulgent towards the two of us. In contrast, my thata would be too busy solving The Hindu crossword and drinking the omam tanni to help him in his digestion.
P’s amma was a lovely person too and she would give me something or the other to eat everyday. It seemed everyday something ‘special’ got cooked in their home. Sometimes though, she would go a little overboard and pack some of the food for me to take home. A dish that she often made was Karupatti Paniyaram, one that I never liked. As I would get them home, I knew what would happen. Amma would put them onto a plate and nobody knew what happened after that. I never asked her either, because I was afraid that she would make me eat them.
That apart, Amma was very fond of P and our friendship grew from strength to strength. P’s family was progressive about some of the things that my family had very regressive views on and in some things the reverse happened. We always wondered why we couldn’t have a combination of mine and her family.
One of the things of annoyance from my family was that Amma was very particular about when the wrong days of the month happened. For the three days of her periods, she would not cook. Paati and chittis would do all the work then. And amma would insist that I help them. This made P very angry. She thought that it made no sense and would tell me, how her amma cooked and did work all through the year. She would feel more angry on my behalf than I felt angry for myself. To me, it was okay. Made me look forward to puberty as well. And when it happened I realized, it sucked and had no benefits at all. Of course, post puberty amma went obsessive on her, don’t touch that caveat, this till we moved to our own house some years back. And also her belated realization that the DONT’s needed to be reserved for other far more important things.
On the other hand, P’s family had their own reservations about their daughter learning music and dance. They didn’t think it was fitting for a girl from their family to indulge in such things. And P had to discontinue with Paatu classes, which was such a pity. P had a lovely voice and it was her lovely rendition of Madhuvanti Raagam that made my mom christen her Poongothai, the girl with a lilt of flowers in her voice.
P’s family had a heightened sense of concern about her. P was an awkward looking child, but grew up to be a lovely looking teenager. In class XI, P shifted schools. She moved to as State Government school. We met less often after school but we hoped to be re-united in college.
After school, P joined a co-ed college in the city and I an all girl’s college. It was by chance, not design. Our differences began to crop up sharply then. She felt that I had turned into a snob and I felt that she had turned into one of the boys.
After college, her wedding was fixed. And we went back to being best friends again. After all, every girl needs a best friend at her wedding. I went for her wedding and that was the last time we met. We live in the same city, but there is too much of time that we have already lost. And there is nothing common left anymore. Or so I think. But just sometimes, I get a little nostalgic and wonder if I didn’t give the Karupatti Paniyaram adequate chance. The moment quickly passes over.
I had a friend called Poongothai.