The closest thing I ever had to a “guy best friend” was Rajat. We were twelve, maybe even eleven when we first met, at this “dance party” of a guy who claimed to have a crush on me, inasmuch as anyone can have a crush on anyone else at eleven.
Anupam, that was his name, was good-looking enough, in that sweet chocolate-boy sense that appeals when you’re a pre-teen. But he wasn’t an “older guy”, which was what my friends and I were into at that stage. We longed for guys with broken voices, who had call to use a razor at least once a month, who could make us feel much older than we were.
I’m afraid I was a little hard on Anupam. I was nice and all, but not too nice, I never responded to his Valentine cards, sent via another friend and when he asked me to dance that day, we must have looked like the most uncomfortable couple around. We had a strict ‘one-arm-distance’ and he swiftly walked me all over the dance floor. Both of us were rather relieved when it ended.
Anupam had also invited Sidharth, a neighbour of mine, who brought along his friend, who turned out to be Rajat. Rajat and Karuna, who was my then “best friend” (I’ve mentioned her earlier in the Akshat Prasad story), hit it off immediately, dancing up a storm and raiding the snack table. I could see Karuna from where I stood, fending off Anupam’s requests to “replenish my coke” and she was in her element. She was a rather large girl, even back then, and her buxom-ness had led to a flock of admirers. Therefore that made her the most beautiful girl in my universe, and I was proud and privileged to be her friend.
[Of course, as we grew older, our relationship grew uglier. Karuna got “in” with the popular crowd, as did I, but she was more them than I could ever be. I wound up at thirteen with such a large inferiority complex that I wept every night, not helped by the fact that every time we fought, she’d say: “Oh you’re so ugly, what do you know?” That complex still haunts me at the worst possible times. But in this story, these were the unjaded days, when Karuna and I still shared everything, from who got their period first (her) to who got a bra first (me)]
A couple of days later, Karuna and Rajat had become best buds, pals for life, hanging out every day, the works. Rajat went to a boarding school and it was his summer holidays, we had the summer off as well and every day was spent in Khan Market, which was walking distance, where if one of us was rich, we’d buy a Coke and split it at Pat-a-Cake. Pat-a-cake was a bakery, which was hidden away in one of the markets by lanes and by virtue of its “hidden-ness” made a great place to date.
And since Karuna and I were best friends, Rajat and I started hanging out as well. Though I knew he wasn’t as into me as he was to my friend, the two of us bonded over our mutual admiration for Karuna. We pretended to be friends, he even included me in the group pictures he took, instead of asking me to be the picture taker. But I wasn’t surprised when after he went back to boarding school he only wrote to her, with a brief Ps: Say hi to Mynna.
All this changed around the time we turned 14. Rajat was a regular summer fixture now; occasionally a letter would arrive for me as well, with his scrawly hard-to-read cursive on onion paper. But I think that was because I was a regular letter-writer (I still am, my emails read like shorter, more personalised blog entries). Anyway, so he returned the summer we were 14 and came to meet me.
“Rajat!” I squealed. I did like to see him, and he made a change from the normal people we met. Plus he was always so sweet to me, telling me no, of course, I wasn’t ugly, in fact, I was very cute and a very sweet person. Nice to hear.
He gave me a huge hug. He had put on quite a bit of weight I noticed, and he was much taller and was that stubble I spotted?
“I need to tell you something,” he said, smiling shyly.
(to be continued)