A Year of Found Friends
Sometimes, the universe is kind. In a time of anxiety, even terror that you might lose those you love, it gives you back people you lost. It goes into reverse, taking you back in time, years, even decades. It takes you back to people who were dear to you. People you grew up with, either as a child in elementary school, or as a young adult in graduate school, whom you lost along the way. It takes you back so the widening distance from the hands that have parted from yours is suddenly shrunk. And then in a flash, you can clasp hands again, across hundreds or thousands of miles.
One morning in September, I checked one of my email accounts and was surprised to find a few unexpected emails. On reading through them, I realized they were from friends with whom I studied in elementary school, from Class III to Class X. (3rd to 10th grade in US terms.) I was stunned. I had not had contact with most of them since 10th grade, and here they had popped up, having found me on this very website.
"How did you find me?" I asked.
Some of the responses were
“I have been literally hunting for you.”
“I have so much to tell you.”
“When the call is from your heart, wonders happen.”
“I have been looking for you for such a long time.”
I ran to my 15-year-old daughter and told her in wonder, “I found these friends! I last saw them when I was your age. I can hardly believe it.” I found a scanned photo of us from Class IV, from my mother’s album into which she would meticulously paste all of our school photos. There we are, most of us, with Mrs. Nawaz. Aditi looking mildly worried. Me squinting into the camera with furrowed brow. Anu looking quite serious, possibly to hide some mischief. Sanghamitra with her forthright, clear-eyed gaze. Smiling Samapika. Sreeparna as cute as ever. Where were Mousumi, Moutushi and Shoma on that day?
The next few days brought a flurry of WhatsApp group messages, as well some calls. We remembered various events and struggles in school, sage counsel from teachers. I remembered a play in which Aditi and I performed, “Lochinvar” (based on the poem by Sir Walter Scott) in which she was the maiden Ellen and I was the young lord Lochinvar. How, when thwarted from marrying Ellen, I pointed to Sister Superior with great flair for my line “There are maidens in Scotland more lovely by far!" And how she definitely smiled, maybe even blushed.
Over a couple of months, I have learned about the current lives of my friends, their children, their work and pastimes, their health. I see again their mischievous humor, their great affection and closeness, the twinkle in their eyes. And since my brain is arrested at the visual memory of childhood, when I read their messages, I see their childhood faces. “It is such a wonderful feeling to connect to friends with whom you have spent your childhood,” one friend wrote. Some made remarks about me, how they perceived me then, and how they feel I have not changed. It touches my heart.
Our school was near the famed Bandel Church, one of the oldest churches in India. Shared photos of the school gate and the lovely chapel brought back many memories.
I learned that our classmate Mary Magdalene (yes, that was her name), who was in the class photo, is no more. But where is Babita today, I wonder. She was a very close friend. And where is Rajasree? And Kundin, Meena, Manora? This I know: if anyone can find them, “the girls” will. And I remember Sister Philo, headmistress of the convent school when we studied there, whom I adored. My childhood friend Rina sent me a phone number for her. I have yet to call her. What would I say? Will she even remember me? Will that slender intelligent face break into that million-dollar smile with recognition? The Internet being the amazing place it is, I found after some digging, some YouTube videos of an event at a different convent school in Kolkata, where various students were paying tribute to Sister Philo. I must call her. Anu informed us that Sister Matilda passed away: she who used to lead us in physical training (those endless march pasts in the blazing sun) -- or was that Sister Alice? -- and needlework. Sometimes, the universe gets on a roll. After one kindness, it decides to throw another your way. The other day, as I poked around in my kitchen, looking through my tins of tea for something to brew on a cold December afternoon, I chanced upon something that led to another found friend. It was a Ziploc bag which I had carried around for years. It was given to me by my dear friend Sanjay with whom I attended graduate school.
I met Sanjay and my other classmates before I learned to drive or had a car. He was always up for a drive, often to distant Monterey Park where he would be on a quest for dried Chinese plums or some other delicacy. He would drive one of two cars, Fritz, an old but impeccably maintained black BMW, or Yamamoto, a red Toyota pickup truck named in honor of UC Berkeley biologist Keith Yamamoto, and would invite me along for the ride. I was always happy for the adventure, and his pleasant company.
We would sometimes get Thai food together, and the Thai iced tea was always a favorite. Sanjay had found Thai tea leaves somewhere and had given me some in a Ziploc bag. With his characteristic humor, he had labeled it “Thai drugs” in his slanted hand, with a black sharpie pen on red laboratory tape.
I don’t recall ever having tried it – I had the impression it required more effort to steep and brew than normal, and possible a dose of condensed milk as well -- but I always carried it from place to place every time I moved, as a memento of a friendship I cherished. Occasionally I would read the red label on the Ziploc bag and chuckle. After my daughter learn to read, at some point, I decided to remove the label, amusing though it was, lest it be misconstrued by a young person not familiar with graduate school humor.
Sanjay’s good humor and kindness made some of the challenges of graduate school more bearable. I was very sorry when we lost contact. Those were before the days of internet mail and cellphones. If you moved or changed jobs or affiliations, you changed your phone number and your email, and you were lost. And so, on the recent afternoon when I was poking around in my tins of tea, I came upon this very same Ziploc bag. I opened it, and the wonderful aroma of Thai tea wafted out. I decided to brew a cup. It was delicious. Remembering my good friend and missing him, I promptly took to the Internet and found him on LinkedIn. A few exchanges later, I am reconnected with him, learning more about his life now and in the years past, reminiscing about some of our hilarious adventures, and am grateful.
There is much to catch up on with all my long-lost, now found friends. It is a great comfort when time seems to melt away and you are transported to simpler days.
Sometimes the universe is kind. It gives you back people you lost along the way, if you keep them in your heart.