It was Shiva who suggested I write about this in my blog. He has been my sounding board for the past more-than-twenty years, my eternally patient husband. As usual, I’d been going on about seemingly random topics that connect with each other only in my head, and the talk came to my friend Radhika, and her role in my life. That was when Shiva asked me why I did not write about it.
Well, why didn’t I?
I have always been exceptionally rich and fortunate when it comes to people. I cannot honestly say I know many, but among those I do know are some incredibly beautiful people. And each of them has left her/his mark on me. Maybe I’ll write about each of them some day, but today it’s Radhika’s turn, for whatever reason. She and I meet once or twice in a decade, at the most. We hardly keep in touch in between – she’s not yet been seduced by the social media as I have been. But we pick up where we left off with ease, each time we meet.
Radhika has been a major influences I in my life, and she is not even aware of it. Good friends are truly God’s gift, and she came to me nicely wrapped, around the time I was in middle school – and changed my life forever. Maybe my penchant for books was the result of a lonely childhood, but it was Radhika who introduced me to good books at that young age. Not to mention good movies and music.
She would recite lines from a poem she had read the previous day and explain the meaning with such pleasure that poetry became a thing of joy to me, to be unraveled lovingly and cherished, kept close to the heart. Through the years, she would insist on correcting the way I pronounced Malayalam – ‘Not achan Mini, say acchhan’ or ‘Radhika, not Radika’ till those sounds became so much a part of me that even get annoyed when hearing those young RJs spouting heavily accented, badly mispronounced, Malayalam. I conveniently forget that I would have been as good or as bad as any of them had it not been for my friend. In a sense, Radhika is partly the reason I pick up nuances in languages quickly.
Let me put it this way – Radhika, in her own quietly insistent way, took me out of the shallow little world of my displaced childhood, and showed me the sky and the stars in all their cosmic glory.
Not that we’re in any way similar. Radhika is the cheese to my chalk, to say the least. She’s the salt of the earth, and I am – what am I? That wild ingredient which ought to be handled with utmost care? I guess. She was the one that, in high school, used to run behind Sreekumari (another friend I’d have loved to meet again) and me, struggling against the pouring rain and wind with three open umbrellas. Sreeku and I would run gleefully into the rain and Radhika would be behind us, calling out, “Sreeku, Mini, take your umbrellas, here…you’ll get wet and catch a cold or fever…here, please, take this…Mini…Sreeku…”
She is Malayalam at its most pristine, and I’m an awkward mix of languages, with English at the top. No, don’t get me wrong – we come from similar backgrounds, but she has strong roots, and I am a weed adrift. So it is English for me; English, the language of the rootless. She has a daughter who sticks close, and I have two sons almost as wild as me. She is an engineer content to be working for an insurance company, and I’m the eternally restless seeker still trying to find the right niche.
And I’m still her big worry.
When we met up the other day, we started talking about our respective childhoods and she started telling me about her father, and how blessed she had been on that count. “We didn’t have much to go by, with my parents mere school teachers at a time when salaries were low, but Acchhan (Dad) gave us this incredible gift of time. In the evenings he would sit with us and talk about books and music and art and culture and so many different things…”
I listened, imagining the Radhika in school uniform (I could never imagine her in any other dress), holding forth with her father. The next day, without fail, she would have related those snippets of wisdom to us, her bunch of avid listeners… I’m happy for her, but I’m also envious of her childhood and parentage. Despite what the self-help books tell you, there are things no amount of positive thinking can change.
I relate the conversation that Radhika and I had with my husband, and it strikes me that in a strange, incomprehensible way, I too had partaken on her legacy. That this father of my friend, whom I have never met, has been the reason for my life-long love for books, movies and music. That through his daughter, he had given me much more than I could ever have asked for. And my husband asks me, “Why don’t you write about it?”
So here I am.
What I’d like to add is this: I’m profoundly grateful to all those people that life had placed in my way – people I am close to, people I have parted ways from, people I have not even met, but are oh-so-important to me…people who mean a lot, though I’d all but taken them for granted.
Thank you, all of you.