Diwali, Holi- festival in the Hindu calendar, celebrated across India.
Badaun, Uttar Pradesh- a district in the state of Uttar Pradesh
Mausi ji- maternal aunt
Agra- a city in Uttar Pradesh
Ludhiana- a city in the state of Punjab ( predominantly Sikh community)
Chennai- a city in the southern state of Tamil Nadu
We were born three hours, two minutes and twenty seven second apart, on September 23, 1939. We hit off immediately. Our mothers’ were best friends, and our fathers’ bonded over politics, and so, as far as I can trace back, we spent every Diwali at their house and Holi at ours. I was the elder, something I reminded her at least once every day, much to her dismay.
I lived in a government colony that was separated from the rest of the city. Our area was actually green and clean as compared to the rest of the dusty and dirty countryside. Her house was next door. The accommodation that the newly formed Indian government had provided us was comfortable, on account of our fathers teaching at the Government College in Badaun, Uttar Pradesh.
Those days were amazing. There were no cell phones, no televisions or radios. One simply spent time living, not surviving. We did not live in a fantasy world warped with the idea that the number of likes on our picture and the friend we have on Facebook made us happy. We liked company of people. Ishmeet was the one person I always wanted to talk to. She was my best friend.
Our day would start by us meeting for our tuition that would happen at our houses alternatively, then we would have our lunch which we followed up by a walk. Sometimes, when we wanted to go out, bauji would send his driver and we would go for a drive in that old rattling Ford. In the evening, we had classes at the University where our fathers taught, and after that, we would go to the other’s house for dinner. Finally, at around eight, we would retire for the night, only to look forward to the next day. Where there was Ishmeet, there was Gayatri. We were friends’ forever.
When we grew eighteen, Ishmeet’s father fixed her marriage with Gurvinder Singh. He was a nice lad of twenty four, practicing law under the tutelage of his father. He was an alumni of the university and had had his eye on Ishmeet for a long time. I liked him because I knew of him to be a respectable man. Besides, Ishmeet was happy, and so was I.
I, on the other hand, wanted to continue my education, an idea my father supported with gusto. He was way ahead of his time, and so he enrolled me for a Masters’ In English in the Agra University, very renowned back in the 1950s’. I left for Agra, where my mausi ji lived in the summer of 1957, after a tearful farewell by Ishmeet. We promised to keep in touch by exchanging letters. And we did, until I got the telegram in the fourth year of my education, by which I was been courted by a fine man with the name, Vikram Sanghwal, that Ishu had borne a child. It was a girl and she had named her Diljeet.
By then, Gurvinder had shifted to Ludhiana, where he had been appointed as a district prosecutor. I hadn’t seen her in over four years, I immediately booked a ticket to Ludhiana, with a stop at Badaun, to congratulate her. Vikram insisted that he accompany me, so I let him. I liked him, and it would mean that Ishu could meet him too. There was no awkwardness between us when we met. Pregnancy had done her well and she looked very beautiful. And Diljeet had literally won my heart. She was exquisite. Vikram and Gurvinder became good acquaintances and we spent a delightful two weeks there, during which Vikram proposed to me.
He told me how he had already talked to my father and how much he loved me. I said yes, and we got married on December 11, 1962. He was an amazing husband, we three years later, I gave birth to the most beautiful boy, who we named Anurag. I had been working as a professor in the Agra University by then, and was up for a transfer. Ishu and I were still in contact, but it was less frequent now that we had our own families to look after. Our letters had been exchanged with phone calls and our visits by photographs.
The next few years passed in a blur. I was busy with my family and my job and Ishu was busy with hers; I’d heard that she had started her own boutique. We sent some two three letters an year, rest all contact was sporadic, but we were happy. We met for some two three times during that period.
The year I turned forty two was an eventful one. Our small family of three had grown to a big litter of six, and I had been promoted to the position of dean in the Department of English in the Agra University. It was when I got my transfer. Be it luck of pure coincidence, it was to the University in Ludhiana. I was exhilarated at the prospect of my Ishu everyday again. When I called her, she was surprised to hear my voice but when I told her, she had screamed.
We shifted there in March 1982. Living at a distance that took some five minutes to cover, we met each other every day. We shared the same rapport now that our parents had shared back in the 1930’s. We were family. The kids mixed well with each other and the next year, we shifted from the University accommodations to our own house in the same block as the Singhs’.
Then came the fateful year of 1984. That morning started just as it did every day, with me going to the University early morning and the kids to school. Vikram had been in Chennai for a conference and Ishu had called me in the morning, “G, come over for lunch. Bring the kids too. I’ll make biryani.” I had replied, “I’ll be seeing you.”
The day had been a hard one and I was wishing for lunch. On returning, I found the colony unusually quiet. I stopped in front of Ishu’s house and found the door ajar. It was unusual. On entering, it seemed as if the entire community was inside. Making my way inside, I found Gurvinder crying and Anurag hovering around nervously. I was shocked.
“What happened?” I had asked. Turned out, Ishu’s throat had been slit. The entire room was splattered with blood. Beside her body was a newspaper clipping that had screamed, “PM ASSASSINATED BY HER SIKH BODYGUARDS, Unrest in the city.”
I never saw her again. It was then I realized that forever is such and incorrect concept.