A Potpourri of Wonderful Memories Part-II, An Ode to Friendship!

Ideally the previous post, Part I, should be read to get the complete backdrop against which these events are being described. What follows is a pictorial journey of a lifelong friendship in the context of a beloved high school where I was a teacher in my past life and my friend still is.

Against this backdrop of my baptism by fire entered into the scene my lifelong friend Malini, the new English high school teacher, also straight out of graduate school! I can still vividly recall that humid and already hot morning in Delhi in late July in 1981-the monsoon season. I was standing with a group of teachers chatting after the morning assembly when our conversation came to an abrupt standstill. Walking rather sashaying, I should say, was this vision of color immaculately dressed in a pink and green still fresh and crisp cotton sari with many matching bracelets on her wrists and braided long hair flowing well past her waist, and batting her twinkling kohl-lined eyes with a great big smile- she was a fashion diva for sure. Needless to say, she made us feel quite bedraggled, sweaty and sloppy which we were.

Malini (red scarf) and I (light pink attire) enjoying Teacher's Day, the only time, the school really didn't mind teachers wearing other Indian attire rather than a sari. Sari is supposed to be the most dignified attire especially in the case of young teachers as that made us look more grown up instead of blending with the older teenage students.
This was also the only day students were allowed to not wear their school uniforms which are a must in all schools in India. Note the brat behind me!

But, from that point on, it was deja vu. She came up to me and greeted me by name with an easy familiarity and I responded likewise. Having attended the same University of Delhi, we must have seen each other at some point, but had never been formally introduced. Yet it was like we had known each other forever. Like soul connections in love, I firmly believe that there are soul connections between friends when somehow there is instinctive and inexplicable bonding immediately. From that point we were inseparable.

The strength of our friendship lay in the fact that there were absolutely no pretences between us. No illusions at all. We understood and accepted each other completely. While the rest of the world, mainly the men were taken in by her wide-eyed helpless look and feminine wiles that she blatantly used to the utmost, I was not and affectionately told her so in no uncertain terms. Very often. However,I didn't mind watching her humorously in action. In my case, she saw my cream-puff heart under my facade of strength and manipulated me shamelessly. Fully aware, I did not mind because she has a great big loving heart. We were truly two soul-sisters with a connection that went beyond outward superficialities. She is the sister, I never had.

Here Malini and I are with our other colleagues during the school assembly where most of the students squatted cross-legged on covered floors to listen to the principal in the true Indian fashion daily. Remember the school was a wonderful medley of the best in Indian values and Western education!

Here of course, these kids have clambered on to a truck that came to deliver supplies. I met these kids as youngmen and women over the years and my heart swelled with pride to see how successful they were in ALL aspects of their lives-many of them settling here after coming to US for further studies...
Yes, we were also a complete study in contrasts and quite a sight to behold! I with my short "Lady Di" haircut (see above in pink sari with another colleague almost buried uner the eager kids)restlessly pushing my hair out of eyes especially when stressed which was almost all the time, briskly walking nay almost running with long impatient strides learned over the years of trying to keep pace with my much taller brothers, sari tied to accommodate that fact, and a bag carelessly slung over my shoulders, overflowing with student papers, makeup gone by mid-morning often replaced by streaks of chalk powder. You get the picture.

And then there was Malini, daintly dressed, sauntering leisurely, color coordinated completely with matching accessories and jewelry with not a hair out of place in her long braid, setting the new fashion rules for not just her envious colleagues but the growing teenage girls. Yet, beyond this superficial veneer, we both were hard-working dedicated teachers who shared a deep friendship which went beyond the classrooms. Here Malini and I are with another colleague and a student who is wearing a sari on Teacher's Day when the kids role-played as teachers and we teachers secretly prayed that they understood our pain. That is what is meant by eternal optimism!

Almost every afternoon, Malini, I and a couple of other young colleagues would walk over to Malini's place, have lunch, hang out and end up often spending the nights at her place. She lived near the school so her home became our usual haunt with her kid brother forcing his company on us till he was unceremoniously thrown out of her room. How he loved our gossip! Remember in India, unmarried children continue living with their parents so we came to know Malini's family very well. Rather, I became a part of her family and she of mine.

Here we are the youngest high school teachers (I am in the center and Malini is on the right in gold color sari) who hung out together and ended our school day by going over to Malini's place or all over town enjoying our singledom. Each of lived with our parents even as working adults and still followed the family rules. In short, we were very sheltered even as working women so any life's knocks hit us harder because in reality we were still big kids living at home under our parents' protection, right till we married.

I will never forget one trick that her evil brother and his friend played on me. Malini and her folks lived in a big bungalow (a large single-storied house)from the British days in India. It had many rooms along with the customary nooks and crannies which took on a life of their own in the evening hours. It really could be quite scary at night. I recall one evening, these two horrendous college freshmen, probably to pay me back for throwing my weight since of course Malini let me do all the dirty work, convinced me that there was a ghost in that house and they rapidly kept pointing out where they were seeing this strange apparition. Each time I turned around, they said it had moved elsewhere till I almost started believing that I saw the tail-end of the spirit. Of course, it did not exist but by the time, dusk fell, I of course started seeing things and was literally on the verge of a heart attack out of sheer terror, till her father stepped in and put an end to that nonsense. I never forgave the rascals who when I turned around were doubled with laughter along with my soul-sister wiping tears of sheer mirth from her eyes... She had joined them. I realized that day that I can come up with some inventive profanities and being bilingual surely expanded my repertoire!
Malini and I are having outdoor Sunday lunch at a very upscale country club in Delhi to which her family belongs. That is her father in the background-he continues to have a special soft corner for me from the days when he was truly my saviour around her rascal brother and his friends!

Here we are both at a colleague's wedding with another young teacher who was also single and actually a CPA who just came to spend a year as a teacher. Needless to say, he loved hanging out with us single girls as we were much more fun than the older more low key and conservative crowd who had been teaching for donkey years in the school. I am in deep red and Malini is an gold colored sari

Another incident that I recall very clearly is a trek (my one and only and you will soon see why) we took with the school kids to the town of Mussoorie situated in the foothills of the Himalayas. Without prior hiking experience and having just recovered from a severe bout of malaria, in a foolhardy manner much against my parents' sound judgment, I decided to join Malini who again convinced me I was just fine (did I tell you - her brother used to call me her "stooge" because she somehow convinced me to give in in all her crazy schemes) to chaperone the school kids on an almost 34 kms uphill hike in the treacherous hills. Of course, as expected, I collapsed part of the way and just couldn't move an inch. Squatting and wailing that they should all leave me to die in the hills and move on without me, it could not have been a more dramatic sight. I was a mess uncaring that my students were watching in malicious fascination their strong teacher in this crumpled state. Cutting my histrionics short in a matter of fact manner that she certainly can certainly dredge up in an instant (you wonder if the batting of eyes was a figment of your imagination), my friend scolded me and told me to get a grip. Miraculously, she made me get up till literally bolstered by two strapping male students, I dragged myself to the top into town which by the way is at an average altitude of 6,600 ft . How I hated her then!

Here we both are with our students after the pretty steep uphill climb in the hills where I seriously thought, I was going to die.

Once in Mussoorie, I conveniently developed amnesia about my previous embarrassment and once again vigorously took on the role of a senior teacher and started lecturing the kids to watch out for leeches, the blood sucking parasites, that are abundant in these hills. Sitting in a restaurant I pontificated at length about how the kids should be careful and dress appropriately till someone pointed out something dark red on the side of my neck. I am not kidding when I tell you that my blood-curling scream could be heard over the mountainside! Shrieking like a banshee, I dragged Malini to the god-forsaken dingy bathroom of that small eatery in the hills. Stripped and shivering uncontrollably from disgust and cold, I gritted my teeth, till my friend who had doubled up with laughter could follow the instructions of the eatery owner who also with a barely suppressed grin had shown her how to remove the damn parasite with salt and matchsticks. Clearly these hill folks took such creatures in their stride! Well fed, the sucker fell off easily. With my now hugely wounded pride, I refused to subject myself to more good -humored ridicule and rode back next day to the base like a Diva in a cab eagerly volunteering to chaperone a girl student who had developed a raging fever, leaving Malini to handle all the rambunctious students. That was my revenge and Malini was not fooled. It was only under dire threats of very tough history tests that I was able to suppress the hysterical giggles of the kids. That was an amazing adventure! Needless to say, trekking shall never be on my resume as a curricular activity!

After that disastrous hiking incident, I made sure I always went on safer and saner trips with the kids. Here we are at a couple of picnics! While I labored hard over teaching the kids about the Rise and Fall of the British Empire and India's freedom struggle, I also played hard with them and that is what made life so wonderful as a young teacher in Modern!

When I announced suddenly one day in Jan. 1987 that I would be quitting my job to join my new husband in the US, she and the rest of the school could not believe it because once you joined Modern School, you continued till you couldn't. I would not be arrogant if I ventured to say, based on the reactions of my kids and their subsequent feedback and continuous attempts over the decades to remain in touch with me till today, that I was their "favorite teacher" and left teaching in a blaze of glory and at the height of my career. It was poignant all-around for a number of reasons... My years were so wonderful and enriching at Modern that I could not imagine teaching ever again in a different environment. It was season for a reason and time to move on as I could never give my heart like this again!

Here I am being given an amazing sendoff after I announced that I was leaving for the US to start a new life. This was a very emotional time undoubtedly!

Coming back to Malini-leaving my best friend was really really rough. I still remember getting a hysterical call in the middle of the night in my first few weeks in DC. It was my friend, very emotional at my absence. I don't remember a word of that conversation, other than we both were in tears. There are too many memories to share but suffice it is to say that we grew up together in those years. Coming from similar over-protective and sheltered backgrounds including the good ole nuns, we went through many youthful trials and tribulations sharing many laughs and tears. It has been more than two decades since I left India, yet despite our different life experiences, our bond is still strong as ever. It is one of those friendships that even if one does not connect for years, when we do, we pick up immediately as if there was no gap... Our saga continues.

Cheers to our Karmic bond my friend!

And long live Modern School!!!

Now let us move on to Candid Carrie's Friday Foto Fiesta and see what's going on!


Malini said…
You leave me with tears as i look at the innocence and youth of yesteryears..and a joyful reminder of our funfilled days where we believed in our dreams. A pandora's box to dig into on a rainy day..thats the way i would describe your wonderful writing and many thanks for the tribute..yes we are karmic friends..Where are the songs of spring..ay where are they..but think not of them thou hast thy music too...Yes Raksha we may have mellowed over the years externally but the passion and fire of youth still remains as we continue on our journey and believe me , leave indelible footprints in the lives of those we touch so CHEERS over SKYPE and lets raise a toast tonite.I love you for your warmth, your honest candid nature...a word of caution..dont give your heart away , you are too precious to be hurt by anyone
cyclingred said…
Sounds like a great friendship. You should make a movie.
careysue said…
I second that Red!!

Beautiful story...I bet you can finish each others sentences, and know when the other will be calling.

your girl friends, you will have forever, as men come and go. I feel sorry for women who don't have that special bond with a women.

I have a question for you two...if it was a movie who would the actresses be who play the two of you? ;)
Malini said…
cyclingred...when does the camera begin to role...
RBK's Realm said…

I truly think no actress could really do our characters justice so if the opportunity arose, we would really have to play ourselves. :)
Teri said…
Once again, you have captured me with your tales of the past. Your friend, Malini, sounds like a treasure. I myself am lucky enough to have two good friends like this. Thanks so much for sharing.
Anonymous said…
That was so beautiful! What a wonderful friend Malini is. My favorite picture is of the three young teachers (you, in the middle, in red). . what an awesome picture! You look like three queens or princesses! I feel so sad that you had to leave Malini. . .good friends are so rare. Technology has helped many of my friendships survive too! Where would we be without friends who love and support us!!!?! - DT
Honeybee said…
Omigosh, I love your writing style RBK. Its so descriptive, you draw me right into it. I wish I could be one of those fresh faced beautiful girls back then with you!

Friendship.. yes, a true friend is a rare treasure to find.
Sandi McBride said…
You know what I love about this piece? It is knowing that most of us are alike, having the same dreams, the same aspirations and the same love of life...you have taught me so much in the reading of your posts...I know that you will miss Malini so much, but how wonderful to have the opportunity of blogging and skype to keep you close. I hope that 2009 brings you closer to your personal goals than ever before...
hugs to you
Chok said…
hoi Raksha
enjoyed reading about your time at Modern and with Malini.
Looking at some of those photos I now realise that Malini was really a stunner.
believe it or no, yours is the first blog I have ever accessed and read !
look forward to reading more of your memoirs, which if I may say so,is very well written.
anything about the U-Special ?
keepsmiling and stay well.
Anonymous said…
Raksha, what a tender and beautiful chronicle of an enduring friendship! I love reading your blog so much, and the photos you include always make me feel like I am seeing your life stories as they unfold. The world loves & needs your stories!
Sandi McBride said…
What a glorious group of young women you are. Full of life and filled with the spirit of fire...such a beautiful post here filled with your love of humanity and teaching. You'd be my favorite teacher, too I believe. Loved this post.
Monisha said…
Your post Ode to Friendship (I&II) brought back a rush of memories from my days in school and I must say, I have a lump in my throat as I write this ...