“I miss the gossip” moaned Jo on the phone. I listened quietly, nodding because I could feel her pain.
“I miss the walks and the weird arguments we used to have” she continued reminiscing. You would have thought we were retired pensioners discussing the “good old days”. The truth was scarcely a week had passed since we’d left college.
Jo and I first met when we came to give the interview for IMT’s admissions. We didn’t speak with each other but I remember noticing this tall, attractive girl and hoping we’d see each other in IMT. Little did I know then that she was going to be one of my closest friends.
The truth was I didn’t know we were best friends until she told me so. Jo more or less decided that for the both of us. There was an air of finality to her announcement, that henceforth we would be best friends. Because I didn’t know what to say, I meekly agreed. Other friendships in IMT took months to mature and blossom. Jo and I were best friends by the end of the first week. When I asked her why she chose me, she said her logic was simple. I was a nerdy looking South Indian and thus totally incapable of hitting on her. My genes had ensured that I was harmless.
We became famous for our nightly walks. As we were among the first guy girl combos to be seen walking around campus, everyone just assumed we were a couple. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Jo went into fits of laughter at the thought. While my feelings towards Jo were purely platonic, I didn’t quite see why the idea had to be a source of amusement.
“I don’t know DD” she said between gasps “It’s just that I don’t see how I could possibly be attracted to you. I mean you’re a nice guy and all that, its nice talking to you…but I don’t know…you’re sort of dull…”
“You’re telling me I’m boring?”
“No…Not boring…it’s just that you seem to lack passion for anything. Passion is important you know? women need passion! Swaroop is passionate about tennis, Nags is passionate about making friends…but with you…I don’t see anything! What are you passionate about?”
“Err. lots of things…”
From the look on her face, I could see it was the wrong answer. An interest in writing and books made me look like a painfully shy introvert. I had no caveman like qualities. I was neither a socialite nor a go getter. I could see why women wouldn’t want to have children with me. These conversations left me feeling rather depressed. Compared to Jo, I was dull and stodgy.
“You don’t market yourself well” she continued, clearly relishing the subject.” You lack the innate ability to promote yourself. Nobody knows what excites you”. I stared to reply but she cut me short “No, ghee dosa and filter coffee is not an answer”. I fell silent, squashed.
In the two years we spent at IMT, Jo rarely visited my room. Instead she preferred to stand outside my window and musically call out my initials until I responded. Even if she did come in, she’d do so with her nose wrinkled and an expression of supreme distaste on her face.
“It stinks here” she would declare and sit gingerly on my bed. “How long has it been since you washed the pillow covers?” Statements like these did little to make me feel warm towards her. Granted, there was a lingering smell of old socks and the dog did little to improve the odor but I liked it all the same. It made me feel at home. Every room had its own distinctive smell. My room smelt of socks and dog, Mathew’s room smelt of stale cigarette smoke and agarbathi and Sriram’s room smelt of Sriram. The girl’s rooms smelt sterile in comparison. Who wanted to live in a hospital anyway?
After we left the room, Jo and I would head to the Nescafe joint where I’d get a cup of tea and then we’d walk around campus while Jo indulged in “girly talk”. The conversations were usually one sided. I always listened closely, keen on learning the ways of the female mind. I felt gratified to be the recipient of such arcane knowledge.
When Jo got engaged to be married, several of my friends took me aside and quietly asked me if I was heartbroken. When I replied in the negative, they gave me a disbelieving look. Surely I harbored some sort of feelings for her. After all, she was hot wasn’t she? They declared that I was living in some sort of denial. “Admit it DD, admit it!” they would cry. I could only shake my head in response.
Jo’s engagement however filled me with a vague kind of dread, the dread that comes from watching friends readily move onto the next stage in life. It troubled me to watch 24 and 25 year olds girls get engaged or married. There was an air of certainty to them, like they knew what they were doing and were prepared to accept responsibility for it. They wanted to become adults and even worse, mothers. I felt hopelessly disconnected from them. They made me feel terribly immature. The guys remained guys. The girls became women.
I don’t know how Jo and I work. We have vastly different personalities. She’s intelligent, impatient, passionate, dismissive, opinionated, and frequently sarcastic. Yet she treats me with a certain grudging affection - an ill tempered, self appointed guardian. She’s the full bodied, hot blooded Salsa dancer. I sort of drift around and yet we have a beautiful friendship.
Don’t know when I’ll get to meet you again after the wedding. All the best Jo, stay in touch :-)