A colleague, a junior, a mentee, a friend, a pleasant neighbor in the office…a little of everything… 8 or 9 years younger than me, pretty, charming , full of life; she had moved to the team adjacent to mine in 2006 from another department, around 10 months before I left the organization. Her workstation was right in front of mine and that became the root cause of our relation. A good morning at the beginning of the day, a bye at the end of the day and that was pretty much it.
We would talk a little, in between work, not so much as friends but colleagues since our worlds were different… two circles barely intersecting, a ‘touch and go’ relation. The point of intersection was that both our moms were teachers at the same school. Our moms were colleagues too! That, however, did not matter at the time because I had lost my mom to cancer. I was 32, married, mother of two young girls, struggling to manage my job, my home, my family and myself. Building new relations or making small talk was not on my agenda. I was busy dealing with my own loss. Though it seemed like I had it all, internally I was fighting to survive. She was 24, fair skinned, green eyes, a smile that radiated fresh like a flower, unmarried, in love (which I hadn’t known of while she sat across me), living with her parents and not a care in the world. THAT was how different our worlds were.
Everybody called her “Basanti”, from the all-time classic Hindi movie,” Sholay”, after a role she enacted at the Annual Bank Meet. That role as ‘Basanti,’ depicted her completely- vivacious, energetic, fun. Over-night she became famous. She had stolen everybody’s heart. That was her.
3 months later, I moved out of the organization. The team gave me a farewell with a recording of goodbye messages that each person in the bank had recorded for me. That’s when I realized how much I meant to her; she looked up to me. The rest of my friends and colleagues at the office had pulled her leg, saying that if they had not stopped the recording, she would have gone on forever. I remember listening to it later and wondering what I had done to deserve it. She had said, she admired me for my strength, the way I had handled everything after mom passed away. She said she wanted to be like me. I knew in my heart I had been anything but strong. It was far from the truth I had been so absorbed in my grief that I had become insensitive, almost bitter. It wasn’t me. It was her…looking at the positive things. I was running away from it all… my job, the country and everything that I could possibly run away from.
After staying away for 6 months and realizing that leaving everything behind hadn’t been an answer to the pain, I returned and gave her a call because I felt it was time to try to move on and a good starting point was meeting the people I had left behind. I reached out and she came to meet me at the hotel I was staying in. We had dinner, talked, laughed and she left.
Our group of friends managed to meet occasionally after that- at her wedding reception, an after-wedding dinner at my place, a Diwali party, her anniversary. The last time we met was in 2011. By then, she had a kid, a replica of her, cuddly, chirpy and absolutely adorable. She got busy with family, extended family, home, kid and well… we got busy too; in our own little worlds. On a few occasions, when the group decided to meet, she couldn’t make it because she had other commitments; family get-together etc. And then a times came that we stopped inviting.
The distance grew creating a gulf that nobody had the time to cross. We were all Busy! Not busy to update Facebook, put up a picture or chat with some acquaintance living on the other side of the globe but busy to make time for each other. Our circles changed.
With Facebook and What’s App having become the rage, I got to see her pictures almost every day, posing with her little kid. In fact, it got to an extent, that I would wake up in the morning, check my mobile and find her picture. She had stopped working, was doing what she loved, being with her kid, had joined dance classes and she seemed on top of the world. I took solace in the fact that everybody was happy; just in a different space. I was busy. I did not have the time to be on Facebook.
We spoke once in 2013 and she wanted to meet us but couldn’t, as she had no conveyance. My social circle changed to friends with kids of the same age as mine. She did not try to keep in touch and neither did we. Overtime, the mind reasons it out and egos inflate, as each person expects the other to break the ice. I am not sure still, why I thought of her now and then…but like they say, ‘the heart knows no reason.’ We had never been very close and yet there was an uneasy feeling of having let go so easily.
In 2014, I messaged her. I did not receive a reply. I felt at ease. I had tried. My conscience did not prick me anymore and life went back to normal.
In June 2016, the heart reminded me of her again. There was a feeling of heaviness I couldn’t explain, a sense of guilt again that needed to be cleared. I messaged her again and this time received a reply. We got chatting. A lot had happened in the three years we had lost touch…she had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer! She had undergone treatment, been in and out of the hospital for over 2 years, had been under treatment for the last 9 months. ‘Life has been hell but I am so much better now,’ were her words. There was no history of cancer in the family. She was a vegetarian, had an active life and yet it had crept in and had grown. She was 32!
She had to go for a regular follow-up and was travelling to India on 2nd July and I was going on my summer holiday on the 6th. I decided to meet before we left to India, each on our own way.
So, on 27th June we met. After work, I went home to see her, to catch up on the 2 and a half years. The cancer had made her weak but her eyes were still bright and her smile still charming. It had not been able to dampen her spirit. She wanted to know about the others, my girls, the school that she should put her little one into. She wanted to know why we hadn’t spoken to her, why we hadn’t invited her. I found myself explaining to her for me and for all the rest. She asked me never to assume again and asked me never to think she was avoiding me or did not want to meet and I said “Never again”. It was all too overwhelming, she seemed so much more wiser. She was no longer a child but a woman, much stronger than I had ever been.
We decided to meet again with the kids and with the rest of the group, once we were back from India. When I left, I felt lighter, that a misunderstanding created out of nowhere had been cleared. Little did I know then, that, that was the last time we would meet and that, that was the final goodbye. A month later, on August 2nd, the fight ended. She succumbed to the Cancer. I did not get to see her.
Even as I write this blog, I find it difficult to believe she is no more; there was not a sign on her face (when we met) that called for sympathy. She was just like she had always been, loving and cheerful, with a zest for life. I pray her soul rests in peace and I am just so grateful, she gave me the opportunity to see her and explain. I am thankful I let my heart rule my head. The heart can never go wrong and deep in my heart I know she will always remain a part of my life. In her death, she left me wiser. It is I who now look up to her for answering questions that have plagued me about death. It looks neither at age, beauty, money or purpose. It is inevitable and unpredictable. That is the only truth.
So often, we think of people but we don’t bother reaching out. We wait for them to take the first step. We judge them and we criticize their actions without having a clue as to what they are going through. I’ve learnt my lesson… I was lucky this time to make amends. As you read my blog, if there is any, one person, that you have thought about but have been delaying getting in touch with, for want of a better time or a better reason, there’s really no time as good as now….for Tomorrow Never Comes!!!