When we were in high school, most probably Class 12 but this was oh so long ago that it could well have been class 11, we started this little tradition. That being that on Saptami (the day Pujo officially starts), we, some friends from school, would meet at a specific time at Anandamela, an electronics shop in Gariahat and then go pandal-hopping on foot. The first time we did it, there was quite a crowd. It was so much fun that we kept on doing it every pujo. Over the years, fewer and fewer of the original group attended the annual ritual, college group alignments washing out the high school ones and couples forking out on their own. I religiously showed up though in front of the glass display windows filled with Aiwa sound systems and Onida color TVs because Pujo wouldn’t be Pujo without it. Then I came to the US to study. And that, as they say, was that.
A few days ago, while going through my home PC in a Pujo funk, I alighted upon an old scan of a picture taken at Maddox Square, one that I had almost forgotten I had. I posted it on Facebook and another friend, who used to be part of that group, posted a few more pictures taken another year (the one in which we had our biggest attendance), pictures I didn’t know existed, taken once again in front of Maddox Square.
There is something about those old pictures that just put me through an emotional roller-coaster. First the amazement—who is that thin guy wearing my old shirt, looking wondrously optimistic back at the camera? Then the embarrassment at the outsized glasses and the multi-colored, flashy, straight-out-of-Hero-Number-1 waist-coat which had seemed such a great idea at the time. Then the quiet chuckle recalling the small romantic pins-and-needles and the politics of juvenile friendships. The furtive glances. The “Did she mean what I think she meant” insecurities.
All of which had seemed earth-shaking in its importance.
Then the sadness. Of the roads not taken, the words not said, the time not spent. The inevitable melancholia of gazing into the past with the certitude of the present.
The knowledge that we, as a group, will never have such times again.Sure, we can try to “schedule” a reunion. But it won’t happen. It won’t happen because the group is dispersed all over the globe. It won’t happen because everyone has moved on. Brutally put, we do not have anything much beyond a few minutes of memories to share any more. Even in those few minutes, I am sure we will hold ourselves back, wondering whether it would be politically correct to say that which is dancing at the tip of the tongue. At least I will.
Because I am now an adult. And adults are supposed to be conscious about the feelings of others.
Which means I am more studied in my interactions with fellow human beings, more wary of being judged. Which means I will possibly never be in a group like that any more, as unfettered and as carefree. Which means I will possibly never take a cap gun and burst it close to…never mind. Even though there is a part of me, the Peter Pan corner that never wants to grow up, which still wants to.
This, I suppose, brings me closer to the truth. The chest tightens not because I miss my friends but because I miss myself, the outrageously thin, flashily dressed and absolutely uninhibited dork standing in front of Maddox Square.
I look once more at the scans. The thing about pictures is that they don’t move. That’s perhaps why they are so comforting. But life keeps walking. Forward.
And it is then that I feel happy.
No not happy. That’s not the word.
Glad. Glad that I have moved. Glad that I am what I am today. (Okay may be not the weight).
Because progression is the way of the universe.
That person in the picture, I suppose, he is better left there.
Not that I don’t miss him. And all the others. Especially during Pujos.
So then, finally, slightly fogged up in the mind, I minimize the picture window, catch my breath, close my eyes, and move on.
The sound of distant dhaak, the aftertaste of over-oiled egg rolls ,the giggles, the scraps of conversation, and the music of happiness—they still keep playing for some time.