We had just moved into our new house. I was 6, my brother 4, and this was already my fourth place of residence in Kota, sixth or seventh overall, for various legitimate (and totally healthy) reasons. Still I used to get pretty sick of the same old geography in a few months and was always thrilled at the prospect of moving. Unlike our parents, we were not burdened by the tedious tasks of packing, loading, unloading, unpacking, organising, socializing, arranging household helps, and so on. My brother and I had been self-sufficient with regard to important matters like playing, and our friendships outside family had been rather free-flowing, ‘no strings attached’ type. So a new place only meant running around in a new yard, smell of newly whitewashed walls, new flower beds and fruit trees, new layout of the playground we called home, new view from the terrace; in our own little world, it was synonymous to a new life.
As we wandered around exploring the scope of fun this new place provided, our mother called out from inside, to see who was there to meet us. We went to the front gate, two knobbly-kneed, curious-looking girls of our age, one slightly taller than the other, were standing, flashing friendly smiles. After a quick and awkward exchange of hellos, the shorter one started,
“My name is Ruhi, and she is Farah. Would you like to play with us?”
“Sure. I’m Charu, and this is Puru,” I hesitatingly replied. I was amazed at her easy confidence in contrast to my own shyness. Making new friends at school was easy, you sat together in class, made fun of each other, checked out their name on their notebook label, and that was it. Outside school, it was parents who introduced us kids in family gatherings or even in our previous neighbourhoods. But the audacity of reaching out and formally exchanging introductions was novel to me, and highly uncomfortable. She made it look so easy though and I was happy for it. I didn’t have to do the hard work you see.
Farah, the tomboyish one, instantly fell into some serious discussion about games and stuff with Puru, each probably weighing the other as potential partners-in-crime. After listening to them for about ten seconds Ruhi said to me, “Come on, let’s walk.”
She told me who all lived in the nearby houses, which houses were empty and supposedly haunted, which guava trees gave sweeter fruit, which neighbouring auntie would kidnap and probably kill you if you went inside their house to get your ball or kite. She told me of the mean girls in the corner house who went to high-profile schools and were once her friends but not anymore, of the bully boys who lived in the house at intersection, whom she had never once talked to, but told me to warn Puru against befriending them all the same. Then she must have realised she had been talking for a good fifteen minutes, so asked me the trivialities about my school, class, birthday and stuff. Getting boring one word responses from me, even though I was enjoying her company more than I had ever enjoyed another and listening aptly lest I ruin it by uttering some nonsense, she decided to crank it up a notch.
“Have you noticed how, in calendars, some dates are black and others red”, she asked.
“Yes, the red ones are holidays,” I said wisely.
“I know. I keep checking the calendar to see how long I have to wait till the next red one,” she declared.
“Wow, me too!”
There was a brief moment of thoughtful silence. Then she asked, albeit guardedly,
“Hey, do you ever have that feeling when you see something and it seems this exact same thing has happened before? Like exactly!”
Now, that was a groundbreaking revelation for me. I had had that experience many times but never in my wildest imagination would I share it with someone, not even my brother. I don’t know if it was a sense of privacy for my thoughts or fear of being judged as weird. This exchange opened a whole new communication channel. This girl was my kindred spirit. I could tell her anything. She did it first.
“Yes, yes!” I exclaimed. “I never imagined others would have experienced that too. This is awesome!”
“How exciting is that! Oh my God, you and I gonna have so much fun.” She looked even happier than usual. We had bonded over a mystery. This friendship was for keeps.
Years later, when I came to know it is called ‘deja vu’, and everyone experiences it, I couldn’t help but smile. No matter how common it was, to me it would always represent a miracle which brought to me my first best friend.