I met Fern (thats what we called him in school) in the bus, of all places! Strange that you shud meet someone you havent seen since school ended six years ago in such mundane every-day surroundings.
He almost didnt recognise me. Which is strange again. I thought I look pretty much the same. But then I see me everyday so I cant really be objective.
"So, what have you been upto?" he tossed me altho he'd asked me the same question on facebook (he'd also seen my latest photo, so I still dont get how he didnt recognise me) a month ago. But then, he's never been much of a small-talk person.
I told him and then I congratulated him for having completed his electrical engineering. He said he was going to MIT in August. "The MIT?" I queried, seriously impressed, inspite of the characteristic smugness in his tone. (Hell, anyone who's going to MIT will be totally smug about it, wont they?)
"Yeah." he smiled, the first real smile he'd cracked in the fifteen minutes we'd been sitting side by side in the bus, barring the confused grin he gave me when I'd tapped him on the shoulder and asked him if he remembered me.
"Wow! I thought you'd do really well, but this is awesome!" I thought I shud reaffirm that I was being genuine in my show of gladness.
"Did you really?" I thought that was a strange thing for him to say to me. But I nodded, threw in another smile. We sat in silence for about five minutes before I thought to ask him his GPA. From my experience with dada, I knew IIT guys always liked to talk about their GPAs.
"No, seriously??" I was really shocked this time. I knew the guy was this genius (I'd kinda known that since sixth standard) but what kind of an average is 9.81? Dada who'd been more interested in debates, MI and his bass guitar had a GPA that hovered perpetually between 7 and 8 and he cudnt be more concerned about it.
He nodded, and smiled again, sheepishly this time.
"Well, thats great! I mean, I know you've always been single-minded and all." Then, we lapsed into silence again.
We were nearing my stop. I thought I shud make a bid for a decent goodbye to make up for our rather anemic not-so-school-buddy conversation.
"My stop's coming. It was really nice to see you after so long. I'm really happy for you. You're very gifted. Good luck with MIT and all. Umm, I guess its bye then." Not very clean, but I tried.
He nodded, and looked like he wanted to say something important, but then simply said, "Thanks. You're very gifted too, you know, you can talk to people. People like you. And you're smarter than average. You never talked to me before, when we were in school but now, like today, you, you're different." This time I knew he wasnt talking about how I looked.
I smiled this time and got off the bus. I was actually stunned that this guy I'd never had a single fluid conversation with in the sixteen years that I'd known him had actually said something nice about me. Well, sort of nice.
I walked the rest of the way to my colony compound when out-of-the-blue, just when Pushki (thats what we called him in school) came blazing out of his groundfloor flat, two buildings away from mine.
"OMIGOD!" (The capital letters are meant to express the loudness of my exclamation.) "When did you get back from Delhi? Why didnt you call me? You shud have told me you're coming." I half-chided him.
He gave me his usual big bear hug, beaming from ear to ear and told me it was supposed to be a surprise.
"You will not believe who I just met on the bus! Fern!" I had to tell him, it was topmost on my mind.
I told him Fern was going to MIT and then, we settled right back into our old comfort zone. I told him about our awkward conversation, my attempts to talk and what he'd said to me at the end.
Pushki said, "We always knew that one wud go far. I hope he wins a Nobel or the Fields Medal or something. We'll have something to tell our children. We can tell them that he was the guy who never talked with us in school."
That made me wonder if he never talked with us, or if it was just us who didnt bother to talk with him. We werent exactly popular in school but atleast we were the misfits who had each other, you know.
I told Pushki what I was thinking. He just shrugged and said, "Whatever's happened, happened. Its all over and done with now. Maybe we were once cruel kids. Maybe others were cruel to us. But now we're all on our separate paths and we never have to see anyone we dont want to. Unless its by accident."
I asked Pushki if he thought I was different from the person I was in school. He said, "Well, we're all a little different. But no, you havent changed at all, you're mostly just the same. He just never really knew you."
Elsewhere, I read tragiclifeofpi's post in which he says that the best, deepest running friendships we create, are the ones we create in childhood. In which case, my deepest friendships are already all made and set in stone.
Today, it all made me wonder. Running into both of them like that. And the post that talks about how children are less judgemental, more instinctive when they make friends. What is it, really, that makes us choose our friends? Is it instinct? Or merely, common interests? Or even, simple random chance? What makes us choose to keep certain people at the very peripheral margins of our lives and certain others in the spotlit centre. And how our lives wud be different if we'd chosen differently.