“Amma… come! We are getting late for the event. Hope it hasn’t started yet. I Cannot miss Ramya aunty’s award ceremony,” Divya shouted, “after all, I owe everything to her for whatever I am today.”
“Yes, Dear! Don’t worry. We will make it on time.”
Dressed in a blue and green Anarkali suit, Divya was all excited to attend the award ceremony of her Mentor. She is one of the many enthusiastic youngsters waiting at the venue to witness the awarding ceremony of their favourite Mentor, or “Ramya aunty” as she was fondly called. For them, Ramya was just not a Mentor, but a dear friend to their souls.
Little did they know, that their favorite mentor was also, sometime in life, a victim of depression and mental stress. But what was it that has got Ramya to this height of success?
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I welcome you all to the 15th Annual Day Celebrations of Shreya’s Home for counselling and betterment,” the announcer began speaking. She continued, “At the outset, I take this privilege to thank all the people who’d helped in the growth of this centre… without whom such excellence could not have been achieved. Today, standing at this pinnacle of success, I offer my humble salutations to all the volunteers who made an immense contribution to the society through their soul enriching work of uplifting those youngsters who have been victims of mental stress, peer pressure and depression at various levels. They remodelled their lives and touched each one of their hearts in a special way. Every youth who has gone through the sessions has a special story to share as how their lives changed since the first day of their entry into this centre. Today, each one of them is a gem in their own way, and are shining as living examples of success after a storm.”
There is a huge cheer among the crowd.
“The event, unlike any other, is so different as the audience and the chief guests are the youth themselves who had taken counsel at this centre and achieved success in their lives. Every counsellor here is so unique since they have also been victims of depression and pain. Each of them is a different flower in the garden of life and who continued to spread the fragrance to others who are affected like them. Youth is the strength of any nation. And by guiding them, they can contribute in a huge way towards good nation building. Now, without taking much of your time, I would like to start the program with the award function followed by the cultural showcase by the students who benefited through our centre.”
The whole place resonated with an applause again. And the announcer continued to speak after a pause.
“This year’s most prestigious award, ‘Excellence par excellence’ honour goes to Mrs. Ramya Suresh for her outstanding contribution in moulding the lives of so many youngsters who have been nurtured and blossomed under her loving care and guidance. Now I call upon Mrs. Suresh to come onto the stage and accept this small token of our love.”
Claps started to resound again…
“Amma! What are you busy thinking?” A little girl nudged her mom who seemed to be lost in her thought, trying to snap her back to reality. “Amma! I am asking you only!”
Ramya , jumping with a jolt ,looked at her 12-year-old daughter, Ananya, standing next to her in bewilderment. “Nothing, dear! Just some old memories! I became nostalgic thinking about Shruthi Perima. That’s all.
“Amma, I wanted to ask you why you were attributing all your success to Perima while addressing everyone in the award function? Also, how did you come to be friends with Perima and why is it that your eyes gleam with extreme happiness whenever you take or hear the name ‘Shruthi’? As far as I know, you said we call only our mother’s older sister as perima. But Shruthi perima is not your sibling, how come she is your sister, then?” Ananya asked Ramya as they got home from the award ceremony.
Smiling at her daughter’s innocence, Ramya began to address her daughter’s questions.
“I wished Shruthi was there when I received the award. I am sure no one else would be happier than her to see me in that place, for she alone knows how difficult it was for me to reach here.” Ananya looks at her with piqued interest.
“See Anu! One need not be born in a single womb to be sisters. One need not necessarily be sisters by blood, but can become sisters by heart. There is a point in every true friendship where we stop being friends and become sisters. It was one such period in my life which made us realize that Shruthi and me are beyond just friends.”
“Is that so?” Anu asked her with curious eyes.
“Yes, dear! She is the main reason why I am and who I am today.”
“Sounds interesting amma!” quipped Ananya with curious eyes. “Please, tell me, no?. Let me also take a walk down your memory lane, amma. Please!.”
Ramya laughed. “Alright, I will tell you. But promise me you will never tell Shruthi perima about this; nor will you develop any bad feelings towards the persons who are concerned with this, as they are a family to you as well.”
“But why, Amma?”
“That is because I had promised her that I will tell no one and that this would be a sweet memory for only the both of us. And I don’t want to break her trust on that. But, you are my sweet little heart and now that you are also quite grown up, I believe it is the right time for you to know what happened in my life.” Ramya ruffled her hand through Ananya’s head. “So, promise me Anu!”
“Okay Amma, Done! I will not tell perima nor will I become judgmental about anybody or won’t develop any animosity against them, happy?”
“That’s my Anu…” Ramya pulls her into a hug and plants a kiss on her forehead. “But before I start, let me ask you. Do you have school tomorrow?”
“Because, this is gonna be a long one and I don’t want you to stay awake and miss school.”
“No no… tomorrow is the fourth Saturday. So, no school,” Ananya gleamed. “Now tell me, I badly wanna hear the story. Amma, stop asking further questions and start.”
“Just a minute. I will be back in a jiffy.” Ramya said, getting up from the bed as Ananya was all enthusiastic to listen about that special person in her mother’s life. In no time, Ramya came back with a cute little book in her hand.
“Amma! What is this?” Ananya questioned.
“This is the book which will tell us about that special person who brightened up my life.” Ramya answered. “Do you want to read it yourself?”
“No, Amma! I love the way you narrate stories. I want to hear it from you. You read it and let, while I just sit back and enjoy.” Ananya replied, adjusting herself on the bed.
Ramya’s eyes sparkled with both happiness and tears as she opened the book.
“some people arrive and make such a beautiful impact on your life, you can barely remember what life was like without them.”
“Wow Amma! Interesting start!” Ananya remarked.
“No Anu! No funny comments. This was not written for the sake of it. Each word in this book is special, as they are true feelings turned to words, right from the bottom of my heart. So, let me continue…”
This is what I feel today when I sit back and think of that beautiful soul who had entered my life at the right time and made it worth living. She saved me from the raging waters of depression and insecurity and WAS, IS AND WILL BE MY PERFECT SOLACE.
We have gone ahead in our own paths, engrossing ourselves in the ocean of family ties. Yet, our inner connect will always remain and I would be forever grateful to her not in this lifetime alone , but also in the lives to come. From having pulled me out from the floods of depression and making me face life with a different perspective, she has become my guiding nightingale. We do occasionally meet and keep in touch, thanks to the digital media, but being responsible adults now, we have our own set of issues and challenges to face every day and it is only during such days like today I get time to walk down the memory lane into the best period of my life.
My dear Shruthi! I am writing this, not as a mere story down the memory lane, but as an offering to the most precious person of my life. Times have changed and our lives have become mechanized. But one thing hasn’t changed and that is me waking up and ending my days, (however busy it may be, however nice or painful it may be) with the most lovable picture of yours, which is so deeply engraved in the inner shrine of my heart.
Right from wishing you a wonderful morning the moment I wake up my eyes, to connecting with you when I am cooking or engrossed in my daily chores, and finally to retiring my day with a peaceful night, I am living each day as if you are right by my side. You told me that there should be no gratitude or apologies between close friends, but I do not know of any other word to express my love for whatever you have done in life but only to say THANK YOU dear, from the bottom of my heart!
This isn’t like any of those filmy stories with dramatic climaxes and resolutions. It’s a simple one with happy ending. But its essence lies in the way Shruthi lifts Ramya out of her iron-clad cocoon and makes her realize her worth.
Ananya listened to her mother with intent as she began reading out about how Shruthi helped her mom put behind all the darkest chapters of her life.
“Before I proceed with this lovely story, Let me introduce the nature of the two main characters – Shruthi and Ramya.”
Ananya’s eyes were all intrigued.
“Shruthi was a bubbly, charming and enthusiastic girl from a common middle class family, who was close to her parents and an older sister. She was way more matured for her age and had a good group of friends. Also, being compassionate towards others is another wonderful trait of hers. She was an avid dog lover, too.
She knew well how to balance the freedom given by her parents while having all the fun she needs as a young adult. She was someone who was in complete control of her emotions, yet was sensitive to other’s feelings at the same time. She was very artistic and a favourite among her friends. Above all, she was a patient listener, or rather, you can say, a patient audience.
On the other hand, Ramya had a contrasting personality. Of course, she too was bubbly and friendly. But she was more short-tempered and principled in certain matters and would not change it for anyone. She loved her parents and brother; her mother more so than anyone else. She seemed bold from the outside, but on the inside, she was a different person altogether. Hidden behind all her smiles and laughter, was a sad story. She was highly sensitive to others’ problems and would be ready to go out of her way to help them, whatever happens. This character of hers is what made her friends and people miss her during their needs.
She was a person who could never accept someone who goes back on their words; whatever the situation may be, she believed in commitment in relationships. She too, would never go back on her word, no matter what happened. Though she had a lot of friends, she was scared to mingle with people and tried her best to avoid groups, and on occasions even facing a crowd.
She was like a jackfruit – tough and rough outside and incredibly sweet on the inside. She used to get hurt easily, and was not matured enough like Shruthi to deal with people. Life had given her a personality twin, and she fiddled with it to be her original sweet-self.
Shruthi and Ramya, knew each other by name and face, most of their lives, as their parents belonged to the same social organization. Shruthi had always tried being friendly with Ramya at various social gatherings, but Ramya never responded beyond a greeting. Shruthi thought she might be one of those introvert types, but later realized that there was more to Ramya than just that.”
Ramya looked at Ananya who was so engrossed in what she was saying, though it was just the beginning. Ramya continued.
“Now that the characters have been introduced, let me get back to the story… This is how our beautiful journey began…”
Rewinding back in time:
A beautiful park with lots of trees and greenery. There were different scenes around – children playing and shouting cheerfully, toddlers being taken around in prams by their mothers, elders sitting on various benches , chatting among themselves, teenagers loitering around, lovers whispering sweet nothings to each other forgetting the world around them, fitness freaks doing their daily workouts, what not? The whole place seemed so charged with energy and enthusiasm. But there was this one corner where silence reigned among all this chaos and noise. One soul seemed to be unaffected by anything, observing all the scenes going around, giving occasional smiles to the few passers-by.
This was what Shruthi saw almost every day while visiting the park for an evening stroll. She had always observed this person. She always chose the same bench, same time, all alone, doing nothing. That unique soul was none other than me.
They say curiosity kills the cat. But still, Shruthi decided to approach me. She came up to me and gave me this big smile, asking me, “Hi Ramya! How are you? Do you mind if I sit here?”
The reply one usually expects is ‘No problem’. But my face turned red, and I retorted back, saying, ‘No. I need my space. This is not my park, but I would like no one entering my space. Sorry, but please leave.’
She was taken aback by my rude behaviour and like any other normal being, she became judgmental and cursed herself for having asked the question. She then left the place, but something in her made her want to come back and she couldn’t sleep the whole night.
In the days that followed, the same scene in the park continued. The same chaos and noise and the same person sitting aloof, amidst all this.
I too would, observe her from a distance, but with no reaction. However, it was her, who was troubled by this curiosity more than anyone. She felt as if there was something that was drawing her to me – a vibe, an aura or maybe even a previous birth connection, which may sound stupid to you.
Ananya interrupts again, “ No, it does not sound stupid to me” . Smilingly Ramya continued..
She could never get her eyes off me and she eventually realized that this connection was not out of mere curiosity, but indeed a soul to soul one. Something within her said I was in trouble and needed help.
She went home that day and tried to comprehend why I seemed so special to her and why she felt that I may be in trouble. And above everything, she wondered why she felt a need to help me, among all those people in the park? She sat through the silence of the night, but could not get any answer.
There is this famous quote by S.E. Hall, which goes like this: “Maybe it’s not about the time you’ve known someone; maybe it’s about instant recognition on an unconscious level. Our souls know each other”. Maybe this was what she was feeling.
The next day, Shruthi came to the park with a few of her friends and though she was busy in conversations, her eyes were always on me who seems to be lost somewhere. When she spoke about this with her friends, they teased her for being over dramatic. A few warned her against talking to such strange characters like me as you never know how they would turn out to be. But nothing could convince her in brushing the thought off and the urge to talk to me still persisted in her.
One day she reached the park earlier than usual with a plan. I had not come by then; so she sat on the same bench where I sat to try her luck this time.
She got bored after sometime and picked up a book, she had bought with her. And since she loved word puzzles, she started solving one in the book, though her heart was focused on her yearning for me to come.
However, she quickly became engrossed in the puzzle, not realizing what was going around there. Then suddenly a hand touched her shoulder. She is usually panicky when things like these happen. She almost jumped up with a thud and looked up to see a smiling and cute face looking at her. Lo behold! It was me who had asked her to leave and had been rude to her the other day.
She was both happy and shocked to see me and did not know how to react. She was also terrified of how I would react or if any drama would unfold in front of everyone as warned by her friends. Such thoughts were streaming live in her mind when I said, ‘Hi! How are you Shruthi?’
She kept looking at me as if I had come from some other planet and did not reply for quite some seconds, when I spoke again.
‘Hello! I know that you are hesitant to say hi after the incident which happened the other day. I am sorry for that!’ She continued to be non-responsive, like a dead corpse and I said, ‘If I disturbed you, I will leave.’
I then retraced my steps back when she realized what was happening and snapped out of her frozen state and said, ‘Hey! I am sorry. I was… in… I was thinking. Yeah, we can talk…’
And that is how our conversation, and friendship began. It slowly became such a vital part of my daily routine not to miss the evening time I got with Shruthi. Both of us were in our college years and so, we had lots of things to talk and comprehend. But that sinking feeling that I was not my actual self and that there was something missing or troubling me behind all my smiles and laughs, kept growing in her.
Over time, we became good friends, or rather you can say close friends, and we shared with each other, everything that happened at college and otherwise. There were no secrets between us. That doesn’t mean, we didn’t fight at all. There were also a lot of arguments and disagreements where we spent days not talking with each other. Even during those times, we sat next to each other in the park, as we did not want to break our daily routine of a meeting which meant a lot to us, come what may. We even shared all the new dresses we bought and never forgot to take a snap of us in those dresses which we preserved as a treasure.
Pointing towards a photo frame in the room, Ramya tells Ananya, “ The dresses you see in the photo are our birthday dresses , exchanged and worn”. Ananya smiles cutely looking at the happiness in her mother’s face. Ramya continues….
Good health was never a boon for me; so the days when I felt sick, she used to come home and gave me such a good time that even our parents were envious of our friendship. But that bond between us brought both our families closer as well.
Our friendship was envied by one and all, including the members of our respective friends’ circles, who always wondered about that special factor which bonded us together. In fact, some of my friends even warned her to be careful with me, due to my temper and unpredictable nature.
She had known me to such an extent that she could read my mind even before I could say anything and that surprised me many times.
Our traits were very different. I was the more boisterous kind while she was gentle. I was a short-tempered person who lived in my own world but she was a more balanced, calm, loving and practical person. She protected me so well that I felt safe around her. Although I had a brother, I had always yearned for a sister to whom I could pour my heart out. That vacuum was filled by Shruthi, who was, is and will be more than a sister and a friend.
“Amma! This is amazing. I am loving this narration of yours. What a unique encounter of yours and Shruthi perima! Please, please continue Amma!”
Ramya chuckles. “Okay. Listen….”
It was once such usual day when I was feeling a little low and we were seated in the park like always. She then mustered up enough courage to ask me that vital question which was always ringing in her mind. We were discussing normal day-to-day things when she asked me, ‘Hey! Rams! Can I ask you something?’
I gave her a smile and said, ‘Hello! What is this? Since when did you have to ask permission to ask me anything? It sounds weird, tell me what is it?’
I had never seen such hesitation in her before and seeing that, I was worried and puzzled.
To make the mood lighter, I asked, ‘Do you have any affair that you didn’t tell me about? No problem, I can speak to aunty and uncle!’
She said, ‘Hey buddhu! If there’s anything like that, who else but you, will come to know about it first.’ We laughed our hearts out.
The atmosphere was disturbed by this loud thunder, and we left as it was about to rain.
The night which was the turning point in my life:
That night at around 7.30PM, I got a call from her asking me whether I could give her company for two nights. Her parents had gotten an urgent call regarding a relative’s death and had to leave. And since she had exams around the corner, she could not afford to miss college.
I was feeling the whole thing strange because I knew her to be a bold girl and this was not the first time that her parents were leaving her alone in the house. They lived in a complex which housed many families and was secured as well. I knew there was something going on, but did not wish to interrogate her more over the phone and told her that I would drop in, if my parents allowed.
Her house was a 15-minute drive from mine and I reached there in my scooter at around 8.30PM.
As both of us had our exams coming up, we immediately got busy with our studies in our respective rooms and did not realize the time. We couldn’t afford to study in the same room since I was a loud reader. It was around 11.30PM when she came to the room where I was studying. In a very concerned tone, she told me, ‘Listen! Enough with the studying. Now Sleep. Else, you cannot wake up in time to go to college!’
We closed our books and readied ourselves for sleeping when she said she wanted to talk something important. I told her I was feeling too sleepy and asked her if it could be postponed to the next day.
The sentence that followed shook me up.
She said, “How much longer will you keep lying and portraying this false self?” I could not look at her and within seconds, tears were trickling down my eyes like a waterfall. She continued, “Rams! You think I cannot understand what is going on inside you? I knew something was wrong from the first day I met you. I thought that you will tell me this yourself, someday, but it looks like you do not trust me at all. It is almost two and half years since we met and I have been observing you at all times and in all occasions. What you portray outside is not your true self at all. Our smiles hide everything, my dear! There cannot be a better occasion to tell me. We are alone here. Please tell me, at least now. I want to see my Ramya’s true self. Please!’
The person who blabbers at least 20 sentences in one minute, could barely open her mouth and only tears rolled by. What followed then got everything out of me. She screamed at me, once.
“You have everything in life. Parents, money, good education, comfort, what not? You know how many people don’t have even the minimum necessities and yet, are happy with their lives? When you have everything at your footstep, why is it you are portraying this dual personality? Whom are you cheating? I have been patient all these years, but now if you do not want to speak up, then tell me so! Today will be the end of our relationship and I mean it! I am not a hi-bye friend to you. I am more than that. I always wanted to help you. But you’ve never valued it.
The words “end of our relationship” was something my ears could not take, or believe. It kindled the fire inside me and erupted out like the lava from the volcano. “What do you want me to tell? Yes! God forbid! I have everything that one needs to have, yet I am alone here in this world. I feel rejected, useless and do not find myself befitting to live here. Have you heard Oscar Wilde’s quote, “some cause happiness wherever they go and some whenever they go”? I belong to the latter category.’
“Pause… Amma! What wordings! Makes one realize the depth of misery one could undergo. Were you the one who said it?” Ananya spoke again.
“Anu! I already told you that this is not a fictional story. It is my life story, and every word written is as truthful as my existence. Now listen…”
Have you heard Oscar Wilde’s quote, “some cause happiness wherever they go and some whenever they go”? I belong to the latter category.’
If you had been undergoing what I am undergoing, then you will know how difficult it is for me to breathe each day. Whatever happiness I enjoyed is only in these two and half years after I met you and here you are today, ready to end our relationship. Failures in relationships was and is never a new thing for me. But this ending is not something I can bear. It is a relationship born out of sincere and true affections and friendship. You are the only person who has accepted me the way I am. And that, means a lot. And anyway, I do not want to be a burden to you. If you want to end the relationship, we will do so!
I broke down like never before and no more words could come out of my mouth. I cried for more than twenty minutes when her soothing hand touched my shoulder. She sat next to me, facing me, and held my face in her hands. She wiped my tears and hugged me so close to her bosom, I felt as if I was ready to give my life up, if God was ready to take it so.
She waited for the fire in me to subside and brought a glass of water for me to drink. There was absolute silence for half an hour, like the calm after the storm. It was almost 1.00AM. She held me, gesturing me to get up. She then took me to bed, kissed me on my forehead, and bade me goodnight before she retired next to me on the bed.
“Amma! But what wrong question did perima ask? Why did you cry?” Ananya interrupted again.
“Anu! You need patience. Wait till I finish the whole thing. Do not interrupt. This is one thing you have to learn from perima. Do not become like how I was. Be a patient listener. It will work wonders, trust me.”
“Ok Amma! Sorry again. You continue…”
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