We were three of us who made a tightly knit group in the Arts College. Our classmate who admired us openly would call us the National Integration group because we were a Hindu, Muslim and Christian. Religion never got in the way because politics was not a passion in those days as it seems to be now. Activism was a word that had not been invented yet.
We were just three girls who loved the English language and loved talking about everything. We laughed a lot and did not take life seriously, and found exhilarating freedom in just being out of the stifling atmosphere at home. We attended classes happily, and passed notes to each other when the lectures got too boring. We wrote poems about our professors and giggled over them. Occasionally we bunked our classes to explore the city and discover new food. Looking back, I can see that we were quite ignorant compared to our children at the same age.
My home was a place where laughter was frowned upon and attempted conversations ended in anger and tears. Being a girl then was to be unwanted or a burden. There were families which cherished their daughters, but mine was not one of those. In many households the youngest child was pampered, but my being the youngest didn’t win me any points. So I was just happy to go to college as an escape from home, and for the first time in my life, I received praise for my writing, and compliments from my friends and teachers. My class papers were even circulated in other classes by my teachers and strangers would come up to me and congratulate me. I was shocked and happy, and developed a little of the self-confidence that had been so lacking in me.
Our friendship continued down the years though we occasionally lost contact, but picked up where we had left off till just a few years ago.We met frequently or spoke to each other on the phone. We were all married by now and had families and the worries that beset all at our age. But it was still fun being girls when we were grown women and surprising our children by our giggles.
Unfortunately, my Muslim friend suddenly was overtaken by events in our country, to be charitable. She had been a very modern and confident young woman, but I suppose could not withstand the voices around her, and lost her way. She dropped out of our lives and though we mourned the loss, there was no desire to reach out to a friend who had become a stranger, because she was no longer the person we had loved and we were the object of her fierce hatred just for being who we were and always had been.
A few years later, my other friend called me to say she had breast cancer. One year of sharing her fear and emotional pain and trying to support her through it all, ended with her death, inevitably.
Thus ended our circle of friendship. It has been more than forty-five years since we met as young girls outside the English Department in the imposing Arts College building. One of us is lost, another is dead. I am the only one left.
Making friends anew is no longer possible because we grow more solitary as we age and it is now the time to withdraw into ourselves. Whatever the world had to teach us, we have learnt, or not, as much as we were able to. Now we can only observe, and draw upon what we have learnt, to carry us through the rest of our life. It is time to shed the leaves. Autumn is upon us.