A Parisian affair: He is 39 and she 64

Last updated on: May 15, 2017 12:56 IST

In a world where the corridors of power are packed with sexually promiscuous men, it would be interesting to see what sort of a president a man committed to one woman 25 years his senior, would make, says Durba Dhyani.


Illustration: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com

‘Whatever you do, I will marry you!’ — Emmanuel promised Brigitte, moments before being separated from her and exiled to Paris.

Their love had blossomed in the past two years at school, through a shared passion for literature and drama.

‘Writing brought us together,’ Brigitte would later recall. ‘It unleashed an incredible closeness.’

It was this closeness that Emmanuel’s parents were dead against. They took him out of his school in Amiens, northern France, and sent him away to Paris.

But no matter what challenges are thrown in its path, true love will always find a way.

After Emmanuel had been in exile for about a year, Brigitte joined him in Paris. Some years later, he fulfilled his promise to his lady love and married her without caring for the opinion of society.

A classic fairytale romance? The story does seem quite unexceptional, except that I’ve not mentioned a little detail: The age of the protagonists.

Emmanuel was 15 when he fell for his school teacher, Brigitte Trogneux. She was 40 then, a married woman with three children, one of whom was Emmanuel’s classmate.

He is 39 now and she 64. Their relationship is still going strong.

The hero of this compelling love story is, of course, Emmanuel Macron, the new president of France.

We know the reaction of tabloid journalists all over the world, but not too many French eyebrows are being raised. That country really does not care two hoots about the private life of its public figures.

It is not usual to marry your school teacher, even by French standards, but it is not something earth-shattering either, in the land of liberty and impetuosity.

In India, of course, we don’t set much store by love, except when it involves cows or Karan Johar.

If romance blossoms between people belonging to two different communities, we call it love jihad.

When the lovers belong to the same community but different castes, we promptly turn them into outcastes.

And homosexuality is just deviant behaviour that can be cured by yoga.

‘The course of love never did run smooth,’ Shakespeare warned us long ago, and there weren’t even anti-Romeo squads back then!

In such a land, what does an aam Indian 40-plus aurat like me make of the Mr and Mrs Macron story?

As a woman, a part of me feels triumphant.

Did men think only they could charm women half their age? Let this be a wake-up call to all the Donald Trumps out there!

What you men can do, we can do better.

You go for young, we’ll go for younger.

You go for secretaries; we’ll go for future presidents.

Sixty four is the new sexy!

I’m pouting at the mirror and seeing Madonna, Monica Bellucci, Malaika Arora Khan!

Time to pull out that mini skirt and get a hot new avatar.

A confident cougar is now on the prowl, beware young men!

Later, over dinner, I playfully nudge my son and ask if he likes any girl at school?

“No way! Why are the girls in my class so silly? When will they grow up?” he asks me back.

Good grief, I hope he hasn’t got a crush on his teacher instead!

And what would I do if his Lata ma’am reciprocated the feeling?

I visualise him bringing her home some day, for his parents to meet their bahu!

No, I cannot let that happen!

Madamji will have to deal with me first!

I see myself instantly mutating from Monica Bellucci to a formidable Mayawati Behenji and taking on the vamp with a ‘Sharam kar, kalmuhi! Tujhe keede pade, teri khandaan barbaad ho jaye…

From Madonna, I will transform to a Mamatadi shouting, ‘Chee chee chee! Cholbe na‘ and probably follow that up with a resounding slap that will echo thrice, Ekta Kapoor style.

Then a new thought strikes me. What if I get slapped the same way some day, for being a cougar?

Ouch! That sobering visual has put a brake on my cradle-snatching plans for the moment.

Guess the only way I can get rid of this Indian mentality is to go live in France.

Since that is not happening anytime soon, I can only watch from afar and raise my glass of French wine to Mr and Mrs Macron!

In a world where the corridors of power are packed with sexually promiscuous men, it would be interesting to see what sort of a president a man committed to one woman 25 years his senior would make.

Meanwhile I will go switch on the telly nd find out what’s going on in Canada.

Why Canada, you ask? Why not, I say?

I take a keen interest in Canadian politics these days. And who said it has anything to do with a certain Justin Trudeau?

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To Sonu Nigam, with love

‘How did you sleep through the cries of a Mohammad Akhlaq, or a Pehlu Khan being beaten to death? Did you then tweet, ‘Goondagardi hai, bas’?’

Durba Dhyani addresses the singer.

Illustration: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com.

Dear Sonu Nigamji,

Please wake up. It is high time.

I see your face on every newspaper and TV channel, and I must admit that the bald and beautiful look suits you, just as much as your gorgeous locks did.

I also admire the fact that you stood by your words and rightfully demanded the Rs 10 lakhs promised you by some troll maulvi, who suddenly emerged from oblivion for his brief moment in the limelight, thanks to you.

But what is the uproar all about? Let us go back to your tweets, that have sent birds of all feathers aflutter — from religious fanatics to champions of ‘the right to freedom of expression’ — and unleashing a new national debate in the process.

You start by tweeting: ‘God bless everyone.’ So far so good. God knows we are all in need of a blessing, now more than ever.

‘I‘m not a Muslim and I have to be woken up by the Azaan in the morning. When will this forced religiousness end in India,’ you ask.

It is a valid question and your reasoning is ‘sound’. An Indian is subject to noise pollution almost every moment of his life — be it the honking of cars, the bursting of crackers or, horror of horrors, the loudspeaker at every imaginable occasion! Any sane citizen ought to be in complete agreement with you.

After all, not disturbing another’s peace with our own religiosity is plain good sense. But, is it also in good spirit to raise this question during a time when divisive forces are screaming louder than ever?

It reeks of privilege and insensitivity — somewhat like complaining of the weather, a first world problem, when children are starving in Africa.

It must be most annoying to have to wake up to the sound of azaan. But it must be equally annoying to have your food choices dictated to you? Is that not forced religiousness, to quote your own words?

And it must be more than annoying to have one’s life or that of a loved one’s, suddenly snatched away by a bunch of gau rakshaks?

How did you sleep through the cries of a Mohammad Akhlaq, or a Pehlu Khan being beaten to death? Did you then tweet, ‘Goondagardi hai, bas’?

You next say: ‘And by the way Mohammed did not have electricity when he made Islam.. Why do I have to have this cacophony after Edison? I don’t believe in any temple or gurudwara using electricity to wake up people who don’t follow the religion . Why then..? Honest? True?’

Flawless logic again. Except that ‘cacophony’ is subjective. What is ‘music’ to one may be ‘noise’ to another and vice versa. Just the way your tweet may seem very meaningful to one and unnecessary din to another.

Also, is forced religiousness the only source of noise pollution in our country? What about forced nationalism? If there is no need to be loud in our religious displays there shouldn’t be a necessity for loud displays of patriotism either. Honest? True? Hope you will soon tweet about this nuisance too.

I am not a Muslim, you say, and that you are a secular, liberal human being. According to you, this category of people is a minority in our country, and that is truer than you imagine. Liberals today are the fringe elements, and gau rakshaks, mainstream. But a charge often laid against liberals is that of selective outrage. Hope you are not going to be guilty of the same.

It is high time we wake up to all instances of forced religiousness and goondagardi, not ‘some’. We cannot cry racism abroad unless we do the same when Africans and North Easterners are assaulted closer home.

Fanaticism, too, can lurk in the recesses of our own hearts, not just in the easily identifiable garb of a ridiculous maulvi announcing a fatwa. (I do hope that man is forced to pay up!)

I would like to believe that the true spirit of our country is embodied in Pooja Bhattji’s tweet (which I came across in connection with yours): ‘I wake each morning to the sound of church bells & the azaan in a quiet bylane of Bandra. I light an agarbatti & salute the spirit of India.’

This spirit lies dormant somewhere, suppressed by the loud voices of disharmony and discord. It is this quiet spirit that must awaken now, so that we can truthfully sing with you,

Jagi dhadkan nayi
Jaana zinda hoon main toh abhi

Perhaps it is a good thing that you’ve been forced to wake up, Sonuji.  For much more is at stake, than just your sleep.

— A fellow liberal

So what is your Nationalism Quotient?

Uttam's Take

“Lose your TV and keep your sanity,” a friend had advised some time back.

She gave away her TV set about two years ago and has been glowing ever since.

“Ignorance is bliss,” she croons, whenever asked the secret of her great skin.

Since my refrigerator has packed up and my washing machine is in its death throes, I decided to retain the one thing that still works in the house.

And so I have paid the price — sitting before the idiot box every evening has led to dull skin as well as brain damage.

For example, I no longer know whether I am secular, pseudo secular, nationalist, hyper-nationalist, a dove, a hawk or what.

I thought people love their country by default, like they love their mother, and did not give much thought to it before.

I did curse it each time I saw a pothole on the road, but never felt any less patriotic.

But now, seeing the nationalistic fervour of some of our news anchors and guests, who seem to be screaming at us to ‘Chaaarge!’ at the enemy, I feel nervous.

Am I up to it?

Am I battle ready?

I decided to consult an expert — a retired general, with an impressive grey mustache — and take some tips from him.

Me: Sir, my question is…

General Saab: (cutting in with righteous indignation): How dare you question the army?

Nationalism is about blind faith, there can be no questions.

You cannot question the Indian Army. That is lesson number 1.

Me: But…

GS: No buts other than the rifle butt.

If people stood up to question their leaders, many historic events would never have come to pass.

Me: Like the Holocaust?

GS: (mustache quivering in rage): What kind of question is that?

Are you with us or against us?

If you are not behind the Indian Army, you will find yourself in front of it.

Me: (duly chastised) I wasn’t questioning the army sir.

I just feel that these days there is so much hatred all around…

GS: (impatiently) Says who?

Nationalism is all about love.

Love for the Motherland.

There is no place for hate. All haters who criticise the country should go to hell.

And hell, of course, is Pakistan.

Me: Sir, is it possible to love and criticise something at the same time? Like I criticise my children, but also love them?

GS: I don’t know about your children, but what is there to criticise about the country?

This is the greatest nation in the world, if for no other reason, then for the simple fact that I was born in it.

Anyone who thinks otherwise should be sent to Pakistan.

And that is lesson number 2 for you: You must demand that those who have any doubts about the greatness of our nation be sent to Pakistan.

Me: (hesitantly) Sir I’ve read, ‘True patriotism hates injustice in its own land more than anywhere else.’

GS: Who asked you to read?

Me: Er… even great nations are not perfect sir… We too hear about crimes against women, caste-based atrocities, instances of intolerance…

GS: (on the verge of cardiac arrest) Intolerant?

How dare you call us intolerant?

I will not tolerate that.

We are the most tolerant country in the world.

Anyone who thinks otherwise must be shot.

There is no such thing as the caste system, so how can there be any caste-based atrocities?

These are lies manufactured by sickulars, so-called intellectuals, some NGOs and other assorted bunch of anti-nationals, just to show our country in a poor light.

Send them all to Pakistan!

GS: (catching his breath after the tirade) And that is lesson number 3 for you: Be very, very angry.

Be prepared to take offence at everything.

Do not tolerate anyone who questions our tolerance.

That is the hallmark of nationalism.

Me: Some say that is also the sign of low EQ, sir.

GS: Low EQ translates to high NQ, you fool.

Now do you want to increase your NQ or not?

I don’t have much time… Have to leave for another TV debate.

Me: I understand that you are in great demand these days sir.

Everyone wants to learn how to love our motherland differently from the way we always have. I love my mother very much.

GS: First love Bharat Mata, then Gau Mata and then your mata.

Me: Absolutely sir.

Should we also love Kashmir, as it is a part of our motherland?

GS: Of course! Kashmir was, is and will forever be an integral part of our country.

Anyone who thinks otherwise should be shot.

Me: But sir, the Kashmiris seem upset with us… They don’t seem to love us back as much…

GS: Who said anything about Kashmiris?

People don’t matter.

Motherland is mother plus land.

So love and respect the Land.

If people come in the way of land, they must be shot.

Me: Does land also mean the earth, sir?

GS: (impatiently) Land does not mean the earth, or the universe, or humanity, you moron.

That is lesson number 4 for you. Nationalistic love must stop at the borders.

All romantic fools who think otherwise can go to Pakistan.

Me: Some intellectuals say we are becoming ultra patriotic and this is not a sign of maturity.

They say a civilised nation like ours must behave more sensibly than our uncouth neighbour.

GS: (on the verge of another apoplectic fit) All intellectuals are the scum of the earth.

That is lesson number 5. Would they dare to speak like this in Pakistan? In Saudi Arabia?

They are lucky this is a democracy and they can roam free.

They should be hanged, shot, beheaded, bayoneted.

Me: But sir, if we behave like that, won’t we become just like Pakistan or Saudi Arabia?

GS: Question the army? What impertinence!

I am beginning to have serious doubts about you now.

Enough is enough.

Are you with us or against us?

Now is the time to take a stand. (Pulls out a gun)

Now tell me — should we or should we not send Fawad Khan back to Pakistan?

Me: (in fear) Sir, is that the true test of my loyalty? Don’t we have bigger issues…

GS: Nothing can be bigger than national security.

Don’t dodge my question.

You think you can question the Indian Army and get away?

I will conduct a surgical strike on you.

Me: But I was never questioning the Indian Army, sir.

GS: Answer me. What should be done about Fawad Khan?

Me: How can I do anything sir?

Shouldn’t the government take a stand on this?

Only they can cancel his work permit, visa whatever.

GS: Wrong answer. Prepare to meet your maker.

Me: Please allow me to live, sir. Who will watch your TV debates otherwise?

GS: (thinking this over) Okay. Then swear to follow everything I have taught so far.

Me: (very enthusiastically) Of course, sir.

GS: (smiles) You are learning fast.

Keep shouting ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ from time to time. And anyone who asks questions, send them to Pakistan.

Me: But I am not a general like you, sir. People may dare to question me.

GS: Who said I am a general? I only pretend to be one.

Me: (speechless).

GS: (with a wink) Besides, I do have a certificate from the highest authorities… The ones who have a patent on patriotism — our wonderful news anchors.

Me: But you call yourself a general. What if someone asks for your ID proof?

GS: ‘Proof’ is a dirty word.

Anyone who asks for it, I have a befitting reply — I tell them to go to hell. Or Pakistan. One and the same thing.

Me: I salute you. But if we send so many of our citizens to Pakistan, who will watch TV sir? The TRPs…

GS: Hmmmm… well I suppose there would still be enough holy cows around.

I could find gainful employment as a gau-rakshak.

***

My NQ has really increased since that conversation, and I too hope to be soon certified as a nationalist by our news anchors.

I continue to watch every TV debate closely. My friend says this is self-destructive behaviour.

But Pakistan pressed the self-destruct button a long time ago. So is it time for us now to race towards MAD-ness (mutually assured destruction)?

Kindly note: This is a satirical feature. Readers are requested to take the content with dollops of salt.

Are we placing laptops before lives?

A few days ago, as I was flipping through channels on a dull Wednesday afternoon, the dramatic footage of an aircraft bursting into flames, suddenly caught my eye. “Emirates plane explodes after crash landing in Dubai,” read the breaking news. I stopped surfing and continued to watch with horrified fascination, as more visuals of a burning airplane appeared on screen, dark plumes of smoke billowing from it.  

The Dubai bound flight had taken off from Kochi with 300 passengers on board, and just as I was beginning to fear the worst, the next ticker reassured me: “All passengers and crew are safe”. Incredibly, everyone on board had been successfully evacuated, seconds before the plane burst into flames!

I speculated whether it could’ve been a terrorist attack, but it wasn’t. Apparently the pilot wanted to do a “go around” – a procedure where the plane regains height and makes a second attempt at landing. As fate would have it, one of the aircraft’s engines broke away during the maneuver.

Apart from the cause of the accident, I also wondered if all of the passengers were Indians; how the incident would impact other flights that day; and whether Air India was better than Emirates, after all.

But the most important question on my mind was this: “Did everyone manage to retrieve their laptops and mobiles before exiting?” That was my very first thought soon as I learned that all passengers were safe.   

I got the answer 2 days later, when a video clip emerged — of how the passengers had risked their lives, wasted crucial seconds, trying to grab their belongings especially their mobiles and laptops, despite urgent pleas from the crew to leave everything and jump through the escape chutes.

I knew, that that is exactly how I too would’ve behaved — risked my own as well as fellow passengers’ lives, trying to grab my laptop from the overhead locker, while firmly clasping my cellphone!

They say that when death is close at hand, people think of their lives and of what matters to them the most. Last thoughts are usually of loved ones and regrets about how this love should’ve been expressed while there was still time.

I mulled over what my thoughts would’ve been as my plane crash landed, if I were a passenger on that particular Emirates flight. Regret that I hadn’t yet instagrammed my in-flight selfie? Or that I hadn’t updated my latest “Off to Dubai” status on FB? And all because the unsympathetic air-hostess had forced me to switch off my mobile before take-off and now kept shouting at me to forget my phone and jump out to safety.

They say life is a journey and one must travel to find oneself. But in this quest are we truly at home only in the company of our laptops and phones?

I’ve always dismissed write-ups about how technology is further distancing us as hogwash and its so-called ‘harmful effects’ as totally exaggerated. It isn’t a drug for God’s sake.

But why then are we so addicted to our gadgets, that we are ready to place laptops before lives? When did our phones become an extension of ourselves, attached to us with umbilical cords? My greatest fear used to be death, now it is being parted from my cell phone…and I don’t even play Pokemon Go! 

Only those denied access know how it rankles

In certain places in India, women of reproductive age cannot enter a place of worship. This is because menstrual blood is considered impure. But recently, the High Court has ruled that such practices amount to discrimination against women. Here is my post in support of the High court judgment, published on Rediff. 

 

As a child, the word puja (Durga Puja celebrated in Bengal) held the promise of wonderful things — holidays, new dresses, meeting cousins and friends — for me.

My parents sent me and and my brother to dadurbari (grandpa’s home) during the puja vacations, the summer and winter holidays. There, we climbed trees, plucked mangoes and ran wild among the corn and mustard fields. Since, throughout the rest of the year, we were cooped up either in our little flat or dismal classroom, those holidays were the only time we learnt that childhood could be carefree.

Grandma would host a Lokkhipujo (prayers to goddess Lakshmi) every year, meticulously smearing cow dung on the compound, arranging fruits and fresh flowers, and placing the humble betel leaf and nut before the photograph of goddess Lakshmi. After the diya (earthen lamp) was lit, everything looked very beautiful, indeed.

Once I was invited to a friend’s home for Saraswati Puja. As I handed over a few books to be blessed by the goddess of learning and wisdom during the ceremony, the purutmoshai (priest) asked, ‘What is your gotra (clan)?’ I stared blankly. My friend’s family whispered among themselves, wondering what my caste might be. That was perhaps the first instance when I had this feeling of beingpresent but left out — a feeling one gets when allowed into a temple but not inside the sanctum sanctorum.

I came home and enquired about my gotra and caste. My father explained that though we followed Hinduism, we actually belonged to an ancient Tibeto-Chinese tribe and our traditional god was Bathow, symbolised by a cactus plant called Bwrai Bathow.

It was not a comforting explanation. It meant I had no jaati (caste) and no gotra. And why had no one heard of Bathow? Was he, somehow, a lesser god?

I continued to celebrate Durga Puja, but gradually began to look at things from an outsider’s perspective. I still loved Ma Durga and felt saddened when she took leave of us all on Dashami (tenth and the last day of puja), but a small part of me stayed detached — especially duringpushpanjali (culmination of puja) on the eighth day, I felt as an imposter who didn’t really have the right to be there.

But my friends did not know this and continued to invite me to their homes on auspicious occasions.

Once, during Diwali, I helped a friend light diyas, participated in their family prayers and then joined in bursting firecrackers on the street. It was a lovely evening and we were all caught up in joyous celebrations. I noticed, though, that one of our cousins, who had come down from Delhi, was missing in all of the festivities. ‘She’s having her…you know…’ my friend explained.

When realisation dawned, I froze in horror. It was ‘that time’ of the month for me too, and I shouldn’t have been there. Overcome by guilt, shame and fear, I quietly left as soon as I could.

I lay awake late into the night, agonising over what I’d done; the immensity of the paap (sin) I’d committed and the curse I might have unwittingly brought on myself as well as on my friend’s family. I blamed god for not creating everyone equal. Why didn’t my other friends have to worry about caste? Why did only girls menstruate and have to be left out of holy places?

As the years passed, I understood that faith was greater than hollow rituals. It was man that had divided people into the high-born, the low caste, the untouchable and the unclean. I decided to stay away from organised religion and never visited a temple again.

 

 

And now, decades later, in a landmark judgment, the Bombay high court has ruled that preventing women from entering the Haji Ali dargah is unconstitutional — in effect, saying that women are not impure or unclean.

I am more jubilant about this victory today, than of our girls’ achievements in the Olympics. Those were glorious, but individual achievements. This judgment, I truly believe, is a victory for all of mankind. Could this be the beginning of the end of all social discrimination — against women, against Dalits, the low castes and the caste-less?

Perhaps it is time for me to visit a temple again. And I would love to go the Haji Ali Dargah too — I’ve heard it’s beautiful.

As it happened with the Shani Shingnapur verdict, reactions to the Haji Ali ruling have ranged from ‘this is a non-issue’ to ‘vested interests are at work.’ Well, there may be vested interests that I am unaware of, but a ‘non-issue’ it is not. Only those denied access, know how it rankles. And it should bother everyone, because in the eyes of the Constitution, we are all equal.

I now eagerly await a similar verdict in case of the Sabarimala temple and hope that it will strike yet another blow to patriarchy and discrimination. A male saint, or a male deity, their vows of celibacy notwithstanding, cannot be an excuse to keep out women from the inner sanctum. Neither can quoting religious scriptures justify such practices.

It maybe a centuries-old tradition to refuse women of child-bearing age entry into temples, but now is the time to question why. What is wrong with reproduction — isn’t that how every ‘high-born’ priest too came bawling into this world, a mass of flesh and bones and blood?

Some women profess that they don’t mind such customs and love to follow the tradition. It is willingly done and there is no question of discrimination. To them I would say, not everything you love may be wholesome or good. The safety of women is not the responsibility of the police or the government alone. It is our duty to change mindsets and weed out deep-seated prejudices that exist in the garb of religious rituals.

I’m glad that the youth of today have the courage to challenge the regressive practices that we have followed unquestioningly for hundreds of years.

Let the doors of every church, mosque and temple, including those leading to the inner sanctum, stay wide open for everyone. Until then, those of us who are left out will continue to knock and demand entry. It is our constitutional right.

 

Would love to know your thoughts irrespective of whether you agree or disagree 🙂

Handsome men to help you weep?

My blog is titled ‘Stories from India’ but here is a strange story from Japan that I can’t help sharing.

Japanese companies are hiring ‘handsome weeping boys’ to help their staff cry. Yes, you read that right. Click here if you still don’t believe me.

In the words of the founder of one such company: “I want Japanese people to cry. Not only at home but in the office… It creates a better working environment and people get along better.”

Employees sit together and watch sad films while a “handsome weeping boy” wipes away their tears. All of this helps people express their emotions and bond in the process. Presumably this leads to great team work and increased productivity?

What do you make of that? Do you find it a curious practice are you in fact excited by the position of ‘”handsome weeping boy/girl” and can’t wait to apply?

I sometimes like to watch sad movies myself … and yes, cry too. It has a cathartic effect (or is it plain silly behavior?). But I would be distinctly uncomfortable with a complete stranger wiping away my tears, no matter how handsome!

This reminds me of a movie that actually got me shedding copious tears in a crowded theater.

It was a Bollywood film called Taare Zameen Par (Stars on Earth), and anybody who’s watched it knows what I’m talking about!

Image result for taare zameen par

A moving story about a dyslexic child who is misunderstood by all, the film ensured that there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. At least the women around me were all wiping away tears or sniffling into their tissues, so I knew I wasn’t the only one feeling devastated. Perhaps the men were doing the same but were more discrete about it.

Especially when this song came on, right after the little boy’s parents sent him off to a boarding school, I found myself practically dissolving in a flood of tears. The lyrics went something like :

I’ve never said it
But I’m afraid of the darkness, ma

I’ve never said it
But you know I love you ma

Now if you are a mother, or have ever loved your mother, it is practically impossible to stay unmoved. Chances are that even those who hate kids or dislike their moms will became sentimental!

What is the one movie that made you bawl your heart out? Please leave me a name in the comments and perhaps I will watch it on a lonely evening, when I feel like a good cry 😉

 

 

Why do girls have all the fun?

I had written about a reunion with a few school buddies some time back, and it was published on Rediff. I am glad to re-publish it here 🙂 Have you had a reunion with any old friend lately?

Ramitey

IMAGE: The girls trek to Ramitey. 

If there is one thing I dread, it is seeing a ‘friend request’ from a former school mate who I either can’t remember or don’t want to.

I am happy with my present, thank you, why would I want to journey back to the past and relive memorable events like the time I came out last in sack race?

Or when someone slyly pinned a tail to my skirt and the class dissolved in laughter as I stood up to answer a question. What was so funny?

Accept any such request, and it will soon be followed up with an invite — to join a community, made up of who else, but your school alumni.

You may think what harm could this possibly do, just another FB group — but this is only a preliminary, to a similar group on WhatsApp, whose unstated goal– you guessed it — is to plan a reunion!

It was exactly 25 years since we’d passed out of school.

To add to that, we were all turning 40 this year.

An emotional pitch was made — “Come on guys, kal ho na ho!”

“True yaar, zindagi na milegi dobara!”

But the clincher was, “When will we get naughty, if not at 40?”

A Brexit style referendum followed, where the majority voted to ‘leave’, on a short trip to celebrate our friendship.

After considering various destinations ranging from Vegas to Vadodara, we zeroed in on an obscure mountain village called Sillery, located in Darjeeling district.

Why on Earth?

Well, because this was the closest to our school and our hometown, Siliguri.

Some folks in the US and UK would not be able to make it at such short notice, but I guess there is a price to be paid for pothole free roads, safe drinking water and being able to afford recipes involving tomatoes.

A few closer home were forced to back out too — some were not given permission by their maids, others had to take their kids or dogs to prior appointments.

Finally, of the 12 original members, five us confirmed and booked our tickets — Suku, Deba, Urmi, Bash and myself.

It was on a bright June afternoon that my plane touched down at Bagdogra airport. The temperature and humidity outside felt just right — everything feels just right when it’s your hometown.

I headed out straight from the airport to meet with the others.

After strategic and tactical meetings over luchis and aloo dum, we allocated important tasks to each other — carrying provisions for jhal muri as well as Gelusil (for indigestion), packing essential items like the selfie stick and so on.

Later, we could assign the task of making mugs and collages of our trip, to those who couldn’t join us, so that they don’t feel terribly left out.

It was decided that we would leave for Sillery the next day at around 9 am.

Early the next morn, while still in bed, I had the brilliant idea of spooking everyone by sending this message to the group: “All set? Shall we leave?”

But I was the one spooked instead, when one or two responded with a “Yes! Let’s go!”!

Gathering my wits together and getting ready in record 10 minutes, I made a mad dash for the designated pick-up point, only to realise that I was the earliest.

It took almost an hour before everyone arrived and squeezed into Urmi’s Ertiga, driven by Bash’s trusted chauffeur, Daju.

We were being chaperoned at 40 and it felt like being back in school indeed! The only naughtiness I could imagine was stealing each other’s chhurpis (hardened cheese made of yak milk) and sweet-spicy titoras (strips of dried and salted fruit) on the way.

Sillery

IMAGE: A view of Sillery gaon.

It was a sublime, golden yellow day and we were soon winding up the hills to John Denver’sCountry roads, take me home, To the place I belong

This was West Bengal, not West Virginia, but the words just fit.

It was only three hours to Sillery gaon, situated at 6,000 feet. We climbed at our own pace, stopping first at Kalimpong and then Pedong, for savoury momos and steaming thukpas.

Perhaps it was the crisp mountain air, but we seemed to be hungry every few minutes, to Daju’s great annoyance.

With a blissfully sated feeling, I turned my attention to the scenery outside, admiring the snow-capped mountain peaks glimpsed through the tall pines.

We noticed suddenly that the temperature had dropped a few degrees and pulled on our sweaters and shawls, just as a cloud floated into the car. Almost heaven, indeed.

During the last stretch of our journey, the well-paved road suddenly gave way to rugged, harsh mountain terrain. The car’s chassis dragged against sharp, protruding rocks and Urmi’s heart stopped and somersaulted with each painful screeching of her car.

At one point we wondered whether we should abandon the vehicle and trek it up instead, but Daju heard none of it, and delivered us safely to our destination.

After the mentally grueling climb, we needed another round of succulent momos and piping hot chai to revive us.

We sipped our tea and stared at the drifting clouds, enchanted by so much beauty and tranquility. Then we wondered what was for dinner.

Later in the evening, Suku peeled litchis and spliced up green chilies for a special cocktail she was fixing us.

As we huddled together under a bright starry sky with our drinks and jhalmuri, giggling at silly memories from school, I had an epiphany that maybe what the lady in Sex and the City said was right– that maybe our girlfriends are indeed our soulmates and guys are just people to have fun with.

My reverie was interrupted by a chirpy female voice: “Apnara ki pancha kanya? Oof kiexciting!” To translate: “Are you five gutsy women doing this by yourselves? How exciting!”

Which actually translated to: “Are you five women of loose morals and low character, who have abandoned their kids and spouses, and are gallivanting around, (as our school Principal Sister John Berchman would say) by yourselves?”

I could see the admiration in her eyes, not unmixed with a tinge of envy and was struck by another revelation — that Hillary Clinton or Theresa May weren’t the only ones breaking glass ceilings.

Now that I thought of it, we’d been drawing envious glances all day from women who were here with their spouses, kids and mother-in-laws in tow.

Ramitey

IMAGE: The stunning view of the snow-capped Kanchenjunga.

The next morning, we trekked 3 km to Ramitey, for a stunning view of the snow-capped Kanchenjunga above and the glistening thread of the river Teesta, below.

By the time we returned to the resort, we were ravenously hungry again, but passed up rice androtis for steaming bowls of wai wai.

I’m a connoisseur of instant noodles, even if I say so myself, and have tried all sorts including Patanjali’s — there’s absolutely no match for the wai wai, especially in cold, mountainous terrains where clouds float past so close that you could reach out and grab a handful.

Daju reminded us that it was time to leave, especially if we wanted to stop for a bit at Delo near Kalimpong, on the way back.

And driving down the road I get a feeling that I should have been home yesterday…

I really don’t know what took me so long to reconnect with my past.

Back again in Bangalore, I place a call to Deepu in Canada, “Hey! Do you have any idea where Rachna Behl and Ritika Punyani are?”

“You mean Rachna Punyani and Ritika Behl. What do you want with those two pasty-faced, pig-tailed, snivelers?”

A few minutes later, I am busy sending out ‘friend requests’ to Rachna Behl and Ritika Punyani (or vice versa). Next I must get hold of Ambika Vasudevan, former sack race champion, and that Shubhra something from Green House (Shakespeare)…or was it Blue (Newton)?

Another reunion is on the cards and I’m the chief organizer.