It was a lazy Wednesday afternoon that gave me a reason to take a stroll down the phone’s contact list. There was no purpose or intention to text or call anyone. Just my thumb taking a stroll down the phone’s memory lane. In my perception, time had stopped, or, was at least moving very slowly.
Imagine an attic in a house. All belongings accumulated throughout the years collected in boxes, some used more than others, some gathering dust, some broken and yet kept safe on the high shelves, out of reach, and, sometimes, out of mind but still present, waiting and watching us while we walked around the room, picking other boxes. Sometimes, we notice them while we pick up other boxes and wonder “Do they know that we are no longer that close to them?” And just like that we tip-toe out hoping we haven’t been rude. The phone’s contact list could be something like that. People boxed under 26 letters, each representing a chapter in life, some of them closed, some of them ongoing and some of them in suspended animation.
The first in my phone of four years, is the guy with two “A”-s in his name. His perennial complaint was how he would be on top of the rolls right from kindergarten. His mother would tell him how numerologically potent his name was. It was supposed to bring him joy and prosperity. He didn’t find either till he reached Class XI when seating arrangements were mixed for examinations and roll number 1 of Class XI A found himself sitting with roll number 1 of Class XI C. Theirs was a love story that began with “one extra sheet please”.
Recalling their story brings a smile to my face. There was Aa, the boy, receiving advice from those of us whose “experience” in romance involved watching movies and TV series. Childhood romances hardly ever lasted, losing out to time and distance, and, of course, reality. If these Romeos and Juliets ever met in the future, a sheepish smile would remind them of the long lost and now “innocent” times.
But Aa and Aa, I am glad to inform, stuck it out and are now married. They have a child with two “A”s in his name too.
I keep scrolling down. B, C, D… Ah E, you never called me back, you’re a waste of space. Press “delete”. Oh, hello Mr G, I should call you soon. Uncle H…to call or not to call? That can wait, too. Aunt J? I should meet you soon, missing your mutton biryani all of a sudden.
And then I come across K, a friend from my village. Almost instantly, the mind’s eye can see visuals of green, a cracked brown pitch, a ball hitting the bat and screams of “catch”. Most young cricketers would want to be a good batsman or a bowler but not K. He wanted to be a wicketkeeper and he was a mighty good one. Most of the time he would run people out; he would flaunt his “senior” tag to us juniors and force us to submit to his diktats. When MS Dhoni came along, he changed his hairstyle. He was someone we all looked up to. We were always welcome at his small but neat home, where his mother would give us two glasses of lemonade each, samosas, and a scolding over how we had played in the dirt. With the years, meeting K and the old gang became more and more irregular. Now, no force on earth can get us back together again, a drunk K had commented the time we celebrated him getting a job in Canada.
As I go down further, K’s words ring out louder. School friends. College mates. Cousins. It seems time had made them all a victim of its power to remember or to forget.
But at R, I stop longer. R. The special one. The special one that was. The face I woke up to, the face I slept to. Now, a faceless name and number. This was supposed to be my happily-ever-after cue, something meant to go on forever. And yet, it did not. This number I want purged. The nines, the five, the fours. Delete it. Forget it.
But that’s the funny thing about a number. Once you have memorised them, unlike names, it’s impossible to forget. It rings out loud even two years later. Muscle memory kicks in — typing it out is like pressing the keys of a piano. The nines, the five, the fours all flow through, remembered by heart.
I hover around R for a while. A call at this time? Maybe a text? Out of the back of my brain comes a firm “no”. Move on. It doesn’t do well to dwell on the failures of a past life. This lazy afternoon may soon break up into a busy evening.
In the midst of all this, I got a call from M-for-mother. The whole world can go to hell but my mum never misses her 6 pm-ritual. I know that she would have returned from the school where she teaches, done her gardening and waited for me to have reached office.
— “Hello? Did you have lunch?”
— “Amma, you know it’s 6 pm.”
— “Yes, but I don’t know if you had lunch.”
— “I did. Now having coffee.”
— “Again coffee. Got it from all those TV series you have been watching, haven’t you? Why not just have water instead? So much sugar you are taking in your body. Exercise also. Don’t stay rooted to your seat…”
And it goes on.
But the call has broken my train of thought. The mistress of time has again arrived to claim me for herself.