Sunday 26 January 2014

Reunion on the beach – I

They stood silently by the seaside, shoulders close but not touching. There was no need for words. The lapping of the waters at their feet said so much in unspoken communion. They had both wandered onto the beach and come face to face, meeting after nearly 20 years. 

First it was school, then college, where they were known to be inseparable companions. Their classmates would joke: “Look for one, find the other one free.”

Two old friends reunite on the beach. 
Digital sketch: Harjeet
Medha and Sumedha … a wonderful coincidence had brought them together in class. From the moment their teacher called out their names during roll call, they felt they were meant to be friends, forever bound by their names. Soon they discovered that their tastes matched, and their likes and dislikes were equally strong. They looked unbelievably similar too.

Medha had joined the school when her family shifted to the metro Sumedha had been born and grown up in. To Medha, urban life was something to marvel at; for Sumedha, it was a boring routine with oh-so-familiar sights and sounds.

A mutual need sprang up between them. Medha longed for a life she had not seen before, while Sumedha pined for companionship. She was the youngest of five children, whose ageing parents were struggling to keep ailments and financial troubles at bay. They had little time for her, as did her four brothers who were grappling with their own manhood issues. The youngest of them was eight years her senior. Their huge age gap made her a sister they would much rather not have had, and a liability they grudgingly had to protect.

Sumedha was timid by nature, but Medha was carefree and fun-loving. They were such a perfect foil for each other that the days melted into months and years, but their friendship stood the test of time. When Medha’s family moved to another town, she stayed back in a hostel to complete her graduation. Being with Medha had helped Sumedha shed most of her reserve, while her friend had at last acquired some tact.

As their college days drew to an end, their respective families began hunting for bridegrooms for them. Oblivious of these plans, the two friends were busy mapping out career possibilities for themselves. Sumedha was keen on teaching, but Medha wanted to enter the travel trade. When Sumedha told her parents she wanted to take up B.Ed., they were horrified. All her brothers were by now married and settled, and their wives were happy homemakers. “How had she imagined she would be allowed to work?” they wondered.

Sumedha wanted a life of her own, one in which she had a say. This was a big change from the girl who would not utter a word at home. Her family began to resent Medha, firm in the belief that she had set Sumedha on this rebellious path.

But Medha had similar problems with her own family. They would not hear of further studies, least of all a course where she would end up travelling on her own. And they blamed Sumedha for infecting Medha with this travel bug … Sumedha, who had never stepped out of the city! “Yes, but she has spoilt you too with her sightseeing tours and bargain hunting,” came the unreasonable retort.

Sumedha was used to living without much money, but Medha was luckier. She was often rash in her deeds, but very prudent when it came to spending. Thus she had built a neat pile of savings in her bank account. Medha had not thought such an exigency would arise, but now she used the money to pay for admission to her hospitality course and for the small fee needed to get Sumedha into B.Ed.

Both families were aghast at the girls’ boldness. Each thought the other was stoking the rebellion, but neither was willing to accept that their daughters had matured into young women who knew their own minds.

As luck would have it, the families could not find eligible bridegrooms in time to stop the girls from launching into their postgraduate studies. Now that Medha and Sumedha had to part ways to pursue their respective careers, they met rarely but kept in touch over the phone.

The first to fall in love was Sumedha. This departure from tradition came as yet another shock to her family, but the young professor who had set her heart alight managed to win over her family as well. They were married as soon as Sumedha completed the one-year course.

Medha was very happy for her only friend, who was now pursuing a master’s degree. She managed to find time to occasionally drop in at Sumedha’s new home. They were a cool threesome: Medha, Sumedha and Sumedha’s husband Souraj.

A fourth person soon joined them in the shape of Mridul, Medha’s husband, whom she had first met at a travel conference. But the party broke up within months when Mridul began showing up too often at Sumedha’s place, sometimes without his wife being aware of it. 

Souraj objected to it, but poor Sumedha did not have the courage to turn Mridul away for fear of offending her friend’s husband. She was certainly not the timid schoolgirl of yore, but she still lacked the steel to tick off Mridul. Souraj finally stepped in and asked Medha to rein in her husband. 

It struck her like a thunderbolt. She confronted Mridul, who blandly confessed he had developed a liking for Sumedha’s quiet disposition. It shook her to the core, but she did not have the heart to let her friend know why she began shying away from taking her calls or visiting her. 

With things now out in the open, Mridul could not as nonchalantly walk into Souraj’s home. The chasm between Medha and Mridul also began to widen. Meanwhile, Sumedha began to sicken, and Souraj had a tough time keeping her spirits up as he tried to fill the vacuum created by prolonged spells of Medha’s absence from her life.

More next week

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