Of late, Facebook has been a great companion and I enjoy surfing through its pages. As I log on to it, the whole world unfolds before my eyes and I can view different pages of my interest. I enjoy visiting the culinary pages where I can see continental dishes as well as cuisines from different states of India. Of course, I don’t try out those recipes but the pictures are good enough to satiate my palate. For past one year I have developed a keen interest in bird watching which has been fostered and encouraged by this social media site. I can even feel the political fervour simply by looking at different newspaper sites.There are different blogging sites and I often enjoy reading them. Last but not the least, Facebook has offered me trips down the memory lane and enabled me to locate my childhood friends. Even a few years ago I could never imagine that I would be able to be in touch with my old friends but now it is a reality. These days I often chat with them through Facebook. At times we call each other and spend hours together while ruminating the golden memories of our childhood days. Facebook has indeed unlocked a treasure trove of my childhood memories.
One of my greatest achievement in the recent past was the rediscovery of my first childhood friend, Papun through Facebook. I was delighted since she was my next door neighbour, playmate and classmate. I still remember the day when we first went to school hand in hand guided by her brother, who was a senior student in the same school. She is now happily settled with her son, daughter-in-law and a tiny grand-daughter. Recently, we met in Kolkata. Eager to catch up we were oblivious of the surroundings while recapitulating memories from our childhood days when suddenly an unpleasant incident popped up in my mind.
When we were in the primary section, we had become very close to another classmate, Mithai. She used to stay in the lane next to ours. The main attraction in her house was the tiny toddler, her nephew. On our way back from school, we used to visit her house almost every day to cuddle the baby. We loved watching him grow, day by day. One day she came to our house to invite both of us to attend the annaprasan ceremony of the baby. Both of us were extremely delighted and excited because that was the first occasion when we got our own invitation instead of being tagged with elders. Since both of us were the youngest among our respective siblings we were always bullied by the older ones. We did not enjoy attending any function with our parents because of the restrictions and strictures imposed upon us. As I looked at the invitation card with my name written on it, I started putting on airs. Papun’s mother and my mom gave us one rupee each and Papun’s elder brother bought a replica of Tajmahal encased in a transparent plastic case. It had cost one rupee and fifty paisa only, in those days. Before that I had never seen Tajmahal except its photograph in the history book. It was really one of the seven wonders for me and every now and then I started examining the replica from different angles. Frankly speaking, at that moment I was not in a mood to part with the gift. Finally, the much awaited day came. Both of us got decked up and went to attend the ceremony. We handed over the gift to our friend since her nephew was too young to hold it. Though the gift was not costly, it was appreciated by everybody present there.
Soon we got promoted and left the primary school to join a new school. In this school we found ourselves in a new environment with new teachers and a new set of friends. Very soon Papun and I became very friendly with Mimi, who stayed quite close to our house. Everyday, we used to go to school and return home together. Mimi was slightly taller than both of us and also had a well-built stature. She used to dominate both of us but we never took it seriously. After a couple of months, her elder brother was blessed with a baby boy and next day she offered us chocolates to celebrate the good tidings.
One day, in the course of our conversation, we told her about the invitation to Mithai’s house and also about the gift we bought for her nephew. Little did we imagine that we were actually alluring her to invite us on a similar occasion that was going to take place in her house shortly, only to get the same gift for her nephew. In the following months, we used to frequent her house to see the tiny baby and one day she came to our house and invited us to attend her nephew’s annaprasan ceremony. She was quite elated. She informed us that she had told everybody in her house that we would bring a nice-looking model of Tajmahal as a gift for her nephew. We also promised to do so. At that tender age neither did she hesitate to ask for a gift nor did we feel bad about complying with her request. But neither of us could imagine about the consequence.
Within a few days our summer vacation began and we totally forgot about the invitation. During the summer vacation we were permitted to play in the morning after completing our studies. One such morning, I was playing with Papun in front of our house. Suddenly we saw Mimi heading towards us from a distance. Immediately, we were reminded about the invitation which had totally slipped off our mind. We had forgotten to buy the Tajmahal which we had promised her. It was a moment of great embarrassment and we got so nervous that we could not even make an escape. As she approached us, our hearts also started beating faster. In a tone of disgust she asked: “Have you forgotten about my nephew’s annaprasan ceremony? Come fast, because all the guests have arrived and only you two are yet to join the function.” Both of us were dumbfounded and knew the consequence. Hurriedly, we got ready and both of us got a rupee each from our mothers to buy a gift. But buying a gift at the eleventh hour was not possible. We silently followed her like convicts destined for gallows. While walking, at every minute she turned back and tried to assess what gift we were carrying with us. Seeing no gift in our hands she was certain that we had failed to buy the gift. Finally, she just couldn’t resist herself and asked us about the Tajmahal. We told her that Papun’s brother could not find time to buy the gift but she could make out that it was a blatant lie. She got so angry and frustrated with us that on the way she no longer turned back to see whether we were following her. Frustation laced her voice as she said : “I told everyone in my home that you will buy Tajmahal and you didn’t?” Her voice choked and once we reached her house she slipped among the guests and didn’t even come to see even once when we sat down to eat. We were at a loss but we didn’t know what to do. We felt guilty for letting her down. Somehow we managed to give the one rupee as gift to the baby and with great difficulty ate some food.
Next day, when we met Mimi in school, she didn’t even look at us. She was not on talking terms for quite some time. At that tender age we failed to comprehend that why she was so upset with us. Although we could not buy the gift that we had promised, we gave two rupees as gift which was more than the price of the Tajmahal. Now after fifty years I realise it was her ego that had been bruised at that young age. She lost her face in front of her family members to whom she had boasted about the wonderful gift her friends were going to bring. Our promise had heightened her expectation but it came to a cropper because of the lack of seriousness on our part. Now, at the autumn days of my life I often wish I could atone the mistake that I had committed so early in my life. I eagerly search for her in the pages of Facebook but in vain. If somehow I could locate her I would ask her whether she has forgiven us for the mistake we had committed in our childhod.
Illustration by Aditi Chakraborty