How to greet a classmate after ten years?

Posted on August 15, 2009

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I was browsing through the FICTION section at Landmark this evening, when suddenly just right down the aisle, I saw her glancing through the myriad genres. For a minute, I froze. Then I stole a glance at her. She was standing less than a few feet away from me. She wore a black t-shirt and a pair of jeans. Not how I remembered her, but it was her sure enough.

A classmate. Someone I had gone to school with for 10 years. Yet someone I hadn’t exchanged even 10 sentences with all throughout! And here she was standing next to me. In a split second I was bombarded with my own thoughts and feelings. What was I feeling? What should I do now? Should I say “hello!”? I am sure she doesn’t even recognize me! May be I should at least say “hi!” because she also doesn’t know what to say! Should I really make any conversation or should I slink off? Or may be just politely smile and move to the next aisle.

But there was hardly any time to sort out everything. She was standing next to me, looking at a few books near me. She hadn’t noticed me yet or hadn’t recognized me. But she was really close. And I simply said, “Hi!” surprised that I managed to get any words out at all. She looked at me. No recognition in her eyes. So I said, “Ekta.” And exactly one second later, she said, “Oh hiiii!”

The usual banter followed. How are you? Where have you been? Are you in touch with anyone else? What else is up? Work can be pretty much like a rut na? I met so and so. The conversation never really took off. But that’s understandable. We didn’t know each other at all. Both of us fumbled, a trifle embarrassed. Not knowing how to end the conversation. Finally, I said, “Why don’t we start a Facebook mail chain and decide to meet up?” She looked relieved. That said, she moved on. I was relieved.

But it made me wonder why hadn’t we ever spoken to each other in school? Well, there are actually a million reasons. She was one of the toppers in my school. And there I was just an average student. Not that there may have ever been a conscious attempt on either of our parts to avoid each other. But schools have their own ecosystem rules, and one of them was that the rich made friends with the rich, the toppers with the toppers and so on. Or so I (and many others) had thought! A few weeks ago, I had met up with two other school friends after long, and it turns out they had thought the same.

But ten years outside school, I have discovered that some of the people I can relate to a lot, are those I met a million years ago, but did not really interact with. Now, I look back and think of all the years wasted. We could have been almost soul mates by now. But what was past was past. We simply have the present in our hands. The future, as always, is uncertain! The present is all we have.

And it is may be with this sentiment that I spoke to her today. I was glad I did that. Two years ago, I wouldn’t have. But today, I am comfortable in my own skin. I have made a mark for myself. I work in a highly dynamic workplace and on extremely futuristic initiative. I feel good. I feel, I hate to admit, equal. I know she is a doctor! But that doesn’t faze me anymore.

This post is not so much about how she treated me, or how I treated her. It is about how we feel inside. Is how we feel inside stopping us from saying “hello!” to someone you shared the most formative years of our life?

It may have been awkward today. But I know if I ever see her again, there will be more than 5 polite lines exchanged. I am glad that I bumped into her today. It made me realise I was free of the ghosts of childhood – the awkwardness, the pettiness, the complexes that teachers lay foundations for and I fed down the years – I was truly free.

Happy Independence Day Henri. I owe my freedom to my alter ego.

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