by Preeth Ganapathy
“Hi! Do you remember the university in South Korea that we had been to, to attend the quiz competition during college! I am standing right at the main entrance,” cried Anjali excitedly.
“Of course ! I do ! Good times, great memories”, chimed Mallika at the other end of the line, turning over the last page of the file.
“Yes, Akash is at work and I had the day off, decided to explore the place all by myself,” Anjali said.
“That’s wonderful,” said Mallika getting ready to leave her office for the day.
“Yup. Will talk to you later. Let me turn Christopher Columbus and explore what we missed out last time,” Anjali said.
“Ha ha. Bye. Don’t forget to post pics,”said Mallika getting into the back seat of her car.
On her way back home, looking out of the window, at the smooth carpet of pink poui on the road, Mallika thought about the conversation that she had just had with her best friend. The conversation teleported Mallika back to college days when everything looked as fresh as the dew flecked pink rose petals and as sweet as honeycomb. Mallika was a punctilious girl, known for her fastidiousness and who believed in the untold and unmatched powers of sincerity and hardwork. She would wake up early, before the rest of the house. She would finish reading a subject or two before the first rays of the Sun would peep through the pastel curtains. Invariably, she had always stood first in the class. It was more or less like her moral responsibility now and everybody around her, parents, teachers and peers included did not expect any deviation in this pattern.
On this particular day, as always, Mallika got ready, had breakfast, kissed her mother good bye and left for the bus stand where the college bus would arrive. Others from her college slowly started petering in until the size of gathered students became considerable.
The college bus arrived on time.
“Oh its Schumi today!”, shouted one of the guys loudly. Schumi was the nickname of a particular driver who had a penchant for driving the bus with break neck speed and zig-zagging through the city’s notorious, ubiquitous traffic pile up.
None of this mattered to Mallika for she would be immersed in her books in a couple of minutes after she got into the bus. What’s more, today was lab day which meant she had to revise her data sheets and record in the bus. The forty five minute drive that was filled with a lot of noise and chatter, hoots and howls went by in a haze for studious Mallika.
The first hour was scheduled with physics. Mallika sat down and opened her notes diligently. She looked down at her watch, the lecturer had arrived, students had filed in but there was no sign of Anjali.
“The girl is late again. For the umpteenth time. Incorrigible,” thought Mallika to herself.
“Excuse me Sir!”, gasped Anjali.
“You are late”, the lecturer said.
“Sir, please excuse me. But the college bus arrived late”, said Anjali confidently. Anjali was a hostelite and stayed in the college campus. There was no question of her getting onto the college bus.
“You are not only late, but you also lied”, chided Mallika in a low voice, as Anjali sat beside her amidst silent sniggers from some student.
“Yes ,I’m sorry, couldn’t help it, overslept”, said Anjali nonchalantly.
Mallika and Anjali were best of friends ever since they got into college. Anjali was a carefree, jolly, happy go lucky person who believed in taking life one day at a time. “Carpe diem- sieze the day,” she would often say to her friend.
After the lecture, couple of students left the class to attend a quiz competition conducted by quiz club about which ads were placed at the library entrance, the museum, the canteen and the notice board outside their classroom.
Anjali and Mallika had decided that they would send their entries in and try their luck. “On second thoughts, maybe we should ask the chemistry professor for permission “, wondered Mallika, aloud. “No, its okay, I’m sure he will understand,” said Anjali firmly. It was getting late and if the professor did not grant them permission, Mallika would back out, their team of two would disintegrate which Anjali feared. Anjali dragged her friend to the auditorium in the Department of Computer Science where the competition was slated to be held.
When they reached, the organizers were handing out sheets for them to answer the questions. At the end of an hour, they collected the
answers and announced that the participants could check the results on the notice board in another half an hour. On their way back to class, Mallika and Anjali started checking for the right answers to the questions on Google and found that they were right on most occasions. “It all boils down to how others have performed,” observed Anjali sagely. “Hmm”, mumbled Mallika, being the keen type of student, her mind on the permutations and combinations of the possible reactions of the chemistry professor.
As Mallika and Anjali along with the others reached the door step of their classroom, their professor glowered like a glow-worm, “Where were you people all this while?”
“Sir, we had gone to attend the quiz competition by the quiz club,”said Anjali matter of factly, speaking up for the group.
“What competition? What quiz? What club?Did it not occur to you to ask for permission?”he thundered.
“Please sir..”, began one of the other students.
“No please. You can stay there. There is no need of attending the rest of the class”,said the professor, shaking his head, with an air of finality.
There was nothing else to do now but move away. The ignominy of being thrown out of class in such an unceremonious manner weighed down heavily on Mallika. “See, now we are free to do what we want”, chimed Anjali gaily to cheer her friend. “Let’s go to Kool Korner and snack on your favourite samosas.”
Samosas were probably Mallika’s only weakness and she could not say no, although she was thoroughly cross and wanted to give Anjali a piece of her mind for not following her advice. The samosas were hot, crisp and a delicious shade of golden brown with a filling of cooked potatotoes, peas, carrots and coriander inside. Accompaniments of tangy tamarind chutney and the spicy green chutney made the dish all the more delectable. The pair took a samosa each with chutney on paper plates and sat by the mud path under the cool shade of banyan trees overlooking the barren, brown playground which was naturally deserted at this time of the day.
As they savoured the first bite of samosas with tasty chutney, Mallika felt the pang of admonishment vanish into thin air. Life was pleasant and light once more. They ate their share in silence relishing each bite and cherishing the moments. After a while, conversation once again began to flow freely. “One day I am going to travel the world. I am an eternal wanderer, a vagabond, a jojobor. And I am going to save every penny of my salary right from the beginning to travel,” Anjali said wistfully.
“I am going to be civil servant. It is a dream I have seen with my eyes open. Many times”, declared Mallika.
“I am sure you will be. You have the brains to be one. And hardworker, you are.”
“Thanks dear. Keeping fingers crossed.”
Just then a fluorescent green Santro entered the playground. The parking lot must have been full of vehicles. The driver was a year senior to them. He got off the car, pulled out his bag from behind and walked off towards their department. They heard the click of the car locking remotely.
Mallika glanced at her watch. Half an hour had passed. They got up, dusted their backs, folded the empty paper plates into neat little squares and threw them into the green waste paper basket nearby. The results of the quiz competition would probably be out any time. As they reached the entrance of the computer science department where the white notice board was hung, they saw a sizeable crowd. They didn’t have to walk upto the notice board, stick their noses up and crane their necks to gauge the result.
“Congratulations! You guys won!,” said Rajesh, their classmate.
Anjali jumped exhalted, pumping her fist in the air.”Yes! we did it!”
Mallika felt herself smiling, partly sharing Anjali’s joy and partly at their success. It more than made up for the duo being banished from class.
“The winners get to represent their college in South Korea,” said Anjali now reading from the notice board.
Mallika was jerked back to the present. Now, in their early thirties, they both had achieved what they had set out to achieve. Mallika had worked extremely hard to be a civil servant and was now a senior bureaucrat. Anjali, was the head of her start-up and had travelled half the world on work and off it.
Time had flown but the friendship that they had struck during college days had stood the test time, rock solid. ***