THE LITTLE GIRL WITHIN!
A difficult part of aging is that those who are younger than us also have a set of rules and norms for us, which they expect us to abide by. In their opinion, an important requisite for being the eldest in the family is to be serious, grave, responsible and dignified most of the time. But there are times when we throw caution to the wind and behave like we used to do in the days of yore. And that is when the problem begins!
I realized this hard fact on the day my college friends came over for lunch. We were a large and mischievous group in the Dhaka College of Home-Economics, famous to the extent of notoriety because of our endless pranks. But our group was also the one which always bagged the highest marks. Although we were caught red handed many times, the teachers always let us go after a lukewarm warning. After college, we stepped into practical life and drifted apart to different countries. Meetings were scattered and though most of the friends visited Karachi for one reason or another, this was the first time in decades, all of us were here at the same time. Excitedly, we had been planning this get together for weeks. E-Mails were exchanged, text messages went to and fro and at last my place was decided as the venue for the meeting.
After lunch, we were reminiscing about the good old college days and the great time we had shared together. It seemed that everyone was talking at the same time. So much water had passed under the bridge! The joys and sorrows we had experienced during the decades we had lived apart, latest news about our lives and gossips about friends (not present) had to be shared. Amongst the laughter and chattering, we got so carried away that the years seemed to simply slip away, and we did not even realize we were behaving exactly in the same manner we did in our college days.
“Remember the day we were caught by our English Professor bunking the ‘Home Management’ class? Ambreen asked laughingly. “Oh yes! We had hid behind the library, but just when we were about to start our Chat Party she came along from nowhere”, Naheed exclaimed. Salma said with a smile, “We were caught red handed but we all ran off leaving Seema behind with her big dish of Aloo Chat!” Seema looked visibly annoyed, “How selfish of you people! For weeks you were asking me to bring your favourite chat to college and when we were caught, you all ditched me. I remember looking like a fool holding the dish and having no explanation for the breach of discipline”, Seema was looking as agitated and angry as she was on that particular fateful day. Ambreen quipped back accusingly, “But you gave her the list of our names after being caught, you traitor! We got a good scolding only because of you”. We all laughed until tears rolled down our eyes.
“How nice it is to be with you all again”, Salma said in a wistful tone. “After Ahmer’s death I thought I would never be able to laugh again”. Suddenly a quiet descended on the room and the mood changed from merriment to mourning. We all felt sad for our dear friend who had lost her only son in a car accident three years back. “Sohail still blames me, because I was driving the car”, she said in almost a whisper. “Things were never the same between us after that unlucky day”, she broke into sobs and not knowing how to console her, we all of joined in her tears.
Time seemed to fly as we shared memories and laughed and cried together and finally it was time for the party to be over. Amongst smiles and tears, we parted with heavy hearts because we all had the feeling that this could be our last meeting. My four year old grandson was coming and going out of the room at some pretext or other and looking at me in a strange manner. But I was so involved with my friends that I hardly noticed him.
After everyone had left and I went to my room to rest a bit, he peeped timidly from the door. “Come inside darling, why are you standing outside”, I called out to him. But to my surprise, instead of coming to me he ran away. After some time Bahu appeared with a cup of tea, “What is wrong with Ali? Why is he not coming to me”? I asked her.
Bahu was a bit embarrassed “Forget about it Mummy, He is just a child”. Just then Ali came in, perhaps emboldened by the presence of his mother. “Amma, kya aap pagal ho gayi hain? (Amma, have you gone mad?) He asked with a troubled look on his innocent face. Surprised I turned to Bahu, “Why does he say so? “Actually Mummy, he has never seen you in this mood…. I mean chatting excitedly, laughing and crying in this manner, he has been worrying for you all day long”, she replied with a sheepish smile. I was shocked and a bit sad. I had worn this cloak of a serious and grave person for so long that even I myself had forgotten that once I was a cheerful girl, a bit naughty and always full of laughter.
Gently I took my darling grandson in my arms, “I am alright dear, just behaving like a naughty girl today”. I rocked him gently until he fell asleep. “Amma has not gone mad, my son” I told him sadly, “But there is still a little girl in Amma who refuses to grow up”, and before I could stop them, two tears dropped and glistened on his rosy cheeks.