I met an old friend yesterday. Someone I had known since I was 17. We were meeting after almost two years. Incidentally, in the eight years that we knew each other, we had met less than a dozen times. But I still like to call him a good friend. Funny, considering that there are people I meet on a more frequent basis but who don’t yet qualify as good friends.
Many of my good friends, I realise, are people I have met just a few times. Invariably, it is an accidental meeting that turns into a conversation, which in turn results in an enduring friendship. There are times I have made friends without even meeting them. Letters. Yes, hand-written letters and emails have resulted in some beautiful friendships.
Sanjog was one of the first friends I made through letters. Or rather, through emails. Sanjog happened to read one of my travel pieces in The New Indian Express. In that piece, I had written about how I backpacked alone across a few towns in Tamil Nadu. I received quite a few emails for that particular piece. But his stood out. Perhaps because like me, he too was fascinated by goat shit. Or perhaps like me, he too was a Virgoan.
We began writing to each other. Long mails. Really long ones. And then we would talk occasionally over the phone. I still remember the day I told Sanjog I was quitting The New Indian Express to travel. He was at once shocked and happy. Happy because I was going to travel to his state.
And then, after almost a year of emails and phone calls, we met at the Cuttack railway station. I stayed with his family for a whole week before heading off to Kolkata. And what a delightful stay it was. Sanjog was busy filling in applications for universities so I ended up spending a lot of time with his mother. Tripti Aunty is a beautiful woman. One of those ideal women you read about in your history textbooks. She and I would have long conversations on spirituality and psychology. She cooked me many Oriya delicacies and treated me like I were her daughter. I shared her joys, sorrows, her wardrobe and her life. A few days before I left, she told me, “Don’t call me Aunty. Call me Chitthi (mother’s sister). I am like your mother only, no?” I had to look away, lest she see those tears of joy in my eyes.
Later that month, I returned to Cuttack to travel around Orissa with Sanjog. We went to Keonjhar, Kondodhar and Khiching – three lovely places that I will dwell upon later. When I left Orissa for the second time, we both knew we wouldn’t be meeting each other in a long while. And even though we haven’t met each other in almost a year now, Sanjog and I remain close friends. In fact, like I was telling him just the other day, he is one of the few persons I would label “Best friend”. It might sound juvenile, but who cares.
Since last Feb, which was the last time I saw him not counting the 10 minutes I spent with him in the railway station on my way back from Kolkata, Sanjog and I have been in constant touch over phone. We talk twice or thrice a week. He is now my friend, philosopher, guide and punching bag. We have shared many laughs. I have cried to him a couple of times. And we have discussed almost everything under the moon. We have eaten rosogullas on the highway, almost met Maoists, explored ruined bungalows in the middle of a jungle, met a 94-year-old sadhu who survives on berries, and cooked Maggi. No wonder I call him my best friend.