Highway to high way

3 days. A long weekend. Many cat lovers. And a chocolate cake. As soon as I had moved to Pune three months ago, I knew this place had energy in store for me. I began to unlearn all my previous paces: of home, of Nizami thaat, of hapless filth. Even before I had arrived, I had been sold its lures. And the lure didn't lie so much in the monuments, in the food, in the city's chaos, oh no. Just people.
Plain vanilla people. 

Women with pishvis, men in collared tee shirts or bush shirts, young techies with id cards dangling around their necks like nooses, kids in uniform with oil drenched hair, the big cars and their humble drivers, the autowalas and their माझ. Indeed, the rosy winters and the perennial bougainvillas did their bit in making me fall in love with Pune, but it has, honestly, been the people who have visited me or the friends who I've met whilst they were here on business, that have strengthened the heartstrings even more. I am yet to strike out any of the items I had jotted down on my to-do list while I'm here. But no matter. There's a vintage Beetle, ragged and rusty, cobwebbed, with its paint chipped, waiting each day for me to turn right from - a landmark not preempted. A charm that has the power to surprise everyday.

And yet that is also not it. What about Veeram's house? What about my own? What about my favourite restaurant? And its काली दाल and बैंगन bharta that I've yet to savour again?

So Sajani was here over the weekend. Here only to see me and, on short notice, also to rescue Duffer, my newly adopted tom. Having known Saj for almost seven years now is a tad hard to believe, because really, it was only that first week of spending concentrated hours with each other several times that account for our experience of each other. For our knowing of each other. For our comfort of each other. We have never lived in the same city, leave alone studied or worked together. We come from culturally diametrically variant backgrounds. Our achievements differ from one another's, and so do our losses, but expression has been so liberating with her! And perhaps our judgement and opinion of each other came about painstakingly slowly, but it is only a thing of wonder how often through both our car rides to and from bombay this time, we seemed to have been having two parallel conversations with each other: a verbal one, that goes yaketty yakk, and then there's our eyes that meet almost as often as there is stupidity prevailing. And Saj's talent allows her to speak even with a poker face, where I may be tempted to break into a giggle, roll my eyes or simply hit my palm to my face.

I reckon that our judgement of people comes partly if not entirely, not only from our experience of the world, but also from our mothers. We often don't get their kinks, and yet. For hours, we would lie in our PJs analysing the people we love and hate, and when a third person would enter, suddenly shut our eyes - Eyes, gobs, tolerance too actually.

Bus ride with Sajani, Bombay, 2010
And that familiarity manifests itself in myriad ways. Whether it is her calming me in my own house after an especially tiring trip by articulating my thoughts exactly, whether it is to get chatty with my roommate, whether it is taking a bus ride across town right after a long flight or train journey, whether it is to wait in the lounge area of my office as I get my stuff and swipe out after bunking half the day in my boss's absence, whether it is to tolerate an especially irritating boyfriend for his inane and dated arguments and fielding each one with a hard verbal slap back in the days, whether it is cycling in the hot sun across her university campus. And yet none of these episodes quite define the scope of our friendship. If she were a guy, I'd have probably professed my undying devotion to him. Not only for what he'd've been, but for what he was doing to me.

Her pune trip, like all her visits to all the cities I've stationed myself for a while in, was short, but not meaningless. It was rich in conversation, in experience, in details and in thought. She fished out a teracotta ring for me with a grumpy cat on it from Milan. She took care of Duffer in his most critical first journey across towns. She ate whatever I gave her. And she drank simply. She walked, because she enjoys roads and trees just as much as I do. She warmed up to Veeram simply for the warmth I had for him. She fussed not. She complained not. She remarked. She judged. She dismissed.

She got me a box of strawberries so I could sing for her and we could smoke outside a shut shop sitting on the ledge in Aundh.

To be friends with Sajani is not an ordinary honour. She takes forever to warm up. Her mocking smile is hard to fathom - am I her subject of scorn, and therefore ridiculed, or does she truly respect me? Three years it took me to know what she thought of me, and she chose to bare all one evening in 2009 when all was beginning to look bleak, loss seemed inevitable, and abandonment seemed to look like the only way out for us cats.

There are people we feel the need to understand in order to love. Then there are people we must accept and love.

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