Monday, April 25, 2005

The tangled web called love

Malu, Kala, Giri, Sudhakar and Mahesh were childhood friends. All grew up in the same compound. Mahesh was the oldest in the group and Malu, as in Malini, the youngest. But that didn't prevent them from forming a tight clique. They played 'house', cricket, hide-and-seek and whatever other games took their fancy.

They loved playing house the most. Mahesh and Kala would be appa and amma. Sudha and Giri would be the kids with Malu ending up being the baby. They collected carboard boxes from everywhere to build their houses; they stole rice, tamarind and jaggery from their homes and 'cooked' them in tiny pots over matchstick fires. It was all fun.

The ruins close to their house offered a good venue for their games. They would play there after school, until their parents came hunting for them to eat and do their homeworks. Summers, no question, they were there all the time, except for the times when they had to eat and sleep. When they got a little older, the games changed, but the clique remained.

Things started changing around the time Mahesh left for college. That started the downfall of the clique. They got busy with their day-to-day routines. But they still remained good friends. Sudha and Kala were in the same class and so had a lot in common still.

Malu was a year younger but still closer to them than Giri and Mahesh. Giri was 2 years older than Sudha and Kala and Mahesh was a year older than Giri. Mahesh went off to another city for his college but came home for the holidays. Giri attended a local college.
Things really took a turn during one summer. Sudha and Kala were going to college the following year. Mahesh had come back sporting a light beard. He had started weight training and the difference was very obvious. The girls noticed it. He was no longer their childhood friend. He was a handsome young man.

Kala noticed the changes in her self, when she kept finding excuses to visit Mahesh. One day it was to borrow a book, another day to ask his opinion about her education and so on. Mahesh was his sweet self, talking to her like always. Kala wanted him to notice the budding woman in her. She started taking more care about her appearance. Her face suffused with color whenever she came across Mahesh. She found herself thinking a lot about him.

Sudha, being closer to her than others, took note of her new appearance. For him, until now, she had been just a close friend, genderless. It called to the hormone raging teenager in him. Unfortunately, he did not know Kala's newfound interest in Mahesh. So it came as a huge shock when Kala took him in to her confidence.

Meanwhile, Malu, on her side found similar things happening to her too. She found herself drawn to Mahesh, but was unable to find a similar response from him. For the others in the group, Malu was the baby. She was the littlest one who needed to be protected. It was obvious to her that Mahesh did not see beyond that. She became withdrawn and forlorn. There was no one she could pour her heart out to. Giri, who was helping her with preparing for her college entrance exams, noticed her absent-mindedness. He gently coaxed her to confide in him. It was a shock to him to realize that little Malu baby was interested in a guy, and that too, Mahesh. He tried to talk some sense in to her. He tried telling her that it would spoil their friendship if things did not work out the way she wanted. But no amount of cajoling changed her mind. It was set on Mahesh. She pleaded with Giri to talk to Mahesh about it. After a lot of deliberation, he agreed to act the messenger for her.

Sudha walked around like a zombie. He felt like his world was collapsing around him. Here he was, in love for the first time, but with no hopes of seeing it to fruition. He dreaded facing Kala now. He avoided meeting her. It worked for sometime, until Kala came knocking at his door. She wanted him to help her out, true friend that he was. She could not find the nerve to talk to Mahesh about her feelings. Sudha did not want to be part of it. He just wanted to be left alone and drown in his own sorrow and self-pity. Kala's tears finally made him relent. He agreed to do her bidding. After all, if he cannot be happy, he could at least make her happy. Wasn't that what love was all about?

So it was that both Sudha and Giri found themselves, independent of each other of course, trying to get Mahesh alone, so they could convey the messages. They finally decided to get each other's help. One day, Giri was on the terrace to check on his mom's chillies drying in the sun. Sudha saw him go up and followed him there. He told Giri about Kala's feelings for Mahesh. Giri was too dumb-founded for a few minutes. Then he told Sudha about Malu. The two friends found themselves in a quandary. They were not sure how to proceed. Both Malu and Kala were dear to them and they could not choose one over the other. Finally, they decided that they would leave the decision to Mahesh. He was the affected party. So they waited for the right moment to talk to Mahesh.

The first opportunity presented itself when the trio decided to go bowling. Giri and Sudha would tell Mahesh everything and let him choose. Mahesh himself was in a fix and needed someone to talk to and who better than his childhood friends. They would understand him better than anyone else. After their game they decided to stop at a cafe for snacks and tea. Seated at the table, Sudha started on the topic. Mahesh listened to him with a frown. A silence followed. Then Mahesh talked. Sudha and Giri sat like they had been struck by lightening. What they were hearing was unbelievable. This happened only in movies or to other people. Not to common folks like them. They kept on sitting and staring into space, while Mahesh got up and walked away, unshed tears in his eyes. The waiter with the bill brought them back to reality. Dumbly, they paid him and got out. With thoughts churning in their minds. Mahesh, their Mahesh! How could it be! Mahesh had just confided in them about his fascination for a classmate from college. And the classmate was not a girl!

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