It is Geography club time again at the elementary school. Even though we are focusing on the prominent countries of Asia, the islands continue to be my absolute favorite. My sons and me have spent many a night savoring the stories. Each island has a unique story. Our favorite ones are from Fiji and Pitcairn. Fiji had cannibals at one point, and back then, the most respectful way of greeting each other was “Eat me!” Pitcairn, a tiny speck of an island, only 3000 miles from New Zealand was populated by mutineers of a ship named, HMS Bounty, which soon grew over populated with 200 people. So, some people volunteered to move to another island called the Norfolk, knowing fully well that the Norfolk island was a penal colony.
My mind drifted to Cuba, another beautiful island. While living in India, Cuba had seemed rather quaint and remote. Who had even heard of Pitcairn or Norfolk then? I remember decades ago he had pointed at the map and said, “May be we can live in the small island of Cuba.” It was one of those usual afternoons, when we were talking while having lunch together on the rock right outside the library. Today was different. The three of us, Mamatha, Sadakat and me, put our hands together and promised to be friends forever. We would nurture the children that ran around the streets in dirty rags, as our very own. Even, in that moment of high emotion and sentimentality, Cuba had seemed rather outlandish to me. I am sure Sadakat had not heard of Pitcairn or Norfolk, otherwise he would have chosen either of them.
Now, when I think back it seems rather sweet and innocent, that at nineteen we could imagine a life together and forever. We had no money, no grand – ambitious plans for our lives, or for any given day for that matter. We went to college and spent the time walking from the bus-stop to college and back together. Sometimes, we had lunch together. Of course, Sadakat never brought any lunch from home, so we shared our lunch (homemade) with him, to prevent him from falling into the coffee-cigarette routine. We were his caretakers who made sure – he had good lunch and defended him, when somebody teased him for putting surma (black eyeliner) in his eyes – it was as a part of his religious ritual at home.
We would be oblivious to the world around us. If people we knew or strangers stared, sniggered, or made faces at us, it never seemed to matter. Sometimes, we walked an extra mile to another bus stop, talking, laughing, singing or in silence. Sadakat had a wonderful voice. He wrote his own shairis in Hyderabadi urdu, albeit sad couplets of lost love. Mamatha and me often wondered if it was his past, present or just an expression of his personality. Was there a mystery girl in his life? Had she broken his heart? Was she for real or imaginary?
We enjoyed reading his Shairis and listening to him sing. He had no qualms about sitting cross-legged on the bare mud, under a tree. I didn’t mind join in, but Mamatha could not dirty her clothes. She was the focused one, she spent more time studying than us. Slightly lower marks in any subject would cause her eyes to tear up. Yet, she had a carefree attitude towards life. Sadakat, often poked fun at her for being so serious about her test scores. If it wasn’t that, he would pick on her for painting her nails or styling her hair. It was silly, good-hearted fun not intending to be hurtful.
Me on the other end, a little aloof and lost in my own thought. When I think back, I feel privileged to have had their friendship and these sweet memories that refuse to fade with time. We had fun standing by the roadside and watching people go by, sometimes taking a guess on their destination, drinking coconut water straight from the shell with half the water spilling over ourselves was entertaining, and so was chewing on a little piece of sugarcane.
Mamatha and me were inseparable, as we studied together in each other’s houses, but Sadakat was a mystery. He would not be seen for weeks together or months. And then we would bump into him again in the bus or the campus and it would be the same again, as if he had never been gone. After all these decades, we may just see him again… someday if not in Cuba maybe Pitcairn!
Then again, I don’t know about Cuba. but Pitcairn is looking for people. Anyone interested?