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I don’t know how or when the idea got itself firmly entrenched into my mind that I fall in the category of nincompoops. Dirty work must have been afoot during my formative years, selling the idea of my nincompoop-ness so strongly to the gullible little mite that was I that I seemed not only to have  swallowed it hook, line and sinker but also continued to thrive on the belief for years to come as well.

Fun they say,  starts at forty (or fifty as the case may be; these things change according to which decade you yourself are in). Yes sir, in my case it certainly did start at forty, which was the decade when I took a second and closer look at myself and decided that I was not a nincompoop after all. I even discovered that I had brains, just like the rest of the populace, and wonder of wonders, I was not bad at putting it to use either. I could even put it to better use than some of the said populace, in spite of the corrosive rust. Still, old doubts lingered and niggled like wiggly worms, raising their heads at frequent intervals.

Such was how things stood when the sun dawned bright and clear on a new morning today. I had earmarked it as Looking Through and Discarding Unwanted Stuff Day. The previous night, I had procured a plastic folder from the Lord & Master, to store necessary papers. The L & M has a ready supply of such things; one only has to ask and like a magician he will conjure up necessary items from the many storage spaces under his command (Read of one such here).

So the morning found me all set to do some Clearing Of Stuff. Browsing through some of the accumulated materials, I found this small bit of yellowed paper with a phone number scribbled on it. Memory was triggered. I followed it up from there and believe it or not, within minutes I was talking to Razia, my old classmate, also room-mate from more than three decades back. Sweet, simple, ever-smiling Razia. We have been in the same class and hostel for a year of school and two years of college (PUC).

I was beside myself with excitement and so was she. I had so much to tell and so had she, so we jabbered on. But what stopped me in my tracks was when she said, “You were such an intelligent girl!” Errrr… What was that again?? Intelligence and I were not things I have heard in connection with each other. I was simply amazed. I wondered what she was talking about.

“I have even told my children about you, my intelligent friend from the past…” she said once again touching the same fact.

She had harped back to the topic a few more times that I was forced to confront it (in my mind) and so simply had to ask her.

“Huh, I was intelligent?? In what way??”

“We all used to study for hours together and you… you used to read works of fiction!”

I laughed out loud about that. Yes, I used to do that. I lived inside my books those days. I remember Biju whispering to those sitting around the dining table.

“Look, look, here she comes with a long face. I am sure the beroine in her book has had a break up with the hero…”

Razia was not done though. She said,

“You used to get up in the mornings before us and study for a while. That is all the studying you ever did. And yet, you scored good marks…”

Ohhhh….. that sort of made me intelligent. I smiled. It also brought  back memories of another friend remarking, when the PUC results were out,

“What! That girl has a first class?? But I have never seen her studying!”

Of course it only meant that I did not join the rest of the girls who studied in candle-light after the lights-out at the hostel. My sleep used to be (still is) dear to me. If I feel sleepy, I sleep. Period. Keeping my eyes open till 10-30 p.m. (or was it 10 p.m.?) was a Herculean task as far as I was concerned. What I used to do was, as soon as the nun in charge finished her rounds, I simply jumped into bed and was lost to the world in no time. It did land me in trouble the odd days the nun decided to take a second round.

Razia was actually shocked to hear that I am a homemaker and not a career woman. I couldn’t help but smile at her genuine amazement. I was reminded of the time another classmate from post-graduation days remarked, “What?? Shailaja stays at home? But we all expected her to have a career!” When word got around to the in-laws about this, you bet my stock worth sky-rocketed. Sigh, my school and college mates seem to have more faith in me than I have in myself. The same goes for my online/blogger friends. I am overwhelmed most times by their response and belief in me. I am humbled and thank you all.

Getting back to Razia, she wanted to know if I wasn’t feeling bored with time hanging heavily on my hands. Then I told her about my blog/writing. Her response?

“Of course you used to write those days too!”

Huh. I used to??! I had no idea, other than what I used to tell my diary about the books I read.

“I still remember the one about the conversation between the different vegetables. The okra said something to the potato… I so enjoyed reading that”

Dear, dear readers, I have no clue what she was talking about. I wished with all my heart I could go back in time and see what it had been that enthused Razia so much that she remembers it to this day.

How wonderful it is meeting up with old friends! You learn new things about yourself. I must say hearing Razia I was filled with wonder. How come I never knew that I was so interesting? That I was so admired? How come I had always thought that I was a duffer? Of course I know part of the reason. In a home where standing first in rank was the only criterion for being judged intelligent, I never stood a chance. And God forbid if your rank slipped beyond 10 (which mine did as years went by and the disenchantment grew) especially when not even the fact that you were good in certain subjects earned you a good word. Everything crumbled to dust before the rank mania.

Today is a wonderful day, when I could talk to an old friend and hear from her magical things about myself that I was not aware of at the time, find it difficult to believe still. I have been asking myself the whole of today, “Was she really talking about me?

Thank you, Razia. I am glad I followed up on that number on a crumpled bit of paper and eventually landed up speaking to you. You really made my day!

Updated to add:

Razia says I had been vociferous advocate of homeopathy (“Mother says homeopathy is best“). She also says while they all lathered their faces with various creams and lotions I refused to do so (“Mother says such artificial things are bad for your skin“). To tell you the truth, I am amazed, I cannot believe I said such things! And to think that my mother always thought of me as a disobedient, wilful child who never listened to her!  😆