First, to S, T, P and S.
It's no small thing when one's ooooooldest friend gets married. Some moral support, some solidarity, is called for. So, off I went to Delhi, along with some other friends, to help her get smashed (as all good friends must) and cry at the wedding (as all good women friends must).
And all I will say about this, at this juncture, is that helping someone do something can be a tricky thing. It can totally backfire on you before you know it. My advice to all of you out there is, when you're helping friends-about-to-be-married to get plastered, stick to lime juice yourself.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning... the nursery, where we began this journey. Most of us have been together, in school, since this nursery, though we weren't all conscious of each other at the time. That's not surprising - in nursery, we were conscious of only 2 things, and both were scary.
First: Buddhi Ayah - the bane of our existence. She towered above us in those days, and wore big, scary glasses, which magnified her eyes to the size of footballs. She had hard, scaly hands, red teeth, horns, and a tail, and she could change her size at will. She was fear personified.
Second: the Blue Box. A horrific, terrifying, un-name-able thing, the mere mention of it was enough to make us behave for days on end... The Blue Box was something we used to creep around, quietly, in case it awoke and devoured us... And if we'd done something really, shockingly bad - like call someone a "buddy basket", or push somebody off the jungle gym, we'd be made to sit on it... for hours and hours - while the rest of the class watched from a safe distance to catch the box open and engulf us.
In later years, of course, we saw both Buddhi Ayah and the Blue Box for what they were - a tiny, untiringly patient ayah, responsible for keeping 100 of us clean and hygienic, when all we wanted to do was wallow in the sand (yes, the same sand in which someone had experienced a slight umm... plumbing accident a few hours ago) - quietly in love with generations of children who would then grow up and send their kids back to her nursery. And a big wooden box, painted blue (different shades, over the years), shaded and hued with childish imagination, and grown into a legend over years of children's hushed whispers heaped one on top of one another.
So this is where we began our journey. A huge, old nursery with massive windows, sunshine-dappled, colourful rooms, filled with jungle gym, sandpit, a slide and a see-saw. An old piano, played by older fingers once a day, as generations of children, over the years, danced to Mrs. Lovery's tunes. A wendy house in the corner, colourful wooden chairs and tables, bearing the marks of our Camel crayons, rubbed into paper till it tore, leaving crayon marks on the tables, all manner of hideous scribblings proudly displayed as art. A large wooden table in the middle, for the teachers to have their tea and snacks at, while we ran off to tiffin rooms, or ignored the food and made for the see-saw. Mattresses on the floor, where we would gather around in wide-eyed wonder to listen to Mrs. Sarawgi's stories, or learn nursery rhymes from Mrs. Paul.
Nursery was sort of like being in a womb. We were never unprotected - never allowed to go anywhere without a swarm of teachers accompanying us, and when we did finally move up to higher classes (kindergarten!!!), where we were allowed to roam the school premises without adult supervision, small wonder that for the longest time, the one place we kept going back to was the nursery! On the shared pretense that we just wanted to check things out - but actually, because it was such a cheerful, happy, cozy place (if a hall so cavernous can be called cozy!), so full of wonder.
Strangely, my last day in school, too, was in the nursery - we wrote our final board examinations - our passports to the world - in those same sunshine rooms, with the afternoon sun slanting across the floor, and the piano gleaming black, the dolls house (whose doors we could no longer fit through) beckoning from the back of the room, as we laboured over differential equations and aldehyde formation, shakespeare and keynes. And all the while, our brains tripped to a different tune, recalling shadowy corners,hazy faces and incidents, and remembering, remembering. Singing, "Lord dismiss us with thy blessing, thanks for mercies past received..."
But in the beginning, before all that, there was only the big room, and the big windows, wooden tables and chairs, story time and the magic e. And the magic that went with us along our journey through school, and that has kept us together still.