She was polite and I was arrogant. She had a doctorate and I did not have one. I never considered having no doctorate detrimental to my career. But when people with a doctoral degree try to bully you with that magical prefix before their names, you get disturbed. Though she had a doctorate she never showed it off. Whenever she tried I brought her back to her senses. I was editing a magazine and she was a contributing art critic.
Our friendship grew over emails. As it often happens an editor puts more weight around than his writers. Thanks to my aggressive art journalistic style, she grew sceptical over her own writings, despite her PhD., and was always full of questions. I critiqued her observations and she did relent and rewrote some of her pieces. Soon she grew an ardent fan of my writings and wanted to see whatever I wrote. Occasionally I sent her my pieces and otherwise I sent her the links of my blog, which I had started writing by then.
Those were the pre-facebook days. Gmail was the in thing and the chat lines were what made life both heaven and hell at once. You felt like having some green lights always on. And if you did not see them you felt low. When the green light against a name glowed, your face too beamed with happiness. Chats could add fuel to your self confidence and desirability. You made parallel bowers in the Gmail chat rooms where you played multiple roles.
I did not delete her chats. That I realized much later. And in the meanwhile I had been deleting many chats that could have created discordance in domestic peace. However alert you were, when you did a crime you left forensic evidences. Undeleted Gmail chats were the forensic evidences of your extra-conjugal crimes. And I had fallen victim to such findings by a diligent partner a couple of times. Each time I thought I would grow wiser. But I don’t know, like many in this world, I ever would grow wise.
The chats between us were innocent, though at times they went into a zone of flirtations. It was always good to follow settled people and coax them to commit to your dreams. I followed her like a jester courting a witch both always talking in riddles. I knew that it was a pointless effort. And pointless efforts always make the target more desirable than any. One day you realize how foolish you were all these while. But then foolishness of yester years are like cherishing wounds and licking them gives you some kind of happiness. If anyone smiles to himself, be sure he is licking an imaginary wound.
I met her first time in a metro city. She came to meet me in the hotel. We met at the lobby and talked for a while. Those people who chat in the virtual spaces might find it difficult to pursue it with the same verve in the real life time situations. So we were looking at each other and at the girls and guys at the reception desk. Coming out to meet me a person who had been her chat friend, for her was like a crime committed against all virtues. Then I realized that chat lines are the places where sin adores the garb of sophistication and flirting. I noticed her toe nails. They were all painted red.
When I stopped editing that magazine, our conversations became infrequent. There was no reason for us to talk. Still she told me her plans. She informed me when she attended seminars and also sent me messages when she travelled abroad. Then one day she disappeared. By that time I had survived two earthquakes that too came in the form of chats and had registered ‘nine’ in my family’s Richter Scale.
Today, when I opened my inbox and found a mail that raised my curiosity. It was not from a familiar person. But the content of the mail had a familiar name. It was her name. I had forgotten her completely. And the prefix of her name was different this time. It was an invitation that commemorated her services and an award instituted in her name. I googled her. I could find a lot about her but not about her status now. Then in one of the links I found something that I never wanted to find out about her.
She had gone to the abode of god a year ago. None told me. It was not mentioned anywhere in the art scene. Or had I missed it? Did I grow so busy during the last one year that I missed the news of the death of a friend? She had died of cancer. I sat before my computer as if I was hit by a thunderbolt. I spoke to a friend and he told me that she had undergone surgeries. And I calculated the time. It was just before that surgery she had met me in the hotel lobby. She never told me that she was going through a problem like that.
I remember her averted eyes and the unsure smile. I remember her discomfiture in sitting at a hotel lobby in her own city where she was quite known. I remember her toe nails painted in red. I can ask her only this much: Why didn’t you tell me?