You know, Mi, rose petals, especially that vibrant shade of red – that’s red, right? – remind me of Raj. Remember how he charmed you the first time you met him? He used to call you the Silver Streak and Grandma, Von Ryan’s Express – because of your short quick stride and the speed at which you walked.
We met on the 15D bus route in 1981. I even remember the first time I saw him – his eyes literally laughed. Golden brown eyes with that perpetual “i am enjoying a joke in my head” kind of expression, and his mouth was always quick to follow with a smile.
Raj and a couple of his friends would get off at Aminjikarai to meet their friends. I got off there, too, to switch to the 27E route. From the second day we met, he brought me a red rose. No words. As soon as he got into the bus, he would give me the red rose with a flourish. Sometimes it would shed petals and he would collect them carefully and give them to me. I was amused.
I didn’t have to wonder for long, though. At the end of the first week, after we both got off the bus, instead of walking away, he waited at the bus stop and got into the 27E with me. Miraculously after a couple of stops a seat became empty and smiling at each other, we sat down. We introduced each other – about time! And discovered we were both in B.Sc. first year – and a friendship was born instantly. I asked him why he gave me a rose every day. And I’ll never forget his response. “Why should you associate it with romance? I give you a rose because I like you and feel connected”.
The funny thing was – even after we started talking, he never once missed giving me that rose.
And then, one day, Mi, you asked if I was interested in him. And I laughed. Then you asked him. And he laughed. He said, “Amma, Vidya is my sister from another Amma”. We looked at each other and then at him, as he grinned at us both.
What a beautiful friendship. So he got his Biology record book diagrams done by me – but made sure I got to college on time if I missed the 27E, which was so scarce those days. His Mom loved me and so did his younger sister.
Time raced – and we had just finished our third year exams and were looking forward to vacation time. As the month of May progressed, we planned his birthday celebrations for June 5. He insisted to getting a yellow silk shirt and black pants. We got him both. He insisted on wearing them before his birthday for a photograph. And did.
Sometime in the third week of May, while out to refill his scooter at the petrol pump, he was returning home when he was knocked by a bus.
He was rushed to hospital with a broken thigh bone.
Was due to go home from the hospital on the afternoon of June 4.
On June 4, in the morning, we had a party of sorts in the ward where his bed was.
At 3 pm, we dispersed, while he eagerly waited for 3.30 pm.
I went for a movie with my classmates. A rerun of Grease 2
Returned home at 7 pm.
Called Raj’s house, nobody answered.
The next day, woke up at 5 am, full of anticipation. Raj’s birthday!
I told you I was going to be at his place all day and you smiled indulgently. You told me not to forget the garland of red roses we had ordered. We laughed.
At 6 pm, I was drawing the “kolam” outside our doorstep.
I heard the creak of the front gate.
It was Suresh, one of our mutual friends.
Why was he here, I wondered.
He stopped at the gate when I looked at him.
I invited him in. Was about to joke.
His expression stopped me.
His eyes were red.
I knew something was wrong.
Then he told me that Raj was dead.
I involuntarily reached out to touch the rose garland that hung just inside our front door.
A few petals joined more on the floor.
Then the tears flowed.
(Soon after we left the hospital the previous day, Raj developed chest pain and felt suffocated. He was rushed to ICU. Several hours later, he had to be moved to the General hospital where, after a turbulent night, he passed away around 2 AM. On June 5th. His birthday)