One of the things that I will thank my Engineering College for, is a circle of friends. Most of my friends have gone abroad to work, or to study, or have followed their spouses, and I stay in touch with them via social networks and emails. But, some of us, a ‘leftover’ group of around 5 to 6, are still here in India. In the world of IT era kids, we are a strange ‘leftover’ to many people in the society.
Once in a while, the gang meets for a house-party, where everyone gets drunk all night, discussing life, ex-girl friends, future, and so on. We have our annual pilgrimage to Goa, but this year we haven’t had one, and I wonder if we will have one soon before Santhu leaves for the States (God bless America!).
Santhu a.k.a Santhosh (a.k.a kitta a.k.a ‘mafia don’), my good friend has been a leftover like me. We have been friends for a decade now. We go back a long way to college, internship, first tech job at IBM, and still remain in regular contact. Around the time I quit my IT job, I took-off on my first photography trip to coastal Karnataka. Santhu had accompanied me on this trip. It was a special trip for both of us as we were going back to our roots, our hometown.
One evening last year, when I was cleaning my wardrobe to make space for my new lens, I stumbled upon my mom’s old autograph book dating back to the year 1970. The 40 years old book, was filled with autographs of her classmates from the College. It was a simple notepad unlike the modern-day slam books which have predefined sections to be filled. Memories have faded, but unbelievably the ink and pencil work in the book was still dark and legible, as if it were written yesterday.
It wasn’t the first time I came across her autograph book. In the past 29 years, I have found it time and again. And each time I used to be fascinated reading the quotes written in it. Some funny ones like “First comes knowledge, next comes college, third comes marriage and finally comes baby in a carriage” always made me laugh. I always asked mom one question “Mom, you in touch with them? Have you met anyone after college?”
Her answer was always a ‘No’, and that left a burning desire in me. I dreamt that someday I’ll find one of mom’s old friends and make them meet my mom.
She always mentioned that her best friend in College was a girl named Rose Christabel. She never saw Rose after college. They never had Facebook or phones to be in regular touch and follow each others lives. She and Rose lost touch, and last she heard was that Rose moved to Vellore in Tamil Nadu.
That was 40 years ago. The day mom first told me about Rose, I always had this thought – at least once, I should find Rose Christabel and make her meet my mother.
Coming back to the day I brought my lens, as usual I was lost in the autograph book, and kept reading the quotes and names in it. I asked Mom the same rhetoric question, “Have you met them again?”
Then suddenly I read a page and I froze. My heart skipped a beat too. I had gone through that book time and again, but I had never gave a though to that page before.
It read “Best Wishes. Bhaskar Adiga K. Kuppar house, Shankarnarayana, Udupi (S.K)”
My friend Santhu’s full name is Santhosh Kuppar Bhaskar Adiga, with Bhaskar Adiga being his father’s name. The house that I stayed at during the journey to our hometown was called the Kuppar house, and it was in a town named Shankarnarayana, in the present-day Udupi district of Karnataka.
What are the chances that there could be two people with same name and the same address?
I screamed, “Mom, do you know him?”
She had no clear recollection. But, then she went inside and came out holding something in her hands.
A week before that evening, mom had gone back to hometown to take part in grandpa’s death anniversary ceremonies. While cleaning up the almost uninhabited house (few years back it was full) one of my uncles picked up few stuffs from the items meant for throwing away. One of it was an old black and white photograph. He gave it to mom. It was her only group photo from college. Taken during her graduation, it was the ceremonial class photograph.
It was this photograph that mom was holding now.
Humidity and lack of maintenance over the years, had damaged the photograph.Very few faces could be recognised in it. My mom’s face was barely recognisable, but Rose Christabel’s face was crystal clear!
I asked Mom, “Do you know who is Bhaskar Adiga in the photograph?”
Forty years later, I was asking her to be part of an identification parade of faces that were hardly recognisable. She took time sometime.
Then, from left to right, all the names of the girls in her class, she said it in seconds!
But the boys, she wasn’t sure.
She said “Maybe the 5th person from the left, on the top row, with a tie, could be the guy named Bhaskar.”
She didn’t know him that well. His face was hardly recognisable. I had met Santhu’s dad many times, but could not picture his face with this one.
I immediately called up Santhu and asked him if his dad was a graduate from Poornaprajna college (PPC), Udupi? Was he from the year 1970 batch of BSc, Zoology?
He was on his way to Mangalore with his mother. He was amazed when I told him what had happened. He wasn’t sure about his father’s college details at that moment.
But he cross-checked and called back later.
The credentials matched him – Santhu’s dad.
Santhu asked me to email the stuff – the photocopy of the autograph book, his dad’s autograph in it, and a copy of the damaged photograph.
I did, and he replied. He could not believe it.
There where only two Adiga families in Shankarnarayana, and only one Bhaskar from the Kuppar house. It had to be him.
Santhu said on the phone that he saw the photograph. He said it was unclear, but the 5th person from left, on the top row, wearing a tie… he said resembled his dad.
Matched! Both, my Mom’s guess and Santhu’s guess.
I do not know how he reacted there, but I was in tears here.
He said the same thing that I was muttering to myself – “How I wish I had stumbled upon that page at least a year or 2 earlier.”
Santhu’s dad was no more. He had passed away a year before.
I was numb. I always had it with me, but it was too late.
We graduated with Facebook while our parents graduated with an autograph book. Things have changed so much. For my parents every meeting with an old friend then, was a special occasion, a rarity.
My mom and Rose didn’t have the luxury that I enjoy now. I can narrate something so important to me, with you through my blog while I sit at home.
I was late here. All along, I just had it within my reach to fulfill that burning desire of finding somebody from mom’s college days and give her a small reunion.
I slept that night with visions. Visions of Santhu and I getting our families together and partying. We the second generation of classmates ( second generation! and we didn’t know even though we were best of friends) partying in the company of our families. Getting high, getting drunk, and talking about life. My mom and his dad recognising each other at the party, and talking about old times, about old friends, and about Rose Christabel. Probably, Santhu’s dad knowing where Rose is now.
But, I know this will never happen now. That’s it. It left me shattered.
On the brighter side, Santhu was glad to see his dad’s calligraphy skills in my mum’s autograph book. He said he’ll try hunting for his dad’s college photograph at his grandpa’s place, if at all it is still present there. It could be our last chance to have a proper photograph of our parents from their college. Chances are bleak, but we are glad to have uncovered a shared history. A shared history that brought us even closer.
Here’s to you, Santhu. Cheers!
Get all the boys home. We will party one last time before you leave for foreign shores. A bottle of Jack Daniels still lies unopened for all of us – the leftovers.
And for others who are now in a timezone that still reads Sunday, 19th June 2011, I wish you a happy father’s day.