Sunday, October 01, 2006

Gang Of Five

The name Alakananda crosses Sheila's mind atleast a few times a year since they lost touch with each other in 1997. Aly for short - petite, pretty, stand-up comic and stubborn - they went to college together and were meant to be friends for life. One evening, sitting at the Starbucks near her house between trying to finish up a tedious presentation for work and chatting with a prospective date, Sheila typed in "Alakananda Sen" instead of "current Libor rates" as she needed to into Google search.

The first thing that showed up was a posting on a Indian matrimonial site. The profile was brief, succinct and very Aly for someone who knew her as well as Sheila did. The picture was startling because it was the one taken in 1995 outside Sheila's house the day Aly, Aparna, Revathi and Simran had come over to spend a day at Sheila's for the last time before graduation. Posting a picture that old was not quite as Aly - maybe people change, maybe their motivations change as well.

The picture brought back more memories than she thought she had left of the time. She found herself smiling thinking about Revathi's boob jokes - that was her specialty. She was the potty mouth of the group and while the rest did not go quite as far as she did, their encouragement was never lacking.

Then there was Aparna, the femme fatale of whom Shiela's then boyfriend had said "The only way a guy can save himself from her is to keep out of her way" and Shiela had asked "Wasn't she interested in you once ?" and Prashant said "I was not challenging enough for her. She likes bad boys and conquests." Later, Aparna would say to Sheila “Prashant is a good guy - not your type, but he is good for now” Maybe she was gifted with prescience.

Men wrote love letters to her signed in their own blood, engagements were broken over her, each time she went to an inter-college fest new lovers followed her back home. Yet, she was no bombshell. There was something about her that men inevitably resonated to - it did not hurt that she was a phenomenally talented singer with oodles of stage presence. It would be no surprise to anyone if she became a playback singer of repute in Bollywood and settled into a glitzy and unconventional lifestyle. She was not the marrying kind if the boys were to be believed – too predatory and thrill seeking to be satisfied by one man.

There was a picture of the group under the same tree taken no more than a few minutes after Aly's was. Sheila was supposed to be "good with the camera" and most likely to succeed professionally. Aly was going to get married in the next few months – her parents were feverishly match-making and she could not wait to escape from father’s suffocating authority. Simran was going to "find herself" and her real calling after college and would probably be in the fashion business - she was a clotheshorse with all the right connections in Delhi.

Revathi would be missed for her reading aloud of “key passages” from Sidney Sheldon and worse. She had most recently answered the door to her older sister’s fiancĂ© in a sheer negligee nearly causing the wedding to be canned. In her defense she claimed that she a black bra on under the see through maroon, so technically she was not “exhibiting the goods”. The standing joke was Revathi would work long enough and hard enough to get her “goods” enhanced a la Pamela Anderson. No one knew what she would do after that.

Alakanada said in her profile that she worked for a public sector company , lived with her parents and was looking for a man who did not take himself too seriously. Had time stopped still for her in some sense ? Had the stagnation made her oblivious of its passage ? Sheila wondered where the three other girls were and turned to the web for answers. The presentation would have to wait till tomorrow.

It turned out to be an evening full of surprises. Aparna had been recently been appointed director of business applications in a Bay Area start-up. The inducement grant in the form of non-qualified stock options she had been offered for coming on board had caused quite a ripple in the industry press. Instead of running an upscale boutique or even being the garment export business, Simran was an analyst in a Chicago based financial company. Her personal web-site had some picture of a new-born – her daughter. Revathi was not even google-worthy – which felt like a dead end in the quest for her whereabouts. Revathi could as well have fallen off the face of the earth.

Driving back home, Sheila pondered about where people had ended up ten years after that afternoon at her house. How, predictions about career, success, life goals and happiness mean so little. Despite herself, she wondered how she stacked up against the gang as a woman and as a professional. There were no messages on the home phone, the weekend was two days away and promised to be long and lonely. The quest for the literary agent who would propel her "to the stratospheric heights of literary celebrity” had yielded naught for a year of trying. To feel like a failure by comparison felt so disgustingly petty.



SFGary said...

If this is real which one are you? come on I'll keep it a secret...if its fiction you should definitely think of publishing. BTW I did mention that I want to meet Shiela, right?

Heartcrossings said...

SFG - Based on real life as most of my shorts are :) I'll let you guess which one is me. Yes, you've said before you want to meet Shiela.