Ningombam Bupenda Meitei On Friendship Day: Today (3rd August) in 2002, I was a new student admitted to class XI science a few days old in KendriyaVidyalayaLamphelpat, Imphal, also the school known for both attracting and producing the academic toppers of the state of Manipur and the North East Region in CBSE. We had the then principal of the school Madam RadharaniLaishram who was like a lady Hitler, not only to the students but also to the teachers. She was a trained biologist and caring mother who motivated her children to become army officer and doctor. Recently, I heard that she has settled with her daughter in Australia.
The incident which later became vividly memorable in my life and I also keep quoting, is about today. That day, the 3rd of August, 2002 was a Friendship Day like today. I didn't know it. I had never ever heard about 'Friendship Day' in my previous school Sainik School Imphal which I just had left after studying a few months of class XI. In my first day of the school in KV, I didn't know anyone except my one year senior Radhakrishnan of the then class XII Sc whom I knew in my earlier school Don BoscoImphal where I did my primary schooling. I recognised him easily in front of the school gate because we used to play table tennis but not on the table, but only on the floor as the table was meant for seniors in the Old building of Don BoscoImphal. Perhaps, it was in the recess of my first day, madam Principal came in our class and told me 'don't get carried away by seeing some butterflies'. I also actually came with also a dream to get carried away by any beautiful butterfly. Later after some years, I composed a poem 'Butterflies have gone away' during my stay nearby Marina beach in Chennai, though the short poem seems to have been lost in my usual shifting of residency.
Madam Radharani was a lady of her words, she kept her words and she was also a mother inside though wearing a general's attire. She came inside our classroom whose class teacher was Sir AK Tripathi who also remained as our class teacher in class XII Sc. Sir Tripathi from Kanpur ( if I am not mistaken, as he told me to come in his hometown to study in IIT Kanpur) was a very lenient and gentle hearted Mathematics teacher at PGT level. He was never strict except calling girl students by his usual words 'yehlarki' (you girl) which would make the class burst into a slight laughter of including both boys and girls, but not into a big laughter as that would tantamount to disgrace our teacher. It was in the recess of today in 2002 in our class XI Sc (science) classroom, our girl students were ready with cold drinks ( coca cola ) and samosas bought and brought from the school cubical canteen where I and my friends used to not eat but swallow up maggi. The cold drinks and samosas were nicely placed on paper plates, but all were kept not on the students' desk but on the teacher's table. I was new, hardly a few days old baby in the school. I kept observing, though without munching a word, I too enjoyed the show, not because of 'Friendship Day' but because of the food and also because of the way it was prepared and presented by our beautiful girls of the class. To me, all of them were beautiful. Some of them started telling the class about the reason why so many cold drinks and samosas being kept on the teacher's table, and in the mid, the principal came and to her utter expressive disapproval not only disliked the celebration of 'Friendship Day', but, she also raised her right hand with her right thumb pointing towards the rotating fan nearby the windows of the classroom, and asked wittingly 'what do you mean by friend?'. Yet, the moment she arrived, she asked what was happening to which our beautiful friends replied positively in their wish to celebrate the day with their friends not necessarily with of different gender but also with of same gender, but in totality, all were assumed to be happy on that very small moment in recess. Usually, her arrival in the classroom was never considered a good omen, but to new students like me and my gentleman friends like Johnson from Don BoscoImphal, Dharma Pandit from Maria Montessori in particular, who did not know her much before coming to KV, would burst into laughter whenever madam principal used to scold students including us. Once she scolded a student as he repeatedly showed poor performance in school examination, yet, he went up to a great height later in life after passing his class XII Sc with us. And, madam Radharani scolded not him per se and not even his previous school, but precisely the location of his previous school, though, she might not have meant what I mean here today by the meaning of the contents of my writing now. She said, "You have to work hard, this is Imphal, this is not Leimakhong." To me who had studied in Sainik School Imphal, Leimakhong was supreme because it housed the office of GoC (General Officer in Commanding ) commanded by Major General of Indian Army. GoCLeimakhong chairs the LBA (Local Board of Administration) meetings of Sainik School Imphal.
At the end of the recess, madam Principal came, and she threw a question like throwing a dice to be chosen for life to us, and the question was 'What do you mean by friend, what do you mean by friendship?' by her usual way of raising her right hand up into the sky. I thought at that point of time that her question was not so relevant as the question became not only a thundering bursting cloud but also a lightning that cracked the cold drinks bottle and samosas into pieces, besides impacting a change of beautiful equilibrium of the romantic and friendly aura of moment in the classroom to a state of dismay and forced self introspection asking myself 'what is a friend ?', but that self introspection could not go so deep on that very day. Yet, after she left, we all had our share of the cold drinks and samosas but not so enthusiastically except enjoying the taste of the food bereft of the beauty dreamed and projected by our fellow friends of the class.
Much later almost nearing to a decade, I recalled that incident of her question 'what you mean by friend?', because she was not only asking a question, but also replying the answer to her self posited question. To her, she replied saying that her friends were the then staff colleagues, the office staff of hers in the school and not those with whom she grew up in her life. The point here is about the friendship one develops with his or her co-service friends irrespective of any occupation the one does. To be true to her reply, I find my great and loving friends with whom I shared the bond of brotherhood much deeper than my own blood relatives, going away and happily bonded with their new but serious friends in their own service or profession. I discover that my friends who have joined bureaucracy find their complacency with pride with their new circles of friends in bureaucracy, the same goes for my friends who have joined in corporate world, or medicine, or academic. I too even don't have phone numbers and emails of my school friends except a few countable of them on my fingers. My locality friends are almost like dead humans to me, as I even don't know where are they existing, but since, I have not heard about their death, so shall I be made to think of their very existence but such existence is not a testimony of my living friendship with my friends with whom we enjoyed rearing cattle, fishing in ponds, and playing with mud in our village. Those days, those moments are gone with those moving winds, today is today, and so, tomorrow will be tomorrow. In the process, we humans including me tend to forget our beautiful friends of once upon a time, because that 'once upon a time' has remained 'once upon a time' of the past only.
The question is, can that past be ever regenerated in this world of possible and successful cloning. The complexity of friendship comes when the same classmate goes on to become great in power, position, fame, wealth, etc. while the other classmate lives as human being existing because of breathing and performing the same physiological exercises with biological normalcy that any living homo sapiens does. The complexity also rises when one gets married while the other classmate remains as bachelor or bachelorette. The complexity perhaps, may even be more when some friends have children while some of their classmates have not because they have decided to or fate has fallen on them to be more special in this lifetime.
Whether the meaning of 'friend' is ever discussed like an initiation ignited by our madam Radharani, or not, the significance of 'Friendship Day' would remain as per the convenience of the one who would love to enjoy and exploit the day into his or her golden day. I too remembered it much later after I passed out from KV Lamphel, I remembered it not because I had forgotten madam Radharani's question, but I remembered it because I had to grab the day to conveniently celebrate the Friendship Day for someone who graced her hairs with chepakkam and who knew how to dance Theravada, but my convenience became a success to only compose my beautiful poem 'Make me blind' and truly, I remained blinded by the poem, hence, I could never ever see the one whom I wanted to be a friend forever.
Life is indeed, a function of time. Success is not counted by how long one stays at the top but by how many times one rises when falls down. Friends and enemies, described in Sun Tzu's Art of War, or friends in Pythagorean school of thought, friends in the world of diplomacy, friends in politics, friends in conspiracy, friends in criminality, could be considered as good, or may not be considered as friends at all, depending upon the individual. Friend or not, one's shadow has remained a faithful friend of oneself and one's loneliness could be an inspiring friend to unlock the mystery of 'the search of friend' in this Universe.
William Gurumayum, Sub-Editor of Imphal Times is a resident of Sagolband Salam Leikai. He has been with Imphal Times since beginning. A avid adventure lover, writes mostly travelogue.