This post featured amongst winners of Blogadda’s WOW contest on friendship day.
Strange are the ways of time. It blurs the canvas of precious memories with the passage of each day. What remains are few glimpses of what may have happened, small fractions of moments, complex web of emotions and haze.
I was looking through a big pile of old pictures for a 25-year-old photo-note to surprise my school bestie on friendship day. As I stood up, some pictures (literally) fell into my lap from a big brown envelope.
There was a caption scrawled with bold red marker pen at the centre : PEN PALS. A PS at the bottom read : Only for the eyes of Gayatri or Sonia 🙂
Memories gushed in. The floodgates of emotions opened.
Nostalgia is like butterscotch ice-cream. The caramelised sugar chunks, the moments, tantalise the tongue long after the ice-cream is over. I ran my tongue over the lips. The smile tasted of sweet caramel.
The first picture had this note scribbled at the back.
“For U! Taken at my dormitory at school last year. With lots of love. A Friend. Pelchhen. 05.11.92”
The year was 1992. I was in high school. A year away from college, a half-opened window to a wider horizon of the sky. Having lived in Delhi all my life, my heart longed to experience life in other places of the world.
The mind would ask –
Did teenagers in other countries or cities have similar struggles?
How was the weather there?
What food do they eat? How did they dress up? Which festivals did they celebrate?
Were their friendships same as of me and my besties at school?
(We used to sign off each card or note with BFF!)
This was the pre-internet era. The first internet connection for public consumption in India wouldn’t be accessible until the year 1995. My first usa.net email ID wouldn’t be created for another 4 years. The window to the world until then was the daily newspaper “The Hindustan Times”. My father & I quibbled over who would read it first. There was also “The World This Week” by Pronoy Roy on Doordarshan that I never failed to miss.
I looked at the other picture. This too has a note on the back, addressed to my nickname :
“For Sonia, This is your Bhutanese friend in Bhutan’s national dress. For long remembrance. A Friend. Pelchhen. 05.11.92”
I recall giving my nick name along with my father’s name and home address for correspondence in the first letter. It was only much later that I disclosed my formal name to him.
These words were like a row of pearls delicately strung together. I ran my fingers deftly over each letter. The words came alive with the gentle touch. It was his handwriting that made me write back.
In those times, besides newspaper and limited TV, another way of reaching out to the world was through books and illustrated children’s magazines. A regular subscriber to Tinkle, Target and Misha magazine ( besides a hoard of others), I sent a few post card responses to requests listed in Target’s Pen Pal section. There were butterflies in my stomach with anticipation afterwards. To be friends with someone far away and yet, share a part of life remotely. The prospect of a mysterious friend truly excited my teen heart.
“Target” was a popular children’s magazine that was published monthly from 1970’s until the year 1995. It morphed into Teen Today later, a magazine I never needed to subscribe to. So, I sent a few inland letter responses to Pen Pal requests listed in Target’s Pen Pal section. There were butterflies in my stomach with anticipation afterwards. To be friends with someone far away and yet, share a part of life remotely. The prospect of a mystical friend truly excited my teen heart.
The prospect of having a secret friend truly excited my teen heart.
In came the first letter. Pelchhen D. From Bhutan. I was intrigued. The handwriting was a sure shot winner indeed.
Pelchhen introduced himself as a high school student from Paro, Bhutan. He opened up a new world to my curious mind. I learnt about a quaint little kingdom settled in the lap of Himalayas. The kind Monarchs who cared for their country and its people.The state supported education system and hostel facilities for deserving students, one that my friend Pelchhen was part of. We exchanged notes on friendship, parents, siblings, our respective cultures, Hindu Philosophy, Buddhist philosophy, the dragon king, traditional houses and some days, we discussed the fear of growing up.
Much before Ritesh Batra enlightened the world with high Gross National Happiness of the last Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan in “The Lunchbox”, I was enthralled with little snippets of their citizen’s Buddhist life by my friend.
One letter accompanied a photo of his friend Deki W. (I have that photo too, but not sharing :)) I wrote to him, "Is Deki your girlfriend?" He sent back a smiley :-) . We never broached that topic again.
This was the pre-internet era. Snail mail travelled at its own pace. It wasn’t until a month before a stamped inland letter was delivered in Bhutan and responded to. But we continued to correspond. Out of all initial Pen Pal requests, I continued correspondence with two more people. ( Zhumka Cadburys from Meghalaya and Kshitij S from Welhams but they deserve a post of their own, another time).
Soon, I moved out of Delhi for higher studies. My parents safely kept my pen pals letters and I would respond each time I went home during holidays. After school, one becomes a flying kite soaring high in skies after 12 years of grounded existence. I was initiated into an exciting new world and girls hostel life. The correspondence with pen pals slowed down.
Pelchhen cleared the National Defence Academy’s entrance exam and joined NDA, India. A good friend from school, RR, turned out to be his course mate. When they met and shared notes about our respective friendships.
We continued with our sporadic correspondence and I learnt of an army cadet’s life through letters from both. After the military training, Pelchhen was to go back and serve in the Monarch’s Army for a pre-determined mandatory period. I proceeded for my rigorous industrial training and got entangled in a chaotic hospitality life.
Our correspondence slowly faded into the oblivion. We lost touch. Our letters were misplaced during transitions in life. I started working immediately after college. With the advent of easy access Internet towards the end of 19th century, there was a metamorphosis of human relationships. Cable TV grabbed some mind space.
With the advent of easy access Internet towards the end of 19th century, there was a metamorphosis of human relationships.Cable TV grabbed some mind space.Times were changing. A new paradox of friendship was emerging.
I haven’t been to Bhutan, yet. Though, it tops my travel bucket list.
Yesterday, I tried looking Pelcchen up on Facebook. Few names popped up. I wasn’t too sure which one of them was the ex- 16-year-old boy I corresponded with 25 years back. One day, I may gain enough courage to send few notes to check.
Over the years, special friends like Pelchhen went out of my sight but crossed my mind many times. What if we were to connect again today? Would it be the same?
Only time can tell. Unforgettable friendships are hard to come by.
Happy Friendship day – to my friend I never met!
‘This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda.’
You can read other winning posts for WOW contest on Friendship day here Here on Blogadda.
Image Source: Misha Magazine: Northern Lights Blog