I have a man in my life – a man about whom I rarely speak of but he is never away from my thoughts. A man who isn’t part of my social world, but my existence is incomplete without him. A man I have known for thirty eight years of my life, but even today I can’t explain to anyone what he really means to me. That man is Aabha!
I have vivid memories of the day I first met Aabha. It was the summer of 1972. I was twelve years old. He was twenty two.
As a kid, most of my school vacations were spent at my aunt’s place. Aabha lived at the end of the street which was nine houses away from my aunt’s. I had never interacted with him before, but one evening when I was playing with my friends, Aabha who was passing by stopped and asked my aunt, “Whose girl is that?”
“That’s my niece, Tashi” My aunt replied.
Aabha and my aunt spoke cordially for a few minutes and then he walked over to me and asked “Do you like pigeons?”
I nodded “Yes” to this stranger.
“Then one of the days you should come and visit my pet pigeons,” he said with the kindest of smile I had ever encountered.
Again, I said a tentative “Yes” and went back to my game of hopscotch.
The next evening, however, I found myself standing in front of Aabha’s house. He was sitting on his veranda surrounded by pigeons, feeding them wheat grains and cracked corn.
I cannot point out when Aabha and I became friends, but soon we were insufferable and inseparable. I loved our evenings together, which we spent on his veranda, talking endlessly for hours with those white and gray birds around us. Aabha treated me like an adult. He would tell me fascinating stories about his past, his friends, his travels and experiences. And when I blabbered about my uneventful day, he would listen intently, giving advice, correcting me, scolding me, laughing at me and with me.
He would encourage me to let the pigeons sit perched on my shoulders or on the back of my hands. I would squeal in delight while mastering the skill to tame the birds. We made an odd picture, but were a perfect combination. Ours was a friendship which was built to last a lifetime.
Aabha lost his parents at a very young age. The only family he had was his elder brother and his sister-in-law. I have heard stories about how a notorious, younger Aabha would easily lose his temper; get into fights which would lead to quite a few blue faces and bloody noses. I couldn’t believe it for the Aabha I knew was kind and soft-spoken.
Humans tend to complicate life unnecessarily. I learnt this lesson very early in life when one afternoon a boy from the locality teased me. “You are Aabha’s girlfriend, aren’t you?”
It was like someone had thrown a bucket of ice cold water on me. I was shocked. “No, I am not,” I said defiantly.
“Of course you are. Everyone says so,” He persisted.
“Everyone is wrong and so are you” I stood my stand and then ran away home.
That evening I didn’t go to Aabha’s house. I was too upset or rather embarrassed to face him. But knowing Aabha, it wasn’t too long before I heard his voice at our door. He was speaking to my Aunt -first talking quietly and seriously and then relaxed and casual. Aabha then called for me. “Tashi, come out.”
It was weird and awkward all put together, but I couldn’t avoid Aabha. After all, he was my friend. And so I went out and was greeted by his kind smile. “Let’s go and feed the pigeons?” he asked. “Yes,” I said fighting hard to hold back my tears.
“You should never let what others think effect you, especially when you haven’t done anything wrong.” Aabha said. None of us spoke of the incident, but both knew what he meant.
The walk from my aunt’s place to Aabha’s felt as if I was parading naked. I imagined every eye staring at me, but I put up a brave front and walked proudly.
The next day, the other kids in the locality told me how Aabha lost his temper with the boy and roughed him up for talking rubbish about us. So much for his brilliant piece of advice to me!
Years went by and the older I got, the more disapproval was shown towards our relationship. My parents at one point decided I should no longer visit my aunt’s place. Aabha’s friends and brother thought it was silly for him to find friendship in a girl ten years younger to him. Neither of us bothered to explain anything to anyone – not when people were ready to think the worst.
Time went by. I graduated and was seeing a guy. Aabha got married, had kids. The dynamics of our lives changed, but nothing affected our relationship. Even after I got married, Aabha was still the only person who knew my every heartache, felt my every scar, rejoiced in my smallest of achievements and never judged me, whatsoever.
Our partners, just like my parents and Abha’s friends, never really understood us. We didn’t expect them to. The only one with whom I talked about Aabha was my daughter. One day she asked me, “Ma, what is your friend’s real name?” and I just smiled at her. I didn’t know because I never asked. Since the day I met him, he has always been “Aabha” to me. I never heard anyone call him anything else and now, I can’t imagine him with any other name.
I will be turning fifty soon. Aabha is already sixty. He lost his wife a few years back. His daughter is married and his son runs his own business. They want him to sell the house and move in with them, but Aabha wouldn’t agree. He told me once, “Tashi, I will always be right here whenever you visit.”
Today I am meeting Aabha after almost eight months. I however, speak to him often. “You are getting old. I don’t want you to forget me.” I would tease, but he knows that I call to check up on him.
My aunt passed away, but her kids continue to live in the same house. While I walked down the familiar street, I waved at the neighbors, spoke quickly to an old acquaintance and nodded to that expected question… “Going to meet Aabha?”
As I reached the house of my childhood memories, a smile stretched my face. There was My Aabha, sitting in his recliner chair, newspaper on his lap and talking to his pigeons. When he looked up, his face beamed – my smile reflected in his eyes.
“Want to feed the pigeons Tashi?” he asked, making me feel like a twelve year old again.
I sat next to my friend, my palms full of buckwheat. Splattering the grains around, listening to the cooing of our bird companions, we sipped tea in complete harmony. The sun would set in a few minutes. When the night comes we would return back to our lives and our responsibilities, but for now we are just Tashi and Aabha – two childhood friends, however unorthodox one might think it is.