“Tell me about your best friends. Isn’t today some friendships day ?”, her voice resonated through the heavily crowded compartment. A group of women burst out laughing, their glass bangles clinking against each other. As the train rolled out , the cacophony of the station gently faded away. I forced my way through the commuters standing, clinging on to the rusty railings; vendors plonked on the floor with their baskets. I stood next to a group of women, earphones plugged into my ears. “So tell me about your first friend, didi”, I heard her heavy voice again as she spoke to a commuter. Perched on the floor, she wore a purple saree with a gold border. Her hair was neatly tied up in a bun, with a string of fresh jasmine flowers. Her eyes were lined with kohl, and talcum powder neatly applied on her face. I heard the women around me narrate stories of their childhood friends .
The conversation serenaded me back to my childhood in Bareilly and memories with my first friend Mannu. I remembered our days of walking to school, through the kuchha roads, running around in the mustard fields and Mannu bringing me raw mango candies every time I was in a bad mood. Every fight that our five year old selves would engage in, would be resolved at the sight of the candies wrapped in a silvery- red wrapper that Mannu would bring for me. After every fight, every birthday and every friendships day- raw mango candies would await me. Until, one day his family suddenly left the village and no one knew why. I never heard from my childhood best-friend again.
My thoughts were broken by her loud voice. I keenly listened to her. “I think friends are very important. I have found friends in strangers, but also strangers in friends. I left my family when I was sixteen years old. My family had disowned me. I hopped on to a waiting train at the local station that brought me to Mumbai. Alone, in a city so large; my first friends were a group of stray dogs outside Mumbai Central Station. I let them sleep with me on tarpaulin sheets and eat biscuits. In turn they would protect me from perverts on the road. I struggled to make ends meet, until I found a group of ‘Hijras’ outside the station. On learning that I was of their ilk, they took me along. I found a family in them. I begged on trains and for a few years, I watched my innocence bleed in the bed of strangers only so that I could feed myself to sleep. However, with time I started selling earrings on the train to make ends meet. But through it all, my first friends in the city always had my back with their barks. So each week, I make it a point to save enough to feed them a hearty chicken meal.” “You must remember, no matter how hard a time life may have given you; one must never forget those who held you together through your dark times, be it with their hands or their paws”.
‘Next station, Churchgate’. She immediately got up. “ I hope you are all blessed with beautiful friendships. Here, I have something for every one”. She quickly took out a box of raw-mango candies wrapped in a silvery-red wrapper…
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