Time and time again I find myself writing about my growing up years, of moving around the country from one Air Force Base to another. Maybe it’s my security blanket or maybe I like re-visiting that time of my life because it all felt like a dream.
When I was 9 years old, I moved to Wellington, Ooty to a school called Holy Innocents and in that school I made my first enemy. Her name was Reem Khokhar and we couldn’t see eye to eye. For the life of me I can’t remember the reason for our mutual hate, but it was as intense as it can get with 9 year olds. I met Reem again when I was 11 at an Air Force base much further North and East of Ooty and there, we became best friends (relationships are fickle when you’re a pre-teen). Reem and I remained friends for many years. This was before the Internet took over our lives, so we had to resort to good old letters, gossiping, sharing our lives across borders and planning our great big separate futures. I was 13 when she left for Islamabad and by the time she got back to India and got out of boarding school and slid into the same city as me, I had decided to move to Bombay. Star struck BFF’s who never could be.
We did meet a few times and never once did I feel like there was something missing. I had grown accustomed to not seeing her often but at the same time I had a tab on her life. She was my first real friend and that was how it was going to be. At any point of my life I had some idea about what she was up to. I missed her wedding, but met her a year later in a hotel room, and we got each other up to speed with two hours of incessant chatter. She has an incredible self-deprecating humor that I have adored from when I was a little girl.
A few months ago I wrote an article about the Indian Air Force for Motherland Magazine and it was published this December. Reem read it and I got the warmest little note from her. Reem lost her father, Parvez Hamilton Khokhar, a month ago and had spent quite some time going through all the photographs of her dad to make a tribute to him. After going through all the photographs and her blog on her dad, I was hurled back to 1991 when she and I cemented our friendship and spent all our time together either in my house or hers. I remember her dad and I remember her with her dad. The thing is, I never saw PHK after 1993, so all my memories of him are from 21 years ago. He is still in his flying overalls with a smile for his little girl and her friend, and to me, he was obviously not the bossman and Commanding Officer of MOFTU, he was just Reem’s dad.
It broke my heart all over again because I think I had a clear idea of what Reem was going through. I knew there was very little I could do to abate her grief, so all I did was let her know that I was thinking of her constantly. And I heard back from her every single time.
I realized that there are certain unsaid pacts and relationships forged out of titanium that may be beyond the reach of 13 year olds but easily undertaken by them. I felt an invisible thread tied to Reem and me over the past few weeks. I had felt it last when she went to live in Islamabad, leaving me friendless (out of choice. I didn’t want another friend if it wasn’t going to be Reem) and I found it again. What’s wonderful is that she did too. In her words “When these sort of things happen in your life, the people you turn to or talk to are just a handful…the ones you know who understand”. There is an incredible sense of safety in knowing that ‘your’ people are more than the immediate few who you surround yourself with, and that friendship transcends time and definitely leaps over proximity.
Reem writes at: www.reemspeak.com