Natsukashii. A former colleague had introduced the word to me. When a feeling warmed the heart and awakened memories, the Japanese called it Natsukashii.
When I unlocked the door to my flat that Wednesday night, weary after a long day at work, I was already in my Natsukashii mode as usual. The cool night breeze that caressed my cheek through the open window, as the cab traversed the lanes of Bangalore, had a way of switching that mode on.
After all, it had begun here. The warmth that had blossomed a twenty-two-year old’s heart five years ago. Except during these brief sojourns into the past, my day-to-day existence was like a cold, placid lake, slowly dying from within.
Little did I know that within the next thirty minutes or so, a dormant volcano would spew lava into it, awakening a world of unexpected warmth.
As the project deadline was looming near, I’d remained in the office till nine to complete the chunk of work scheduled for the day. Structural designing demanded full dedication, even for a small-scale project. And my current project was unbelievably complex.
Just as I slumped onto the couch, my mobile started ringing. I ignored it. I was in no mood to talk to anyone. When it rang again, I sighed in defeat and rummaged in my bag to locate it.
"Jasmine, you won't believe what happened today. And, where were you? I called you so many times," shrieked Ashima, the moment I answered the phone.
I rolled my eyes but a smile curved my lips. Ashima, my engineering classmate, had a flair for theatrics. What was it now?
"Slow down. I just returned home after a gruelling day. We have a deadline this Saturday.”
"Eek. Be like me and find a government job. The perks of a government job are endless. Private jobs suck, " said Ashima.
"Now, now… you’ve to go to that magnificent job tomorrow, right? Why are you staying up late?"
Ashima had been like our dorm room alarm while in college. She dozed off exactly at nine and got up at five in the morning, every day, without fail. What had kept her awake today? Or had her so-called relaxing job altered her lifestyle?
"Idiot, check your WhatsApp messages. I don't want to spoil the surprise. Thank me later. Goodnight for now."
No! Not again. Mostly, she called me for additional support when she was on the verge of losing some debate she had initiated in our group. Who was she arguing with today? Rahul or Avinash?
Most of my classmates were politically active. Every new government decision or policy would undergo a detailed post-mortem inside our class WhatsApp group. Rahul was a devout follower of the Congress party, Avinash was a self-confessed Modi Bhakt and Ashima was a red comrade entirely. On some days, their debates would continue for days. I didn't have the energy to jump into another such nonsensical discussion. All I craved now was food. And after that to sleep till the alarm rang at seven tomorrow morning.
I switched on the geyser to take a quick bath. Then I transferred the biryani I had bought into a plate and placed it into the oven to reheat it. In the present Bangalore climate, nothing stayed warm for long. I was not fond of the winters. It wasn't the cold that bothered me, though. The winter season brought back long-lost memories, making me long for the warmth of a specific loving embrace. It also reminded me of my twenty-two-year-old self who had almost given up on life.
By the time I returned from the bath, there were two more missed calls from Ashima. What was wrong with this girl today?
As I dug into the tasty biryani, I turned on my phone data. Notification beeps began. I swiped left till I found the WhatsApp icon. I had 1200 plus unread messages just from the Civil Gang 2013, my class WhatsApp group. Some serious discussion must be happening. I groaned inwardly. I wasn’t in the mood to drown in nasty arguments. But Ashima would probably kill me if I didn’t hop in and speak my bit.
Avinash and Ashima had sent me private messages as well. What was so urgent?
Curious, I opened the group chat. Avinash had added a new member this evening. Though our class had a total strength of 60 students, there were only 45 members in the group currently. Many of my former classmates were pursuing higher studies whereas some had landed jobs in distant lands. Hence, we had lost contact with many of them in the five years that had elapsed after graduation. Occasionally, a new member would be found and added by one of the admins. Then there would be a mad rush to get reacquainted with the new entrant.
The name of the person added today drove away all my lethargy in a flash. I blinked twice to confirm if I had correctly read the name mentioned in Avinash’s welcoming message.
Ajay Menon. Ajay… after all these years?
A warm sorrow enveloped my heart and it began to struggle like a caged bird. It became difficult to breathe. Letters blurred as my eyes brimmed with tears. The phone slipped out of my hand and fell onto the couch. I got up and ran towards the French windows that opened to the balcony.
Pushing the panels open, I breathed in the fresh air wafting in from the garden that flanked our company apartment complex on all four sides. This tiny lung space amid the vast concrete jungle that was the apartment complex helped me keep some of my very cherished memories alive.
Memories that my parents had asked me to bury. Memories that often choked me and kept me awake during dreary, wintry nights.
How many shocks lay in store for me in the thousand unread messages that awaited me?