Saturday, July 4, 2015

All because her name was Dumbhead

The year was 2007, when Orkut used to be a thing. Remember Orkut? People used to have cartoons and actors for profile pictures (predominantly females), apparently because the internet was thought unsafe to upload personal pictures. And today they feel comfortable uploading pictures of their families in swimming pools. Ah, progress.

It wasn't just the picture. Back then, it was thought unnatural to name your profile with your actual name. Nah, it had to be something like:
"K!ShoRe...~~exams~~" or
"black hole is... here chance of escape."
I actually found that second one on email. Seriously.

So there I was, scrapping and snooping into profiles, satiating the ever growing need of wanting to know what's going on in other people's lives - and I came across an interesting profile.

I don't recall the picture - but it was a girl - and the name was Dumbhead.

Dumbhead. The idea of self-deprecating humor may have been alien to me then, but even so, it seemed quite a stretch. Why would anyone name themselves that? Failing to control my curiosity, I scrapped her with this question.

Actually I had done it once a year ago (2006), to which there was no response. So I thought I'd have another go. That's right - I chose curiosity over self-respect. And it worked.

Well I wish I had the actual conversation to share, but alas. Succinctly put, it was a justifiably angry response - saying how I am being nosy and should mind my own business.

My response was a mixture of charm and wit (or so I'd like to believe), but she was mortified. And we did have one mutual friend, which I think may have legitimized my existence, as opposed to the possibility of a serial killer. We started scrapping.

Such was the delight I took in our conversations, that I used to open Orkut in my first color Nokia phone, discussing Wimbledon and books. We shared our passions, fears and complexes. And it was all in a friendly spirit strictly, nothing more. Numbers were exchanged at some point but unused.

While in college, I once got a call from her on my birthday. The feeling is hard to describe, when you've been chatting for so long, and then you hear each other's voice for the first time. There wasn't any squeamish apprehension; we were both eagerly waiting for that moment.

There were a few calls now and then after that, and I couldn't believe this random internet pen friend had lasted throughout my college. When I had suggested meeting in the early years, her responses seemed polite. But the impulse was growing stronger with every year, and we both seemed up for it - however since I no longer stayed in Noida, the opportunities were scarce.

In my three years at Deloitte, the talking obviously reduced, but it didn't exactly cease. Our friendship was like a candle - the flame just persisted, even with the diminishing wax of time.

We came close to meeting a couple of times in Ahmedabad, and once in Noida - but that moment kept eluding us.

A week into my summer internship in Bombay (2015), she told me of her upcoming visit. The city of dreams seemed to have finally granted me my wish.

And so on a particularly hot summer morning outside Bandra station, I jostled through the crowd, looking for my radiant friend. The great wait of eight long years finally ended. I half-expected the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack to start playing.

But life isn't a movie. She was loaded with some shopping bags, and the scorching sun was making her fan herself. Expecting her to run towards me in slow motion, seemed a little too much to ask. In any case, straight-line movement is next to impossible outside a local station.

Bandra Station: Where we finally met

Regardless of how much you know someone online, meeting in person is just not the same. It takes a lot of courage to meet someone for the first time, even for an innocent breakfast. It becomes easier when there're people for company.

Once we took our seats and ordered food, Dumbhead became a lot more relaxed and we yapped like we always have. You know that scene from Lord of the Rings when Gandalf tells King Theoden to wield his sword, so that he remembers his strength?
I think it was the same for us - only that instead of swords, we held spoons and forks. We both love food.

She is a long way away from dumb. She reads a variety of books, has great taste in music, and her passion for food and cooking is a rare delight. She's an exceptionally kind and patient woman, which was evident from the way she spoke to the waiters and the auto-driver. I had always admired her smile in pictures, and finally got to witness it in person. The warmth had little to do with the sun.

A few weeks ago, she told me she'd gotten an internship, and how thrilled she was. Sharing such moments personally with someone makes one feel special, and that moment gave me the final push to share this story.

We remain close friends.

All because her name was Dumbhead.