Day 98. She was Cinderella’s stepsister in a mustard yellow silk gown, hair piled up in a high bun, a fan in hand. I was the stepmother in a peach frilly gown fashioned out of one of Ma’s printed synthetic sari, a bonnet on my head and salt and pepper hair (thanks to a liberal dash of talcum powder) peeking from underneath it. That was three decades ago. A few years later, I left the school and with time we lost touch but for the occasional exchange of cards and letters and later even that waned. Then Facebook arrived and we became “friends” again, liking each other’s photographs from time to time. But not much more. It was after I joined WhatsApp that we became a part of a small group of school friends. The first few days saw some frenzied chatting from all of us, remembering old stories, sharing photographs, till our thumbs ached. The initial madness subsided but the bond had been forged again. One thing led to another and as I planned my annual holiday with my husband, we zeroed in on Karnataka. As I got down to booking tickets, I realised that flying down to Bangalore and travelling by road to Mysore from there would be easier on the pocket. And what’s more, this option came with a double bonus… a stop at Chennapatna on the way and a quick meeting with two old friends in Bangalore. The countdown began and we discussed where to meet, at what time, over and over again. Then came the matter of gifts. I was meeting them after almost 25 years and knew little about their likes and dislikes. Did they like junk jewellery? Did they read? After much thought and browsing and with just a day left for our trip, I dropped in at Sasha on the way to work and picked up two kantha-stitch wallets (something useful and something that reflected Bengal, I thought) for them along with a pair of earrings for myself. I was happy with the buys, but only till I got home. As I showed my purchases to those at home, I realised one wallet was missing. I checked the cash memo and I had been billed for only one. As I replayed the scene at the shop in my mind, I realised the slip must have occurred when I made a last-minute change in my choice. I was upset but there was little I could do that late. The shop would have closed long ago. Next morning I called up the shop and requested them to set the wallet aside for me as that had been the last piece. In the evening, I headed there along with the two mothers and heaved relief only when the second wallet had been bought. I earned a few goodies too… plus points of taking the mothers along. Back home, it was time to rush through packing. The flight was early next morning and we would have to leave home while it was still dark. I could hardly snatch a wink in the excitement of meeting my friends in a few hours. We landed in Bangalore in the first hours and as our car headed towards the city, our contact finally took a leap from WhatsApp to a phone call. Both of us could hardly believe that we were hearing each other’s voices! She apologised saying she would be a bit late. I was the first to reach. A few minutes later came our other friend, who too I was meeting after so long. It was a working day for her and she had just about managed to step out for a bit. Hugs exchanged, we walked in and placed our orders for dosa, button idli and coffee before she arrived. Another round of hugs followed along with conversation, both as warm as the filter coffee in front of us. Time was short and we had loads to share. And before we knew it, it was time to go. One had to get back to office, the other to her daughters. More hugs, photographs and we parted, with a promise to meet again (and we did keep the promise). As I got into the car to head for Mysore and begin our vacation, I knew I had already witnessed the high point of my holiday. Nothing could beat the excitement and happiness of meeting new friends, not the grandeur of the Mysore palace or the force of the Shivanasamudra falls, not the idyllic settings of a coffee plantation of Coorg or the delicious home-cooked pandi curry, not even the unexpected sighting of a tiger on a river safari down the Kabini. The memories of that short, fleeting meeting remain as bright and rich as the colour of this gorgeous cotton-silk from Nalli that I got as a gift on the visit. Thank you Deepa Hv for the beautiful sari and thank you to you and Padmapriya for the warm memories. I shall forever treasure them

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