Alumni Meet

(Mai’s phone beeps)

Zoe: (picture) Hey guys! Is this okay? Or does it look overboard?

Steph: (picture) (picture) GUYS!!! WHICH HAIRSTYLE???   QUICK!! SOMEONE REPLY!!!ANYONE!!!???

@Zoe @Mai @Adi PLZ QUICK 😰 😭😭😭

Adi: First one

Zoe: No, second. Jeez steph, you aren’t in high school anymore.

Adi: @Steph Don’t listen to her. Go for the first one babe.

@Zoe seriously stop sounding like a mom of a 16 year old kid

Mai sighed as she saw her friends arguing in the group about what to wear. 20 years was a long time for a lot of things to happen and yet, some things never changed. Zoe – the conservative, introvert; Stephie – the loud, flashy one; and Aditi – the one who was the ever supportive friend to Steph in anything she did. What a lot, Mai mused to herself wondering how she even ended up being friends with these people. Maybe, she needed to change that.

(personal message)

Adi: Didn’t want to do this before letting you know but whatcha wearing tonight huh? 😏

(Group Message)

Adi: @Mai Whatcha wearing girl?

Steph: Pls wear something to match mine. Ye aren’t even married yet.

Zoe: @Mai back me up here. I am not coming with 3 women dressing up like trollops

Adi: @Zoe Mai isn’t married yet, who knows…

Oops! Busted! Oh, and definitely I need to change the company I keep.

Mai put the group on mute, and walked back into the hall. Decorations were almost done, the Alumni Meet banner was up, caterers were setting up, alcohol had reached the fridge, volunteers were at the gate… In short, everything was in place. Why did she feel so uneasy then? As if she was missing something crucial, something she knew yet didn’t. At first, Mai thought it was just the usual nerves before an event, the ones she always had. However, the uneasiness grew as the time came closer. She restlessly paced around the venue, checking the clock. Three more hours to go before people would start coming. The 2020 batch was one hell of a batch. People had drifted apart after the pandemic. They graduated online, their examinations had taken a backseat as everyone was putting more time and energy in startups or revamping career plans. The calls and messages dwindled, tagging in memes became a thing of the past,  and no one shared stories from the past on Instagram anymore. No one ever realised that one day, suddenly, everyone would be out of each other’s lives. No wonder it felt weird that suddenly her college group of friends was beeping continuously with notifications, just as it used to 21 years ago…

“Now is not the time,” Mai chided herself. Grabbing a cup of coffee from the worker’s area, she went around to check everything once more. First, she went over to the volunteers and sent them off to get ready. The last delivery for the caterers had been unloaded. She arranged the desks and straightened the banners at the table, muttering to herself how careless highschoolers were. After she was satisfied, she went in to check with the kitchens. Next, she checked up with her compere for the event. Two more hours to go before the Alumni Meet started.

Mai called in the student heads for a meeting. She went through the procedures and rules about entry, exit, coupons, parkings, gifts, and everything she could think of. She went through the instructions over three piles of colour coded lists with the registration team, one for the alumni, one for all the pluses and the third one for faculty and others. Winding up, she walked to the light and sound station. Mic test, sound test, testing the backup, testing the back up of the backup, and whatnot. She rehearsed the light routine. Mai did not realise when she had drifted into absent-mindededly playing with the lights. It was therapeutic for her. She did not notice  when her Professor/Boss arrived. 

“You haven’t gone to get ready?” That jerked Mai out of her mindless play. Damn! Only an hour to go.

“I was about to -”, the arrival of more faculty cut her off. She promptly greeted everyone, gave them a quick tour and answered all their questions and concerns. In between avoiding pointless questions and gossip, and keeping an eye on everything, Mai managed to somehow slip off before any of her friends arrived. 

Half an hour to go. Mai frantically changed into her saree. She ran into the kitchen while tying her hair in a messy bun to check the status of the appetizers. From there she ran across to the bar to check if everything was alright. With one earring in her hand, she raced to the lobby to have a final check and word with the volunteers at the desk. She was late, the guests had begun to arrive. Time for a detour. She took the backside path to go back to the spare room where everyone’s stuff was and quickly applied some kajal. ‘Calm yourself,’ Mai told herself. After a few moments, she put on her heels, regained her poise, and walked out into the hall, as if she were a Queen entering her Royal Court. ‘Chin up,’ she remembered lest the crown (imaginary) falls.

Everything went surprisingly well. She stayed visible yet unapproachable to everyone, like a bee hovering over an expanse of flowers, like the fickle wind, ever changing its directions. Mai had a simple rule. Stay around or near the faculty. Always. No one will bother you. It served her well in her college days. It was definitely serving her now. Especially, when she was avoiding Steph and Adi like people avoided the plagues. The last thing she wanted was to be roped into another argument. Or worse, be seen with someone wearing that outfit. What was Steph even thinking? She wasn’t in sophomore year  anymore. Dinner began. More or less, everyone had huddled back into the same groups that they would hang around back then. Some had their wives or children along, some were alone,and some didn’t bring their family. A sigh of satisfaction escaped her lips. She released a breath she didn’t know she was holding back.

The night was still young though. Mai checked up on her team quickly. She checked in with the caterers and then she went to her favourite place – the playzone. A temporary set-up for the children. It had its own host, her junior Ri, who Mai trusted the most when it came to children. They had their own small tables and a small buffet with an equally lavish spread. A small fruit bar stood to serve juices and milkshakes. Mai loved children. She loved being that world mother, standing afar, like a silent guard, watching, always ready to jump in to protect others when needed. It made her feel fulfilled. She stood at the other side of the catering table, observing. It was fun watching children play, their talks, their camaraderie, the way they didn’t bother about any trips, slips or falls.

Mai joined Ri to aid her as they took the children to dinner. Together they helped everyone fill their plates. As the children ate, Mai looked at Ri and an unspoken conversation took place. Back out there, people were merry, getting drunk, things were getting loud. Many of the children were tired. It was probably bed time for most of them. They both split the ground to gauge the status. That’s when she heard a kid, about 6 or 7 years old, stomping her foot at Ri, “I don’t like peas and brinjals.” Mai cut in sauvely, and took her to the kitchens to have her a dish prepared without it. The girl hugged her and ran off to her friends. Mai often kept looking at her. Something felt awfully familiar. That pout, those eyes, they reminded her of someone – Ada. 

Ada, she fondly recalled her senior. Ada was fussy about his food, he hated green peas and aubergines, and threw tantrums like a 5 year old kid. Mai had met Ada in the strangest way. The first time she laid eyes on him or spoke to him was to give him a piece of her mind. Actually, she had almost slapped him. Then after a couple of months after that they hung around for a few hours. They had some weird kind of acquaintanceship. They were not friends but they had become vulnerable to each other. In the course of half a year, that is what they did. She still remembered that day fondly. How Ada complained about Mumbai not having a good food culture or palate and how his face morphed when he saw matar and baingan. What a cute, adorable kid. From that day onwards, Mai took this new role of being his other mother. And then Mai recollected how their acquaintanceship began. A conversation about him. Of Course, Ada was his roommate and friend after all.

Mai’s face visibly fell and she excused herself politely. Thousands of feelings bubbled up. How could she forget that he would be here too, along with all his friends. Mai quickly checked with the registration desk. Ada was here. Her suspicions were right. No wonder that girl felt familiar and reminded her of Ada. Moreover, He was here. The one man that she never wanted to cross paths with again in her life. It’s quite a different story that Mai had her moment and would occasionally check his social media just to get a glimpse of him. (What? No judgements here. We all have stalked someone at some point in our lives). It had taken her a good 5 years to actually get over him, or so she thought. Mai chided herself mentally. ‘Stop being a baby. Of course he would be here. It is an Alumni Meet after all.’ Mai struggled to get herself in order. She couldn’t leave and hide like she did back in her teenage years.

Mai gulped down a bottle of water and stepped in hesitantly. People were dancing. Good, no one would spot her. She stealthily took her way round to the light station. No one looked at the light crew. She was too nervous and distracted to handle the lights. Mai went to the sound system instead. The darkness was a good disguise. She freed one of her volunteers, put on the headphones, and took over the console. Perfect. The party was dying, the requests dwindled. Two men came together trying to decide a song. They could not decide on the song. Mai tuned into that discussion. She grew colder, her heart fluttered, ‘No, it could not be. Am I hearing things now?’ That sequence of songs… She removed her headphones, when one of them suddenly turned to her and asked her if she could play a combination. Mai nodded. That voice. It was him. She knew that combination by heart, she’d recognise that voice anywhere. Mai didn’t hear a word. She did a thumbs up at them, lowered her face and began to work deftly on the mixer. ‘He didn’t recognise me.’ 

The sequence played out fine. The knots in Mai’s stomach grew. Thoughts swarmed her mind. She got up from the sound system and walked out. She needed some air. Mai stayed out. People began to leave. It was Mai’s cue to go in. She checked with the caterers who were packing up. Her volunteers were chilling around across the venue. The crowd filtered out slowly. Mai was just about to go find Ri and ask her if she could do the winding up when she spotted him. He was coming in her direction. Mai quickly hid herself and watched him talk to a few people closeby. She didn’t know who they were. Once he was gone, she quickly got out and ran to the spare room, shut the door behind her, and collapsed. Tears flowed out of her left eye. Mai was grinning like an idiot. His voice, His face, his smile, the same smell. 21 years had passed yet even today it felt like just yesterday…

She checked her phone. 100s of messages and calls from Steph and Adi. She skipped everything and pinged on the group:

Mai: Sorry guys, I was busy. Still there?


Mai: I know you guys are mad at me…



  How about we go for a Horse’s Chariot? 

  For old time’s sake?

Adi: …

Zoe: No. It’s midnight. No shenanigans.

Adi: I’m listening

Mai: You are the best. Meet me at the back door. Ask the volunteers for the Green Room. Tell them I said so. I’m booking a cab for the Drive.

Steph: Shitniz, you are serious. The last time you were actually serious about this-

Adi: Was when you and he-

Steph: Oh My God!  Someone has been getting out there

Mai: Nothing like that!

Steph: Deets, deets.  ALL THE DETAILS NOW.

Adi: coming in 5. Getting these morons along.

With a newfound spring in her step, and life in her, Mai quickly wrapped up what she could and delegated the rest. Someone else would wind up today, but not her. She quickly changed and got into the car as they drove off into a night full of nostalgia. Two decades had changed nothing. Not her feelings for him, nor her pattern of coping with it, nor her tendency to hide, neither had he. Mai didn’t know what to think or feel. Right now she was glad to have these three. She needed booze, a good cry and an undisturbed sleep. She was heading for it. 

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9 thoughts on “Alumni Meet

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