I Came Across the Photo of an Old School-mate on Facebook

Today I was going through Facebook and came across a photo of an old schoolmate. He sat on a bench against a lush green background with his wife, and his child in the center. The caption read, ‘Birthday 15-07-2020’.

I zoomed it in closer. He was wearing tan pants and a boring white check shirt. He had a crew cut and he smiled awkwardly, the kind of smile people give when their picture is being captured and they are self-conscious. I looked at his wife. She was effortlessly beautiful. She had this vibe of someone both playful and matured. Someone who could turn from this super responsible adult to a child in a jiffy. I love people like that. It was a calm, serene picture. The kind that says ‘…and they lived happily ever after’ without any noise, pomp or show.

I started swiping backwards, to see other pictures of his. The same smile, and similar shirts that didn’t draw attention at all.

I remember seeing him a few years back right after college. I was attending a course on investments. I got up to leave after the first class, and spotted him in the queue filing out the door. It must have then been over 6 years since I had seen him. There was no way he was going to recognize me. I was an extremely weird, shy and silent girl in school. So, I kept to my side of the classroom. But the queue was long and as his eyes darted randomly around the classroom, until he spotted me. Our eyes met, and recognition dawned in his. He gave his usual hint of a smile. That’s always how he smiled, as though his lips couldn’t stretch beyond a certain point. We said our hellos and that’s how it remained for the rest of the course; hellos, faint smiles, byes. That was all. No. It wasn’t boring. It was plain simple nothing at all.

Even as I scrolled past his pictures, I couldn’t help but wonder how vanilla this guy looked. I like vanilla men, especially the ones who would sit by themselves, blend in, walk as though they do not want to hurt the air. I like them even more when I realise that these are intelligent, smart men who don’t make an exhibition of their intelligence. They’d rather keep to themselves than go around flaunting their knowledge unasked. I see them. To me, they’re like Beacons!

This guy was one of those vanilla guys who would start looking handsome the more you interacted with them. I am sure you’re wondering where I am going with this. To my fourth standard. When we were all 9 years old.

Philip, Aadhil and Vivek were the gang of class rowdies. And then there were three of us girls. It was more of an our-story-so-we-are-the-heroines scenario. In every group, there is one group leader who has the ability to sway the group. That was Neena. She had beautiful, long hair. She was fair complexioned and for 1996, she was the perfect ‘heroine material’ among us. Shruti was the intelligent one. I was, I’d like to think, the talented and the weird one.

Neena had a massive crush on Vivek. She’d express it by making up stories of us three, with them three. No prizes for guessing, her partner would always be Vivek. We could choose ours. Vivek was the nicest of the three. Soft spoken and sweet. I don’t really remember how he even was a part of the rowdy gang. Aadhil was a little like Johny Bravo; proud, bossy and he considered himself handsome. Philip was the worst. If things broke, people got hurt and the class teacher was involved, Philip was involved. Neither of us wanted anything to do with Philip. Aadhil must have been the lesser evil, but I remember us – Shruthi and I – wanting to do nothing with him either. So, whenever Neena started her friendly imaginary stories of the boys vs us, we ended up sabotaging the session.

This went on for 2 years. Our stories, and Neena’s crush. It was our little secret. 2 years later, our classes were all shuffled and we ended up in different divisions. We all drifted apart. But these stories remained within me and I watched these characters as they moved around and grew. In high school, none of us girls fell into the popular category. Vivek had faded out of the rowdy gang and was a class topper. Aadhil was turning more and more Johny Bravo like, and Philip was becoming the much-coveted bad boy. He was the popular guy that the popular girls had a crush on.

“So it was lunch time and the canteen was teeming with people right? We saw Ann and her group walk into the dining area. Philip was having his lunch. Ann walks up to him, extends a Rose and says I Love You. The entire canteen became silent for a few seconds watching this. We were all shocked. We’ve never seen anything of this kind in real life, right? Philip was shocked too. But then he smiled, and the canteen just erupted into this low ‘woahhh’ and excited chatter. As I said, nothing like I have seen before”, explained my then bestie when I met him during the summer holidays.

I had changed schools, but I received the important gossips through him; the news, whereabouts and the relationship status of the then popular boys/girls.

“In a few months they broke up. Philip then dated Prerna after that. I heard they broke up too.”, he had told me.

I look at Philip now. Do you ever look at couples and think ‘He is safe in her hands’ or vice versa? We look at them and we get this feeling that one is more resourceful than the other. We know instantly who the nurturer might be, who the compromiser might be, who would act more rationally in an argument. That in no way means that the other is incapable. But there always is this one person that gets a little extra in the relationship. There’s one safer than the other in the relationship. In this case, he was safe in her hands. I couldn’t see the old Philip anymore; neither in that class ten years ago, nor in these pictures.

While in school, we looked up to those popular guys and girls for having the perfect bodies, the good looks, the confidence to pull off just about anything. We knew it in our guts that they’d be popular figures when they went out into the real world. We had figured out everyone’s lives, except ours! But now as I think of it, how terribly wrong were we!?

I know we are all struggling in our own ways. But also, there is a certain comfort that has blanketed many of us. Being popular, or looking good have all taken a step back, and contentment and comfort have taken the front seat. There are days when I am extremely content being me. I love the flexibility and freedom that I have. I have a hundred pursuits and nothing is stopping me from going after them. These pursuits give me happiness. Similarly, I can’t help but see a certain contentment in Philip’s pictures; a comfort, which says that even if a hundred things were wrong, he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

One last time, I look at their recent picture and close Facebook feeling content. Sometimes social media isn’t all that bad.

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Featured Image courtesy – Photo by Jessica Rockowitz on Unsplash

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