A BFF Tale – Chapter 3

Readers coming to this page directly should read Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 first to get the picture unfolding in Chapter 3 of A BFF Tale.

JJ and Aruna (Anu) lived in this cosy, ground floor apartment a little off Carter Road in Bandra, Mumbai for around two years after they got married. That house became the adda (den) of a whole bunch of friends. Oh boy, did we whoop it up every weekend there!

JJ and I were night birds and loved the night life. Not so, Anu. On countless occasions, JJ and I would actually lock her up (lock the front door from outside) in the Carter Road house and whiz off to dance the night away and make merry in a disco called ‘Take Off.’

Anu? She slept the night through. I used to tease her about being born into a family descended from Kumbhakarna*.

Romance and falling in love prepared very few of us from our generation for domesticity. That was the difference between us and our parents’ generation who were trained for shouldering household responsibilities prior to marriage. As a result, Anu didn’t even know how to boil water. Serious. I am not joking. It was JJ who taught Anu the very basics in the kitchen. Luckily for them, JJ was always interested in food and was a great cook. I was no help either. Both Anu and I were pretty much useless then when it came to running a house (in most people’s eyes I still am).

That’s the thing of being crazy in love. JJ was willing to do anything for his princess, treating her as one! For years, he even went to office in unironed shirts. He couldn’t be bothered to do it himself and Anu could never get up in the morning. This was so for a long time. Her younger son, Rahul, would come to his mother’s bedside every school morning when he was a little kid. This was after their maid got him ready for school. Rahul would shake his mom awake and hold out a comb. A half-asleep Anu would comb his hair and promptly go back to sleep! I reminded her about all this one day when she was grumbling about JJ and ended up by saying, “My dear Anu, you certainly were no trophy wife that you are complaining about JJ.”

But I am getting way ahead. Let’s get back to the early days when they got married. As I said JJ adjusted to his princess more than Anu did to being a wife.

By the way, Anu was often called princess by many a college friend. I remember this one blood donation drive in St. Xavier’s. A bunch of friends hovered around the bed Anu was lying on, pretending to peer into the tube draining blood into the bottle. Pointing to the bottle, they then excitedly and loudly exclaimed, “She really is a princess. Look, her blood is blue.” True to form, Anu went her usual deep pink shade. Pity, she doesn’t do that anymore! Those really were the best years of our life – college and the early years after graduation. Here are some pictures from that era.

JJ and a college friend, Subra, in JJ's St. Xavier's hostel room. Check the poster pin-up!
JJ and a college friend, Subra, in JJ’s St. Xavier’s hostel room. Check the poster pin-up!
Aruna dreaming about life (at a college picnic)
Aruna dreaming about life (at a college picnic)

Immediately on graduation, the three of us began working but the college campus atmosphere continued. Today, youngsters have a really tough time dealing with the pressures of obtaining high grades, a degree from a reputed post-grad school, and then a high paying job. We had no such pressures. All three of us simply took the first half-way decent job we managed to get. JJ was working for Ramzan Karim and Sons (some kind of clearing house) while Anu and I were working for one of Mumbai’s two luxury hotels – The Oberoi Towers (I think it now goes by the name Trident).

For someone born into a royal family, Anu was selling cakes behind the counter of the Oberoi’s Pastry Shop till she managed to get a transfer to the Front Office. She was good looking and so, she could. I, on the other hand, was stuck in the hotel basement answering Room Service phones for a good two years before a couple of managers fought for me and managed to get me a transfer to the Reservations department of the Front Office (I was deemed as being not attractive enough for the Reception). You can read more about how that transpired plus learn more about how my life shaped up in Trying out a Near-Death experience starring your Professional Life!; The Mother of all Influences and Oh Yeah? I’ll Show You! The only other thing I’d like to mention here is that I went onto winning the outstanding Front Office employee of the year exactly 12 months after my transfer. Here’s a picture of my receiving the award.

Lata Subramanian receiving 'The Outstanding Front Office Employee of the Year award' from The Oberoi Towers management
Lata Subramanian receiving ‘The Outstanding Front Office Employee of the Year award’ from The Oberoi Towers management

Anu and I tended to take life as it came and so, we didn’t give it much thought then. But looking back, it should have been obvious that our restless JJ could never settle for a humdrum, salaried job dancing to the tune of a boss. He had to be his own boss! It explains why before long, JJ decided to seek his fortunes in the country he grew up in and where his father had established a business many decades ago.

JJ left us to go back to Malaysia and Anu followed in February 1982.

That was a terrible time for me. In December 1981, my father suddenly and inexplicably began talking utter nonsense one day. It was a really scary experience. These days, if nothing, people can Google and seek explanations for such behaviour. In the early 1980s, though, we knew nothing about such matters and were simply scared out of our minds that my father had crossed the line into insanity.

I remember doing the night watch in Jaslok Hospital with my mother (my sister was married by then and carrying her first child). It was Christmas or New Year’s Eve and we were all supposed to be at a party in a friend’s house.

Imagine my surprise when suddenly I look up and see JJ and Anu standing there in the hospital. They had decided to leave the party and be with me instead. It’s an act I will never forget till my dying day!

Somehow, a few days later, my dad suddenly became normal and was discharged from the hospital. But things continued to be tense at home with many financial problems and my dad unemployed. I, particularly, felt the strain because my meagre salary was all the income we had (my sister and brother-in-law helped whenever they could).

It was in this kind of scenario that I had to deal with Anu’s departure.

Her parents, brothers and I went to see her off to Malaysia. The memory of that scene is etched into my brain – Anu’s family and I watching the back of this skinny figure in a churidar-kameez* as she was slowly but surely swallowed up by the long aerobridge corridor snaking up to the aircraft.

By then, the years I had spent in the company of the Wala family had been slowly teaching me emotional control (my family is famous for our over-the-top emotions). Funny thing is that many years later, when Anu and I were exchanging more confidences, I learnt that she loved being with my excitable family because we were so open with each other while I admired the calmness of her’s. What do they say? The grass is always greener on the other side!

Anyway, to get back to what I was telling you. The day we saw off Anu, I managed to keep up a stoic appearance till Anu’s family dropped me off at my home. I entered my house and completely broke down. I felt so scared and alone! More so, because this guy who I thought was more my friend than Anu’s or JJ’s started giving me the cold shoulder the day he heard that Anu and JJ were migrating. It was my first jhatka (jolt) in life that there were people in the world who gravitated always to the well-to-do, good looking and fun people and away from people like me who had too many problems.

The other thing that I remember was that only my dad was there at home that day. Poor thing. I think he actually got frightened seeing me sob like my heart was broken. He just kept patting me on the back repeating over and over, “We are there, we are there!”

Life goes on. As mine did. Around one month after Anu left, my darling niece was born bringing joy into the family. The other nice thing that happened was because of Anu’s mother.

I had assumed that after Anu left, I shouldn’t go around to see her family. I was wrong there! Anu’s mother kept me in the fold, making sure I was present for every family function. Anu’s elder brother got married a few weeks after she left and her mother made sure I was with them right through. She would also call me every now and then and demand to know as to why I wasn’t visiting them.

I guess it was Aunty’s caring that ultimately gave me the confidence that here was a shoulder I could lean on. Otherwise, I doubt I could have made a beeline for her when in July 1982, we had to hospitalize my father again. He just never woke up one day and we had to admit him again to Jaslok Hospital. We didn’t have a rupee on us and I had to go to Anu’s mother who loaned me the money.

My dad died four days later. The date was July 4, 1982. Post his death, I returned the money Anu’s mother loaned me by taking a loan from The Oberois where I worked.

Those days few houses even had a landline. Mine certainly didn’t. I wrote a long letter to Anu and JJ telling them of my dad’s passing.

They were living in Jasin, Malaysia then. Anu told me years later that JJ read the letter first in his brother’s shop and then came up to the house and handed it over to her without saying a word.

She cried when she read the news that my father was no more. JJ was upset too. Because they were both fond of my dad.

That’s how emotional we were. We cried over each other’s misfortunes more than our own. I remember a letter from Anu telling me she had a miscarriage. I shed tears over that, just like she wept for my dad and my loss.

Between 1982 and 1986, we were only in touch via letters. I used to pour my heart out in those letters. No doubt, I’d be embarrassed if I came across any of those old snail mails.

For every 20 page letter I sent, Anu would write back with just one or two pages. And that too, not promptly. It would take around a fortnight for each letter to reach. That meant we heard from each other only once in every 4-6 weeks.

We exchanged letters for around 4 years. But not in one of those letters did Anu let on that she wasn’t exactly having a picnic in Malaysia. Her parents went to Kuala Lumpur (KL) a couple of times and especially spent time with her in 1984 when Trishay, their elder son, was born. But her parents always came back happy that their daughter was doing well and was being taken care of by JJ.

JJ was taking care of her. But because he was busy trying to first find a job and then set up his own carpet business, he was clueless for a long time that Anu wasn’t exactly happy.

I, too, learnt about it only when I visited them in Malaysia in 1986. My family had sold our house in Prabhadevi and moved to the suburbs in Andheri. Since there was a bit of spare cash from that sale, I took that money and flew down to KL.

They were staying in Brickfields by then in a small apartment on the third floor. The day I landed, JJ whisked us off to the East Coast. It was in a hotel there that Anu kept me up talking the night through. It was like a dam had burst and her feelings just came pouring out like a tidal wave.

I was distraught when I heard what she had been through because in all that time she had never breathed a word to her parents when they visited or to me in her letters. That takes some courage and emotional strength, I tell you. It also shows caring – by a wife not wanting to cast doubt on her husband and by a friend not wanting to burden another who was already in trouble.

Before imaginations begin running wild, JJ wasn’t beating her up or being mean. Neither was anyone else.

The issue was this.

She had never once questioned JJ about what she could expect of life in Malaysia. Those romantic ideals again!

She simply followed the man she married to the ends of the earth like all those heroines in Mills & Boon novels or old Hindi movies. When she finally began living in Malaysia, it came as a complete culture shock.

Think Malaysia in the 1980s. And you will agree that it was still a conservative country. Forgive me but when I first visited Jasin, I thought I was in Gujarat. Nothing wrong in that but you have to see this from the viewpoint of two young girls in their twenties who had grown up in the liberal atmosphere of South Mumbai (all relative then and now, of course).

So, suddenly, a young princess was thrown into that conservative world. She couldn’t even wear jeans (though she did do so whenever she and JJ went alone somewhere). To top it all, this young bahu (daughter-in-law) had zero domestic skills and had to learn everything from scratch from her sister-in-law. Today, if Anu makes rotlas and rotlis* like a pro, she has her sister-in-law to thank. But back then, think of a shy, nervous twenty-three year old having to confess that she knew nothing.

Anu came from a royal family and from a household with a retinue of domestic help. She had never lifted a finger to do anything. It was that Anu who had to adjust to life in Jasin. She didn’t even know a word of Gujarati. I mean she could understand but couldn’t speak the language. Life in Malaysia was a far cry from the liberal world of a city then known as Bombay (now Mumbai).

Her in-laws were nice to her and kept her comfortable. But she was lonely as hell. Especially since JJ was out all hours either working or unwinding with his drinking buddies.

I don’t think the thought even crossed JJ’s mind that Anu was cooped up all day long in the house waiting for him to come home. And that such a situation would make her very lonely especially since in those days she could not even drive herself to the grocery shop.

Was JJ in the wrong? Not if you look at it from the perspective of social conditioning. JJ belongs to a generation where it was taken for granted that women were content with their children and household matters. Unfortunately, JJ married a girl with a different upbringing.

You also have to take into account that Anu and I belonged to a generation of women caught up in the sweeping winds of evolution and generational change. No longer were women content to play the home maker and wait on their husbands all the time.

Love marriages were beginning to appear on the scene in Indian communities. But no one had a clue that love marriages brought their own problems caused by unrealistic, romantic notions of “if he loved me, he would do this or if she loved me, she would understand.” In hindsight, I would say that the odds of arranged marriages working are better than love marriages because of lower expectations.

All in all, trouble loomed large in Anu and JJ’s love story. Even so, we managed to have a good time in that one month I spent in Malaysia in 1986. Here’s a snap from that trip – one of the few where I look better than her and that too only because she closed her eyes when the camera clicked:) Below that is a snap of Anu in her early days in Malaysia, along with one of JJ and Anu as a young, married couple in KL.

Aruna Trada and Lata Subramanian. Picture taken in 1986 in Kuala Lumpur
Aruna Trada and Lata Subramanian. Picture taken in 1986 in Kuala Lumpur
Aruna Trada as a young wife in Malaysia
Aruna Trada as a young wife in Malaysia


JJ and Anu as a young, married couple in KL
JJ and Anu as a young, married couple in KL

When friends are around, life seems more manageable. But, as I said, troubled loomed large. Not just in JJ and Anu’s prem kahani (love story) but also between two BFFs. Here’s a hint of what’s coming up in Chapter 4 of A BFF Tale. For another hint in how JJ and Anu resolve issues, read The Thing About Success.

She had her feet on the ground,
I had my head in many a cloud;
She saw in life the light,
I brooded in the dark on my plight;
A storm in her was brewing,
While the thunder in my life had me becalming.

She preferred the quiet,
I wanted to waltz to life’s duet;
Who would have thought,
The fortunes life bought.

She shed the skins of inhibition,
I sheathed myself with the armour of retention;
In life’s storms, we drifted apart,
Even while staying on the same raft.
The ties that bound were too strong,
Inevitable it was that we pulled together again before too long.

#BFF #friendship


Featured Image Credit – A just turned twenty Aruna Trada and Lata Subramanian. From the Wala, Trada and Subramanian Family Photo Archives.

*Kumbhakarna – According to Indian legend, Kumbhakarna, brother of Ravana, the demon king in the epic The Ramayana, used to sleep for unusually long periods of time and would be difficult to wake up.

*churidar-kameez – an Indian outfit typically with a knee-length top worn over tight fitting trousers and a stole-like garment over the neck and shoulders.

*rotlas and rotlis The names for Indian bread in Gujarat.

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