Ms Overfriendly & Other Oddities of My High-School Reunion

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Ms Overfriendly & Other Oddities of My High-School Reunion

Illustration: Saachi Mehta/ Arré

A

s I get older, nostalgia grips me harder.

Growing up in the ’80s and ’90s had its moments. I was young; like, actually young, not “youthful”. Prince and Michael Jackson were alive. Global terrorism wasn’t blowing up in everyone’s face. And closer to home were truly priceless things: Capsicum-flavoured Maggi noodles, hip T-shirts sold for ₹20 at the Sarojini Nagar flea market, clunky landline phones without caller ID that meant one could anonymously dial their neighbourhood crush 17 times a day and hang up without ever getting busted. Facebook-less and X-box-oblivious, we owned and rode bicycles, trading slam books and Chandamama comics. We revelled in the kind of unfettered freedom that one can only have before true-blue adulthood shows up with its messy doses of reality.

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But here’s the thing: Most times, a clumsy attempt to recapture the old joy lands me right into the cloying honey-trap of the most dreaded phenomenon of our times – reunions.

Reunions are strange things. They begin in good faith as an honest attempt to recapture lost times with childhood pals. But then they somehow morph into vaguely competitive events with people who you realise you never really liked. Each reunion begins with hope and ends with a headache and a promise that I will never, ever hang out with these losers again.

A reunion, much like the sea, may throw up the occasional treasure of a long lost friend. It also throws up a hell of a lot of flotsam, characters of dubious intent and intelligence, who make these cesspools of our past nearly impossible to enjoy.

The first person you will invariably run into at every reunion is Ms Overfriendly. You know her. She’s the universal “pal” and has not only stayed in touch with just about everyone but knows everything about everyone too, from the principal’s secretary (“You know, she had bariatric weight loss surgery in 1996 and lost 120 pounds in two months…”) to the school janitor (“His son got a full scholarship to IIM-B, imagine that, and now he drives a silver Audi…”). Ms Overfriendly is big, bouncy, and dressed in something tent-like and floral. She’s also on some committee of every club and organisation in town. Just moved? Oh, are you getting divorced? Need help with renting a place? Looking for a new dentist? Searching for the perfect Pilates class? She’ll give you a solution to everything and a migraine to match.

““The remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.””

Marcel Proust

And then there’s the Gusher, someone who never really bothered with you through 12 years of secondary education, but who is now suddenly thrilled to see you. Like, where have you been???! Why did we lose touch?!! We. Have. To. Meet. (You’re meeting right now, but that doesn’t occur to the Gusher). She or he will instantly whip out a fancy remote-sized phone, demand your digits, type in your number right in front of you, give you a “missed” call, and then watch like a hawk while you save the number right back. A week later, when you actually do call the Gusher out of curiosity, boredom, or maybe even genuine affection, the phone will ring and ring. The call goes to voicemail. Months pass. The call will never be returned. But at the next reunion, the G will spot you and squeal in friendly outrage: Like, where have you been???! And why haven’t you called?!!

Oh, and remember the Overgrown School Boy? This dude was once the pimply, horny misogynist who stole your knickers during gym and showed it to his gang of equally desperate buddies as proof of your intense desire for him. He hasn’t changed a bit. He’s married now, with a submissive-looking wife somewhere in tow, but he will leer at your neckline and drunkenly wonder aloud if you can hook up later. Unfortunately, the OSB is fat, balding, and has never read a book in his life, so his is an unattractive proposition. He’s also ungracious about handling rejection, and walking away from him will earn you the label of school slut all over again.

Thankfully, the Sophisticated Bore won’t hit on you. He’ll do worse – wear you down with mind-numbing monotony. This person, back in the days of pre-lib India, was kind of edgy and cool. But now the SB has gently morphed into picture-perfect blandness. Professional degrees from a trail of Ivy League colleges. Check. A no-drama marriage. Check. A cute baby. Check. A house and two cars. Check. Annual holidays to Europe, Singapore, Dubai. Check. Wealth, health and the right outfit for every occasion – triple check. Sure he’s every parent’s dream come true for their offspring but all you can do is yawn and tune out. When the conversation turns to how the sincere SB “just wants to give back to the community”, you grab your cue and escape before the clichéd lament of all that’s wrong with the country can begin. You really need a smoke.

Chances are that you’ll borrow a light from a creature called the Self-Declared Rebel. This type can’t be missed. The SDR will purposely dress down and smoulder in a dark corner with a sarcastic smile. The Rebel has just gotten back from an Arctic mission on behalf of Greenpeace, and has no interest in parties of this kind, but what to do? He was dragged here against his wishes. Or the Rebel has just been asked to lead an international “think tank” (no one quite knows what this is or what it does) and now he’s considering whether he actually wants to be on a first-name basis with all these politicians and pseudo-celebrities that he despises so much. Of course, what you do is of no consequence to the Rebel, because aside from him, everyone else is an uninteresting sell-out.  

Still, all is tolerable until you encounter the We’re Ordinary And Proud Of It gang. Get ready for a well-meaning moral lecture on the mistakes you’ve made by choosing not to be like these guys. The WOAPOI group includes housewives who feel sorry for you for not knowing the joys of ladies lunches and kiddy carpools, smug marrieds who ask where your partner is and how you’ll feel when you’re officially old and all alone, engineers/doctors/bankers who pointedly ask whether you’re able to actually make a living from… ummm… writing, and random zealous do-gooders who’ve quit smoking and discovered meditation and veganism, and now urge you to do exactly the same because it will change the meaning of your life and one day you’ll thank them for it because no one’s getting any younger, right?

A few days later, as you’re still wallowing in post-reunion blues, you will find yourself “added” to a WhatsApp group formed by the Tight, Little Clique That Never Left High School. This lot meets every weekend, vacations together, are married to one another, have kids who are each other’s classmates and best buddies, and still worry about who said what about whom and who punched out whom and who is actually in love with whom and who makes more money than whom. More than a mere yearning for yesterday, the Clique epitomises mass mutual suffocation and tons of judgment – and now it’s inviting you to be a part of it.

Marcel Proust said: “The remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.” Proust was a wise kind of guy, and to rephrase him less poetically: Glorifying yesterday, is, well, overrated.

I’ll go to my next reunion, and the next and the next. And I’ll have fun, because reunions have their moments (and all the gossip, of course). But when Kris Kristofferson sings, “I’d trade all my tomorrows for a single yesterday,” I’m relieved to find myself disagreeing.

I’m perfectly happy with my today.

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