This is one of my posts sharing some sentimental experiences of my life. As usual, the story is a blend, crafted carefully, altering the names and the locations. It’s hard even for me today to figure out what is real and what is not. But is it worth knowing?
I don’t know why I feel like sharing such stories with you – is it to vent me out? Or to make you jealous? Or strike similar chords in your personal lives?
I am sure you would like to have a friend like Byke in your life. And if you don’t then do look for her. Don’t ever lose the envelope in case you get one!
I met Byke for the first time in the Chemistry Laboratory of Environmental Engineering Program at the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) in Bangkok. She was a new student. It was 10 pm at night. She was doing a titration that was needed for some analyses. She was all alone as she had missed the regular laboratory session. I was in the lab reading a book. The air in the lab was chilly with a sweet aroma of chemicals.
Somehow Byke was missing the “end point” of the titration. “Shit, not again” she used to scream when a miss would happen. She had to redo then the entire set up of solutions once again. That was quite a pain. When this miss happened for the third time, she looked around helplessly and found me (smiling).
In the utter frustration that she had, Byke looked really cute. With her straight short hair, a dimple on the cheeks, a bright red Tee shirt and white shorts, she looked like a pretty doll. I walked across and stood close to her, removed the earphones she was wearing and pulled out the Sony Walkman that she had belted on her waist. I said “My Dear Friend, You look like a true Music Lover”, I then put the earphones on me and heard the song she was playing – “Simply the Best” a hit song by Tina Turner
“Come on, how can you strike the “end point” with such a great Tina Turner song going around” – I tapped on her head lightly. “Now do the titration without your Walkman – you are not going to miss the end point this time”
And she did not.
“I am Byke! And you?” She said in her Pilipino accent in an excited tone.
“Me Prasad, and I love Tina Turner too”, I said
With this short introduction, we became best friends thereafter.
Byke was from the Philippines. Byke was not her real name. Philippino names are as complicated like our south Indian names. Everybody called her Byke and I never asked her full name.
I taught Byke engineering design and Byke taught me how to dance. She used to take me to town with her Philippino friends and after all the dancing around, we used to land at Niu’s on Silom road. Niu’s (closed now) was a famous Jazz Club & Italian Restaurant with great choice of wines.
(Singing at the Niu’s)
Byke had a good voice. Sometimes she used to sing on the stage. “Inspire me Prasad”, she used to box me on my chest with her fists. I used to play the keyboards and so there were occasions when I accompanied her for some soulful numbers, especially by Carole King. “Now it’s too late” was one of her favorite songs.
Byke always wanted to learn keyboards from me. So we used be in the Piano room of the AIT Center in the evenings. Although she made a serious attempt, she could never pick up the keyboards. “You are wasting your time my dear friend” I used to say and she used to retort “no wasting of time when I am with you Prasad. I enjoy every moment we spend together in this Piano room”.
(Byke took this picture of mine in the Piano Room)
I knew Byke was friendly with several like me. And that is how her nature was. Her friendliness was not to be confused. Some did and suffered in the process! In fact there was a rumor that she had a rich boyfriend whom she was going to marry after returning to Manila. Once I coaxed her to show me his picture and she was very upset with me. She didn’t speak to me for the entire day! “I don’t like such questions Prasad – especially coming from you” she said this when we patched up again.
When we graduated, there was a graduation party. Byke and all our “music friends” had reserved a table to dine together. We really had a ball during the dinner and we remembered all the good times. Most knew that we may not be meeting again and so we exchanged addresses with a promise that we will meet once again after 25 years! This was 1983.
“Prasad, you lousy friend – I am going to be tracking you” Byke said this while pulling me out of the dining hall under a tree outside the foyer. “As I still need to learn keyboards from you” she was panting and gasping for breath. It was nearly 12 at night.
She stared at me for a while and then inserted an envelope in the front pocket of my shirt. She gave me a good long hug and kissed on my cheeks. There was a jasmine fragrance. “So long Prasad”. She whispered and then went on running to disappear –in a manner so surgical – cutting me from her life.
When I reached my room, I opened the envelope. All it had was a short note. It said “Ask me before you marry”.
I returned to Mumbai and got into the mess of my career. I met Kiran as introduced by the families and we got married soon.
I had misplaced Byke’s envelop and the note by then. The fond memories of our close friendship however remained. I would remember her especially when I would get to listen to Tina Turner or Carole King.
I did check about Byke’s whereabouts through my friends. Last I had heard that she had moved out of Manila.
Years passed by. One day I received a letter of invitation from the Hong Kong Productivity Council (HKPC) to help them conduct a 5 day training program on Green Productivity as Chief Resource Person. When I communicated my acceptance, I was told that one Ms. Rodora S. Natividad from HKPC will be contacting me for all the travel logistics as well as about the technical details.
Ms. Rodora was quite efficient in all the arrangements. Her response to my emails (queries) was quick. My flights got booked and the hotel that was picked up was an excellent choice, L’hotel Causeway Bay Harbor.
I got into Hong Kong early morning by Cathay Pacific. I checked in, took a shower and came down to the reception as instructed by Ms. Rodora. Ms. Rodora had sent me the full program. We were to start meeting of the resource persons right in the morning on Floor 3, the Mandarin room; followed by Days 2 to 4 of lecture sessions ending with a field trip on Day 5. Day 6 was reserved for the wrap up. I was carrying all the papers for the opening meeting with the Resource Persons.
When I reached the reception, I was shocked to see Byke standing there. Dressed in a smart skirt, Chinese style top and a silk scarf, she looked so magnificent. A woman in her mid-thirties confusing you with her charming youth and at the same time the maturity. I was simply floored.
When Byke saw me, she came running and hugged me and said “So, I got you here Prasad”
And before I could ask her how she landed in Hong Kong as Ms. Rodora, she said “Now shut up. I am going to tell you everything later– but the most important thing I want you to know is that there is no resource person session today. The program actually starts tomorrow. I got you one day early in Hong Kong just to spend the day together. The program I sent you was cooked up – the real action starts tomorrow and the resource persons will arrive only tonight”
I was zapped. What a woman this Byke! – I said to myself
“So?” I tapped on her head lightly – like I used to “What’s then today?”
Byke had worked out the entire day for us – and so very meticulously. Everything was planned well in advance.
We drove first to the Lover’s Rock.
Situated on Bowen Road, this rock stands close to 30 feet high and is said to possess magical powers. It is decorated with oriental red and beautifully crafted drapes especially during the Maiden’s Festival that is held in August each year. It was already August and the annual festival was on. During the festival, young unmarried girls pray for good fortune in their forthcoming lives as well as a suitable husband.
(The Lovers Rock)
When we were at the rock, Byke softly said “Prasad I made my wish at this rock that I will see you one more time again –See my wish got fulfilled and there you are in front of me today”. I was really touched and did not know what to say. “I too remembered you Byke so many times” I said this but in a voice that seemed faded and miles away.
(The Sundaram Tagore Gallery)
We lunched on the street-side remembering the good old times. Byke then drove me to the Sundaram Tagore Gallery. Sundaram Tagore Gallery is devoted to examining the exchange of ideas between Western and non-Western cultures. The Gallery focuses on developing exhibitions and hosting not-for-profit events that encourage spiritual, social and aesthetic dialogues.
When we reached the Gallery, we found that the exhibition of mystic paintings of the world was on. As we walked around, Byke stopped in front of a painting that showed an angel like girl sitting on the branch of a barren tree The grey blue of the sky with a contrasting mat of green leaves under the tree was something deep and magical. The angel looked lost and a bit sad – longing for the earth.
“I know this artist” Byke said. “Don’t remember the name though”.
“Many a times I feel that the angel is me” Byke said this while staring at the painting that was hung on the wall.
Then she turned around and looked into my eyes and slowly said
“Prasad, when I returned to Manila, I married Rudy – who was part of one of the wealthy and influential families of Manila. But in a year, we split as we had differences. Then I decided to leave the Philippines and look for a job elsewhere. And that is how I landed at the HKPC” Her voice was broken. Her eyes were moist. I could feel the pain. “Sorry to know this Byke” I said. “Oh don’t feel Sorry Prasad – I am now alright”, Byke said this in a voice that was kind of matter of fact.
We stepped out of the Sundaram Tagore Gallery quietly.
Byke had some errands to do for the next day – i.e. the first official day of the training event. So she dropped me back to the Hotel and went to the nearby Supermarket. “Take a shower and come down in 30 minutes – we are going to the Wanch tonight” She warned
Historic, friendly, unpretentious and international, The Wanch is quite simply a Hong Kong institution. It has been the home of live music in Hong Kong since 1987, offering original music showcase nights, the top local covers bands and jam sessions. There is live music every night. The Walls are decorated with a mixture of very old photographs of Hong Kong and music posters that reflect Wanch’s iconic status at the heart of Hong Kong’s music scene.
We were greeted very warmly by the owner of the Wanch. Byke seems to know him well and we got the best seats. When the band started playing music of the 80’s, Byke really got excited. “Let us do one number together – I will sing and you take on the keyboard. Let me speak to Wong. Wong was managing live music. It was around 12 30 am that Wong let us come on the dais. Byke sang her old time favorite “Now it’s too late” by Carole King and I supported her on the keyboards. We did pretty well as someone shouted “Encore” when we finished. I felt that I was re-living my earlier life.
Byke drove me to the hotel. As we stopped in front of the entrance, she hugged me once again, brushed her lips on my cheeks lightly and said “So I was able to steal you from your wife at least for a day. We had a wonderful time today Prasad”
I got down from the car, stepped aside and stood to say good night. Then all of sudden, Byke left the wheel, opened the door and walked towards me. Punching blows on my chest with her fists (like she used to do), she held me close and said “You never reached me before marrying – You scoundrel” and before even I could attempt saying some excuse, she said “How could you? I never wrote down my telephone nos for you Prasad. I should have. My mistake”.
And then almost like stabbing me with a knife – she said, rather sharply “But that was quite a disappointment Prasad”. She turned back to the car and drove home.
The next day morning we met officially at the Mandarin room on third floor. Byke was reading out short introduction of the resource persons. It appeared that she could not locate my profile. “Dr Modak, will you please introduce yourself” she said.
“Well, Ms. Rodora, I think you know me well enough to introduce” I said
“Not really Dr Modak, I don’t know you that well enough. May I request you once again to introduce yourself please” I saw Byke’s face and the tone different.
I realized that one day before in Hong Kong was over.
I had told my wife Kiran, who is a ceramic potter, about Byke. So when I returned home, I told her about my encounter with her in Hong Kong. She had a good laugh. “You fool, you never understood Byke, and I feel sorry for you both” She said. And she continued her work on her pottery wheel.
In 2007, when I had my first angioplasty, and when we were home Kiran said “I guess this stent belongs to your long lost friend Byke”. I looked at the mischief in her eyes but saw the deep trust in me at the same time – that was so comforting. “You know everything – what can I say?” I said this moving to my shining Rolland Keyboard.
Cover page sourced from http://snippetstudios.com/2015/01/12/netflix-one-day-review/
Painting of the Angel taken from https://in.pinterest.com/bjohnsonvabch/fantasy-and-mystical-art/)