Some people storm into your life and before you can even blink, turn your entire life around. You can pinpoint the exact moment they walked in and you knew that things would not be the same. Some people creep into your life the way trees grow, slowly and easily, without you even being aware of it. And then one day, you look at your relationship with them and realise that this tree has grown so strong and borne the sweetest fruits. Tirtha, for me, is the second kind of person.
My introduction to Tirtha was through her best friend, who was my roommate in the first year of college, Damini. I didn’t socialise much that year for many reasons, but I kept meeting Tirtha because she would come with Damini often. I have interesting memories of her from the first year: walking into the boys’ hostel with Damini on the second day of college, scolding somebody from Vodafone on the phone for not having started a service at the promised time, watching Game of Thrones with Damini and asking me to give her all the spoilers.
Through all of this time, we were not friends. We were friendly with each other, but we didn’t really know each other at all. Tirtha and I got to truly know each other in the second year, when a lot of things changed. I began socialising slowly. Damini left college to pursue music. Tirtha and I stayed on the same floor, in opposite apartments. The few friends I had made were also friends with Tirtha and so we ended up hanging out in the same circles quite often. But what was obviously the turning point in our relationship was the course we took together in the second year: Discrete Mathematics.
Tirtha and I studied and did assignments for Discrete Math together. We would plan the rest of our day around the time that we chose to do Math together. In this time allotted for studying, what happened was 30% studying and 70% banter. We would talk about everything: our lives, our other courses, our interests, memes, movies, jokes… you name it. With every passing ‘study session’, we got to know each other better and better. I think what stood out to me the most was how different we were: she was an introvert, I was an extrovert; she was focused and hardworking, I was demotivated and lazy; she loved all sorts of foods whose names I couldn’t pronounce while I preferred eating Maggi as a staple meal every day. Yet, we got each other. Despite all of our differences, we just clicked. And for this, I will forever be grateful.
Tirtha is one of the most intelligent, hardworking, and mature persons I have ever met. She is not impulsive and brash, she doesn’t get blinded by emotions alone, and she is always aware of the consequences of her actions. She always evaluated my choices with me and advised me on what would be best for me. When I didn’t listen to her and screwed up, she didn’t come and say “I told you so”. She put her arm around me and let me know that she was going to be there regardless. She didn’t give up on me on my worst days, she didn’t give up on me on her worst days. She stood by me like a rock. When I look at myself now, I realise that these qualities have managed to rub off on me as well and made me so much more emotionally-balanced than I was before.
Tirtha has taught me a bazillion lessons in three years without being preachy. I don’t think I can pen down all of these without making it a book. However, the most important thing that Tirtha has taught me is to not be defined by somebody else, to be my own person no matter what. I used to always rely on company to do things: go for meals to the mess, watch a movie, eat at a restaurant. Many times, I would cancel my plan entirely because I had nobody to carry the plan out with. Tirtha encouraged me to not care about company and do what I wanted to do anyway. She taught me to see myself as more than the many labels I clung to: daughter, sister, friend, best friend, girlfriend. She wanted me to be somebody who didn’t need somebody else to define herself. Just thinking about this lesson conjures such a specific image in my mind: sitting together on her bed, leaning our heads on the wall, and talking to each other while sheets from our unfinished assignments lay on our laps and by our sides. Most of our conversations happened in this way.
Tirtha has brought about some of the most unexpected, yet fortunate changes in my life, the craziest one being influencing (read: bullying me gently) the major I landed up taking in college. Applied Mathematics was not something I thought I had the capacity for, not because I didn’t like or enjoy Math but because I hardly thought it possible for me to work this hard. Tirtha was determined to take Math and she needed more people to have the major offered. I had been holding on to the idea of an Advertising and Branding major, even though I had regarded this idea with some level of skepticism. She convinced me to make the switch. Even though I will maintain for the rest of my life that she bullied me into a BSc. degree, I have to say it was one of the best decisions I have made and I will never regret it. We studied together, taught each other concepts, and complained together when we forgot to eat meals because we were working. We practised alongside each other on the blackboards in classrooms, spent endless hours in the Math lab whining about Java codes that refused to do their jobs, and wondered many times if we should get individual degree certificates or split one certificate between us. Tirtha and I always got a kick out of telling people we were pursuing Math because it always filled them with awe for us because Math is scary enough, but girls in Math seems even more intimidating somehow (it’s really not). Like Tirtha says so nicely: “Why do I need to pick between beauty OR brains? I’ll pick both of them and do just fine, thank you.”
Tirtha is a character full of surprises. The same person who stood first in the graduating class with a cumulative GPA greater than nine also once told me off for leaving her unsupervised with her laptop. “It’s your fault! Why did you leave me alone with my laptop? I didn’t do any work and I watched four episodes instead…” So much for studious and serious.
Leaving college has been a big jump. It’s been a month and it’s pretty weird. I recently came to terms with the idea of having to pay for my own WiFi and when I revealed this to my friends, Tirtha responded lovingly: “Welcome to the real world.” I have been told many times that the friends I make in college will be some of the closest I ever make. I think it’s safe to say that Tirtha is definitely one of the closest people I am going to have in my life and I am going to look forward to giving her bone-crushing hugs that she claims to dislike for the rest of my life.
I love you Tirtha Patel. You’re an inspiration and a weirdo rolled into one. I am so thrilled you’re back in the same city as I am because this means you can bully me into making decisions for some more time. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to thank you enough for it. Since words are my best friend, this is a tiny thank you to tell you, you’re amazing and I am lucky to have you in my life.