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My 77-year-old friend

FOR THE last eight years, each time I’ve strolled into my home compound, my eyes have almost instinctively darted to the balcony on the opposite side, of my building.
Sitting there, always, was my good old friend. He is 77 now, and possibly, the only friend, riding into the sunset. I still remember the one time he had stayed up for me, when I was returning from an ungodly hour at the newspaper, where I worked. It was 1 am, and he startled me, as he called out my name in the pitch black of night. “Jane, goodnight,” he yelled out. hands-699486_1280

The next day, I rang him up, and chided him for being so silly and scaring the wits out of me.
“I thought it was a ghost,” I had said.
“But, I wanted to surprise you kiddo,” he explained.
“No, please don’t do that ever again,” I told him.
I was angry. And, I still don’t know why.

Having said that, he and I share a different bond. Sometimes, he tells me the most absurd things, enough to leave me amused, and anyone else scandalised. I, occasionally, let him know, when he is going overboard. Once, when he asked, “Why I hadn’t been born 50 years earlier”, I gave him a cold response, “You know, we’d still ‘just’ be friends, right?” He never asked that question again.

Then, there were those emails, which he proactively sent me, once in a while, when he saw me, walk out of my building. “Saw you in a red top, yesterday, rang in the evening. Were you at work?”, one mail with the subject Red Riding Hood read.
Another read: “Waking from my siesta yesterday I saw you, grey top on black jeans, going to work, followed five paces behind, by your two brothers. Walking tall, you were dwarfed by them, but never mind, it’s all in the family. Take care kiddo.”

Sometimes, I would tease him for stalking me. “I am the untitled watchman of the building, don’t you know?” he’d say in feeble defence. “I don’t get paid for the job, though.” We’d laugh together.

The last time, we had met was sometime in mid October. He had seen me come home from work, and called out as usual, “Baby girl, come over, if you’re free. I am getting bored as hell.” A year before this, he had lost sensation in his left hand, and that had made him miserable. He couldn’t write emails or share those fine film reviews, he wrote for publications — he is a noted film critic and a former news editor with a leading newspaper. The vacuum was taking a toll.
That day, We had sat in silence for a good five minutes in his balcony. I was browsing through all his handsome, black and white photographs from his 30s. “Why didn’t you marry?” I asked. “So many beautiful women Jane…How do you settle for one?” he joked. That day, he also shared many stories about playing in the cricket club of Cavel (where we live) in the mid 60s and 70s. I promised to come back to hear more.
“Come soon, though. You know my mind… it’s been playing tricks.”

Three months ago, he stopped showing up at the balcony. Initially, I didn’t think much of it, assuming he had gone for a short break to Goa. “But, without letting me know? That would have been impossible.”
It was only in early December that I learned that he was now, bed-ridden and slowly losing memory. Yet, when I met him that day, his pale face immediately broke into a smile, “Jane, right? How are you, kiddo?”
That day, I told myself that I would muster the courage to meet him again – probably the very next day and every day after that. I confess, I waited on this tad too long. It’s not that I didn’t want to. It’s just that I didn’t know how to.

When I decided to see him again, two days ago, nearly a month after that broken promise to myself, I was ready for the worst. He would have forgotten me for sure, I thought. “Steel yourself,” I assured my anxious nerves.

It broke my heart to know that the man, who waved across to me from his balcony every evening and who’d call me if he hadn’t heard from me for more than two days at a stretch, would not remember me or recall my name anymore. It also hurts, because, honestly, in all these years of knowing him, he genuinely cared for me and I doubt, his affection was ever returned in equal measure. To this day, he hasn’t forgotten a single birthday of mine. I, unfortunately, cannot boast of the same lucidity of the mind. Even as I write this, I can’t seem to recall the exact date of his birthday.  The last time, I made up by taking him to Starbucks in my recently-purchased car. He loved the coffee and relished that cheesecake, but he could not stop at how uncomfortable he felt at enjoying small pleasures in an over-priced coffee chain. I am glad that’s one thing we agreed upon. I promised him another date soon, but again, I reneged. My sorry excuse: work.

A week ago, during a chat over coffee, a friend had mentioned to me, how in every relationship there is one who is always giving, and one, who’s receiving. At the time, I had over-confidently proclaimed that this hadn’t been the case in my life, and that I had little to complain about the friends I’ve had and those I have kept. Little did I know, that here I was, doing not just as much as my old man – always receiving his kindness, but grudgingly parting with my own.

As I entered the bedroom, where he has been lying for the last three months, I could feel a wave of emotions, engulf me. There, he was, shriveled, smaller and nothing of the glorious, old man, I remember. I sat on the sofa opposite his, he darted a cold look, then, stared at the ceiling, and looked back at me again. “You finally came,” his voice was hoarse and incoherent. I nodded. I really had nothing to say. “I love those polka dots on your black top,” he said, looking at my shirt. “But, I think you always looked better in red kiddo.”




Blogger's diary

Seven life lessons I learnt in two years!

Being awaythe_time_post from home has taught me lessons to last a lifetime. With homecoming just a earshot away, there are so many things, events and people to be grateful for. I could go on talking about it. But to cut a long story short, I have lived the most miraculously eye-opening two years. For starters, I learned that there is so much to value, so much to love, and so much to cherish. I probably have changed, and changed for the better.  Here’s why and how:

A shift is not life-changing, it is life-altering: Two years ago, when I left Mumbai, I was confident that this was going to be a life-defining moment for me, and that being thrust into a new environment – no matter how unnerving that was – was going to change my life forever. I was wrong. Call it a lack of experience, or my own naivete at that time, I realise now that nothing can really ‘change your life forever,’ it can only alter it and leave a few ripples in this vast ocean of life. And that such alterations and ripples will keep happening, and will keep bringing in many changes – sometimes slowly and steadily, and sometimes, too soon for your own comfort. Whatever it is, we shouldn’t look at any one moment in our life – be it shifting countries, writing a book, falling in love, getting married or having children – to bring that crazy change that we assume it would. Having such notions either creates too many expectations or frightens us from taking that big leap. We don’t realise that change is not drastic; it is our reaction to such changes that make the outcome drastic. Think about it!

Give family a chance: If it wasn’t for that conversation I had with my mom one lazy afternoon last year, I wouldn’t really know what I was missing. I don’t know what had come upon me that day, but I was suddenly sharing tales about my past crushes with her. She, on the other hand, was so excited that I had let her into that space, which until then I had only reserved for close friends that she kept prodding me for more details. With each name I brought up, she funnily said, “But I always knew you liked him”. To, which I curiously asked, “Then why didn’t you tell me?” She dejectedly replied, “I thought you didn’t want me to know.” That day was so nice; it was like two best friends talking about life – only that one of us undeniably knew the other better.  The point I am making here is that sometimes we invest so much energy into friends that we forget to enjoy familial bonds. I got new best friends in my parents and brothers in the last few months. Trust me, when you realise this, you stop searching.

Invest in a machine: No, not your cellphone, Iphone or laptop…blaah! They are more like crack. I am talking about something more real, which both inspires and occupies you. Like say a car, sewing machine, DSLR, oven…it could be anything that has a conceivable productive outcome. You will be surprised, how a machine can teach you something about you or reveal a side you never saw of yourself. I saved up enough to get my hands on a car and DSLR this year, and need I say, it’s been a brilliant experience. My car Jake, in particular, taught me to be patient, focused and always on guard for unexpected trouble. Mostly, thanks to Jake, I learnt a big road (life) lesson. You could probably do endless planning for the road ahead, but it’s not until you hit the turf that you’d finally know what the journey is going to be like. Making assumptions about your journey is foolhardy. It’s also okay to have minor bumps and accidents on the way. Rather than alarm or panic, accidents should draw an assuring smile. At least, you’d know the consequences of repeating the same accident (mistake) again.

Tell people how you feel and say it soon: Honestly, I am not an ardent proponent of this. If I hated someone, I’d never let them know. And God forbid I liked somebody, he would never find out. I think the biggest mistake we do is in not telling people how we feel and most importantly, not doing it soon enough, especially when the moment seems to be just right. Be it at work, be it at home, be it in our personal lives – it is always better to have things cleared out, rather than play games in your head, where your mind (if it is as fertile as mine) over-analyses every situation or conversation. I hate confrontation, I will admit that.  I also hate letting people know when they behave like douche bags and treat me like a toy that can be used when they fancy. But there is a point when your mind tells you that ‘it deserves some sanity’, and that though you might look like an absolute idiot in the end, it is better to have it out, rather than imagine a “what if” situation. Some years ago, I remember being very upset with a friend for things this person did. At that time, I was so furious, but I just let it fester. It made me so bitter then, and I didn’t even like the feeling. Months later, I did tell this person why I was upset, but it didn’t garner the reaction I had expected. Why? May be, because I was tad too late in addressing my own issues. So let people know how exactly you feel, and let them know it soon. The outcome can be heartbreaking, gut-wrenching and tear-jerking. But at least, you did your part. Done and dusted, more like it.

Write letters to your loved ones: Do you know that the written word is magical? I reserve writing letters for just a handful of friends – some of whom are usually prompt with a reply (thanks to email) even though, it is just a few paragraphs or sometimes less than 10 sentences. But the power of the gems we dole out in these few sheets of paper is inconceivable. Often, when I am at my lowest low, I go back to these letters, to hear what my friends have to say about me, about life and about a lot of things in general. It revives my dispirited self. In this world, where emotions are now conveyed ostentatiously through emoticons, text language (lol, rofl and hehehe…like seriously), and video chats, letters are hard to come by. Consider yourself lucky if you’ve found yourself a pen pal. My best friend and I wrote a lot of letters in the past, and they were beautiful to read. Currently, I have another friend sitting in Bangalore, indulging me with her wise words. She is an amazing colleague turned close friend, who moves me each time she writes. We have this incredible chain of thoughts that find way into our letters when we sit down to email each other. And for those, who claim to never find enough time to write letters…well, that’s the biggest lie, you have been cooking up in your own head. You don’t need time to write a letter. It is actually the other way around. It’s the letter that makes time to get itself to be written down.

Keep a planner: At the start of the year, I was nursing a silly little ache. Homesickness only added to my woes. It’s funny, but at that time, I wanted to escape my predicament so badly that I decided to keep a planner. I tore out the calendar-cum-planner that I found in a news magazine, and before I knew it, it became a source of inspiration. How did it work? I usually rewarded myself for every significant landmark in my life with a star (sometimes two stars) and drew a tick for every day that had passed. The bad days, if there were any, found a mention too. And because it was stuck on the door of my room, people who came over would usually smile with amusement. My brother, who was visiting in May, didn’t fall short of calling me a “fool”. Looking back at this calendar with just two months to go before the year ends, I am, however, glad that I found it. It has several dates that have been starred – like, when I bought my first car, when I drove alone, my first accident, when the cops first pulled me over, my trip to Greece, when I started writing my book, my pre-birthday surprise, my great big trekking adventure of the year, the long drive with my close girlfriend etc. This planner reminds me that while the brilliant days did not outweigh the ordinary ones, they did exist and that I need to be grateful for them.

Go off social network, even if it is for a while: I tried my hands at a social experiment this year. After years of being an avid Facebooker, I decided to give up on it for a while in June this year. The initial few days were super challenging, mostly because I was so used to skimming through my timeline the first thing in the morning. My dose of Facebook had become as important as morning coffee to me. When three days off social network had passed, and I realised that I had nothing to do – if you call snooping into people’s virtual life a thing that should be done – I started working on my next set of short stories. I think it was my most constructive month, and gave my life a sense of direction and purpose. Often, we get so caught up in the distractions of the virtual world, that we forget why we are here in the first place. Everything that we do and say becomes something that has to be done and said, because people will ‘like’ and ‘comment’ about it on social network. I had begun to feel that I was getting caught in this same charade.  Just this month, I gave up on Facebook again – this time I clubbed it with my favourite Instagram. But let us be honest, we cannot escape this virtual juggernaut. Though a timely break to remind yourself of the life you can live without it, won’t do any harm. There was a world that once existed between Stone Age and the Virtual Age. You can reclaim it, if you want to.