Thursday, September 22, 2011


Last week, I wrote about three unrequited loves and promised to tell you more. And since I began this story, it is I who must take it to its logical conclusion as well, for whatever it is worth.

I spent a lot of time thinking how I would tell you what I have to say. Should I try and make it funny, or should I reveal what I have to say through characters invented to meet the moment, and then I realised that today’s page is about being honest and ‘me’, and so I should abandon all ‘technique’ and ‘artifice’ and just say it like it is.

So here’s the story, bare and true…

I was a very confused kid in my teens. I believed I was good.

I had a strong sense of self-worth, like we all do. We all believe that we are talented, pleasant, likeable, even lovable and special. Like the rest of you, I believed I was meant for great things and that someone special and beautiful was out there waiting for me to walk up to her and carry her away in my arms. And I found her too, just a few houses away. She was my best friend’s sister and my sister’s best friend. The more I saw of that smile that lit up her face and my heart in the same breath, the more I wanted to see her beaming face. I would walk past her school bus-stand in the mornings half an hour before it was my time, hoping to catch a glimpse of her and I would spend my evenings playing cricket or soccer with one eye on the game and the other looking out for her, and soon as I’d see her or turn deaf to all the sounds in the park and hear her laugh and talk, like a delicate ankle-bell tinkling on a quiet summer afternoon, I would run in faster, hit the ball harder or at least hope to. More often than not, I would miss the ball altogether and end up hitting the ground harder, biting the dust and swallowing defeat. But come next evening, I would try again, and again and again…

This girl, who made me play an evening’s sport with the reckless passion of a ready-to-die for glory gladiator, hated my guts… How do I know this? She told my sister, who very dutifully spilled the beans on me just when and where they would hurt the most. She said, and I quote “Where’s that irritating brother of yours? I hope he isn’t coming to the park today. I hate him! He is such a painful show off !!”

Evidently, in spite of having strong potential references in her brother and my sister, this vacancy wasn’t going to be open to me. And yet, in less than five years from that day, as soon as I turned 21, I was married to her. Let me tell you how that happened. But before that, what had I done to deserve all that hate?

Well, after we fell in love and got married, I asked her if what my sister had told me was true, and if so, why did she hate me so, for, for the life of me, I couldn’t work out why someone like her should “hate” someone as…, you know… someone as… (such immodesty is beyond me, but feel free to fill in the blanks with superlatives of your choice) … as me.

So as I lay with my head in her lap one Sunday afternoon, and she playfully ruffled my hair with those hands I had dreamt of holding every evening in the park, and playfully asked her the same question again, hoping to hear something like, “I was naïve and I didn’t understand you and how you were so different… just too good to be true etc….”, she, I’m hoping involuntarily, clutched my hair tight and tugged at it and said, “You were obnoxious! Arrogant and irritating and….” By now she really was pulling at my hair and I realised her memories of the past had begun to influence her present actions and so I let out a little squeak. She hurried back to the present, let go of my hair, smiled and then did a lot of nice things that good sweet wives do, and then continued. “You used to bug me. You’ll ask me and the others some stupid obscure questions just because you happened to know the answers and you would try and pull everybody down just to try and prove that you were smarter than everybody else. I really disliked those bits about you at the time. You were nice and interesting, but this thing about you was such a turn off. And then when we met during our MBA, you had changed… changed so much, and for the better.”

Hmmm, so I had changed, suddenly, but imperceptibly, but how? And when? And perhaps more importantly, why?

When we look back on those years today, I begin to understand what she meant. I was the same nice guy if you will, then, that I am today and I knew it. But I was worried that the world around me did not. So in conversations and discussions I would make it a point to try and prove that I knew this and I had an opinion about that. All I wanted to do was to impress the person I was talking to. I wanted him or her to feel that I was intelligent and likeable. So I’d go, “Hey, did you know that Mikhail Gorbachev got the map of America tattooed on his forehead so that his grand kids could shoot at it with their suction-cup dart guns?” And once the joke fell flat, I would move on to the Socratic method of asking questions off the group, but unlike Socrates, I was not looking for the truth. I was just trying to make a statement.

Often, during these discussions that I would drag my closest friends into, my opinions would run up against those of others. Now you must remember that my beliefs were not mere beliefs but manifestations of my self-worth. So if I felt that Imran Khan was better than Kapil Dev, it didn’t matter how bitter and stupid the discussion became, I just wouldn’t let go of my stand because admitting to another’s opinion, to me, was like admitting I wasn’t good enough.

I wouldn’t stop there either. At the time, I must’ve been desperate to make my world believe that I could be funny. For I can find no other reason why I would try so hard to make jokes about my friends, pull them down and take pleasure in seeing others laugh at them, the butt of my, at times, cruel jokes. Don’t get me wrong. I loved the guys I would make jokes about. But at that time I used to think that I could be good only if I could prove that I was better than the others.

So, yeah, I guess I really was an obnoxious fool.

But why did I change? Honestly, I don’t know, because I’m telling you all this in retrospect. But here’s what I think…

Through all these years, I had a friend who saw the real me – a shy and desperate kid lurking behind this mask of complexes and unwitting arrogance, hungering for love and acceptance. He didn’t mind my discussions, he tolerated my stupid adamancy and he forgave me my rude jokes. He never once attempted to knock me down or hit back for trying to make him look like a fool or for cracking jokes at his expense. I could do all I wanted but I could never do enough to upset him, or even hurt him. I’m sure I must have, but he never let me, or anyone else feel that.

He understood me then more than I ever did, and I was only beginning to understand him, but then he was gone, just like that. He was just 19…

I never told him I loved him. And just when I wanted to, he was gone, forever. For hours, days, months and years, he stayed with me, in my head, replaying a lifetime’s adolescence shared together, from dawn to dawn… and shared dreams crushed under the wheels of a wayward bus.

But even as his memories tore at me, they liberated me. For the first time, I began to see him for who he was. I saw that he loved because he wanted to love, gave of his love honestly, unconditionally and without artifice. I saw that he was the most honest person I had ever known for he never lied to himself. And I saw that he had the courage to be himself, and the compassion to believe that he didn’t have to be good at someone else’s expense. And this is why he was so loved, by all of us, even by someone as emotionally insecure and parasitic as me.

His legacy touched and changed me and made me into the man his sister loves today. I am glad I changed but I wish he didn’t have to leave for me to learn my lessons… miss you…


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