This is a short story I wrote about six years ago, during the vacations between Class IX and Class X. I found it recently while cleaning the house, buried deep in an old, old diary. I read it again and couldn't resist laying it down one more time. Pardon the pulpishness of the writing and also remember that I wrote this when I was 14.
I started my lunch with food on my table and Maths on my mind. Having been singled out for attention in Mr. Thomas’ Maths class was hardly reason to celebrate.
“Mr. Ghosh,” he had whispered into my ear, “I want that problem solved by the end of recess or else…”
It was the kind of whisper I was likely to remember.
However, it wasn’t Mr. Thomas making good on his Marlon Brando-like threat that concerned me, I was wondering whether Ajit Namoor would turn up.
Last night, I had been pleasantly surprised by a familiar, chirpy voice over the phone.
“Ghosh, you old bugger, how are you?”
Well, to cut a long story short and to clean up the language (a lot), he basically said that he’d be rejoining the school and would meet me in the canteen the next day. Now I sat there wondering if Ajit would actually turn up or if he had indulged in some long distance leg-pulling from East London, where he had spent the better part of the last eighteen months.
“Ahem,” someone tapped me on the shoulder, “may I sit here?”
“Hi Ajit,” I said with surprise, “how have you been?”
I looked at him and he looked back at me, smiling. Goodness, how he had changed! He had shrunk so far that it seemed that two of him could fit into his wheelchair. I shook his hand and stared at the crinkly, shriveled hand that he put in my palm. He had weakened considerably.
Not that you would know.
His voice was still full of energy, his brain working in overdrive, trying to put the wheels of the next prank in motion. The feel-good feeling was enhanced by the wide-eyed innocent smile that perpetually played on his lips. Not only was he as entertaining as ever but his intelligence too, seemed to have sharpened.
That was one reason why I loved being around him—he was genuinely bright and one could engage him in an animated conversation about almost any topic under the sun. He was also, I found, the person I most closely connected with mentally. Apart from the fact that he supported West Ham United. Poor soul! There was nothing discernable in his demeanour that had changed, apart from a Cockney twinge to his accent.
Sitting in the lunch hall, we chatted about times past, warmly recalling old experiences, our shared triumphs and sorrows. The time between us just melted away. There was something else about him that hadn’t changed—his appetite. Always a connoisseur, he munched away at his lunch with that dreamy look of contentment in his eyes, as if he had found heaven. Despite the canteen’s usually miserable offerings, I, too, found the food pretty good. Time sure did fly while we were having fun.
Till the bell rang.
“…And thus,” Ajit added with a flourish, “I believe that it’s criminal to accuse the guy for the deaths of people in a terrorist attack. I mean, we don’t sue the Wright brothers for a plane crash, do we?”
“I can’t argue with that,” I conceded. It was impossible.
“I guess time’s up,” he said, with emptiness in his voice.
“I guess so,” I said, feeling the same emptiness. “Call me sometime,” I said, as he wheeled away.
“By the way,” he added, his voice trailing, “if you divide your little equation by √2, you’ll find it reduces to a simple bi-quadratic expression.”
A crippling road accident. Leukaemia. And he braved through it all.
The conversation I have written of was the last I had with my dear friend Ajit Namoor. He lost his ten year battle with leukaemia a few days later.
But the one thing that astounded me about him and the thing that remains my first thought when I think of him was his smile. All his misfortunes had left him at death’s door. He had been handed a death sentence but he refused to accept it.
Instead, he lived his life with a grace and positive attitude that was an inspiration to all those around him. In all the time that I knew him, not once did I see him depressed. Never. That, quite possibly, is the best compliment I can pay him.
Whenever I raised the uncomfortable topic of his brittle health, he always expressed his fervent desire to live till he was a hundred. Well, in the hearts and minds of all those lives he touched, he will live far, far beyond a hundred.
Ajit, my dear friend, thanks for the memories.
I'm not sure if there's a point to this story but I'm going to tell it again.
- Eashan Ghosh
- I've been wilfully caught up in the self-defeating quest to get to know myself for years. I've never expected anything beneficial to result from such a quest. I tend to evoke extremely polarised reactions from people I get to know in passing. Consequently, only those people who know me inside-out would honestly claim that I'm a person who's just "alright." It's not a coincidence that the description I've laid out above has no fewer than, title included, eleven references to me (make that twelve). I'm affectionately referred to as "Ego." I think that last statement might have given away a tad too much. Welcome Aboard.
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