To unwind, after numerous attempts to achieve the sales target, my team and I would go for chai and poha in the late afternoon. On an usual afternoon, we stepped out of the office building to find a new place set up just outside the premises. ‘Shivis’ read the brand new board. The beautiful paintings on the lilac walls were so inviting. The place looked expensive but, we wanted to give it a try.
“After all, how much a plate of poha could cost!” We thought to ourselves.
We entered and ordered our normal snack. Poha and a cutting chai !! We saw a middle aged man with a huge head full of dark hair reading a book at the cash counter. I couldn’t help notice the lines on his face. It seemed like, each line, spoke a different story of his days, sang a different song of his victory. I squinted to see the title of the book, “The Wealth of Nations”. I remembered reading the book in college.
I went up to speak to him. “Hello” I said.
He replied with a smile, “Hi.. How may I help?”.
His voice was heavy and his speech had a slight accent. “I love the book you are reading.” I said.
“Oh its my favourite too. I love the author’s outlook about the modern economics. It makes sense even in today’s world.” We ended up having a very long chat about our favourite books and movies.
“This man is a delight.” I thought to myself.
Days went by, ‘Vishal Bhaiya’ and I became great pals. He was once married to his high school sweetheart named Shivani. He opened this place for the love of his wife. But the marriage didn’t last for more than 6 years.
My friends found our friendship to be bizarre because of the age difference. From my experience I can say one thing for sure, friendships with older and younger people help broaden your perspective. From elders, you will always get great advices, because more likely than not – they’ve already experienced them.
We would have our meals together. To my surprise, he was a wonderful chef. He learnt baking in his 20’s. He baked the best chocolate fudge cupcake, I ever tasted. He taught me how to bake cookies and he ate my half burnt cookies with the same zeal. I knew I was evolving personally and emotionally.
Many times, I saw him popping colourful pills from a box. I never thought of inquiring about it. Once after lunch, I just blurted the words,
“Are those multivitamins to keep you younger”, followed by a hysterical laughter.
“Oh! these, are just to keep me alive a little longer”, he said with a wide grin on his pale face.
I couldn’t really process that information. My laughter turned to a distraught expression.
“I have been wanting to tell you this from a long time now”, as he started to speak, I knew I didn’t want to hear the words that followed.
“I am HIV positive”.
My heart stopped and I found myself rooted to my chair. I found out that he had come to terms with his imminent death. His calm and cool look, concealed his pain and the fact he was shunned by his friends and family after the virus was detected. His grieving wife, left when she could not handle the pressure of being married to an HIV patient.
Stigma of this virus has its own pathway; it starts with labelling, separation, status loss, and ends up in discrimination. To see the HIV stigma flaunt itself in the mainstream – after so much effort, and so many years dedicated to overcoming it – is depressing indeed. People are facing social ostracism, while many are increasingly facing the situation with fortitude and courage.The virus turned off his immunity but the society, made him immune to love and care. But one thing I know for sure, the kindness that resided in his heart, made him forgive everyone.
Death of a friend is like losing a limb. The pain and the anguish goes away after a while, but the feeling of loss still lingers forever. Sometimes, it feels like you’ll never get over the grief. It can feel all-encompassing. It’s funny to think, that best friends attend each other’s birthday, anniversary but never the funeral.
Sometime friends separate due to job priorities, family etc. But when they see each other after a long time, the conversations start right, where you left the last time. For true friendships, the connection isn’t very difficult to reset.
My friend left me behind. In my case, I wish I could unpause the silence. I looked for him in the crowded places. I knew it was impossible, but grief, is never governed by logic. The misery often takes away the happy memories, but is it worth it? I needed closure. It took some time but I, came up with a copping mechanism. I cherished every memory of his, I celebrate his birthday every year since then and I tried to become more like him. The scar he left behind is deep and so was the bond we shared.
But I will always carry his love and all that he taught me in my heart. How lucky am I to have someone, who make goodbyes so hard!!