Cookie Memories

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!!

Defining Your ‘COOL’

“Being Cool is being your own self,not doing something that someone else is telling you to do.”

I read this quote in a magazine long back. Yes, the time when social media and meme culture did not exist and hence the magazines. I belong to the time where we loved Bryan Adam’s summers, Shakira’s hips never lied and Enrique was our ‘hero’. We listened to sad and broken women singing barely comprehensible words about flashlights and feeling their way around in the dark. Then there were these quintessential bad boys with jeans so low, their behinds would advertise their underwear brand. And of course, the accompanying finger show was cemented as a part of our cultural lexicon.  All that because everyone wanted to be cool.

The most popular teens weren’t usually the ones with well adjusted personalities, kind natures, and sensible life goals. They were the ones partying too much and making others feel bad about themselves. Adolescence can mean facing the emotional challenges of adults for the first time. Due to higher testosterone, they use their prefrontal cortex to rein in their emotions. Then there is a pea sized insula, tucked away in the cerebral cortex, which is partly responsible for all the seemingly disparate things because it facilitates our concept of self-awareness, the awareness of our bodies and emotions and the desire. It lights up when they are compelled to accept any changes around them. It gives them a high when, they are famous (even infamous) or are loved by their peers and when juniors look up to them. At that age, they love to imagine that they are in control. But more often than not…the changing chemical composition of their brains control them.   

There was an incident that took place when I was in high school. My parents and I were invited by a family, whose son was a senior in my school. I met his parents and his grandmother. My first instinct was to touch the grandmother’s feet, because that’s what my parents have taught me all my life. The next day, I was the laughing stock of the school because touching the feet of elders wasn’t cool unless you were trying to impress the boy!!! This shook the very core of my belief. Very soon, I was termed a ‘nerd’ and ‘behenji’ in the school. I felt miserable for a while. When I look back to the time, I realise, there were just a few children, who liked being rude and others some how appreciated it and tried to emulate the same kind of behaviour. 

The world is full of disappointments, and sometimes people let you down. You can’t just run away. But still, many of us are permanently scarred by the experiences of our adolescence. There are little girls whom I know were bullied for their speech and avoided school for a long time. Just think of all the people you see on social media desperately trying to come across as the most popular. I have come across some college children, who gang up against smaller groups of students who speak a different language or belong to a different state and, find it very cool because it somehow makes them feel superior.

Vulnerability isn’t the opposite of strength. It’s a necessary part. We have to force ourselves to open up, to expose ourselves and stand up for the right. Some people are bullied for being dark skinned or being overweight, judged for not having a sense of humour etc. What is cool and what is uncool, is a perception of our mind. Too often, people stand by and do nothing for the people who suffer and I think, it’s time we change that. I have often heard people say “This is how it is”  or “Who cares?”. It has become easy for everyone to accept and succumb to despair and readily accept what is wrong. Since when is it OK to be rude or OK to laugh at someone for their problems? It only becomes “not ok” when it happens to themselves.. Why? Just because, “Kyunki main meri favourite hoon?”. 

For many, there comes a tumultuous time when their appearance,emotions, failure become such a bane of their existence. Let such talks stop.. Let’s be kind.. Let’s love more, appreciate more and accept more. Because there are no insults that are bizzarrely hilarious.