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By Piyush Mittal (PGP ’86)


My introduction to you was on a hot dry day in the summer of 84 on the second floor of Dorm 2. You were to be my next door neighbor – my roomy. A tall, well built guy with thick glasses and hair falling across your forehead. Hair I would later tease you about – once we became friends – as a “Sadhna cut” after a well known feminine hair style. Ribbing which you mostly handled well, in your very genial style.


Over the next few days I learned more about you – and our many shared similarities. A common engineering background. Love for music – mainly Western, Pop and Rock. Fondness for athletics in general and running in particular. And just a general, very easy going attitude to life. Or at least I thought so. I was to learn, unexpectedly, a few months later, that that last one was probably a head-fake on your part. There was a lot more to you below the surface not immediately apparent, a facade within which there was a core that you kept hidden, that no one ever knew about.


You and I used to go running nearly every evening. The short, very popular and accessible route through the Textile Research complex. Usually in our favorite red t-shirts. And we would then stretch and cool down in the field in front of the MDC behind D15. That was a great way to ease the stress of the day. And to prepare for the evening, when after dinner we would go back to the dorm, have sundry conversation with our floor mates, and then hit our respective books and case studies, priorities which never strayed too far from our minds.


After a term break when you returned from home you brought a card – very elegantly and lovingly calligraphed by your sister – with the enormously popular lyrics from the Police on them. Sometimes when we listened to music we used to hum those lines. . . . Every step you take . . . every move you make . . . I’ll be watching you . . . You certainly had a mischievous side.


Early evening one day, walking back from our daily jog, still in our shorts and t-shirts, we went past a wedding reception. And you were unable to contain your craving for the delectable cuisine laid out at the event. You persuaded me to join you, and after some back and forth, and cautions and conditional ultimatums from my end, we walked into the celebration. I was a bit petrified but tempted enough to follow your lead with the goodies – chaat, dahi-vadas, bhel. And after that I figured we needed to leave and gestured as much to you. But no. You also had to have ice cream. So we ventured over to that stall and partook of that frozen treat.


And after that I tried to point you towards the exit. But you had other plans. To my horror, you turned around, walked over to the newly weds, and congratulated them. My mind completely gob-smacked, I followed meekly. While I could only smile and mumble at them awkwardly, you were perfectly at home. In your shorts and t-shirt and sneakers, amid the well-dressed of the area, in that festive moment, you were very comfortable, almost as if you belonged there. I could only marvel at that absurdness and self-possession. I was definitely quaking internally and was grateful to eventually exit that place without a rumpus.


Surprisingly though, extremely inappropriately dressed that we were, most everyone at that event was exceedingly polite and nice to us. Later we thought about it and eventually figured we were so blatantly out of place in that party everyone thought it improbable that we did not belong there! Or perhaps they were too courteous or embarrassed to check with us and ask what we were doing there.


Afterwards we would often bring that day up and joke about it, conjuring up alternate scenarios where we could be called out or challenged by someone at the event, and how we would extricate ourselves from that jam!


A cool crisp February morning I was running late as usual. With barely enough time to spare for breakfast and then to hit the first class in the morning, I dashed into the bathroom before heading for the cafeteria. You were standing in front of the mirror, your toiletries on the sink in front of you.


But you were not in a hurry. You were intently looking at yourself in the mirror, deep in thought. And I coaxed you. “Get moving, buddy, it’s getting late for class”. And I dashed out again, without a second thought, looking towards my watch, trying to figure out if there was enough time for breakfast.


A bare couple of hours later, you were gone. Inexplicably. Forever.

. . . Thinking back . . . through the dim foggy lens of time . . . was the weight of the world on your shoulders that morning . . . maybe it is just my own, very faulty, very tentative perception . . . . . When I think back to that day . . . which – with the passage of time – is not as often nowadays . . . . . . I am usually reminded of Eliot’s words . . . For this is the way the world ends . . . Not with a bang but a whimper . . .


The next few days were a blur.


I do remember the kindness and support of my class mates and seniors.


Of working with the admin folks and police and making a statement.


Of grappling with the fiends and specters in my brain, and that last image of you.


But mostly, of dealing with my own very convoluted thoughts.


Over the past three decades I’ve begun to better understand the finer nature of subtlety and nuance. But back then. More than thirty years earlier. I was too callow. Still an apprentice in the workshop of life. And not fully ready to yet be mature and responsible about life. And I could not stop brooding.


Was there something I had missed? Was there a cryptic statement you made to me that was a desperate cry for help?


Small gestures were replayed and expressions revisited. Did you reach out and I missed it? Did it mean something or did it not? And on and on and on.


And there was grief, lamentations, and complaints!


. . . If only . . . you could have been more explicit and transparent about any dark thoughts . . . if only . . . you could have verbalized any torment that existed . . . if only . . .  you had screamed and yelled and let it all out . . . if . . . if only . . .


A few weeks later while preparing to leave for Mumbai for the usual management internship after year one I was offered the chance to meet your family. But it was too close in time to when you left us. Things were too raw. And I was not sure what I would say to them, your family. How do you tell a mother that you were a great friend to her son but still had no window into his soul? That you could not foresee a tragedy and were unable to prevent it? And I hesitantly declined the offer to meet.


Thinking back, I should have made that visit. Probably I could have shared anecdotes and moments about you with them, and perhaps helped lighten their burden, somewhat. And probably they could have enlightened me about you and who you really were. To help me understand why someone who had everything going for him would choose to throw that all away?

. . . Time does heal . . .

. . . Its wheels keep moving . . . and define ever newer landmarks and milestones . . .

. . . And life goes on . . . we adapt, adjust, and move on . . .

. . . And occasionally . . . though more infrequently now . . . these words come wafting to me . . .

. . . Every breath you take . . . every move you make . . . I’ll be watching you . . .

. . . Not sure if you are watching us, Jalaj . . . but this world is sure missing a very talented guy . . .

. . . If only . . . if . . . only . . .




AUTHOR: admin
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