Second Chances: Best Non-Fiction?

Something interesting just happened. A story that I had written more than four years ago just won the APAC Regional Literary Award for best non-fiction. I don’t get any money, its just a recognition. And I didn’t have the heart to tell them that it was completely fictitious. Anyway, here’s the story.

PS: Special thanks to Shruti Srivatsan for the nefarious idea and the inspiration.

SECOND CHANCES

“Friendship marks a life even more deeply than love. Love risks degenerating into obsession, friendship is never anything but sharing.”

 – Elie Wiesel
American Author
Nobel Peace Prize 1986

second chances One of the greatest attributes of life is its ability to deny us what we really want and give us what we really need. My life has been a constant game of badly-played chess, with every move as unplanned and sometimes, as stupid as it can get. Talking about friends and how they helped me reconstruct a broken foundation takes me back three years – a time when I almost convinced myself that I was a burden to everyone around me and decided that there isn’t anything else that I can offer to the world.

My time here was up, and I had to make a quick exit – to end my life and escape to that blissful afterworld where there’re no more complaints, no more angry glances, no more walking into a room filled with people who stop in mid-sentence and look at me as though I’m an unwanted piece of garbage, no more hints and subtle suggestions about me being a loser – and I chose the tried and tested path of a blade to the wrist in a bathroom alone at night.

It was in my second year of undergrad course that I found out I was really a loser. The faculty treated me with disdain as if they were teaching me only because they were forced to, and my classmates never even acknowledged my presence, let alone talk to me. What was the point to all this, I thought. Why am I here? I don’t belong here because I am not wanted.

The situation at home wasn’t any different as my parents never really had the time to sit with me and talk about anything. There was a big pile of unopened progress reports on the refrigerator, and every day I looked at them in the hope that at least one of them would be opened. My grades were good but not great, and I just wanted my parents to know about the time I got a 25 on 25 in math or the time when I cleared the physics paper. I wasn’t asking for a pat on the back and I wasn’t asking for a present in return. All I wanted was for them to smile at me occasionally, or at least look at me. I returned every day to an empty house and an emptier home. My time was up.

There was only one person in whom I could confide everything and he was the only one whom I could call a friend, in the truest sense of the word. Aziz was a fellow undergrad in my school and we’d met each other during the first semester in the English class. He was also an introvert and this is what drew me to him. I looked at him and realized that we had a lot of things in common. He never spoke in class and was always very calm and quiet and kept mostly to himself. The friendship began with a mutual smile and a lunch.

We talked about school work and girls and chess (we both had the dream of playing for the school chess team) and how we never could muster the courage to enroll. We became good friends and met up as often as we could and as frequently as our very different class schedules allowed us. I could call him a friend.

There’re times in life when we expect something, and something totally different happens. A better way to put it would be, “Things never happen as planned.”

After a month of fighting with myself, I finally decided to confide in Aziz. I picked up the phone and called him. It was perhaps the most important phone call I’d ever make. Holding the blade tightly in my hand, I was crouching in the corner of my room, and watching the thin rivulets of blood dripping through my fingers from the force with which I clutched the blade, when the call went through and he answered.

Today, as I sit here in Buffalo, NY and write about this, I feel tears weighing my eyes down. The journey from being a hopeless loser to crossing the Atlantic and arriving in USA for a Masters has been entirely due to that phone call. Aziz spoke to me over the phone for three hours even though it was almost two in the morning, and spoke to me about things so important that I’d never really considered. Being twenty-one years of age and ending my life would never allow me to discover myself. There’s a solution for every crisis, and it’s not suicide. Life has so many things to show us and teach us and it will, only if we give it a chance to do so.

Ending one’s life is so easy, but re-building it isn’t.

Aziz died on June 27th, 2006 in Bangalore, India, after being diagnosed with a malignant type of blood cancer. I held his hand in the hospital on the 26th and told him that I’d got an admission into SUNY Buffalo to do my Masters’. He smiled through his pain and squeezed my hand tightly. He had lost his speech a week ago, but I knew what he wanted to say. “You’ve given life a chance to show you the world; don’t take that chance away.”

It’s been almost a month since I’ve come to the USA and every minute I spend here, I owe it to him. In a strangely ironic twist of fate, I landed myself an on-campus job at the Roswell Park Cancer Center. There’re people like Aziz in all of us and there’re people like the old me in all of us as well. It’s important that we make the right choice.

I did, and I’m thankful for it. It’s worth these tears. He’s worth it.

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The 46-Rupee Meal

Ten years ago, when the world was a nicer place to live in, I was just getting out of high school, full of misdirected ambitions of making a difference in the world. Of the many things that were ideal back then, I liked the fact that I could have a hearty meal for less than ten rupees. That’s about 5 cents. Maybe not a ‘hearty’ meal, but certainly a couple of idlis and a vada for eight rupees. For the uninitiated, an idli is a white colored, steamed rice cake, about the size and shape of a BlackBerry Curve and a vada is a brown colored doughnut-shaped (and sized), deep-fried eatable that goes perfectly well with an idli. Ten years ago, a pair of idlis and a vada together used to cost eight rupees.

Today, ten years later, I realized that there has been a 475% increase in the cost of the same meal. A pair of idlis and a vada, today, costs 46 rupees.

Idli Vada
Two Idlis and a Vada - The 46-Rupee Meal

That’s still less than a dollar, but for someone who’s spent the better part of his life here in India, that’s daylight robbery. The strangest part of the entire experience today over lunch was not that I was fretting about the astronomical increase in the rate, but the equally enormous decrease in the quantity and taste.

The sizes of the idlis and vadas have reduced so much that its hard to spot them when you put them on a plate. You have to have a pair of really good binoculars to identify where they are and make sure that your spoon hits the mark. No, I’m exaggerating, of course, but you get the idea. And the taste, well, I have eaten pieces of cardboard (for free) that have been tastier.

I hate to call this inflation, because the term ‘inflation’ has a definition, a universally-accepted identity. I would call this phenomenon a gross negligence on the part of the Indian public, who have allowed this kind of injustice to penetrate every aspect of their lives. Our lives. Commonplace examples – a tennis ball that used to cost ten rupees now costs thirty. A piece of chewing gum that was half a rupee is now three rupees. A toothbrush that used to cost around four to five rupees is now thirty-five.

How I wish I were living in the stone ages, where all I had to worry about was the next critter I caught for dinner and the next female I slept with. If wishes were horses, I’d be a very rich, sexually-gratified stable boy.

Moto!!!

I got my old phone back!! Yippeeeeeee!!

Ok, I got carried away. I apologize. When I went to New York a year ago, I left my lovely sleek camera-less Moto flip phone with my younger brother for safekeeping. Of course, I should have known better. He disposed of my SIM card and got a new Airtel number and started using it. I expected this, obviously, having lived with the jerk for nineteen years. But what I didn’t expect was his resistance in giving the phone back to me! I hounded him for four weeks and finally, after a lot of blood and sweat, I got my baby back! Here’s what transpired:

Week 1: I asked him nicely. “Please give me my phone back.” He refused and ran out the room.

Week 2: I tried bribing him. “I’ll give you a hundred bucks if I can have my phone back!” He scoffed and said, “I’ll give you two hundred to drop the subject!”

Week 3: I tried stealing it. He had left it home and gone to college. I exchanged SIM cards and tried to start the phone, only to realize the jerk has activated a security code! Bah!

Week 4: I tried wrestling it from him. My neck is still weak from the choke hold he applied for ten minutes as I passed out.

Week 5: I emotionally blackmailed him. I promised to buy him a brand new drum kit if he gives the phone back to me.  He relented after bargaining for an hour – one drum kit, one carton of chocolate ice cream and a brand new Moto flip phone next month. I looked at my phone, resting in his hand, being held hostage. I never negotiate with terrorists, but my lovely phone had been through enough. I couldn’t bear to see it tortured anymore. I agreed to the jerk’s demands and said yes.

Now, I’m broke, he has a new drum kit and I have my phone back! All in all, a very satisfying deal.

Oh, and I forgot to mention, today’s his nineteenth birthday. Happy birthday, terrorist! 😀

Second Chances

“Friendship marks a life even more deeply than love. Love risks degenerating into obsession, friendship is never anything but sharing.”

– Elie Wiesel,
American Author,
Nobel Peace Prize 1986

One of the greatest attributes of life is its ability to deny us what we really want and give us what we really need. His life has been a constant game of badly-played chess, with every move as unplanned and sometimes, as stupid as it can get. Talking about friends and how they helped him reconstruct a broken foundation takes him back three years – a time when he almost convinced himself that he was a burden to everyone around him and decided that there wasn’t anything else that he could offer to the world. His time here was up, and he had to make a quick exit – to end his life and escape to that blissful afterworld where there’re no more complaints, no more angry glances, no more walking into a room filled with people who stop in mid-sentence and look at him as though he’s an unwanted piece of garbage, no more hints and subtle suggestions about him being a loser – and he chose the tried and tested path of a blade to the wrist in a bathroom alone at night.

It was in his second year of undergrad that he found out he was really a loser. The faculty treated him with disdain as if they were teaching him only because they were forced to, and his classmates never even acknowledged his presence, let alone talk to him. What was the point to all this, he thought. Why am I here? I don’t belong here because I am not wanted.

The situation at home wasn’t any different as his parents never really had the time to sit with him and talk about anything. There was a big pile of unopened progress reports on the refrigerator, and every day he looked at them in the hope that at least one of them would be opened. His grades were good but not great, and he just wanted his parents to know about the time he got a 25 on 25 in math or the time when he cleared the physics term paper. He wasn’t asking for a pat on the back and he wasn’t asking for a present in return. All he wanted was for them to smile at him occasionally, or at least look at him. He returned every day to an empty house and an emptier home. His time was up.

The person who helped him get through his hurdles – Aziz – died on May 4th, 2006 in Bangalore, India, after being diagnosed with a malignant type of blood cancer. He held his hand in the hospital on the third and told him that he’s going to live in San Jose, California, and that he owed his life to Aziz, because if it weren’t for him, there would have been no second chances.

This post is in memory of Aziz Muhammed, who celebrates his 2-year death anniversary today – a fact I was reminded of by an email from San Jose this morning, an email that gave me the permission to write these words and make his story known to the world. I had had only one cup of tea with Aziz, three years ago, and at that time, Chuckie, who was with me, said, “Life has so many things to show us and teach us and it will, only if we give it a chance to do so.”  Aziz smiled and made me smell the hot steam rising from the cup of tea. I dismissed him as a junkie at that time.

Now, I always smell my tea before drinking it.

Tiny Steps

I’ve been meaning to write this post for quite some time now, but never really got the chance. Now, I have the time, the motivation and the inclination to actually sit and write it down.

It’s a Friday afternoon and a lazy one at office. Not much of activity in the PR world on a weekend, and most of the work is to be pushed to the next week. So, I sit back in my plush chair, look up at the air-conditioned ceiling and think back at how to start this post.

This is actually an ode, a tribute to a friend of mine who’s been more than just a friend and never more. I call her Chucks, affectionately naming her after the haunted doll in a series of horror movies called Child’s Play. Chuckie’s in Sydney now, and has been for the past year and a half, studying to become a researcher in cancer genetics. Yeah, I know, she’s got big goals.

Actually, this is not an ode to Chucks, but rather a message of hope and strength that she desperately needs right now. She’s never been one to lose hope and direction in life, but quite recently, she shocked me when she said that she had lost them both. A self-deprecating journey can be disastrous and I know this first hand, when a lot of things didn’t fall in place for me at one point of time, and I fell into so deep a hole that it took me almost a year to recover. Chucks played a vital role in my recovery, and ever since, I’ve looked upon her as more of a mentor than a very good friend. it’s now been five years to the day since I’ve known her. April 18, 2002. 🙂

When a mentor loses confidence, then it’s up to the disciple to take over the mantle and guide the mentor out of the looming abyss. Things happen in life that can’t be avoided. We all go through a phase when we start questioning our judgments and our decisions, and whenever possible, we must be strong enough to back ourselves up. Realizing that we are of sound mind and sound body can help a lot.

Have faith, Chucks. Never lose faith. Believe in yourself and you’ll do amazing things. I am sure of that. I know you and I know your abilities and I’m sure somewhere deep down, you do too. Hope and faith are all the ammunition you’ve got to fight depression and bad tides. I urge you to use it.

Nostalgia can go a long way in your recovery. Remember how you cured me, Chucks. Remember the medicines you gave me – nostalgia, hope and faith. I hope you remember, because if you don’t, then I’d have to come all the way to Sydney now. 😀

I wish you all the very best in your life, Chucks. You’ve got a long and fruitful life ahead of you, and please don’t lose track of your original goals and plans. I’m here for you; we’re all here for you, Chucks. We want you to succeed and I want you to fulfill your promises you made me before you left.

Proceed in tiny steps, Chucks.

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Dear Readers: I apologize if this blog wasn’t really the ideal forum for posting this message to Chucks, but I had to do it. After what she’s done for me, I feel this is the least I could do. I would be grateful if you could leave behind your wishes and good will for my dear Chucks, and hope that she can get over her troubles and depressions and return home victorious! Thanks! I owe you all! 🙂

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The Big Crunch!

end of the world2008 hasn’t been a very good year for me so far. In fact, it hasn’t been a good year for most of the people I’ve known – failed marriages, failed love lives, too many bad days at work and school, diets not working, falling down, accidents, losing clients, losing major contracts, losing jobs, cost-cuttings, fights at home, and so on… The list is endless. Most of the people I know can’t really explain what’s happening. Last year, it had been so good for these people, me included, and all of a sudden, fortunes change drastically. A close friend of mine lost close to fifty thousand rupees on the stock markets and another good friend of mine had a life-threatening accident. I almost had my brush with death when the plane I was traveling in, on my way to India from New York, experienced so much turbulence that the pilot announced that they had to make an emergency landing somewhere – freaked me out at that time, but the turbulence passed and I reached safely.
But on the whole, it hasn’t been a really good year.

Friends of mine have flunked their exams and whose who were waiting for job offers and marriage proposals were disappointed. Another friend of mine called Divya was so happy that she had finally found a guy to get married and she called me up, all hyper-excited! A week later, she told me the marriage was off as the guy decided to study further and rejected her. I was more heartbroken, not only for her, but it proved my theory of 2008 being a very very bad year for most people.

Now, I know why it is a bad year. I did some calculations and called up a few people who take this astrology thing seriously, and I have a passably corny theory, wrapped in some flimsy auspices of scientific fact. Here it is:

The Big Bang Theory states that once the universe stops expanding, it’ll start collapsing into itself. This phenomenon is termed the Big Crunch. Sometime in December last year,  the Universe reached its limit of expansion, and just like an expanding balloon, it paused for an instant, stretched out to its tensile limit, and hung in an instant of timelessness. Everything stopped in that instant, including time. I don’t know if any of you have noticed that time seemed to be behaving strangely around November-December of 2007, but for me at least, it was so unnerving. I used to think that time seemed to be going slower than usual. Maybe it was because I had my exams at that time, but I don’t know. The clock never seemed to move ahead!

Now, in 2008, the Universe has begun the Crunch. Everything is moving in reverse – bad things are replacing good things everywhere in the world. Crime rate is up 11% in India alone! We are stuck in this lawless, reverse universe for a couple of billion years minimum.

I think we’d better start praying…

Disclaimer: The above theory has absolutely no scientific or astrological basis. It’s pure and utter nonsense, a brainchild of a bored and zombified mind. 😀