September 24th, is the birthday of one of my oldest and best-est friends. He should be 26 this year. He should have finished his studies by now; and perhaps even joined his dad’s international business.
He should be flying in and out of the country. Definitely, be a frequent flier with multiple airlines. The flight attendants would know him by name, for very few men would be this young, yet have his polite gentlemanly demure.
He would be soberly dressed in double breasted jackets and waist coats. He would be more of a blackberry boy than an iphone guy. But if you look closely, there is a wild side to him, his rudrakshtra beads and Israeli cast-no-evil-eye bracelet will peep out from under the sleeve of his crisp shirt. The tie might even have some funky Buddha motif on it.
He would be a combo of Hrithik in ZNMD and Neal Caffrey in White collar, with Caffreys sense of humour and Hrithik’s looks. He might even wear a hat! Quirky yet sophisticated, he would give John Abraham a run for his money any day.
Happy Birthday Richie!
Let me take you down for a small walk, through some of my memory lanes.
I met Richie in august 2001, when I was in tenth grade, at my mathematics tuition class. Yeah ten years, long time .Lot of memories, lot of stories , so little time.
We had no mutual friends, no common grounds. We went to separate schools, had different family circles, but our heart was at the same place.
Since, by august more than half of the school term was over, my tutor asked me to help him out with mathematics. That is how we started talking.
He started doing well in mathematics; our friendship grew just like a math problem.
A couple of days before his birthday, he told me excited, “I am turning sixteen this Monday!”
This was the era, before schools students started having cellular phones. There was only one network in Kerala, airtimes were exorbitant, incomings were charged and mobile phones were chunky, grotesque with a 1 X 2 cm mono-colour screen.
At midnight I tried his landline number, knowing very well that I will be one of the least important of his friends trying to wish him at the stroke of twelve.
To my surprise, the phone rang. The phone rang its whole length and then got cut after its standard ten rings. Bewildered I tried again, scared that I would wake up the family.
Richie picked up. He said “hello”, in a very puzzled voice.
When I was sure that it was him, I replied, “hey! Happy birthday Richie! “
The happy birthday conversation stretched out for around two hours, no one called all that time. I asked him why, very inquisitively.
“Its Kerala yaar, no one wishes till after their morning puja“
This was our first conversation, over the telephone. He was just telling me small stories about his life, about this and that. Stories, which we normally don’t talk about in our strict tuition class.
Suddenly, he stopped and said,” hey Sandy, I love this girl, she has been my classmate since forever. But I really haven’t told her. She knows that I love her, but she pretends otherwise. I don’t know if she loves me back. But at least I expected her to call me. “
Back then, I was relatively new to the world of love and mush. In my convent school, having a relationship was a taboo. But then I had to console him, I needed to show him the silver lining in the cloud. He was pretty much a friend now.
“Maybe she sleeps early. I am sure she will call you first thing in the morning “ , I said half hoping that he would be believe me, half hoping that she would call.
“Yeah, I think you are right “; he said sighing and smiling at the same time.
By December, our friendship grew thicker. We were unlikely friends; no one understood our cosmic connections.
After our half yearly exams, Richie called me over to ‘City Centre’, the only shopping mall in my city then. He excitedly told me how the “Juliet’s” birthday was around the corner and that he needed me to pick up a card for him.
He wanted the card to by anonymous, so I scripted the card with all of his emotions.
Couple of weeks later, he introduced me to her. She was initially sceptical about this “new friend”, later on we all became best buddies.
Talking to her, I knew that she loved him, but she never wanted to let him know that because of varied socio-economic reasons.
The board exams got nearer, Richie and I started studying longer hours together all over the landline. He understood politics and history much better than me. He explained to me the uncanny associations of demand and supply. While, I explained to him about the marvels of science.
During the three long months of vacation after the boards, he was mainly travelling abroad, while I was learning all those things I missed out on. We still kept in touch, via emails, discussing the myriad intricacies of life, world politics amid other things.
The results came; it was a whooping win- win situation for both of us. He gifted me a watch. When I asked him, what it was for, he said in one breath: “for everything”.
I turned the watch, on it was engraved: “you know what to do, to say you care.”
That evening, Richie called me. In a very sombre tone he informed me that he was leaving the country, to be with his parents for a while.
I was a little disturbed to be honest; I didn’t expect us to part ways so soon. But the hum-drum of being a bio math student, really takes a heavy toll on you, and soon I got immersed in the world of calculus and quantum physics.
Richie kept in touch with me regularly, and just like before updated me on everything that was happening in his life. I had the same old classes, coaching, MCQ’s and more coaching compared to his roller coaster trips crisscrossing Eurasia.
Sometime before his next birthday, he found love again. This time she was in the form of an extra cute Konkani Brahmin. He met her at some family party. They were living a dream in London. He brought her to Kerala, during the next summer. He wanted me to meet her.
She was pretty much a cute doll. But I knew Richie needed something more than a doll.
That evening there was an unexpected heavy downpour, the power lines got cut. Richie called me, I thought he was going to ask me what I thought about the “doll”, and I was mentally prepared to give him a mono-syllable “nice”. Instead he surprised me, he asked,” Sandy, you want to go for a walk in the rain?”
“Its 11:30 pm! I can’t come for no walk in the rain with you”, I retorted to his craziness.
“I am not asking you to come out of your house. Pick up your umbrella, and the cordless, go to the terrace. I will do the same, and we can walk in the rain together and talk.Simple!”, he cajoled me.
That was perhaps the best walk in the rain I have ever taken. We spoke till the rain ended. He left back to London a few days later.
In 2004, I finished my twelfth and moved out of Kerala, to medical school. Shortly Richie and the “doll” landed up in Bangalore. He joined a 5 year animation course, she wanted to do some course on Indian history and try her hand at modelling.
During the weekends, I would sometimes drive down to Bangalore to meet them. Apart from some occasional tiffs, he told me they were happy. Somehow, I sensed the “doll” transforming into a “black swan”.
Couple of months later, the tiffs became bitter fights. Finally they broke up, stating reasons of ‘incompatibility’. She left in a whirlwind back to London. Got drunk and got married to an absolute stranger.
I went over to meet him. He was calm. He just said “I guess, she was just not the one”.
For his next birthday, his dad gifted him an R-1 super bike. Elated, he drove 600 km over to my college, to celebrate his birthday with me.
After the bike came in, we started drifting apart. He started going on long distance trips to Mumbai. The trips grew longer, the distance grew wider. He informed me was planning a trip to Leh-Ladakh.
For around two months his cell phone was unreachable. Emails ,grew scanty.
I guess sometime around the time I was studying pharmacology, Richie discovered drugs too.
For six months I had no trace as to where he was. Not just me, most of his friends.
For his next birthday, he came to meet me, out of the blue. We had a quiet dinner, cut cake on the lawn outside my hostel. He started talking about what happened in the last one year, about his disappearances, his living on the edge and his carelessness towards life.
“However “, he said, “There is this classmate of mine. Her name is Ekta. She is Punjabi. She really cares about me a lot. I want you to meet her. “
I promised him that I would come to Bangalore in the next couple of weeks.
I did go to Bangalore. I did meet Richie, however Ekta never met me. We were relaxing in a coffee shop on brigade road. It was raining. Through the glass panels we were watching the quiet rain.
After some fifteen minutes of quiet, he said,” don’t you think it will be great to lie in a glass house and watch the snow falling on the roof?”
“Yeah”, I said. “It would be beautiful. We could set up the glass house in Canada.”
He gave me an ear to ear smile and said “the Canadian glass house should be our goal.”
We walked in the drizzle to the Chinese place in the next by- lane after brigade.We had a quiet warm meal. He hailed a cab for me, gave me a bear hug and saw me off.”
I looked out through the window, I saw him walk, hands in his coat-pocket, maybe due to the cold, or maybe he was fishing for his keys or his phone.
That was the last time I ever saw him.
Friends who lived in Bangalore say that Ekta brain washed him to a runaway wedding. A few others tell me that he went into drugs again and went fully bonkers and lost his memory.
I went more than fifty times that year to Bangalore searching for him. I was at a loss.
By some luck I managed to speak to him for his next birthday.
I said, “Happy birthday Richie boy”
He replied, “thank you. Who is this? “
“I am Sandy ,Richie.. Dr.Sandy , remember?”, I managed to get those words out of mouth. It was too painful to see him like that.
“Please don’t call again; Ekta doesn’t like strangers calling me”
Speechless, I mumbled,” happy birthday, birthday –boy.”
I have lost two of my good friends to cancer, and one to the cosmos! And even macabre death is easier to accept than a missing person.
On some days, when I miss him a lot, i just close my eyes and think: that he is somewhere under the same skies, breathing the same air, maybe even thinking of Canadian glasshouses. It re-assures me, that some day we both can just walk in the rains and wash all this away!
Note: Maybe, Richie will never read this, but Ekta ,maybe you will read this and you will know that I really do care about him and so do most of his friends.