I have a friend, who is very close to me – we virtually grew up together, sharing food, books, and a lot more. We stayed close by then, so we were in each other’s house almost every other day. We have had intellectually stimulating debates, healthy arguments and horrible skirmishes (a few of which were concluded with invectives and fisticuffs), but our friendship has withstood all of this with nary a scratch. Over the years, our respective professional and domestic commitments have admittedly reduced regular interactions between us, but we have not let the vagaries of time and tide diminish our friendship. Even when we occasionally speak to each other today, we talk to each other as if we have always been in touch.
A month back, a common friend called me to say that this friend had undergone a major surgery for the big C, and that he expressed a desire to meet me. For a moment I thought this friend who had called me was joking (given his antecedents he was definitely capable), but the more he spoke the more I slipped into an abyss of inconsolable lament and despair. He explained how a seemingly harmless lesion inside our friend’s mouth had been diagnosed as malignant and needed a ten-hour marathon operation to be fixed. Surprisingly, he neither chews tobacco nor smokes, is a strict vegetarian and teetotaler to boot! The lesion warranted the whole lower jaw being removed, to be reconstructed subsequently with flesh and bone from his thigh. Of course, I rushed to meet him and spent over three hours with him (and other very close friends), cheering and regaling him with jokes (some of them at his expense), while reminiscing amusing episodes of our nonage. He looked his usual self – maintaining a steady outer demeanour, throwing wry smiles at our jokes, with pensive reflections over our preachy and clichéd philosophizing, exactly as he was when we were kids (he was always the serious and studious one among our closed group of friends). His face was misshapen and swollen on account of the surgery, but he patiently sat with us and partook in our tomfoolery. He unwearyingly recounted his harrowing journey through the unceasing cycles of unending consultations, different types of opinions (India having first, second, expert and familial), intimidating visits to oncologists, which finally led to the alarming diagnosis, followed by the traumatic surgery. My friend being a regular marathoner and a person who is fit and healthy, he went through all this with a stoic disposition. Even when he was describing his ordeal, he maintained his usual appearance of having everything under control. Meanwhile, I was trying my best to maintain an outer façade of optimism and jollity, while internally I with extreme difficulty, just about managed to keep myself from breaking down. I met him once again a week back in the hospital where he had gone for one of his multiple sessions of radiation (an inevitable and malevolent corollary to the big C), but my condition on seeing him was no different, while he was his customary pragmatic self.
Hats off to my friend and his indomitable spirit – the whole experience has been luciferous for me. Till a few months ago he was (and still is) a much respected senior employee of one of India’s biggest conglomerates (thankfully his employers are supporting him whole-heartedly), busy planning a safe and secure future for his kids, and here he is fighting a valiant battle against the big C – with his wife and mother giving him ample support in this. The fight continues, but this is a fight I am sure he will win! Epiphanous knocks on the head (not like this though) are needed for each of us to mature in life. This poignant episode with my friend gave me many insights to the fluid and non-conforming nature of life. It drove home, with a battering ram-like severity, the fact that we are only sure about the “now” in life. While we are busy securing the future of our loved ones, life is making other plans for us. We plan to be successful in life and subsequently take an early retirement, so as to enjoy the fruits of our labour but can we guarantee that those fruits would not have turned rancid by then? Reminds me of the definitive scene from the movie Zindagi Na Milegi Dobaara, where Hrithik Roshan, proudly proclaims that he wants to slog and mint money till his late forties, after which he would retire to an easy-going, relaxed life. To this, Katrina Kaif counters by asking him what is the guarantee that he will live till forty??? In the same vein, can we despite the unmitigated advance in science, be sure?
The other obvious lesson learnt from this is never to give up. History is witness to the fact that a battle is won only when one falls but gets up to keep fighting. Can we not easily recollect incidents of our life where we refused to give up and reaped spectacular rewards in return? If life is an interminable boxing match, with unforeseen and threatening punches coming your way constantly, why throw in the towel without giving it back in equal measure?