Sunday, October 5, 2014

It is hard to think...

He ruled the show. He did it in style. I was his rival. Fallen from grace I grumbled in my relative insignificance while he turned adversities opportunities, won over my camp and left me high and dry. My own botched up romance and pathetic class records further complicated things while he sailed through smoothly.

 In the end, my foolhardy school politics gave some rich lessons. The most important was "play to your strengths". Life mocks at you by offering close proximity of a person you would much rather stay away from. We again ended up classmates in college! All our school mates who witnessed our legendary rivalry had a sardonic grin.

 A bit more wised up perhaps, I focussed on studies, writing and some voluntary work. I was laying foundation for a career in development journalism. (It is another matter I haven't got there yet!) Or more precisely, l was playing to my strength. And he was to his. As people with different pursuits, not competing for same space, we were no longer rivals, neither were we friends.

 Nobody gave him a chance when elections came up in the second year of college. Rather, many looked at his ambition with disdain. Again he changed odds in his favour. It was someone else's turn to fall from popularity and screw up his advantage. There was this nice guy, amiable, accommodative, experienced and versatile. Almost a natural choice. Needless to say, where my loyalties lied.

 But again we were flummoxed. He spotted weaknesses in our campaign: elitist and complacent. He figured that his opponent spoke only to a set of people. He built his campaign around the silent underdogs who were angered by such discriminations. From each corner he unearthed those unnoticed ones and talked them into his sworn warriors. They took up his cause. Prior to counting he said he would win by 20 votes.
He exactly did!

Again, from an unlikely position he went on to take all laurels. It was 'audacity of hope' at a micro level much before the historic Obama campaign was unleashed. He had a great run. This time I wasn't grumbling as my choice of pursuits worked well for me. I was rather appreciative of the organizational talent he displayed. I told friends, "mark my words. He will be something in the years to come". I think it was a shared belief of many.

 We grew close as our appreciation was mutual. I discovered in him a sincere friend, who stood above petty feelings of revenge and jealous, who is quick to forget frictions and reach out. Already lost his father, lack of resources forced him to take a break from studies. After graduation, he went to teach in a school in the interiors of a distant state. After a year or two, he resumed studies. When he rang my home to say he joined for social work post grad, my mom told him “you took up a course that best suits you”.

 We, those close to him, have all been waiting to see him making giant strides. When he continued to struggle, we thought, somewhere along the way there would be a turning point, a big break. Between the intervals of years, we met in one or other distant cities. Long calls and social network kept up conversations. He confided troubles, turbulences, triumphs and tribulations.

Regardless of economic rewards, he worked hard on his assignments, enjoyed a career in vocational training, social uplift, job and entrepreneurship creation. He went through some difficulties in relations. He waded through unthought-of challenges. He was again picking up pieces and building life. He moved closer home from up north. Recently he informed me about clearing an important hurdle for overseas jobs. I encouraged him saying “tide is turning in your favour”.

 Four days ago, in the middle of a group chat, he suddenly told me that he was just about to land in our city. He was on his way home for a long weekend. Inconvenienced by night, distance and paucity of time, we decided to meet when he would come later this month. It was but our last bit of conversation. Some 19 hours later, I heard of his untimely death. A massive cardiac arrest took away his life while he was sleeping at his brother’s place after an exhaustive overnight journey. It seemed to me as an abruptly ended saga. I never think his story was supposed to end in such a way. In utter bizarreness, someone known for his muscularity and energy in his early youth depart this life in mid 30s, leaving much to be done and leaving his dear ones in utter dismay. Stephen, it is hard to think you are no longer there, just a call away…