I heard the news. DM was dead. Someone who loved life so much.
A man of incredible strength, resilience. Exceptional humanity. Such was DM.
He was a happy person. One of those people who shrugged, smiled and carried on, no matter how much life bulldozed them. He believed that life's complicated questions are best left alone. There is no explanation. There are hypothesis. No elucidation. And, who has time? There is so much living to do!
Our friendship was strange. It had started twenty-eight years ago when we were both teenagers.
We were introduced by his cousin sister who was also my best friend. My best friend thought that we have similar personalities and must be introduced to each other. We began with letters. Yes, those painstakingly hand written notes...those were the times.
We became pen-pals, thick as thieves!.
And the most interesting part of our connection was that we were the exact opposites. My friend had jumped the gun in her judgement. Chalk and Cheese, he called us. 'Who is chalk and who is cheese?' I asked playfully, and he -quite graciously- replied, ‘You my dear, is cheese.'
We were so different, and in so many ways. He was from a more liberal background, extremely outgoing and gregarious. He loved to party, hated reading books, loved to play outdoor games and was learning fencing and shooting. He wanted to be an ace shooter. He danced like a dream.
I on the other hand was from a sheltered, conservative background, quiet, introvert, chronic book lover, stayed away from sports, disliked partying and I can't dance to save my life!
But in some queer, inexplicable way we shared an extremely harmonious bond. Maybe our souls met. Maybe we had been together in another life. He used to joke that he was a king in his past life and I was a jungle princess who gave him water when he was thirsty and had lost his way.
Inevitably, we fell in love. It was brief and beautiful. And like most love stories, it was left incomplete...but such was our friendship that it bore the fortuitousness of romantic love and came out a winner. No rancor. No regret.
We parted friends.
I married young, and we lost touch. I heard sporadic news of him when he dropped letters, greeting cards, frequently at first; now and then later; far and few, much later.
But in the span of next ten years I did know where he was posted, whom he was dating, the death of his only sister and the loss of his father. The sundry tales.
And then he told me that he has found someone special. He is in love. He sounded very happy. One day he sent me his wedding invitation card. A week later, he sent me photographs of his wedding. His wife and him. The two of them together, arms in arms, handsome, happy, looking already settled in a shared happiness. He married the girl he loved. He deserved happiness.
That was the last I heard of him. He never wrote after that. To my few letters that followed, there was no reply. I was going through a bad patch and I got busy trying to figure out my life.
We lost touch completely. Few years back, I was in his hometown on a brief visit.
On impulse, I went to his address. Just to find out about him. His mother opened the door. I heard about his tragedy. DM had met with an accident on his honeymoon. He slipped into a deep hole while skiing on snow, broke his spine and was paralyzed from waist down. He was now living in his parent’s house.
You wonder: Why do bad things happen to good people? Shouldn't it be the other way round? ‘Good things happen to good people. Bad things happen to bad people.’
Simple philosophy. No complication. No long winding labor for God and His entourage of Angels to toil through.
Perhaps, God loves to play around.
He laughed when he saw me entering. ‘Sorry, madam! I will not be able to stand up to greet you.’
I knew that he was teasing me for my insistence upon chivalry in men.
His face had not changed in twenty-five years. Amazing. I thought. The same boyish grin. The same naughty twinkle in the eye, the crow’s feet notwithstanding.
His hair had some grey streaks; rest was the DM of twenty-five years ago.
‘Where are the wrinkles?’ I asked playfully. I did not want to focus on his tragedy. I was not looking at his wheelchair.
‘They have settled on my heart.’ He spoke, still laughing. It stunned me for some time, but I blinked back the tears. He would have certainly pulled my legs for weeping.
He was ecstatic to see me. I felt ashamed for not trying to find his whereabouts in all these years.
‘This did not hurt me so much.' He pointed at his lifeless legs. 'She left me. That was unbearable.’
An infinitesimal flash of pain in his smiling eyes, and it was gone...
I left his town after five days. But those five days were like a refresher course in life for me. Once again I learned how to appreciate life, in all its ugliness, horror, unfairness and tragedy.
Often in the past he used to admonish me for my somber reflections.
‘Nazia, you "think" about life more than you enjoy it. Come on ,stop philosophizing life so much, just let yourself go..."
This time was no different. He never allowed me to be sad for him. He kept cracking jokes. Laughing.
It was too much for me. But, I postponed my tears, for later.
Promises were made... to stay in touch. Times were changed, we exchanged e-mails this time. We corresponded for few months and then his e-mails stopped again, abruptly. His mobile was ‘switched off’ all the time. No news at all. I got entangled in my own recurring messes and his thoughts faded a little, though not gone forever.
Two days back I heard the news. He died of multiple organ failure. Failure is not a word I had ever associated with DM. He just championed through life and was successful in all his ventures: career, sports, business, work, friendship. Was that love, which failed him. Or Life?
He had so much living to do.