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To a friend

Vincent van Gogh - self-portrait of a man who suffered much

This post is dedicated to a person who was very dear to me for quite some time. We were good friends. But certain situations affected that friendship adversely. Years later, he contacted me recently. There is a lot of frustration, anger, sadness and rebellion in his psyche, as I sense it.

Dear Friend,

Your present situation grieves me as much as it worries me. I knew you as a benevolent individual who went out of his way to help friends. I received much help from you for many years. You were an inspiration for me in more ways than you might have ever imagined. What happened to our friendship was inevitable to some extent because I was passing through a painful phase of personality deterioration and your efforts to assist turned out to be counterproductive. It was not your fault at all. You meant well, I know. I knew it at that time too but my psychological condition made it impossible for me to continue our friendship. I never carried any ill feeling against you, however. On the contrary, it grieved me much when I heard about your later mishaps. I wished I could help.

That wish has stayed with me to this day. Hence this post. If I write it as a personal message to you, it is likely to jar against certain sensibilities – both yours and mine.

I left the place where we both worked together as a broken man. Utterly broken. I wasn’t sure I would make it any more. I still remember walking from Laxmi Nagar to ITO in Delhi at 4 o’clock in the morning like an insane man with no purpose. Sleep would evade me night after night. The bright street lights of Delhi were the only lights in my life at that time. I saw the poor of Delhi sleeping on the sidewalks. The stray dogs would bark at me but never harmed me for reasons only they knew. Across the Yamuna, the city was very much alive at that early hour. I saw young boys getting the teashops ready, unpacking newspapers for distribution, and doing other odd jobs. Life was a tough battle for so many people. My condition wasn’t too bad, I realised. I decided to pick up the loose threads of my life and weave a fabric once again. And I did make it.

I am totally confident now that anyone can pick up the loose threads and weave a whole fabric at any time. I have seen many people doing it at different stages of their lives. All that is required is an open acceptance of one’s present brokenness. You tell me that you have no regrets though I sense much of it in your words. You tell me that you have no anger though your diction belies it. You remind me of the countless people I have come across who refused to accept their brokenness and instead sought fake ways of getting on in life. Some of them did make it too. But they were not genuinely happy. Their smiles smacked of forgery.

I am genuinely happy. In spite of all the agony I endured along the way. Or probably because of the agonies. I accept my reality. I accept the world’s reality. I accept that the world out there will break us again and again. Some of us are so brittle. Helplessly so. But we can put the pieces together each time. The power to heal lies deep within us. We are the healers. We are the miracle workers. If only we choose to be.

I sense in you a lot of miracles waiting to be released. There is so much love in you that you are suppressing with some intoxicants because you are scared that some people who matter much to you will break you again. Some of them may. Well! But most won’t.

You know Sidney Sheldon. I am not a fan of his, of course. You won’t be either, I’m sure. But that’s not the point. At the age of 17, he attempted suicide. He belonged to an economically backward family. He was working as a delivery boy at a drugstore in Chicago. At 6 o’clock in the evening, the pharmacist called out to young Sheldon, “Closing time.” “He had no idea how right he was,” Sheldon wrote later in his autobiography, The Other Side of Me. “It was time to close out all the things that were wrong with my life.” Sheldon had pilfered sufficient sleeping pills from the pharmacy to kill him.

It was 1934. In Sheldon’s own words, “America was going through a devastating crisis. The stock market had crashed and thousands of banks had failed. Businesses were folding everywhere. More than 13 million people had lost their jobs and were desperate. Wages had plunged to as low as a nickel an hour. A million vagabonds, including 200,000 children, were roaming the country. We were in the grip of a disastrous depression. Former millionaires were committing suicide, and executives were selling apples in the streets.”

Sheldon’s favourite lines, like many others’, were:

Gloomy is Sunday.

With shadows I spend it all.

My heart and I

Have decided to end it all.

At home in the evening, Sheldon picked up a bottle of bourbon from the kitchen and walked to his bedroom. He prepared a drink of whiskey and took out the sleeping pills. He was ready to end it all. Just then the door opened and his father walked in. By pure chance. It changed everything. They had a chat, father and son. Finally father said, “Sidney, you told me that you wanted to be a writer more than anything in the world…. Life is like a novel, isn’t it? It’s filled with suspense. You have no idea what’s going to happen until you turn the page…. Every day is a different page…” Sidney chose to turn the page. And did he discover a whole new reality!

I know that every day can bring a whole new reality if we wish to see it that way. Do you remember that tall wall in Dhanketi beside the Loreto School? For many months, that wall carried a big poster. The inscription in mammoth letters was: MIRACLES HAPPEN EVERY DAY. In those days when we were together and I was going through the deterioration phase, I took that inscription as another quotidian platitude. Eventually, I realised how true it was.

Wish you a miracle tonight. Turn the page, friend.

A related post (though it was not written with the above friend in mind: Chiquitita’s Sorrows.

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