Letter to a Friend

You had no business just dying on us

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Dearest Jui,

I realize, of course, that now that you are free to know and see so many things, you will probably not be checking your Facebook page (and is there a computer in the afterlife?), but my concept of death is that once you cross that point, you just KNOW things. But I’m still gonna go ahead and say some stuff that’s all bottled up inside because I really need to let it out.

First off, you shocked everyone. My first reaction was that that you had no business just dying on us like that because it was too soon. Because you had so much left to do: turn 20 and then 21 and … well you get the point, get that boyfriend, recruit more people to AISEC, get your degree … Because you had your whole life ahead of you. Because I just assumed you would get better and be here to giggle on forever. Because. Just because.
But I knew before I got the final call.

I still can’t believe I didn’t meet you during your ordeal. I don’t even know how to feel about it: whether I should feel bad that I couldn’t be there to show you my love and support, or relieved that I only have happy memories of you and didn’t see you suffer.
But I know you did. And I’m glad you’re no longer in pain. I just wish there was a way for that to be true and for you to be with us.

But I’m not going to bind you here. You have a lot to do now as well … like always.

You know that it is human nature to move on. Time is a good healer. Some things do leave scars though. And perhaps a few years down the line, we will get used to this. But you must know that we will still always love you.

I still remember one of your birthday parties when we were in primary school and how we were all fighting for a seat on that swing you had then in your balcony. And how you were giggling ALL the time. Seriously! ALL. THE. TIME. And how we would share a joke and giggle (see!) and only you would get caught for your explosive laughter. And how we would count the seconds of tuition torture left until freedom. And ‘Fuzzy Duck!’ And … the memories just keep coming. And only happy ones.

Know always that we will miss you more than it is possible to convey through words. Who will share the only vegetarian dish with me at the table now? And fight with Anupama like you’re an old married couple? And constantly tell Miti to chill? And call up Kruttika and insist on everyone meeting? And cheer Pooja on with undying enthusiasm? And click one million photos? And … so many things, Jui, so many things. Our group hug will never be complete without you. (That’s why I’m sure you’ll be with us in spirit at least, whenever we meet.)

I only hope you are happy and at peace now. And that you’ve met your dad.

Love you always.
Until we meet again (because we WILL. You WILL have to be reborn someday, you know. And when one of us has an uncontrollably giggly kid, we’ll know it’s you.),

Take care
And keep smiling as always.

The Photograph

A Tale of Childhood Innocence

“Wow!” Rehaan exclaimed. “Can I touch it?”

Anahita laughed. “Of course!”

His hands trembling with excitement, he slowly extended his fingertips towards the object Anahita held in her hands.  His eyes lit up the moment they felt the smooth plastic exterior of this amazing thing that had produced the image that he held in his other hand.

“What did you say it’s called?”

“A camera.”

“And this thing is?” He held up the article in his left hand.

“A photograph.”

“Wow!” He repeated.

Anahita smiled and patted his cheek.  “Would you like me to click one of you?”

Rehaan looked overjoyed. “Would you?”

“Of course!”

“Aakash! Anwar! Hanif! Ishaan! Khaled! Harish! Farhaan!” Rehaan yelled, running off to gather his friends.

Anahita got to her feet and watched as Rehaan animatedly explained to his friends what was about to happen. She couldn’t help grinning as she saw their expressions turn from curious to amazed, and she had to take a few steps backwards when they rushed towards her, all wanting to touch this astonishing black box that could somehow capture lifelike images of them.

A few minutes, several innocent questions and one heated argument over photograph location later, a decision was arrived at and the eight boys eagerly beckoned Anahita towards the end of the lane. She followed immediately, enjoying their thrilled banter as they half-walked, half-ran towards the bridge across the valley.

Anahita’s heart skipped a beat when she saw them clamber onto the wall that separated the road from the drop between the mountains before she reminded herself that they must have done this a thousand times before. She selected her frame and focused the camera as the children lined up along the wall. Looking through the lens, she watched them space out and practice smiling and couldn’t suppress her own amusement herself. She marvelled at their innocence regarding an article as universal as a camera back in the city, and at the same time, felt enormously guilty for complaining about now seemingly inconsequential things like missing her usual train while these children lived in dingy shanties and played with toys made of sticks and stones, and yet found such unadulterated joy in something as simple as having their picture taken.

“Hurry up!” Rehaan’s friends urged him impatiently. The poor boy was the tiniest amongst the lot and clearly incapable of scaling the height of the wall himself. As Farhaan bent down to lift the little kid, Anahita clicked on instinct. Before she could glance at the camera screen, she heard them beg for another picture. She spent the next five minutes indulging their newfound vanity before they were satisfied and wanted to inspect every photograph she’d taken.

Anahita spent the journey to her hotel lost in thought. Once in her room, she transferred and printed every picture she’d clicked.

The rest of the weekend photography seminar was a blur of colour and clicking. Anahita thought it focused too much on frames, lighting and the like and too little on the feel of the photograph. By the end of the seminar, she’d decided that their car breaking down near the little village was the best thing that had happened all weekend. Much to her co-passengers’ annoyance, Anahita insisted on stopping there again on the way back home.

“I won’t be long, I promise.” She quickly nipped out of the car to find the little boy whose thrilled face was etched in her memory. It took her only a couple of minutes to locate the group of eight boys running around in their dusty field of a playground. Aakash spotted her first and shouted in delight. Soon, she was surrounded by the entire bunch asking multiple questions at the same time.

When she finally managed to quiet them down, she said, “I’ve got something for you guys before I go.” Reaching into her bag, she pulled out the envelope containing the photographs. As she distributed them amongst the gleeful group, she found herself at the receiving end of several warm hugs.

“But what about you?” Hanif asked worriedly. “Don’t you want one?”

Anahita laughed. “I have all of them right here.” She patted her camera case. “But I have kept my favourite, just in case.” She showed them the first picture she’d clicked.

“Why is this one your favourite?” Harish asked naively.

Anahita shrugged. “It just is.”

***

At the end of her internship, Anahita was named the best intern and given the honour of having any one of her photographs printed inside the magazine she’d spent the past five months working for. She instantly submitted the first of the series of pictures she’d clicked of the eight village boys: the one with Farhaan helping Rehaan up the wall.

“Are you sure?” her boss asked, “You can take some time to make your pick.”

“I’m sure. This one is my favourite.”

“Why?”

Anahita smiled as she remembered Harish. “It just is.”