January 12, 2008

Salil Agrawal

One of my closest buddies from college, Salil Agrawal, died in New Delhi on Thursday. I got the news in a remote spot I had found my way to on my travels, and I sat there under a tree with tears welling in my eyes. I've not been able to stop thinking about him since.

In his early 30s, Salil found he had a serious heart problem, and some years ago even had a stroke. But he coped admirably with it all, and while taking the dietary and physical precautions he needed to, he continued working and living a perfectly normal life. His wife Poonam has been a strong and courageous support over the years. It was always a joy to visit them in Delhi. We had our political differences, Salil and I, but he taught me an important lesson: it didn't interfere with the bond we shared.

All of us who knew Salil remember him as always quick-witted and mischievous, but with never a hint of malice. (Another lesson). There was always some prank he was getting up to, some new way to pull people's legs. And while thinking about all that, I also thought: sure it's sad to lose a buddy like him. But knowing him, if he could see all of us, his friends, grieving over him, he would laugh at us. And so I thought I'd remember him by sharing two small memories of him.

  • This was the man who, when I was once standing in an outside corridors of one of our college buildings, between the wide pillars and thus right next to a 3-foot drop to the ground -- this man came up from behind me, grabbed my arm and nearly pushed me over. Nearly gave me a heart attack. And as he nearly gave me that heart attack, he shouted loudly "Bach gaya!" ("Saved you!")

    It later became a favourite gag.

  • If you actually did fall down, got a scrape or bruise, and if Salil was in the vicinity, you'd be sure that he'd be the first by your side. With a look of deep concern in his face, but with that always-present twinkle, he'd ask: "Kam to nahin lagi?" ("Hope you're not hurt too little?")

    This last is something I inflict on my eight-year-old, and he knows Salil that way. In seriousness, it teaches him to ignore the minor injuries and carry on.

    And as I finish typing these words, I have Salil's grin in my mind, the same youthful face and laugh from even the last time we met, not so long ago. (Still, too long). And even with the lump that catches in my throat, it makes me smile too. Cut from the best cloth, my good friend Salil.
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