I happened to meet a childhood friend after ages. He’s a great character – a talented water-colourist and technocrat who was an average student in school and college. We walked down memory lane, reminiscing the wonder years of our childhood. These, to use a cliché, were indeed our best days under the sun.
The most impressive part — my friend never ever basks in the glory of his remarkable personal and professional life. His overseas career, he noted rather unpretentiously, “was most fulfilling”. He also expectedly — of what I knew of him — said that he never equated his success with money. This is, of course, a platitude most of us resort to when we don’t have a hefty, or decent, bank balance. Not with my friend though.
My friend is married to his college sweetheart. Their relationship is just what the good planetary charts ordered — each living closely and yet having their own space, and also individuality. It’s been a fabulous relationship, based on mutual trust and commitment.
Now, the conversation became a tad serious. My friend told me that his wife’s family, who follow the same philosophical school of thought, or principle, is linguistically and culturally different. He, however, told me tongue-in-cheek that the only right decision “they ever made was agreeing to our wedding”. My friend said that they were decent folks — though they would always keep a calculated distance from knowing your financial health or distress lest they are asked to help should the need arise. They’re folks, he added, that customarily ‘worship’ their guests — because, they are ‘equivalent’ to the gods, ‘Attithi Devo Bhava’, in our ethos — more so, their sons-in-laws. Though not in my friend’s case.
It was then time for me to be awfully impressed with my friend’s fondness for literature. He quoted Vaslav Nijinsky, the great ballet dancer and choreographer, from The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky, almost verbatim,
“I stayed with my wife’s mother during the war. I understood the war because I fought with my wife’s mother.”
As he finished the stroppy line, my friend looked a tad sheepish. The reverse of civility? He realised that it was just not the right phrase to use in the context. He promptly expressed his regret.
We quickly drifted to a new topic, following which he recalled how he was once abruptly ‘summoned’ by his brother-in-law to help cart ‘excess’ luggage, like a glorified porter, from the railway station a few months subsequent to his marriage when the latter’s mother – his mother-in-law – returned from her home-town with select ‘native’ produce.
There was more to emerge. His brother-in-law, who is a poker-faced, wig-sporting guy, my friend now told me, is more than a tad brusque. He instructs, never requests, as to what he wants others to do — except his wife, who holds the remote.
My friend began to really speak now. His wife’s sister-in-law, he said, signs off her emails with a flourish: ‘Imagination unlimited.’ A tagline Gmail, or any other, would be proud of. She and her husband, the ‘smart’ brother-in-law, he added, are intrusive hosts — you’ve got to submit to their idea as to where they would want you to sit at the table, be it a family dinner, or get-together. His sister-in-law, he said, never stops giggling. Everyone knows when she’s around — thanks to her shrill nasal plunk.
I’d not imagine myself in his position. Yes, the English writer, philosopher, theologian, literary and art critic G.K. Chesterton’s famed words began to now reverberate in the deep recesses of my mind,
“Those nearest to our nearest may not happen to be the people who would have been our chief chosen friends, but they must be our friends; or, memories are wounded and life made very ugly.”
Well, this leads us to one obvious question: is it not a given that sometimes in life, as in my friend’s milieu, you have got to somehow manage — the only premise being to keeping ‘the nearest to our nearest’ relationships going, albeit you may, perforce, feel like a cat on a hot tin roof, or something else which you’d not know, while ‘juggling’ your balancing act with consummate dexterity — no more, no less?
Rajgopal Nidamboor is a wellness physician, independent researcher and author.
Featured image credit: Pixabay/Editing: LiveWire