Sunday, June 29, 2008

My Friend Palash

There are times when I entertain morbid thoughts: what if someone whose number is stored in my phonebook -- someone so close that I could dial his number anytime I wished to -- dies? Should I delete the name, knowing that he is no more? Should I keep the name stored, for old time's sake? Or should I deliberately ignore to delete it, in the hope that the name would once again flash on my phone screen someday?

I don't know what I am going to do with Palash's number. Maybe I will just let it be: why bother to delete it when it hardly occupies any space? Or maybe I will delete it: every time I go to the entries under 'P', I would come across his name and get reminded that he is no more.

How can he be no more? I spoke to him only two days ago. And yesterday, when I saw him on G-talk, I wanted to message him asking if he would like to see a poster showing me modelling for an upcoming inter-department badminton tournament organised by my office. But then I thought, why bother him with my vanity.

This morning, Palash Kumar was news. He had become the journalist to be killed in a road accident near Alwar in Rajasthan while driving to the Sariska wildlife sanctuary along with his wife Manisha and their four-year-old daughter Mallika.

I first met Palash on April 1, 1996, the day I joined Asian Age in Delhi under M.J. Akbar. Palash, barely in his mid-twenties, was the deputy chief of bureau, having been promoted to the post after a successful stint in lawless Patna. I remembered seeing his Patna-datelined stories before joining Asian Age, and now I was meeting him in person. Initially, he was snooty, not wanting to mingle with a junior who has just joined. Eventually, alcohol turned out to be the leveller. Every evening, I would give him my share of Rs 35, and the peon would soon return with two quarter-bottles of Old Monk rum: one for him, one for me. Thus began a friendship, and also the tradition of reporters pooling in money to send the peon to get the booze before they started filing their stories.

After work, I would often land up at Palash's place. He would insist that I come because he knew I was hungry. Hungry not literally, but hungry for home-cooked food. So he would feed me with steaming rice, arhar ki daal and ageing pickles that came from his home in Lucknow. In North India, pickles are treated like wine -- the older they are, the better they taste. Then one day, Palash married Manisha, yet another colleague, and soon after, I came to Chennai. The countless days and evenings I had spent with him became part of a mental album.

After coming to Chennai, I thought Palash too would turn into a friend for record's sake. But the bond cut across the Vindhyas and there was never a moment when we were out of each other's lives -- be it the birth of his daughter or my own marriage in 2006. That year, on my way to Kanpur for Diwali, I spent a night at Palash's place in Delhi and caught up with all my former drinking buddies. We took lots of pictures (Palash is in blue kurta) and stayed up all night listening to Kishore Kumar and Palash's favourite, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. That was the last time I saw him.

And the last I spoke to him was two days ago. He told me he wanted to shift to Chennai and asked me about the job scene in the city. I gave him a couple of numbers, and told him that things should work out and that we will have a lot of fun in Chennai.

When I got the news, I was in a shopping mall, pampering myself with a new pair of sneakers. I had woken up in the morning feeling unwell, and the more I thought about it, the more unwell I felt. My hypochondria eventually drove me to a nearby pathology, where I signed up for a master health check-up. They took my blood, and then asked me to come again exactly two hours after lunch. So those two hours I spent in the mall, when I got the call. Two things came to my mind. I thought, what's the use buying expensive clothes and shoes whe you could die any moment? And I also thought, here I am, fussing over minor aches and pains, and there, a perfectly healthy man has just had life snuffed out of him!

But before these two thoughts occurred, something else flashed in my mind -- something that happened so long ago that even Palash might have forgotten about it, leave alone me. Sometime in 1997 or 1998, a colleague had invited Palash and a couple of others for lunch. The colleague's mother happened to be a palm-reader, and she cautioned him against a serious accident. I was surprised that this small episode remained stored in my mind even without my being aware of it. In the coming days, many more anecdotes about Palash are going to surface, and I would relive them silently.

P.S. To go to Palash's blog, see my friend's list.

19 comments:

Sanjay Basak said...

as the song goes..bichre sabhi, bari,bari....

muslimah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
visithra said...

so sorry for your lost -life is pretty unpredictable

when i lost my friend i couldnt bring myself to delete his number it remained till i lost my simcard and had to replace it - memoreies don't get replaced by a deletion of a number

aisha said...

It's true, he was infuriating, yet still a great friend.
(And I still have my brother's number in my phonebook)

AJ said...

Am so sorry for you bish! life is very cruel at times. Whats the purpose of taking away a mans life when he is all happy?? Am sick from my stomach thinking of how unfair God is!

Anonymous said...

May his soul rest in peace. I rem your art on his works and i liked his 'awaaz' and commented on it too. Sad that he's no more. He wrote well.

Soumya said...

Sudden death is usually traumatic.It takes a lot of time for the near & dear ones to get used to a new 'normal life'.I know, it is difficult to erase out the phone no. so soon.
You know, that palmistry thing sounds a little eerie.

Anonymous said...

Palash was a good friend and a very lively person. I am still in shock over the news of his sudden and untimely death. He will be remembered immensely.

Bohemian said...

BG,
This post has brought tears to my eyes.I don't know Palash,and I haven;t met you either.But the loss of a fellow human being could not be put in a better way.
two years back, I too lost a friend in US in a road accident, and till date I visit his profile on orkut (donno why), have his cell number (thought the number may have already been scrapped).
Memories are more than words, and can only be lived in the mind.

excellent post once again.

chandra said...

Hi Bishwanath,

This is such a lovely, moving tribute to Palash or Pashu as we knew him.

I have known him since 1989, when a few of us first came together to start a campus mag in DU.

I don't think I will ever get used to the fact that he is no more. He could be obnoxious, sarcastic, rude, exasperating and take one for granted. He would NEVER acknowledge the books I sent him.

Then there would be a call suddenly after months and he would want something done, NOW. I realized that this was his way and there could be no other.

Friendship needn't have a definition or boundary. Sometimes just the thought that a friend exists there for you is enough.

Friends like him are irreplaceable. I don't think I will delete his number from my mobile. And I don't think you will.

Thanks for reading this and for allowing friends like me to remember him and pour our thoughts out...

Chandra

Anonymous said...

with tears in my eyes and a heavy heart let me tell u BG it's very difficult to forget a friend..remember Tennyson's lines...

But O for the touch of a vanished hand, And the sound of a voice that is still!"
-vandy

Soul said...

thanks bishwanath,

a grounswell of emotions.

a very dear friend indeed..infact i still have that file of 'dateline...' that he gave me to read...and rag darbari which he would so strongly recommend..i want to finish that book now which is lying partially read on my shelf..a gift from palash

and that pre diwali evening...with nusrat and many more memories shall remain an inseparable part of my living existence...

hopikrishnan said...

Unless the simcard in the brain is erased...one has to live with the memories and bizarre notions of the future.
http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,338388,00.html

Anu Russell said...

I am so sorry...hope you feel better soon...

Meenakshi said...

Dear BG,

Ya that's how I knew you through my brother Pashu. I remember those daal chaawal days at my place when you would drop by since Palash was staying with me then. Thanks for such a moving tribute to him.

I've visited your blog a couple of times and read this earlier too, but was in no mental frame to post anything. Everytime I read it, I'm reminded of how many lives Palash touched in his short span of existence.

Not a day goes by when I am not thinking of him or talking to him. Yes I too have his number, but have not looked at it since...It will remain in my cell for as long as I exist.

Just like his rude, sarcastic self, his death too has been shocking. Of course he knew how to win over and never lived with pretensions.

I remember the episode of the friend's mom reading his palm. She said it was exactly like my father's. (But my father's fate was not this). Following that, my mother got our Pandit to do the Mahamritunjaya Jaap for him and he believed that because of it he got saved during the Parliament attack. Even we bought the logic that probably that was the accident he missed. Not realising what lay in future for us.

I still remember how I was frantically trying to reach him during the Parliament attack. He was with AFP or Reuters then. Phones were jammed and he being the hardcore journo, always smelling stories, even in adversities, managed to break the news on the agency by grabbing the phone of a security personnel while being huddled inside parliament. He told us later how he snatched the security personnel's phone from his hand on the door way, dialled office and said "Palash Kumar reporting -Immediately flash - Indian Parliament attacked!" You don't get journalists like him anymore.

Lets catch up sometime - love to you always Meenakshi - meenakshi.sinha@gmail.com

Anonymous said...

Have you noticed BG, Palash is the only person with his eyes closed in the picture. Maybe the picture was subtly indicating an event that would occur at a later date.

Saurabh said...

This is now late news for you but I was searching for my freind Palash Kumar who studied with me in La Martiniere College, Lucknow and he was journalist in New Delhi. Only to find him no more. I am saddened and can't express my thoughts. He was editor in my LMC Post and His dad and my dad worked together in the Bank. Oh My God. Please express my deepest condolence to his family . It is irreparable loss.

Saurabh said...

This is now late news for you but I was searching for my friend Palash Kumar who studied with me in La Martiniere College, Lucknow and he was journalist in New Delhi. Only to find him no more. I am saddened and can't express my thoughts. He was editor in my LMC Post and His dad and my dad worked together in the Bank. Oh My God. Please express my deepest condolence to his family . It is irreparable loss.

Anubhuti said...

Death, isn't that the only constant ?? Even then we fuss over trivial things.