MY FRIEND, SUREN – A REMEMBRANCE

It was a chance encounter in a photo studio in Berlin in the early ’50s that culminated in a lifelong friendship.

I was a mere apprentice, while he, a few years my senior, was in advanced training. We bonded immediately and soon started sharing our free time. He was very jovial and  great prankster, as you will read.

One Saturday afternoon, I visited him and we decided to head out for a movie. He excused himself while I relaxed in his drawing room. The doorbell rang and the postman had a small parcel for him which I accepted on his behalf. When I chanced upon the name of the addressee, I was surprised to find it was me! When I asked him about it, he just laughed. It turned out that he made regularly made his purchases from a neighbourhood store, the owner of which asked him to recommend some names as prospective clients to whom he could send free samples in hope of securing their business. And this smart guy, as a poor Indian student abroad, sensed an opportunity there. He promptly presented himself as “Yagnesh” – that is, me – and received freebies on my behalf! His logic as he explained it, was simple and Harvardesque – why should I be the beneficiary of his paid purchases?

Time for my apprenticeship in Berlin over, I returned to Nuremberg where I was studying at the time, but we remained in touch through letters. One day, while my landlady was away, the postman delivered a letter for “Mrs. Thakore” from a firm making feminine hygiene products, enquiring wether the samples sent earlier met with her satisfaction. I was intrigued – neither was I married, nor was my mother within a thousand miles of Germany, so there was no question of her having used them. Upon my landlady’s return, I asked her and she told me of a couple of other instances when she’d received packets of sanitary products in “Mrs. Thakore’s” name and so as not to embarrass me, she’d kept them away discreetly. Some months passed and my friend visited me in Nuremberg – his term in Berlin being over. Our usual outings started. One evening, while watching a film, an ad from the same company came up and I leaned over in the dark to tell him something, not noticing the sheepish smile on his face. As you might have guessed already, it was the same dear rascal who’d played the prank on me.

Years later, we both returned to India, got married and started our families. Our friendship prospered. But not for long. He developed a brain tumour and though the first surgery was successful, he had a relapse and did not survive the second. He was only in his fifties when he passed away.

Still, the family contact remained. He had left behind two young children who were then still in school. My wife and I would invariably visit them during Diwali and she, an expert cook, would make her special chicken for us, knowing we loved it. Sadly, on one such Diwali day, I don’t know why or how we missed going to her. She had prepared our favourite dishes and had waited in vain, even freezing them over the next few days, in expectation. In fact, when her children asked to eat them, she refused, saying they were made for Uncle Yagnesh, who would definitely come. Well, this Uncle Yagnesh never visited them that Diwali. Honestly, even today, I don’t know what kept us from visiting her that day. It still hurts me to think of that particular Diwali and I haven’t forgiven myself for that lapse.

Suren, my dear friend, I want you to know – wherever you are – that both your exceptional kids are very well settled in their lives and we are in close touch with Manda, your wife. You and I will unite some day, so that you can play some more pranks on me, you loveable rascal!

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