Saturday, August 25, 2007

S Nahoum Ali: A Question of Friendship

"...In the days of my youth, I was told what it means to be a man...
...Now I've reached that age, I've tried to do all those things the best I can...
...No matter how I try, I find my way into the same old jam...
...Good Times, Bad Times, you know I had my share..."

- Led Zepplin

When Nahoum called me few months ago to remind me that it was the 10th year anniversary of the time I “saved his life” after a very bad car crash, I joked with him if he wanted to thank me or curse me.

Last few years have been extremely bad for him. Life often doesn’t turn out the way we want it. Not that I ever thought Nahoum had a plan in life. Well actually I’m lying. We had a million plans on how we will become rich. And I can bet you that majority of them would succeed. His capability of looking at a situation and finding a solution to it for one to make money is absolutely amazing. Or I actually should say, “was”. He died today.

How are we supposed to deal with a friend dying? I remember how sad my father looked a few years back when his best friend passed away one fine afternoon. I don’t re-collect him ever looking sadder. Some friendships are supposed to be forever. We are supposed to grow old together. We shared a past and a life that was supposed to ensure a future. And then one day without any warning I have to erase his number from my speed dial list!

Through his bad days Nahoum became a loner. Crying out for some companionship. It was a spiral that he went down. Deeper he was in trouble the more he needed his friends. But more we judged him and more he stayed away. And more he needed us. Ironic for a person who would do anything for his friends, he was short of them in the last few years.

I never did figure how to handle him. I knew the trouble he was getting into. He chased that elusive rainbow. He could not handle the fact that when he thought he got close, it turned out to be another mirage. I used to joke with him that he was a man who could not stand happiness. Whenever he was happy he had to go out and search out pain. I saw the growing dependence on things that would bring him that fleeting moment of bliss. When I complained he went away for a few weeks. But then I would remember he needed me. And in some subliminal level I needed him. I needed to know that my optimism could conquer his gloom.

But where was that balance going to be? For every taka of mine that he abused, there was a minute of conversation that kept him sane. Was I wrong? Did I not do enough to help him? What should I have done? Questions. All going through my head now are questions.

Some who did not know him could not understand why I kept being generous with him. The easy answer is that he too would have done the same if I were in his shoes. But I think from that day 1997 on Airport road when I saw him lying on the road in a pool of his own blood; I believed I was his lifejacket. I was selfish. Every time his name came up on my cell phone it was like the “bat signal” calling out for the superhero to ride out to the rescue. And there have been many phone calls - some that the whole world jokes about and some that not another soul knows. Long drives and longer conversations; large and small amounts of money; big plans and bigger disappointments; crazy dreams and wild despair – an endless list of reasons to call us friends.

But what do I do now? Should I have done more? Could I have done more? Would things be different if I was in Dhaka during his last momentary lapse of reason? I guess it will haunt me for rest of my life. But maybe it won’t. Maybe life would go back to normal. As I said earlier, some friendships are forever. He might just always be there. Looking down with that grin, with that take-on-the-world attitude and laughing to see his friend here crying, devastated that I could not be his lifejacket.

I miss you Gutu! Keep a space for me in Heaven, my friend.