Ode to a friend

Almost 17 years ago life brought me face to face with a fresh faced youth. A youth with passion in his eyes and fire in his belly to become someone. Some might say it is like that when you are young and naive. True, those were times when life was a lot simpler the grey was a thin line dividing the black and white, cynicism had not yet permeated existence and yes the world was our oyster.

Albeit, there was something different about this youth, maybe it was the laid back attitude that reflected his quiet self assurance or maybe it was the quick wit that left many spell bound and speechless. Or maybe it was his deeply analytical yet highly accurate ability to know what people were talking about. 

Although we met for work – the lines between professional and personal were very blurred back then. Work was personal and colleagues became family as time progressed. Maybe it was the openmindedness that led to forming friendships that have stood the test of time. Whatever it was I am glad events unfolded as they did. 

Our first meeting introduced me to another lifelong friend, about him another time. Astoundingly I noticed that this youth understood not only my naivety but also my fears of the unknown. Things I now find simple were a lot more monumental and complex back then. I was explained over lunch what I was expected to do, I suppose my enthusiasm far outweighed my ability to get the job done. My eagerness to get going got me on the team. 

That was the first assignment where I was on own. As exciting as independence was the flip side was greater responsibility.  Stricking a balance between the stress and excitement is still something I graple with everyday. 

We were travelling for work and they say you find out about people only when you are living with them. I learnt that behind the passionate eyes lied a humble soul. A soul that wanted to help, to understand and to get things done.

Over the years we became accustomed to the arm over the chair whilst talking or the backward tilting head nod together with the “haan bhai”  but what remained unnoticed was how he brought people together by using social gatherings as an excuse to bring now families together.  Yes many including him got married and had offspring. Yet the excitement never left the eyes, despite the responsibilities life was stil lived on his terms.

I guess these words or any for that matter will never be able to fully reflect the person that was Naeem but I suppose they serve as a reminder to all of us to possibly tell the people that mean something to us what they mean to us before the regrets of leaving things unsaid start compounding.  We cannot bring Naeem back but we can always remember him and his family in our prayers.

Of women and love

In the not so distant past a candid conversation over drinks with a few strong, independent women ensued. The flowing conversation took its cues from the drinks and inevitably the most discussed yet least understood topic came to the fore. You guessed it love – the eternal bliss for mere mortals.

An announcement from another woman about getting married garnered the usual “awwws” congrats..you ladies know what I am talking about.

Following the celebratory toast, the conversation about the white wedding dress, the engagement ring and the whole nine yards got me thinking. I blurted out a feather ruffling question. Would the guy marry you if you were in your pajamas?

 As you would expect the unconscious yet deeply instinctive covert conversational tools that are all so womanly subtly yet effortlessly turned it over to me. My resounding yes, caused many a dainty finger pointed at my lack of understanding of what women want. As if I needed any reminders! 

I quietly gathered that these wonderfully intelligent women had understood that my simple question did not focus on the pajamas but the underlying dichotomy of the paradoxical love concepts segregating the male and female species.

Talk to any woman and she will equate love from a man to be all forgiving, all stable, all consistent and all devoted obviously with the freedom to do as she pleases. In short a strong man who she can submit to. But how does she know that the man is strong? Obviously, it isnt just a case of direct questioning. It is a case of walking your talk and doing it consistently. Tough ask but hey, she is giving up control. You think it will be easy? 

Ask what she gives him and the answers vary from a laundry list of adjectives to a simple “he gets me”.  Ask a man what love is to him and it would simply be a woman that respects him for who he is in return for which he will give all that is him.

I went to the Bible for guidance on love between a man and a woman and found an interesting verse that commanded a man to love a woman like himself and a woman to respect a man.

The obvious question was what is a man to expect? And who does what when? Do I love her first and then she respects me or does she respect me and I love her? Or is it a simultaneous process. The idealist in me said its natural like all the fairy tales. I see some raised eyebrows and blank stares.

But the more important thing to note is that women and men love differently. Have you ever noticed that if a man cheats he is labelled a pig and if a woman cheats he doesnt love her. Ask a man what he does and he will say everything to keep her happy – like he should I hear. So he does his part yet doesnt get respect. Tough as it sounds thats just how it is. Life is unfair and that extends to love. 

Yet the very essence of love is yielding control or at least that’s what they tell you. Societial norms and expectations inhibit the baring of souls even when cohabiting. But would the baring of your soul get respect? Clearly weakness for a man is shunned by society yet the damsel in distress card is played conveniently by many a woman, particularly the one with the loudest voice for gender equality.

Love in its various forms is the stuff of dreams, the essence that makes us humans. Yet it is the most widely abused concept. Many a man and woman have fallen in love and the deeper they fell the harder it hurt. I read something interesting about love “If it dont hurt it aint real”.  But does it have to be that way I ask. Or is it just a utopian ideal formed in our impressionable minds at a young age that we continue to carry through well into our adult lives.

From what I have gathered so far, love in its various forms is about giving and more importantly, absent from expectations for anything in return. Its about risking it all, taking that leap of faith on the likes of normal individuals. Fully aware that it could land you face first into a brick wall. Yet how many of us actually take the plunge wholehearteadly? How many bare our souls?  Age and cynicism are directly propotional and our past does not help us in yeilding to love. We tend to focus more on what we do not want than what we do want.

So guys take the plunge and when she tests your will. Smile inwardly and know if she didnt think you worthy she wouldnt be so bratty. And ladies try being a bit more respectful that’s all a man wants. 

A man among men

They say women are born and men are made. Cliched as it sounds it is resoundingly true. The inescapable question (at least on my mind) is “What is a man”?

In as far as I have observed a man is all about strength, determination, self discipline, perseverance, love, devotion, stability, consistency and the willingness to sacrifice his all for the ones he loves. Whilst not exhaustive, the attributes listed above can be observed in ‘men’ we all love and adore be it statesmen, leaders, sportsmen or pioneers. My experience to date on point-in-time observations of many males leads me to state that whilst we might see some we will not see all the qualities listed above in most males. Consequently, a male embodying all the above earns what all men crave from any relationship ‘respect’. And yes it is earned and many a man has spent his lifetime earning this intangible yet exceedingly important asset.

Respect is a 69 year old man maintaining a regular exercise routine of 45 minutes a day. An achievement in its own right at least for the likes of me. But what is more astounding is the story of how life put this man down but he got up and fought like the man we all want to be.  Picture this, being on a wheelchair and unable to perform daily routines without assistance just three years ago through what doctors termed as a weak heart. But nay said the heart of this man, he promised himself he would get back on his feet and achieve this feat. And achieve he did, because he had the perseverance, self discipline and determination to not be defeated. He started with small steps beginning with his daily routines and built on it over time. Now many would say its a great story. But what about the other attributes? How does love, devotion, consistency, stability and the willingness to sacrifice come into the picture. Patience they say is a virtue. Read on and you will find out.

Love and sacrifice are strangely married, lack of either makes for existence and not living. A man is expected to demonstrate his love through sacrifice hence our celebrations of Valentine’s days, the engagement ring, the white wedding dress et.all. These are essentially designed for women to be celebrated and so they should, but I digress. Ask someone who has been married for nearly four decades and he will say love is not about the Valentine’s days, the wedding anniversaries or the birthdays. It is about the renewal of the commitment to love a woman every single day till you die. And boy what a commitment. Yeah that’s what boys say, men renew this commitment every single day and night. The self same man mentioned above did this and how you would ask. It is by sleeping on the same bed with the same woman for 38 years without any threats to leave or accepting to sleep on the couch. That is the kind of stability that a woman craves, a man who will stand by her when the storms rage within her. Oh and the storms do rage, the quiet nods from the women reading this are testament to the validity of this statement.

But his sacrifice was not limited to his wife, his offspring saw that he did not have any friends he associated with. In fact, the only time he was not with family was when he was providing for them. A man without friends some might say, no a man who knew that devotion to family was more important that having friends. Again a big sacrifice to make when the experts will tell you that having friends outside of your spouse makes for a healthy relationship. Without doubting the validity of the advice, the experts are for normal people, males with some manly qualities. A real man does not look at the odds, he focuses on his goal and keeps doing that until he gets there. That is where consistency comes in, doing this day in and day out over nearly four decades that is consistency personified.

Fortunately enough the point-in-time observations above encompass my entire life. I had the good fortune of calling this man “Daddy”. And Daddy earned his respect not by moaning when the times were rough but by standing tall and making sure he did what he had to till his last breath. Inevitably, I lost him not so long ago, he always said you are better educated than me and I always said but you are the better man. A man among men!