Sunday, April 18, 2010

Good Bye, Dog.

Mahesh Mahadevan was found dead a couple of days back on the UC,Irvine campus. The police have labelled it a case of suicide by asphyxiation. The circumstances surrounding the case and Nai’s stirring and devastatingly poignant last post on Stumble Upon suggests that the authorities may be correct. And with that act of his, I lost my ex wing-mate, quiz team mate of four years, co-coordinator in so many events and a close friend & confidante.

When Nai first came to IITM, his history of an amazing academic record was stunning even to the haughty IITians. He brought an image of a person so sharp and brilliant and of a level of competence so unattainable that acute jealousy would have made it easy to dislike him. But to his credit, it turned to be the opposite. Perhaps the most affable of all the new guys who joined Mandakini Hostel, he made people comfortable around him at a spectacular pace. Even a notoriously reticent person like me fell prey to his genial company. Thankfully that ensured our coming together to form a team which was one of the major hallmarks of my stay at IITM.

Throughout his four years, Nai could be seen doing everything, everywhere. Everybody knew him and he knew everybody. Whether it’s succumbing to NQA’s assaults for the umpteenth time in yet another quiz with me, or miraculously metamorphosing into a rap star in his final year, his constant propensity to pick up completely unrelated skills and excelling in them at an astonishing speed never failed to overwhelm people around him. He seemed to be in a tearing hurry to master as many things as possible as fast as he could. A lifetime seemed too less for all the things he wanted to learn. Wordplay and quick humour defined his conversations with everyone. The fact that many never got around to grasping the quick-witted repartees never stopped him from jumping at the smallest opportunity to turn a moment funny. Watching Nai with his alert posture guarding the goal posts with his less than imposing frame was a fixed sight at the Mandak quadrangle every evening. So was his presence at every major/minor/completely irrelevant hostel event. His shocking get-up as a promiscuous woman in his first hostel night and his classy get-up as a rap star in his final hostel night has found place in innumerable folders title ‘Mandak Memories’. Bound to be found in long winded ‘fart sessions’, wolf games and practice session of some sort, he was the image everyone associated with life in Mandak and in IITM in general. There are very few compatriots from IITM who have not shed a tear today.

The infamous 12 Angry Men spoof team,2007

His charisma seemed only to increase in Irvine if the condolences messages on his FB page are anything to go by. Not surprisingly he seemed to have taken up the only thing he didn’t get time for in IITM- dancing. His taste for adventure sports which never found a vent in Chennai finally found a medium as he feverishly conquered skate boarding. In the middle of everything, he managed to squeez in mastery of acapella too. His brand of humour didn’t fail in building a clan of loyal fans even there and not so startlingly, he was a darling among the ladies.

Personally, Nai’s was one of those rare friendships I used to proudly advertise as an accomplishment. In his company, I always felt I was doing something clever, saying something intelligent, thinking something different. His charisma forced me to behave so. Effortlessly. Our interests converged on so many topics. We competed with each other to show who loved British comedy more. We threw in Blackadder references just to see if the other got it and appreciated it if he did. We went crazy trying to outdo each other in mastering referencing to Seinfeld at the appropriate moments. He always called me Shayon-da subtly hinting at his displeasure at my abandoning my roots and making people pronounce my name Sayan. For some reason he also at times referred to me as Herr Fuehrer. I never asked him why. I wish I had. Everything he said to me, everything he wrote to me were always so full of references, puns, play and hidden significances that communicating with him was a delight and a challenge.

As a fellow team-mate, Nai was a joy. With him, Chanani and me, we formed a team which I always referred to as the greatest ever Dum Charades team never to have won anything. We had devised codes for the smallest aspects only to repeatedly fail at every opportunity to use them and we laughed ourselves hoarse at the hilarity which usually ensued on stage. We had devised a code for the movie Troy and fervently prayed for four years that by a stroke of luck we should get it once so that we can set a new time record in DC. I will never forget the look on Chanani’s face when he opened the chit at Saarang 2008, our last shot at qualification after struggling for four years. It was Troy and we cracked it in one second. Though it seems so silly, I was so happy that day. And so was Nai.

Quizzing with him was a different experience altogether. Answering the vaguest, quirkiest and most impossible of questions was his exclusive domain. The sudden burst of passion which flooded his complexion as an answer occurred to him, his jumping up to answer it and then inflicting a forceful and albeit painful high five on me to celebrate is an image imprinted permanently in my head. But what I remember the most is the all too often walk of shame back to the hostel late in the night after failing to win yet another quiz. He always gave a quiet ear to my rants about how Pota & Co were ruining enthusiasm by winning everything. I had the time of my life organizing quizzes with him and working on esoteric and arcane connects. With Jayant we formed a great quizzing team. With KV we went a notch higher and formed perhaps a trio which participated just to trip rather than win anything. Watching Nai and KV in conversation was like watching a joust between Messi and Rooney. Today I can only guess how distraught KV may be feeling. I also feel terrible for dear Psueba who loved talking to Nai. Yet another great pair undone.

Me,KV&Nai: Shaastra 2007 Main Quiz

There are just so many images which are flooding my mind right now. The unforgettable spoof of 12 Angry Men where the geniuses of Nai, Psueba and Bhadwa decided it would be an interesting experiment if all the jurors let down their trousers in the middle of the play. The coincidental but unrelated cycle accidents which left both of us bruised and bandaged at the same time and Nai felt it would be a good idea to take a picture. His comments and constructive criticisms/praises on each and every blog post of mine, no matter how inane or irrelevant the post may be. He was the first person from IITM to write me a testimonial on Orkut. He also taught me the basics of basketball, with tremendous patience. I remember the frustration he felt whenever he had me in his team. Perhaps the only time we almost fought. I spoke to him just three weeks back, two weeks before he died. He was excited about me going to the Malaysian GP. He warned me of the noise during the race and promised to meet me when he visited India later in December. We tripped on the brilliance of the Seinfeld reunion. On hearing I was planning to go camping that weekend he signed off with a characteristic quip asking me not get ‘camplacent’- overconfident about my camping skills. Everything seemed so normal. All of the above are small bits from the past, some sound even a bit silly perhaps, but seem so overwhelming to me right now in their entirety.

Bicycle Accident Buddies, 2004

I spent the entire day going through our old mails and gtalk conversations and I was struck by a fact that I had never realized till now. Before every major decision/event in my life, I had consulted him. And he had always replied in clear, objective terms on what he feels would be the right way ahead. I am feeling extremely stupid that this realization just hit me now. The depth and intensity of our friendship seems to have got buried under memories of frivolity and inanities. Its so tragic that its only after his death that I am able to realize how he made life so rich for me not just with his jokes, talents or competency but by being an invisible sounding board on which I had unconsciously been depending on for so many years. I can feel that the realization of what I have lost hasn’t sunk in completely and it will take quite some time for me to completely understand the enormity of the change and how poor it leaves me.

I would like to believe I see life how Nai did. That living is all about learning continuously. Reinventing oneself while staying true to one’s passions. The fact that he did it so much better than I ever could made me value our relationship so much. What frightens me the most right now is that there is a thought out there so terrifying and destructive that when it hit Nai, it convinced him to stop doing what he loved so much, learning and living. If that thought hits me someday, will I fare any better? I am scared.

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