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Portrait of Two Friends by Italian artist Pontormo, c. 1522

What can one person do? Is a question that many people have asked me on and off when troubled by the dismal state of affairs in their life or in the lives of those around them. I have met a number of people who know they want to make a difference but feel entirely helpless in not knowing how to do so. Planning to write an article on the topic, I was mentally preparing points as my youngest cousin, whom I fondly called Kid, and I were rambling at U B City. While billing a pair of shoes at Salvatore Ferragamo, we ran into two of his classmates who insisted that we join them for a coffee at the café in the food court. Thankfully the heat of the fierce summer day had faded and the weather in Bangalore was windy and wonderful. The only available table was by the ramp, out in the open. Once settled, the boys began chatting endlessly of cars, computers, grand prix and a whole lot of other stuff. I sat looking at my cousin who was barely contributing to the conversation but let out a laugh occasionally. 

He was this young man of the 21st century. Independent. Who set his own standards and lived according to his own rules. Kindness, sensitivity and energy were part of his nature and at the same time he was incredibly clear about what he wanted out of life and even more clearer about what he didn’t. He was someone who would pull up in his Aston Martin and drink a juice by the roadside. And when I’d scold him for it, he’d wear a naughty smile allowing me to read his inner thoughts which would be saying something as clear as he knew how much I loved him and yet he was just fine with what he had done and that I was merely wasting my breath. His first love was athletics. He visited the gym for six days in a week. Indulged in a game of rugby every Saturday and played football on Sunday’s. More often than not, he came back bruised and bloody. Seeing him in that state made me squirm with anxiety. One afternoon my patience gave way when he had come home with flesh sticking out of his palms. I was someone who never wanted to enforce my ideas on him simply because I wanted him to learn from his own experience, but this was pushing it a bit too far. When I glimpsed at him with rage he put his hands on my shoulders and spoke most serenely, “I know, big bro, you are hurt and you are justified in being so, but the game is such and I promise to be careful the next time.” 

Having a lean and muscular body, the most perfect six-pack abs, I always wanted him to flaunt it, but he preferred to wear loose tees that showed off his pecks that I later gathered was his subtle way of turning the women wild. This secret, I stumbled upon, when one of his several female devotees asked me why I put on such boring shirts and not tees like my brother. I had smiled and asked her what difference it had made and she had told me that his loose tees made them all go mad because he had the art of showing just enough for them to want more of him while my shirts left them with no surprise or suspense. I did remember shaking my head and having smiled at the new generation. They sure were far quicker than what we were when we were at their age. I remember the first woman I had had a crush on. I wanted to tell her that I thought she was the most gorgeous woman I had set eyes upon, but by the time I had mustered up the courage, she was with someone else. If only I had had the gumption of today’s youth I was certain I would not have been left behind in the ‘scoring’ affairs that was the theme being discussed now at the table. I observed slight discomfort on my brother’s countenance and began flipping through the product catalogue from Louis Vuitton that I had picked up, wanting to give him the impression that he could talk candidly since I was too engrossed in my own world. One of his friend’s asked him whether he had had any action lately from the hot babe he had been hanging about with at the college. I took a quick glance at my brother. He looked at me uneasily and said that she was only his good friend. I stood up and announced that I was heading for the restroom as I patted my brother’s back on my way out. He smiled, and I noted the tension in his facial muscles had relaxed a little. When I returned to the table, the subject, I gathered, had drifted to what they each intended to do with only one semester left to complete their engineering. While my cousin had decided to go to Africa and work with the UN for six months and then surf for the rest of the year at New Zealand, his classmate was planning to be a bio scientist and the other wanted to do a masters in philosophy hoping to shape the world on his own terms. I smiled silently – we had all gone there before and done all that now, hadn’t we? 

Wanting another orange juice, I waved for the waiter when I noticed two old women walking down the ramp. The older of the two was holding onto the railing along the ramp and moving forward inch by inch. My brother immediately stood up and with his eyes he gestured to his friends to get up from the chairs. His friends paid no heed, sitting like rocks. Quickly, he moved his chair aside and offered the women our table. The older woman smiled at him lovingly and placed her hand on his head as if to bless him and muttered in her faint voice that they were going to the table next to ours. I turned to the table and saw two old men. No sooner had the women passed; his mates began teasing him that he had overdone it. 
“What if she was your grandmother, man?” asked my brother.
“She wasn’t my grandmother dude,” said one of the boys, mimicking his intonation.  
“I don’t get it, man,” said my brother, with a certain crispness.  
“What’s there not to get, dude? Only pansies behave courteously, man. Real men are rough and robust,” said the other boy.
My brother shook his head and let out a loud laugh. 
“I think you’re messed up, dude. You need help,” said one of the boys. 
My brother said nothing, while I detected pity and not shock in his expressions. When his classmates were gone I stared at him cantankerously. He smiled slightly, “I’m least perturbed by the gay talk, big bro,” he said calmly; “the word has become a joke these days. I feel people use it as a defence when they cannot be something they want to be,” he paused, took a sip of the orange juice I had ordered and continued, “but it’s them that I’m worried about. They don’t realise that if I were a doctor caught up in the middle of an outbreak I would be disheartened in not being able to help everyone,” he stopped and grinned at the passing waiter, “but at the same time I would know that I would do the best I can to those within my reach. While there is no ideal picture of how life ought to be, I think we ought not to feel helpless or ask what one person can do, but just go about doing it. And it’s also sad that people think that being modern means losing one’s roots or one’s manners.”

As I watched him speak, my mind floated to the images of the little boy I used to take care of – wipe his mouth when he messed up, draw him out of a brawl when he knew he couldn’t fight physically but had the strength mentally, help him clean up when he had fractured his hands. I also realised that we usually look up to people older than us for strength and here I was finding not only answers to my article, but also solace in my own sibling who was ten years younger than me. That’s when I remembered that even as a kid he never troubled anyone of us. What made me swell with pride was the fact that he sought jobs to make the pocket money he spent on his friends and women instead of reaching into the family’s old wealth. In time I had quite literally found a bit of my soul in him and as much as I tripped on the confident cool dude that he was, I also admired that he was just what anyone would desire to be, modern and yet someone who had not forgotten his roots. I wrapped my arm round his neck and with my elbow on his shoulders we walked to our car, easy and pleased that I had alongside me a proud part of India’s future, under whose casual, modern skin was firmly etched the reason and reality of life.

PS – When I sent the piece written above to some of my publisher friends, I was told that it was more like a journal entry. An editor remarked that it was like a writer and not a journalist writing it. Well that was quite obvious – I am not a journalist. Another friend suggested I cite examples of an actor or a sportsperson in order for people to relate to it better, and that’s when I thought that I would not want to write about some media hungry, overexposed, money guzzling celebrity who made no difference to me. I would as well write about, say my grandmother, my parents’, my siblings, my best friend, my teacher and how their life had had a far greater inspirational impact on my own. I admired my baby brother for being a person who people could relate to for having the ability to speak his mind out knowing full well that it was not his fancy to save everyone’s soul but speak what was on his mind because he could never guess when what he was saying would strike a chord with the right minds, at the right moment. 

I think we must speak up and make our ideas heard instead of feeling helpless about the state of affairs of the world today. I think we must become the change we want to see. 



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Images procured from the Internet. If you are the copyright holder do let me know and I shall give you credits for it since I did not find a link to the website of the photographer or a name to go with it. If you do not like me to showcase them here as they are only for representational purposes I would be most glad to take them off at the closest opportunity I find to access my dashboard.