Judgement Risks and Paybacks

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Picture Source: http://aroimakmak.com/

The other evening, when we were walking near the Esplanade Theaters by the Bay here in Singapore, Akank and I stopped for something to eat. I wanted her to try the Thai coconut ice cream, a scoop of coconut flavored sorbet served in one half of a tender coconut shell, to be eaten along with the young coconut jelly. I had tried it once before and had loved it. They also offer a chilled glass of tender coconut water to go. It was a humid evening and anything cold and thirst quenching seemed like a great snack idea.

As we sat by the Bay enjoying the crystals in the sorbet, I noticed a man looking in the general direction of where we sat. In the twilight, it seemed like he was looking directly at us. He sat there surrounded by two huge plastic bags filled with cans and plastic bottles.  It was obvious that he was a trash collector. He looked about 75 years old not a day younger.  He had no footwear on, wore a shirt that was a few sizes bigger for his frame and he was absentmindedly munching on something. My gaze kept going back to the man. I felt unsettled as I looked at him, savoring the cold sorbet with the plastic spoon in my mouth.  I wondered if he longed for a taste of the cold ice- cream.  Instinctively, I walked back to the kiosk to buy another shell of ice cream.

I offered the ice cream topped with crushed peanuts to the old man and said, “Uncle,this is for you”. With a toothless grin that reached his ears, without speaking a word, he waved both his hands and refused the offer.  I deemed it important to clarify that it was a fresh cup and not the one I was eating. I even showed him the half eaten sorbet in my other hand, but he was absolutely sure that he wanted nothing to do with it, fresh or otherwise.  I imagined that maybe the ice cream was way too cold for him and for some strange old man reason he was refusing it.  I gingerly balanced both the fresh shell and what was left of my melting sorbet and offered him the chilled coconut water to drink.  He waved me away with renewed vigor and pulled out a brown liquid from inside an enormous plastic bag and indicated that he had something to drink.  I was flabbergasted.

What a great lesson

I gave up when I realized that I expected him to accept the ice cream just because I felt charitable, but it had back fired. The fresh sorbet began to melt too.

Before I made the decision to buy the ice cream, I had my daughter’s buy-in and support. Otherwise you can imagine what else I would have had to deal with! She however refused the second helping of ice-cream. At 16, she has better control over her needs and wants related to food than I do. I pondered for a minute if I should eat the refused ice cream and then realized that it will end up being a costly mistake to my weight maintenance goals. I visualized my coach’s disapproving looks and decided that I was going to march ahead to look for someone more deserving. I had to pass by the old man, who flashed me another toothless grin and waved to me as though wishing me luck.

I shortly found a 20 year old Bangladeshi construction worker who was dragging his feet after work towards the pickup truck that would take him home. Unlike the old man, the young man gladly took the ice- cream from me and sat down to finish it. I made small talk with him as he ate and found out that he had been here less than two months. I hoped that he believed that he is in a good place, hard construction work notwithstanding, that sometimes strangers you come across in a new country, can be nice.

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Eulogy for a friend

Rest in peace, Prasad

Rest in peace, Prasad

Goodbye, Prasad.

I am glad I got to speak to you one last time before your time ran out.  It must have been providence then that prompted me to look you up on Facebook, when an email I wrote you bounced back undelivered.

It was on your birthday this year. As was the trend, we always wrote each other just that day of the year. A quick note to check if we were still in the same town, doing the same thing that we were a year back when we had connected on our birthdays.  Some ritual that. Do I regret not writing to you more often? No. It is not like we were old chums.

What were we then? Acquaintances, contacts, a connection, birthday buddies maybe?  It is funny how my mind reels back to a time, many years ago when we first came to meet. I was in Mumbai and in my first job as a head hunter. You, Prasad, were a job seeker with a resume in our databank, an active job seeker at that. You were unhappy in your assignment or maybe you were between jobs.  You came to my work place to meet with me before I set you up for an interview. We had talked briefly before that a couple of times, enough for me to know that you may be the man that the company was looking for. Yet, as was required, I wanted to meet with you to ascertain if my judgment of you was right.

You didn’t come across as someone who was aggressive and pushy. You always spoke softly with a familiarity that was endearing. You were the same age as me. That and the fact that you were a south Indian in Mumbai is all that it took for us to bond.  Although you didn’t make the cut at that interview, you took that in your stride.  I asked you if the HR manager looked as good as he sounded on the phone and without missing a beat, you asked me if I know of tall, dark, handsome men. Just when I began to widen my eyes in awe, you said,” He was all of that but tall and handsome”. I laugh out loud even today when I think of that follow up conversation.

Your  easy sense of humor, your laid back ‘ I-am-not-in-a-hurry- to- be- in- my- next- job’ attitude helped me line up a few more interviews that suited your profile and we stayed in touch between 1998 and year 2000. I recall speaking to you about many more job profiles. You didn’t want to jump from the frying pan to the fire, so we waited for the perfect job description.  Meanwhile, you found an interesting assignment with a tele shopping network on your own.  We stayed in touch because I told you that it pays to have a head hunter for a friend.

I relocated from Mumbai to another city a few years after that and we kept in touch on email. I cannot trace all the emails from those years, though I eagerly looked for them in my now unused hotmail account. I had switched to Gmail by then and had sent you an invite to start an account. It was year 2008, by then you had started a business on your own and seemed busy. Your once-a- year email always arrived on my birthday.

Three years later, you asked to connect on Linked In.  You wrote me saying you had forgotten my daughter’s name and blamed it on old age!  You also said something poignant in one of your updates then. You said and I quote “ .. still not done with my struggles yet”. I felt a pang of guilt wash over me. I had moved on to other things and other people and had never once wondered if you were okay and happy.  We promised to connect on Facebook that year but never really found each other there. Years went by.

It wasn’t until May this year I thought of you again. I sent you a birthday wish and the mail bounced back. I finally found you on Facebook. It had been fifteen years since I saw you. You had changed so much. You know of the tall, dark and handsome men we used to talk about? You looked like one of them.

My happiness of finding you again was short lived.  I learnt of your cancer and your Bone Marrow Transplant through the Angels for Prasad community.  When I messaged you on Facebook chat on that day, you replied almost immediately. The same old cheerful Mr. Nice Guy. You shrugged off my questions about your health and asked about me instead.

I am glad I called and spoke with you, Prasad. It may not have meant much to you, but to me, it made a world of difference. I wanted you to know that even though I hadn’t really been in touch, I have always been your well wisher. You told me that life had been good, that you did well in the insurance business; you travelled the world and even came to Singapore.  Maybe if we had stayed in touch, we could have met at Singapore?  Even though that thought saddened me, I was super happy that your career did take off.  Until your cancer was detected, you were a successful and happy man, you said.

Prasad, despite the best intentions of the world around you, you lost your fight to cancer. I wish you had lived longer. I wish I had been able to make that short trip to Mumbai to see you once more.

When I turn older in two weeks, guess whose wish I will miss this year?

Until we meet again…