12 December 2013
A story like none before!!
By now you must be sick and tired of my “here is somebody I reconnected with after twenty years” stories. If not, I know a good psychiatrist who might be be able to help you 🙂
That said, I promise you that this story is like no other before. For one, this is going to be a long one. Pull up your chairs!!! For another, I am on the verge of living up to a word I had given nearly 37 years back. For yet another, I am very very close – not yet fully done – on finishing up the longest and the most frustrating search for somebody.
You see, this is the story of my VERY FIRST friend of my life. We got to know each other ever since I reached consciousness. He was my nearest and dearest friend at a age where crayons used to be my second best friend 🙂 However, we got separated at an early age – I was yet to hit double digits at that time.
My early memories of Khokon – that is what we called him – includes playing chess with him (he diligently beat me) and his dance to the tune of “Sohag Chaand Bodone” – which summed up the total number of songs he and I put together knew 🙂
I also remember his dad and mom. I especially remember watching his mom one day doing some stuff on a mat quietly and I asked her later about it. She explained that she was doing her “namaaz” – the Islamic way of saying prayers. I remember asking her why could she not do the way all of us did (the Hindu way). She then explained to me the differences in religions. I did not understand much. But the words “Ram and Allah are the same” stuck in my mind. I figured at that early age that I got to find about these two guys and why people believe they are the same.
Endless hours used to pass by with my friend, my sister, my brother and me climbing up trees in our backyard or playing with marbles or simply doing stuff kids at early elementary school years were prone to do in India those days.
However, the memory that has been seared in my mind is he leaving us. I still remember like it was yesterday. 1977 late March. News came from Burdwan – about 30 miles away from where we lived in Durgapur, that his grandmother had passed away – two years after his grandfather had passed away. April end they came back after the final rites and let everybody know that they were going to move to Burdwan. And just like that I woke up one early morning of May first week to realize that they were leaving us for good. Guyen-uncle, who drove a public transport minibus had volunteered to drop them in his minibus to the station. As all the neighbors gathered around, he was the last one to get onto the bus after wishing me good bye. My last words – I still remember vividly – were “Abaar dekha hobey bondhu” (“I will see you again, my friend”). And before I knew anything, they were gone.
I had no idea how difficult it would be for me to stay true to my word. You see, while only 30 miles separated us – for crying out loud, that is how much I drive everyday to my office – in those days of no telephone, no internet, it was next to impossible to find him out.
That summer was very troublesome for me. I whined to my mom all the time “What can I do now?” 🙂
The next few years went by with me focussing on my studies. Once in a while I used to wonder how was my friend doing. He was a topper in his school when he was in Durgapur. So, naturally I wondered every “report-card day” how he was faring. I used to ask around if anybody knew where he was but never made any progress.
When I left my state in 1985, I started getting really curious about what was he up to. I even scanned the merit list for Higher Secondary exams to see if I could find his name as a topper. Sadly, I did not.
Then I left the country. But by then, phones had started becoming more prevalent. I would often call up anybody and everybody in India who might know something about him and his parents. It was one fruitless call after another.
Then came the late nineties and emails started becoming more and more common in India. Yet another tool. Yet another set of searches. And yet another set of frustrations.
Through the 2000s, I added physical search – I would visit his old school mates, neighbors and enquire about him. By now, I had become so used to dead ends that I had zero expectations from anybody. But in the process, I made some more friends and renewed some old intersection points.
There was this poignant episode once where I found out where dad used to work and went straight to the HR manager and told him that I was looking for Mr. Abdul Latif (I remembered his dad’s name). The HR gentleman was highly suspicious of me but I did manage to get him to look all old records. Unfortunately for me, uncle had taken voluntary retirement and left the company some time back. I even found out the last known address and visited that place – to no avail 🙁 That was the closest I got in the search.
Then came the age of social media. I signed up on popular social media sites – Orkut, Facebook, Linked In and every four or five months I would search for “Moniruddin” or “Abdul Latif” and all sorts of permutations and combinations. I would send messages to them asking if they were the same guy I was talking about. As you must have guessed, no responses, whatsoever.
I had no idea what happened to my friend. Is he alive? Is he happy? How are his parents? He was my first friend ever. The one who influenced me when I was in my earliest formative ages. He was my friend at an age where being friends came without expectations, without any judgments and with simple, pure delight of each other’s company. It gnawed me no end.
To the extent, that after coming back from our vacation in Costa Rica last to last Friday, the first night at home, I dreamt of my friend and his parents multiple times. Next day, while having coffee with Sharmila, I told her about my dreams. She was aware of the history and said that I should continue to look for him.
So, again, I searched a few more Moniruddins and Abdul Latifs on Facebook, Google Plus, Linked in etc that morning. Here is a sample of a message that I sent to them : “Are you sheikh moniruddin – born in Durgapur, alias Khokon? If not, apologize. Please ignore..”
Ah! well, that was that. The kids woke up and I got busy.
Couple of days later, when I was on a business trip to New York, I got the following reply in Facebook: “Yes I am sheikh moniruddin well known by Khokon. I was at Durgapur in my childhood. What is your nickname?”
Now, if any of you are in Id Fraud business like me, you will quickly discern that whoever this person gave me an affirmative response did not give me any more information than I had given in my original message, anyways. The fraudsters, these days, are very very smart.
But I guess hope runs eternal in the human heart. So, I wrote a cautious response that night from New York: “Bachchu. Just so that I know I am totally sure that I got the right person, can you tell me something more that will help me identify you? Do you remember your street name? Or quarter number? I remember your dad’s name too if you want to give that so I know it is indeed Khokon”. Note my cleverness in how I did not give out much information from my side.
I had to get up very early morning next morning to go for a run with a customer at Central Park. Woke up before 5 and found this message sitting in FB: “Name of the road-Netaji Subhas Road. Street no. 6 Quarter no.6/10. Father’s name-Sk Abdul Latif. What is your father’s name? What is your mother’s profession?”
I could barely move!!! It is indeed that Khokon!!!!! The same guy that was my first friend and left nearly 37 years back!! I was too numbed to think anything. Decided not to do anything and think it thru during my run….
After my run, a deep fear started creeping up on me. I remember him – but does he remember me? Does he remember me well? Did he ever miss me? I had an incident five years back in Atlanta where in a friend’s house, I recognized a guest as my second grade classmate from India. While he was stunned by the facts that I rattled off (including his twin brother being in the same class as us), he showed absolutely no interest in trying to rekindle our old relationship. In fact, he has never responded to my emails thereafter.
All these fears started clouding my thoughts.
But there was a ray of hope. He did not ask my mom’s name. He wanted to know her profession. You know why? Because my mom was a teacher. And taught him in his school for a year! Only he would know that!!!!
Couple of hours later, I wrote the following message: “Yes! You are indeed the same Khokon!! Can you recognize me? Bachchu from 6/2 north avenue. We were friends before you left Durgapur in 1977. My sister is Soma and brother is Pinku. We had a cow. Do you remember now?”
Note the desperation in mentioning the cow. When my dad moved me, my mother and himself from the village hut that I was born in to Durgapur, he brought a cow with us named “Kaali” (yes, it was black in color). Nobody else, as far as a moo could be heard, had a cow in their house. I figured even if Khokon did not remember me, he certainly would remember the cow. Further note how I also assumed he would not remember me. “Do you remember me NOW”, I had asked.
Two hours and infinite number of Facebook refreshes later I got this message “Yes I recognized you from your first message. How are your parents?How is Soma? How is Pinku? My father passed away in September 2008. Mother is so so. Now I live in Burdwan. My mobile no.is XXXXXXXX (redacted)”
You could have knocked me off with a feather!!!! I HAD FOUND HIM!!!!! HE REMEMBERS ME!!!!!
The following half an hour was a blur – I vaguely remember pacing up and down in the hotel lobby and the first words were us yelling each others’s names at least half a dozen times over the phone!!!! Not only did he remember me, he told me more details about our times together than I could remember myself!!!
All this time, his mom kept interrupting him to talk to me. Once she took the phone, both of us were on the verge of crying. It seems that they had often talked about me and my parents and my siblings and have often wondered whatever happened to us. She just would not put the phone down. For twenty minutes we kept talking!!!!!
The best realization on both sides was yet to come. It suddenly dawned upon me something that I should have thought of mentioning way before. I let them know that I will be in India visiting my parents in two weeks’ time. I CAN AND WILL COME AND SEE THEM!!!!!
I have but a dim memory of his face. I have no photo of him. I just remember him being dark and tall. I have no recollection of how his mom’s face looked those days. I just remember her being fair. Unfortunately, I will never get to see his dad ever!!!! He was such a nice person to me every time I talked to him!!!!
But you know what? Thirty six years, eight months and two weeks (that is pretty much three fourths of my life) after giving somebody a word that I barely understood myself “I will see you again, my friend”, fate, technology and perseverance has given me a chance to stay true to my word.
Look out for a blog update / FB post of a picture of me and Khokon around Dec 27th or so.
This is certainly someday going to be the “History of my Future”!!