Today is friendship day, and though these days are nothing more than days promoted to sell products. I will use it to share about a friend and talk about friendship.

“In happiness, in misery, in famine, in pain, in the grave, in heaven or in hell the one doesn’t give up on me is my friend. Is such a friendship a joke? Why if you have experienced such a friendship, you need not meditate ….. a man may have such salvation through such a friendship”, ~~ Swami Vivekananda

This is not a quote in a fancy card. This was how Swami Vivekananda described his relationship with his brother monks. We are all fascinated by the idea of friendship, yet friendship is the most underrated relationship in society. Because it doesn’t come with a financial or sexual tag perhaps like marriage or a biological tag like family which you are born into. Yet it is the most liberating relationship if you are lucky enough to experience it.

20 years ago on this very day, I lost my friend. If I have experienced a pure form of love that has not been parental it was that. My friend battled a rare form of a tumor for 12 years. She battled it for many years till one day there was no ammunition left to fight it with. She was only 24. And I wanted to share the last few months with you because it wasn’t just about her battle. It really was one about friendship. It’s easy to be with each other when the going is good. But when in pain how many can turn around and put the other person before you. But my friend was just that. Her pain was always secondary. She laughed and loved and lived. (Much like Swamiji’s quote)

As her tumour progressed, life had altered drastically for this 24-year-old. And the last few months I remember I would spend just sitting by her, talking to her, sometimes adjusting her pillow, sometimes adjusting the O2 flow, and sometimes wheeling her to watch the sky. She was losing her voice as well. And so she would use chits to communicate. And as I would sit there drowned in pain, there was never a day she wasn’t smiling. And every morning, the first thing she would scribble was: Why are you so grumpy? I am going to meet Mr God.

Then she would make it a point to write: I hope you have started working out plans for your higher studies. What will you do after I am gone?  

I would find it amazing. She was a student studying at the London School of Economics, on a full scholarship. She was a bright scholar and an exemplary artist. Not once did she feel bitter that everything was ending, instead she would worry about me. I remember telling her our pact was simple — I was the artist, and she was supposed to support me. She sighed and wrote:

 I wish I could be what Theo was to Van Gogh, but you will have to learn to do this without me. (Theo was Van Gogh’s younger brother they shared a very deep bond) 

The truth is, she was a fine artist. Her watercolour works have been posthumously displayed in numerous galleries. 

I never found these scribbles amusing but she would laugh and write more I can’t speak but you can, come on, tell me about your day, tell me what’s happening. You are an idiot and very boring. 

And the two of us would spend the whole day just sitting with each other. Laughing and even fighting sometimes foolishly planning as if we had all the time in the world. Sometimes in a hospital, sometimes in a room.

Promise me you will go to the Van Gogh museum. Remember me when you are there. I wish we could have gone together, but you must go. I want you to see the pictures just like I saw them when I went.

I would watch scared to fall asleep in case her oxygen needed to be changed. As days passed, she lost out on the luxury of sleep as well. She could only sit in one position. I would sit opposite her and she would rest her head on my shoulder, and I would just pray she would get ten minutes of sleep. Ten minutes of respite from the pain. And even in that pain, she would look up and then scribble:

You try to rest and sleep, you must be so tired.

I would refuse. My sleep mattered little to me. But she would have none of it. And then a few days later, she couldn’t eat anymore. Yet I remember her looking through the Oxygen mask and saying, “It’s been ages why you don’t order some chicken tikka today. Don’t worry, I don’t need to eat. I will be happy if you do. Stop being such a bore in life. Pour yourself a vodka.”

One has to be blessed to have experienced such a friendship. There was this one night I thought she was leaving. I ran to sit by her. She held me real tight and grinned and said, “I can’t leave without saying goodbye to you. I worry, though, once I am gone, what will you do. And you know my biggest fear is what if there is no Mr God!” 

I would turn around and tell her, of course, He is there. That would bring a smile to her face.

The final day, she was no longer able to open her eyes, yet her hands were still scribbling. She saw me and said, “You and my mother need to let me go.” 

And then she scribbled a picture. It was the eyes of Kali.

It was much later I understood what Swami Vivekananda meant by friendship giving you salvation. The beauty about genuine friendship is, even in pain, it shows you the light. It gives you eternity and goes. It was this friend’s death that paved open my spiritual quest. That was her parting gift to me. It changed my life to throw me on a life-changing journey.

“All men have stars, but they are not the same things for different people. For some, who are travelers, the stars are guides. For others, they are no more than little lights in the sky. For others, who are scholars, they are problems… But all these stars are silent. You-You alone will have stars as no one else has them… In one of the stars, I shall be living. In one of them, I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars will be laughing when you look at the sky at night…You, only you, will have stars that can laugh! And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me… You will always be my friend. You will want to laugh with me. And you will sometimes open your window, so, for that pleasure… It will be as if, in place of the stars, I had given you a great number of little bells that knew how to laugh”, The Little Prince, St Exupery.

I wish you all that one day you may also experience such a friendship. 

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