I don’t remember whether it was 2009 or 2010. (No, I am not going to do a Google search, sometimes not remembering has its own charm.) Mamata Banerjee, the then Railways Minister, had introduced the Duronto Express. My friend and I are fans of the Indian Railways and we got very excited about the non-stop Duronto Express between Mumbai and Ahmedabad. In our excitement, we imagined reaching each other’s homes in just three-four hours. And then I remember calling him to share my excitement. He pointed out, “Non-stop means saving a maximum of 20-25 minutes…not what you are imagining.” I logged on to the Railways website to check the arrival and departure time of the Duronto Express. He was right. I gasped in disbelief and thought, “Why didn’t I think like this?” I remember saying to myself, “You know, teachers have that X factor. They look beyond the obvious. That’s why they shape lives.”
He is not my teacher in the strictest sense of the term. But then, what’s in a dictionary definition? I met him years ago on the university campus where he was my senior. He’s my beautiful, tender, elegant version of a teacher who neither checked my examination papers nor gave me grades. Yet, he is one of my favourite teachers. We have lots of love, affection and respect for each other. We learn a lot from each other in our daily lives, even though we live in different cities now.
I have derived my understanding of India, Gandhian philosophy, issues of identity, love, relationships and religion from my innumerable conversations with him. He’s the quintessential thinker, analyser and teacher. I am the quintessential storyteller. I write more letters to him. He talks to me much more.
I write in my notebook,
Give me your phone
Take my pen
Write to me
I need words.
I complain about him not writing, I threaten to delete all the mails I’ve written over the years. He listens patiently and tells me as any ‘cool’ teacher in the world would say, “Let us celebrate our individual ways. I can talk to you from dusk to dawn. On anything. You can write to me on anything.” I agree. Life’s a collage.
He has the mind of a social scientist. I have the heart of an artist. I am a wanderer in spirit, even when I am not travelling. I look for homes in odd places outside my door. He carries home within him. He’s rooted like a banyan tree. I am restless but I feel strangely calm when we are talking, the same way I used to feel when talking to my father, who was a teacher much loved by his students. In my friend, I see traces of my parents’ love, care and protection.
‘Conservative Liberal’, I call him. I try to be a rebel like a teenager. He shows me reason. I come up with excuses. But after a while, I see reason in his voice of reason, the same way my parents made me see reason when I was young.
Day after day, for the last 20 odd years, he has kept me addicted to social sciences and politics. Through our constant interactions, he has helped me to develop a perspective – whether on chai, music, cricket or electoral politics. I am lucky to have a mentor like him in my life.
When I feel sad or upset, I tell him, “I need to see a therapist.”
He says, “You don’t need one…You have me.”
He’s my memory, he’s my imagination. As a storyteller by passion, I celebrate both memory and imagination. He’s the friend, philosopher, teacher of my life. He teaches me, inspires me to fall in love with life. Every single day.