Updated: Apr 1, 2020
I debated a lot before sitting down to pen this post. Would anybody understand the reason for writing this? I have carried this story in my heart for close to 25 years. There is nothing personal that I can gain by telling this. But for everyone who feels they have been let down and hence they need to change their outlook in life, I would say, don’t.
We are the person we are, we are not a bundle of reactive emotions governed by what people did to us. And I know as humans this is impossible to be. And try we must. There can be many reasons to suspect every human being but true living is finding a reason to trust them.
This is a story of a person who was like a little brother to me. In 1987 after my return to India he was a regular feature in my house in Bangalore. He was always a quite person but he had become a quieter person from the time I remembered him as a junior in school. One day when a bunch of us had had a few drinks he became teary eyed. He confessed that he was under tremendous stress to do something in life. He was a bright student but had not made it to engineering or medicine. His basic degree was finishing and he couldn’t understand what to do with his life. The mood in the room changed. I promised to discuss this with him the next day.
When we talked I asked him questions about what the real problem was. I was sure he would get a job somewhere soon. He told me about the problems at home; his father had retired (or was about to). All they had to show was a modest house in the suburbs. His elder sister was studying and there was her marriage to think of. He was constantly chided to “become something” in life. As we were talking, he had tears in his eyes once again. He confessed he even contemplated suicide. I was aghast. I thought of career options and then remembered that this person could draw reasonably well. I recalled my own stint at FIT NY and wondered if a fashion design career was an option. He laughed at me stating he knew nothing of designing or of clothes. He wore inexpensive ones to survive. But I egged him on.
It was in 1986 that I had heard the Ministry of Textiles had set up the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) in New Delhi. The professor who had helped me get the job (in NY) had mentioned this to me when I spoke to him before leaving NY in 1987. He also mentioned that FIT had been asked to partner with the setting up and there was a good chance he and I would meet in India.
I remembered this conversation when I spoke to my friend.
My parents continued to have a small garment unit; the big one had been disbanded once the joint family broke up. I took him to the factory and asked the master cutter to show him how garments were cut. He reluctantly trained for a couple of days to learn how to stitch garments (basics) on a machine. I then asked him to get the admission form for NIFT which again he reluctantly did. I remember distinctly that the pre-requisite in getting admission was the submission of a few designs and a few garments made by the applicant. I know these were made in our garment unit.
His application was accepted and he was admitted to one of the first batches of NIFT. But a new problem emerged. He had no money to pursue his education and he had to turn to his father for assistance. His father stated he had none but was willing to counter sign a loan when I offered to speak to our banker. Father and son met with the banker and I was told the father was livid. The bank needed collateral and the father was not ready to mortgage his house. His son was devastated. He came to me and told me that he couldn’t make it. I told him that I could help him get started but after that perhaps a scholarship or part-time work could help him get through. The details are fuzzy but I remember he finally boarded the train and I gave him some money. I then looked at his shoes. They were worn and torn. I remember he silently looking at me. I don’t know what got into me but I drove home and fetched a pair of my own sneakers. They were white and one of my favorite purchases from the States. I caught up with the train at the Bangalore Cantonment; it was near my house. I boarded the train and gave them to him. He was surprised, touched and promised never to forget this gesture.
In the very first semester the same professor who had helped me complete my studies visited New Delhi. I had already informed my ‘friend’ that should he ever meet him (at school) I would be grateful if he could connect me. And connect he did. It was a pleasure to hear a familiar voice over the telephone. The Professor asked me if I would come to Delhi and teach as they had a paucity of trained teachers. I politely declined; my career was headed elsewhere. This was the only good deed that was done in return for whatever I did to put my friend’s life together.
After this call he suddenly disappeared from my life.
He was talented then and remains talented even today. Within a couple of years of his graduation, his name started being mentioned in the corridors of high fashion. It was somewhere around the mid 90s that I happened to see him at a restaurant in Mumbai. The restaurant was on Breach Candy road, not far from Kemps Corner and I remember the name vividly, Tulips. I was thrilled to bits to see him but he seemed cold and distant. He reluctantly got up from his table; his sister whom I also knew was with him for dinner. I asked him how he was doing and where he was. He told me he was settled in Bangalore and had a boutique there. He was in Mumbai as another boutique was carrying his line. I asked him where his clothes were displayed; they were in a boutique on the other side of Kemps Corner. I promised to visit the store since I knew it. He looked at me rather coldly and mentioned that his clothes were rather expensive. I didn’t register it as a taunt; I was consumed with joy at seeing him successful. He repeated it when I said I would surely get a discount since it was his designs. And then it hit me.
I excused myself and went back to my table. I can’t remember how I got through the meal that day. I remember I had lost my hunger.
A couple of days later an afternoon daily carried his interview. When I read about the ‘inspiration’ to become a designer, I felt like I was stabbed. He stated that he always wanted to be a designer and he knew once NIFT was opened he could fulfil his dream. His designs, he said took him to Japan where he was further ‘inspired’. There was no mention or a hint that someone had helped him choose this career path. Not even a passing mention of his suicidal tendencies or the struggle to get through his education.
For years I carried the anger and the hurt and with age I guess I have mellowed. But even amidst the hurt I remembered the words of the Dalai Lama, “if your happiness is dependent on the deeds of others, you will never be happy.” I didn’t stop trying to help as many as I could. There are many. I did however, learn that true happiness comes without expecting anything in return.
I also learnt that when a person is down, don’t write him off as a nobody. You don’t know when the person could be someone ‘worth it’. When my friend became a renowned designer, I was actually a nobody. Today the chair I occupy gives me the prestige and all the trappings of a successful individual. I could probably afford many of his clothes but I have lost the desire to possess them. I don’t even have the desire to let him know about the hurt I have felt. I have moved on.
Many who read this post would believe that my penning it down is a reminder of the hurt and perhaps my way of airing this hurt. But like other pieces of my life, this incident is to illustrate my own growing pains. It is no longer a means of retribution. I learnt many lessons from this. Perhaps the most important one I learnt was to continue to believe in the good that humans possess. I also learnt never to forget those who helped me and there were many. I remain indebted to them. There are many whom I helped and continue to do so in my own quiet way. It is very satisfying to see someone successful. I no longer even want any acknowledgement. I believe I am here for a purpose; I find meaning in helping those that I possibly can.