A Covid Winter

We crossed the solemn count of over half a million dead, this winter, of COVID-19, in the U S Alone. More dead than we lost in all our foreign wars, since our founding. There is no way to describe the devastation of our losses, against this virus. So many loved ones, who died alone; in beds cared by front line responders; sickened to their death. As the President reminded us, of that empty chair; on the dining table, in a family meal. He reminded us on how it hollows us inside, in pain and grief. Yes, in all this cold and inhospitable world, we must rise again and live. We must look up to the heavens and our sun for life, once Summer rolls around.

Our Covid winter has passed, with the largest inoculation plan; being executed, across our world. Millions have already received their vaccines. There is talk of billions, by the end of the year; as more manufacturers, get their trials approved. It will take time for life to return to normal, as Spring will turn into Summer. There is talk of July 4th as a renewed Independence Day, for us all. We must remember we are only human, and a very small and insignificant part, of the Universe. Amongst the billions of suns just in our own Milky way, we are children on only one. There are billions of more galaxies, expanding beyond our Milky Way stretching for billions of light years. We should be thankful and grateful for our lives on this Earth. We must strive to live in mindfulness, and with compassion for all fellow creatures.

The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent upon it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do. -Galileo Galilei, physicist and astronomer (15 Feb 1564-1642

Carrying the water

The exercise of free will, is a common human desire,

Without discipline though, it is often only a satire.

Come join the seekers and planters, of the spiritual seeds,

Ensure we are carrying the water, for our daily needs.

The path is tortuous for some, who expect toil and trouble,

Endless days that stretch out, in purgatory’s bubble.

We fear for the worst, and lose sight of what is best,

The only way is to adopt stillness, to allow free thinking,

Dwell inwards, and walk the lonely path, of eternal seeking.

We constantly strive, for external happiness and joy,

Ignoring that happiness is internal, for each girl and boy.

We must go and find, the fuel for our fire,

It is this fuel of our thoughts, which raises our desire.

Still this mind, as with our breath, we must control,

Daily attempt to be here and now, avoid the endless troll,

We do not rise in anger, to defeat desire,

Instead desire dies, when we lower the fire.

Remember in the end, this is just our daily grind,

It is up to us to be happy, to stop and hear the wind.

The path is still there for us to follow,

Change our thoughts and become shallow.

The Oceans will churn, and the storms will rise,

We are the drop, which will become the surprise.

When death takes a lover

Love rises when the red bird sings.

Like the cry of the magpie, seeking a mate.

The lion roars like ancient kings,

While lionesses are the pride and love their mate.

Death awaits its turn, as it is sure,

All who live will be his when he so chooses.

The living carries on his chore,

Ignoring the end, as that is when he loses.

There is a lovely world to live in,

Where all of us, must seek that jewel,

Of knowledge and the truth, amidst reality’s din.

We often suffer, and those around us are cruel.

I learn to live in this, here and now,

Happy to realize, that my actions are free.

Why do not others, seek the wow,

Of a realized life, and the happiness of glee.

There is a little love of life, in us all,

We may bemoan our fate, and how it will all turn out.

Yet time does not stop, and life does not stall,

Change is the constant, and we must not burn out.

Having lived, a life full of wonder,

I will not dawdle but will go boldly into the night.

Bravely I will steal Zeus’s own thunder,

To be first in line, when death takes a lover tonight.

Cave of my heart

When I was young, I remember my mother playing,

A game of fun and companionship, for my entertaining.

If we learnt all the rules, and played by the book,

We would have thrills and delights and may even find a crook.

On such occasions I would rejoice, and join her,

With her delight would arise my own, and we would be together.

Then one day an old bearded man came, and we all went to hear him,

She listened and something changed, as she abandoned our plaything.

Mother said that the man spoke about, opening the cave in our hearts,

Me I also tried at a tender age, to find this cave inside me and all its parts.

The times passed and I moved on with my life, and grew distant, from my mother,

My wife and children took up my time, and I worked for my living, for another.

Life had its sweet moments and its sorrows, and we would visit on celebrations,

My father passed away and my mother was aging, and we talked of separations.

One day she reminded me of the old man, and how she had filled the cave in her heart,

She felt she had done all her life needed, and the time was coming soon for us to part.

Now when I walk in the woods, and come upon a cave,

Oftentimes I feel my mother’s heart beating there, bidding me to be brave.

Rajiv July 2020

Our universe will go on


When humanoids first walked the earth, they must have looked up at spectacular sunrises and sunsets. Our universe will go in all its glory, long after; all of us humanoids, are gone. As we looked up into the heavens through the millennia, what did our minds seek? We must have wondered at the stars and the Milky Way and the celestial sightings. At the same time, we must have sought the understanding of our life, on Mother Earth. Our ancestors must have sought to grasp the meaning of this existence and what it means for our future. There is no single purpose, that a God bestows on our foreheads, when we are born. We are left to our own devices; we have free choice, withing our limited circumstances. It remains up to us to choose wisely, now that we have accumulated the knowledge, of a million years of evolution. Knowledge is just the sum of our past experiences, stored in our Human brain. Here we must dwell, now we must create, to make our life meaningful. I look up at my heavens and see this celestial sight, created just for me at this moment. My purpose is to remain fully conscious of this moment, and stay focused on this event.  My mind stops its chatter, and I live as the part of the universe all around me. Life and I walk hand in hand, with no conflict, at peace with each other, till death Our universe will go on, so what is there to fear?

Came upon this old memory in my FB page from many years ago:

Its chilling breath sent shudders down to my bones, and its dark shadow seemed to cover all the horizons and stifle my very soul. Yet he is an old companion and I no longer fear him, or am swayed by his power. He has made many attempts before to tempt me to accept his embrace; from my piddling birth, to a great fall as a child, horrific auto accidents, burning towers, and now the descent into a darkness, that only he can induce.

I turn around and laugh in his harrowing face; and bid him to be gone, and pick on some other purposeless soul. I wave him away with a dismissal thought; as I have no time for his histrionics, and a life of wonder to live. My purpose is greater than his; and he gazes long into my eyes trying to drag me into his darkness. Then he sees my smile, for as old friends we can read each other’s minds. “Death be gone,” I order for I have things to do, and deeds yet to accomplish. My happiness; dissipates his darkness, and light reemerges. I still have the power of the life force, that needs to bring the message of enlightenment to those around me. We are not thrown here or leave by chance; and each one of us has a greater purpose, which we must strive to achieve. Let my life sing and show the path to the glory of this creation, and bring joy to all around me. I have to walk bravely into the night; bearing this beacon of hope, and not be cowed down into submission by fear or despair. Live true to our vision of compassion for all beings; and that alone will be our eternal achievement. I truly believe that even my old friend death, will welcome me with open arms, when I am done with this idealistic life.

The Arc over the path

A lovely spring evening, and today’s work is done. It is the end of the week in fact, and I get up from my desk and stretch. I venture out hopefully, to take a walk, and refresh myself, from being tied to a computer, all day. Not many people are about, as I start to get into my stride. I adjust the volume on my headphones, to the music playing from my iPhone. It is the Beatles, playing ‘Elanor Rigby,’ and I pick up pace, while reminiscing about my school days. The printed paper, the Jesuit Father passed to me, with the words of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, for us to study for Moral Science Class. It was one of the 3 songs we studied, over 3 weeks. I knew the words well and the music brought pleasant memories, of old friends, and companions. What an education it was, and what great bonds we formed.

 The walkways lead me past some of the other people, who are up and about, taking their evening walk. I pass some couples with their dogs. We all kept a safe social distance from each other. I would often step on to the road, to let a couple pass on the walkway, as there is little traffic these days. Silently etiquette is maintained between us as we pass, avoiding coughing or coming close. By now the Rolling Stones are playing ‘Brown Sugar,’ and I am bent down, slowly climbing the slight incline. The nearby wooded path beckoned me, and I crossed the road from the walkway, to head into the trees.

Within a few steps on the by now familiar path, it went into a steep incline. I knew the path well, and stepped on familiar flat rocks, avoiding the slippery slope. It was a zig zag pattern I followed of my own choosing, and anyone watching; would have been baffled, at my approach. It was to make the climb easier, and gave me better views of my surroundings, instead of just gazing down and concentrating, on the soil and the roots. This wood and I had become old friends, and we knew each other well. Now in the spring evening except for the occasional blossoms, most of the lofty Oaks and Maples, were still bare. The wind did not whisper, as it did in the summer, through the thick leaf cover. Now it was more the sighing sound, of the open sky, as the wind swept freely about.

There along the way were fallen trees, whicht I had to cross, as I followed the path higher. Then it started to level off and I saw, the Arch of the Spring Blossoms, strung across the path. It was like a gate, made specially for me to enter, as if I imagined it to be a gateway, to a different land. I stopped to take a photograph of the path which beckoned, my very soul. What was so special, that it drew me back again and again, to walk only this path, and no other? I have the whole universe to explore, and still I stand here and admire the blossoms, and love this sight.

As I walked on and passed under the Arch of the Spring Blossoms, I passed into a different realm. The old laws did not hold, for now. I found myself in a strange land, of quite and beauty. Life was reduced to its elemental form, of man and nature, as one. There was no me walking on the path anymore. In fact, it was not a path distinct and different, or an extension, outside me. We are one, and so is the forest around us. The birds that fly across the branches above,  and the deer who stand below and stare up at me, with their white tails raised, ready for flight. We are all one in this moment, and time becomes a wave, and space is flowing. I look up to see and an eagle flies high above, in the clear blue sky, with white puffy clouds, floating in space.

The setting sun sends its rays, at angles, through the bare branches, to my foot steps. I walk on and the light and shadows, play with my eyes, in delight. What is inside, is outside, and what is outside, is inside; in a strange feeling, as the boundaries of my body blur. The unity of everything into one moment, can only be experienced, or so this path, led me to believe. I am no longer a walker, who walks his solitary path. Now there is only one universe, and the path itself is gone. There is no longer a goal for the future, or a fear of the past. There is only this one forgotten raindrop, sheltered on a fallen leaf, glistening in the rays of the dying sun, as if alive with joy. I meditate on the light, and here is no goal to strive for; as desire falls on the path, left behind.

The weight of existence is lifted; from my shoulders, and I walk erect. Each step is now an effortless move; as nothing binds it down, anymore. The Earth Mother, on this Earth Day; binds me to her bosom, and I am content. The vines hang down from the tall Oaks and I can almost feel; the budding leaves, about to sprout. Nature is no longer a mystery, as I have become nature. A Robin calls and a sparrow answers, and now I listen only to the music, of my fellow creatures. A feeling arises, from the soil; beneath my feet, that now I have become the path. Who was the walker, and who watched him in the woods?

Bergen County now stands at 15,830 positive test results for coronavirus

Hudson County now stands at 15,148 positive test results for coronavirus

Essex County now stands at 13,994 positive test results for coronavirus

Passaic County now stands at 12,814 positive test results for coronavirus

May Day 2020, NJ – ‘ Ah, look at all the lonely people ‘

Future incubators

I am surprised, to read that in the US, “ Research and development have been cut so much that the US is now in second place and high-quality higher education is becoming unaffordable for most middle-class students. Yet every time someone proposes new investments in our future, they are told that the nation is broke, massively in debt, and cannot afford new investments.”

The Jouirnal Blog continued, “The United States had plenty of money half a century ago. In the 1950s and 1960s, we paid down the huge World War II debt at a time when we maintained a much larger military than today and fought wars in Korea and Vietnam. We built the Interstate Highway System and much of the other physical infrastructure we use today. We funded vigorous research and development, including the fabulously expensive Apollo program. We supported higher education well enough that middle-class students could graduate from elite universities without crippling debt.”

I am surprised, as I always believed that the best years are ahead of us. Yet the article sounded as if our wild economy, and can-do attitude, is a setting Western sun. We have become a nation that refuses to invest in itself, it allows private business to thrive, at the cost of public expenditure. Who will build the future modes of transportation, or the new fuel cells and batteries? Future cities will house, millions in a new tech world. Future farms will be climate controlled. Flora and Fauna will be preserved in video, and reserves. Humans will use artificial companions, for living, and transportation. Entertainment will be through focused sensory stimulation experiences, including physical, chemical and mental stimulants. 

Traditionally we have been a nation of Innovators and Free Thinkers as part of the American Way. Unfortunately, the cost of fostering human social conditions, for this innovation and education, has been going up. Over the past 5 decades, cost of social justice and security, has largely drawn from the pocketbook of employees, instead of the pockets of the corporations. Even before Reagan the cry to lower taxes, on the corporate and Wall Street big wigs, had a quaint resonance, in the elected house and Senate. Lobbyist swarmed and payroll taxes doubled many times, since initiation. Corporate taxes continued to slide, even hailed today by current President Trump, as one of his proudest moment, in this White House.

It is time now, to once again invest in the American Spirit and our people. Ever since the revolution, we have always risen from the ashes of past wars, and failures, with even more strength and determination. We are on the cusp of another revolution, where we tax more, and invest more, into American roots. The roots will grow green shoots which will create the forests of tomorrow. These schools and, universities are incubators, of our future world. What we teach them today, as basic human values, will take our place; in the universe, of tomorrow May they live long and prosper, on our blue planet!

An early train to catch

Sam looked at me, with those large innocent eyes of hers, blinked her larger eye lashes twice, smiled, and said to me, “You have always had a way with words, Ashok. I can never imagine, what you will think of, next. I wouldn’t even last five minutes, in that crazy head of yours?” She became lost in her own thoughts as we waited, I squeezed Sam’s hand and she looked at me and I smiled back, as these moments were rare. I looked at my watch as I had to leave. The Producer came into the recording studio, and gave us a thumbs up sign, and Sam yelled with delight.  He was followed by the sound engineer, and our agent Suresh.

“I am tired, and have an early train, to catch,” I said.

“Ashok, that last track you laid today, is just amazing, how do you come up with these rhythms, and beats.” Suresh gushed, giving me a hasty hug. Suresh is my agent and childhood friend. “Why do you have to go on this discovery trip, I cannot understand?”

“Like I told you Suresh, something is calling out to me, from out there. I am going to the rock, where Swami Vivekananda sat, where Lord Ram sat, and prayed to Lord Shiva.  Something is telling me to go there, and find the truth, of what is India? I can’t explain it.”

“You can’t do this to me,” Suresh, “to us”, he continued

I replied. “I have given all I have, for this album, for over a year, now I need some time for myself. Suresh my dear friend, this is not about you or us, this is a strange hollow feeling, inside of me. All my   mathematical rigor and training is lost, within this, self-doubt. I do not even know myself or what is my purpose. I have made up my mind, to just go out there, and travel our land. I hope to find what is missing, in my current life?”

Sam went off with the sound engineer, to listen to the last tracks, we had played. She had a better ear for music, I just knew instinctively, when my drum notes flowed in rhythms, like mathematical equations. I just followed my instincts, and strict composition steps, and made my notes, follow my mathematical patterns, which only I could see. We had realized early in our partnership, that it is Sam, who just made the melody flow, with her singing. She played the guitar and harmonica and had an amazingly versatile voice. Somehow mine and Sam’s singing, worked well together, and this was tour second album together. We co wrote the lyrics of most of our songs.

My work is done here.” and I handed my drum sticks to our producer, and walked out.

The next day I had started my journey, just like Mahatma Gandhi had started his journey, on his arrival from South Africa. I had my sleeping bag and my laptop, and phone and books for the way. I wanted to see India, from the ground, and hear the names, of the familiar stations. I wanted to hear the languages, and the dialects, of the people, from the millions, who had passed before us. They too must have traveled on these same rails, on their way south. I wondered how many of them had sought the meaning of their lives, in the clackity-clack of these trains wheels, rolling down these rails.

Delhi was left far behind and I heard the clackety-clack of the railroad tracks, as the electric trains did not huff and puff, anymore.  The countryside passed, as I gazed out the window, and he went from State to State. I had a sleeper and slept in my sleeping bag, on the foam-covered bed. Late in the night, I heard the now familiar calls, of the tea hawkers, and the food vendors. The PM had helped his father, at a tea stall, I thought to himself, as another day passed, on the tracks. I loved the smell and color of the passing countryside. The sun broke out and the fields are green, and I am away from the dry cold land, of my air polluted city. The green Ghats beckoned my soul, and I thought I saw, a waterfall with a rainbow, flash by from my window, and then it was gone.

                                    >>>

An year has passed, and I have become a Math teacher, in an all-girls school, in the town of Gangtok, in Sikkim. I had come there to study, in the Buddhist Monastery, almost nine months ago, with a companion I found, in Ma’s ashram, in Pondicherry. It had been a long journey by train and Bus, to cross into the mountains, of the Eastern Himalayas. We had then hired a jeep, to take us, across some very remote areas, to the monastery, at the top of a cliff face. We had to climb on foot up the narrow path, along the cliff face, to get to the Monastery. There we finally come to a rest. We were admitted by the Abbot, and we studied with the monks.

We meditated for three months, and then went herd gathering, in the mountains. I helped to bring the animals back, from their summer, alpine forage lands. The rhythms of the seasons, and the might of the towering mountains, moved me. We would begin by rising at early morning, before dawn and start our trek. We had to climb a thousand meters up, around the hills, to get to the grazing grounds. My mind and body were fully engaged in these long walks. away from civilization. They made me face the last of my inner demons. As I gathered the Goats and the cattle, I made a new life, for myself. The cows and the goats helped me gain the realization, of what I am.

My meditation is progressing well, with my guide, and I feel a healthy glow of joy, for all creatures, I am now comfortable with myself. I sat on the side of some running water, taking a break. I had my bare feet, in the cold, clear, water, of this mountain tributary, of the Teesta river. My mind is as clear, as the flowing water, and only time is still. As I watch, a fish nibbles, on my big toe, and then swims on, as if, uninterested. But at that time, I was fully present in this moment. I have peered into the eye of this fish, who peered back, and there was a deep connection. I felt a sudden belonging to this eye, this fish, this stream, this land, this India, this universe. I looked up, and the sun was rising, over the evergreens, its rays lit up the rushing water, and my being, and this creation, is complete. Tears of joy, ran down my cheeks, at the realization; that the sun’s eye, and the fish’s eye, and the light reflecting off the waters, are part of my being.

                                    >>

I bade farewell to the Abbott and on his assistant’s advice I started teaching Math’s again, at the High School for Girls. They were desperate for a good math’s teacher in Gangtok. The girls loved his no-nonsense style and fell into his fevered pace, of teaching math’s. Their minds were fresh as the mountain air, and they seemed to grasp everything Ashok taught, with the rapidity of sponges. Their marks began to show steady progress, and the laggards were helped, by his open teaching methods. Tough concepts and theorems, where explained by examples, they could understand and use.  He had taught far advanced students before, but the girls of this new generation, had access to so much more information. He challenged them individually, and in small competitive groups, and his students grew.

The music teacher was the one, who encouraged Ashok to help (when he found out that Ashok was a drummer), with the group, who had won the State Championship, in group singing, last year. The area had some very bright musicians and the girls in the school, had especially great voices. It wasn’t every year but for the past few years, they had some outstanding talent. He loved this work and he threw himself into the music and the girls loved him for his strange rhythms and sounds. He tried to teach some of them the mathematical patterns behind them and some of the brighter ones understood. Their voices began to rise and fall with the rhythms he adopted from them, making a strangely uniquely sound of the mountains of Sikkim. You could almost feel, as if the music was carrying you there. The beat one was hearing is the beat of the hunters and gatherers, who had done this in these beautiful mountains, from time immemorial. Everyone is saying that this time, the group may win the National championship.

                                                ***

When he got home late, he checked his email and noticed a message from his old friend Sam. He had not heard from her for a few months, so was intrigued, and opened the message. She wrote, “Dear Ashok, Just had dinner with the producer in Mumbai. We have got ourselves, a multi crore deal, for two albums (including “Dunia” our new album). We open this Christmas at the Goa Christmas Festival, with Dunia, doing a National rollout. You are the drummer, and cocreator, singer, and the new corporate producer is dying, to finally meet you. He is a mathematician also, and was mumbling your kind of lingo, on algorithms and geometrical patters, in the music. More when we meet, your’s, Sam”

“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” -E.M. Forster, novelist (1 Jan 1879-1970)

About Goodbye to a ladies hair accessory designer

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The view from the bus on the helix, of the approach into the Lincoln Tunnel from New Jersey excited me, no matter how many times I saw it. Empire State Building and the Chrysler tower rose to a great height in Mid-Town, while downtown had the spectacular World Trade Centre Towers, with the other tall buildings in the Financial District. In the early morning the sun would be rising from the East casting strange shadows and light on the city. Most of my fellow commuters slept or read, and did not even look out of their windows. My fascination with the great city of New York continued and my friend Eddie, showed me the romantic side of its existence.

The walk from Port Authority down from the third floor to the bustling streets of Mid-Town Manhattan, was a hurried affair. Everyone wanted to get out in the streets to avoid the occasional bum, or pan handler, or drunk, who had slunk in to the crowds. The streets were flowing with traffic, as one walked pass the peep shows, and the XXX theaters that surrounded Times Square. From the Garment District, I would walk down a few blocks, and then cut across East on the Streets, after Macy’s. My office was on the third floor of an old brick building, which served as our back office and production center.

Wendy was always there before me heading her shift with her girls. They would laugh and joke amongst themselves, as while she was a hard taskmaster, she was still a good boss.  We had become friends as she was half Indian, from the West Indies. They also ate whole wheat rotis as bread, but their dishes were spiced differently. She would surprise me sometimes with a homemade lunch, and I would eat the food at my desk, enjoying the strange flavors. She would talk about her Grandfather, who had come from a town in Bihar, India, to work in the sugar plantations. Her mother had brought her up and her siblings, as a school teacher and a husband, who was also a farmer.

Wendy now lived in Queens, and so did most of her girls. They would ride the Subway into Manhattan, and it was an easy commute with a short walk on both ends. She kind of looked down on me, because I had to travel into her city, from NJ. She admired our owner however, with her Apartment in Manhattan, and the week-end home in the Hamptons. Wendy and her husband, who worked in a Bodega near their home, had scraped up enough money, to put a down payment, on a 3 bedroom apartment. With their two kids, and a dog, and color TV, they were living the American Dream. Her two girls went to the Public School, and were becoming more American every year, in the way they dressed, and talked, and what they watched.

David was the one who would arrive next and would head into the room to gather his orders and papers, and then head of to his belt makers. Eddie would saunter in when he felt like it and you could hear the giggles of the girls, as he joked with them, even from my desk. My two junior accountants were very punctual and would become busy in their work upon their Arrival. Ralphi was from Cebu in the Philippines, and extremely intelligent and diligent, and carried a lot of the routine load, of following up on the accounts receivables. Sam the other one was married to a nurse, and he was quieter, and kept mostly to himself. Ralphi had recommended him, when we were extremely stressed, and the owner had finally agreed to add another person, on Lou’s recommendation. We were an efficient team, as we managed to keep the business back office going.

Towards mid-morning I would take a break and walk around to stretch my legs. If Eddie was around he too would see me walking and he too would take a break. We would go into his and David’s office and take a coffee break. Eddie would have collected the latest Fashion Trade Rags that the mailman dropped off, and would skim through them, while we drank. He would read aloud anything interesting, or share an article or picture for me to look at. His knowledge of people and events was incredible and he would tell me outlandish stories of his capers from the past night, after a particularly interesting show. He did not linger long as he was a workaholic, when it came to his ladies hair accessory creations.

Eddie had extended his range to other accessories, like fabric belts, and some I called jewelry, and he referred to as his dear baubles, for his darlings. He would painstakingly make the samples, using newer materials, and exotic imports. The girls would cry at him, when he made them too complex, and he learnt to bring simplicity, and elegance into his pieces, over time. He realized that not everyone was as he gifted with their fingers, as he was, or had the eye, he had for detail. Plus the rush of orders demanded speedy execution, and he was always rushing from work table, to work table, correcting and improving his creations. Then in the late afternoon he would rush off to the showroom, or his suppliers depending on our needs. The owner loved him and David was upset, that Eddie was now making even more money, than even him.

The fall from being the head Designer of the company, to second fiddle, did not really go down well with David, but even he was overawed by Eddie’s creativity, and resourcefulness. The man just had a natural tendency, to pick up on the latest trends, which would sell in the next season. His color selections were seldom off, for the Spring, or Holiday Season. His prints were vibrant, or very delicate, depending on the style, or age group, he was going after. The Junior Store buyers loved him, and he would flirt with them, and entertain them, at the latest happening places, in the city. He was loads of fun, and the young women would find him exotic, and ‘just marvelous dear,’ as he called it. The big black muscled man, with often a couple of young things, hanging from either arm, was a common sight at events. The women felt safer in numbers with him, and he was quite capable, of having fun with all of them.

 Sometimes when I got off from work, and he would drag me off, when it wasn’t Fashion Night, or he had some other appointment. His current boyfriend would often join up with us, at the latest haunt and he would transform himself into his night creature mode. He would transform from being the Giant ladies hair accessory designer, into a lover with no restraints. Then the true talk would start of the Jazz bars, and comedy shows, or the next major music band, which was playing in Madison Square Gardens. He would hang out with famous actors from Broadway, and once even a Ballet Dancer from the Met. Each one seemed more creative and talented than the last, and it was a merry go round, that I could not keep count of. Yet each creature was even more exotic, and no wonder Eddie loved them so much.

Then one day Eddie retched all over the bushes, on the side of Bryant Park, in the back of the NY Public Library, after an event. I was there with him, and looked around at the old Baroque, and Gothic buildings, and then stared at the sleekly flowing glass tower, that surrounded the park. I had never seen Eddie throw up, no matter how much he drank, or inhaled substances. His friend gathered him up in his arms, as Eddie felt he was suddenly dizzy, and he guided him, to a nearby bench. He sat him down carefully and put his arms around his broad shoulders, and sat there, waiting for him, to catch his breath. He then went and got a water bottle for Eddie. I sat there holding Eddie’s hand not knowing what to do, as I stared down, at his long artistic fingers against mine. When his friend returned he drank some water slowly. He then gargled and spat some out, as if his mouth tasted foul and then dry heaved, but nothing came out.

Eventually he got his bearings again and looked around, and his lover smiled at him hopefully. Eddie gave a twisted smile back, and passed his hand over his head, as if he was still dizzy, and not really sure of what was going on. I looked at my watch and noticed I was running late, and would have to rush off for my bus down 41st Street soon. Luckily Bryant Park was not far from Port Authority, and I stayed for another ten minutes, as Eddies friend softly spoke to him. They looked so much in love. The light from the Street lights and the shadows of the Park, made their silhouette look like two lovers, out for the evening, enjoying companionship, on a Park Bench. It was the quintessential city scene, which must be enacted out everywhere, that people were free. Seeing everything returning to normal, I took my leave of Eddie, and he blew me his usual kiss, and I heard him joke, as I walked away “Beware those peep shows darling, and those beautiful whores, on the corner of Eighth.”

He thought he was suffering from the flu when he had thrown up, as he had a fever and headache for a few days and did not come into work and the work tables seemed empty without him. Months passed without incident, but Eddie seemed to be losing his bulk and getting gaunt.  Summer came and the owner went off to the Hamptons, and Eddie was not as busy and I saw less of him. He would come in occasionally to ensure the girls, did not need his help, and work on the pieces, for the next season. David told me that he thought Eddie was not his usual self, some months later. He said that they were not hanging out as much later into night, when the cooler fall nights came along. The fashion season started and this used to be Eddie’s favorite time, to hang out, and he would be the life of the party wherever he went. Now he would often leave early on some nights, claiming he had things to do, but David knew he just appeared very tired and exhausted.

Months later in January only David was in his office, and Eddie’s desk was empty. I presumed he was also away on a much needed break. I got into my routine and was swamped with the work that was waiting for me to catch up on. It was a week later and I heard Eddie’s voice and the girls giggling at work one afternoon. I was busy in something for our Bank, and silently smiled to myself, and decided to go and meet him once I finished. In an hour I finished my report and headed off and found that Eddie was not with the girls anymore, and they were busy on their routine. I went to David’s office and thought I saw the back of a stranger sitting at Eddie’s desk, and thought it may be one of his friends waiting for him to return.

He was smaller than Eddie, although he seemed to have a similar build and hairstyle. Then he turned around, and I realized that it was no one other than Eddie himself. He had lost a lot of weight, and was looking very gaunt. He smiled when he saw me and the same old booming voice spoke up “Darling, where have you been? I have been missing you terribly, and am so happy to see you. David is no fun anymore and it is good to see you and is that a new tan that you have got? You are looking great so the time off was good for you.”  

I walked in and took his proffered hand, and felt the familiar artistic fingers, but the handshake, was not as firm as before. His bulk seemed to have shrunk much more than the last time I had seen him. He had on a long sleeve shirt and it looked strange on him as he normally wore tight fitting fashion Ts, to show off his great body and arms. I looked into the eyes of my friend and they were the same, all full of life and mischief. Then he turned away and pointed to the article he was reading, “Look at my darling wearing my latest creation, in Aspen, at the ski slopes.” He said pointing to a famous model, photographed on the snow white slopes looking very glamorous in the latest colors, of Eddie’s design.

Even to my untrained eye the piece looked beautiful and intricately made. Eddie spoke up again, “My new line is doing fabulously, and the beautiful people just love it. Wendy says the girls can’t keep up with the demand, and she has started farming work out for her girls, to work at home, with additional help.” We had started the piece work last year, as we were losing too much business, with our constrained capacity. Eddie had ranted and raved that the quality of work will go down, without his direct input, and supervision. Our owner had agreed with me, that we had to do this to increase volumes. I also found it easier to control costs, as I could reduce the per piece cost, for the new contractors. Plus we had run out of space and the owner was not ready to sign another long time lease which could prove to be expensive fixed cost, if trends changed and our business went down.

We chatted for some time catching up on the recent shows, which Eddie had attended while I was away. I tried not to stare as he looked so strange, as I was used to his overpowering presence and now he seemed to have lost, some of his mojo. Besides the gauntness he seemed to have slumped as he did not appear as big as he used to be. As I left to get back to my desk, I saw Eddie out of the side of my eye, pull his sleeve up and rub a purple bruise on his left arm. Even his extraordinarily muscular arms, seemed to have lost bulk. I quickly looked away and walked off to my desk, deeply troubled about the changes, I saw in my friend.

The next day I caught David before he went off on his rounds. Eddie was still not in as was usual and I wanted to talk to David about what was happening to Eddie. David hung out with Eddie much more than me, and I thought he could explain the changes I was seeing. David explained that Eddie was seeing doctors for the past few months, as he continued to lose weight, and nobody could really explain what was wrong with him. He had been admitted to a Hospital for further checks and investigation and the specialists were stumped. All they would say was that something seemed to be wrong with his auto immune system as his body seemed to be suffering symptoms that normally would go away with anti-biotics, or other medicine. In Eddie’s case nothing seemed to work, and his condition continued to worsen.

David further informed me that at first Eddie had withdrawn to himself, and just stayed in bed and relaxed, hoping that all his troubles, would go away with time. He ate healthy, gave up smoking and his other vices and tried to get back in shape. Then one day another friend had visited with David and shared a motivational book and music tapes with Eddie. It appeared to make a difference, as a gaunt Eddie had shown up at work the following week. The girls were shocked to see him looking so gaunt, but had soon realized that he was still the same person, who joked with them, and showed them amazing things. They learnt to ignore his physical appearance, and just treat him like before.

                                                ***

David and I, visited Eddie in the hospital. He lay there on the white sheets, with flowers from his friends, spread around him. In his military gown, he lay on the bed with an IV sticking out of his arm to the medicine’s being dispensed into him. David had told me that they had diagnosed Eddie with an Auto Immune disease and there was no cure for it. The decrease had come from Sub-Saharan Africa and was spreading fast all over the world, especially in urban areas or transit points. India and USA were reporting sporadic incidents of the disease also, and the numbers were spreading. Nobody knew what was causing it and it may be viral, but it was becoming associated with Gay, or Bi-Sexual men. Poor Eddie could have caught the disease from any one of his beautiful partners. The exotic life also led to a great exposure to many different partners and Eddie had no idea as to who gave it to him. The tragic part that Eddie told us from his bead as lively in his head as ever. It was strange to hear the same voice and mannerisms come from his bed. It looked like life had taken everything from him that he had physically built of himself.

This great towering large muscled man who had been my friend, looked so frail and shrunken. The nurses had a hard time inserting an IV to find a vein, from what had been beautifully muscled arms and legs. He beckoned to me and joked, “What darling you did not bring any flowers? Look what Freddy sent me – what a fabulous bouquet.” Referring to Freddy Mercury and I looked carefully, and there was a short poem, on a personal note, on his side table. It was from Freddy, lying on his side table, along with many other letters, and cards. He sadly informed us, that a lot of his fabulous friends, had died, or also had the same disease. It was the scourge of his artistic friends, he told me.

David was more regular than me, in visiting Eddie, as he was far stronger, than me and was a true Eddie friend. Their friendship was as deep, as it came; even though they had nothing in common, in their backgrounds. Life and human tragedy, had made them, soul mates, in NYC. I had nothing more to say to Eddie, as his life source, had been my main source of life also, it seemed. The talk of my family, and my economic concerns, on how well my peers with similar backgrounds from elite Indian Universities, were doing, meant nothing to Eddie. He would listen to me talk, about my children, and cousins, but beyond that, I had nothing to say. All my thoughts had also shrunk with Eddie and all my educations, could not share another joke, with Eddie. How could this fantastic man, in the prime of his life, the ultimate ladies’ hair accessory designer become this man, lying in a hospital gown? How do you talk about the future, to your friend who has none?

                                                ***

Farrokh Bulsara was born in Sep 1946, in Stone Town, Zanzibar; to Indian Parsee, parents. For some time he studied in Indian boarding schools, modelled after the British system, led to an interest, in the writing and performance of music. . The revolution in Zanzibar, which later became part of Tanzania, drove the family out, to England. There he transformed himself into the lead singer of Queen, due to his love of music. Freddy Mercury became one of the best performers in modern music and their concerts were legendary. His creations and his songs topped the charts for many years, and he spent the last part of his life collaborating with some of the other greats of the age. He died in Nov 1991 aged just 45, at the height of his career. He admitted to a friend on the day before he died, that he had AIDS. That was the first time I learnt, about this dreaded new disease to which we went on to lose, some of the brightest people, in our generation.