It was the Spring of 1996. I was 12, and he was 2. He was running about in the verandah of the house. And me chasing him shouting “Don’t run too fast!” I picked him up and carried him back inside, though he was actually a little heavy for the scrawny skeletal frame that I was. He fussed for a 4th helping of his favourite ‘Fuut Salad’, I turned down his plea and gave him a peck on the cheek instead. In return he gave me his own version of kisses – a lick on the cheek.
Year 1998. I was 13 and he was 3. It was the year I learnt to ride a scooty and he was in his Karate Kid phase. I was exhausted the whole time getting punched incessantly, though it didn’t stop him from throwing tantrums to go riding in the scooty. He would stand in the front, wailing and screaming in a happy hysteria when the wind kissed his soft, round, chubby face.
Onam, 1999. Me 14, and him 4. All cousins were gathered together at one place to celebrate the festival. He was the centre of attraction of course, being his nonchalant self. Singing (rather howling) through the mike non-stop, and dancing (rather bouncing) in all directions were few of his antics which he wooed the crowd with. It was also the Onam when we would watch Juhi Chawla’s only Malayalam movie till date, and he would make me repeatedly sing his favourite song from it, over and over till he slept off by my side.
Year 2005. Me 21 and he was 11. We were teaching him how to play Rummy. He sucked at it so bad that he left it halfway through and went to play cricket. It was also around the time when mobile phones made their grand entrance, or should I say barged into our lives. And one night he took my phone, read all the SMS in my inbox and then started blackmailing me in return for chocolates.
2007. I was 24, and he was 14. It was the year I started earning ample money to afford buying branded clothes for him and to have dinners at star hotels. Who gets to sit in the front seat was our constant point of contention every time we got out into the car and agreeing to put Rahman songs in repeat-mode was our common point of reconciliation. Those were also the days I would fake sick leaves and extend the weekend just to sit and watch cricket with him, eat and drink in the same bed the whole day and finally doze off gazing at the TV hugging each other.
Year 2012. Me 28, and he was 18. It was the year he stripped open his wallet of secrets and regrets to me. Girlfriends of distant past, present and even future; friends he loathed and enemies who were friends; the scars they left, along with the lessons; of his realisations that family comes before anybody and stands by you in front of anybody, of how much he started to crave being with family, being at home, than anything else in the world; of his introspections, and even of his glimpses into spirituality! Those were the days he held a mirror across his heart and asked me to peek in. And the image which ricocheted made me realise that the toddler I had come to love about 2 decades ago had almost completed his transmogrification to an adult – and a decent, beautiful one at that. I couldn’t be gladder and prouder.
Then came 2013. Me 29, Him 19. It was the year when I finally taught him how to play Rummy during a family trip to Munnar and boy, was he proud! The year when on and off he would ask me out of the blue, “29 Chechi? Really?? 29 !?” And I’d smile and nod, “Yes Kanne, I’m 29.” And he would chuckle revealing the cute one-of-a-kind dimple – which was not on his cheeks but on its fold, under his left eye – and reply, “But you sure don’t look a day older than 15 !” It was also the year which had the night I wailed in horror, staring at a TV screen. The year he disappeared into oblivion without hinting even a word. The year I wish I could erase off of memories, off of my life.
Throughout the year I thought of how I would ever cope with this loss. Time flowed by and I gradually came to realise… from that night in May, that night onwards, my life would NEVER be the same. Life as I knew it had irrevocably changed on that night he left without even a wave of hand. No matter what an incredible holiday I get to take, I’d always think, “if only he was also here with me on this trip”. No matter how huge the leaps of success I make are, I’d always think, “if only he was here to celebrate this with me”. No matter how blissful a moment I get to savour, it would always be marred by the shadow of what transpired on that dreadful night in May. No matter how beautiful a moment I have, a second later it would diminish in quality, and lose its sheen just by the thought of not having him in my life anymore, or ever again.
2016. Me 32, Him still 19. That’s what death does. It changes lives; while keeping the person intact, frozen in our memories.