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Just Being Human

Hashim Khairullah |

When I first suggested to my closest friend that that we have a boys’ New Year’s lunch, it didn’t then occur to me that this would turn into an annual exercise. We would meet three nights week, as it was, so this was just another excuse to get together and get, well, excessively alcoholic-inclined. Nice term, but this one-off became a habit that then became a ritual and now enjoys the same status as all the other little ceremonies that make up a New Year. Today, I would no more think of missing that lunch than I would of resigning my job.

The reason it has become so imbued with meaning is that it is now the only time I see these friends. Part of the ritual is going round the table, with each of us taking it in turns to tell the others about the year we’ve had, our triumphs and disasters and how we’ve tried to tackle those impostors just the same.

Inevitably, the lunches have begun to seem like an unfolding narrative, almost as if we’re characters in a play. When one of us reveals something significant, such as a marital crisis, it is both shocking and inevitable at the same time.

The first act of this drama was full of testosterone and braggadocio. We would boast about battles won, enemies vanquished, conquests made. We all thought we were heading to the top of our respective professions and would soon be very rich or very famous or, even better, both. This wasn’t just the arrogance of youth, it was also a reflection of our upbringing. None of us had to struggle very hard to get into Presidency or St Stephen’s, and the good jobs we’d managed to get afterwards had come easily. Life was a magic carpet ride.

Act 2 brought few shocks, as you can imagine. One of us did well professionally, at least enough to allow him to retire in the early 40s, but has spent the last 15 years trying to come to terms with the stuff he had to do to make that fortune. Not atoning for his sins, exactly, but trying to rebuild a conscience.

Another became a successful advertising filmmaker — and still is — but his personal life hasn’t turned out as he expected. When you’re in your early 20s, going out with escorts and exotic dancers is great fun, but to be still doing the same in your late 50s is a bit sad. One of the consolations of all these setbacks and disappointments is that we have become a lot nicer. Not just less cocksure, but more compassionate, too. We used to be all broadcast and no reception; now we actually listen to each other. Now, one can see the "real self" beneath the façade — rueful, stoical, a bit melancholic, but able to laugh at misfortunes too.

Ah, yes, we’re in a transition phase, emerging from the end of Act 2 and beginning to get a glimpse of what the Third and Final Act will look like. At last year’s lunch, we spent more time talking about our medical ailments than our careers — a first — and this year our talk centered around our children’s academic futures. Given that our health has deteriorated and our bank balances have shrunk, we’ve begun to go to more and more modest establishments. Back when we were obnoxious little twerps, we would make it a point of going to the best restaurants in town and the ordering a la carte menu. This year we settled for steam momos and thupka at the terrace eatery at Sikkim House. Is that what is meant by youth being wasted on the young? Back then, I’m not sure I fully appreciated these gastronomic feasts. Today, I can’t think of anything better.

When I am in the advanced stages of glaucoma and gout, I am going to insist we all go to Taj Bengal for our last tandoor lunch together. At that point, and only then, will I begin to expect that all of us will become fully human.

What a pity that wisdom is wasted on the old.