Friends make me. I make friends.

Friends make me. I make friends.
I have not met Quinn yet, but we meet each other a lot. One afternoon, she wrote to me on Facebook. We talked, we smiled, we fell in love. With life.

Quinn Sutherland wrote on your Timeline.
18 April at 14:00
One day, when I visit New Delhi, you and I will meet for tea. Our time will be limited as I will have jet-lag and you will have family obligations. We will share our life stories in spurts and random pieces. Our conversation will not be remotely linear, but every colourful detail will make sense and fall into its place.
I will begin to feel better and wonder if I should eat something. I will describe my home and you will nod, saying oh yes––you already knew that about me. I will, at some point, tell you I read about your career path and other journeys. You will receive a comforting call from home and decide you can visit a little longer. You will ask the server for a menu and I will tell you my stomach is still upset from the flight. We will laugh about how absurd it is that my first meal in India will be something bland.
You will tell me about your world, your beloved India. We will occasionally laugh so hard the couple at the next table will shake their heads. You will gently apologize for our noise level. You will explain to them that we are friends who are finally meeting in person. They will smile and nod. I will not require translation to understand the exchange.
We will eat delicious bread and honey. I will start to choke, and you will ask how I can travel alone when I can’t even chew my food properly. I will tell you how I am a better person because you are my part of my world. I will add that your updates are a beautiful way to greet each day and that I value your insight.
One of us will notice the time. You will notice I have dropped a scarf and you will place it on my shoulder. You will tell me which markets to avoid and the places I should not miss during my stay. I will slip a small gift in your bag and ask you not to open it until you get home. We will laugh once more as we say goodbye. I will start walking back to my hotel and you will run back to me, suggesting an easier route. I will feel grateful for such a perfect day.

One day, when I come to New Delhi, you and I will meet for tea.

You, Suj BoseShalini Premachandran Frøiland,Sucheta Tiwari and 15 others like this.Natasha Badhwar I don’t think you meant for this to happen, but tears have welled up in my eyes…
You will tell me about your travel plans and I will nod approvingly and think in my mind that travel companies and the internet have become such efficient guides.
It will strike me that there is no reason for you for stay in a hotel in Delhi, why don’t you stay with me? It will be a little awkward as we have this conversation, and then we will agree that when you return to Delhi from the mountains and the desert and the visit to the ghats in Benaras, you must stay with us.
I will introduce you to our children as my friend and they will understand instantly, eager to listen to you and place you in the world as they understand it…and something will come full circle.
The man, the father who makes chai in our home will bring tea and by that time you would have had a lot of chai everywhere in India, and you will put up your feet on your chair and change the way your hair is knotted and hold the cup of tea with both hands. He will bombard us with ideas of what all is possible in the two days you have left… and we shall take it from there.

Little Nam might go to her library and return with a book which has a picture of someone who looks quite like you. She will show it to us.
18 April at 14:30 · Like · 8Quinn Sutherland You have become one of my dearest friends, and I thought you should know what it might be like should we ever meet in person. Your updates have become an essential part of my day. Oh,Natasha – do you know how to administer the Heimlich maneuver?
18 April at 14:38 · Unlike · 3Aneela Zeb Babar … And after the sixth no make it the fifth cup you will mention the perplexing creature that is Aneela. What does one do with a creature like Aneela?
18 April at 16:21 via mobile · Unlike · 5Dipali Taneja I like this Aneela person:):):)
18 April at 17:58 · Unlike · 1Natasha Badhwar In Hindi and Urdu,Quinn, there is one word for this. Dosti.
18 April at 19:29 via mobile · Like · 6Dipali Taneja Such a beautiful letter ! What wonderful friends!
18 April at 23:18 · LikeAavo Toli अर्ज किया है …
मरहम हुआँ कोइ दोस्त / maraham hua koi dost / a friend becomes familial
जैसे रिश्ता कोइ दर्द का / jaise rishta koi dard ka / as though related by pain

मरहम हुआँ कोइ दोस्त / maraham hua koi dost / a friend becomes familial
जैसे रिश्ता कोइ दर्द का / jaise rishta koi dard ka / as though related by pain
मरहम हुआँ कोइ दोस्त / maraham hua koi dost / a friend becomes familial
जैसे रिश्ता कोइ दर्द का / jaise rishta koi dard ka / as though related by pain
19 April at 00:23 · Like · 1






Roger Ebert and Me

There is only one way to recover and that is to start typing, I hear Roger Ebert’s voice telling me.

Some stories seem so implausible that even as they unfold around us in real life, we refuse to believe them. Our doubt makes us hesitant to share them. We love grand stories in the movies, but we hold on to our cynicism in real life. It is safer, perhaps. It is also cowardly.

I didn’t grow up watching Roger Ebert on television. Unlike many others in India, I had never read him either. One day, three years ago, I followed him on Twitter. It was just after the Oscars and I had seen many of his tweets re-tweeted to my Timeline.

The act of following @ebertchicago changed my life forever. Twitter had been my secret writing place for a few months. I was writing here without always understanding what the words conveyed. There were feelings, anecdotes, conflicts, moments. I had 60 followers and most of them were not active. I knew no one here. I hadn’t bothered to find out how Twitter worked. I had never checked my mentions column. The brevity of the medium was a literary challenge I had set for myself. Say it in exactly 140 characters.

I checked my e-mail a few hours later. I thought it was Twitter’s birthday or something. I had a few hundred new followers. What’s going on here, I thought. Who are these people? I scrolled down and right at the bottom was the first e-mail that said: Roger Ebert is following you.

I picked up the phone to call my brother. I put it down. I looked at that mail again. I looked at Twitter. Roger Ebert had read me before I had had a chance to read Roger Ebert and it was the beginning of a very precious connection that is making my eyes well up with tears right now.

Over the next year and more, Ebert kept on RT-ing my tweets, new follower mails kept falling into my mailbox, I became hooked to mentions and I wondered how long this was going to last. Roger Ebert seemed to understand my words in a manner that I certainly didn’t.

This was Ebert in 2010, newly recovering from cancer and surgeries that had taken away his ability to speak and eat. He was embracing life anew, reconnecting with the world via the Internet with an urgency and generosity of spirit that so many people would witness first hand.

Reading and writing became Ebert’s superpowers. His ability to be able to see the whole film in its first shot was now turned towards the people he met on the Internet. Ebert had looked at death in the eye and the crystal clear clarity of his mind shone even brighter than before.

Loss that leaves behind depression and melancholy also offers to us the great gift of perception. An instant ability to spot the truth. Honesty. Love. You have been this close to losing it all. Your fears and pretensions have been peeled off you. Your mask has fallen off.

I know because I was also in similar emotional terrain at that time. Ebert looked at my words and saw that in one go. As one recovers from trauma, one returns with a sharp sensitivity towards every moment of beauty. Every turn of phrase, the dance of light on the leaves, the flicker in the lizard’s eye before it darts away.

Ebert was writing, blogging, tweeting to make himself whole again. So was I. We were both in a kind of personal rehab and there was an instant connection. He searched online and tweeted the only films that I had uploaded at that time. I had a secret blog that had been seen by two people besides me. He asked me to show it to him. There is a great novel in this blog, he wrote.

Twitter featured my account on their blog’s homepage. “You are a great teacher,” I wrote to thank him. “I am a better student,” he said. “You inspire me,” I said. “I’m a good reader,” he answered.

He blogged about how Twitter had become a substitute for the real life conversation he missed. “When you think about it,” he wrote, “Twitter is something like a casual conversation among friends over dinner: Jokes, gossip, idle chatter, despair, philosophy, snark, outrage, news bulletins, mourning the dead, passing the time, remembering favorite lines, revealing yourself.”

He celebrated the connections he had made online and mentioned me too. I wrote back to him, revealing a story I had not articulated even to myself. “I write to console and entertain, to live in the moment, I replied. Words help me create a world that I can live in, that I do live in.”

I read everything Ebert wrote. My children would recognize his Twitter DP and arrange their hands in front of their faces the same way.  I sent him a photo. He was so proud, he shared it on Twitter and his Facebook page.

Why do we extend ourselves? Because that is the meaning of life itself. Meeting another version of oneself and extending one’s hand in support. It’s the way to heal.

All this leftover love one feels, you want to give it away before it is too late.

There is only one life and the survivor can never forget that again.

The news of Roger Ebert’s death came to me in the form of condolences. Around the world, people stunned by the sudden loss, called and messaged each other, hoping for solace.

I read Chaz Ebert’s words online. “He looked at us, smiled, and passed away,” she had shared. “No struggle, no pain, just a quiet dignified transition.”

It became hours and then days since the news has broken. This doesn’t make sense. Why do I feel so low, so slow. He was so far away. But the body grieves. The body expresses our feelings when words fail us.

Roger Ebert taught me to recognize and trust my voice. I learnt that no one is a stranger and inhibitions are just useless baggage.

“Roger Ebert strengthened my belief in God,” I tweeted. “He lives in our spontaneous generosity, in love so strong, we wonder where it comes from.” In a second tweet I wrote: “I know that will make you laugh out loud, @ebertchicago. Yeah, I said God and your name together.”

Roger Ebert was gone but I was still talking to him on Twitter. He might check his mentions. I think he will.

Ebert knew the secret. He knew how to be in the moment and that’s why he saw in the movies what very few other people perceived. He extended himself towards the future because he wanted to live. It was his gift to himself for being such an excellent survivor. And he was not afraid of memories. He had the courage to let his memories hold his hand and take him back to see the movie of his life.

Because the answers are tucked away in the stories. Because telling and re-telling the story is the answer.


An edited version of this piece was first published in the Globe and Mail: 

Roger Ebert and me: How tragedy and Twitter bonded us across continents