I ended Part - 2 of this series by confessing that I don't remember much of what happened during the latter half of my dad's treatment and recovery following a stage 2 cancer diagnosis. What I do remember vividly though, is all the love, care, and support I received at the time. My dad's sister had flown in from the UK to help mom out with everything. She was like a friend I loved hanging out with. My teachers were very perceptive of my progress but they never made me feel singled out. My neighbours were constant babysitters and one of them, Chaudhry Aunty (Chaudhry was her surname and for some weird reason, that's how I addressed her) even coached me in Math and Science for free. I used to run to my dad with my math doubts so when he got hospitalized, she stepped in to guide me through my studies during this difficult time. And that's just one of the many things my family could thank her for today. She stepped in every single day, not only to help care for me but also for all kinds of emotional and other support that we needed during this taxing phase of our lives.
That said, the person I always remember most vividly from that time in Delhi is Chaudhry Aunty's son Karan. Karan bhaiya was probably around ten years older than me. So when I was in fourth grade, he was already getting ready to pass out of school. And boy, did he give me the full experience of what it means to have an older brother in your life!
Not in an affectionate way, make no mistake about that. He was just this constant bully who somehow managed to not leave any scars, both physical and emotional. In fact, every time I think about him, I can't help the stupid smile that forms on my face. He never let me be a victim despite everything that was going on in my life at the time. I had to fight for everything. Be it a simple chair I wanted to sit on while eating, or a piece of candy (read: Anardana Goli) that I'd been eyeing for a while, everything was a struggle to get to when he was around. He'd casually hold the candy jar above my head while he ate out of it, forcing me to first beg, plead, and barter with him, and later jump, kick, and snatch it from him. The first lesson I learned from him was - If you want candy, you better work for it.
But it didn't end there. He would sometimes trick me into walking into rooms, only to turn the lights off and lock the door from outside as I FREAKED OUT.
This one time, I was sitting in my open cycle rickshaw, inching my way towards home after school when he, also on his way back from school on his bicycle, overtook me. But not without slapping the back of my head in the process.
I started whining and moaning about it but by the time I got to our building, I noticed that something about his demeanor had changed dramatically. I was expecting him to wait for me there so that he could pull a ponytail or race me to his flat but what I saw there was not a lion waiting for a lamb but instead, a lamb aware of imminent danger. You see, his dad was just parking his car when this happened and by the looks of it, he had seen it all. I knew he was in trouble so I acted a bit extra hurt and mopey in front of his dad. I'm not sure if he got an earful from his father or not but I'm convinced that revenge must have been exacted, especially for all my over-acting.
Once, when I tried to shed similar crocodile tears in front of Chaudhry Aunty for something he'd done, she was quick to point out that he would keep irritating me if I kept giving him attention. She explained that he was feeding off of my reactions and that if I stuck to the jump-kick-snatch protocol that I adopted every time sweets were involved, I'd survive. That was probably the first most valuable lesson I learned in life - If someone's getting on your nerves, avoid giving a reaction.
But mischief aside, Karan bhaiya was also one of the most hilarious people I knew growing. He'd make my parents laugh every few minutes and in those rare occasions when he'd let me sit on his lap and play Road Rash with all the cheat codes, he'd make the funniest running commentary based on the progress of the game.
Once, he wrote an entire essay in his Hindi paper about my mom because they were both cricket enthusiasts who were disappointed in India's performance during some match leading up to his exam. He wrote that he went up to Lali Aunty's apartment for some water which she refused him because she was in a bad mood. And that's when he noticed the broken TV in the corner, one that my mother had probably Karate kicked out of frustration because India had lost said match. I remember tears streaming down my mother's face as she laughed about this notorious essay.
Years later, I found him on Facebook and learned that he had prematurely lost all the hair on his head. I made fun of him about that, he made fun of me for something or the other, and my mother laughed.
I haven't really spoken to him much in the past three or four years but last Tuesday, I suddenly got a Karan bhaiya flashback. All of this just came back to me, the good, the bad and the ugly from that particular year, and I've been itching to write about it all ever since.
What had induced this flashback was my conversation with yet another Karan who was also about ten years older than me, prematurely bald, and extremely witty.
This Karan is a comedian based in Mumbai and although he has never met my Karan bhaiya, I'm ready to bet that they were twins separated at birth. Within just a few minutes into our conversation, he cracked a joke about our Prime Minister and I immediately knew that I was in for more giggles in the next hour or so. With his impression of Sachin Tendulkar, his description of corporate America and even his deep, conscientious insight into the many layers of Indian society and culture, he had us all floored. And by "us", I don't just mean myself and Meenal. Even our parents were very happy with how this episode had turned out:
In fact, my mother later asked me if I also thought that this Karan was a lot like our Karan. I think it's safe to say that Meenal and I haven't laughed this hard during a recording or even while listening to the finished product. Moreover, we thoroughly enjoyed being able to go off on a tangent and talk about subjects that we were all so passionate about.
More than anything, though, talking to Karan Talwar brought back memories from a very crucial part of my childhood and I feel like I will always remember him and this interview alongside my Karan bhaiya.
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