‘I have often asked myself whether I ran with the wrong pack’

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Illustrations: Mayanglambam Dinesh
Illustration: Mayanglambam Dinesh

What is it like to see a ship sink?

How does it feel when we see the dreams of others fade away?

How does it feel to see a friend fall?

These questions haunt me still, though I have known the answers for long.

I grew up in the city of Kolkata. I went to an average school and studied hard to impress my parents but there was a shadow of a different life underneath it all.

It all started when I first ran into him. We had a fight and then I was the one who offered my friendship. Then on, it was all a memorable ride, as only young kids can hope to experience. We were just five years old and undoubtedly he was the best amongst us. He was also the one with the darkest secret.

He had imposing aspirations, the power of speech and a heart of gold. He was the alpha male of our group, what is popularly labelled as the ‘wolf pack’ these days. While we were growing up together, those night outs with the pack, the small trips to the hills — these were little gems we collected along the way.

Then my friend fell in love and he upheld his responsibilities in exemplary fashion. He was barely 18, yet he was earning more than 3,000 every month from his little ventures garnering respect and love from those around him. But one day we discovered a secret. Rather he let us in on it by showing us a secret locker in one of the folds of his wallet. Little white pills. I remember him telling us that it used to make him feel light-headed, that it took away his worries. It was harmless, is what he told us back then. We were consumed with dread because we knew exactly what it was but somehow we refused to believe it and chose to be in denial. Somehow it remained a secret.

Then as the days passed by I saw it consume him, rather than the other way around. He started to lose track of his work and his relationship was on the verge of annulment. Yet he continued with it. I made a half-hearted effort to convince him to change his ways but it was already too late. Somewhere, somehow, I was afraid, my biggest fear was my love for him. I used to follow him once, but despite all this, none of us did what we were supposed to do — none of us put our foot down, and slowly the other wolves walked away, leaving him to his fate.

The final blow came when he broke up with the girl he was supposed to marry, and was sent to a rehab for substance abuse. We saw him collapse slowly, like a mammoth edifice crumbling from within. What remained were just the ruins of inaction.

Now, he is trying to lead a normal life, but he is a broken image of the person he once was. He has also met someone he likes, and after many years of solitude I have seen him smile solemnly amidst all the dreariness around him. I don’t know if he has truly left behind his old life for good, but I do believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Sometimes I end up asking myself, ‘Did I run with the wrong pack?’ And every time the answer I get is ‘no’. They are some of the better people I have known in my life. But like all human beings they too have weaknesses. They weren’t strong enough to save one of their own. I too wasn’t strong enough.

I have learnt two invaluable life lessons from all this, lessons borne out of the harshness of reality. Firstly, indecision can ruin the best of things and the ripples of our inaction can go much further than we expect them to. The second lesson is that a true friend doesn’t always give support, but knows how to say no when the time comes.

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