I forgot to buy him yogurt…

Blissfully unaware

Blissfully unaware

It’s an act that is small enough for anyone to say, “so, what?”

Somebody didn’t get something as trivial as yogurt and yet after 3 months, this ‘little’ miss continues to haunt me. So what is so big about forgetting to buy yogurt? It is all about the context.

Consider a knight who is loved, respected, honoured but most of all is a visible icon of success. Kings, dignitaries, and even the common man die to be in the same air space as this king. For years his words are hung on to by every wannabe and kings and royalty lap up his every suggestion. He commands a presence that few have, rising from penury to become iconic. He creates history in his world and is nothing short of a living legend.

Now think of the same knight stripped of his glory, shunned by kings and loathed by many. His own countryman does him in and humiliates him. It’s almost like there is a conspiracy to bring this knight in shining armor down. Then picture the knight in prison. Gone is shining armor, gone are his trappings and he looks more common than a commoner. He is deprived of basic luxuries even his love for yogurt.

I met this knight a couple of years ago when he was still going through the bitter trial that questioned (and continues to question) his integrity. The same trial was to end in catastrophic failure, stripping him off his armor. Even at that time I could see the blazing eyes and the determined posture. My friend had given me some background; after all the knight and he had known each other since 6th grade. The first meeting was a fleeting one. The second interaction was a long distant one. The third one in my friend’s house brought it all home to me.

I got to see the man from the inside. I got to hear about a disturbed childhood, the struggling teen years, the fascinating college years and then it skipped to being a father and a grandfather. The years riding his many horses, conquering many hearts, winning accolades and leading crusades were almost irrelevant in his eyes. He was being tried for a crime he couldn’t believe he was being tried for. His every pore cried out his innocence and his every smile reflected the forced reality on him.

I saw in him the father finding solace in the words of his daughter’s song while his eyes stared into the distant; probably viewing an abyss whose bottom still eluded him. I can’t remember the song, its words or the tune but I cannot forget the knight’s sullen eyes. I didn’t know what the hostility was directed against−was it against the system? Was it against the accusations? Or was it just plainly against himself? We spent two days talking, playing cards and trying to keep our ‘chin up’ at the trial that was at that time still on.

I got to know the sensitive side of a man I hardly knew. My assessment didn’t carry the baggage of having known him as a child or as the head of a global institution. I just got to know the friend of a friend who was fast becoming my friend. I had read about him and I had read about the trial before I had met him. A thousand questions raced through my head and not a single one made it to my tongue. I watched him move with the grace of a swan and the pride of a lion. In his voice I heard conviction. It was in his thoughts and in his speech that I got a faint glimpse of where he went wrong. His thoughts betrayed him because at many times he was distracted by the conversation; he was seeing the speaker, but his mind was racing elsewhere. In a bid to cover his thoughts he would respond with a “yeah, yeah, yeah” in quick succession. My mind raced to the words at his trial; the prosecutor had used this set of responses to prove that the knight was a co-conspirator in a heinous crime. And that was the first time I thought that perhaps the justice system had gotten it wrong.

He drove me to the airport in his spanking new Audi A6. We hugged like friends before I entered the airport to board my plane back home. Over the next many months I wrote to him but didn’t get any response. I knew there were a thousand things going through his head at that time. A response to me could wait. I watched the news and kept Google Alerts on for news of his appeal. And then one day the appeal, the sentencing and the wait were all over. He was found guilty and sent to prison.

Life seen in black and white can look frightening

Life seen in black and white can look frightening

I called him up the moment I heard the news; our time difference made me wait before I could get him on the phone. I remember his words “I am treating this as another phase of learning in my life.” I didn’t know this man to say I was shattered or be melodramatic with my words, but somewhere deep inside I felt hollow. I called my friend who was his friend and I spoke to him. There weren’t any options but go to prison. The appeal would have to be contested from within the system. The sentence was for 2 years. To me it sounded like 2 lifetimes. He went to prison and I spent the next 5 months getting permission to visit him there. I didn’t know when I would be able to since the prison was many thousands of miles away from me, in a foreign land. And then I got the opportunity to be in a city not far from the prison. I knew I had to visit him. I had to keep my promise. I had to keep the faith and most of all I wanted to be a friend in deed. The day arrived sooner than I thought it would but even then the knight was already in prison for 6 months.

As the jet touched down at… (to be continued)

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About Vivek Mehra

I am currently the MD & CEO of SAGE Publications India. But I wear many hats that make me the person I am. Between the (public) professional life and the very deep and private recesses of my brain lies a universe of thoughts, actions and beliefs. These have been shaped by events, people and perhaps Karma. It's this universe I seek to put in words. When everything else failed me professionally, it was the power of my words that not just resurrected a career but brought back life to life. It is with these words that I continue to make a difference with those whose karma connects mine. Sometimes it's direct and most times it's not. But the essence of who I am never changes and I remain a person searching for himself. Update: In 2014 I published my first book on Kindle. It was written in 1999 and it never saw the light of day. Reader input welcome... http://tinyurl.com/7shadesofgrey
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