Once in a while, and if we are lucky, we get to spend some time with a certain type of individual. We tuck away that pleasant memory in the deep recesses of our heart, invisible to the outside, like precious objects. They are us in the truest sense and we put them away for safekeeping sub-consciously to remind us what we always were before we were taught how to be. As we acquire layers of life – experience, cynicism, egotism, enlightenment and a zany sense that in the 40’s we have figured out how it all works, comes the reckoning, of loss, of what we were, of Harish Jasani.

He joined us at that time of our schooling journey when we were most vulnerable. At the edge of childhood and the cusp of adolescence, when we had to forget one to try and become the other. To this experience swanned in this person, thin as a reed, overflowing uniform, a hearty self deprecating manner and a wicked sense of humour. Oh! what a ride it was. He lit up our life with specious anecdotes backed by a sanctimonious “I swear” , the powers of the Shilajit herb, the exploits of school fights in Mussoorie (between Tibetan school and Mussoorie Modern usually), surreptitiously smuggled in Debonair centre spreads and tales of Ghananand Inter college. A very keen observer of people, he picked up his targets and gradually created a cult through his apocryphal tales.

Every day was showtime for Harish. In the most sombre of moments, if we happened to catch his eye for more than three seconds, the giggles would bubble up like a volcano waiting to burst. I still remember how the whole Hindi class sputtered when the teacher echoed in a certain tone “Utho Parth, Gandeev Sambhaalo”. His convulsions happened in phases, the head went down, the face went red, a sputter with a vigorous shake of the head, and then a sudden stop to let it all out again, hysterically. I don’t remember the number of times he told us “you know when I start laughing, it is difficult to stop.” He sputtered even when Mr Kukreti was lacing his behind with his well oiled cane (Harish would have giggled at this line). We laughed very easily then. Harish was with us, unconditionally, while he wasn’t. He was with our wins and losses, and he wasn’t. He inhabited his own world, very different from the normal scheme of academic pursuits, sports and games. Fiercely intelligent, a keen judge of people, genuine, down to earth, a conscientious son to his ageing parents and a responsible brother to his siblings.

After our school years, we trekked down to the plains to enact the serious business of education, career, family, kids – the entitlements and responsibilities they bring. Harish ran his father’s business in Mussoorie and became the everyman in town, meeting us as the unhurried himself every time, whether it be 2000, 2005, 2013 or 2017. In a world where everyone is busy talking about what they have accomplished and how wonderful things are in life, Harish would break his constant tales with silence and just pure company as we walked down the mall road.

That is, when we could walk together. We sat last in 2017 for a meal at Neelam in Mussoorie, as his hands dug into the Dosa, I could see that his fingers were shaking, Our eyes met briefly, and then as he quickly looked back into his plate and said “When we meet next time, we should………………”, I felt a stab and a desperate need to hug him there, but I could not, because I thought he would stutter over again, giggling. He looked so fragile then, like a big gentle bird.

Harish, thank you for being what we could not become. Thank you for being our childhood, so different from the all knowing “adults” that we now have become. When we meet in heaven, we will giggle the whole place down and write a whole volume of apocryphal stories to keep everyone there amused. Until then my friend, stay lightly in that corner of our heart. We will carry you with us right unto our last days.

– Manoj Panikkar (1991)

This piece was shared by Manoj Panikkar on  Sept 14, 2019 on the Oak Grove School, Mussoorie page on Facebook, in memory of his classmate Harish Jasani.


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