It would have been Harsh's 26th birthday today [7th January]. It's very, very difficult for me to write a proper tribute to him as I really have not forgotten or let go of this dear friend of mine. I think frequently of him and his talks. Recently someone mentioned Jaipur to me and my first thought was of how much Harsh had enjoyed his trip to that city and how he said we should both visit the beautiful city palace someday. [Which we never will now.] And when I got a copy of Dirty Harry, the movie, I smiled a bit and shook my head. My friend asked me why and I said I was once derided very strongly for being a “fake” Clint Eastwood fan since I had not seen Dirty Harry. Of course, it was Harsh Pande who said that to me :).
It seems like so many things have happened since his 24th birthday. And yet, every time it is 7th January, it's like I travel back in time to when I knew him and remember Harsh. His talks, his sharp mind, his original jokes, his sincere compliments(I miss these terribly), his movie reviews, his descriptions of places, his friends, his girls, his family, his dreams, his ambitions, his books. One afternoon over lunch, we stayed till the restaurant kicked us out. And then we sat on the porch under a tree right outside the same restaurant and continued our chatter as if we had not been interrupted at all. Time and words just flowed so well with him. I remember how he used to call me up and talk for hours and then apologize profusely because he knew I hated talking on the phone. But he called me up anyway. And how, he discussed ideas for Project Breakup with me. And how he used to email me songs the moment he found a good one. And how he used to force me to watch movies he liked. I remember I could talk with him for hours, literally. And how, he was just a very nice and a caring friend.
One thing I will never forget about Harsh is that he was the first person who said to me, very seriously, "It's really nice talking to you". That was the first time someone had said that talking to me was actually interesting and fun and not a waste of time (considering I talk about anything and everything under the sun and argue incessantly). Since then, a couple of my very close and old time friends have said the exact same words to me. And each time I heard that, I immediately thought of Harsh and realized that he felt it and said it to me long before anyone else. It makes me smile.
When I was with him, I knew him as just another one of my many odd friends. When I read all the tributes and the remembrances about him, I realized I knew just a little bit of the person called Harsh Pande. His co-workers remembered him as hard working, responsible and a star performer. His friends - ah his many, many friends - all wrote such glowing tributes and poems and remembrances that I wondered if they were talking about the same Harsh Pande that I knew? To me, he always spoke in such a casual, easy-going, friendly manner that I never had an inkling he was so much more than what he let on. His teachers especially those from his school remembered him achieving and excelling in spite of all his surgeries. [His surgeries. I never knew he had to bear so many of them - 14 of them. Sigh.] And here is the thing I admire most about Harsh - his poise in his life. There is a phrase that is a favorite of mine: "grace under pressure". And I think he lived that. Each one of us has difficult lives, no doubt. But I believe about putting on a brave face and smiling to the world. Chin up. Face the world. No one will give it to you easy just because you had some difficulties back home. He did this so well that I never felt that he had any problem or was in pain at all. Ever. I remember that he told me he was in pain exactly once, and then he quickly changed the topic - saying firmly "I do not like talking about sad things. Waste of your time and waste of my time." Since I share the exact same philosophy, I picked up the cue immediately and we jumped to another topic - most probably movies. I salute, still, this quality in him - his grace. His brother Digvijay told stories that made me laugh and again, made me cry inside. Why did I not know all this before? And then I heard someone refer to him as Harshi. I felt terrible that I didn't know people close to him called him Harshi. Harshi. It felt like another piece of information about him I had to hold, and remember forever, in my mind.
I'm out of things to write or maybe I have so many more to write, I could do it for days together. In the end, I think that as long as I remember him, and as long as you and all his other friends, and his family remember him, and as long as his readers remember him, he is not gone, not really, not ever. Here's to Harsh Pande, one of the greatest men I ever knew.
-And death shall have no dominion-
PS: His blog is here http://harshpande.blogspot.in