August 15th, 2018

Three Weddings and a Funeral. Part II.16

Initially, SGR had planned to come on a Wednesday; but then he called in and said Wednesday did not look likely because of some engagements; he did not specify whether those engagements were of an official or a domestic nature. I hung up the phone and wondered if these engagements had anything to do with, or any bearing on what he intended discussing with me. After all, if it was something that warranted a clandestine trip down to a neighboring country to discuss it with a friend, it quite probably was the only engagement these days.

I found myself wondering about the nature of this ‘something important’; it took me back to the conversation we had had when he had first called to ‘request my time and opinion, because he knew I was short on the former these days, and because he valued the latter so very much’; and I tried to see if he had dropped any hints as to what it was. There were none. It was quite apparent that whatever it was that SGR needed to discuss, he intended to keep it under cover until he got here. I wished he had given me an inkling at least of what it was just so I could perhaps be better prepared – when your friend wants your opinion on something that is so very important for him, and he is coming down specifically to seek your opinion, you want to be sure you do not end up being, well… not much help. Flattering as his confidence in me was, it was highly disconcerting too.

SGR is not just good at what he does, he is one of the best. He has climbed the corporate ladder much faster than anyone I know; fact is, he hardly did bother with the ladder, being more of an elevator-man; and is already part of a well-known MNC’s top management team in the region. In fact, it is the globe-trotting his professional responsibilities make mandatory on him which have enabled us to stay more in touch with each other across two countries than we do with some of our friends in our respective countries. For two simple reasons, it was quite apparent that whatever the matter was it would have little to do with his professional life:

He has just about as much chance of finding himself in need of professional guidance as the Sultan of Brunei has of falling behind on his credit card payments.

If by any stretch of imagination, and here one wonders if indeed imagination can be credited with such elasticity at all, he did find himself at such crossroads in his professional life, there was as much hope of my opinion coming in handy as there is of my yearly income coming in handy to make payments on the Sultan of Brunei’s credit cards!

Do we all not know that the Sultan of Brunei quite likely does not carry credit cards? And just in case he does, and assuming he has swiped the card a few times in the white house to buy a country or two, there is zero possibility of him falling behind on his credit card payments – which is all the point.

Was it then something that was afoot at home? SGR is deliriously married Masha Allah, and has two most adorable and extremely entertaining children. His brother is his best buddy, and his family loves him. As might be surmised from above, it was not that I did not bring my deductive faculties into play; it was just that those faculties seemed woefully out of touch. After the above few inquiries, I began to understand what the likes of Muralidharan and Shane Warne feel like after they have bowled a few deliveries at our batsmen – except I was playing against myself, and somehow leaving oneself clueless is not one’s idea of feeling good about oneself.

The next few days passed without much incident, and eventually I found myself at the airport waiting for SGR. We spoke on the phone, and he asked me to meet him in the departures building. I assumed he was headed for the departures section to make arrangements for his return flight immediately after the end of our discussion. Had it been a regular visit, I would have met him in one of his two favorite haunts – the Grand Hayyat or the Fairmont – and his flight itinerary would have been taken care of by his office. This was the first time I was meeting him at the airport, and quite apparently, his office was not involved in his flight arrangements. Was he considering taking up a job in the UAE? Was that it? Maybe that’s why his office was not involved in booking his flights.

I was delighted by the thought, but then also reminded myself that if indeed this were the case, and he were here to seek my advice on whether or not to take up a job in the UAE, I would have to ensure I stayed objective, and did not allow the excitement of him moving to the UAE to color my opinion. Dubai is not necessarily the best of options for everyone. It is too crowded, too expensive, too un-Islamic, and too-not-worth-the-hassle for someone who is well-settled in a relatively not so crazy city like Doha (Or even Abu-Dhabi for that matter, as JB would tell us all from his experience). I decided to wait until I knew what exactly was it that he was being offered – if indeed it were the prospect of a job change that were bringing him to Dubai.

I refused to entertain the idea that there could be other possible ‘somethings’. The very first few thoughts that sprang to mind ensured that I decided on this inhospitable approach towards other ‘somethings’. Thoughts, dear reader, are a strange phenomenon. They come in all shapes and sizes. There is the kind which has set its sights on entering our minds, and making itself comfortable once there. This lot’s ambition to find abode at the top floor is rivaled only by its diligence and dedication to this task. Irrespective of whether or not we give our consent to hosting these thoughts, they sneak into our minds through back doors and alleys at times, and come barging in at others, with scant regard for the barriers we erect to check their entry.

Compare this eager lot to the kind, who would rather be anywhere than in our minds; no amount of cajoling, reasoning, pleading, coercing or even patient waiting will make them accept our invitation to come visiting. There is at least one blog we all know of which suffers due to the aversion of these and such other thoughts to finding themselves within the confines of a mind. It was due to the persistent and persevering nature of the former kind of thoughts that some still managed to seep into my mind, and left me cold with a false sense of foreboding.

There was the terrifying thought that perhaps he was having an affair. People do that sometimes – get involved where they should not. SGR is not the kind who would go about philandering, but he is blessed with a loving heart, and there is no telling when the heart might decide to pull against the righteous forces of reason. What if it was some such development, and he were contemplating tying the knot – again? What would I tell him? Importantly, would he listen to me if I told him to not tie himself in knots through this tying the knot business? More importantly, how would he like it if he sought my opinion on such a matter, and I offered the kind of opinion that is seldom offered except to very near and dear ones – the honest kind? Where would that leave our friendship?

In such matters, I have already learned, people do not ask for honest opinions, they ask for assenting and consenting opinions; they go looking for an opinion that will alleviate the burden of their guilt, and help them let themselves off the hook. Unfortunately, offering an honest opinion under the circumstances can carry repercussions. There is always the risk that deafened by the noise of racing heartbeats, they will not hear the voice of reason, and will actually resent being reminded of the importance of adhering to reason over heart. I was about to get angry with SGR for getting himself, and me with him, into this mess; what infernal impulse had come over him to lose his marbles, and in the process his heart, like that? Why could he not have appreciated what he had been blessed with and be thankful for it? It was at this point that I realized that I too needed to adhere to reason over imagination. After all, SGR’s extra-marital indiscretions were nothing but a figment of my imagination, a reflection of my worst fears.

Scarcely had I drawn myself away from this horrendous line of thought, when my mind was besieged by another thought, another kind of fear. SGR is quite the movie-buff. What if he had taken the wrong kind of inspiration from one of those ‘Ocean’ movies? What if his sole purpose in coming to the UAE was to engage my services for a heist? Where, in the conducting of a heist, would I come in handy is of course anybody’s guess. Here one must make provision for the fact that people are often unaware of their potential, or at least less aware as compared to their contemporaries of what they are capable or not capable of.

Self-evaluation, after all, is not an exact science. Had it been so, I would have made partner in an MNC by now; unfortunately, most people seemed to differ from my self-evaluations during the part of my professional life when I was required to fill up a self-evaluation form periodically. There is, indeed, credible evidence in the form of a termination letter which supports the hypothesis that self-evaluation is not an exact science.

It is, therefore, entirely possible that I might have over-looked some hidden potential in me, which SGR might have identified in one of our meetings, the kind of potential that comes in handy in undertakings such as heists and other such clandestine operations. Granted I am no Brad Pitt, but then SGR is not exactly what you might call George Clooney. I was beginning to get worried that this line of thought was forcing me to identify the wrong kind of potentials in myself, and I decided to put an end to the soul searching before I discovered that I had, in fact, abundant talent to steal samosas from Pakistani restaurants, or shoplifting at Big and Tall.

The thing with thoughts is that they are much taken with idioms and phrases. ‘It never rains but pours’ seemed to be the order of the day. I was still fighting the urge to hold up an airport, and make away with the luggage of hundreds of passengers, when a most ridiculous thought presented itself to me: What if SGR had suddenly discovered that he was indeed better-half-material trapped in what we might refer to as the wrong kind of body? Why he would need to see me about such a realization was another disturbing question; but I was saved the trouble of pondering over these disconcerting questions when I spotted SGR’s familiar face at a distance. I could see that whatever the matter was, it had failed to dampen his spirits; his delightful smile lit up his face, and warmed my heart. I issued a silent rebuke to my mind for entertaining such ridiculous guests in the preceding few minutes, and waved at SGR to catch his attention.

As we walked towards each other, I prepared for the imminent lifting of the proverbial veil.

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