I met Mrinal when my father moved me to a new school, following the switch to a new home. I lamented the loss of old friends in my old school and neighborhood. I sat morose in the last bench of the class when Mrinal came over, introduced himself and asked me to meet him during the break. The moment the bell rang, he came over with four classmates and led us to a quiet corner at the back of the school. He passed out five candies, keeping one for himself, saying he wanted to meet me and introduce his friends. That, I soon learned, was typical of Mrinal: he was friendly and gregarious, but he was also perceptive and kind. He had noticed that I was alone and lonely, and acted to make me feel at home.
I took an immediate liking to him. We shortly became close friends. He not only filled the void of lost friends, but more than made up for it. Partly by bringing with him a whole host of diverse friends. Partly also by his warmth and ebullience. He was always, incurably high-spirited, a living antidote for others’ melancholy. If I lost a pen, he would promptly produce a spare pencil. If a teacher admonished me, he would come to console me. If I wrote an essay, he would read it with great deference and then pass it around among friends calling it a “masterpiece.”
I realized this better when I visited his home. Four brothers, with their families, forty people, lived in that two-story medium-sized home. Mrinal’s father was a doctor, one brother was an executive in an engineering firm, and the other two were professors. I was greatly impressed by the youngest who taught physics, but was also a Trotskyite activist, a legally dubious zone at the time. Coming from a small family, I thought the house rather packed, but Mrinal’s family apparently found it cozy and convenient.
I had a demonstration of that when one evening, after a long chat with Mrinal, I walked back toward home, but found I could not enter it. The street corner where I lived had been a scene of confrontation between political demonstrators and the police, who had eventually used tear gas to disperse them. I walked back to Mrinal’s home with burning eyes. Mrinal’s parents did not bat an eyelid; his father treated me, while his mother called mine to tell her that I would be staying the night at their home. Mrinal had the responsibility of finding a bed for me. I enjoyed the evening, dining with Mrinal’s large family and playing a board game with Mrinal and his sisters. My most vivid memory is of Mrinal and I chatting leisurely, intimately long past midnight.
That was the memory that revived in my mind as I anticipated Mrinal’s arrival in Washington. I planned on places to visit, museums to explore, restaurants he might enjoy. The plans proved futile. Two weeks before his trip, Mrinal collapsed from a pancreatic disorder, never to recover.
When I travelled and lived in different countries, for a while I had lost touch with him, but recovered the thread when I began my annual visits to India. He would gather old friends, in his home or in a club, and made sure that I met all the pals I wanted to meet. He was doing exactly what he did the very first day we met: helping me build and maintain relationships. A universally known sermon tells us that one who creates peace and friendship is blessed, worthy to be called a child of God. Perhaps Mrinal was one.