Intermittent Soul

I’ve lived a moderately sedentary lifestyle. I tried my hand at several sports growing up, but as soon as it got difficult — or at times where I was challenged beyond my abilities — I would quit. You can say I was a sore loser

After I moved to Bangalore, inclination towards any physical activity ceased to exist. I found myself unable to walk without huffing and puffing. I decided to take my body seriously and give it some much-needed exercise.

So when my friend Gaurav suggested going on a small hike with him, I leapt at the opportunity. Gaurav told me that his friend Govardhan would join him too. I knew Gaurav was a good cyclist and the thought that his cycling companion would join him made me nervous. It was hard enough to have one cycling enthusiast judge my inability to hike up the small mountain, let alone two.

Over the course of this two-day-trip and one-day-hike, I found that my apprehensions were unfounded. I became closer to Gaurav and gained a new friend Govi, as we all called him.

Govi didn’t use shampoo. Funny isn’t it? Govi didn’t shampoo his hair, he washed it using his palms as loofa, he scrubbed his scalp.

He told me that when his hair gets too acidic or basic he applies baking soda or apple cider vinegar — I don’t know in which order. I can’t comprehend the sciencey things Govi comes up with. I almost doubt that he’s a robot or a cyborg. But when I see him laugh, loudly at a certain unfunny joke, I’m reassured of his human-ness. Or maybe he’s playing tricks?

Govi didn’t shampoo. He was balding when I met him. “Receding hairline” as he would say. Over the years his hair seemed to have grown back. Like a barren, cracked land that has been gifted a miracle manure.

When I shifted to natural shampoos, the first person I messaged was Govi. Of course, he was happy but our reasons for the switch were completely different. Mine for the environment. His for science and maybe for some more hair!

When I would enthusiastically tell him about the latest water filter technology that would eliminate the usage of plastic bottles, Govi would immediately hit me with a rebuttal. A very technical, analytical analysis proving otherwise.

Not that Govi didn’t care about the environment or wanted to prove me wrong. He believed in questioning everything. He was a scientist after all. A PhD student in computational chemistry.

You think his area of interest would be limited to sciences and maybe cycling. He would be a boring nerd sitting inside, cooped up in a laboratory doing experiments. But he was everything other than boring. He craved adventure. He was an avid cyclist, a connoisseur of languages, an excellent cook, into discovering all kinds of technology, a gardener, a movie buff and the list goes on…

On our weekend cycle rides, Govi would wait. He was faster, fitter and more attune to cycling.

Govi waited. He cycled for a few kilometres and would stop and wait. On hot sunny days, he would wait under big trees as we shared coconut waters.

Govi waited patiently, never judging, never condescending, never questioning my inability. He had been on a similar path when he first started cycling. He knew I’d get there soon enough.

At times he would push the cycle with me — during times when I was too tired. The times when I was challenged, the times I wanted to quit. Just like in my childhood. But I could never quit. How could I disappoint Govi?

Govi waited. Waited for me to convert from this unhealthy quitter to a determined cyclist.

He would map out a ride ranging from 50k to 100k through lush, green and beautiful paths. He made me fall in love with Bengaluru. And as we cycled he would teach me some Kannada vocabulary which I would invariably forget.

I’d find myself calling/texting him at odd hours asking him for Kannada, Tamil and French translations.

There was a point in my life when I became better at cycling than Govi. But I would hardly stop and wait for him

There were two reasons for this. 1. There were only a few times I’ve ever outpaced him — intentionally or otherwise & 2. The times I would I’d be elated or just not empathetic enough to wait for him.

But when I did take a friend out for a cycle ride, a friend who was unhealthy and new to the saddle, a friend who was me of the past, I would stop and wait. Patiently, without any judgements, under a shade tree, sharing coconut waters.

I got the news of Govis death quite shockingly via a WhatsApp text, almost a week after he passed.

I had wished him on his 30th birthday the previous month and we had made plans of meeting up for poker just a few weeks before. “Actually I was planning on Monopoly instead of poker. To switch it up a bit, thoughts?” He replied. I smiled but I never replied.

Was this a joke? I had gone to a silent meditation camp in Srilanka and I hadn’t told many of my friends about it. Was he punishing me for not telling him? Asking other friends to play tricks on me?

But Govi never messes around with people. He only helps.

When I finally came to my senses and when the news finally hit me — I wondered whether he was hit by a bus on his cycling route? That’s the way a cyclist would like to go. Not by getting hit by a bus, but by doing what they love and are most passionate about.

But Govi wasn’t just passionate about cycling. To make his death more “meaningful” or “worthwhile”, he should have died while he was cycling on the road, cooking a foreign cuisine on the side of his saddle while reading the recipe in another language and using pipets and beakers as utensils. And even this doesn’t suffice.

Govi is no more. But Govi is everywhere. Certainly in my heart. Always.

When people ask me how I managed to cycle from Manali to Leh (550 km), I would tell them that a friend inspired me to start cycling and the rest is history.

But often it would be said so carelessly, so trivially that it never emphasized enough on the efforts of the friend. Only my efforts, only my determination. My glory, my triumphs.

Today, I dedicate all of my fitness (whatever is left of it now) whatever little I have accomplished, however exponentially I’ve grown as a person, to my friend Govi.

I dedicate everything to him.

I won’t cry or mourn his death. That means giving up on all that he’s taught me: Grit, integrity, curiosity, empathy and just enjoying life.

I’ll miss him — his physical presence, his face, his voice, the way he walked and loudly laughed. I have a few videos that will surely help

But I’d never miss what he stood for because I will imbibe what he stands for. Being a true friend.

I hope to be lucky enough to pass this to another Aarti. A lost, clueless and miserable soul. It would be an honour to be a Govardhan to an Aarti.

You’re always remembered, buddy.

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