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Remembering  a childhood friend 
Sivaram Srikandath
 Story Dated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 15:49 hrs IST 
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Last week, I attended the funeral of a childhood friend of mine. It was a real depressing experience. There were but a handful of us at the ceremony - five of his close relatives, a few others, and me, the only friend of his, so to speak. It was a bright, sunny morning; and when the ambulance carrying his body drove into the  dappled light under the trees in the Ravipuram cremation ground,  it seemed like there were not even enough people to lift the body out of the vehicle  and place it on the pyre.  It was tragic. My friend had  died unsung, and almost un-remembered, a victim of the alcohol abuse to which he had surrendered his life almost three three decades ago.

I first met him when I moved to Cochin with my parents from Trivandrum. He was part of a boisterous group of young boys, all neighbours., who became close friends. We went to the same school, where he was one year my senior. Right from childhood, he had an innate quality of leadership, and quickly became the "take-charge" guy in our group. He was very bright, and did well in his studies too. Those were days  I can never forget  - playing football  and cricket after school; having meals at each other's homes with mothers fussing over us, cajoling us to eat more;  friendly fights and rivalries; and above all days of guiltless childhood innocence when all we had on our minds was what new thrills and wonders the next day would bring us.

And then, when we were about twelve or thirteen, we began to notice  a change in my friend. His behavior became aloof and distant, influenced no doubt by the apparently limitless supply of pocket money that he had access to. His father was a successful businessman, who showed his love for his only son by indulging him with, what he probably thought, were the de-riguer  comforts and entitlements of a privileged life. My friend began drifting away from all of us. He acquired a new set of friends, and started hanging out with them more often than with us. He had a chauffeur driven car at his disposal, and quickly acquired the ways and manners of a  person much beyond his years. To be quite candid, I  was envious of his life style, and would complain to my father about the freedoms  and comforts given to my friend by his parents. But my father (bless him, for now I know better) had a standard reply to all my carping: "that is their lifestyle; this is ours; and you jolly well understand that." Period. End of debate.

And once we graduated from school and entered college, it was but natural to drift away from each other, almost completely. He was in a totally different orbit and moved around with a kind of  arriviste crowd that had little in common with us, plebeians. Very soon, he left for higher studies abroad, and then we completely lost touch with one another. I too finished college, and left Cochin to seek my own career. And our paths and our lives never intersected after that.

But I used to keep getting news about him - that he had married; had two children; had developed an addiction to alcohol; that his wife and children had left him; and that he was generally wasting his life. And once I returned to Cochin for good, I heard the further disquieting news that he had become a complete alcoholic and was constantly in and out of de-addiction centers. I never made an attempt to meet with him, or to talk to him. For I knew that much water had flowed under the bridge, and any meeting would have been  very uncomfortable. For the both of us.

There is a lesson here for all of us, parents. The way we bring up our children very often determines how they will turn out to be in later life. It is an onerous responsibility, one that cannot  be taken lightly. In the eternal debate of nature versus nurture, I am a firm believer in the Tabula rasa theory propounded by philosopher John Locke that individuals are born with a clean slate, and that knowledge, and particularly behavioral traits,  are shaped and formed by experience and perception. Children  are dependent upon us adults for the values they acquire. It is not for nothing that our wise elders have  said, "train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it." (Bible, Proverbs 22:6).

But how many of us parents  accept, or even choose to remember such wisdom?

I recently heard of an incident that occurred in a tony private school in the city. The school authorities confiscated  the cell phones (many of them high end) from students who had brought them to school inspite of school regulations to the contrary. The children were told that the cell phones would only be returned to the parents who were asked to come in personally to the school and collect them. And guess what? A good proportion of the parents never even chose to collect the phones from the school. "Oh, we just bought our son a new phone. It was anyway time to replace the earlier model."

So very slick . What a fine example for the children to emulate !

And yet, we complain about young children going astray in their ways and manners. Don't blame them please when we as parents are failing miserably in giving them a proper upbringing. After all, as Tolstoy puts it succinctly in War and Peace, "everything depends on upbringing."

Lest we forget.

As for my friend, I pray to God that he is finally in a place where he has made peace with his demons. I remember him best as a young, carefree, mischievous boy,  full of vim and vinegar. And I shall cherish the memory of that boy, who was once my childhood friend.
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