“Hello!! So good to see you!!” boomed JK, giving me a tight hug.
“Good to see you too! How have you been?”
“Terrific!” JK laughed. He was an old acquaintance. We had lost touch when he moved out of Delhi 15 years ago. But last week he called up out of the blue to say he was in town and we agreed to meet for lunch.
“You do look terrific,” I said. He had lost so much weight he looked malnourished. There were dark circles under his eyes, as if he hadn’t slept for days, and his head was in a plaster. But he was more cheerful than the FM RJs you want to strangle every morning on your way to traffic jam. It made me uneasy.
“JK, is everything alright?”
“Life in plaster,” he laughed. “It’s a blaster!”
“What happened?” I asked. “Looks like a major injury.”
“I had a minor misunderstanding with my boss. So he bashed me on the head with a paper weight.”
“Oh no! Did you call the police?”
“Are you mad,” he said, shaking in mirth. “Why would I? People bash each other all the time. And I know he hit me only because he wanted me to be happy.”
I stared at him. “You must really love your job,” I said. “To put up with such treatment!”
“Hahaha, I don’t have a job anymore,” he said. “After bashing me over the head, my boss fired me.”
“Oh lord! What a horrible man!”
“Not at all,” JK said. “He had good reason to hit me: I had forgotten to respond to his ‘Good Morning’ greeting on WhatsApp. Can you believe it? Anyone in his position would have done the same. Besides, he had no choice but to fire me. Sales had tanked. Company was in debt. They laid off 5,000 employees, not just me.”
“Not at all,” JK said. “I have more leisure now. I can read, write, watch my fingernails grow.”
“That’s good to know,” I said, pleasantly surprised. “So you’re doing ok financially?”
“Not bad,” JK said. “I’ve no money to pay my EMIs. No money to pay my daughter’s school fees. No money to pay even the electricity bill. I’ve sold my car, my father’s land, and all my wife’s jewellery.”
“You sold your father’s land?! Didn’t he object?”
“Nope,” said JK cheerfully. “He died last Tuesday.”
“Your father died?! I’m so sorry!”
“But why? He is in a happier place now,” JK said, beaming with joy.
“I’m glad you’re taking it so well.”
“Not at all,” JK said. “If dad had been around, he would have forced me to go for treatment. Now that he’s gone, I don’t have to bother with hospitals and doctors. Such a relief, haha.”
“Treatment?” I said. “For what? Your head injury?”
“Of course not. That’s healing on its own. And this is such a great plaster, imported directly from Paris. Touch it and see,” he said, thrusting his head forward.
I gingerly felt it with my fingers. I have to say, it did feel wonderful. I was tempted to break my head against the wall so that I could also wear a plaster like that.
“If it’s not for your head,” I said, “Then what treatment are you talking about?”
“It is for my head only,” JK said, grinning. “I have a tumour in my brain.
“What!!!” I was shocked.
“I’ve also been diagnosed with lung cancer, Crohn’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and cirrhosis of the liver,” he said, laughing merrily.
“Oh my god! Tragedy after tragedy. How are you coping, my friend?”
JK shrugged. “Frankly, my heart is overloaded with joy right now, like 10 people in an elevator meant for four.”
I again looked at him closely. To tell you the truth, he did seem physically somewhat knocked down, and knocked-out, too. But his pale face and nearly emaciated body were radiating one thousand watts of unadulterated good cheer.
“JK, you are an amazing person,” I said. “You were brutally attacked, you were laid off, you’ve lost your father, you have no money, you’ve been diagnosed with a host of deadly, painful, degenerative diseases. Your life is basically hell. Yet you are so happy. How come? What’s your secret?”
“The voiding of Article 370,” JK said. “Removal of special status to Jammu and Kashmir and its integration with the rest of India has given new meaning to my life. It has filled my heart with euphoria and soul with ecstasy. What more can any ordinary, unemployed, indigent citizen of India ask for?”
The writer is Social Affairs Editor, The Hindu.