4: The man who hid his candy stash

As a young girl, my mother was very close to a Punjabi family that lived in her neighborhood. The family had five sons and three daughters. She was friends with the youngest daughter and was treated like a sister by all the five brothers. The eldest brother in particular liked my mother, and never treated her any differently than her own sisters. He was a kind man, very spiritual in his outlook and had a golden voice. Just listening to him talk was like a lecture on faith and positivity. This was more impressive since he had to struggle to make ends meet and sustain a huge family. When my mother bought her first tape recorder she recorded some of the songs which he sang. We would often listen to that years later. After my mother’s marriage, the family migrated to different cities, while the eldest brother moved to the United States. They hardly stayed in touch except for the occasional news which we got to hear of them.

A year ago, however, the eldest brother called my mother from the United States. My mother was no longer the feisty, comical person whom the brother knew. She had been worn down by years of depression and family troubles. Naturally, she was overjoyed to receive that call and to listen to a familiar voice. The eldest brother sensed my mother’s need and promised to call her often. From that day, he would call at least once a fortnight, if not more. Each time he would call, my mother would be filled with hope and optimism. He would tell my mother stories of his life in America. How he was living his dream. How he exercised daily and led a healthy lifestyle. He would send pictures of himself on Facebook which I would share with my mother. Once, my mother was very worried about my life choices, so she forced me to speak to him. I was very hesitant at first, and thought there was no chance that a man of eighty years would understand my point of view. But to my surprise, he did. He told me that he had received very little education and was not as educated as I was. But, from whatever his experience had taught him he had learned that if it was in my destiny to pursue what I intended to, it would happen. He told me not to worry, that the universe already had a plan in mind, but I would have to give my hundred percent towards my goal. Talking to him felt like speaking to a friend, and I was so reassured after the conversation that it became easy for me to open up to him and to respect him. My mother often cited his life as an example for us to lead ours. In every sense, he was an ideal person and a great human being.

We stopped receiving phone calls for him for a month early this year, only to receive the sad news of his demise. We were all very sad, especially my father and I, because he had such a great impact on my mother. Nevertheless, we decided to remember his kind and motivating words and move on with our lives. A few weeks ago, we met his relatives to offer our condolences. What perturbed me was when I found out that his life was far from ideal in America. He had stopped exercising for a long while and his desk drawer was filled with a stash of hidden candy wrappers. It was so ironic that a man who taught others to live positively, take care of their bodies and practice restraint, was himself struggling with life threatening habits.

Overtly positive people often hide their deep seated pains. If everything else seems okay on the surface, dig deeper. We are all broken, after all. Some of us do a better job at plastering the cracks. The person whose life you covet on social media, may be as fucked up as yours. Our scars make us human and testify that we have lived a difficult life, and have survived.

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