Candle that Burns Bright

A classmate of mine from IIT passed away a few days ago. When I heard the shocking news, I wanted to write something about him. What came to mind were a couple of disjointed memories, and I thought I would share them here. For fear of causing more pain to those close to him, I will keep all the identifying references to a bare minimum.

We used to call him PJ — an acronym for a mildly insulting expression, which probably had its origin in our academic envy. PJ was academically brilliant, and graduated at the top of a class filled with almost pathologically competitive and bright IITians. This intensity that he brought to bear on the less superhuman is part of my first memory.

Troubled by this intensity, we once formed a delegation to appeal to PJ’s better nature. I don’t remember who initiated it, or even who was there in the delegation. But it certainly feels like something that Lux or Rat would do; or Kutty, perhaps, if we could get him to do anything at all. Anyway, we approached PJ and requested that he take it easy. “What is the big deal, man? Slow and steady wins the race, you know.” PJ’s response was an eye-opener. “Sure,” he said, “but fast and steady is better!”

I’m sure this fast and furious pace of PJ’s brilliance brought him many well-deserved accolades later in a lifetime perhaps best measured in terms of its quality rather than quantity, impact rather than longevity. But PJ was never an all-work-and-no-play fellow. I remember once when the MardiGras girls came to the Mandak dining hall (“mess”) to eat. Studying them with that hapless fervor that only a fellow IITian can fully appreciate, we discussed this development with PJ. He said, “Yes, we want to mess with them!”

IIT happened to us at an age when friendships came easy and the bonds forged stayed strong. With PJ gone and the connections a bit weaker, I feel a bit of unraveling. And the melancholy words that ring in my mind remind me — ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.

PJ was a brilliant man. I hope his brilliance would be source of strength and courage to those close to him. You know what they say, a candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long. With one of our brightest candles flaming out, what I feel is a sense of some darkness descending somewhere far.

Photo by armin_vogel cc