My Indian Friend, with a Bag of Spices, in My Kitchen...

We could have met much earlier in Paris but my life was kind of upside down when he was there.
I heard a lot about him from mutual friends. More important, I heard a lot about him from my son who from the very beginning, felt very close to him.

He went back to his country and was there during a tragedy when the 2004 tsunami struck the eastern coast of India. True to his beliefs, he went there to help in every way he could. And help he did.

It even included creating a very special school for dalit children in order to keep them out of the streets and to give them a chance to reintegrate normal schooling. The other side of the program was to give their mothers a feeling of self-respect by learning some trade other than begging, which would in turn encourage their children to learn and study.

Then he came back to Europe, to Leiden University, Netherlands, where he has been working in the department of Astrophysics for the past five years besides other occupations, all of them worthwhile, of course.

Now he went back to India. And I really miss him a lot already even tho he only left two days ago and has already sent me a mail!

My Indian friend, with a bag of spices, in my kitchen...

We met in Brussels in July 2005. Swee'Pea had been to Amsterdam to spend a few days with him and one night he called us to ask if it was allright to come and spend a couple of days in Brussels with us.

He’d be coming with his friend who really wanted to meet us, he said.

I was kind of worried because to me, this guy was highly impressive: a PhD in Astrophysics, an avid reader, very involved in politics, social and gay rights issues (and a lot of fun too, my son had told me).

So we met in Brussels and it was love at first sight. At first, I had a hard time to understand his English... I’m not this good at deciphering a strong Indian accent when used at high speed... It took time but he was patient and soon we were really communicating. He was awesome, still is. So eager to share and not a bit patronizing. He opened new worlds for me.

Very soon after our first encounter, cancer struck back. And he started sending me a note and/or giving me a call, before and after the many very unpleasant times in my life at the time... Many notes and many calls. He was so sweet. He also kept my mind alive by feeding it... with books to read, videos and movies to watch! And he was always there for my son who besides working on his thesis with a very damaging director, was living every day with a very noxious anguish about my very dubious recovery.

My Indian friend, with a bag of spices, in my kitchen...

As soon as I started recovering from a very successful but very hard chemo, Swee'Pea came quite often to stay with us in Brittany, many times with friends, including «him» of course.

I have been a little bit reluctant to give names but I have to do it because «he» and «him» are too cold for such a warm person. So from now on, it will be...

My friend Niruj, with a bag of spices, in my kitchen...

Because besides being a scientist, an activist, an avid reader and learner, Niruj is an extraordinary good cook.

Which explains «the bag of spices» which he carried around whenever he was going somewhere, especially to places where no one ever really cooks, like our home and Swee'Pea’s.

Niruj was extremely surprised I had never taught Swee'Pea how to cook! Yes, this is one thing I never took time to do, not because Swee'Pea is a boy but because cooking is not my forte besides a few recipes, honestly!

So whenever he was around, Niruj took over my kitchen... and since I never realized he’d go away one day, I never learnt from him... I savored everything but I never learnt. And now it’s too late. But in Swee'Pea’s kitchen and in Brittany, we still have a few Niruj’s bags of spices because he was generous and left them. He was probably hoping that they would somehow drive one of us to start cooking. Some enchanted bags of spices maybe! After all, they brought all the Oriental flavours and scents and mysteries to us...

Last summer tho, we held a cooking event. He cooked one meal. The following night, I cooked what I consider to be my masterpiece ever - a gazpacho (which is a cold Spanish tomato soup). If you want the true Spanish gazpacho, it takes a loooooooong time to prepare but it’s worth it. Well, Niruj loved mine!!! I shall be eternally grateful to him! The Master of Absolute Delights loved my gazpacho.

There are so many things to tell about Niruj, the way he had such an impact on our family... So many things!

all about Niruj (a few excerpts):

He is the first Indian I’ve met who actually is Tamil, which helps enormously understanding Belgian problems.

He is also the first person I ever met who knows by heart all the songs from «The Sound of Music». He can sing them perfectly and dance over them too.

He loves my craziest shoes, and my crazy sunglasses and crazy old me.

He loved having me around and talking with me, even though sometimes 
he had to repeat the same thing one hundred times since I did have a few problems with his accent. So patient and caring Niruj.

He never laughed at me because I loved Bollywood movies but he also steered me towards more serious Indian/Tamil movies and taught me where to find them in Paris (without forgetting to mention the guerilla taxes forced upon the Tamil shops in Paris, of course).

He even helped me to survive by sending me tons of pictures and videos of Shah Rukh Khan. No kidding...

He doesn’t feel comfortable at sea but he came boating with us and even asked Swee'Pea to teach him how to swim, which was a great moving time in our life (and his, I’m sure), always to be remembered.

He is true to his beliefs and feelings and knows how to fight for them, except maybe once, when he moved into a very nice and posh  apartment in Leiden, overlooking the canal... and it kind of mellowed his vision of society... But I’m sure it’ll all come back in India!

So many things to tell about him... This guy is really amazing!

But since he’s bound to read this blog... I’d better stop being so lyrical.

I know one thing though: none of his friends, none of the people he’s worked with or fooled around with, not a single one of them would disagree with what I wrote... And they probably would add an extra  hundred things to my list! Wouldn’t they?

(Stop fidgeting, Niruj! You know I’m telling the truth, ah, ah, ah!)

Last week, I opened the box where I keep one of the bags of spices... and then I felt like crying.

The bag of spices, in my kitchen, without Niruj!

*Good Luck, and Good Night!*

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