Early in the morning of May 14, I boarded an Emirates Airline flight to New Delhi from Dubai, my adopted home. I was headed to India to observe, and write about, the national parliamentary elections in my native country. The results wouldn't be known until May 16 on account of peculiar administrative procedures, but I wanted to arrive in India on May 14.
I wanted to do that because it happened to be my birthday, a very big one. I wanted to be in India to soak in the atmosphere, to breathe the aroma of politics. I wanted to be in New Delhi, India's capital, to hear all the political gossip and scuttlebutt. I wanted to drive around in this city of tree-lined boulevards and sprawling homes built during the British Raj.
In the event, I got to do all that. I also got to participate in a seminar on climate change sponsored by my good friend Dr. R. K. Pachauri, founder of The Earth Resources Institute University (TERI), and chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Back in 2007, Dr. Pachauri -- who's also a fanatical cricket player -- accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of IPCC; the prize was shared with Al Gore.
Stimulated by the seminar, I decided that I was going write about the experience for Dubai's Khaleej Times; its intrepid executive editor, Patrick Michael, happily accepted my piece. He posted it online shortly thereafter.
And then, toward the end of the evening, I went with Dr. Pachauri and his scholar-wife Saroj to a soiree at the home of my longtime friends Peter and Doreen Hassan, who are among New Delhi's leading power couples and very affectionate. A lot of other power people were there, too, and a dinner consisting of a staggering number of dishes from Peter's hometown of Hyderabad was served.
Suddenly I heard a clinking of glasses. Peter and Dr. Pachauri were jointly holding a bottle of exquisite champagne. Champagne flutes were being passed around. A birthday toast was proposed to me. I simply didn't have the presence of mind to come up with a suitable response. So I just smiled.
"Pranay's just 33," Dr. Pachauri said with a grin, vastly -- and deliberately -- concealing my age. I was almost tempted to say, "Multiples thereof." But by then the smile had frozen my face, and the champagne had dulled my tongue.
It was still May 14 by the time I returned to the guesthouse where I was staying. My mobile phone rang: It was my Chennai-based astrologer, D. Nagarajan, who wished me well and repeated an earlier prediction that good things lay ahead and that the road would be pocked with fewer potholes.
After that bracing call, I flipped open my laptop, logged on to Facebook and Gmail -- and out cascaded scores of birthday messages.
They were lovely notes, and they flowed from the love of friends. There were notes of reminiscences, and there were notes offering advice for a long-divorced single man like me. There were some notes from strangers. There was even a missive from a wonderful woman who left me a few months ago on account of my insensitive behavior. There were several notes that said, "Enjoy the day."
And one note, referencing the Bible, said, "The day is short, and the task is great."
May 14 turned out not to be such a short day, after all. It also turned out to be a day of special tasks -- being with and enjoying the company of friends, and savoring their humor and their epistles and their advisories and their counsel.
To all those friends, therefore, thank you for being there. And bless you.