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Once more I saw the star

(Toastmasters speech inspired by Randy Pausch and my friend Palash Pratim Bora) Ankur Bora

I grew up in an environment where words that conveyed painful emotions were not welcomed. When a close relative died, everyone around me , after the mourning period was over, seemed to act as if she had never existed. People would say, “You should be over it by now” or “It’s not healthy to dwell on it.” Sadly, I never questioned this attitude and accepted it unconsciously. The culture we have does not allow people to feel anything related to death; the word “dying” is almost synonymous with “useless”. We have reached such a level that we don’t care even about our near or dear ones while we are easily carried away by actors or celebrities. But then last year my best friend passed way which changed me completely; the imminence of death taught me how to live.

Palash was my childhood friend; we went to the same elementary , middle and high school. Although we eventually went our separate ways, he joined the state civil service while I settled in Texas, we kept in touch. Towards the latter part of 2019, I received a letter from him. “Dear brother” - I was taken aback by the unusual way he addressed me. When I finally finished reading the letter, I felt completely numb; my friend had been diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. My immediate reaction was why him, why was fate so cruel? Palash had a loving wife and a teenage son and daughter ; he was a sincere upright man always ready to assist the needy in his capacity as a Government officer. I was overcome with despair, not knowing what to do. But my wife reminded me that I could not drift away from my friend, and I needed to act. I called a reputed oncologist at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. I had known her through our community, and she returned my call immediately. Armed with her response, I called Palash and offered all the support possible, suggesting that he should come immediately to Houston. Although my friend was extremely weak after the long and exhaustive chemotherapy, he was willing to try and promised that he would come to the USA for treatment. After talking to my wife, we charted a plan, checking the logistics for their stay in Houston, preparing them for the consular interview in the US Embassy and arranging the travel itinerary.

Houston is roughly 300 miles away from Dallas where we live. I thought of reaching out to the local community there since Palash would be treated in Houston. While a few responded, I was disappointed by the general apathy of people. Around that time, a popular Bollywood actor had died and there was a huge controversy surrounding the cause of his death . At first , journalists accused his actress girlfriend of supplying him drugs and causing his death. Soon it snowballed into a media trial as media channels began feeding speculations and rumors against her. People, I know, were consumed by the debate. Some of them surrendered their daytime hours watching the news, then taped the rest so that they could watch more at night. They flooded my phone instant message with heated discussions for or against the actress. I was baffled. How could they give up days and weeks of their lives addicted to someone else’s drama ? I wanted to ask - Why do you bother with all these distractions; is this the most important thing in your life?

In the midst of this , my friend’s medical condition was turning worse. I had been eagerly awaiting his arrival in Houston , but then I received the terrible news - the disease had overtaken him. Palash would spend his final days at home with his near and dear ones. I was devastated; there was no more room for hope. For more than a week, I didn’t have the strength to call him but when I finally did, we ended up having a long conversation. He was talking about his teenage son and daughter - what would they do without him. My heart reached out to him and I told him, I would remain part of his family.

During the next month, whenever I called, his wife was in tears as Palash’s health was declining rapidly. But when he spoke , I felt a sense of calmness in his voice. Rather than talking about fears and worries, he was talking about our school days. Palash who had been writing poetry since school days recited some of his favorite poems to me. For all that was happening to him, his voice was clear and inviting , as if in the face of imminent death , he understood life. Despite the blinding moments of the death verdict, I heard from him only about the gifts of life as he continued to read books, wrote letters to distant friends and devoted himself to loving others.

In his final days, he made the most of his time and published a book of poetry. I was struck with the irony - while others continued with the same heated discussions, fighting with each other chasing useless matters in the online forums , Palash devoted himself to creating something that gave him purpose and fulfillment.

The news of Palash’s death was disclosed by someone in the online forum. People began pouring condolence messages, and the majority of them wrote - RIP. Although they were trying to be well meaning, I was pained by the matter-of-fact attitude. I replied - no, my friend’s death is not merely a three-letter word. With his death I learned what matters most- my friend helped me to discover which things are most important in life and even in his death I felt his love and presence. A part of him stays with me and I shall carry his message, forever.

YouTube Video link

Evaluation by Stacy Efthymiou , Thumbs Up Toastmasters

Powerful speech, your words are so meaningful and really tug at the heart strings of your audience. You put so many heartfelt sentiments into your speech as you reminisced about the life of Palash and how much he meant to you. And the fact that you stand up for remembering his life with others on social media, that this amazing friend of yours should not be reduced to three letters, R.I.P. He deserves much more appreciation and respect for who he was in life. Your speech nearly brought me to tears, and it was a fantastic tribute to a dear friend. Congratulations to you. And thank you for sharing this with us. You were very smooth with the flow of your speech, there was only one hiccup where it seemed that you lost your train of thought, but you got back onto it. If I wanted to be nitpicky, I would say that I saw no hand gestures, so next time you could add those. The visual aid was really special as well. Overall great job.

Thanks for very touching humble and humanistic speech full of innumerable stars and nobility you can and do see in others - Kailash Nautiyal

Hemashri Bora , wife of Palash , attended the Toastmasters meeting, from India through a Zoom call

For us he was the kindest and the most loving soul. Though we tried our best still we could not do much for him. Touched by your beautiful tribute. Thanks once again.


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