A tribute to a friend-in-a-million

Introduction:   In April 2007 I submitted a write-up to the editor of the Post newspaper. I did not realize that the email address I used was a shared inbox and, over the next few days, I received ‘read receipts’ from numerous recipients. Slightly annoyed that my inbox was being flooded, I replied in haste with this not-so-polite remark: “I sent an email to ONE email address, so why am I receiving notifications from the entire building?”  Within a few minutes a reply popped up in my inbox. I instantly recognized the sender’s name as that of a well-known media personality and playwright.  I was apprehensive as I opened the email, expecting a reply saying how rude I was and, for being so impolite my write-up will never be published.
The reply (with a smiley at the end) simply read: “Because you are special, that’s why.”
The sender was Aldrin Naidu and that was the start of an amazing friendship with my kindred spirit. Two months later, my new best guy friend was also my work colleague, as I was employed in the advertising department of the very same publication…

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Just relax and be yourself. You will do just great,” he reassured me after I told him for the umpteenth time how nervous I was about my upcoming interview. When Al and I first began chatting, I mentioned to him that I was on the lookout for a new job. He told me about a position that had become available in advertising which he thought would be perfect for me. The very next day he called to say he had recommended me to the advertising manager who was keen to meet with me. Before I knew it I was at my interview, psyched and raring to go. Perhaps I strived for a positive outcome more for my new friend of 2 weeks, who I had not even met in person, yet he had so much faith in my potential and capabilities that I couldn’t help but also believe in myself. His positive energy was really contagious! Before being called with the official news, I received a call from Al who was already privy to the outcome: Ever so calmly he said: “I believe someone aced her interview today! Congratulations my angel. Welcome to the world of media!” (At this point let me state I got the job based purely on merit. But had it not been for Aldrin, I would have never known about this vacancy in the first place.)

There is a misconception that a girl and a guy cannot be close friends. Hogwash, if you ask me! I often said that (apart from my father and brothers) Aldrin was the only guy who I could trust and depend on. From the outset, there was nothing romantic about our bond. We just never saw each other in that way. It was purely platonic. In retrospect, he actually treated me like a little sister. I am a very reserved person by nature and now I realize that Al did and said things to help me come out of my shell. Initially he described me as shy and timid. Over the years his description of me changed to feisty and quirky!

I remember when I helped him with marketing one of his shows and he gave me a list of people to contact. One look at the list and I said “I’m sorry but I cannot call THESE people!” On the list were numbers of many household names: local actors/actresses, socialites, radio presenters, politicians and business people. “Off course you can Ash,” he replied. “No, I can’t,” I argued. I really did not feel confident enough to converse with any famous folk. “Oh please, they are just normal people,” was Al’s reply. He didn’t really give me a choice! Reluctantly, I dialed the first number…
Today I’m not afraid to pick up the phone and call anyone!

Al was quite the joker. Talented at impersonations & accents, he often called me pretending to be someone else. Although baffled as to how some of these people got my mobile number, unsuspecting me fell for my prankster pal’s antics every time.
In his last prank call to me I almost had a heart attack when he introduced himself as the chairman of the company. In just a few seconds so many thoughts ran through my mind.
Why is HE calling me? Did a client complain about me? Did I make a mistake that will cost the company millions? Am I fired??” Al sensed my trepidation and burst out laughing. “Aldrin, you nutcase! You are lucky I don’t use vulgar language,”   I retorted.
However, I realized he was a tad over-confident of his impersonation skills when I answered my phone one day to hear the voice on the other end say: “Hello Ashika. It’s Salman here.  Salman Khan!”  Speaking of Salman Khan, Al once told me that he interviewed him many years ago and the actor was a bit obnoxious. “Don’t be so harsh Al.  He probably was just tired.  You would also be jet-lagged if you traveled so often.  Besides, it must be so annoying to answer the same interview questions every other day,”  I replied.  Al was taken aback and responded with: “My word! So defensive over your Shell-man Khan!!”  There must have been steam coming out of my ears because he quickly changed the subject and never again said a bad word about my favorite actor!

Aldrin, a larger than life personality, simply oozed positive energy.  A really laid-back and funny guy who always saw the lighter side to life.  There was never a dull moment with him around.  I actually don’t recall him being angry or losing his temper.  I wonder if he even had a temper!
He was not a guy you could easily get upset with.  Once we were chatting about music, Hindi songs in particular. I especially enjoy the classics of the 70’s and 80’s & sent him a particular song I was searching for and finally found.  “Listen to this song Al. It’s so beautiful,” I told him excitedly. He listened to it and, in typical Aldrin style, replied: “It’s nice. The kinda song that a person would slit their wrists to!!” Granted, it was a slow song that could make you fall asleep. But slitting wrists?? I had no witty comeback for him. I just laughed. Like I laughed while holidaying in India and received a message from him. His message did not begin with “how are you doing?” or “hope you are having a great time“. Nope, that was too ordinary for Al.  His message began with: “Please don’t forget: Black kurtha shirt.  Size M/L“.   The pleasantries were at the end, almost like an after-thought! But that was just Aldrin being Aldrin. He would not intentionally offend anyone.  And neither did he get offended easily.

I never imagined that someone who I regarded as a celebrity would turn out to be one of my closest friends.  A friend who would call me at any hour to ask the meaning of a Hindi word or to translate the lines of a Hindi song (I don’t know what made him think I was an expert in the Hindi language!)
A friend who I could be myself with and easily confide in. He advised me on everything from sinus remedies to matters of the heart (which guy he thought I should ignore and who I should go out for coffee with!)
When I underwent a procedure for my eye condition, he was the first to call and check up on me.
When I told him of my decision to relocate to Gauteng, he encouraged me to follow my dreams and offered immense support and assistance when I made the big move.
2 years later when I confided in him that I was really not happy living in Gauteng and missed my family terribly, he advised me to listen to my heart. “Money is not all. Go home to Mummy and Daddy, my angel. That’s where you are happiest. And don’t worry about what anyone else has to say,” he advised.

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I was shocked when I read Edwin Naidu’s post on facebook. He requested prayers for his baby brother Aldrin who underwent an operation for a heart condition. There were complications and Aldrin was now on a ventilator and not doing well. I knew Aldrin had a heart condition but I did not know it was this serious. Whenever I asked about his health, he always said that he was doing well. Ever the optimist! But then again, I haven’t chatted to him in a while. I thought about him often and made a mental note to call him soon. Unfortunately, I was always caught up with other stuff and too busy to keep in touch. I never got around to making that call…

After reading Edwin’s latest post, I froze. Aldrin’s condition had taken a turn for the worse. It really wasn’t looking good. I prayed so hard, begging God for a miracle for my dear friend. I barely slept that evening and kept thinking about Aldrin, his spunkiness and zest for life. And now he was in hospital, fighting to stay alive. Part of me believed that Aldrin, with his fighting spirit, would pull through. But deep down I had a bad feeling that I just couldn’t shake off.  A very bad feeling…

I kept checking Edwin’s profile for updates on Aldrin. Nothing further was posted. I was anxious and restless. It was after midnight when Edwin’s post appeared on my news-feed. I must have read it about 5 times before I comprehended what was written. My precious friend had passed away…

 

 

It took a few days for the news to sink in and then reality hit me. I have lost someone who made such a profound impact on my life. I know he is in a better place and I draw comfort knowing he is no longer in pain. But what hurts me the most is that I took so much for granted, thinking there will always be time to call, to meet and catch up. I should have made the time and effort to keep in touch more often. Now I will live with that regret for the rest of my life.

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My Dear Aldo,

Remember when I said you’re such a famous person and your reply was: “Me famous? Nah!” Well, I’m sure from up in Heaven you have also seen the outpouring of love for you since you left us. Social media has been flooded with posts dedicated to you. Radio stations profiled you and newspapers paid tribute to you.  And it does not surprise me one bit.  You had a way of making people feel special and important.

Thank you for 11 years of cherished friendship. I have learnt so much from you. Achieved so much because of you. You have been the best guy friend a girl could have ever had. The type of friend a girl like me needed in her life. I will never forget you and all you have done for me.

You promised me that you and only you will MC my wedding one day.  We even had the details planned out: say only nice things about the bride and put the groom on the spot! Now I will have to settle for a MC who’s 2nd best…

I will really miss you and our silly chats. I will miss your funny birthday wishes to me. But I treasure the precious memories and will forever be grateful that, in my life’s journey, I crossed paths with an amazing person like you. Kind-hearted souls like you are rare and irreplaceable.

You fought a brave fight, now rest well my dear friend. You will live in my heart forever.   Till we meet again…

All my love and gratitude:                                   
Ash.