There is no mincing of words when he describes the confusion, the gut-wrenching pain, the emotions Kabir goes through.
By Prachi Raturi Misra
This one has romance, philosophy, will power, tragedy, hints of humour and more. But what makes ‘i before I’, written by Kunal Bhatnagar, immensely readable, is its honest tone.
The book inspired by true events is about the transformative journey of Kabir. He is your boy next door who falls in love and believes it will be his forever. Till he realizes it wouldn’t and moves on.
Like a lot of youngsters, his age, he “became a philosopher on Facebook”, after his first breakup.
There are other women, of course, there is an attraction but Kabir doesn’t want to nurse a broken heart yet again. So he focuses on other aspects of life. He joins a marathon group and before he knows, friends and friends’ friends’ are headed on a trek in Uttarakhand.
He writes honestly, sometimes cheekily about the selfie generation, clicking pictures in a railway station “as if they were astronauts going on a mission to space to destroy an asteroid!”
The trek brings a range of emotions. There is friendly banter, there is a sense of achievement as Kabir leads a group, there is laughter, and there is a moment of philosophizing as he sits before a bonfire before an important trek. “Why do we all go after we die, why do we die, why do we live?” he asks.
But then there is another important emotion that features. Love blossoms in the fresh mountain air and this one leads to marriage.
Kabir and Ruhi have an eventful first year of marriage. There is a beautiful honeymoon followed by hordes of social invites. Then comes the anticlimax, announced, as it always does.
A watering, the slightly swollen eye is hurriedly shown to a doctor before an office offsite. When he is grudgingly rushing from the offsite after his doctor’s call, the bad news unravels.
Kabir is diagnosed with Cancer. The author doesn’t mince his words when it comes to the sheer shock, the social drinker, the non-smoker, the focused on fitness, Kabir goes through.
“Why me, I thought, I am a nice guy? And following a healthy routine most of my life, it seemed I was sorted in terms of my Karma as well. If cause and effect was a thing, I usually tried to be at the positive end of the scale and didn’t feel I deserved to die like this way, especially for the things I did, as far as I knew,” he writes.
There is no mincing of words when he describes the confusion, the gut-wrenching pain, the emotions Kabir goes through. “Death is always around us, life is so uncertain, yet we believe like we will live forever, Kunal writes.
But what shines through are the special moments. How his wife stands by him, how the father-son who somehow didn’t talk as much, start bonding. How Kabir learns to focus on the now, on spending time with his family, making himself “relevant” for his family. Be it pushing his mother to pursue her interest in baking, joking with his sister or listening to his father in law’s philosophy of life.
Of course he discovers his own too. Like this one, where he says, “We compromise on things that are necessities or things that make us happy so that we have a better future, a future, which is just a thought, a picture in our minds.”
As he goes through the treatment, he evolves into a “calmer, happier person”.
Slowly, but surely, he learns to focus on the now, on feeling one with the universe in whatever he goes through.
(The reviewer is an independent journalist. Views expressed are personal.)