By Louis De Lauro
“How do you say his name again? “Mollyick? Mullock?” That’s an odd name, I thought.
My friend Maulik moved from India to Michigan to Boston to New Jersey. All that moving probably wasn’t easy. In third grade, he was the new kid.
And nobody could say his name. Maulik. It’s not that hard to say, but nobody could say it.
Well Maulik, was very small and a bit shy when he moved to New Jersey. He was probably the smallest kid in the class. And he was the only Indian boy in the school. I remember the other boys saying things like, “We can’t be friends with the new kid.”
“His name is weird.”
“He’s really smart and that’s nerdy.”
“I doubt he can play sports.”
So guess what I did? I became Maulik’s friend. Why? Because he looked like a nice person and he smiled when we talked about baseball. Maulik and I both loved baseball growing up and we played and talked baseball all the time.
I never knew a kid from India before.
And when I got to know Maulik I realized the kid from India was a really nice kid! And even though he was born in India, he wasn’t really from India—he was from Boston. He was smart, kind and not bad at sports—a baseball buddy. The only thing I didn’t like about him was that he was a Red Sox fan.
I remember going to his house when I was little and being a bit confused.
The food smelled funny. Indian food was not yet popular in America and I didn’t like it. Today I do, but back then the strong curry smell bothered me.
During a holiday I remember his family put up Good Luck Indian Swastikas on the walls. This scared me I honestly thought it was the Nazi Swastika and my new friend was a secret Nazi. Maulik kindly explained the difference to me and I realized how little I knew about different cultures.
I remember Maulik’s two-year-old sister counting to a hundred and doing addition and subtraction! No joke, she was two. I remember thinking, I know Maulik is smarter than me. Is this toddler smarter than me too? Maulik’s sister, Ami, is a doctor now.
I remember playing ping pong with Maulik’s Dad, an expert table tennis player. I had never played ping pong before. It was fun!
I remember his mom grabbing my hand when I left his house and thanking me for being a good friend to her son. She had a strong accent but I understood her and I really liked her. She introduced me to Indian food and treated me like family.
Anyway, in middle school, Maulik became the most popular guy in my friend circle. This frustrated me a bit because I was probably the second most popular guy. Maulik was kind to everyone. Smart and hard-working, he was a role model for the rest of us. He grew to be as tall as me, and surprisingly he became the best athlete in our group. A star on the basketball court, he played in men’s’ leagues well into his 30’s. Today, he is a tennis pro and competes in tournaments and teaches. He still loves baseball and enjoys playing softball with friends.
Maulik attended a prestigious prep school in high school while the rest of my group attended the public school. We missed him and he missed us, but we stayed friends.
He loved the Sox and the football Patriots and I am a Yankee and a Giants fan. We still stayed friends.
He got A’s at his prestigious high school and college, and I had to work hard just to get B’s. He was always way smarter and academic than me. We still stayed friends. He made new friends in high school and college and I made new friends too. We still stayed friends.
He always loved Ray Charles and jazz and the blues, and I loved punk rock and ska music. We still stayed friends. There were a few years where I didn’t see him much. He was in grad school and I was hanging out at punk rock clubs. We still stayed friends. He became an award-winning doctor/hospital administrator and I became a simple elementary school teacher. We still stayed friends.
He moved to Maryland and I stayed in Jersey. We still stayed friends.
Maulik married an amazing woman and I did too. We both have kids. He has a girl and boy and I have a daughter.
Today our kids are friends.
When my wife had heart surgery and was out of work for months and I couldn’t pay the bills, Maulik and his wife paid for all of our groceries for months. He would not want me to tell you this, but I just did. When my family visited his family in Maryland last year, Maulik and his talented tennis playing son gave my daughter a superb tennis lesson. I forgot my tennis shoes, but I watched the entire thing and wiped tears from eyes.
Hey, I was there for Maulik when he moved from India to Michigan to Boston to New Jersey. I was his first friend. And because I was there for him, Maulik has always been there for me. As a baseball buddy, a role model and a person I can count on. And he can count on me too.
Next year I am teaching in a prestigious prep school. The school demographics tell me many of my new students will be Indian American. I am hopeful I might have the opportunity to teach some students that remind me of my good friend Maulik. This entire story about a good friendship also sounds like a story about good Karma to me.
Mollyick? Mulllock? Nope. It’s Maulik. It’s easy to say. And for the past 40 years, it’s been easy to call Maulik my friend.
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