When you come across the adage, “Out of sight, out of mind,” you (and I) are filled with disgust at the possibility of the existence of people to whom such words do apply. You and I are repelled because we think, and quite rightly so, that we owe this little to someone we know, naturally. We try hard to rationalise that we are human and therefore it “behoves” us to act in a manner that is in concord with “rational” behaviour; behaviour that needs us to respect precepts – precepts that require of us, certain sophistications; behaviour that will help fit us correctly into a society. Women can’t stay out late because it is unsafe for them; you must love your neighbour (in a manner that is absolutely dependent on your priorities and/or certain other factors), and a host of other rules that we ought to adhere to, so that we can fit right in. The basic assumption here is that most people behave in that manner, therefore we must act accordingly. So unfortunate is our adherence to these precepts that when a victim goes to file a complaint, questions like “what were you wearing and what were you doing out so late” take precedence over the simple fact that a gamut of human rights were violated. What I am trying to say here is that, logic and reason should take precedence over tacit guidelines; the simple fact that this kind of deviant behaviour is accepted as normal, given the circumstances is not only ironic, but also sad. Rules exist because we do, not the other way round. Man’s vices are now accepted as an inherent part of him, over which he has no control; give him the circumstances and he will act in that manner, because that’s expected.
But then again there are certain things that are expected of us, because we are human beings. Now we aren’t much different from animals; we act in the same manner, doing what’s best for ourselves and the ones around us. Like animals we believe in communities, in harmonious relationships with others. Occasionally we aspire to do something that benefits others, but then that is because it makes us feel good. We are usually selfish, and quite rightly so. The trick is to use the selfishness in a broader perspective, and call it a virtue. Our actions should not be guided by noble motives; they should be guided by our attempts to do something while not harming others. That is the noblest motive today, if you should ask me.
I am a decent, empathetic person. I feel sad when I find poverty around me; mostly I am not able to do anything. I take a mental note every time I see suffering, that I will change this when I am capable. I feel angry when I read reports of men, women and children suffering in one way or the other, when I read reports that mention how corrupt politicians at the helm are destroying the golden legacy left to us by our fore-fathers. I feel unhappy when I realise that the corrupt passport office needs to be paid up before I can expect my police clearance, even though I have an impeccable record. I feel sad when I find humans suffering and I feel better when I see the pain alleviated. I am basically a good person, because given the circumstances, I wouldn’t harm a fly!
I am also incapable of human connection. I grow tired of seeing the same person over and over again. When I have talked to someone for a long time, I run out of words to say. I am not evil. Probably the only people I can tolerate being around for a substantial amount of time, is my family. Add distance to my lack of longevity, and oblivion is moments away. I think I am afraid of constancy. I am afraid of being around the same people all my life. Yes, when I come across worse, I do long for the past relationships. But as soon as I come across better, the longing is gone. I guess we are all afraid of being tied down, but somehow we learn to adjust. I used to write down the names of my friends on the walls of my room, so that I could remember them. But then, they are just a coat of paint away from becoming the forgotten past.
Don’t think for a moment though I don’t care. I deeply care about the ones I have loved or love. It’s just that when there’s no tumult in my life, I don’t see the reason to be around someone. As far as love is concerned I seriously doubt if I have ever been able to do so, if you go by the clichéd definitions of love, that is. I like it as long as there’s intensity. Once distance and complications creep in, I always get cold feet. Then there are my principles. Because I think that I am not being honest with someone, I force myself to take decisions that end up ruining my relationships anyway. When someone I care about is in trouble, I don’t hesitate to help; when her troubles are over though, it becomes palling. I care about my friends as well. I just don’t feel the energy needed to pick up a phone and call someone and tell them that I miss them; because honestly I don’t. I make ponderous and maudlin posts on social networking sites because I have to force myself to feel as I type, because norms demand that I do so. I love the moments for what they are worth, and I hate it when I am supposed to reflect on them. Here’s the brutal truth: all of us deal with the same problems, but you’ve probably worked out a way to circumvent these emotions, and I haven’t.
When I was young, I used to visit my grandparents. I remember some lovely moments that I shared with them. As time rolled on, other priorities superseded them and my cognizance of their existence got restricted to once a year, when I visited them with my parents. As the visits became even more fitful, so did my attention, until one day when I heard my grand ma was close to her death. I remember that day very clearly because I had never seen my grand ma like that before. She was reduced to her bones and she was as light as a feather. She could barely recognise me. Now I have never been one to hide my emotions. I broke down instantly and hugged her and cried for as long as I could remember. That’s the worst position to be in because you see, memories never fade. There is something so redolent about the sadness of death which has the purging effect of smashing your mental bulwark. I can accept defeat, rejection and scorn gracefully, but this was something which was irrevocable. I could not accept the fact that she was so close to being taken away and I could never really have her back again. She died within a month. I have a pristine recollection of how much I cried that day, as I watched her remains being incinerated at a crematorium in Kolkata.
Grand pa could never really recover from the shock of the death of his wife; and as complicated as possible are relationships between elders, their love remains exalted. He would live out the remaining two and a half years of his life with us. I was always my grandparents’ favourite. Maybe they loved me dearly because I was the oldest, or maybe I always thought they loved me the dearest. I had never been exposed to having an elderly person in our home before; I didn’t know how I had to deal with him. At first I used to spend time with him, an hour a day cumulatively. Then even that ebbed. I would hardly see him twice a day, even though he lived in the room neighbouring mine. I got busy with college, new friends, new emotions and new priorities. College was a vastly different experience to me. I used to come home on the weekends, sometimes in two weekends; that’d be the only time I ever really got to spend time with my family. Sometimes I used to stop at his room to find him staring blankly at the window. I never bothered to ask him what he’d be thinking about. I always assumed, he were okay. As the days passed and as college grew even more fascinating, my academic prowess dwindled as did my emotional attachment to this man. Something about him repelled me; maybe the musty smell around him, or the constant smell of his skin medication. Now, I like everything to be perfect. For example, I take great care of a new phone when I buy one, but once it develops scratches it becomes extremely pedestrian to me. Maybe seeing a human being in such decrepitude bothered me, or maybe I was too scared of the ineluctable and maybe that drove me away. Or maybe, I just didn’t want to, because I was lazy. I remember his unkempt beard and his bony cheeks against mine, the countable number of times we hugged. Before leaving for college every week on Mondays, I used to touch his feet for blessings and he used to say: ‘You’ll make us all proud one day. I know that’. I used to smile passively and pick up my bags and go.
During the end of my second year, I failed in a subject. (Ironically, I am very good at that subject now and I am considering another degree to explore it further. That is the story of another man who changed my life, but we’ll save it for another day.) The failure didn’t hit me like I imagined it would. My academic prowess had been waning for the last three years, and I accepted failure as just another day. I came back to my hostel room, proud that I had achieved this inglorious feat as well and my pathetic excuses for my roommates and closest friends that I had, celebrated with me. (I love them very dearly by the way, and the three of them will probably be grinning like arses when they read this line). The World Cup was near and I spent my summer vacation, chasing stupid science projects, women and Spain’s glorious feat. And then one day when I was returning from my then best friend (and before he gets his pants in a twist, he is still my best friend, although I am almost certain that with the burgeoning of new priorities in his life, I have taken a back seat and happily so) Tathagata’s house the day before our college was about to reopen, I got a call from my mother, asking me to hurry up because my grand pa was critical.
I reached home late that night due to inclement weather and traffic conditions. As I walked past my grand pa’s empty room, mum told me that he had been having problems breathing for the last two days. My parents had tried to reach me, but apparently my phone was silent the entire time. I accompanied my father to the hospital and rushed to the ICU. I still wasn’t sure of what I was supposed to feel as we scurried through the connecting pathways. Now there is something about the stench of a hospital that always manages to unsettle me. Maybe it is the ubiquitous smell of the disinfectants splashed lavishly. We stopped when we were standing in front of my grand pa. He was barely breathing, his eyes watery and without an iota of recognition. He was fast fading.
That was when I realised that maybe he would have said something to me. I realised that grand pa was this close to his death and I had managed to not even have the scintilla of regard for what he would have wanted to tell me. If he were to die tonight I wouldn’t be able to hear him say a word, even if he wanted to. I realised that I had so much that I wanted to tell him for so many days, and I didn’t; and now I had completely blown it. A spate of such thoughts rushed through me as I sat down beside dad in the lounge. My train of thoughts was disrupted by a sudden question, “I think he is going to be okay, don’t you?” I looked up at my dad, and even though I knew what I was supposed to say, I replied without blinking, “No. I don’t think so.” Given his condition, we both knew my answer was logically correct. I still don’t know whether I said the right thing, whether he wanted to be lied to. Two hours later, I would be correct.
The next day, as we sat beside each other watching my grand pa’s remains burn (the body is beaten with a heavy bamboo stick to facilitate burning, something I loathe immensely) beside the Damodar, I thought about my past actions, my memories of him and the brilliant glow in his eyes when he’d reiterate his faith in me. When we returned home that day, my father broke down and said, “Now I have no family left!” To which I replied, logically and quietly, “We are your family.” I think, my reply was correct, irrevocably.
I attended college the next day and as I waded through the condolences, I heard that the examination where I could redeem my prior failure had been preponed by a week. I knew I was facing extermination. Now you see, “Design of Reinforced Concrete” is not a subject that can be mastered in a week. I had wasted my summer vacation chasing illusions, and had also lost my grand pa. For the first time, I fell on my knees and I prayed hard. I prayed that my examination be postponed so that I could at the least, pass. I wanted to quit college, I wanted to kill myself. I received a phone call from Ishan Roy later that evening, informing me that the exam had been postponed by a week. I knew that this was my miracle. I used the pretext of my grand pa’s death to prepare from home, where I studied twelve hours a day till I had learnt the subject by rote. I used to murmur formulae wherever I went, during whatever I would be doing so that I could pass. I was nervous on the day of the exam and I was trembling when the paper was handed to me, which prompted the then HOD and my future mentor to smile and say, “Cheer up lad. This is an easy paper.” I attempted everything that I knew.
A week later, the results were out. I had scored 37 out of 70, the second highest. The paper had been checked very stringently, and I had managed a solid performance. This would be my grand pa’s final gift to me, another shot at my life, offered in exchange for his death. I excused myself and went outside the classroom; I sat down on the floor and I buried my head in my paper sobbing.
I have erred several times since, and I have failed in several human relationships since. I still make mistakes; mistakes that I know I am going to regret later. I have also fought with my father since; but these times, I have been temperate. I promised myself I would not throw my life away again. After all, it’s not mine you see. It was lent to me by someone that loved me unconditionally, even after his death. So you see, I am not entirely evil.