"Life is the price we pay for running away from death "

On a bright summer afternoon, amidst the vivid crowd of a bustling metropolis, Arjun walked up the stairs to the terrace of a posh hotel he had been staying for the past week. When he reached the top, he paused to catch a glimpse of the city - to absorb the fabricated reality of the urban landscape all around him and to pick on its verdant randomness that had been so much taken for granted. His stomach felt uneasy.

Arjun took a moment to recall a jibe he had shared with an uncle of his. The joke never failed to ease him up. "Uncle, what would happen if an earthquake were to hit our city right now?" he had asked of his uncle. And uncle had replied, "Oh! not much difference my son. Other than a few perfect corners broken out of shape, our city cannot get any worse than what it already is..." and the both of them had laughed all afternoon. They had even shared a beer while at it. The joke made Arjun laugh again, and also made him wonder how reality had embraced (read: enraptured) us in its arms of happenstance and inevitability.

He had missed his uncle so much. And that is why he was here, on the terrace of the same hotel where his uncle was seen alive for the last time.

Arjun stood still and tried to feel his uncle's presence, but all he sensed was traffic honks and gusts of smoky wind. It was a bright sunny day with not a cloud in the sky. The sun burnt down upon Arjun and, in the distraction of the city, he missed feeling his uncle's warmth in the sun's rays.

After ten minutes of silent contemplation, Arjun walked up to the parapet wall, climbed on it, clicked a selfie and posted it on his Facebook account, took a deep breath and jumped to his death.

2 hours later:

News of the suicide spread all over the Internet and reactions poured in. "Such a bright boy, what was the need for him to do it?" wondered one friend. "He had no pains or complaints. His parents gave him such a comfortable upbringing. Why would be do something so foolish?" posed another. "Some kids are pampered so much that they don't have any idea of the real suffering.. " commented some, "they take some trivial issue and kill themselves over it." "Yeah," agreed another, "like that girl who killed herself because people did not like her profile picture."

And then the tweeple, the beliebers, the face-bookers and all the keyboard warriors jumped in.. "These kids of today have no idea how to appreciate what they have.." "his parents gave him such a comfortable life and see what he gives them in return.." "there are so many people out there like the blind, the deaf, the handicapped, who continue to live with so much courage... what was wrong with this boy?.. So healthy, fit and fine he was.."  "he insulted all the blessings that life had endowed upon him.. "

several months ago:

Arjun's uncle had gone missing after being last seen at the hotel on the sea-front. There was no trace of him. Uncle was a social worker, fighting for the suffering and marginalized, and he had made some enemies in that pursuit. Some people talked that the mafia had kidnapped and murdered his uncle. It had left Arjun distraught - his uncle was the one good friend he had had.

Then, unable to give up, Arjun had ventured into the forbidden parts of the city in search of his uncle. He had felt an invisible push that had shoved him out of his house. It was a push, not a pull, so quite certainly it wasn't his uncle working invisibly upon him. So Arjun ambled around, walking into dark spaces, empty alleys and neglected nooks of the city. On some days he went into the slums, some days he walked the markets and bazaars, he even visited many hospitals and several police stations. Other times he would sit at the beach and blankly watch the waves, or walk upon the train tracks from one railway station to another.

Rarely sometimes he even visited the malls, but not the front and showy side, rather he went around to the back where the garbage would be dumped, where the noisy air-conditioners hummed and spluttered and spewed hot air, where the distraught walls with peeling paint and the dripping toilet pipes spoke the story of abject human carelessness, where the pariah children of men and dogs played hide and seek. Maybe Arjun had hoped to find his uncle there (because uncle had cared about such forgotten spaces). He never knew what pushed him to be there though...

On evening walks on the city streets, Arjun saw the crowd rushing to get back home. Tired bodies and confused minds seeking their place of rest, jostling and hustling in its pursuit. It was an explosion of colour and life undergirded by tragedy and apathy. Handicapped beggars crying for help, encroached stalls fighting for space, mongrels and calves sleeping in their own shit, open drains and dilapidated pavements gaping at the sky, buildings bearing dusty and cracked facades, and ugly overambitious posters vying for attention. Arjun saw that the rushing sea of people noticed neither the vibrancy of the streets nor the murk they were walking in. They were just walking past like zombies. Were they blind to all this? Yes, maybe they chose to be! Such was the world we lived in that it befitted only the blind. The ones with eyes - the ones who see - have no place in it.

People spitting and littering all over. They surely must be blind, not to see the mess they were causing.

He saw the traffic moving at snail's pace; the cacophony of honks blaring with no purpose other than to vent out the owners' angst. What else are they honking for? They know the traffic won't move any faster. Potholed roads; Inappropriate, insufficient or missing traffic signs; bovine speed-breakers; haphazard pedestrians; opportunist traffic cops looking to snare some quick bucks all ensured the traffic was never in smooth flow. The streets of Arjun's city were not for the able-bodied. He saw pedestrians limping across uneven pavements, skipping over open drains; he saw motorists dragging their feet along with their vehicles. Were they all physically challenged? Yes, maybe that is what they have ended up being. Such a world that does not allow space and avenue for the human body to fully express itself; The able human body has no place in it.

He saw people driving awkwardly - left shoulder lifted high and heads bent sideways trying to balance their cell-phones and talking while they drive. They surely must be handicapped, for they do not seem to be so inclined to avoid such funny postures.

Arjun observed the absolute cacophony on the streets. The blaring vehicle horns, the spattering and cranking of engines, the loudspeakers at various shops, cries of beggars, whistles of the policemen and loud calls of auto and cab drivers. He wondered how everyone ever so casually walked around in this discordant medley. Nobody seemed to be getting disturbed or irritated by the constant stream of dissonant voices. Were they all deaf? Yes, maybe they are! Such a world that does not seem to realize the vocal aberration it is creating must surely be deaf. In such a world someone with proper auditory skills has no place.

He saw a few men playing random songs on their cell-phone loudspeaker. They surely must be deaf, for they do not realize how stupid it is to play a song that others don't want to listen.

Back to the present:

All the months of confused questioning had finally brought Arjun to the seafront hotel. He had come looking for his uncle, for he wanted answers which only his uncle could give. It was a push, not a pull that had brought him to the hotel. His quest for answers was the push. As he walked up the stairs, on to the terrace, and as the sunlight beamed upon him, a vague peace settled into Arjun's mind. It was like the questions troubled him no more, for the answer lay right in front of him. He climbed up the parapet wall, looked down at the ground far below, felt the whiff of breeze caressing all over his body and waited for the final push. Meanwhile, he took a deep breath and clicked some selfies for his Facebook wall.

Then the push came.. the final and redemptive one. The one that lifted him and helped him escape from a world he did not belong. This world was not for Arjun whose senses were all working fine. It was a world meant for the blind, the deaf, and the physically handicapped. By continuing to live, Arjun was, in fact, using the resources that were meant for the blind, the deaf, and the physically challenged. It was not right of him to use up resources not meant for him. Hence, the push that threw him off the building.

It was a push for justice. The push that delivered justice both to the world and to Arjun. Firstly, justice to the blind, the deaf, and the physically handicapped who got their resources back from Arjun; and secondly, justice to the able-body that Arjun had been gifted with but which had been mistakenly sent to the wrong world.

Arjun did not die by carelessly disregarding his able-bodied self; he died exactly because he ever so consciously regarded his able-bodied self.


In memory of Arjun Bharadwaj, with whom I might have shared a momentary thanatological connection.

If we had paid no more attention to our plants than we have to our children, we would now be living in a jungle of weed. - Luther Burbank, horticulturist


"This is the grand old tree of my garden," said the old man as his face lit up with pride, "my great-grandfather had planted it and it has given us a rich harvest of delicious Alphonso mangoes every season without fail."

"But the credit for it goes to you," I smiled back and replied, "your gardening skills have made sure the tree bloomed more and more, even though it kept aging."

"That's what the right mixture of knowledge and experience can deliver my boy," he replied as he bent down to pick up a ripe mango that had fallen off the tree. "Look at this beautiful fruit. It's the fruit of labour, the mango of knowledge..."

Mango of knowledge? I wondered if the expression existed, but I got the essence of what he was trying to say. His training in horticulture had brought forth amazing results. The garden which was covered with weeds during his father's time was now an avatar of natural glory. It was like he had established a new generation of life with his bare hands. 

His garden was his laboratory, where he experimented with the plants, trying out different cultures with the seeds, grafting various breeds, using new methods of fertilizing, etc. Most of the times he failed, but he never gave up. He knew the potential of the seeds and he kept trying. Ad the result was there to see - a luscious garden brimming with an infinite variety of life. 

"Plants are wonderful creatures," he said, "they have to be nurtured, like children, and they will respond to your care and love," he caressed the lush pink bunch of Bougainvillaea. "It takes a lot of patience with hours of meticulous care, and look at them, the flowers smile back with their blooms, the fruits reciprocate the love with their fruity aroma and taste, and every leaf thanks me through the dancing glints of sunbeam."

He saw his garden as an orchestra of life, of which he was the conductor.

"Nature does not work with man's cycle or under man's command. One needs to look at it maturely. There cannot be a master-slave relationship with it. One ought not look at Nature as a slave or as a master. It is a friend, a collaborator in the construction of life in this world..." said the old man as we walked back inside the house.

As we entered the hall, the old man froze with horror. His daughter had come back home and her stuff lay strewn all over. Her shoes were thrown by the door, bag lay on the sofa, and some books scattered on the floor, while she crouched by the window busy with a video chat. The old man gave a long hard stare at his daughter, which she did not care about. He turned around and strode back to the garden, while murmuring, "this new generation is so useless... nothing can be done about them.."

I can never forget the charming Dr. Mahesh and his adorable family. The tireless doctor of my beloved native town and his devoted wife, and most of all their effervescent son who seemed to inherit every bit of his father's passion. And even more unforgettable is that fateful night, when the waters of Godavari flooded our town and erased it off the map forever.
That night my father, the town collector, had received a hotline call from the state administration. Someone, who was close to my father, had called to inform the dam had burst and that the gushing river was on its way to drown all of us. He had said we had only an hour to save ourselves. I can recall how frantically my father had woken me and my mother up and rushed into the car. How crazily he drove out of the town that he was supposed to save. And then stopping over at my sister's house to gather her family, and then madly driving out of the town.
As we passed the silent streets, me and my mother had cried, seeing many of the houses we knew, and had shuddered imagining the painful fate that awaited those good souls.
And then we had passed Dr. Mahesh's house, and I had expected dad to stop to pick them up. The doctor was held in great reverence all through our town - for his dedication in helping our town, for his sacrifice of rejecting lucrative offers in the city so he could help the forgotten people of our remote town. My father had been so proud of Dr. Mahesh. Yet he did not stop that night and kept driving. I had looked at his face and shrieked, and he had replied back in hush tones, "We don't have much time son; the flood will be here soon! And then, we don't have any more space in the car too. My family comes first for me, and I am just doing my duty towards my family.. first!"
So we had driven away, abandoning a soul that had abandoned its luxury for our sake. Just because for us, family came first.
Today, as I sit facing the whisky bottle, with my parents long dead, I ponder if it was worth saving us. My dad had sacrificed his duty towards the town in fulfilling his duty towards the family. He had chosen to save a son who could not claim a bright future, and a daughter who spent all her time fighting property battles with her in-laws. Had Dr. Mahesh been saved that night, it would have led to the saving of many more lives, through him. With his courage, commitment and knowledge, Dr. Mahesh could have been a building block of our society.

But it wasn't to be. That night vanity had won over sanity, and bonds of blood became the ark that floated high over the waters of fate, whose blind current drowned rationality and humanity.
They say family is the building block of society. But to me it seems that, actually, family blocks the building of society...
"So now that we went through the lesson, tell me, what is the real purpose of education?" asked the teacher pointing to one of the students.
The boy sheepishly stood up, "ma'am, the real purpose of education is to make each student so independent that he becomes self-thought..."
Some of the brighter students chuckled. Teacher immediately responded, "What? repeat that last words again?"
"Ma'am... self-thought"
"That's what happens when you sit in the last bench. I have stressed so much on that point. It is self-taught, not self-thought. It is pronounced as T-O-T, tot. It is not thaw, it is tau. Taught, not thought."
Boy did not want to be embarrassed in front of the girls, so he tried a retort, "But.. ma'am.. how can one teach without first thinking? So first I need to self-thought na?"
"Enough now smarty pants.. don't think too much. You can sit down now" and teacher gave him long hard stare.

"Most of the people in this country are such horrid dogmatists," he rued as he took a sip of water. "Especially the older generations. They only focus on the rituals and procedures, and call it their proud culture."
"So many of social norms are pure dogma - they never enquire the purpose behind their traditions. Festivals and functions are celebrated in such a wasteful manner; children sent to school like clockwork, and then pushed to take up the courses which everyone takes; religion is sacrosanct and its tenets just cannot be questioned. It's a blasphemy for children to ask why for their elders' diktats." and he took another gulp of water.
"How can science even think of setting foot in such a dogmatic land yaar? We, the rationalists, who use the open-minded enquiries of science are branded as anti-social and are attacked." and then a final gulp of water which made the bottle empty.
"But does science have all the answers that are needed to dispel this dogmatic veil?" enquired his friend who had been thoughtfully listening to him.
"Maybe not, but we do have all the necessary tools to get there: like the openness to pursue broadminded enquiry, the steadfastness to be persistent in the face of failure, the courage to question the obvious, the dynamism to adapt to new contexts and the pragmatic maturity to strive for relevance..." he tried to take another sip and finding the bottle empty, rose up to walk to the water filter, "can religion and tradition claim to be so dynamic and relevant? They still ordain the same old rituals which are so out of place in modern times. These dogmatic fools don't have any understanding of the issues we face today, like environmental crisis, human right violations, declining living standards, etc., and they still continue to push the same old foolish rituals. They create all these blind rules in the name of some God and then foolishly tow the line. The dogmas have killed their spirit of asking those difficult questions."
He turned on the water-filter to fill the bottle. His friend looked at the filter and jibed, "Hey isn't that the RO filter which wastes more water than it purifies? You should switch it off during these hot summer months man. So much water shortage out there.."
"Oh, and risk my health with the municipal water is it? No way my friend," he laughed.
"But the municipal water isn't so bad.." his friend smirked in response.
"Sorry! No ifs and buts when it comes to health man..." he interrupted his friend, "science has taught us how to keep good health and I shall never compromise on those principles."