Translated from the Hindi by Aparna Anekvarna.
the abode of seasons remain vacant
people dwell within walls and doors.
—Sheen Kaaf Nizam
This time, she was dead serious about it. The day had been dripping-wet and that particular colour of the season did not mean anything to her anymore. She felt the pain shooting beyond its threshold. It caused a kind of short-circuit in her brain-wiring. At its peak now, her loneliness was complete.
Curled close to a heap of books and the television left on the whole night, she had to brace herself to face yet another forsaken morning in that corner, its faded pink curtains, in the same decay of that very house, area, city and country in the same old world. She woke up like this maybe for the one thousand and thirtieth time, that day.
Carrying a three-year-old pain in her lower abdomen, a dead appetite, swollen anaemic face and puffy eyes, chipped nailpaint and raw fingernails.
Her mind was made. This was no emotional blackmailing or any wrath-driven impulse. It had sprouted to become a necessity now. This day, suicide had turned into a desperate need. To her, nothing had remained the same as before, in fact everything was over. The will to live or sleep, the occasional daydreaming, trust over god or her own self, physical attraction towards men, indulgences and fetishes, even her interest in grooming, food or drinks was over. Days went by without even a single glance at the mirror.
“Let me do away with this troublesome continuation of inhaling and exhaling.”
She dragged herself to the balcony of her third-floor apartment and peered down. The jamun tree there was in full splendour turning the road below purple, with the plump, dark berries falling now and then. The plums fell to their squashed end, creating pleasant purple patterns on the road. If she willed so, she could have easily taken a similar plunge just as she had been imagining a thousand times, and at times dreamt about it as well.
“No, this ain’t the correct way.” She couldn’t bring herself to fall to a squashed end and turn the road red like a jamun plum. So what next? She went back inside. A note, with a phone number, in bold black markings on the wall near her bed’s headrest read “Sumaitri: Life is precious”. A friend had scribbled the number of the NGO when she was there to drop her home from a hospital. At that time, she had attempted suicide by consuming phenyl.
“Listen, just dial this number whenever you have the same inclination again. Thankfully I arrived in time and you went through the abdomen-wash and saline was administered … and we are not even talking about the side-effects right now. And please, leave such disgusting toilet stuff alone … you could have done better…” she had taunted. Her only friend was very irritated by then … after all that running around and warding off persistent interrogation by the cops.
“Do you have any idea about why she consumed phenyl?”
“Mmm … maybe to clean her stomach-walls…” she had murmured to herself.
“I mean, she apparently got confused between the bottles of the liquid antacid and phenyl. She got them both from the market and had kept them on the table. At night, she must have picked the wrong bottle after a bout of acidity … so … it was a mistake you see.”
“Oh! Okay! Okay!”
“Aah!” she sighed as she dialled the number. Following the connecting tune, the customary pre-recorded message in a lousy pronunciation said: “This number is out of coverage area. Please dial later.” She tried unsuccessfully for two more times then she put her phone away. Walking up to the mirror she gave herself a good look. Dead lifeless skin, swollen sunken deep brown eyes, dry lips, thinning sparse hair, stared back at her. She rubbed a little lotion on her face and changed her filthy, frayed chemise-like nightgown into a new pink kurta and slacks. She weighed her decision as she applied eau de cologne to her underarms.
“Yes, it is over.”
She began tidying up her room. No one ever visited her, but they will after her death. Her elder brother and his family who stayed in the same city, neighbours, her few friends and colleagues from her old office and of course, her ex-husband and son!
As she threw away an ant-eaten rotting apple, long forgotten on the computer table, she recalled something she had once watched on television. It was about numerous websites which tutored easy and painless methods of committing suicide. She switched on her computer and googled it. Right from the Wikipedia to many websites and blogs, the net was teeming with free information. Absolutely free. She clicked open one such website, and lo and behold! It talked about the pros and cons of jumping to death from a great height. “It is quite possible that after such a fall you might have to spend your life in a wheelchair.”
“No way! Not that!” She went on to another blog, Painless suicidal help.
It was hardly a blog but more of a forum. People had submitted their suicide notes there. Such diverse pain, so much of unparalleled loneliness. The blogger had distributed a pack of advice to each of them. One dejected anonymous note read, “I wish it was easy to slit my throat with a blade. This life is just pain. They say for everyone in this world there is love somewhere … utter rubbish! For I happen to be a living example. I am a 40-year-old lonely bachelor ravaged by bouts of migraine and no job, in spite of my being a topper student. This festive season, Christmas has ushered in melancholy for me.”
In answer and advice to this, the blogger had written, “Love is just a label given to this extreme emotional high by some fool. You can down a few sleeping pills with alcohol but my friend, just before you do that, do smash few heads of the rich and the elite this Christmas. They have turned this world into a gutter.”
Another despondent anonymous wrote: “Sitting on the steps of a temple, all I can think about is death. I am an engineer and have full-blown AIDS. I long to do some good before I die. Specially for these beggars and orphans, shivering in this bitter cold. Maybe this is what God wants me to do.”
The answer to this said, “I hate God! There is no such thing as ‘God’! Chloroform would be the best for you. You must be in deep pain, you need a sweet sleep forever.”
As she scrolled down, her head reeled. The blog was brimming with endless gloomy posts and rambling of hopeless faceless people. A girl suffering incestuous abuse for eight years now, a woman going through husband’s infidelity, a disabled youth, sentenced criminals, drug addicts, bedridden aged people! The blogger had an answer for each of them along with a sure-shot way of a painless death.
She got up and fetched herself a glass of water. She had a few sleeping pills. Pondering over the start of her suicide note, she decided it had to be a bit poetic… Underlining pain and loneliness, on the useless existence of her empty barren body, post-hysterectomy. “I wanted love, romance from this life … to yearn and be yearned for in return! A touch that would have awakened this numb body … but now, all I want is to get rid of this life. For some time now, the woman, the mother in me is dead. I am a schizophrenic!” It wasn’t very poetic, after all. She posted her suicide note on the blog and kept it anonymous. The blogger answered almost immediately: “Go ahead!” Something trembled in the water-filled glass… The yellow pills in the brown transparent bottle smiled and turned into smiles. The faded pink curtains ballooned with air. The rain intensified and through the wire-meshed door, began to dampen the floor of her room. She got up and shut the door, opened the lid of the bottle. The smiling pills wore sadness now.
A new post appeared on the blog page. “Dear Anonymous, can I help you? Can I call? Give me your email id.” She thought for a second and sent her email address across. Immediately after, there was an online ring on the computer: “hello Farzana!”
“Farzana, I am Srinivas! Are you really contemplating suicide? Do you have just five minutes?”
“How would you rate your death wish? On the scale of ten?”
“Then it is fine. Have you gone through this blog?”
“Yes. A little bit. Is it yours?”
“No. But I have read and gone through it thoroughly. And I have done its technical analysis as well. This is a foreign blog. Providing a platform to thousands of people – sick, in pain, desolate. It simply indulges the hopelessness and suicidal tendencies. And did you notice the many advertisements on it?”
“Yes. So what are you implying?”
“Use logic. The viewership is quite high and the blogger is minting a whole lot of money. See, the strategy is to lure such vulnerable people to your blog and encash their pain, their loneliness through these ads.”
“Oh! I never gave that a thought, and why anyone contemplating suicide would ever think about it?”
“Yeah! that makes sense. I myself am suffering from autoimmune disorder. I have all kinds of skin diseases. I was in your shoes just a month ago. And the pain, oh! let us not even go there. That particular day I would have rated it nine out of ten. I had made my mind to die for even my loved ones felt repulsed by my body. I spent months in a sanatorium and had returned just a month ago. It was then that I came across this blog, and many other similar blogs, websites. I was also herded towards death. A room filled with carbon monoxide was my fix… I wondered how many more were following such instructions from by an anonymous entity over the internet. Then I discovered that half of these cases were fake, probably posted by the blogger himself, just to lure more visitors to the site.”
“Farzana! I would never say that life is beautiful! It sucks! It is pathetic, bursting with pain and pus! But guess what! Pus can be cleaned and distraction can take care of pain, even if for just a little while. A couple of days ago, a friend gave me a puppy with an injured limb. It was probably lost and on its own. I took care of the cast and left it in my courtyard. Today, I found it playing with a ball, dragging itself about. Watching it eat and play, I wondered if the idea of suicide ever crossed its mind as well? Of course not, no beast has this option ever. They might be injured or sick or banished out of the pack, they survive by licking their wounds alone. It is us, the humans who have found ways to murder others as well as our own selves…”
“I won’t ask your reason for this death-wish, or if you are still interested in the same. I just want you to rate, yet again, this desire to die. Out of ten…”
The room resonated with the sound of the disconnected call. She strolled out to balcony again. It wasn’t raining anymore. The road beneath gleamed clean as the purplish jamun pulp had been washed away by the rain. The earlier distraught sky was calm and poised after the heavy downpour.
“Hi, Farzana!” Rita called out from the neighbouring balcony. “You are glowing today in this pink kurta. Any plans?”
“Umm … not really!”
“How can you stay shut inside on such a glorious day? No morning walks anymore…?”
“…but where do I go?”
“Hey listen! I have baked some quiche using your recipe. Why don’t to come over and try it, madam!” she teased. “Let’s see how the guru rates it.”
“Okay. Alright, I’ll be right there.”
“Five out of ten!”
“No silly! I am just joking. It is hundred out of hundred actually.”
Rita got up to beat some coffee and Farzana … she smiled.