Saturday, 2 October 2010

The night we discussed suicide

My friend had come from a place on the outskirts of the city and was waiting for me at the gates of my newspaper office when I finished the day's work and came out around nine in the night.

"Where to," I asked him. He said he knew a toddy shop some distance away, where we could get very good toddy. It was a little way off my route home, but I had decided to give that evening to him shelving everything else I had planned.

We were silent as I negotiated the city traffic. When the road cleared, he said he had come to meet me to discuss the question of suicide. He wanted to commit suicide. Then he thought I was the kind of person with whom he could talk about it.

The toddy shop was not crowded and we could have continued the discussion there without much fear of being overheard. But he was silent through our first bottles.

"Let us go out into the highway," he suggested. So we got a plastic can loaded with toddy, borrowed a couple of glasses, and set off towards the highway. I parked the car at a dimly lit place on the side of the road.

We talked for nearly two hours, spilling quite a lot of toddy in the car. The car was going to stink like a toddy godown tommorrow, I thought...

Our very serious discussion on suicide, as was quite inevitable in such circumstances, was punctuated by frequent references about the quality of the toddy we were drinking. He had big influence with that toddy shop, though he was not a regular drinker. "Any time you feel like having good toddy, Venu, you tell me. I can arrange it for you," he said. We both laughed when he said that.

We also discussed, in between our discussion on the subject of why he wanted to commit suicide, our common problem of always wanting to be recognised--within our families, within our social circles, among our friends and within our organisations. The desire to be spoken well of by others and understood by all for our good intentions and how all these are basically the result of our own habit of being totally immersed in ourselves.

He was extremely emotional at the start of our discussion. When the story unfolded, he would now and then break out into laughter seeing how his mind had been at work right from the time of a simple incident in the morning to make it snowball into something so shattering that he saw no longer any purpose in living. We talked about this funny quality of the mind and marvelled at the way the mind worked.

We were now on a high and he asked me whether I had any old Malayalam songs to put on the music system. When I said I had no music system in my car, he said not to worry, he would sing a couple of songs himself.

He sang beautifully and his face was all music and expression in the light of the headlights of the vehicles that moved past us along the highway. There was still some toddy left in the can and as I filled the glasses without spilling, a police patrol jeep, red lights and all, rounded into our side and stopped.

I opened the car door and stood outside. An officer climbed out of the jeep and walked to the car to inspect want was on.

"We are having a little toddy," I broke clean. "I finish work very late... Errr.. the other chap is my friend... He too is drunk," I confessed, adding, "we were discussing a serious issue..."

The officer blinked a torch into the car. He saw my friend's beaming face, the plastic can, the toddy-filled glasses, the mess on the dashboard...

He switched off the torch. "Okay, okay," he said, curt and very official. "That's enough. Pack up, go home." They had been watching the car parked on the side of the highway during their patrolling the past couple of hours.

"Certainly, sir, right this moment," I said, getting immediately back into the car. The police jeep followed us for a couple of kilometres to make sure I could hold the wheel and, reassured, turned back.

"Venu, did you notice the policeman's face? What a lovely face! I felt like kissing him. Isn't it a wonder he should understand the seriousness of what we were discussing? Isn't it a wonderful world?" My friend was delirious in his happniess to be in this world.

It was well past midnight when I dropped him home. The door opened the moment the car stopped at the gates. Both his wife and daughter were at the door. They were waiting for him to return.

I could see them smiling from ear to ear as he sang out good night to me and, with meticulous deliberation to keep his steps steady, started walking towards them.

*****

19 comments:

Prabhakar said...

Irony of ironies the guy talking about the toddy quality when talking about suicide. good piece.

P. Venugopal said...

It was touching, Prabhakar. My eyes fill up when I read it.

Lakshminarasimhan said...

The toddy was your consumption and the text for our consumption. High notes - the song, to kiss the beautiful policeman, the dimly lit road side bar were all in your side and the notes were low on the reader side. Great

P. Venugopal said...

This incident is an old one, Lakshmi. It is sufficiently old for both the parties involved to now laugh at the comedy of it. I have my dear friend's sanction to put it on the blog.

james said...

Venu
Is this another chapter of your new novel?
James

P. Venugopal said...

No, James. It was the most memorable night of drinking in my life. My friend's too.

Sumi said...

a lovely slice of life. not the drinking session but the simplicity of conversation, the friendship, the ease with which u described it all. lovely. i hope ur friend is doing alright

P. Venugopal said...

we are fine, Sumi. its the easiest thing in the world to be at ease, total ease. you try it and see how creative it will make you.

rknair said...

Good piece, but good toddy is so hard to find now... the bloody adulterated hooch is all one gets from toddy shops these days. Tell me, is that shop still there? And is your friend still around to take us both there one of these days?

P. Venugopal said...

we shall negotiate the issue closed door.

jayarajmurukkumpuzha said...

very touching.......

P. Venugopal said...

Thank you, Jayaraj. You have to disappear when you are on a bubble that can break any moment. My friend can counsel you now if you are in such a situation. We are all very strong people.

Sorcerer said...

hmm.I can understand..This is a lovely capture of moments between 2 friends.
fantastic ..colored it in all its details!
:)

kochuthresiamma p .j said...

what changed his mind? your influence or that of toddy?:-)
touching piece.

P. Venugopal said...

looking back, i think it was neither toddy nor me that changed his mood. but both of us helped him unwind and examine the problem completely on his own. toddy and wrong company can even complicate the situation.

madam, basically thought is the problem. if one gets to know this and learns to watch detached the process of thought, one can always find one's way out of any emotional situation. i am learning to do this... with wonderful results in recent times. the friend mentioned in this piece also has progressed far along the same track.

and thank you, sorcy. yes, you will get the full colour of the drinking session, especially in a car deep into the night by the roadside, though i think you are a teetotaller! ? ! ?

none from outside can influence

Kalpana said...

An amazing narration and you've rightly said its not that tough to be at ease. I often try it these days...

Thanks a lot for these wonderful words. I am back in town and better :-)

P. Venugopal said...

Welcome back, Kalpana! Be totally at ease! Then starts the flowering of creativity. Not just in writing poetry, but in whatever we do.

Musings said...

Alcohol has this unique quality of getting into that corner of our brain and take away our ego, So has the act of sex, prayers and all the fun activity. I guess a swami who is enlightened should have this feeling of drunk.. come to think of it. Your friend should have realized this by now coming off from the edge of a suicide over a bottle and another freind like you. Sometimes one cant make the difference between a freind and a bottle ..cheers..

P. Venugopal said...

Sachin, I have heard it said Sri Ramakrishna used to look fully drunk and unsteady on his feet at moments when he became totally linked to the whole.
The feeling can be made the same provided you orient yourself in the right direction from the first sip. Drinks and company can quite easily make you more miserable when you are miserable. What happens is, the reigning mood gets more and more substance and concreteness under the influence of intoxicants. If you are down, it will take you down. I am saying this after watching all its workings.
Here, I think, by some instinct, offering no resistance and almost transposing myself totally into him, I helped him orient towards the uplifting territories of getting drunk. Basically, it was like taking over the wheel of a car that was swerving dangerously over the ledge of a cliff and smooth-handling it on to the safe road.
It was a revealing experience to both of us. That night I asked him to start reading JK and volunteered to buy him some of the books that had been of help to me at a certain time when I was also extremely miserable. He said he shall buy them himself and by 11 a.m. next day phoned me to say he had bought the title Krishnamurti's Notebook. Now he is a JK fan.