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.