I slowly rotate the small circular disk in my hand. It looks deceivingly harmless. Its vendor looks at me hopefully. I have no idea what I’m doing in the black market of the city. My friends and I are out in the city for a treat. But somehow, I don’t want to stay with the crowd. I’ve strayed out alone.
“How much?” I ask.
“A Hundred and fifty.” The vendor says. I give him a look. The market is buzzing with activity. The galaxy of electric bulbs and tubes stretches on to infinity.
“That’s too much!” I say, knowing that these black market vendors always cite prices at least three times the actual.
“No, no!” he says, “I’ve sold it for more. I’m giving a special discount only for you.”
“A hundred.” I say. He shakes his head. I turn to leave. I know he will call me back. He does.
“Okay! Come back. You can have it for hundred.” He says.
“Does it work?” I want to confirm once more. As if he wouldn’t lie.
“Yes!” he says confidently and gives me a lopsided grin.
I throw him a bill, still feeling that I could have bargained for eighty and walk away with the device. It is a weird little thing - one of those that have been banned even before they ever hit the shelves. What it does is simple. You attach the electrodes to your forehead and switch it on. Then you just think about it and before you know it, you are gone. Gone forever. No hassles, no pain. None of the usual difficulties in ending your life. Just sit back, relax and think about it and you’re no more.
Why had I bought it? I don’t know exactly. Perhaps the vendor was a good salesman.
My friends beckon to me from the other side of the street. They are ready to go to the restaurant. I join them in their happy banter that is so characteristic of young people. But my mind is elsewhere. Every now and then my hand goes to my pocket. I feel the smooth surface of that small device in my hand. It is cold, metallic and hard to touch. I feel a strange detachment from the rest of my group. I am in there – laughing, smiling, and nodding – but my mind is elsewhere. It is as if I had separated from my body and was watching from the corner of the room.
We go back late that night. Nobody notices my strange behavior among the festivities. Their liveliness is annoying. Why can’t they keep silent for some time? Why not let me alone. Once we are back at the hostel I make straight for my room. Saumya tries to stop me. He wants me to stay. But I make some stupid excuse and leave.
When I get to my room I switch off the lights and lay down on my bed. I put my hand onto my pocked and take out the device. I switch it on. The red LED on it glows in the dark. Does it really work? I clasp it in my hand feeling the cold surface get warmer in my palm.
Anxious, I get up. I lock my room and walk out – out of my room, out of the hostel. I want to get away – from people, those laughing faces, those stupid jokes, those mundane concerns of daily life. I want to get away from light. I walk towards the loneliest areas of the campus.
For some time I just keep walking – thinking nothing. Then suddenly I realize. I am fiddling with it! I take it out. It looks ghastly in the dim yellow light of the street lamp. I hesitate. What am I thinking? Am I thinking of actually using it?!
Why? Why, because it would be so easy. This small thing was the solution to all of life’s problems. If I use it now, I would not have to wake up to classes on Monday. Hell, I would not even have to wake up. I can sleep forever. Eternally. It would ease all pain. No more classes, homework, projects, reports, jobs, interviews, internships – none of it ever again. No more bother about people and relationships. Nothing to care about. No responsibilities. Peace.
Night sounds fill the space around me. The surroundings are bathed in the diffuse yellow-orange glow of the sodium vapour lamp overhead. I watch the darkness of my shadow grow longer as I walk away from it.
Why not – I question myself. What would become of my family after me? What would my mother do? What about my brother? I have some responsibilities towards them. Can I bear to see them in grief?
But I wouldn’t have to see them in grief once I’m gone, isn’t it? And how long does grief last? A year? Perhaps two? Time heals everything. Life went on after my father died. Life will go on even if I fade away from the face of this earth. This world can do without me. Responsibilities bind you only till you are alive. The dead don’t answer to anyone.
I turn the corner and see the hostel in the distance. I suddenly become aware of my surroundings. The device is still clutched in my hand. I shakily put it away. How can I think this way?
I can’t run away from life like this. This is escapism. Running away from problems does not solve them. I take a deep breath. Would these things really matter once I’m gone?
What about the experiences life has to offer? What about the pleasures of living - the sights, the sounds, the tastes, the smells – the infinite range of experience that one calls life? Would I not miss them all? And the sufferings, I remind myself. The pains and miseries – I’d miss them all too.
It’s only desire – I tell myself. And the dead have no desire. Desire is the root of all pain, all suffering. Once you are gone there is no more desire, no more pain, no more suffering. No sights or sounds will call out to you then. You’ll be at peace finally.
I see three couples coming towards me on the street. I smile ruefully at my loneliness. I feel a small ache in my heart. The ache of a long lost love. The ache of the lack of companionship. That would be gone too, wouldn’t it?
I pass two of them in trance. My mind has passed into a state of numbness. I can’t think anymore. I can only feel. I can only experience.
My trance is broken by the last couple. I realize that I know them both. The boy exclaims loudly upon seeing me. He engages me in talk about the mundane worldly activities. These things are very important to him. Again a part of me detaches itself and observes. It wonders. It compares the things that the boy is talking about to the grand machinery of the world. It smiles at the difference of scale. Still, these things are so important to this boy. Outwardly I nod and smile, inwardly I’m hardly listening. I completely ignore the girl. I don’t know why.
I take their leave and walk on. The reverie has fallen away and is replaced by more worldly concerns. I find that I’m sweating even though the weather is cool. I’m afraid. Afraid that they might guess what I was thinking. Afraid that they might think I’m mad. Afraid that they might stop me.
Why not? I tell myself again. All that fear will be gone too. Nothing will be left.
A strange lightness fills my heart. I realize that I’m hungry. Perhaps the lack of glucose is making me so depressed. I proceed to the canteen, contemplating what I’d eat.
I order the most sumptuous meal available. I even have an ice cream and a chocolate for dessert. I return to my room. I put on some music. I switch off the lights and lay down on my bed. I take out the device and attach it to my temple. I close my eyes and switch it on.
My family floats into my vision – my mother and brother. I want to talk to them one last time, just like I do twice a week. My thoughts move to other people. I want to say something to each one of them. Relatives, friends – I have something to say to everyone. My thoughts then move to things – things that I want to do. It is an infinite world. Slowly everything fades away and pure melancholy fills my heart.
The Pink Floyd are singing – I . . . . have become . . . . comfortably numb. . . .
August 21, 2005