Persuasion

I still remember that Saturday night. Or maybe it was a Friday night.

Rajesh and I had spent most of the evening together, as we had been doing with more and more frequency over the previous months. After work, I had headed home, showered and changed and took a cab to Savera. It was our regular haunt. I waved politely at the parrot fortune teller and his parrot Ganesha, who were seated just outside the bar entrance. As usual, Rajesh was already there when I reached. He would drive to the bar straight from his job, not stopping off at home before he did. He was nursing a large rum and coke when I came in. The usual.

Perfunctory cheers and we were off. The mood was somber, the drinks were strong, but not strong enough. He was on one of his self-pitying moods again, talking about he wanted to end it all. We had been down this road before – many, many times. It was turning out to be quite the dampener again.

Suddenly he sat upright and set down his drink forcefully, clearly believing that he had a point to make.

“Give me one reason why I should not kill myself!” He was almost daring me.

I chuckled, pretty aware of how this part of the evening would go.

“Me. Ravi. Sam. We care for you very much.”

“So?”

“Well, if you killed yourself, imagine the anguish you would be putting us through.”

“Aha! You are thinking selfishly. I asked you for a reason for why I should not kill myself, but you are only thinking of how it would make you feel afterwards. People die every day. In almost all cases, the friends move on, after a while perhaps. But they do move on.” He grunted. “Pathetic reason.”

“What about your sisters and your brother? You know he looks up to you?”

“He used to. Now he is starting college and has no time for me. When he was young and impressionable, he thought I was the cats whiskers. But now that he is in college, he is meeting genuinely cool people, not fakers like me, and he has his own clique and guys he hangs with now.”

“Your sisters?”

“Yes, they love me in a sibling way, but its nothing special. Sindhu is married and is fully busy with her husband and son. Raji is going out with that guy from her office. It seems like true love. My parents are ok with it too. She doesnt have time for me at all. Yes, i guess they will both be taken aback, but it wont make any big difference in their lives.”

“Well, what about your work? I know you’re brilliant at it. I met your boss at that thing the other day and was all over you. They all look at you at some kind of genius at work.”

“Its fuck-all, man. They are all full of it at work. Yeah, the problem solving is easy for me. And I seem to be quicker at it than all the other retards. But it doesnt give me any pleasure. Do you think I should continue to do something just because I am good at it? Do you think it means I owe” – and he applied a false emphasis on this word ” it to people to do something cos Im good at it? Does my being miserable have no importance here?” He looked deep into his drink. “Nobody owes anyone anything, da.”

“Well, what about me? I am your closest friend. Dont you think you should give my feelings some consideration?” I put in a trace of a plead here, knowing that was what he wanted. Usually.

He looked me in the eye and said coldly. “What do your words even mean? Close. Feelings? How long will you be upset if I die? A week? A month? A year? And how often will you be upset? It isnt as if your life will come screeching to a halt. Yes, every now and then, especially when you come here to drink, you might think of me for a moment. But that is all it is. ” He saw my face fall and hastened to add. “Dont get me wrong. I just think its the nature of humans. Nothing against you.”

I shook my head and signalled for another round of drinks. It was going to be a long night apparently and part of me wished we had not come to this bar. We knew the owner and he always allowed us to go on drinking after the bar had closed. Today I didnt think I had the stamina to endure that.

We sat quietly for a while, him morose and me wondering how i could tactfully tell him off. Truth be told, he was quite sensitive in this self-pity mode. Another drink and he would be off and running about Kavitha. The drama of that relationship. Not only had I been with him through all those crazy days and nights but I had had to listen to him repeat his recollections over countless bottles of Old Monk.

“So, are you going to come to my place to watch the cricket tomorrow? Sehwag is fit.” I asked, after what I thought was a decent enough interval of time to justify a change of topic, hoping that mentioning his favourite player would cheer him up.

He jerked his head up. “What? What the fuck, Shankar? Have you been listening to anything I said tonight? Here I am talking about thinking of killing myself and you are asking about some stupid cricket match? What do you think, I’m just blabbering?”

“Er..no…Umm…I just saw an ad on the TV,” I pointed to the set behind him in the bar,”and remembered it. Thats all.”

“Its really cruel and insensitive to change topics like that. As if I was just some pathetic drunk in a bar rambling.”

Which he was.

Afterwards, we sat in his car, outside my house. The air was still and there was almost no noise at all. We had driven relatively quietly, his admonishment in the bar ruling out any chance of chit chat, mandating that I too assume the same somber mood he was in.

As I made to open the door to leave, he put his hand on my shoulder and said softly, “Shankar. One minute.”

I turned to look. “Yes da?”

“All this time, I have been telling you that I think its time to kill myself. I have no needs, no desires, no hopes, no skills…I just have no reason for going on.”

Stifling a yawn and an inward groan, I settled back in my seat. “What about-“

“Dont start with the stuff you were saying in the bar. It is extremely self-centered to ask me to live because other people love me, because you guys will miss me, because some stupid job makes me happy once in a while. The truth is that most people on earth have no purpose. They are born, they grow up and they die. They dont achieve anything, they just end up taking space. Getting married, having a kid…these are not special achievements! They are just little things people do to avoid the emptiness in their lives.”

He said softly, “You can’t say that I should stay alive because of you. I have to stay alive because of me, and I can’t find a reason to live. If you can come up with a reason why I shouldn’t kill myself, I won’t do it.”

We sat in the car for a long time without speaking. I could not come up with one reason that would convince him. I was also very tired, I had a long day the next day and was planning to watch the cricket match, whether Rajesh wanted to or not. I struggled to stay awake, but part of me was also slightly unsettled that I couldnt come up with a viable reason.

After a while, I opened the door and went to my house.

The next morning, when his father called me, I knew. I spoke a few brief words to his father and went back to watching the cricket. Sehwag was batting. I cant remember how much he made that day.

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