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An encounter

When life seems a burden and death a solution, an escape 

Atul, 22 years old, is ambivalent about life in general. Hailing from Bihar, he has a scattered family and is studying alone in Noida. Tall and lanky with a muscular frame, an expression of innocence hovers on his face like mist of an early morning.

He was ambivalent about committing suicide when he tried on the evening of 27 August. He chose a section of the Metro station that’s not under surveillance — obviously he’s a good strategist. He sought his demise in privacy, but also chose a Metro station to do it — a crowded public place. He wanted his body to be found without much delay and handed over to his folks.

He jumped on the track when the train was slowing down, and started running away from the train on the tracks, till it came to a grinding halt without hitting him. Some passersby pulled him back to the platform — I was one of them.

“Please don’t call the police,” he implored. They left him to his devices and boarded the train to complete their journeys. He was standing alone on the platform, numbed by his own action, when I approached him.

“There’s another train arriving in two minutes, better luck this time,” I said in a level tone. “It will come fast, you’ll be dead before you feel the pain.”

“Not today!” he said without any sign of ambivalence. I laughed aloud, he wasn’t joking. We started talking, I invited him for a cup of coffee.

We sat across the small round table. He was staring at oblivion, wasn’t in the mood for a conversation. “Are you an addict?” I asked. He was wearing tight Levis, a pair of leather chappals, a shirt that hung loose on his torso — the sweat marks formed concentric circles around his armpits. He smelled like a goat.

I repeated the question. I saw the blood veins emerging from the edges of his big clear eyes, soon brimming with tears that didn’t overflow. He just said tamely, but with much effort, “I’m stoned.”

We exchanged numbers before I paid an autorickshaw to take him home. “Send me a text when you reach home, unless you decide to try again,” I told him. He smiled, and re-asserted, “Not today!”

A week later, I call him and encouraged him to meet me over a glass of beer. He settled for a cup of coffee. The venue was a cafe at Sector 18, Noida.  He was there before time. He looked to be a man in control, a lot more communicative and expressive. Fairly articulate in English, he did his schooling from a leading public school in Delhi, was a boarder.

“Thanks for what you did for me. I was meaning to call you. But was a bit embarrassed to face you again,” he said. “I want to understand the circumstances that led you to a failed attempt to commit suicide,” I asked. He burst out laughing. Initially reluctant to talk but when he got going, there was no stopping him for the next half an hour.

Atul’s father died five years ago, mother is a government servant posted in Lucknow; elder brother is married and lives in Bangalore. He’s in the final year of graduation in a private university in Noida. He had an affair with his roomie for six months, but his secret partner didn’t just disown the whole affair, also blamed it on him, called him names and made it public — an alibi for moving out of the room they shared.

He was ridiculed for his sexual preference, though he claims to have had many female partners, even when he and his flatmate tacitly allowed each other to be physically manipulated.  “No one (in his peer group) asked him (the partner) why did he allow me to go on so long, if he abhorred the experience?” Atul sums up: “Perhaps, he was jealous of my girlfriend.”

All this while he was doping and drinking heavily. The same roomie he had a fling with introduced him to a drug peddler — another college mate who drives a big bike. He had the best stuff, good value for the exorbitant rates he’d charge.

Atul would pay out of his pocket money, which was grossly insufficient. The peddler claimed to be a friend, gave dope on credit, which piled up over the last year. He owes the peddler close to a lakh rupees. The day he attempted suicide, he was under severe pressure to pay up.

The peddler has stopped supplying dope on credit. He became desperate. He even slept with some rich aunties for money — though he hates it if you call him a ‘gigolo’. He stopped attending classes, flunked in the last semester.

Atul’s mother was informed, his brother came to see him – was told what was happening to him, though not the money part. He was moved out of the hostel and shifted to a rented room close to the house of a relative in Noida. The relative’s family encouraged to visit him at any time of the day, many times a day, without prior notice.

The peddler wants his money. He calls him many times a day. Atul started taking tuitions last month, but it will take a year to repay the debt. The peddler is not willing to wait. He felt so cornered that he decided to kill himself. “It’s not just the money that bothers me. It’s who I am. I don’t hate me but I don’t know who I am. I feel I’m residing in a stranger’s body,” he describes his predicament.

“Call your brother or your mother or both and tell them you owe this peddler money. They will surely bail you out. Ask them to treat it as a loan. They’d hate you for this but will understand,” was my advice to him.

In general, this is not specific to Atul: It’s good to be yourself. If you live in denial, you will appear stranger to your own self.