Month: July 2015

A Hate Story by Debashish Bhattacharya

Today I am going to share with you a story of hate nourished by a man who was born weak and shy but grew to become someone whom millions admired if not actually worshipped. He was born to a vegetarian family with devout parents who practiced vegetarianism and non violence as they were Vaishnavites. At his early teens some of his friends introduced him to meat eating and he developed a taste for those dishes. His father loved him very much and what’s more had great faith in him. Because the boy hated lies.

However, a few weeks later the little guy felt bad that he was hiding his meat eating from his parents and decided to tell his father about it. Meanwhile his father fell ill and the boy started nursing him after coming home from school. One day when he was tired of fighting with his conscience and still too afraid to tell his father he wrote down his story on a piece of paper and silently offered his father to read. His father started reading the note, then sat up in excitement, and at the end he looked at his dear son with tears streaming down his eyes. He did not utter a single word of admonition.

The son took oath to himself that he would never compromise with his conscience again in life. Vegetarianism was not the point, he was mortified that he had caused so much pain to his loving father by suppressing the truth.

The boy hated the devil who was responsible for all this.

The boy was made to enter a marriage at a very early age, owing to the custom of his community. He treated his wife during his puberty with a combination of usual factors, male domination, sexual curiosity and a complete lack of proper understanding and training to cope with married life. While nursing his father in the nights once the latter was in sickbed he invariably grew impatient for meeting his very young wife in bed and later felt terribly guilty for this. He often told in later years that he might have helped his wife with learning if he were not an immature teenager. He became a staunch opponent of child marriage.

So the little guy was always at odds with his conscience, always falling by his own standard and hating himself for it. He was a traiditionally trained kid from a western Indian household with very old moral beliefs and practices.  However, he was too clever and analytical to merely play by the rules and he wanted to create new rules for himself.

The boy grew up to be a lawyer though he could hardly practiced law in the court due to a nervousness to speak in public. He took up a job in a distant country in a different continent where his job was to protect Indian businessmen from bullying and dominating white people. One day while travelling in a first class carriage he was thrown out without any excuse by the white ticket checker and he was forced to spend a winter night in a cold railway platform in an unknown place. He was thrown out at the behest of a white fellow passanger who would not agree to travel with a black guy in the same compartment.

The anger and hate he felt that night started him on to a journey which became history known by all of us. The man was steeled by a conscious hate, hate for untruth, cruelty, violence and compromise. Good or bad, you take him or reject him, he makes us feel shocked or inspired or both, by his lifelong experiments with truth.

The shy, weak, awkward, tongued tied idiot turned into a charismatic leader of million hearts who followed him almost blindly and possibly caused more harm to themselves and him than the devil himself who had been his enemy. His hate found a way to prepare for rectifying the wrongs, to mitigate the injustices and cruelties inflicted by the powerful on the weak.

He had the courage to stand against the whole world when he took on himself to follow a new lifestyle and new values. He declared war against the most powerful and feared colonial maritime power in the world and at the same time was on friendliest terms personally with many of his enemies as individuals.

I had not the privilege of seeing this man myself but his My Experiments With Truth kept me spellbound. I am not a follower of non violence, non cooperation and political what’snot woven by him to mobilise the nation in the stormy decades of twenties to forties but I fell in love with his simple ascetic anger and resentment against whatever is not true, not genuine, not fair.

We know umpteenth number of cases of hate turning good souls into monsters. Psychologists and doctors, prophets and artists all urge us to build our lives on love and hope. We have also see in our every day lives how many lives get ruined by hate. But my dear friends, hate can be a great motivator which can teach us a lesson or two in turning around and fighting against our enemies. Because the world sometimes cries for action and fighting back.

I am also very proud for the fact that I belong to the same nation which created this man. I do not know of any other country which earned its freedom from very powerful opponents by taking the prescription of non violence. Don’t kid yourselves thinking he was a nutcase because he was shrewd and calculating in his struggle and his farmer’s dress and singing Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram with others all had a brilliant method in the madness. It’s a unique case study for IIMs and Ivey league management institutes. He made his message and action simple, focussed and unwavering. Once the bunch of blood thirsty journalists asked him what was coming after the war.

They wanted to know his plans of India’s indepedence after Second World War ended. He smiled and replied: Peace.

He was the most hated person not only by the diehard colonialists and imperialists but also by the people in his own country who hated him for another reason. He was viewed by them as an aider and abetter of Muslims. We can never imagine sitting in 2015 the intensity and scale of animosity between the fundamentalists in both Hindu and Muslim camps in the late ’40s.

Few days before his death he was touring the riot torn districts of undivided Bengal, going deep into the remote and directly affected areas, talking, counselling, listening, trying to soothe and advise.

He was the mentor of the people ruling India but he took no seat or title, except the name given to him by people themselves, the Father of the Nation.

He was light years away from power, wealth, ego, living a frugal eccentric life on vegetables and goat’s milk, trying to be with the people.

The point of hate comes back to the story of his last moments, the shot fired by a fanatic Hindu to end another greater hate story.

He made hate his weapon, is it because of that he had to be erased from life by hate itself, was it a fate accompli from the beginning?

Or is he still around?

Never Let Me Go by Debashish Bhattacharya

I sit before my coffee and think of the unknown faces who are committing suicides every forty seconds. Men or women, poor or rich, young or aged, they all take their lives by their own hands or volition. They have all been sharing the same world, same sunlight and rain, same space and ecosphere with me. While I am drinking my coffee they stand on tiptoes on the edge and drop silently down into the abyss of darkness. Never to be found again.

I remember an aunt of mine called Sujata who was the first suicide case in my life. I was a seventeen year old kid who divided his time between poetry and fighting occasionally the tough kids in the neighbourhood. I did not know death till then, let alone suicide except in pages of books or distant places like someone else’s life. Sujata was about thirty five with a fifteen year old daughter, with a broken marriage and an increasingly complicated emotional life. Her parents and family did not approve of her failure to manage her marriage and blamed her for it. The male members in her family started taking advantage of her because she was financially weak and not so well educated either. The only link she and I had in common, outside being family by blood, was poetry and fiction, a craving for imaginative adventures.

Many a night we two crowded each other in a lonely corner of the roof or the spiral staircase to talk about the books we read, shared jokes and a warm friendly conversation that was more of peer group buddies than aunt and nephew. She was dear to me on another count too, she was a devastatingly creative chef and cooked me foods which none other could think of.

I told her often, dear aunt, why don’t you start writing stories yourself and she told me how at the age of seventeen she had written a 30 page incomplete love story in secret only to be discovered and shamed publicly by her family.

This unfortunate case of an incomplete love story caused her parents to force her into a marriage she did not want to enter, with an unknown clerk of Calcutta Municipal Corporation who was a decade and a half older to her and quintessentially opposite to her in tastes and character. The two completely different animals lived together for some years, with a lot of stress generated which embittered both of them towards each other. The only fruit of the marriage, my cousin Suvra, was born to unhappiness and by dint of her unfortunate parental relationship and continuous stress from early years was fated to enter deeper unhappiness in later life.

At seventeen I came face to face with suicidal death when one winter evening, raining and smoky, my father took me to a hospital where in a general ward full of sick people of different descriptions my fair and sensitive aunt was lying in an iron bedstead, with oxygen mask fitted to her face, in death agony. That imprinted a picture on my memory for good, a picture of utter hopelessness and lonely despair. I don’t know why I was attacked beside her deathbed not by hopelessness but by an intense sensation of love, love for my unfortunate aunt, love for the other men and women in the ward, even for the sulky nurses doing their rounds of duty in that sordid hall of suffering. Much later I realised that I was in fact being seized by the vibes sent by my aunt in her last moments, her pains and desires for life and love came overflowing me, took over my consciousness and fought to survive for the last time.

At the age of forty five while reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go the feelings came back to me in a strangely reinforced way, I saw the “clones”, the hapless boys and girls being brought up with a special plan to donate body organs for other more fortunate people on earth, to die bit by bit and day by day, and nonetheless cherishing their private dreams of love and desires in their cold, poorly heated, unloved living quarters.

I had a difficult time, despite the initial surge of love, to cope with the suicide of my aunt. She had taken dangerous doses of sleeping pills, I came to learn later, in fact she had made two unsuccessful attempts earlier too, not taken seriously by her relatives and friends. In her last days she was living alone in a small flat in north Calcutta, trying to earn her livelihood by providing home service of food to poor students, impoverished clerks, unhappy bachelors or divorcees, and to some other people she could identify as clients. A couple of males pretending to be lovers hovered over her vulnerability and innocence, the latter rudely ridiculed by all as utter foolishness of a woman who would never grow up..

Two or three years later came Barin who was in same class of the college with me, a dark, awkward, lanky youth whose father had been a grocer and who wanted to study literature because he felt a yearning for it. Barin, however, had had an inadequate training in languages and other subjects and he was a social misfit in our class, most of the others being smart, reasonably well read and exhibitionist of one kind or other. He sensed some kinship or sympathy in me and therefore tried to force himself on me despite the open rudeness and neglect from others including some of my friends. I sensed his need for friendship but what I offered him in return was perhaps a fraction of what he deserved. Being immature myself I tolerated him but did not hold his hand because that would be looked askance by my peers.

After six months or so there was an incident in the class in which Barin was insulted by some others and he created a big scene which was all very enjoyable to us boys. I tried to talk to him later offline but he turned down my sympathy. He said, I know you all, you all look down upon me because I dress and talk in a different way and have not read the books you may have read. But you do not want to help me, talk to me so I will no longer ask for your time any more.

Barin became very distant to me for  a few months, and then one day he met me at the bus stop after college hours and came near me saying, Debashish, I will share with you something, do you know I am in love with a girl and I am so happy I have found somebody to share my feelings ….I couldn’t resist sharing this with you, please do not discuss with the others.

The next three to four months I observed he was increasingly at peace with himself, his awkwardness and edginess markedly gone, his smiles and confidence surprised everybody, even class tests were going better.

At the end of four months Barin stopped coming to the college. Nobody really bothered. I was the only guy who kept thinking about him so after a fortnight or so I took a bus and went to the locality in east Calcutta taking his address from the college administration office.

I reached his house which was very small, located in a congested area full of slums and too narrow lanes and bylanes, surrounded by ill maintained ponds, in the morning. Entering, I saw an elderly man sitting on the floor with his head down and hidden in both his hands and a number of people around him crying and grieving together.

The elderly man whom I discovered to be Barin’s father told me his son had committed suicide a couple of days ago only.

I talked to one of his brothers and was told that Barin killed himself by swallowing kerosene and the reason was an unhappy love affair.

That night I dreamt of Barin following me in a strange solitary night lit by a very pale moon, only two of us, he was walking very slowly like an invalid and trying to catch up with me. As it happens in dreams, sometime later he cought up and asked me to stop. I turned round waiting for him, he came tottering and then hugged me suddenly, I smelled kerosene on his breath and heard him whispering to me, please don’t let me go, nobody loves me.

Barin still comes back to me in my dream sometimes, though it is becoming scarcer now.

Suicide is something you and I know to be part of life but do not very well know how to face or handle if it happens within our boundary. Money, health, joblessness, sexual jealousy, impotence to achieve your desires or dreams there are so many reasons in the list. Psychiatrists will talk of mental and psycho neurotic disorders, bipolar and other problems. But the teenager who bid the world adieu to escape a poor marksheet, the groggy old lady at your street corner who takes too many sleeping pills in the middle of night writing to her son ” Son I free you from worries about your poor mom”, the young woman who became famous poet and yet saw her love life crumbling before her eyes, her poet husband going after other women for sex and company, she put her head in a winter night under the gas tube and took the inevitable, are all telling us the same story that they were alone and helpless, that they needed human affection and support, that they should have been stopped from what they were doing to themselves.

“I am terrified by the dark thing that sleeps in me. All day I feel its feathery turnings, its malignity.”….Sylvia Plath

“I am constantly torn between killing myself and killing everyone around me”……David Levithan

“But in the end one needs more courage to live than kill himself”…….Albert Camus

The feeling of dying every day, in your career and personal life, at home and outside, forces one to chose death over life. This may come from a sudden impulse born out of a feeling of emptiness or may take long to build up inside you and at the end you say, O hell, let’s get it over here and now. The candle of love is very private, it burns there day in and day out but we often do not get to feel its light and warmth sufficiently so that we can whistle away the dark thoughts. A little patience from a known friend, a little handholding from another human being can go a long way to help someone in distress, someone heading for suicide.

And why human alone? Even animals and plants can relieve one’s heightening stress and loneliness. Dogs are increasingly used in Europe and the United States to give company to the lonely and the aged people, to the physically handicapped and mentally challenged too.

Saul Bellow writes of a New York crime den where a crazy professor starts teaching poetry to the local youth and as a result the crime rate declines, the teenagers take to Shakespeare and Blake like duck takes to water, forget their fight for sex, drugs and territorry.

I spoke to a good friend who has been putting in some dedicated time and work to provide hope and support to people in distress and especially those who may attempt suicides. Her take on this is:

“Suicide is a “spiritual crime” in that we are not meant to drop out of the “school of life” as we please. Learning experiences need to be made. If we cut this life short, we will have to make those experiences somewhere else at another time.

Let’s count our blessings and all the good things that have been given to us. We never have to face anything we aren’t strong enough for. Who would want to start again from scratch, perhaps in a less favourable environment?

Be unselfish and think about those you would leave behind. Do you want to cause more suffering? Remember that many people’s hopes rest on you. Face adversity and set an example in bravery and resilience. ”

Let me conclude with the story from Agatha Christie’s Mysterious Mister Quin which must not be amiss when we are talking of suicide. The story was about a strange love affair of a Spanish girl who married an English swimmer and sportsman who loved her like a mad man. His love was genuine but it became so possessive and morbid that he would not let her go out of his sights. The jealousy made him blind and he often tortured her physically to keep her tame. This led to violent rows and the girl was falling out of love with her husband. They lived in a cottage on a creek and a violent sea down below the creek. One stormy night the husband went for a swim – he was vain to the point of absurdity, and never returned. One never knows if this was also a veiled, indirect suicide. Because the man had been suffering most intensely. He saw his love turning malignant but couldn’t stop himself. The woman got the bully out of her life by providence but she began to force herself into an isolation in the cottage perhaps due to a guilty feeling that her secret wish had in fact killed him. She lived in that cottage alone with only a maid to attend her, the windows and doors always kept closed and shuttered and no visitor entertained or accepted. Mister Quin, the symbolical harlequin who was really mysterious, appointed his human agent and friend Satterthwaite to fix things where need be. Satterthwaite was an old bachelor given to good tastes in food, lifestyle, art and music, and an insatiable curiosity about human life and its mysteries. Satterthwaite came to this house on the creek bidden by Mister Quin and after a bit of investigation by his own method came to know that a suicide was going to happen on the creek again. The woman was going to throw herself into the sea to end her agony. He was right there at that moment and told her – she was very angry because he was interrupting her plan – that the sea would return her love in a different form soon. She would be needed to care for someone whom providence would bring her way and if she took her life now that person would be orphaned, it was she who was chosen to look after him with care and love.

I will not tell you the rest, you must find it out yourself.

If some of us can remember this the world may have fewer suicides and some of the suicide failures may turn into suicide preventers themselves.


Some relevant data for my readers here below.

Suicide Statistics ( Source: World Health Organisation)

Background

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that each year approximately one million people die from suicide, which represents a global mortality rate of 16 people per 100,000 or one death every 40 seconds. It is predicted that by 2020 the rate of death will increase to one every 20 seconds.

The WHO further reports that:

In the last 45 years suicide rates have increased by 60% worldwide. Suicide is now among the three leading causes of death among those aged 15-44 (male and female). Suicide attempts are up to 20 times more frequent than completed suicides.
Although suicide rates have traditionally been highest amongst elderly males, rates among young people have been increasing to such an extent that they are now the group at highest risk in a third of all countries.
Mental health disorders (particularly depression and substance abuse) are associated with more than 90% of all cases of suicide.
However, suicide results from many complex sociocultural factors and is more likely to occur during periods of socioeconomic, family and individual crisis (e.g. loss of a loved one, unemployment, sexual orientation, difficulties with developing one’s identity, disassociation from one’s community or other social/belief group, and honour).
The WHO also states that:

In Europe, particularly Eastern Europe, the highest suicide rates are reported for both men and women.
The Eastern Mediterranean Region and Central Asia republics have the lowest suicide rates.
Nearly 30% of all suicides worldwide occur in India and China.
Suicides globally by age are as follows: 55% are aged between 15 to 44 years and 45% are aged 45 years and over.
Youth suicide is increasing at the greatest rate.
In the US, the Centre of Disease Control and Prevention reports that:

Overall, suicide is the eleventh leading cause of death for all US Americans, and is the third leading cause of death for young people 15-24 years.
Although suicide is a serious problem among the young and adults, death rates continue to be highest among older adults ages 65 years and over.
Males are four times more likely to die from suicide than are females. However, females are more likely to attempt suicide than are males.

Three Love Stories by Debashish Bhattacharya

I met some strangers in a club ( or was it pub) who wanted the newcomers to introduce themselves through short speeches. Something like Toastmasters do in their maiden speech called Icebreakers.

I could just go ahead with my food and drinks and ignore the choice of making friends with strangers. But I chose to please them and follow their rules and tried to tell them who I am through a chain of love stories.

The day was cloudy and sometime interspersed with intermittent rain. So I said, friends I come from a city where monsoon is the queen of seasons. We love, hate, eat and drink, fear and pray in the rain. All we do have a smell of rain clinging to them. So I will share with you some of my experiences which will have an association with rain like today because the three events all happened in the rain. They said, how interesting.

Then I told them I was going to share three experiences which had a theme all through. All three were love stories and helped me to find myself out, who am I and all that. I warned them not to expect uniquely new stuff as my stories would be in one way or another their stories too.

Then I started telling the stories.

Way back when I was twenty two years old and writing freelance articles and news stories in different Indian newspapers I met a very young girl with whom I fell in love most violently. She was a dancer, gave performances near Victoria Memorial and Park Street localities inhabited by Anglo Indians and cosmopolitan people. An Eurasian herself she looked and danced like a proper fairy, I saw her first in the monsoon and had my heart pierced by the arrow of naughty cupid.

She was an orphan. We roamed around in early dawns and mellow evenings hand in hand, softly whispering to each other utter fooleries and soft rubbish. The sprawling maidan lay around us like the monarchies we owned with lights of Chowringhee and Park Street twinkiling a little further. I lived through a fairy tale for a few weeks. And then something went wrong, the girl had some problem in her legs which became serious causing pain and inability to dance, let alone walk. The distant uncles were too busy to arrange proper medical care. I saw her withering and depressed and fading away day by day, week by week.

One day I became desperate, stormed into her uncles’ places and demanded immediate action. I took appointment with known surgeons who  were bullied and coaxed alternatively by me, probably assuming they were dealing with a lunatic. At the end the uncles were forced to decide action for their niece, put together funds, surgeons came together and finally the girl underwent an operation which was successful. I saw her in the hospital with flowers, she took my hands and eyed me as if in a dream. Well the love story must have ended in marriage or separation  either?

No my friends the story ended into my finding out my strength and determination. It showed me who I was and what I could do for my passion. An unrequited love, was it? No neither that. How can we marry or divorce where the heroine was not human flesh and blood but the fairy who danced atop the great Victoria Memorial. Her uncles were none other than trustees and directors of the heritage building. The surgeons and doctors were distinguished engineers from CMERI Durgapur. What I did was creating a storm through my news exposures through a local daily. A series of articles of the sad state of affairs going unattended and crying for action.

The fairy started dancing again and I moved on my journey of love.

The second love story also happened in another rainy day, when I was a few years older, while passing through Santiniketan Vishwabhatati campus I heard a female voice singing Tagore songs in a full moon night. She was singing with her friends in one of the rooms of Sangeet Bhavan, the music college. I did not understand the impact but felt a pain in my chest. I smelled wet flowers and plants around me creeping like tendrils of the tunes she sang. Her voice had a drunken quality and a faint hint of a lilt and these were enough to kill me in a single shot. I promised to myself then and there to marry the girl who was singing, whom I had not yet seen or known even distantly, and didn’t have an inkling who she was.

Gambling with myself I entered the room and my life turned a new page. I married her after a determined wooing of three months overcoming highs and lows and roadblocks I would better not describe to you here. The love story I am sharing with you tought me the lessons of home and team building. Of expanding myself through one woman first then through the offsprings, learning to ride together and share deeply and dangerously the life and space of our existence. The story, however, began with a voice and with a song. That’s what I would request you to remember.

The third story is from when I was thirty five or so. I had a very busy job with a multinational corporation whose branding I managed. I had to do a lot of travelling and often I missed to attend school functions, games and even birthdays of my son, a six year old kid who was unusually perceptive and observant.

On an evening of his birthday despite his request and my promise to attend I was very late in coming home only to see a panick stricken crowd at the gate of my house to greet me. My wife came rushing and whispered to me Tipu ( my son) has gone out without telling us, he is lost and started crying.

I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and tried to be calm. After a while I started my car and drove to a park a mile away where I used to take my son some free afternoons. It was drizzling then, I had no umbrella, going through the dark alleyways of the park I watched the benches where he was not to be found. My heart almost came to a stop but then lo and behold there he was, sitting on the wet grounds, near a thick bush, I went near him and called his name in soft voice. He looked up with wet eyes and he said “Bepu I knew you would be coming here”.

I discovered at that very moment that the lover boy had become a father and suddenly my eyes became wet too at the thought of too many children around me, unseen and unknown till then, waiting to be loved, heard, seen, touched and handheld.

I take your leave my friends now but I am sure I could make my point to you through these love stories. I am sure you all can tell stories of this kind which happened to you but can be shared and perceived with sympathetic strangers.

The strangers looked like they were hearing their own experiences reenacted before them. We all felt we were strangers no more.

Written on 25 July, 2015