Actually, he did not sleep even for a minute last night.
But as it happens on such occasions, he finds himself in the state of doubt.
Is he dreaming?
No, in a flash the horror comes back to him.
With a quick bath he is ready. It is just 6.30 in the morning.
“Have a cup of milk, Ashwin. Eat some biscuits. Even yesterday you did not eat anything, it will be very late for lunch,” his mother is pleading.
Ashwin tries to hide his disgust. With full knowledge of the situation how can she talk about food?
He just nods indicating emphatic ‘NO’.
“I will be there around 9.30, once Sharadabai finishes her work. I think it will not be late. When is Rajesh reaching?’ Mother asks.
“No idea. I will find out.” Ashwin is wondering what all these utterances mean
‘And she is worried more about the housemaid completing the work rather than …’ he thinks bitterly to himself.
He had been to Shantanu’s house a thousand times before, almost every day. But today it is different.
From playgroup to 12th class, they studied together, and only few months ago were separated by their academic interests. But every evening, whether it was 10.00 or 11.00, they met without fail. Constant SMSs, chats, emails were of course no alternative to this face to face meeting. There was absolutely nothing in Ashwin’s life which was not shared with Shantanu and Ashwin was sure that the same was true with Shantanu.
Now there will be no more sharing, no more fun, no more jokes. No more crying on Shantanu’s shoulders.
Because, Shantanu is no more.
The accident was fatal.
Ashwin still remembers those earnestly looking eyes of Shantanu. What was Shantanu thinking? What did he want to say? What happened to all those feelings, dreams, and experiences of Shantanu?
Hospitalization, Police inquiry, Coma, Life Saving Drugs, Ventilator and finally the lifeless body of his best friend …all this happening within 48 hours.
‘This can’t be true, I am having a bad dream’, Ashwin is trying to console himself.
But he remembers what happened in full daylight. Shantanu was driving Ashwin’s new bike and Ashwin was sharing a joke with him. Ashwin painfully recalls every detail - right from the moment that Red Maruti car suddenly raced towards their bike to doctor’s declaration of Shantanu’s death. Could he have done something different to save Shantanu? Every second was combination of hope and horror.
Miraculously, Ashwin does not have even a scratch on his body; he is feeling guilty for that.
Ashwin looks at the sky, ‘Where are you Shantanu?’ he cries to himself.
Is there life after death? - Ashwin wonders. Will Shantanu share it with me? – He wonders.
Ashwin reaches Shantanu’s home, the door is open.
“Come”, uncle says in a listless voice. He has grown years in one night, thinks Ashwin.
“Oh! Ashwin, you come very early indeed,” Raghav, Shantanu’s brother in law indicates an empty chair to Ashwin.
“Rachana, Ashwin is here, bring some tea for him,” orders uncle.
Ashwin is aghast.
Shantanu’s body is lying in the hospital. Rajeshbhayya is coming from Saudi, and then the funeral will take place. How could these people coolly talk about a cup of tea as if nothing has happened? Have they forgotten that Shantanu has passed away? Ashwin looks anxiously at them. For a moment he wishes Shantanu would come and they would move around, may be after a cup of tea. Realizing the truth, Ashwin sighs.
Aunty comes out. Her eyes are red and swollen. She does not look at Ashwin. She just sits there. Everybody is silent. No words spoken. No eye contact. Just sound of breaths of so many people.
Raghav picks up ‘Times of India’ and starts reading sports page. Ashwin is shocked. How he can read newspaper now, thinks Ashwin.
“When is Rajeshbhayya reaching?” Ashwin wants to say something and says so without knowing it.
“Oh! Due to that volcano eruption in Iceland, the flight schedule is completely disturbed. Don’t know whether Rajesh will be able to reach or not. Will wait for his message for few more hours and decide about the funeral around 10.00,” one relative informs. Ashwin nods without knowing what else to say. Someone is talking about the police report and someone else is talking about funeral arrangements.
Rachana comes with cups of tea. She smiles at Ashwin, a sad smile indicating her sorrow.
Uncle takes a sip and calls Rachana. “I need more milk in the tea, have you forgotten?’ he is not scolding Rachana but the unhappiness is clearly expressed.
Ashwin’s head is spinning. That his mother talked about food, he could understand to some extent – she is happy because her son is alive. But Shantanu’s parents and family members apparently not affected by his death is something with which Ashwin is unable to cope with.
“Whatever was to happen has happened. God prefers young and innocent. We cannot go against wishes of God. But the rest of us have to continue with life. The human body has its own cycle and it will demand food and sleep. Aunty suffers from diabetes; she should eat and not wait for the funeral. Uncle suffers from hypertension, he too has to eat something before his morning tablet.” Someone is talking in hushed tone to someone else in the now crowded room. Ashwin can not help hearing it. He is speechless. ‘I am useless;’ thinks Ashwin, ‘I cannot remind them of my best friend. How easily they forget the person after he passes away’ …
Ashwin places himself in the situation from a different angle.
Suppose, he was dead and Shantanu was alive. What would be the situation then? May be, the set would change, different actors would be involved but the scene would be almost the same. Then may be his father would want more sugar in his tea and aunty would visit his home after Kamalbai finished with her work! What would Shantanu feel? What would Shantanu do then? Would Shantanu laugh? Would Shantanu feel like he is feeling now?
Ashwin wants to run away; to run away from everybody who is associated with Shantanu. He wants to scream, he wants to cry, he wants to sleep. He wants someone to understand his pain. He wants to take revenge. He wants to rip apart everything, including himself. He wants to fight. He is getting violent. He is absolutely frightened. He wants to be consoled. He wants Shantanu back.
Ashwin wants to close his eyes and wants never to open it. He wants to die too. The realization that ‘Shantanu is dead’ hurts him again, shatters him completely. Ashwin is helpless.
And Ashwin realizes the futility of relations, the meaninglessness of feelings, the temporariness of achievements, and the shallowness of connections. The moment clearly shows him the core selfishness of human beings. The realization transforms Ashwin, it matures him.
‘It is after all just a drama’, Ashwin is thinking. ‘You play your role, the exit and entry of others does not really affect you. All pain and tears for loss of others is just a momentary feeling. Life moves on as they say and rightly too’.
Ashwin has a lump in throat; tears engulf the world around. He is in an infinite vacuum. His body trembles.
“What are you thinking Ashwin? Your tea is getting cold,” aunty reminds him softly. Ashwin was always impatient with Shantanu’s habit of drinking ‘cold’ tea. Ashwin avoids stare of Shantanu’s mother.
'You are lucky, Shantanu', Ashwin says to himself. 'Mate, you died in ignorance, which is indeed good. You escaped the reality that nobody is yours, you are born alone and you die alone… rather you live alone too without knowing it…Good for you man. I am happy that you did not have to suffer from this reality.'
Ashwin feels very lonely. He has to live with this wisdom and loneliness forever.
No escape for Ashwin.