Sitting in a Bombay local train, a Local, I gazed blankly into space. It was off hours, so there was space to gaze blankly into. The train halted at a station, and my blank gaze fell onto the shine of steel rail under the window. It was a deep moment of truth, and the poem was conceived. There was a juxtaposition of two major themes. One was the history of blood and violence to which I had borne witness on more occasions than I like to remember. I had seen young men caught unawares as they jumped across the tracks in a hurry to get to the ‘Fast’ on the others side – and were hurled straight to that great Dombivali up in the sky instead. I had heard the awful wailing from the hutments that lined the other side of the tracks when yet another member of the tribe met his fate under the wheels of yet another speeding brown-and-yellow monster.
If the Locals were a powerful tool of death, why couldn’t they be manipulated for one’s personal convenience too?
The second was my own preoccupation with suicide, a preoccupation which sometimes worries me, but on other occasions (for example a few years ago when a book which listed practical methods of committing suicide stormed into the market and sold more copies worldwide than any other book in history, next only to the Bible) – I find reassuringly human and normal.
After all, isn’t suicide the ultimate weapon of control over one’s destiny, the only foolproof way of, to coin a phrase, saving one’s life permanently?
Although this poem was written several years ago, I only worked up the courage to have it published very recently. But back then, I gave it to Mukul Sharma to read. Mukul was at that time the editor of the erstwhile Science Today and I considered him a great benefactor, having published one of the very first pieces I ever wrote, along with my photograph. Although it was routine practice for Science Today to publish photographs of its contributors, at that time in my scheme of things, this was tantamount to having won the Booker Prize.
Mukul called me next day and returned it without saying anything. He reserved his comment for about six years, when I met him in Bangalore where he then lived. It was late at night and I had dropped in to say hello on my way to the airport.
“Do you remember that poem you once gave me to read,” he asked, “the one in which you tried to commit suicide? Did all that really happen?”
“No, of course not!” I guffawed.
“You had me worried there,” he went on.
I couldn’t understand how he could have imagined an autobiographical element in that poem, and told him so. He knew very well that I was particularly happy with life in those days, smugly considering myself successful and prosperous beyond belief.
“Well,” he justified his assumption, “look at Syliva Plath! She led a tortured life, and when she was happy and peaceful at last – that’s when she went and committed suicide.”
“Hmm,” I said, looking at my watch, “guess I’d better go and do it now.” We laughed, and I carried on to the airport, and have been taking it a day at a time since then. As you can see – it hasn’t happened yet.
first appeared as ‘Sweet side of suicide’ in Maharashtra Herald on 23 Nov 1997