Every day it takes me half hour to forty minutes, depending on the traffic, to reach work and to come back. The road is the same since 16 years, but my thoughts change when I drive on it, every day.
Immediately when I join the major ring road towards the highway, a restaurant on the roadside named “Ashwin” triggers my thoughts on a day. It reminds me of a friend. On a Sunday morning 19 years ago, my friend named Ashwin committed suicide. At that time, he was working for a year in a firm in Vapi, after earning a decent post graduate degree in Pharmaceutics. He was in love with a girl in the neighbourhood, and the girl, in her seventeen, was only a flirt. He was very sensitive, raised as the only son after two much elder daughters. Unable to receive a reciprocated response to his deep longing, he chose to work far from home. Without any friends nearby in that era of only telephonic connectivity, he did not sustain the trauma. His body was driven in an ambulance to Nagpur and a senior manager with an HR guy accompanied it. From their accounts we learned that Ashwin lived alone in the bachelor’s accommodation of the company in the factory campus. Since he did not turn up to the office without a notice, a colleague who dropped in the evening, saw a dead man. From small talks that we exchanged with his colleagues I learned that the doctor suspected a severe cardiac arrest. We knew well how the office must have covered it to avoid further investigation. We never discussed that with his parents. This hotel signboard reminds me of him. During holidays and at other times when I go to Nagpur I never gathered any courage to see his parents. Sometimes when passing them I wonder about the fragility of life, why bad things happen, and the limits of human endurance to stress, even after 19 years of the incidence. I’d always thought they might consider our meeting them bitter, erupting their sorrows, intrusive, maybe unwelcome.
As I drive forward, the intersection of the ring road with the highway makes me think weird. The meaning of life, coping with failures, my roles as a family man and a professional, the luck of timing, strategies of happiness, the futility and significance of what I do. Sometimes the music or stories on my car audio mingles with my thoughts and lead them to a memory or a plan. There is always something that drives me.
New buildings are getting constructed beside a curve on the highway-bound exit road, approximately half-way from my office, and my cell phone pops up with a message. I know the timing, and the messenger. He is Abhijit, a friend sitting in Iowa City. A guy who was studying biotechnology masters when we were studying in University. He happened to be the University topper, and hence appointed the Students club president. A plump and fair guy, who was always smiling face and ready to help. He always cycled to our department, met us during recess, and organized many good literary and scientific events on campus. We always participated in such events since it allowed us to bunk classes with official permissions. But he was genuinely interested in these events. His enthusiasm, friendliness, and maturity always amused us. A day after an event, we dropped him home. Called inside by him, I met his grandmother who was bedridden, his only connection to home.
The old lady had suffered a massive stroke attack two years ago, when her son and daughter-in-law died in a road accident. We came to know from her, this teenaged boy had looked after her and worked part-time to fund his education. His father had left them only a shop nearby, which they have rented to fulfil the daily expenses and rent of the house where they lived. From our half an hour stop at his home, we learned how caring and friendly he was and that how their neighbours reciprocated his maturity and gayety and looked after his grandmother when he went to University. We were so ashamed of ourselves, for making fun of him for his miserly ways and his plumpy stature. Shortly after that meeting, we met him in his department, he brushed aside our apologies, saying life goes on and it should always be meaningful. The day he finished his post-graduation, his grandmother died. He went on, as cheerful as always. Last we met him in Delhi, where he was pursuing doctorate studies in NII. A professor in Iowa State University, he got connected to each of us once the internet started connecting people world over. I heard he married a handicapped American African colleague who is as cheerful as he is.
The thoughts that appear in my mind are of friends who are now world apart. This is unfortunately the nature of human nature that they respond too differently to what life offers to them. The choices we make- to every question of life- are our greatest gift to our future. We see people choosing hope over doom, and they inspire us: the people around us teach us a lot, a lifelong school that teaches us every day after we receive degrees. Parts of such stories always stay with us reminding us to make wise decisions…for all of us although at different times in our life journey.
Since my childhood, I know a lot of people, their lives, hopes, and frustrations. These people keep moving in my mind, along with my work schedule, priorities, my family, and myself. After so many years of life, I should realize how everything links, but I don’t. I see new things and old things reappear daily. Going to work, I feel what I should do to make something happen today. On the way home I always feel how I might have acted differently for the good. Every day, I feel I cannot control it.
I start from home, need to reach work and come back home. I drive the car, and the thoughts drive me.
Every day I think.