Dated: 10 Nov 2000 (Class XI)
“Twelve cops killed in Nepal clash”, “Bengal annex hockey title” … and well, it seems, “Suicide attempt by 1998 Madhyamik Calcutta topper”! It was the last news that made me jump to my feet, as I was glancing through the newspaper headlines before leaving for the school. Hey, didn’t I read the name Akash? Akash Bhattacharya? But why on the earth would he …. No, the idea seemed preposterous!
As I stood sweating in the overcrowded public bus heading Bhavanipur, where he lived, I wondered what left this amiable, tender-hearted, bit impractical but imaginative and versatile young boy without an option. A bright, happy collage of our childhood days flashed across my eyes. To think of the numerous afternoons we had spent together! The passionate discussions about Satyajit Ray, Shombhu Mitra, Lopamudra and Srikanto Acharya ….. about Spanish guitars and mouth organs, about the poems of Joy Goswami… putting in brief, what not! A couple of years older than me, Akash was then my next door neighbor and my best friend in the world. With a superficial air of seriousness and introversion, he was known by the entire circle of his acquaintances as an ideal “good boy” – rather, a bookworm. Who but me had realized that his true self was a hidden treasure-once you take the pain to dig it out, the wealth dazzles your senses! Akash had the heart of a creator. He had good potential in fine arts and music, and he secretly wrote wonderful poems too. Though it was primarily his exam scores for which he was cited as an ideal among his cousins and classmates. I still remember how boastful his parents were when Akash was declared District Topper in the Secondary exams’98.
And precisely, that was the point where the problem begun! Akash wished to take up fine arts as his career and continue his studies at Shantiniketan. After ten long years of crazy pursuit for the first position in the class, his heart was crying out for a change. His eyes had grown sick of the lugubrious world of trigonometry and algebra. The creator in him wanted to unmask itself before the world. Huh! Poor boy! Like many other parents, auntie and uncle too burdened his tired shoulders once again with ‘their’ own dreams, waving off those of his a “totally unrealistic, unrewarding and silly”. It may have been a question of their family prestige as well!Henceforth my peace-loving and obedient friend throttled his own dreams and took up Science for his plus two. He had never learnt to raise his voice against his parents – he simply couldn’t hurt anyone, apart from himself.
It has been quite a couple of years since then. Within a few months, Dad bought this new flat in Salt Lake, and our family shifted from Bhavanipur. It was painful indeed, but you know, time is the best healer. The last time when we met, I had asked him, “Akash, don’t you still write poems?” His answer, accompanied by a faint smile, had left me stunned. “Sanchari, where’s the time now! All these mechanics and electrical and chemistry have occupied so much of my life. And it has been months since I have touched my drawing brush…” .
It was around half past eleven in the morning when I reached Bhavanipur. My heart quivered a bit while knocking the door. It was auntie who opened. Her very face told me that she had not recovered from the shock. Seeing me, auntie burst into tears – tears so helpless that I could hardly hold back mine. How could I possibly console a mother whose only child wanted to embrace death!
As I entered my friend’s study where he had encapsulated himself since that cursed day, my heart missed a beat. For there I saw Akash, gazing blankly through the window at sheer nothingness, and he had the looks of an exhausted soldier who had lost his battle. His face and his dreamless eyes were those of the sky which had been robbed of its freshness by tainted shrouds of smoke. For a moment I didn’t know how to confront him. Then I slowly moved forward to rest my fingers on his shoulder. Akash turned at me - his face darkened with shame and pain. A painful lump was forming in my throat too, and I could merely utter, “Akash, you were my inspiration in life … did you ever realize that?”
And then he spoke… gravely, with long pauses in between.” Sanchari, believe me - I could bear it no more. All this rat race and daily tensions were burning me out. The Higher Secondary was not good enough, nor do I hope to make it in the IIT this year, though Ma and Baba seem very optimistic. Sanchari, I stand nowhere today. My song, my art and my poems are all finished … these terrible formulae and postulates have killed them all. And now that they have prevented me from dying, I simply don’t know what to do with this damned life of mine. I feel like a caged bird Sanchari, and I was merely seeking my freedom.”
Akash’s words made my heart bleed. I wondered why a degree in engineering or medical seemed to be have emerged as the only parameters to gauge the potential of students. I made no further attempt to offer him my sympathy. Instead I spent the next few hours in conversation with Auntie and Uncle. It was a Herculean task to bring them round to my point of view, but finally I succeeded.
That afternoon, when I finally imparted the message to Akash, with the words “O my dear friend, let me tell you that your feet are no longer chained. Just step out of the cage, and see the huge sky that awaits your flight- the flight of a budding artist …”, can you guess what was the reaction of this stupid friend of mine?
Well, he just laid his palm upon mine, and wept like a little boy.