I have been thinking a lot about death since Raj Kumar passed away last year. He was a close friend. We wrote a film script together a few years ago. The story was centered on how intricately interwoven all our lives are. We were sure that it would have been the first of our many creative collaborations. Eventually, he wanted to travel the world and document people’s lives. And I wanted to move to a hill station and work in ornithology.
But things didn’t work out the way as we had planned it. The movie production was indefinitely stalled, and we had to go our separate ways. Still, we kept in touch since he had nurtured a passion for birding by then.
Raj killed himself on May 23, 2015. He threw one end of rope over the ceiling fan, and the other – around his neck. He was 25 years old; a brilliant filmmaker and one of the nicest human beings. I am hesitant to write about him. It doesn’t feel right. Writing about such personal details feels like distributing emotional pornography.
And, what sort of meaningful closure would involve sharing intricate parts of it across social media? How ominous it is that I may gain a few more blog followers because of it?
This doesn’t feel good.
Two days prior to the incident, Raj had called me, out of the blue. We had not been in touch for a while. He said he wanted to meet me, sounding like he always did – polite, affectionate and excited. But I had to go to office early the next morning. I told him that we could meet during the weekend. He insisted that we should catch up just for a few minutes, given how long it was since we had met. I kept telling him that we could in a few days, perhaps at the Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary.
He laughed, and said that he looked forward to it.
The next evening his brother texted me, saying that Raj had hung himself in his bedroom. My immediate reaction was to pick up the phone and call our common friends. After that, I visited my parent’s house for an early and unplanned dinner. I calmly spoke about what had happened. They empathized with my loss, and I told them what a wonderful and talented person he was.
As I was driving back home, I started profusely sweating. A dull ache swept through my lower back. A bit startled, I reached the front door. I pulled out the house keys from my pocket with some difficulty. As I was trying to unlock the door, it kept slipping out of my sweaty palms. It was incredibly frustrating. I just wanted to lie down, with a pillow over my head.
But I just couldn’t fit the key in. I tried a few more times in vain.
Then suddenly, it hit me.
Raj had killed himself. I wasn’t going to see him again. I could have – just 48 hours before. All I had to do was drive a mere 15 minutes away from home. Perhaps I would have sensed something was wrong with him. Maybe I would have said the right thing. At the very least, he could have said goodbye.
Unable to gather these thoughts, I sat down, in front of the door. I broke down in a way that I had never before. I spent the rest of the night, shaking like a paper boat in the rain.
I took a day-off from work the next day, and went birding early in the morning. As dramatic as it sounds, it felt as though the birds were mourning for him too. Apart from the regulars – Black Drongos, Red-Whiskered Bulbuls, a few Pelicans and Storks – there were hardly any others in Vedanthangal.
I am pretty sure I haven’t gotten over it. I think about Raj every time a tragedy occurs in someone else’s life.
Last morning, an office colleague met with a tragic biking accident. He left behind a wife and two daughters.
He had an inspiring voice. Even when he said a mere hello, it echoed in the corridor. Once he told me, during a cigarette break in the parking lot, that in an ideal world – he would retire early, and travel regularly. He then took a drag, and said “man, the world is never going to be ideal”.
I suppose, all things must end. I doubt if anyone can dispute that. But when they don’t reach their logical conclusions – the sadness can be overwhelming.
Whether or not, they had found solace in their lives, may those who leave much too soon find peace in eternal rest.
(Photographs: Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary)