Tick, tock. Tick, tock.
The time was ticking away. And I looked around to see if someone else was feeling the pain of noticing precious time running away just like I was doing. It was a crowded room; filled with friends, roommates, ex-classmates, parents, friends of parents, school time buddies, girlfriend, her friends; the list goes on. That must have been at least a hundred known people, I thought to myself. And yet, I never felt more lost. And as expected, nobody seemed to bother about the slipping time.
‘Hey, happy birthday man, it’s good to see you after such a long time’, one of my friends came in with a charming smile. ‘Thanks for coming buddy, I hope you have a nice time; do enjoy the party’; I said and walked away before I could be pulled into another of those conversations.
‘Hon, where have you been? My friends want to talk to you. They have come all the way, do come on and be your charming self. Let’s make a lasting impression on them’; came in my girlfriend from nowhere. And so, unwittingly, I was pulled into another of those conversations!
‘Here he is, all yours’ she said holding my hands, presenting me to her friends as if I was some monkey in a circus, not some monkey; I guess her monkey!
‘It’s a great party your parents have thrown up for you. You must be so proud of them. And my god! Your outfit; it’s terrific. Where did you get it from?‘ and before I could answer, another began, ‘ He has got to look terrific, doesn’t he? After all, who is he dating?’ she added cheekily and looked at her friend, my girlfriend; and they started giggling and hushing each other up. ‘You must really be enjoying all this, aren’t you?’ another said as if she knew in and out of me. I just smiled.
I was starting to get uneasy again. My dress; well, it was a plain black shirt and a jeans, something I had been wearing from years. And the party, I don’t know what was the reason my parents threw it up. Maybe coz they wanted the company of other people around, or maybe they just wanted to show me off now that I had ended up being the topper of an exam that mattered to them. I was ‘their prize’!
There’s something about group conversations that I could never understand or like about it. It’s that nobody actually cared what you’re speaking, it’s just to show your presence in the group or a society or a chat room for that matter. Isn’t that very impersonal? About how you just need to do it because…
‘Hey, answer them; will you? They are waiting for you’, my girlfriend whispered in my ears, faking a smile at the same time for the others. Somehow, I didn’t want to fake that I was interested in the conversation anymore. ‘Um, I’m sorry. I’m feeling a bit nauseous. Would you please excuse me for a while! ‘I said and kissed my girlfriend on her forehead and walked out of it before I could change my mind after seeing their aghast expressions.
I walked out of my own party. A hundred known faces and yet you feel lost. Now, that’s a start, I thought to myself. I looked around for an empty street and luckily found one. As I started walking down the road all alone, I started feeling better.
I found a bar and looked around to see if there was anyone around who knew me. There wasn’t. So I just walked in and grabbed a drink and sat down. I didn’t know how much longer I could carry on this way. I felt everything was nothing more than a show. Where you smile your fake smile, talk things that mean nothing at all, get along with people you don’t really care about. I missed someone; I didn’t know who I was missing so much. Maybe an understanding friend, who knew when to shut up and when to just stand and let you speak your heart out, or maybe I was missing myself minus all the fake that I was putting up with. ‘I really should stop thinking so much’, I said to myself aloud. ‘I mean, why can’t I just seem to enjoy the party just like everyone else?’ I was screaming now and making a few heads turn. I think it was the drinks that were showing their effects now, or maybe that’s the only way now that I talk to myself, don’t know for sure. Somehow, I felt lighter and decided to walk back into ‘gate crashing my own party’.
‘Hey, where were you? Everyone has been looking for you. Come, cut the cake’, came my father. I just silently walked over to the table when everybody noticed and started cheering ‘yay, birthday boy’ and clapping away joyfully. Their happiness was intoxicating!
‘Hey, let him speak. After all, it’s his birthday’ said someone from the crowd, and everyone cheered. I looked for the person who said it but couldn’t quite locate her. I began thinking what to speak. Should I thank everyone? Give them a long speech? Or maybe I should just say something that means something more than just words to me and see if they think on the same lines and like what I said, making an impact on them. ‘Yeah, I better do the latter’, I said to myself. So I raised my hands seeking attention, and everyone cheered and fell silent. For the first time that day, I was excited about what everyone was going to think of what I had to say.
‘Well, as it’s my birthday, I would just like to tell you all, and I quote “All the world’s a birthday cake, so take a piece, but not too much”’ I said and smiled and looked around expectantly at everybody, who just clapped and clapped and clapped. They didn’t give a damm !
The next day, I woke up and was very glad that the day was over. I was actually smiling. ‘oh, someone’s happy today. Looks like you had a great time yesterday’ came in my mom. ‘You bet’ I said sarcastically.
I went along the daily chores when my family called me downstairs. ‘Hey, we have invited some really close friends for lunch, some of your close friends, some family friends so that you could sit and talk. We thought you would love it’, said my father. ‘Didn’t you throw a party yesterday itself? Why another lunch?’ I began, already pissed. ‘Oh, there were too many people yesterday. I don’t think that you really got a chance to interact with a lot of people. So we called them over today’. ‘Well, you shouldn’t have called so many people in the first place in that case’, I said. ‘You sound angry. Oh, come on, you will like it. That’s what you want, we know it. Just put on your best, and come down at 12:00. I’m pretty sure you will thank us later’ said my father cheerily. Nobody bothered to listen to me. I just raised my arms in desperation and walked out of the room.
As commanded, I walked down from my room at 12:00 sharp praying that I have a good time. There were twenty people in the room, and I was already beginning to feel lost. How can you have twenty people in a room and expect it to be a close gathering?
‘There he comes!’ someone said and all smiled at me. ‘it was a great party man, so much fun’, someone began. And others followed. I just sat down knowing deep down that this is going to be another day that didn’t have to go down the way it was going to.
The conversations began. ‘Hey, have you checked out that new hindi movie running at the theatres? It’s a full on time pass film it seems. We should watch it before it moves out of the theatres’ began one of my friends, and many other of my friends seemed to agree upon it as well. I just glared at him with wide open eyes. I thought this was a gathering of really close friends and people. A masala film would definitely be the last thing that I would really want to do. ‘Oh, um… I particularly don’t like or enjoy such movies. So, you guys carry on. I think I will pass on this one!’ everyone looked dejected. It was one of the elders who now decided to speak, “oh, so what type of movies do you like?”
‘I like the thinking types movies. The subtle one’s that make you lose yourself in them. You know the types that really add something in your life. Not just some…’ ‘You know, few days back, I was watching kuch kuch hota hai, again. And I realised how cute Shah Rukh looks’ , a girl began. And so the conversation shifted to that instead. I’d better keep my thoughts to myself, I thought. I tried following their conversation for a while. Weather, jobs, clothes, marriage, community togetherness… I lost interest in the conversation. I looked at every person in the room, and tried really really hard to try and connect with at least one of them. Father, mother, brother, some friends, uncles and auties. Not one of them could I relate to. I was feeling even more lost with every moment. Where was that one friend whose views really mattered to me. He must be at a college in Bangalore flirting around with someone. He’s a junior, remember? That asshole! I smiled and said to myself. I wish he was here.
‘So, tell me. How excited are you to be working in Mumbai? I’m pretty sure it’s the place you always wanted to be’, some uncle began trying to get more words out of me than I was doing until then. I was still lost about thinking what my friend must be doing, when my girlfriend, ‘hey, where are you? Uncle is speaking to you!’ and I collected myself together. ‘I’m sorry, I was lost in thoughts. What were you saying?’ the uncle smiled as if that was exactly what he wanted to point out to the crowd that I wasn’t paying attention, and so he repeated, ‘I said are you excited to work in Mumbai?’
I thought what I should say. The truth or just an answer he would like to hear. I was too worked up to do anything for anyone, so I decided to speak the truth.
‘Yeah, I think I will love it initially. You know, the parties, the lifestyle, the clubs, the beach, the girls(everyone smiled but one). But yeah, after a while, I will lose interest in it all and then, all that I would think of and realise is that what I always wanted was to move into a smaller city.’ Several things happened for the first time that afternoon after that. There was pin drop silence for a long time. Stunned silence, I must say. Nobody knew what to say. And for once, everybody in the room seemed to hear what I had said.
‘So… your trying to say to that after a while, you would like to move to a smaller place? You would want to move out of Mumbai? Where everyone of us would love to get a job?’ asked one of my friends. ‘Yeah, that’s exactly what I said’, I said in a matter of fact tone.
‘I mean… huh. Why would anyone want to move out of Mumbai? That’s were the whole country is heading to search for jobs and opportunities. You would throw it all and move to a smaller city for what?’ asked my father. Now, I had got his attention. Finally. I smiled the corky smile.
‘To find myself and not get lost in the things of the world. Some people like quietness. Not stillness, but quietness. You know, like where you could sit with your best friend, discuss things over a glass of drinks that are much more important than the weather and gaining weight and loosing hair, no hypocrisy, no showing off, just plain simple conversations that really matter. You know, where you could live everyday as if it were your last? Not being answerable to anyone, not having to worry about others and how and what they think about you; where there is no need to worry about pleasing others anymore, not having to worry about running from anyone. Just leading a life that you like, talking what you like, with people you like. You get a drift of what I’m talking off?’ I asked.
Perfect silence. Not a person moved, or stopped staring at me. I looked at their expressions to see what I had said so wrong. Their expressions varied from shock to “you’ve lost it” to “are you nuts” to “what’s wrong with you” to disappointment.
After a lot of shuffling and looks to each other, an uncle finally said ‘you seriously need to think about your preferences in life, my boy! A family, kids, a good job that pays you well, a community of your own people, security, satisfaction from life, doing everything in your capacity to keep your family happy; that is all that there is to life.’
I wanted to ask to him “is that all to life??”
But then I realised that nothing he said would matter to me at all. Because I didn’t agree with him and he wasn’t exactly saying anything to say or prove that I was wrong. I knew what he said was right. That there were expectations from me, and a lot of them, and there was no way I could run away from them. I had to do what was expected of me from a society’s perspective, something that everyone is supposed to do.
Suddenly, I was suffocating in this room. As if everyone out there was sucking oxygen from my lungs to let them breathe peacefully. I excused myself and walked out of the room.
I walked aimlessly for hours. I felt lost, thoughtless, drifting and dragging myself into something I wasn’t even sure if it was right or not. Why did it really matter so much to me what I had just said? Was I incapable of leading a normal life as everyone saw me living? Was it so wrong to move away from a crowd hungry for moving into a lifestyle they found drawn to more than anything else?
I looked around and concentrated on that voice I wanted to hear that I had always knew existed in me but which I hadn’t paid heed to in ages.
What should I do?
You know exactly what you should do. Listen to yourself.
That is all that I could hear. Listen to yourself. What did I want the most right now? I got it.
I picked up my phone and dialled a number.
‘Hey bro, how are you? It’s been ages. So good to hear from you’ said an enthusiastic voice on the other side of the line. I don’t know why but I began crying. I told him everything and he heard every word that I said. We spoke, or, I should correct myself; I spoke for hours, and he heard and said a lot of things that I thought of as well. For once, there was a person who wasn’t complaining and just letting me be what I am. At that very moment, I made up my mind.
I’m going to do everything that is expected of me. But a day will come when I will live for myself. And he said he would make sure he was there as well.
Years passed. I did everything in my capacity that I could. Made a name for myself, had a family, lovely kids whom everyone adored, lots of money, proud parents, lot of respect from the society. I had everything as they say it.
And that’s when I knew the time had come. That I had had enough of it. I called up my friend and asked if we could meet. I took the next flight to his city and we had a long conversation.
‘Let’s do it, bro. this is all that I wanted to hear at this moment’ he said. I smiled.
After three months, one fine night, I packed my bag with some basic things that really mattered to me. I didn’t leave a note, I didn’t kiss my wife or my kids good-bye, I just walked out. I met with my friend on the station. He looked at each other for a long time, a smile falling on each of our faces. We hugged and moved into the train.
‘Why Assam?’ my friend asked curiously. ‘Well, coz we don’t know the language, so you don’t have to worry about knowing anything, coz its picturesque, coz its wild and in our budget and beautiful.’
‘Sounds exciting’ he said and smile.
‘It is,’ said and smiled.
The train pulled out of the station and I saw the life that everybody perceived for me to dissolve into nothing more than a dot. I looked at my friend who I would like to believe was actually thinking exactly the same thing. We smiled to each other and looked out of the window.
The train was drifting from station to station, and so where my thoughts, and my friend seemed to be lost in his own.
It is just what we do with our lives that matters, coz seriously, that is all that is in our hands. Our lives.
They say everything that you do will one day be insignificant. But its very important that you do it. Coz nobody else will.
‘Thanks man, thanks for coming’ I said to my friend.
‘Bro, I need this more that you could possibly think. I have lots of ideas about what we could and should do in assam’.
“Well, let’s talk about it then”.
The train continued on its course, and so did we.