It was the worst phase of Rajesh’s life. Life, as he knew it, had come to an abrupt end.
The Global Financial Crisis, downsizing, pink slips, and then UNEMPLOYMENT.
The sequence was like that of toppling dominos. One instance of entropy was introduced somewhere in the system, and no remote corner of the system was spared.
First went his job, and then his self esteem. Then, when the mortgage on the car was due for long, off went the car. It was nobody’s fault, but everybody suffered.
But a man’s ego is very fragile. When there are questions raised on his abilities, he gets hurt.
Rajesh was broken. He had applied to a number of other companies but no one was in HIRE MODE, apparently.
His colleagues had taken up menial jobs – retail boy, waiter, primary school teaching.
But, not him. Sometimes a man’s ego is very rigid, and it colours his view. He had decide that his management school degree would soon bring something his way, sooner or later. He couldn’t work as a retail boy!
But, now two full months since the lay off, he was still fishing for jobs and his fishing rod caught nothing.
He sat watching the Sun going down between the hills. This was a ritual everyday.
After a hard long day of applying for jobs, cold calling people, trying to seek help from his network, he would climb to the peak of the city’s only hill, and sit there, till it was dark.
On most days, he was alone besides having some stray goats for company. Today there was an aged ‘pahari’ woman who was collecting firewood.
He gazed at her as she collected firewood. Her mongoloid features looked statue-like in the bronze light of the setting sun. She worked in a machine like manner with a familiar folk tune on her lips.
Sometimes when a tune sounds too familiar but you cannot identify it, it is like the fragrance of wild unknow flowers which you bet you’ve smelt before but cannot name.
He looked at his watch. 4:30. An hour more.
Everyday he sat there, and looked down the hill. The depths were scary. When a man is alone and depressed, all sorts of thoughts cross his mind.
But he had resisted. He had put a deadline within which if he didn’t find a job, he would end it all – at this very place.
Till then, it was on hold.
He still had time. The hill-woman provided a stark yet welcome contrast to the state of his mind. She was so calm, unruffled.
He pictured his life before the meltdown. It had looked so perfect. And now, it’s all gone.
A stream of tears escaped the confines of his eyes. Angry, frustrated, and helpless he kicked at the trunk of a fat tree. But the trunk was thick and he hurt his leg. He sat down again.
The woman looked up momentarily and again went on with her work. Rajesh calmed down and went back to watching the sunset. So beautiful!
Orange, big ball of fire.
The Brahmaputra below reflected a thousand more tiny suns. Fishing boats ferried in the distance. The birds flied back home. It was. . . .so beautiful!
But he couldn’t feel the happiness in his heart. . .
“Babu.”, the woman called out.
He was lost in his thoughts and didn’t realise that the woman had come closer.
“I see you coming here everyday, but it’s not good”.
“The hill. . .it is not good. It gives bad ideas to lonely people. They jump. They die. Don’t come. Come with partner.”
“What do you care?”.
“My son jumped last year. His wife had run away with a plains’ youth. He sad. He come here everyday. He jumped. His little son cried. I cried. This hill is bad”.
“I’m sorry to hear about this. But I was not going to do anything like that”, he lied.
“Theek hai babu. Time to go. My grandson is hungry. I warm some milk from him with firewood. Don’t worry, babu. Everything be alright. You city people think too much. You want everything. But if you lose, you break down. You eat pills, you think you’ll live long. But you die. You city people should learn to live, babu. Don’t worry, everything will be alright”.
He watched the woman climbed down the hill. The stray goats were her.
Finally the sun set, and Rajesh stood up to leave.
Suddenly, the idea of suicide didn’t feel so great. Something would turn up, he was sure.