It was planned to be a typical Chill day.
Kane and Abel. A Comfortable couch. Piping hot Maggi. Limbu Sharbat. Perfect.
And by the end of the day, everyone had a chill down their spine.
At about 7.30 p.m. a shrill cry erupted out of nowhere. Was it a gang of girls excited about something? Maybe. But how long does it take? 5 seconds? Maybe. The scream shook me out of my novel and I went numb for a moment. I absolutely hate being disturbed when I am in the middle of a book. Intuition told me that this noise was anything but excitement. Something was going on outside, and I’d better check soon.
Stepping out of my comfortable couch to the door’s small see – through hole, I was hoping to see some teenagers outside, like every Saturday evening was expected to be. But something felt uneasy when the cry suddenly stopped midway. I stopped too. I could feel the cold floor beneath me. Was I getting cold feet? I guess I was starting to.
“How come no one’s talking?” I thought to myself. Clearly it was time to peep out through the door hole. “It would be okay” I convinced my self. I tried to be positive.
My throat went dry as I searched for known neighbours. I could see no one.
Against intuition, I went ahead to open the door. Usually parents do instruct us to keep the door closed at all times if some unknown person rings the bell or something is unusual, but since no one was visible to the eye nor were any voices audible, I decided to just open the door, be satisfied that everything is okay, and then close the door and go back to my Abel. Mystery over.
I opened the door and heard someone crying. It seemed to come from my neighbour’s door to my left. It was kept open. An unknown young lad, with a cell phone in his hand and a worried look on his face had appeared from the staircase, to my right. He was continuously calling someone. I stared at him as if to enquire if anything was wrong. Hesitation to talk to strangers was still one of the ingrained values that I had been taught to follow and I had religiously followed it. Till now.
He looked helplessly at me. After some hesitation I mustered the courage to talk to this boy assuming he was one of the neighbours I had never seen in the past years- “Umm, what’s happening?” I mumbled.
He said, “Can you call the ambulance urgently? I have been trying since a while but no one’s picking up.” My facial expressions told him that I didn’t follow. He explained- “Someone has committed suicide next door.”
Shit. Would do you say in Hindi?
Ronggte khade ho gaye.
My eyes had suddenly opened wide enough and I intuitively took a step back. My heart stopped for a moment. What the hell on Earth was happening? How can some random person commit suicide next door and I not know about it? Practically it was quite possible considering the main doors are shut all day but still it’s the NEXT FREAKING DOOR. And how did this guy come to know of it? There were a hundred questions moving around in my head… But this was not the time to ask questions or figure out what happened and to whom it happened. My first thought was that the Lady of the house had committed suicide. I had never seen her before since only her husband stayed here all these years and the lady supposedly stayed abroad.But I could imagine the Land Lord Uncle’s horror struck face at the calamity that had been brought upon him by his wife. I thought I heard his loud wails in a language I did not understand but could only sense. I could console him later perhaps. Uncle was a sweet man and he had been kind enough to give me his whole set of books when he had shifted abroad. Why did he come back to Mumbai? Was it stressful? But there was no time for questions. Now was the time to act. And Act Fast.
I suddenly bolted towards my phone and searched for the hospital contacts that I had saved for emergencies. Thank God, I thought. I stood at the door so that no one would get into my home through the open door (even though that was where I could hear the cries the loudest which was not what I wanted to hear) and continued to search for the contacts. As I typed HOSP….. my phone did not throw any prompts. And then it clicked me. I had changed my phone without transferring my contacts. Oh damn! Exams had preoccupied me and I had conveniently postponed this contact transfer to- do for some time later.
Next up – I quickly searched for the Ambulance helpline. 108 was dialed and I waited anxiously. After calling thrice someone picked up. Now let me tell you that it’s the most idiotic service available. I wish I had never called it and wasted my time. The guy answering the phone said that the ambulance was unavailable since it was under repair. I was starting to lose my cool with this man. How can someone have the audacity to send the only Helpline ambulance available in the area “for repair” and say that 108 is a 24×7 hotline for the common man?
I gave him a piece of my mind, asked him to help me out with another number of an alternate hospital which can provide an emergency ambulance service. But he said he didn’t know much. I cut the call. It was simply useless. 10 precious minutes gone.
I remember noticing a few hospitals on my home from work. I searched for the nearest private hospital I could remember- Sanchaiti Hospital. The receptionist picked up instantly and I gave the details. On being questioned about the need and who needed it, I had to mention the suicide that had occured. But I still did not know who it was. The young lad- Sahil, still standing on my right, gave me the name of the girl. Sheetal . I had heard it somewhere but I couldn’t place it. The guy promised to send an ambulance in 10 mins. A part of me was relieved but I still had to know so much.
Now that the ambulance was on its way and the Secretary of my society had come around with some more neighbour’s to check, I could not control my curiosity to see who it was. But I was petrified. The wailing and screams had begun again and being the next door neighbour, it was a challenge to be my usual calm and composed self.
Oh, and by the way when all this happened, I was HOME ALONE.
It took me 10 minutes to move literally 2 feet towards my left to see who it was. Having a visual memory has its disadvantages in situations like these. This event was going to stay with me for many years to come. I slowly inched forward to see a female, as young as me, lying motionless on the floor, surrounded by an Aunty (who I recognised to be the Landlord’s househelp) and 2 men. I did not see the girl completely since the view was partially blocked by many neighbours. But when I actually saw the whole scene, it was another direct hit to the heart.
Seeing the daughter lying on the floor was shocking to one level. What I didn’t realise was that when I watched her mother crying, I had involuntarily covered my face in horror with both my hands. It was not the Lady of the House who had hung herself from the fan. The Aunty sitting next to the body was wailing and could not stop. It was the Househelp’s daughter who had succumbed to death. In the Landlord’s home. Holy shit.
I knew Aunty well. Aunty worked as a household help and watered the plants in my neighbour’s garden. She used to give me a warm smile everyday, as I would watch her from my living room. She would water the garden for about an hour and go back, occasionally glancing towards me and indulging in small talk. This routine had continued since the last 10 years that I had spent living in this home. She shared the same rapport with my mom since years now, but since I had been spending a considerable time at home, I met Aunty almost daily. She tended to our garden when we went on long vacations and had no crazy demands as such. She was a really nice lady.
Because of her mild nature and good work, she earned a lot of jobs in my society. Everyone was fond of her and wanted to help her in any way possible. She had ONE daughter who was her whole life. Sheetal had been offered a job at Vikroli at a well known Call Center and was appearing for CAT. Since she couldn’t get a good college in the first try, she worked towards doing a better job. Just three days ago, Aunty had asked me to help her search a better job for Sheetal since travelling took 3 hours everyday. She could use that time for studying something else.
My neighbour’s flat (opposite to ours) was vacant for a few months during which it needed to be maintained in case of an emergency visit. Our neighbour had generously offered to help the maid, by asking her to let her daughter study at his home while he was away. The daughter studied in this home from morning to night while the mother managed her chores in the other apartments. Aunty would occasionally drop in to check on her. But no one knew at that time what exactly drew her to take this drastic step. “There was some domestic dispute” someone said. “Probably some economic problems” estimated the other neighbor.
What most people came to know later was that she had to appear for CAT exams the very next day. “Exam Stress probably” everyone understood.
The last thing anyone expected was for the daughter to commit suicide. And that too in her mother’s employer’s home. She was not a kid. She was a sensible enough 22 year old. The life giver had suddenly snatched it from her loved ones. FOREVER.
For now, a lot of neighbour’s had gathered around my home, and I did not have the guts to close the door and sit alone after all this had transpired next door. Also if I did close the door, I was alone at home and it felt more scary than it would be. Plus someone was bound to question why the next door neighbour’s door was closed. I would have had to open either way. So be it.
The police arrived for a report in the next 15 mins and the ambulance was waiting for the police to get done with. They took her body away and all my neighbours followed them downstairs. In 10 mins, everyone disappeared. I did not feel like going downstairs to see the commotion and stayed at home. I dialed a friend and spoke to him for about an hour coz I needed to share this moment with someone since no one was around. Not even my parents.
It was 10.30 pm when both my parents finally came home. Both were in absolute terror when the lift opened to a barrage of policemen standing next to the neighbour’s door. My dad could handle it but Mum could not. I dragged Mom in, not knowing how to break the news to her. It had been a big day for her at work- She was about to face a competition at the State level and needed all the peace and comforts that our own home could offer. But luck was terrible. After trying to calm her down, I told her everything in the most subtle language I could manage. Ofcourse, it was a huge blow.
No one slept peacefully that night. A disturbed weekend followed and everyone was eager to go to work so that they could take their mind off the subject. That weekend, 2 young kids got into the lift with me. Since they knew about the incident and that I stayed next door, they enquired as to how I had come in and got out of my home on that particular day? Had we seen the girl’s bhoot in the last 2 days? They were sceptical about even stopping the lift on the first floor. And that was when I realised that Bhoot stories were about to linger for the coming months. The meaning of “Coming Back Home” had changed. We lost our sleep for a the next 2 weeks following the event.
The Landlord, who owned the apartment, had been to Kerela just the day before the event. He was scheduled to come back 2 weeks later. People started calling him up and pleaded him to return as soon as possible and conduct the requisite poojas and havans’s so that people could atleast sleep in peace. Adults had started to contemplate the existence of the Bhoot. He returned a week later and conducted the Pooja and everyone tried to be normal.
#Throwback- 10 years ago when I shifted to the suburbs, we had rented this very same apartment for about 8-10 months where conducting a Pooja was now necessary. I had the fortune of experiencing the same loneliness and emptiness when I had studied in that empty apartment by myself when I had to appear for some exams. It was huge and empty no doubt, making it a good silent zone for studying. But it was intimidating. And I was really happy when I had to never go back alone in that apartment. She had hung herself on the same fan under which I had once studied for months on end.
Now that I look back I realise how disturbing it would have been for the girl to just study there by herself without actually knowing anyone to talk to. I atleast had family next door.
She had not answered calls by 4.30 pm on that fateful day and her mother thought that she had slept. When she did not open the door by 6.30 p.m Aunty asked the watchman to get into the house through the midway door, situated between 2 floors which led to the neighbours garden door. The watchman had opened the garden door and found the lady hanging. He had then opened the main door from inside and Aunty had walked in to find her daughter dead.
Its been a year today since I last saw Aunty. The last I saw her was on that fateful night. Never again. She had stopped coming to work. Another neighbour had found a goodbye note incidentally on that fateful night, when she was looking for a blanket to cover the body to take it to the hospital. There was a heartfelt handwritten Thank You letter mentioning the loss of liability on the parents from now on. She had placed her gold earrings next to it.
Such a terrible loss.
If only she had spoken to someone before taking this step. If only she had considered the amount of pain and pity she was going to put her family and friends in, for the rest of their lives. If only she had understood the simple fact – Everyone is born into this life because they are strong enough to live it. Suicide does not take away the pain, it gives it to someone else.