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The One Thing That Stopped Me From Following In My Father's Final Footsteps

07/07/2016 8:55 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST
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"Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man." ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

***

Dear Nietzsche,

You're wrong. You're very, very wrong. About hope.

Sincerely,

Someone who lost all hope and then regained it

***

On a cold winter night in Delhi, I start to get dressed for a journey. I put on my panties, and hook my bra. Next, I put on my jeans, brush some dirt off them; after all, I don't want to come across as someone untidy. I wear my shirt and button it down. I look at myself in the mirror. Not too shabby, I think to myself. Then I put on my coat, as I'm freezing.

I take another look at the mirror and decide to put on a bright shade of lipstick. I think it adds some colour to my otherwise pale face.

I pull up my socks and sit cross-legged on my bed -- a single, wooden, lonely excuse of a sleeping table. I look around my room. Once it used to be a local salon, the one where the neighbourhood ladies would drop by. There's a basin-chair for hair washing at the corner. There's a clump of brown hair still attached to the drain.

The rest of the furniture consists of two table drawers which have been left out by the owner for me to keep my clothes. There's also a dressing table with a man-sized mirror, and a small stool in front of it, where I'm supposed to sit and do my face and hair, like a "lady" of my age should. But I've never done that. I've never have been lady-like.

I look around my room again. A couple of months back, when I had moved in, I had dreams of making it my own den, decorating it with books, posters and lights. In two months, I had accomplished nothing.

I hold the tablets in my palm, and start to wonder, do I need to leave a note? Do I WANT to leave a note?

I have never been able to sleep in this house properly. I wake up in the morning with a chest full of dread, and go to sleep with a lonely heart. I don't smile anymore. I feel relieved when I step out of the house, and sad when I step in. Most of the time, the room is hazy with all the cigarettes I smoke, as a result of which my eyes burn, and sometimes my throat too.

My landlord lives with his family, his wife and two feisty little boys, in the next room. Yet they seem so far away. In the nights, when I lie awake in my bed, desperately trying to catch a few hours of sleep, I sometimes imagine them sleeping as a family, the two children lying next to each other, kicking and hitting, even in their sleep, while their parents are fast asleep, choosing to be oblivious, and too tired to handle the shit in the wee hours of the morning.

***

I rein in my wandering thoughts. I need to get ready. I check my clothes again, and then stand up and walk towards the chest of drawers which contain all that I own in this city. I take a brown envelope out of the drawer. Inside I find the strip of sleeping pills I had bought three nights back. I remember the chemist's face when he sold them to me. He had a look of apprehension in his eyes. But I had a prescription and he needed to make a sell, and now here I was, taking those pills out one by one and placing them on the bed.

When all the 12 tablets are taken out and the envelope thrown in the garbage, I hold the tablets in my palm, and start to wonder, do I need to leave a note? Do I WANT to leave a note?

My entire life doesn't flash before me. Instead all I remember is the chemist's face.

I decide against it, and after inhaling the smoky air deeply, I start to pop the pills in my mouth.

After popping in 4 or 5, I stop. I realize my heart's beating quite fast, and my hands have started to shake. I think I need to calm down. So I take the only cigarette I had left in the box, the one I was planning to smoke after I have taken all the pills, and spit out the tablets on my bed.

I light the cigarette and breathe in. One way or another, I think, it's going to be the same. One way is slow and painful, while the other tends to be quick and supposedly painless. But the end result is the same, whether it's now or a few decades later. My throat burns a little, but I get a sweet pleasure out of the bitterness. I think I feel calmer, although according to science, the cigarette is actually having the opposite reaction. My neurons are hyper-active and I should be up and about, but I feel sleepy, drowsy, and I think to myself what it would be like when I'm sleeping forever.

The cigarette's about to be finished, I'm about to butt it, when I hear my cell phone buzzing. A text from my boyfriend informing me that he's running a little late but I should get ready anyway.

"I'm ready"...I think to myself. I look around for the pills. They're scattered all over my bed. It's a pain, trying to collect all of them together, 12 white pills scattered all over a white bed sheet. But to my own surprise I find them all, and after about 10 or 15 minutes of staring blankly at them, I put all of them in my mouth.

I've already kept bottle of water right next to my bed. I open the bottle and pause for a few moments.

I left Kolkata, then Pune, then Mumbai. And now here I was in Delhi. Out of all the fresh starts that I had given to myself, this one was the worst...

My entire life doesn't flash before me. Instead all I remember is the chemist's face. Maybe tomorrow he'll tell his friends and customers, "I knew there was something wrong with her. I shouldn't have sold those pills to her!"

Somehow, at that moment, when I'm about to consciously take a step against my life, the fact that the chemist was right with his assumption starts to bother me a whole lot.

***

I shifted to the capital of India around mid-September, 2015. A new city, a new job, closer to my boyfriend. I was full of hope. But as the days turned into weeks, which turned into months, I realized there was something wrong, something very wrong. I thought of reaching out, but I didn't know how to. And I was afraid of judgement. Not so much from my peers but more from myself.

A fresh start. That's what I had termed it. As someone who has been suffering from anxiety and depression, "a fresh start" has always been my go-to defence or escape mechanism. Because of which I left Kolkata, then Pune, then Mumbai. And now here I was in Delhi.

Out of all the fresh starts that I had given to myself, this one turned to be the worst of them all. My living space felt big yet unliveable; I just couldn't call it my home. My professional life started going down the drain owing to petty work-place politics and my superior's firm belief that I was an incompetent slave.

I would come back to the room, try to talk to my mother, but would stop myself at the last moment, fearing that she would get worried. I'd cry myself to sleep after eating a stale dinner consisting of chapattis and an excuse for a vegetable curry. Then I would lie on my bed and think, "Is this why my father did what he did? Did he do it because he realized everything is pointless and that there is no hope?"

I kept on thinking of how happy and comfortable my landlord's sons were, sleeping next to their parents, worrying only about the next day's homework, and nothing else.

But after a while I would snap out of it and try my best to go to sleep. But as you know by now, I couldn't. Instead, I kept on thinking of how happy and comfortable my landlord's sons were, sleeping next to their parents, worrying only about the next day's homework, and nothing else.

In short, those nights and the following days were terrible. But hope, that innate belief that things will get better, made me get out of bed (after smoking a cigarette), take a cold shower, get dressed, and rush after autos to reach office where I would be humiliated and demeaned because of my inability to appear "cool", and my insistence on quality over quantity.

***

But then one day, the goddamn dam broke. It had to. One evening, when I was trying to make sense out of a mundane task, my boss called me in, and informed me that I was not worth the money that I was getting and that they had decided to let me go.

At that moment, the only thought in my mind was that I shouldn't cry. I left the office after packing my stuff and instead of going back to my room, roamed around the streets for a couple of hours.

I didn't feel free, and nor did I have any life-changing epiphanies. I just knew that I had lost. The battle that I had been fighting in Kolkata, then in Pune, and then in Mumbai, I finally lost it in Delhi. I knew it was over.

I thought of my mother, her insistent faith and constant struggles to raise me, to ensure that my life would be different, better, independent. Her hope. She never lost hope.

But that night, I lost mine.

I spent the next day on my bed, completely numb, oblivious to the world outside. My ex-colleagues were texting, "Where are you? What happened?", and the inevitable, "Don't worry! Everything's going to be all right." I didn't believe them. It frustrated me to see them being so optimistic when I had no hope left.

My life irritated me, annoyed me. The rituals of waking up, washing, eating, going to work, drinking alcohol and smoking to erase the frustrations of the day, and going to sleep with the hope of a better tomorrow, seemed so pointless, a project that led to nothing.

In my heart, I realized I was the wrong person for my mother to have trusted her dreams with.

And in that moment, I thought, instead of nothingness overcoming me, let me embrace it first. I wanted the thoughts to go away, the pain to go away, and above all, I wanted to have peace, whatever that means.

I lit a cigarette, my fifth one for the day, and decided it's very simple, really. End it now, and end it forever. Peace.

***

So there I was, with all the 12 sleeping pills in my mouth and the open bottle of water in my hand. I looked around the room once more, and thought of calling my mother, one last time.

I didn't. I felt too ashamed, too embarrassed. I knew I was committing a crime, I was going to hurt her, betray her trust, ruin her future. Yet, in my heart, I realized I was the wrong person for her to have trusted her dreams with. So instead I just browsed through all her photos saved on my phone, and felt sad, utterly and immensely sad.

And then I came across a picture of my late father. He was smiling, his white teeth shining, and his eyes, dark as they were, sparkling. I looked into the eyes of this man. The man I'm made of. The man who suffered from depression for decades, took multiple steps against his life and finally succeeded in leaving everything and everyone at the age of 43.

Where is he now? I started to wonder. Did he find his solace? Is he away from all the pain? Is he even in a state to realize whether there is pain or not? Or has he now become nothing, nothing at all? Just a handful of memories running through the minds of his parents, wife and child.

Has [my father] now become nothing, nothing at all? Just a handful of memories running through the minds of his parents, wife and child.

It's only then I realized that I'm no different from my father. His blood runs through my veins and so does his hopelessness. And as soon as I realized this, I spat out all the pills on the cool marble floor.

I realized that I do want to be different from my father. I might have lost the battle here but the war is still blazing on. I stamped on the pills and crushed them into a fine powder, spread all across the floor.

I realized that I had indeed lost against everyone, but I refused to lose to myself. Never. Ever.

And before I knew it, I started crying, with tears rolling down my cheeks. I rushed out of the house, and ran towards the nearest cigarette vendor. I didn't have any money on me, but he knew me and lent me five.

I lit up on my way back to the house. I felt miserable. I had a throbbing headache, and my heart felt like it would burst at any moment. I reached my house, went up the front stairs, but I couldn't enter. It felt like there was a ghost of myself still sitting there, waiting for me to come in, and convince me to end it all, for good.

So on that chilly winter night, I sat on the stairs, smoking and crying, until I received a text from my boyfriend. He was about to reach in 10 minutes.

The moment I read his text, I knew I had to pretend. There's no way I could drag him into this mess. So I got up, entered my excuse of a home, and splashed cold water all over my face. I put on more lipstick, which made me look like a porcelain doll, but it did take the attention away from my red eyes.

I realized that I had indeed lost against everyone, but I refused to lose to myself. Never. Ever.

When he rang the bell, I was halfway through the last cigarette. I opened the door and he came in, wrinkling his nose. "How many have you smoked today?" He sounded disappointed. "It's okay. It's the weekend," I replied.

I picked up my bag and put on my shoes. I stepped out of the house and while waiting for him to start the car, waved at the cigarette seller. He waved back.

"It's not over yet. You can still hope to get some business from me."

I dropped the cigarette butt on the street and stamped on it with my feet. I checked the time: 10.45 it said. My mother would be sleeping but I'd text her.

Then I got in the car and started typing, my mouth bitter with the taste and smell of tobacco.

***

Six months later.

I have a new job. I live in a new flat with a supportive flatmate. I've quit smoking (except for the occasional one or two), and my mother is coming to visit me soon.

I've been diagnosed with severe anxiety disorder and depression, and currently am on medication. I suffer from terrible mood swings, panic attacks and an uncontrollable frustration. There are days when I'm almost convinced that everything is pointless. Well, almost.

***

But I still am hopeful.

I respect Nietzsche a lot, and his works have given me lots of fuel to burn. But he was wrong about hope. It is because of lack of hope that my father is no more, and the presence of it is precisely why I'm still here, living, breathing, and hoping that today, not tomorrow, will be the best ever day yet.

This article is part of a project called "A Year Full of Hope". The goal is to encourage people to access mental health treatment without feeling ashamed. If you've something to share, or would like to give some feedback, reach out at chandra.nandini22@gmail.com. (Note: I do not endorse smoking!)

If you struggle with suicidal thoughts or attempts, call any of these helplines: Aasra 91-22-27546669, Sneha 04424640050, Jeevan 0091 6576453841, Pratheeksha 0484 2448830.

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