Rambabu had been my colleague for the last twenty years. He was five years my senior and despite being an extremely capable and efficient person, had refused to climb up the ladder of promotions for some personal reasons. This meant he had never bothered to appear in any departmental examinations except for the one which he had to compulsorily clear for successful completion of his probation.
Rambabu spoke only when he had something to say, was an unusually honest person to the point that on occasions his honesty became a source of irritation to others. He took leave only when he had something very important to attend to at home. He finished his office work faster than his bosses would ever expect from a clerk. He never gave anybody any scope for complaints and nobody had ever seen him argue with anybody else or lose his temper inside the office. Now when such a person did not attend the office for twenty days at a stretch, it became a major concern for me though I cannot say the same for others in the office.
Rambabu never had any friends in the office, neither did I. This was probably the reason we became ‘close’ somewhat. I noticed that he liked me more than anybody else in the office, partly because I seemed to be the closest persona that he could find in the office and partly because I had always treated him with the respect that he deserved. I can’t say anybody had even noticed that Rambabu had been absenting himself from the office until the day of the salary when his salary had remained undisbursed and people had begun to wonder what could have happened to him!
Of course, the first thing that I did in my search for the ‘missing’ Rambabu was to call up his mobile and quite expectedly it was switched off. I found the address of his residence from the office records and decided to pay him a visit during the coming weekend.
Rambabu lived in Barrackpore, a suburb of Kolkata situated about 30 Km away from the main city. As planned, the next Sunday evening, I took a train from Sealdah and reached the Barrackpore station. I took an auto rickshaw and told the driver the address of the house I was supposed to visit. The rickshaw driver knew Rambabu and took me straight to his house without any questions. It was a one story house nestled at the far corner of the town. I knocked at the door with a slight hesitation because I didn’t know what to expect. A middle aged woman opened the door and gave me a blank look.
“Is it Rambabu’s house? Does he live here?” I asked.
“Yes”, the woman said.
“I am his office colleague. My name is Chandan Roy.” I said still standing outside the door.
“Is he home? Can I meet him?”
The woman was also hesitating as to what she should do about me. Obviously something was wrong, dreadfully wrong, but I had no idea what it was.
“Can I come in?” I asked again.
“Please come in”, the woman stepped aside and I entered the room.
“Please sit down, I will call him” the woman pointed to a chair and left the room.
I looked around the room. A reading table with two chairs, an old sofa set, a small cupboard also functioning as a TV table and a table fan are all that graced the room. The room itself was in pretty bad condition with plasters coming off the dampened walls everywhere and cobwebs trying to compete with the humans to occupy every inch of the space available.
“Oh, Chandan, you have come?” I looked at the speaker as he entered the room but I hardly recognised him to be the person I had been working with in the same office for so long.
The man had aged at least ten years since I last saw him, his eyes protruding from their sockets like they would fall off any moment and he looked like a walking skeleton that needed support even to stand up.
“Oh my God, Rambabu, I can hardly recognise you.” I blurted out.
“Please sit on that chair”, He said as he poured a glass of water and drank.
“I knew if anybody came from the office, it would be you, Chandan.” Rambabu was staring at the floor as he spoke sitting on the sofa across the room.
“I know my presence or work does not matter in the office. Nobody cares whether I am alive or dead. I believe God has made me in a certain way and I cannot change it, nor do I have any wish to change myself. You may know that I had a son who was born handicapped. My son died twenty five days ago.” Rambabu paused.
I could not believe what I was listening. I knew Rambabu had a handicapped son, named Ranjan who was somewhat mentally retarded. He never went to school. Rambabu had a private tutor arranged for his son’s education at home. Ranjan was generally capable of doing all his personal chores by himself but he could not speak normally nor could he interact with outsiders in a ‘proper’ manner. Rambabu never talked about his son in front of office people, but on one occasion, when I learned from one of my colleagues that Rambabu had been looking for a psychiatrist, I suggested him one of my friends who had made quite a name for himself as a Psychiatrist in Kolkata. I also remember Rambabu telling me after a few sittings with the doctor that his son had been improving and he was quite happy with his son’s progress.
“Well… what happened to…?” I asked pathetically.
“He committed suicide”, Rambabu told me without any expression on his face. I would never know how he could talk about his son’s death in such a nonchalant manner.
“Ranjan committed suicide by hanging himself from the ceiling fan of his room when my wife was away in the market and I was in the office. Probably you had not come to office that day. I received a call around 3 PM in the afternoon from the hospital. When I reached the hospital they said my son had died long before he was brought to the hospital.
Ranjan had written a suicide note.
We never knew that Ranjan, who was 18 years old at the time of his death, had also grown up physically. We could never read his mind, nor did he ever indicate what he had been passing through.” Rambabu stopped for a moment.
Then he continued…
“Chandan, I treat you like my brother, so please do not tell anybody what I am going to tell you. I know you will not want to hear the actual reason for my son’s suicide if I don’t tell you. But I want to tell you because I want there should be at least one person who would properly understand why my son died.
Ranjan had fallen in love with my neighbour’s daughter. However we never had any inkling of that as I told you earlier. This fact came to light around two months ago when Gopal babu, that is my neighbour, told me to warn my son about trying to either meet or look at his daughter. My wife told me that Ranjan would sit on the balcony for hours on end just to have a look at the girl whenever she would go out. I spoke to Ranjan about it, but he didn’t say anything. A few days before he died, Gopalbabu had come to our house and threatened to call the police if Ranjan continued to stalk his daughter. I tried to reason with him that he should fear no harm from my son as we were keeping constant watch on his activities and he would never dare to do anything that would remotely harm his daughter”.
I didn’t notice when Rambabu’s wife had come into the room and placed a tray with biscuits and tea on it.
“Please have some tea, Chandan.”
“The day before he took the extreme step, Ranjan had been sitting on the veranda in the evening as he would do every day. He saw the girl holding the hand of a youth while returning from college. This probably acted as the trigger…
We will never know…”
“But you said he had left a suicide note”, I interjected.
“Yes, he did. But strangely he does not mention anything about the girl in the note. All he wrote was…”
Rambabu took out a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket and handed it to me. It read…
“Dear Papa and Ma,
I love you so much. I shall not thank you for taking so much care of me for so many years despite knowing that I am not NORMAL. But I think I am NORMAL because God has made me this way! But I also know you face lot of problems because of me. But I am what I am. I know you will never leave me, but I must leave you. I have to go to God for I have heard His call. Please don’t grieve over my death. Love you so much…
“Chandan, I will go to office tomorrow to collect this month’s salary. I have decided to apply for voluntary retirement.” Rambabu stood up from the sofa as he spoke these words.
I looked at him intently but there was no drop of tears in his eyes. I didn’t know what to say. Nothing I could say would be a solace to him, nor do I want to give one. The ways of the world are more complex than one can probably imagine. The workings of the human mind are more intriguing than one can logically understand.
“Now let me go Rambabu. I pray to God that you and Boudi find peace in the rest of your lives.”
A few days later, Rambabu’s application for voluntary retirement from service was approved by the higher authority. He left office just as silently as he worked. The world moved on, the office moved on, only the chair where he used to sit still remains vacant…
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