Sakthi stretched himself outside the moving train, standing on the edge near the door. He held the two side bars firmly and drew plenty of chilled air, which gushed and filled his lungs. He repeated this several times, hoping to feel light. He was jolted when someone suddenly cordoned him, dropping his arms tightly around his waist, and pulled him inside the coach, shouting,
“Brother, if you had any intention of jumping out of the running train, it wouldn’t happen.”
It was a depressingly bad day for Sakthi. Must have been distressing for his parents as well. He chose to run away from his home, wanting to be left alone for some time, may be a few days, who knew. He was mindful that his parents would have been terribly upset by what he had done now. He loved his parents; they had given him everything. But, he had disappointed them and felt terribly guilty about it.
‘Will they forgive me?’ Sakthi asked himself. He had been brooding over it.
‘After all, what was my crime, to run away from my home like this? I might have failed their expectations. Am I alone responsible if they had big expectations from me? Was it all only my fault? Do I need to be their puppet? Am I alone responsible if what they wished didn’t happen?’
Questions rattled his mind non-stop.
Sakthi was the only surviving son to Vetri and Meena, a working class couple. His elder brother died even when he was in his mother’s womb. His sister, younger by nearly ten years, died within the first few days after she was born. The couple didn’t have another child, and their entire focus fell on Sakthi.
Sakthi’s mother, Meena aspired that he became a doctor. She had had an agonizing experience when she conceived Sakthi’s short-lived siblings. In both the cases, she believed she didn’t get a proper medical attention when most needed. Finances were a problem too. She couldn’t complain to anyone, the system was nonchalant. She vowed to make Sakthi a doctor. Vetri, Sakthi’s father was distressed too, losing two of his progenies. He wanted to teach the hospital and the doctors a good moral for their failure to provide proper medical care for his wife during her pregnancy and wanted them punished for their negligence. The legal community didn’t offer him much relief. The community of medical professionals was quite strong, he couldn’t penetrate. He fumed inwardly about his helplessness. He couldn’t afford to hire the best, the more costly legal brains. He wanted to make his son a lawyer.
Vetri and Meena had argued and fought endlessly among themselves about their personal aspirations for Sakthi, sometimes right in front of him. He was under tremendous pressure in meeting his parents’ demands. Meena was psychologically strong, and Vetri made a tactical retreat. Meena drove Vetri to work harder and harder to make more money, for Sakthi’s future education. She wasn’t educated much, hence, her own financial contribution was nothing worth mentioning. A medical education wasn’t going to be cheap, given the overall situation.
Sakthi didn’t want to displease his mother, especially. He tried hard, yet he couldn’t get along well with his biology, essential for his admittance to a medical college. The more he didn’t succeed in biology, the more he began hating it. His dilemma of having to please his parents on one side and his not wanting to study Biology on the other side was distressing. He wavered and vacillated. His performance in the public examinations fell far short of the requisites for his admittance to a medical college.
There was one other factor. Sakthi worshipped Tendulkar, the cricketer as his hero and wanted himself to be another cricketing hero. He loved playing cricket game. He practiced the game regularly when he was in the high school, defying his parents’ admonishments. When he entered the higher secondary level, the study demanded most of his time, and he couldn’t practice the game enough. It frustrated him a lot. He played cricket well, and could have easily claimed a slot in the district team, with a little more practice and coaching. He missed that opportunity, and he cursed himself and his circumstances.
His parents were shattered with his results in the public exam, rebuked him harshly for not trying harder and for not taking their wish seriously. Sakthi felt humiliated, heartbroken and hurt.
Upset that his parents refused to accept his own preferences, he left his house in anger. For the first time, he clandestinely took away a couple of hundred rupee notes from his father’s wallet without his knowledge. He left a note to them, ‘I am seeking some peace. I am not going to die.
Don’t be searching for me. Leave me alone for some time. I shall come back.’
What gave him that foolish courage, he didn’t comprehend. He boarded a train from his place, not knowing where he wanted to go. He thought wandering somewhere for some time would clear the cobwebs in his mind and relieve him somewhat from his disappointment and depression.
‘I have failed.’
The thought pounded him again and again. As the train sped through, the day turned to night, and Sakthi was deeply disturbed, and he couldn’t get any sleep. He didn’t feel hungry at all. The unreserved railway coach was barely full.
Sakthi thought some fresh air might help. He saw the others in the train falling asleep, one after another. He got up from his seat, went to the door to his coach, opened it, stretched himself out, and took some deep breath.
‘Should I end my life?’
He didn’t have that courage, even. The fresh air failed to lift him up from his depressions, and so he tried again a few times, stretched himself outside the train and took several deep breaths. Slowly, he was beginning to feel better.
And that was when he was pulled inside by a pair of strong arms. He twisted around to see a bearded, middle-aged man, holding him tightly. Sakthi struggled to free himself from his grip. The other man deftly kicked the doorway closed, bolted the lock and released his grip on Sakthi.
“What were you trying to do in the middle of the night?” he demanded angrily.
“I am a coward, I couldn’t even manage that……” Sakthi sobbed, implying he understood the significance of the stranger’s demanding question.
“Come, my dear brother. Let us go inside now. Tell me, what is your problem?” The stranger too must have felt that something was amiss. He led Sakthi inside, sat him in his seat, and looked pensively at him.
Silence followed for some time. The stranger himself continued his interrogation, “So, you failed in your exams?”
“No,” Sakthi cried and slowly narrated his story, even as the stranger put his arms around him comfortingly and listened to him intently.
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