Life was turning mediocre. The same job, same classes, same answers in papers being evaluated. I had been ignoring calls and mails, though I could not find reason sufficient to substantiate the action. There was emptiness but not loneliness, singlehood- to me was a blessing. It freed me from the burden of conforming to things I don’t want to. When I stepped into work, time lost pace, I never found it boring, though yes life was again mediocre.
Ashu called again, he was getting desperate these days, and he wanted a final answer. Same time the dean called up and said he was sending a student to meet me. Over the last 2 months 4 suicides had taken place on campus. The council always had a students counselling unit but the professors were from different departments and counselling was more of personal talks hence often biased and students who knew the professors would never want to see them again. I was new on campus and had a counselling background but I was not a senior to be entrusted with this duty. The dean still insisted. I wanted to tell him having a counselling degree doesn’t make one fit for the job and I was no god. Lately I was shocked about my inner feelings.
I didn’t have the energy to fight with Ashu at this point. The suicides and atmosphere in classes were disturbing enough. I promised to talk to him later a promise I never kept. I admit I am not the best individual, though a counsellor by degree. I never had tackled my issues well, but something’s changed over past 2 years in our relationship, I had grown matured or less demanding, or rather Ashu had grown impatient and more demanding. Things that fascinated him ceased to interest me. Those days he was a star in college so I was love sick puppy when he hardly noticed. But the moment I stopped drooling around maybe he felt the need for attention now he seemed to be the love sick puppy. In short I was back to being the ‘real me’.
Someone knocked at the door, a tall lanky boy not more than 21.Looked as if he hadn’t shaved and bathed for a week or two maybe. The bandage on wrist need not be explained for it screamed- “I don’t care so I did it”. But his eyes cold and lethargic also with a tinge of desperation said, “I don’t know if you can but will you help me”? He handed a letter from the dean “Nakul Gupta” final year Mechanical it read. I left it on my table showing him it was of no importance to me neither his case sheet nor the authority that send it. “Why you don’t sit down Nakul”, I said. He looked lost and hearing his name he jerked. Nakul aren’t you, I asked? Yes madam ME04B0045, he said. How pitiful I thought, these roll numbers like jail numbers but with the stamp of an institution with an acronym of three letters it’s always a passport to these students and an identity that merged into them, Nakul was ME04B0045 and I wondered who suffered? Nakul or ME04B0045? Holding my train of thoughts I asked, “What would you like to talk?” He shook his head which meant -nothing, not interested; don’t want to tell you, why can’t you let me go?????
I took my time, breaking the ice was always difficult but being prepared to face the storm after was equally important. You can walk around if you are uncomfortable sitting -I said, noticing him sitting at the edge of the chair as if ready to dash out and digging his nails into the armrest of the chair. We won’t talk if you don’t want to, infact I just want you to be here as long as you like. He looked at me with disbelief wondering if this was a new trick. He relaxed a bit, I could notice the muscles at his neck relaxing, his eyes were studying the room, the book shelves with leather bound books and journals on education, psychology, philosophy- what did it seem to him dull, boring or frightening? – I wish I knew. I wish I knew what he read and could have left something that caught his attention so the conversation was easy.
I was fed up at the beginning of every session. The principles and guidelines taught in classes came in front of my eyes like Moses holding the commandments, the fact was that I did not want to be conventional and 2 years in academics taught me that theory and practice were two different worlds.
Should I talk, prompt, comfort, just talk, tell him a story, everything sounded artificial. Madam can I ask you something? For a second I thought I saw him smile, his face looked calm. “Yes,you may”, I said. “Everyone wants to know why a nine pointer in his last days at institute wants to take his life, when he is well placed”- he paused and looked at me. The rest was obvious – did I want to know the same? I waited for him to complete. “Is that why I was send here too”?
“Well would you believe if I told you I don’t know”, Nakul? For the first time I saw a twinkle in his eyes and he said “I will believe you coz I know that feeling, I have felt it too”. Students often get surprised when I say I don’t know something they don’t expect teachers to say. But my admitting my vulnerability broke the ice. It was like Alibaba’s magical code and cave opened.
Sometimes when a father wants his kid to hold his hand he says would you hold my hand son so that I won’t fall, unlike let me hold your hand so you won’t fall. It helps to see that both are safe. At that particular moment I felt I was doing the same with Nakul and we both wanted each other to stay balanced, we both were equally lost in a pretentious world. “So, a cup of coffee, Nakul?” I asked – He nodded his head and this time I knew we had a long conversation ahead. The phone was vibrating showing Ashu’s name – and for the first time I did something I had not done in years, I switched it off and continued listening to Nakul.