A

nju sat relaxed on the wooden plank of an ‘oonjal’, a swing, anchored to the ceiling with chains. The metal links supporting the plank were bronze, with ornate designs and carvings. She rested her fair roundish face on her right hand that was holding the chain. She looked tired and disturbed. The swing gently swayed to the winds. It was her idea to find an apartment closer to the beach.

I do not know what is troubling you, but be rest assured that we will support you in all your decisions

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“Jagodoharana adisidale yasode", the chimes in the room moved to the voice of singer Bombay Jayashree. ‘Krishna might be the master of the universe, but he was still a child to Yashoda. She knew that her son was the Lord himself; still, she was anxious if he might fall, nervous when he remained quiet, helpless when she could not comprehend his mumblings, worried when he would not eat, but cried when he smiled’. The mellifluous song composed in Kannada in Kaapi raaga, rose and fell gently like the dance of the waves.

Hari sat next to Anju, careful not to disturb her meditation. He laid his head sideways on her lap while his legs were crossed close to his stomach like a foetus in a womb. Anju did not open her eyes. She ran her short lean fingers affectionately through his hair. ‘You are unequaled among men, master of the universe, praised by this humble servant, Purandara Dasa’, “…adisidale yasode"

A lone Tambura continued for a while after the rendition. The chime added a peaceful note to conclude the melody.

“I am sorry akka, I was very rude and rash", Hari spoke softly.

“It’s okay Kanna," she still had her eyes closed. The song had ended but was soon substituted by the music of the winds that created a melody of its own.

“I do not know what is troubling you, but be rest assured that we will support you in all your decisions." She looked at his face, “Aren’t we pals? So don’t be afraid to speak about your fears. I will never judge you. Never! Ever! I am not expecting you to tell me anything now. Don’t feel pressured. Speak whenever you feel like. You are a precious child, but I will never allow mine, mom or dad’s expectations to burden you ever. Okay?"

“Idiot," she said and looked at him sternly but with an affectionate smile.

***

Sam struggled to open the door for room 301 of the Ashoka Hostel. He was holding an oversized backpack on his left shoulder while trying to open the lock with just his right hand. It was drizzling outside and the hallway was messy with wet sand from the footsteps of the invading freshers. The room was damp and painted in bright whitish yellow. There were two cots attached to a study table and a locker. No sooner had he surveyed the room, there was some commotion and screams from somewhere nearby.

“Oh my god, help help", he could hear a girl’s voice distinctly in all the cacophony. He could see that she was shouting from the opposite block. He did not see her face. She wore a checked shirt and her ponytail danced to the frantic turns of her head. He dropped the backpack on the bed and rushed outside. There were some who stood downstairs staring, while a few rushed towards the opposite block. There were two able bodied men who tried to break open a door. A handsome man wearing a white t-shirt came through the crowds and kicked the door hard. The lock gave away and the three including the girl rushed inside. A lean dark complexioned youngster was hanging from the fan. His body was still shaking and shivering. The man in the white t-shirt held his legs and lifted him up, while another student, who looked much elder compared to the others reached out to the noose and untied him.

“Who has a car here?" the white t-shirt gentleman screamed, “I have sir," Sam was quick to volunteer.

“Go run and get it down fast", he ordered. Sam leaped downstairs. “Charu, come with me, guys give us way, don’t crowd up", he was agitated but held on to his emotions.

The youngster was still shaking and white froth was coming out his mouth. Charu, the girl in the checked shirt, wiped his mouth and face with great care. There was a thick v-shaped red mark around his neck. Her fair pale skin turned pink with all the anxiety. “Alex sir, should we check his pulse?" and took the lead by checking his wrist. The beats were not in rhythm. Something was definitely not right.

Sam ran towards the parking lot and got into the car at a lightning speed. “Holy fuck, bugger off to the side", he abused a cyclist who peddled slowly, ignorant of the emergency. The drizzle had begun to gain momentum. The roads were wet with the drizzle all day, and Sam prayed hard that he did not have to kill someone while trying to save one.

My Mani will become a very big man and a collector one day. I am confident. Saar, will you take care of my son?

“Charu, you get in first behind. Guys put Mani on her lap." All the students took Alex’s orders without a second thought. “Charu, make sure his head is held up".

Sam looked at her through the rear view mirror. She looked gorgeous in a very unconventional sense. Her shirt was tight and it well amplified her breasts. Sam was distracted by her cleavage and continued to stare through the rear-view mirror. Alex noticed Sam’s behaviour as soon as he got into the front seat, “Hero, move. Get to the gate first and then I will give you the directions to the hospital". Sam was taken by surprise at Alex’s nudge and that made him press the accelerator pedal hard. His car roared towards the exit.

“Akka, this is Alex here, can you give it to warden sir?" Alex tried to reach the warden about the incident. “Not to worry sir, I will take care, he is still unconscious. I am taking him to the hospital, but can you inform the Dean if you don’t mind, thanks", he smiled at the Warden’s confidence in him. They were at the gate. “What’s your name? Fresher?" he inquired still searching on his phone. “Yes sir, my name is Sam," he replied in a low voice with a little embarrassment. “Sam, do you believe in God", Alex did not wait for his answer, “because I don’t. Say your prayers and get to Malar Hospital in five". Sam recognized an air of confidence and aura around Alex. His eyes surveyed Charu, who showed no interest in looking up.

Mani was breathing heavily and getting hiccups. “Sir, can I give some water", Charu was worried. A middle aged lady randomly ran across the road, and the car screeched to a halt. Alex looked up for a second, “Dr. Krishna, Alex here," he maintained a cautious smile, “One my students tried to commit suicide. No, no we managed just in time, but he is still unconscious. I am bringing him to the emergency in two minutes," and looked for Sam’s concurrence, “We will inform the police right-away, Sundararajan, station SI, is a good friend. Thank you doctor," Alex closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Memories from the past came in a flash.

“Saar, this is my son Manivannan. I am a labourer in a brick kiln from Devarapalayam in Dharmapuri. I have never been to a school saar, but my son is very intelligent. His school head master told me that he has scored big marks. I am very happy. He is my only hope saar. My husband ran away with another woman, when Mani’s brother was just two months old. My Mani will become a very big man and a collector one day. I am confident. Saar, will you take care of my son?" Alex remembered this scene distinctly.

\

Sam parked the car right at the entrance of the emergency gate, and ran towards the reception. Alex alerted Dr. Krishna of their arrival and the ward boys came rushing with a stretcher. Charu and Alex guided Mani onto the stretcher and they were inside the ICU in a few minutes. Mani was still breathing heavily and the hiccups continued. The nurses advised everyone to stay outside. Alex looked through the glass door and walked towards the visitor’s gallery. Sam and Charu followed his footsteps.

“Charu, I am afraid about my life," Mani had feared. “I have 26 arrears; I just cannot cope with English. You know, I have always been a topper all through school and have scored 97% in my 12th boards. But, I don’t think I can live to see myself, as a failure. I would rather die than feel miserable like a loser," Charu remembered and cried.

Sam who was sitting nearby walked across the hallway and brought her a glass of water. She nodded a no, but Sam insisted, “It’s ok, Mani is going to be fine. Have some water," she looked up, paused and took a sip from the plastic glass. “Sorry, my name is Sam, this is my first day in college, B Tech stream".

“Sam, thank you for all the help," she smiled and Alex joined in, “Thanks Sam. It takes courage and tact to drive like that".

“I feel so miserable being a cog in this wretched education system that encourages an intelligent child, to study all his entire school life in his mother tongue, and then forces him to learn every subject in a totally alien language along with others who have learnt that language all their life. Two years into that hell and he feels utterly worthless and wants to kill himself," Alex was angry. Sam who sat opposite both Charu and Alex, looked at them patiently. The rest of the students who had followed them started collecting, and crowding up outside the visitors’ gallery.

“Sam, do you know that he was a bonded labourer from the age of 4," Charu continued, “Two district collectors had supported him, encouraged him, and mentored him. Mani was a state first. What if we had been late by even five minutes? Every one of their efforts and prayers would have been wasted. It is only in these times I completely believe, that God is a fucking pervert. Rescue him, give him hope and then completely drown him," she was livid.

“But that is no excuse for his behaviour. When he opens his eyes, I am going to kill him," Charu’s eyes had turned red.

A nurse signaled Alex, and both of them took quick steps towards the emergency ward. Sam signaled that he would stay back, not wanting to crowd up inside. In a quick motion he reclined on the molded chair and took out his smartphone and touched the tweety bird app.

“Her eyes burned red, but wonder if it was her body or anger that was hotter," he tweeted.

Charu quickly dashed towards the pharmacy. She looked hassled and paranoid, more worried than she was, five minutes back. Sam searched for her eyes to get some clues, but did not succeed. He kept looking till she disappeared through the blue doors of emergency.

“In general, there are two ways of performing suicide by hanging: suspension hanging (the suspension of the body at the neck) and drop hanging (a calculated drop designed to break the neck). Manual strangulation and suffocation may also be considered together with hanging," Sam read from the Wikipedia on the phone.

“To perform a suspension hanging, a rope or other ligature is tied into a noose which goes around the neck, a knot (often a slip knot, which tightens easily) is formed, and the other end of the rope is tied to a ligature point; the body is then suspended, which tightens the ligature around the neck. In addition to rope, other materials can easily be fashioned into an improvised noose e.g. a bed-sheet, ripped T-shirt, shoelaces or telephone extension cable," Sam pushed the spectacles closer to his eyes.

“Regardless of the material used to form the noose, suspension hanging will kill its victims in three ways: compression of the carotid arteries, the jugular veins, and the airway. About 5 kg of pressure is required to compress the carotid artery; 2 kg for the jugular veins; and at least 15 kg for the airway. It took a man who filmed his hanging 13 seconds to become unconscious, 1 minute and 38 seconds to lose muscle tone, and 4 minutes and 10 seconds for muscle movement to cease."

“Holy shit," Sam exclaimed in disbelief when he located a similar video on Youtube.

It was a close shot of a Caucasian middle aged woman smoking a cigarette. Her fingers that held the cigarette seemed trembling, but her face conveyed an attitude that she ‘does not give a damn’ about anyone. The camera panned slightly behind, revealing her exposed shoulders. Sam could hear water flowing through his head phones. The video was grainy and may have been captured from a hand-held camera. She looked straight into the camera for several minutes, but moved her head to take a puff from the fading cigarette. She might have been beautiful, some years ago. Her face looked stressed, sick and aged. The bath tub was more apparent when she dropped the butt of the cigarette and her fingers gently caressed her body while they travelled inside the soapy water. She closed her eyes while her face tightened. Her right hand tightened its hold over the side grip. Her eyebrows and forehead lines moved with the gentle moaning. She stayed inside the water for a couple of more minutes with her eyes closed. The video suddenly went blank.

The data signal was still strong in his phone. Sam stayed on.

She appeared again. This time the video appeared more bluish and she was looking into the mirror in the same bath room. She was not wearing any clothes and he could see from the reflection that she was crying. Her body was shaking, but Sam could not hear her. The black eyeliner dissolved in her tears, leaving a trail as it travelled down her face. The video went blank again.

It was getting dark outside the hospital and Sam found, that the faces that he saw a while ago had been replaced with new grumpy ones. There was no sight of Charu or Alex.

Back in the video, the lady tied a white rope around her neck. She stood on a bath stool and seemed determined. The rope was tied to a fan above. The grains made the video look scarier. The rope looked more like a slim white belt now. Sam could hear the water flowing more distinctly. She tightened the knot around her neck. She gently lifted her feet like a ballerina and stood on her toes. In a quick motion she took one of feet backwards.

“He survived!" Sam jumped startled. “Mani has made it," Alex was excited, beaming with a smile.

Sam looked terrified, “Relax, you saved a life", Charu shook Sam’s hands. She looked relieved.

“Shoot, good heavens," Sam missed a breath. He stealthily slipped the smart phone into one his pockets.

“Sam will you take Charu to the hostel?" Alex requested. “I will stay with him for some time and might have to deal with the police also".

“Absolutely," Sam did not hide his excitement and they shared a smile.