"A profound unmitigated loneliness is the only truth of life"
- R.K. Narayan

Its a day I shall never forget. Every minute of it is still as fresh as the dew that fell that morning. It was a day I felt closest to God; a day when a sharp witness of destiny trampled the fiery dance of death.

Just like any other day, I had woken up on the brink of sunrise and was climbing to our terrace for my usual rounds of surya-namasakar (venerations to the most fiery one). As I passed by Naren's room, I threw a customary peep inside his window and what I saw inside, froze me instantly. Naren, our middle-aged tenant who stayed alone in the single bedroom upstairs, was perched on his stool, sobbing profusely, and with his head firmly inside a noose tied to the ceiling fan. My first reaction was to shout for help but I realized Naren was just a tug away from dangling to death. I had to think calm and think sharp. I could not over-react and trigger a panic.

By the way, It wasn't shocking to see Naren in this state. The last night he had visited a seriously ill friend at the hospital and the doctor had given very less chances of her survival. Along the way, Naren had seen old people begging on the streets, moaning in hunger. Incidentally, he had also witnessed some girls being harassed in the bus and all this had depressed Naren too much. For an introverted man, who lost his parents at a young age, whose dreams of family were shattered by a debilitating divorce, last night's incidents was probably a tipping point.

That morning, from behind the window bars, Naren looked like fiery grilled chicken. His mind had witnessed fiery incidents, his heart had been grilled by it and his soul had chickened out. But there was nothing demeaning in it, for his soul had crossed the bridge of compassion and was looking for that fire of passion. I felt he just needed to be shown the right way.

Naren was like a brother to me and I couldn't let him slip away like that. I was determined to talk him out of that noose. Though he had totally broken down, Naren still had his senses intact. I gathered my wits and gave my first and probably a bad shot at engaging him in a conversation, "Brother, I don't think that's the right way to remove a fan from the ceiling.". For a moment, the sobbing stopped but Naren was definitely not amused... not yet!

A ray of hope soon came forth, when Naren vomited the question that was eating at his heart.

Naren: Why did God create so much suffering in this world? My friend is dying. There are so many suffering in the hospitals. There is so much pain out there.

Me: Naren bhaiyya. I am not so old as to advise you but I definitely know that hospitals are not such a sad place. People go there in pain but they come out smiling. Hospitals are temples that give the blessing of life. Maybe a little suffering helps control our pride. Also, the staff that works at the hospitals does such a dedicated job sometimes. Didn't you read about the heroic deeds of nurses Remya and Vineetha who lost their own lives while rescuing sick patients from their burning wards? Their sacrifice didn't go waste, did it?

Naren was softening now, or maybe his heart was hardening... the noose was definitely loose, as he proceeded to his next question in a more clear voice.

Naren: Then what about the evils in the outside world? There is so much inequality, discrimination, and abuse.. Decent and god-fearing people cannot live in self-respect. Innocent girls can't even walk freely without being harassed.

Me: That is not totally true bro. There is injustice in this world but there are also forces that fight to restore peace and equitable life. I agree that eve-teasing is a problem but we are also fighting to oppose it. It was you who told me the tragic but brave story of Keenan and Reuben, who put a bold face against the teasers. They paid with their lives but then didn't the whole country stand united over it?

Naren's head was out of the noose now. He still stood on the table though. I sensed another question coming so I decided to let him blurt it out before I shouted to my parents for help. I was still nervous about the whole affair, you see...

Naren: What about the old and helpless people? Nobody takes care of them. They are left to die of hunger on the streets...

Me: I can't let you fault on that one, Naren. Old people have the utmost respect in our land. In fact, their guidance is the need of the hour. Just look at who has been the talk of the town for the past few months? Isn't Anna Hazare the grand old man of India who is leading us in such a big and powerful movement? And aren't we following him just like we stood behind another wise old man who gave us independence in 1947? Old people are the wealth of our nation and we are certainly not going to let them down.

I had run out of ideas and had to stop abruptly. There was silence for a minute and then Naren duly got down from the stool and walked towards the door. I did not need to shout for anybody's help anymore. God had heard me...

It is only under very high temperature and pressure that raw carbon turns into diamond. With all his life's experiences, Naren's heart had been into that furnace, and when he was properly cooked, God had chosen me as the chef to pluck the fiery grilled chicken finally out of the oven. Naren had the most refreshing look on his face when he stepped out of the room. He seemed somewhat.. enlightened! Over the next few days, my parents observed a marked change in Naren's behavior. They had never seen him so saintly. They brought up the topic with me, but I feigned ignorance as I had decided to keep that incident a secret.

A week later Naren packed his bags and left. He didn't tell us where he was going, for he probably didn't know that himself. As a thanks for making him smile, he gifted me a small mantle-piece of the smiling Buddha. He had left, just like another great soul had gone searching for truth 2600 years back. Was it just a co-incidence that Naren was driven by the same sights of aged, diseased and suffering, which had compelled the great Buddha? When Naren left, he had promised to write to us but we never heard back from him.

I wondered if, generations later, my family would finally hear about Naren, on some light that he may have shone on to the world...

When the fuel of one's passions,  finds its spark one day,
His life becomes a torch, so others can find their way...

Image credit : Images as well as factual information obtained from Indian news websites. Last image from website - mastermindwithjames.com

n.b. : The main thread of the story is imaginary but is weaved around true events of our times. This post is also submitted to the KFC Fiery Grilled contest on Indiblogger. A note of thanks to the  KFC-Indiblogger team for triggering this thought process in me...