That Magic Cup Of Coffee
That Magic Cup Of Coffee16 mins 230 16 mins 230
THE summer evening was still sultry. People thronged the beach to escape the heat that had confined them indoors during the day. The cool sea breeze was somewhat providing solace.
Sitting aloof from the assorted crowds, I was watching silently the untiring efforts of the surging waves that were relentlessly aspiring to reach the shore, apparently with the intent to mingle with the crowds, but disintegrating even before they reached it. The merriment of the kids who were playing in the sands too provided a pleasant sight.
As I lost myself in the absorbing surroundings, a young man walked towards me. With him were his wife and a kid.
Looking at me, he exclaimed, “Hello, sir! Do you remember me?”
I stared at him. He was in his late twenties and younger than me. He was of medium built and of less than fair complexion. With curly hair and clean-shaven, he was dressed in faded jeans and a light blue tee-shirt.
I scrutinized his face trying to recollect. I was sure I had seen him somewhere, but could not place him.
“I am afraid you have not recognized me, sir!” Said the young man again, sporting a friendly smile. “Five years ago...Kailasgiri...a cup of coffee...You will recollect now. For sure”.
He was right! Suddenly, there was a flash in my mind, refreshing my memory.
“Oh, my! Brother, is it you? Really...!” I exclaimed. There was a remarkable change in him since I saw him almost five years ago.
“Yes sir! I am the same old Venkat...whom you had met on that fateful winter morning on the great hill,” he said. “How do you do, sir?”
I nodded affirmatively.
He introduced his wife, Hemalatha, and his 2-year-old daughter, Supraja, to me.
Smiling, his wife wished me with folded hands.
I eyed her...She was slim, fair, and good-looking. In her cream-colored churidar-kurta, she looked gorgeous and also a little taller than her husband. The kid, resembling her mother, was cute.
“I am happy indeed to see you again, Sir!” said Venkat, squatting before me.
His wife followed suit. The child was trying to get down on to the sands to play, and the mother was having a tough time restraining her.
Silence pervaded us for a few seconds as none of us talked.
With his good-looking wife and the cute little daughter, Venkat seemed to be quite happy with his life. I became curious to know about him.
As if he read my mind, Venkat said abruptly, “Let us go to the restaurant and talk over a cup of coffee, sir!”
We all got up and started walking slowly in the sands towards the improvised, beach-side restaurant. Venkat was saying something as we walked along, and I was nodding absent-mindedly. For, my mind slid into the past, unconsciously.....
IT was five years ago that I had met Venkat in somewhat strange circumstances...
The winter morning was cold and refreshing. As I walked on the Kailasgiri – the popular sea-side hill in Vizag, which acquired its name and fame from the presence atop of the huge statue of Lord Shiva and His Consort, Parvati. It was a little shivering, especially due to the cool morning breeze that was emanating from the sea below. And with the noise of the sea providing the background music, the atmosphere on the hill was very pleasant.
I looked down at the sea from the hilltop. With its light blue waters, the morning sea seemed quiet. The waves were subdued. Here and there, a few people were seen bathing in the sea, while some were doing their morning walk on the sands. It was a fascinating sight indeed. The entire area was serene.
I looked at the imposing statue of the Divine Couple – Lord Shiva and Parvati. Their very presence was soothing to the mind and reassuring. It seemed to recharge the atmosphere.
As I started walking slowly on the ledge, my eyes fell at the sight - a few yards away.
I stopped suddenly. For, there was a man – whose back was towards me – standing at the tip of the hill, looking down.
I could not hazard a guess as to why he was there, and what his intentions were. Where he was standing was a dangerous point, and unless one was careful, he was sure to fall to his certain death from there. For, down below were a heap of big boulders and huge rocks.
I rushed to the man. Quietly. I caught hold of his hand from behind and stopped him, even as he was about to jump off.
Startled, he turned around and looked at me, blankly.
“Sorry brother! Do you have a cigarette?” I asked him coolly.
His face changed colors. Looking at me sternly, he burst out angrily – “You...! Just for the sake of a cigarette...you dare to interrupt me!?”
I did not mind his anger. “I did not smoke since morning, brother. My tongue is dried up and twisting. As I saw you here I hoped to get a cigarette from you,” I explained.
Annoyed, he blurted out again, “I don’t smoke, man!”
“Oh! It is my bad luck, indeed!” I said calmly. “By the by, I saw you peeping down...”
“It’s none of your business!” he had cut me short curtly.
Ignoring his rudeness, I inquired nonchalantly. “Has something fallen down? I mean...a gold chain or a ring...”
“Nothing of the sort. I was going to jump off this cliff” said the man, annoyance writ large on his face, apparently at my unexpected interference in his mission.
“Oh! Really?” I expressed astonishment. “But pray, why?”
“Arre, don’t you understand, man? I am committing suicide,” he yelled at me.
I sported a smile and said, “Do not heat up this otherwise pleasant atmosphere with your hot jokes, brother”.
“I am not joking, man. I am serious. I want to die,” Irked at my smile, he said assertively.
“Oh, really? What a surprise! And a coincidence too...” I said with astonishment.
“Why? What is the surprise...and coincidence...in it?” he quizzed me, looking bewildered.
“What else? I too came here on the same mission, brother,” I told him, sounding jolly. “I am happy I could get someone for a company in my last journey”.
He stared at me in apparent disbelief.
“Yes, brother. Why else do you think that I took the trouble of climbing up this hill in this chill weather at this hour?” said I. “I was looking for a vantage point to take the flight to Yamapuri. And then, I happened to see you. Suddenly the desire to smoke surfaced in me. I hoped to get a cigarette from you, as I do not have one with me, and to have my last puff”.
He seemed to be nonplussed at my revelation.
Now, I examined the man closely...He must be in his early twenties and younger to me – at least by 4 – 5 years. He was lean and thin, and his curly hair was unruly – ruffled by the wind.
I smiled at him. “Once a decision is made to die, what are we waiting for? Let us hold each other’s hand and jump out together”.
Nodding, he reached for my hand and held it.
“Wait a minute. Let us say goodbye to the Divine Couple before we quit this wily world” I suggested to him, pointing at the statue of Lord Shiva and Parvati.
Hesitantly he followed me.
We walked up to the statue and offered our silent prayers, closing our eyes.
“Now let us move, Mr. Subrav!” I said to the man.
“I am not Subrav. My name is Venkat” he said snubbing me.
I smiled. “How does it matter, anyway...since you are ending your life?” I said tauntingly.
He did not say anything.
After taking a few steps, I suddenly stopped.
He looked at me in askance.
“I want to drink a cup of strong coffee. Now! For the last time,” I said abruptly.
He was visibly annoyed. “What kind of foolishness is it? You are just going to die, man!” he said in an irritant tone.
“Yeah, I know. Since we are going to die, I wish to fulfill my strong urge for the coffee” I said nonchalantly. “After all, it is a small wish of a dying man”.
Irked, he said curtly. “In that case, you go and do whatever you want. I shall go my way alone,” and started to proceed towards the cliff.
“Don’t be angry, brother. Do not forget that we have entered into a pact to die together. It is unjust on your part to violate it,” I said trying to stop him. “Do you know this? Those who die with their wishes or desires unfulfilled are supposed to become spirits...as their souls would not get liberated”.
He stopped and looked into my eyes, with frightening looks.
“Lord Yama is large-hearted. He would not mind our going a little late to Him. Instead of rushing and standing in the queue there, let us enjoy the last minutes of our lives and go to Yamapuri leisurely”. I said jocularly.
As he seemed to be still undecided, I dragged him along with me saying, “The Coffee Van must have arrived by now. Let us go and have a quick sip of coffee, and return...so that we could do a bungee jump together, with renewed vigor”.
Every day a mobile restaurant van would arrive at the foot of the hill around that time to cater to the needs of the morning walkers in the area.
Taking the coffee cups, we sat on the nearby boulders. Sipping the coffee, I lead Venkat into the conversation. I was curious to know the circumstances that had driven him to take the extreme step, at that young age. Slowly I broached the subject.
“I am quite perplexed to learn of your intention to abruptly end your life...at this young age. May I know the so-called excruciating circumstances, brother?” I asked him.
He stared at me. “You too want to die. Why not you spill out your story first?” He said.
‘He is not as innocent as he looked’, I realized. I shrugged and began to reel off my story, thus –
‘I am working in a State Government Department and living alone in a 2-roomed flat. I loved a girl who was good-looking and working in a private firm. We dated for 3 long years – going to places, frequenting movie theatres, ice-cream parlors, sharing soft drinks with a single straw, and whatnot. We spent several full-moon nights at the Ramakrishna and the Bhimili beaches laying our heads in each other’s lap, exchanging sweet-nothings. We also exchanged gifts on every occasion. We lived in fantasy and roamed about entirely in a different world where only we two existed. We did not physically advance, though. I wanted to marry her and tried to propose to her on several occasions. But every time she would divert the topic on some excuse or the other.
I was so much engrossed in her love that I did not see it coming - the shocking development...Last night she walked into my flat along with her brother. She placed her wedding card in my hands with a sweet smile. I was utterly shocked.
‘Sorry, dear. My people have brought an NRI match for me. The groom is quite handsome. He is a Software Engineer in the USA and earns a lot in dollars. He also owns a big car and an apartment in Los Angeles...” said she phlegmatically. “I am sure you will agree that your 30,000 rupees salary is not even peanuts, before what he earns. And how can we enjoy life with that meager money? One should be practical, you know! Moreover, I could not disobey my parents. So I could not say ‘no’ to the match...By the by, the marriage will be held in Visakhapatnam itself. Don’t forget to attend it to bless me...’ She then walked out coolly, even before I could recover from the shock of my life.
‘I realized that she took me for a ride all these years. I felt cheated. She was such a heartless lover. So badly jilted in love, I wept through the night. I did not know what to do. I felt my life wasted. I loved her so much that I cannot live without her. Heart-broken, I have decided to end my life...’
Venkat looked at me in awe, as I completed the narration.
“Nonsense! When the girl has cheated on you so cruelly, you should have exposed her. Instead, you want to die, like a coward, for no fault of yours?” he said angrily.
A pale smile appeared on my lips. “True love does not seek hatred and vengeance, my friend. I loved her sincerely. I cannot think of harming her in any way just because she had spurned me. I wish her to be happy where ever she is,” I said staring into oblivion.
A deep silence pervaded us as none of us spoke.
“Ok, leave it aside. Now tell me your story” I said to him sporting a smile and breaking the silence.
Venkat cleared his throat and started recounting his story –
‘It was 6 months ago that the girl joined Venkat’s department on her new appointment. His heart throbbed on seeing her. It was love at first sight! He had introduced himself to her and started befriending her. She helped her in her official work. He took her to restaurants and ice-cream parlors. All the time she had been obliging. A few days later, he took the courage to say ‘I love you!’ to her. She did not take offense as feared by him. She had simply smiled with a tinge of shyness, in response. She neither encouraged nor discouraged him, all along. Venkat was sure that she too was in love with him, but could not express openly, being a girl...”
Venkat paused for a moment, apparently reliving the past.
“Tell me, brother. What happened then? I am unable to withstand the suspense,” I said.
“There is no suspense, man.” He said gritting his teeth and continued.
‘Yesterday Venkat and his girlfriend met at the office canteen during lunchtime as usual. It was then that she told him that her parents had brought her a suitable match and that she was going to be married soon. Shell shocked, he reminded her of their love. She feigned ignorance and asked him ‘what love?’ Denying that she was in love with him, she said that it was nothing but a mere liking for him. Venkat pleaded with her to marry him as he could not live without her. She said she could not defy her parents and elope with him, for that would bring disgrace to her family. She told him to forget her and walked on him coolly...’
Overwhelmed by emotion, Venkat crashed the coffee cup on the ground angrily.
“So we are sailing in the same boat!” I said pitiably.
This time a long silence engulfed us as we both were lost in our own thoughts.
After a while, Venkat got up suddenly and announced, “I am leaving”.
“Wait, let me finish my coffee,” I said.
“I am going home,” he said.
“What do you mean? You wanted to commit suicide. Have you forgotten?” I asked him, with astonishment.
He flared up. “Why should I end my precious life just for the sake of a stupid girl who is too timid to admit her own love? In any case, what I have experienced is nothing as compared to the deceit and humiliation you have suffered. I am having second thoughts about my suicide proposal,” he said firmly. “After all, there are plenty of girls who would be too willing to marry me”.
“This is nothing but cheating!” I protested. “Having agreed to give me company in my death, how could you go back on it now?”
“Sorry, man. Bye!” Venkat gave a mischievous smile and hurried away as if someone was chasing him.
As I saw him disappear from the sight, I felt like roaring with laughter. For, my effort had fructified. I could successfully divert the man from the un-seeming thought of suicide and save his life... bypassing off time, drawing him into the conversation, narrating fictitious stories, and, of course, by offering him a cup of coffee. I could succeed in rekindling in him the hope of life, once again!
I resided nearby the Kailasgiri. Sometimes I would climb up the hill during my morning walks and enjoy the Nature. On that day too, I had climbed up the hill as usual and was admiring the scenic beauty. It was then that I happened to see Venkat. From his movements, I could suspect his intentions. I lost no time in approaching him and foiled his attempt, on the pretext of seeking a cigarette from him. I caused the delay by engaging him in conversation and managed to bring him down, even, in the name of coffee. Thus I could buy time causing those critical moments to pass off – unknowingly. Narrating a story that I could weave out then and there and pretending to be a jilted lover out to commit suicide, I could create an affinity between us. Finally, I succeeded in raising fresh hope of life in him and successfully prevented him from committing suicide.
If only one could divert the mind and thoughts of the person who in his or her depressed state of mind, tried to commit suicide…and help to postpone the act by a few minutes…then, the person was sure to relent and overcome the urge to die. I am one of those who strongly believed in the doctrine.
Once I happened to come across a report about an Australian who had saved several persons from committing suicide. He would keep an eye on a notorious suicide point and observe people. He would wean away from those attempting suicide for whatever reason, by leading them into a conversation on some pretext or the other. He would offer them tea, coffee, or even a mug of beer if need be. He would cause them to think and ultimately to return home changing their minds. How great!
Ever since I read the report, I too started working in those lines adopting similar methods to save people from ending their lives abruptly. I could save a few such people…
I heaved a sigh of big relief as I watched, with immense satisfaction, Venkat receding from the view – a changed man.
NOW, after 5 years… the same old Venkat was before me, along with his family. I could not suppress my happiness.
“Sir, though I returned home that fateful day, my mind was hovering over you for a long time. I even offered prayers to God to save you from the intended suicide…especially as you were punishing yourself for no fault of yours,” Venkat said as we were sipping coffee. “You cannot imagine how happy I am to see you alive”.
I laughed and told him – “The story of my jilted love and the intending suicide were not real, brother. The whole story was concocted by me in order to buy time and to wean you away from the thought of suicide. I was already married for three years with a dutiful wife and a cute kid, by then”.
Astonishment was writ large on his face. “Really…!?” he exclaimed and said thoughtfully. “You are my savior, indeed. Even today I shudder to think of that fateful day. But for you, I would have lost a beautiful, happy life that I am enjoying now. I do not know how to express my gratitude to you”. He wiped off his moist eyes.
I patted him with a friendly smile.
Looking at my face, he said excitingly, “Do you know, sir? Hema is the same girl whom I had loved earlier”.
I was not ready for this unexpected twist in the tale. I looked into his eyes with awe.
“Yes sir. Neither Hema nor I was aware of the fact that the match her parents had brought was that of mine. We could realize it only at the time of our engagement”.
He smiled at his wife, who smiled back shyly.
Venkat told me that he was transferred to Vijayawada soon after his marriage and that his wife too got the posting there 6 months later. Also, he got a promotion to an officer a few months ago.
He came to Visakhapatnam with his family a couple of days back to see his ailing mother-in-law, and would be returning to Vijayawada the next day, he said.
I extended my hearty congratulations and best wishes to him.
He held my hands suddenly. “I owe all this happiness to you, sir. You have given me a new lease of life. I am very much indebted to you”. His voice trembled a little with emotion as he said this to me.
His wife too looked at me with shades of gratitude in her eyes.
As we parted an hour after, my heart was filled with immense satisfaction and extreme happiness.