Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Last Resort

Dinesh, or Dan as many called him, sat at the edge of a bed that creaked uncomfortably under his weight. The poorly furnished dormitory reeked of routine. One by one his eyes grazed all the sixteen beds, each covered in the same orange bed sheet, differentiated only by the blemishes and marks left behind by predecessors. A bird sang nonchalantly, a broken picture frame adorned the stark white wall and a lizard scuttled past seeking its prey.

Dan’s gaze rested on his own reflection in the glass of a window which was as insignificant as his own presence in the room. He could barely recognise himself. He hadn’t shaved for days, and had lost much of the weight that a well to do man often shows off as a status symbol. He tried to say something, but his voice cracked with lack of use. He thought of how things had changed since the last three months.

He clearly remembered that joyful sunny afternoon which had changed his life completely. The office boy had knocked timidly, coming in with a cup of black coffee, shaking at the very sight of him. Dan relished the fact that only a few could take its bitterness. “S-s-sir,” the boy quickly put the coffee on the table, waiting for his next order. Dan took a sip, looking up at the boy with sheer disgust. His coffee had sugar. Dan smashed the cup on the floor, the glass shattering into a million pieces. Muttering an obscenity he hollered, “YOU! Don’t you know I have my coffee without sugar? Get out! I said GET OUT!” The boy stood there frozen, unable to move. Dan held him by the collar of his shirt and pushed him out of his office. He seethed with rage.

After a while he smiled. He drew insatiable pleasure from power. He dialled his secretary’s number and waited. “You, fire that good for nothing office boy, and bring in the days mail.” A minute later his secretary walked in warily and handed over a letter. Looking paler than usual, she hastily handed over a single letter and left. It was the government’s seal on the envelope that caught his attention…

“Mr. Dinesh Shah?” the mention of his name brought him back to the sordid dormitory. Wistful of his previous life, he chose not to respond. The woman in a stark white uniform repeated his name again. He ignored her. Unconcerned she went on, “Mr. Shah, there is another hour left before your appointment is due. You can rest till then. There will be no need to venture outside your dormitory as yet.” She kept a glass of normal coffee on the side table and walked out without another word. He bit back a retort.

He could do this. He told himself. There was no need to be scared. Nothing was lost, yet. His thoughts drew him back to that letter, the repercussions of which brought him here. The letter had mechanically stated that with the death of his aunt, Mrs. Indira Shah, his property was under the ownership of the government and his business would thereby have to shut down unless he bought it off the government. His property was worth six crores.

Dan cursed his dead aunt who had died a month ago, under whose name he had originally bought the premises and started the business so that he could enjoy a generous rebate on income tax. He had never bothered to get himself acquainted with government regulations since he found them unnecessarily complicated and the possibilities of the acquisition of his entire wealth had not struck him. So much so, he had not even considered getting his aunt to write a will. He had simply forgotten the fact that the property was not really his in the eyes of law.

There was no way a bank would loan him such a huge amount, and a court appeal could take years to materialise. Most of his money was spent in a business transaction the proceeds of which would now be lost with his business shutting down.
Over the next one month he braced himself to collect cash, but everyone turned their back to him. His ego and the need to control had lost him his friends, and he was slowly losing himself too. Due to recession, there were no jobs available. There was little money left after he packed up his business. He sold his house, and moved to a much smaller apartment. He had collected just about enough money to survive a few years but it was not enough. A few days after his premises were acquired, Dan disappeared…

The Asylum for Special People was situated in the suburbs of Panipat, a small town in Haryana. Funded fully by the government it took care of anyone who showed signs of retardation or derangement. Dinesh Shah was their latest patient. He had been brought in by a local shopkeeper, who reported that the man was screaming at an electricity pole, claiming that it was his office boy who had brought him coffee with sugar. When he tried to pull him away, he got violent. With difficulty the shopkeeper managed to bring him to the asylum.

The Asylum was poorly furnished but clean. Dan sat at the edge of his bed, waiting. It was his new home for the next seven years. He allowed himself a smile. He had taken care of his life for the time being. The plan was going well. He was in control and most importantly he was not mad. He simple had to wait for his fixed deposit investment to double up and he could get out of this hell. It was the only way out, and he was ready for it…


Dan couldn’t move. It had been six years of madness, and he could no longer differentiate between logic and insanity. “I have to be brave”, he told himself. He felt a cold hand touch his ankle. “STOP! STOP imagining things that don’t exist!” He trembled at the thought of that medicine being forced down his throat every day for six unbearable years. He tried to behave like a sane man, but no one believed him. He spoke to himself as he often did, “It is just the effect of the medicine, it will all go away… no one can ever take possession of my life.” The words had lost connection with meaning. His reverberating thoughts of empty optimism only emphasised the sinking feeling that a nightmare had turned into plain, stark reality.

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