Thursday, October 06, 2005
Knotted up lives
I have spent a lot of time these past twenty four hours, thinking about Raju, our driver. He’s just upped and vanished. Well that is a bit of an exaggeration, he sent word with Tukaram – our Man Friday - this morning, to send him Rs. 2000 so that he could buy a ticket to Kerala. Tuks comes in every day for a couple of hours, to help out with odds and ends and since he lives in Raju’s neighbourhood Raju probably figured it was a convenient way of getting his money. I sent word back saying if he wanted the money he should come and get it himself and tell me a bit about why he wanted to suddenly return to Kerala.
The next I heard from Raju, he was already at the station and about to leave Bombay. In fact he had got a friend to call me on his behalf. When I insisted on speaking with Raju himself, Raju did come on the line for a moment. He just broke down and started to cry and the friend was back on the line. I still can’t make out much about what is going on. It is clear that Raju is in bad shape mentally. But is it something in him - like is he paranoid - (he often seems to think people are “after him”) or just having a nervous breakdown, and if so, is the mental suffering being caused by someone or something real? Anyway the “friend” who spoke to me on the phone, told me he is accompanying him all the way to Kerala. I was asked to phone Raju’s brother to inform him of his imminent arrival and to meet him at the station, which of course I did right away.
I asked Tukaram what he thought about the whole business and he says his own feeling is that it is something to do with money. Like maybe Raju has borrowed money from someone and is not able to pay it back and has to run away. Meanwhile he is genuinely afraid for his life.
When you can’t quite put your finger on things at times, your mind drives you crazy. And now I am referring to myself! I mean, Raju has often borrowed money from us in the past. About two years back it was ostensibly for his “daughter’s wedding” (which never took place, so instead he spent the money on starting work on a new house). That time it was 30,000 Rs. Then a year later he started again getting a kind of panic attack and said he needed Rs. 20,000 immediately because some corrupt bloke in his village wanted a kick back from him, and the only way to avoid that was for him to finish building his house within three (or maybe it was six) months time.
Anyway it was such a complicated story, and India is such a strange country in many ways that even those of us born and bred here don’t understand half of what is going on. We gave up trying to understand, felt sorry for him and just gave him the money and things were fine after that for about a year. Now I am inclined to believe T.’s opinion that he has got himself into some kind of racket from which he finds it difficult to extricate himself.
Raju refuses to tell anybody what his problem is. Of course if he is really mentally ill and his illness doesn’t have to do with anybody else, it could be part of the sickness – his not wanting to communicate what he is feeling and why. There is no way of telling.
One thing that does somehow explodes into my consciousness once more, is how there is something terribly wrong with the way we all live. The isolation of so many people living in the city, the fact that Raju is alone here and that the rest of his family including his wife, live in Kerala. (He visits them only once a year or so). Maybe being so alone tempts people to get into "bad ways" - gambling, moneylending, god knows what other awful things. One would so gladly try to help him but then again, sweet guy though he is, in his own way, and very efficient at his work, Raju is also very distant and not all that good at communicating what he thinks or feels.
How to bridge the gap? How to live together in a fashion that is more “human”? How to build trust in our relationships with each other? So that when we need help, those who are prepared to give it are able do so? These are some of the questions coming to the fore for me today. Would be glad to know what some of you others think.
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