Raman’s heart sank as he feverishly searched his pockets.
With rising trepidation, he turned his bag inside out- another blank. He ran his classroom and searched there. He even lay flat on the floor and peered under the ancient wooden cupboard. Almost hysterical now, he asked all his friends, begging them to end the cruel joke.
Two hours later, he had to accept it. He had lost his mobile, again.
When he cleared 12th grade with flying colors, his father was more than happy to buy him a state- of- the- art mobile phone. In the new freedom of college, Raman strutted around, flashing his pet toy. It lasted barely two months.
In the past eight months, this was the fifth mobile he had lost. Raman’s father had been adamant about not buying him anything but the cheapest, most basic handset the last time he had lost his mobile. After days of begging his father, through the fool- proof proxy of his mother, he had promised to be ultra careful in future. With great reluctance, his father had been coerced by the joint efforts of mother and son to spend a whopping fifteen thousand rupees to buy the latest smartphone. Raman was ecstatic.
Now, as he sat in the empty classroom holding his head in his hands, he was in utter despair. This time his father would saddle him with the cheapest handset to be found in the market. How on earth was he to face his friends?!!
He did think about his parent’s scolding, but in the passing. The thought wasn’t able to hold his attention beyond a few seconds. It had certainly not occurred to him that he might not be given a mobile at all. That possibility was beyond his perception; it did not fall in the range of the imaginable.
With increasing despondency, he manufactured the ridicule of his friends. He let his imagination run riot conjuring up mocking words of derision. Even in his fancy, those words lacerated him. He couldn’t bear the scorn of his friends. As he sat thus, wallowing in self- pity, he heard the voices of Amit and Suman, his best friends.
“Here he is!”, exclaimed Amit.
“We’ve been looking all over the college for you Raman and you are sitting here alone, moping”, chided Suman.
“Your dad will scold you badly this time, won’t he?” Amit said sympathetically.
“Naturally he’ll scold Amit. Raman has lost his fifth mobile this time. All such expensive models. Why do you buy expensive phones Raman? Nobody would ever steal my cheap ugly thing. You should buy a cheap mobile now. As it is, that’s what your dad also said last time, didn’t he? I think he is right Raman. You ought to listen to him this time.”
“NO!”, Raman shouted vehemently. “I’ll not use a cheap thing. I want a mobile which is suitable to my dignity. It doesn’t matter about you Suman, you are only a girl.” Raman was too absorbed in his own misery to notice a still frostiness in Suman’s eyes. It froze the tide which threatened to spill out of her eyes.
“That was a stupid and rude remark Raman. Your good manners have never been attached to you too securely. They always come unglued when you are upset. You ought to apologize to Suman”, Amit declared irrevocably making no secret of his displeasure.
Raman looked at them both exasperatedly and mumbled an insincere apology. It was obvious that he felt they were not being supportive when he was miserable. He made it clear that he didn’t appreciate their penalization in the face of his personal crisis. As if it mattered if he insulted either one of them when he was so miserable!
Visibly nettled, Amit and Suman both fell silent. Raman skulked and brooded.
The three sat silent as lazy minutes swept past stealthily. At last, Suman and Amit stood up to go. Raman looked up, still skulking.
“What?” he snapped at them.
“We’re going Raman. I don’t think you are in a good temper. We are your best friends and we certainly don’t deserve being spoken to in this tone of voice. We’ll catch you tomorrow when you get to college”, Amit said stiffly.
“Some friends you guys are!” Raman grumbled, not in the least bit contrite.
“If you weren’t busy being such a jerk Raman, I’d have stayed with you. You told Suman that her carrying a low priced mobile didn’t matter because she was only a girl. Have you bothered to notice than in the past over two years I have carried the same mobile I was given after I cleared 10th grade? It might have been the in thing then, but is surely isn’t now. How are you going to insult me? Will you say it doesn’t matter which phone I have since I am only the son of a high school teacher?”
“You don’t understand”, Raman burst out passionately, ignoring Amit’s words. “My father makes more money than he knows what to do with. That’s the reason he joined the Income Tax department by paying a hefty bribe during his selection process. What business has he to crib about a little money he has to spend? He can recover ten times that by conducting a tax raid on some rich tax defaulter.
“I am not going to consent to a cheap handset. I want one even more expensive than the one I had last. There is one which costs thirty- four thousand rupees. I will buy that now.”
“You have gone out of your mind Raman! Your father will never agree!!” Suman was horrified.
“I’ll get it out of him. You’ll see”, Raman boasted maniacally.
“I bet you Raman, he won’t agree. You’d better not try it if you know what’s good for you”, Amit said.
“If he doesn’t agree, you’ll never see me again!” Raman was beside himself. With those words, he ran out of the room.
Wearily, Amit and Suman too left for home. They were both upset and unsettled by Raman’s conceited high- handedness. But the worst of their sadness couldn’t have prepared them for what was to come.
The newspaper announced the impossible in sterile, detached words.
“Raman Luthra, son of Ashish Lal Luthra, senior official in the Income Tax department was found dead in his room. He committed suicide after an argument with his father over a mobile phone.”
It was just another day in the life of shining India. A tender, unformed consciousness housing a fragile self- image had been butchered at the alter of conceit, arrogance and vanity.
A scorching fusillade of questions were brushed aside by a society too intent on its rat race. One question refused to be brushed aside. It smouldered on, casting its thick, acrid stink like a blanket though which the brilliance of shining India could not penetrate.
Did Raman commit suicide or was he murdered?
Author’s Note: Although I have filed it under Fiction, this is a true story. I have dramatized the events and changed the names of the characters to protect their identity. Would you care to answer the question?