“In reality, Hope is the worst of all evils, because it prolongs the torments of men.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
You’re wrong. You’re very, very wrong. About Hope
Someone who lost all hope and then regained it
On a cold Winter night in Delhi, I start to get dressed for a journey. I put on my panties, and hook in my bra. Next, I put on my jeans, brush some dirt off it, after all, I don’t want to come across as someone untidy. I wear my shirt and button it down. I look at myself in the mirror, “Not too shabby”, I think to myself. Then I put on my coat, as I’m freezing.
I take another look at the mirror and decide to put on a bright shade of lipstick. I think it adds some colour to my otherwise pale face.
I pull up my socks, and sit cross-legged on my bed, a single, wooden, lonely excuse of a sleeping table. I look around my room. Once it used to be a local salon, the one where the neighbourhood ladies would drop by to purchase the lesser important beauty services. There’s a basin-chair for hair washing, at the corner. With a slight glance one can see a clump of brown hair still attached to the drain.
Furniture consists of two table drawers which have been left out by the owner for me to keep my clothes. One dressing table with a man-sized mirror, and a small stool in front of it, where I’m supposed to sit, and do my face and hair, like a ‘lady’ of my age should. But I’ve never done that. Those who know me, can vouch for it, I’ve never have been ‘lady-like’.
I look around my room again. A couple of months back, when I had moved in, I had all the dreams of making it my own den, decorating it with books, posters, and lights. In two months, I had accomplished nothing.
I have never been able to sleep in this house properly. I wake up in the morning with a chest full of dread, and go to sleep with a lonely heart. I don’t smile anymore. I feel relieved when I step out of the house, and sad when I step in. Most of the time, the room is hazy with all the cigarettes I smoke, as a result of which my eyes burn, and sometimes my throat does too.
Ironically, my landlord lives with his family, his wife and two feisty little boys, in the next room itself. Yet they live so far away. In the nights, when I lie awake in my bed, desperately trying to catch a few hours of sleep, I sometimes imagine them sleeping as a family, the two children lying next to each other, kicking and hitting, even in their sleep, while their parents are fast asleep, choosing to be oblivious, and too tired to handle the ‘shit’, in the wee hours of the morning.
My thoughts had wondered away but I come back to my senses. I need to get ready. I check my clothes again, and then stand up and walk towards the chest of drawers which contain all that I own in this city. I open it and take the brown envelop out of the drawer. Inside I find the strip of sleeping pills, I had bought three nights back. I remember the chemist uncle’s face when he sold them to me. He had a look of apprehension in his eyes. But I had a prescription and he needed to make a sell, and now here I was, taking those pills out one by one and placing them on the bed.
When all the 12 tablets had been taken out and the envelope thrown in the garbage, I took the tablets in my palm, and started to wonder, do I need to leave a note? Do I WANT to leave a note?
I decide against it, and after inhaling a heavy amount of smoke infested air, I start to pop the pills in my mouth.
After popping in 4 or 5, I stop. I realize my heart’s beating quite fast, and my hands have started to shake. I think I need to calm down. So I take the only cigarette I had left in the box, the one I was planning to smoke after I have taken all the pills, and spit out the tablets on my bed.
I light the cigarette and breathe in. One way or another, I think, it’s going to be the same. One way is slow and painful, while the other tends to be quick and supposedly painless. But the end result is the same, whether it’s now or a few decades later. My throat burns a little, but I get a sweet pleasure out of the bitterness. I think I feel calmer, although according to science, it’s actually having the opposite reaction. My neurons and enzymes are hyper-active, and I should be up and about, but I feel sleepy, drowsy rather, and think to myself, what it would be like when I’m sleeping forever.
The cigarette’s about to be finished, I’m about to butt it, when I hear my cell phone buzzing. A text from my boyfriend, informing me that he’s running a little late but I should get ready anyway.
“I’m ready”…I think to myself. I look around for the pills. They’re scattered all over my bed. It’s a pain, trying to collect all of them together, when there are about 12 white pills scattered all over a white bedsheet. But to my own surprise I find them all, and after about 10 or 15 minutes of staring blankly at them, I put all of them in my mouth.
I had kept the bottle of water right next to my bed. I open the bottle and pause for a few moments.
My entire life doesn’t flash by me. Instead all I remember is the Chemist’s face. Maybe tomorrow he’ll tell his friends and customers, “I knew there was something wrong with her, shouldn’t have sold those at all!”
Somehow, at that moment, when I’m about to consciously take a step against my life, the fact that the Chemist was right with his assumption, starts to bother me a whole lot.
I shifted to the capitol of India, by mid-September, 2015. A new city, a new job, and closer to my boyfriend, I was full of hope. But as the days turned into weeks, which turned into months, I realized, there’s something wrong, something very wrong. I thought of reaching out, but I didn’t know how to. And I was afraid of judgement calls. Not so much from my peers but more from myself.
A fresh start, is what I had termed it. As someone who has been suffering from Anxiety and Depression, the ‘A Fresh Start’, has always been my go-to defence or escape mechanism. Because of which, I left Calcutta for Pune, then Bombay, and at last, landed up in Delhi.
But out of all the fresh starts that I had given to myself till then, this one turned to be the worst of them all. My living space felt big yet unliveable, I just couldn’t call it my home. My professional life started going down the drains, owing to common work-place politics, and my superior’s sound belief in the fact that I’m a born incompetent slave.
I would come back to the room, try to talk to my mother, but would stop myself at the last moment, fearing that she would get worried, and cry myself to sleep, after eating a stale dinner consisting of chapattis and an excuse of a vegetable curry. Then I would lie on my bed and think, “Is this why my father did what he did? Did he do it because he realized everything is pointless and that there is no hope?”
But after a while I would snap out of it and try my best to go to sleep. But as you know by now, I couldn’t. Instead, I kept on thinking of how happy and comfortable my landlord’s sons were, sleeping next to their parents, worrying only about the next day’s homework, and nothing else.
In short, those nights and the following days were terrible. But hope, that innate belief that things will get better, made me get out of the bed, after smoking a cigarette, take a cold shower, get dressed, and rush after autos to reach office where I would be humiliated and demeaned, because of my inability to appear as ‘cool’ and ‘happening’, and my insistence on quality over quantity.
But then one day, the god damn dam broke. It had to. One evening, when I was trying to make sense out of a mundane task, my boss called me in, and informed me that I’m not worth the money that I was getting, and they have decided to let me go.
At that moment, I took it as it is, and the only thought in my mind was that I shouldn’t cry. I left the office after packing my stuff and instead of going back to my room, roamed around the streets for a couple of hours.
I didn’t feel free, or had any life changing revelations. I just knew that I had lost. The battle that I had been fighting in Calcutta, then in Pune, and then in Bombay, I finally lost it in Delhi. I knew it was over.
I thought of my mother, her insistent faith and constant struggles to raise me and ensuring that my life would be different, better, and independent, and her hope. She never lost hope.
But that night, I had lost mine.
I spent the next day on my bed, completely numb and without any recognition of the outside world. My ex-colleagues were texting, “Where are you? What happened?”, and the inevitable, “Don’t worry! Everything’s going to be all right.” I didn’t believe them. It frustrated me to see them being so optimistic when I had no hope left anymore.
My life irritated me, annoyed me. The ritual of waking up, washing thy self, eating food, going to work, drinking alcohol and smoking to erase the frustrations of the day, and going to sleep with the hope of a better tomorrow, seemed so pointless, a project that leads to nothing.
And in that moment, I thought, instead of nothingness overcoming me, let me embrace it first. I wanted the thoughts to go away, the pain to go away, and above all, I wanted to have peace, whatever that means.
I lit a cigarette, my 5th one for the day, and decided it’s very simple, really. End it now, and end it forever. Peace.
So there I was, with all the twelve sleeping pills in my mouth, and the open bottle of water in my hand. I looked around the room once more, and thought of calling my mother, one last time.
I didn’t. I felt too ashamed, too embarrassed. I knew I was committing a crime, I was going to hurt her, betray her trust, ruin her future. Yet, in my heart, I realized, I was the wrong person she trusted her dreams with. So instead I just browsed through all her photos saved on my phone, and felt sad, utterly and immensely sad.
And then I came across a picture of my late father. He was smiling, his white teeth shining, and his eyes, dark as they were, sparkling. I looked into the eyes of this man. The man I’m made of. The man who suffered from depression for decades, took multiple steps against his life throughout, and finally succeeded to leave everything and everyone at the age of 43.
Where is he now, I started to wonder! Did he find his solace? Is he away from all the pain? Is he even in a state to realize whether there is pain or not? Or has he now become nothing, nothing at all? Just a handful of memories running through the minds of his parents, wife, and child.
It’s only then I realized that I’m no different from my father. His blood runs through my veins and so does his hopelessness. And as soon as I realized this, I spat out all the pills on the cool marble floor.
I realized, that I do want to be different than my father. I might have lost the battle here, but the war is still blazing on. I stampeded the pills, and crushed them into a fine powder, spread all across the floor, in my fury.
I realized that I had indeed lost against everyone, but I refused to lose to myself. Never. Ever.
And before I knew it, I started crying, with tears rolling down my cheeks. I rushed out of the house, and ran towards the nearest cigarette vendor. I didn’t have any money on me, but he knew me, and lent me five.
I started smoking, while on my way back to the house. I felt miserable. I had a throbbing headache, and my heart felt like it would burst any moment. I reached my house, went up the front stairs, but I couldn’t enter. It felt like there is a ghost of myself still sitting there, waiting for me to come in, and convince me to end it all, for good.
So on that chilly Winter night, I sat on the stairs, smoking and crying, till I received a text from my boyfriend. He was about to reach in 10 minutes.
The moment I read his text, I knew I had to pretend. There’s no way I could drag him into this mess. So I got up, entered my excuse of a home, and splashed cold water all over my face. I put on more lipstick which made me look like a porcelain doll, but it did take the attention away from my red eyes.
When he rang the bell, I was halfway through the last cigarette. I opened the door, he came in, and wrinkled his nose. “How many have you smoked today?”, he sounded disappointed. “It’s okay. It’s the weekend”, was my reply.
I picked up my bag and put on my shoes. I stepped out of the house and while waiting for him to start the car, waved at the cigarette seller. He waved back.
“It’s not over yet. You can still hope to get some business from me.”
I dropped the cigarette butt on the street and stamped on it with my feet. I checked the time. 10:45 it said. “Mumma would be asleep by now, I should just drop her a text”.
Then I got in the car and started typing, my mouth bitter with the taste and smell of tobacco.
Six months later.
I have a new job. I live in a new flat with a supportive flatmate. I’ve quit smoking (except for the occasional one or two), and my mother is coming to visit me soon.
I’ve been diagnosed with severe Anxiety Disorder and Depression, and currently am on medication. I suffer from terrible mood swings, panic attacks, and an uncontrollable frustration. There are days when I’m almost convinced that everything is pointless. Well, almost.
But I still am hopeful.
I respect Nietzsche a lot, and his works have given me lots of fuel to burn. But he was wrong about hope. It is because of lack of hope, why my father is no more, and the presence of it is precisely why I’m still here, living, breathing, and hoping that today, not tomorrow, will be the best ever day yet.
– Nandini Chandra