University of Hyderabad was a beautiful place. I stayed in the North Campus which was greener than the South. My hostel had a large terrace that was open for everyone. People used to go there to gaze stars, dry clothes, or sometimes, to smoke a cigarette. Some said that the terrace was haunted. Some said that it had a morbid vibe. Some felt that it had the depressing aura of a murder site. Whatever people said, it was an exhilarating place to be at. The hostel building overlooked a patch of land filled with trees, fallen leaves and lush green creepers. Sometimes peacocks made their visit there. Sometimes there were porcupines. Sometimes there were pretty birds, chirping away. Standing on the edge of the terrace and peeking down used to give an unnameable rush of excitement in my body. It felt like I was standing on the edge of life itself and it was asking me to plummet deep into it. It was at that part of the terrace that I had decided I would kill myself. I had it all planned in my mind. When I get strong enough, I would jump straight into the bottom. I imagined how I would look after death. Probably with blood streaming out of my head, my legs mangled, dried leaves and twigs pressing all over my skin. I found the image to be deeply poetic. It haunted me for months. It asked me to become that – just an image of deep, serene melancholy.
The idea of killing myself was met with no shock from my part. It felt like a deft acknowledgement of what had been building up for years. It was nothing special. Imagine walking with a shoe that has a pebble stuck inside it. The relief you get after throwing that pebble out was exactly what I felt about the idea. It was like picking out the annoying thought that had always there, just not given a shape and name yet. One would imagine I was humbled by life to have such an idea. On the contrary, I felt mighty proud. I felt I was defying life. I was defeating life in a battle. I had a smug confidence that I knew everything about the nature of life. Life was absurd, it was cruel, and it was full of unbearable heaviness. It was only through death that I could conquer life.
When people talk about depression, they talk about how sad it makes them. It renders the body incapable of action. It renders the mind incapable of good thoughts. It makes you cry for no reason. What people don’t talk about is how difficult it is to understand that you are depressed. We don’t get to know about how insidious and subtle this invasion of the mind can be. We aren’t even aware of our apparent suffering. That is how I felt. I had no idea I was depressed. Sadness is one thing, but the numbness is what we fail to think about. I felt completely devoid of emotions. I was wavering between two states of being: denial and melancholy. I felt like a dead fish being washed down a river. On top of everything, I thought I was normal.
Do normal people have thoughts about death? Of course they do. Death is a permanent part of life. Why would people not think about death! It’s so pervasive. These are the reasons I gave myself for my morbid fascination about death. Death was in my mind every waking minute. I researched online about near death experiences. I read up few things on what one feels at the moment of dying. Even more on what one feels after dying. It was my only obsession. I also went to a group gathering called Death Cafe where a group of strangers met over coffee to discuss death. One could say that I was just curious about death. Like any student in the humanities, I wanted to involve myself in the philosophy of dying. I was happy with my preoccupation. I thought I am interested in an unconventional subject that others found weird. I wish that was true.
As months passed by, things got worse. I don’t know if people will understand when I say this. I felt like a walking ghost. My body felt like a heavy thing to carry around. I walked around the campus, detaching myself from my body. It walked on the ground while I hovered over it because I couldn’t bear the tightness of being trapped in my body. I dragged myself to classes, social gatherings and public spaces. I felt life like life had slowed down. Paradoxically, deadlines and duties were always fast approaching. The only moment of respite that I found from the heaviness of my body was during sleep. So I slept. Sometimes all day, waking up only to eat. In retrospect, I think sleeping was the closest to dying I could get.
When I talk to my friends about the way I experienced depression, I am met with dismay. Some felt the way I described it was unusual. It was nothing like what they had seen or heard about. Everybody was able to understand my sadness but when I grappled to explain my inner world and its projections on the outside, I found myself unable to express. They say language breaks at times of intense pain and suffering. It was partly true in my case. It was particularly true with the deafening silence I communicated. The silence — when I burnt my skin in scalding hot water, when I scratched my body until it bled, when I fantasized about dying through different means — holds testimony to how difficult it was to speak up. But I want to believe that suffering is not always through silence. I am speaking right now to break that. When we experience pain, we are conquered by it. We are rendered incapable to express how exactly pain feels like because our preoccupations are with survival. Because of this freedom from our verbal bondage, pain enjoys a privileged position of being elusive and feared. By talking about my pain, I am laying claim to it. I am making it real, as a part of myself that was and that is. Of course, I might not describe it for what it truly was. But I can describe what it did to me. Its effects are all etched in my body and mind.
When I talk about my death obsession, one might think that I desired it so much and was ready to plummet into it. But the reality was different. Not only did I desire death but I feared it even more. I felt like death was everywhere. It had me trapped in a thing called life, only to take me back into its dark abyss. I felt like only I knew about the true nature of life. Like a detective, who makes sense of things before others could, I kept asserting to myself about the decaying nature of everything around me. When I saw people happy, I told myself that they are yet to catch up with the reality of life. The whole world was a funeral ground. The people walking on it were just corpses with some battery life still left in them. When people ate food, they are just feeding a rotting body to keep it from falling apart. Decay is inevitable. Putrid, Rotten Bodies was the ultimate reality of human existence. Disaster was permanence. The horror I felt for this kind of thing called life was insurmountable. I wanted to escape it but without pain. Somehow, even in this defamiliarized view of life, pain was still real. Pain was probably the only human thing I allowed myself to feel. So when people say pain is the only thing that demands to be felt, they are not wrong. When my body lived a lifeless life, pain was the only human thing that I was able to acknowledge and was rendered vulnerable through. Hence, it was the only thing that made me feel more human than just a rotting corpse.
Two years ago, my life was falling apart. I believed I was going to die. I wanted death as much as a mother would want to see her new born child. But here’s the thing about life, it flows through deep crevices of sorrow, serene lakes of peace and tall mountains of joy. Whatever it is, life is not stagnant. It flows. Few months ago, I visited my university to meet my friends for a reunion. I didn’t go up the terrace to view my suicide ground. I had no doubt that it would still be a lovely site to look at. They had painted the hostel new. There were new cycles parked outside the hostel. Other than that, the university was still the same. Yet, there was so much of difference. The university was so gloriously different. It wasn’t a funeral ground anymore but a place thriving with life all around. That moment of perception remains one of the most enthralling and dramatic moment of my life. It said to me, “You have changed and there is still so much hope inside you.”
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