Friday, November 13, 2015

Neha Kumari: As I knew her. A memoir.

When one comes to know that someone known to him/her has committed suicide, is it a must that he/she should get surprised?

I somehow was not when I got to know of Neha’s.

It was our second conversation within a span of twenty minutes, the first having failed due to weak signal. Having arrived in Patna just a couple of hours back, I was rushing to Sanjiv da’s place and had jumped in the first auto that I had found vacancy in. It was a bright, sunny, early November morning. The morning fog that had delayed my train by two hours had long been digested by the ever-hungry city.   

Rajeev picked up the phone after it rang for about half a minute.

Are!! Neha Kumari ke bare mein pata chala kya?” – He asked.

Nahi. Kya hua?

Suicide kar li. Mumbai mein.” – He replied.

After we talked about it in some detail, he asked me wasn’t I surprised at it, to which I replied I wasn’t.

Go to her FB page. Scroll past the customary RIP messages and hollow talks of staying together for ever, and there is she; screaming out loud at the top of her voice, giving a signal to the world that something terrible is probably about to happen.

Within a span of 10 days, from October 18th to October 27th, there are four posts from her that talk of death and/or suicide. Each one of them has attracted its fair share of likes, comments and lol(s). But none of us could sense the magnitude of the agony she must have had been in.

Call it Friendship! FB style!! Diluted! Distorted!! Dehumanized!!! 


My acquaintance with Neha was not of long past. Although we had been together in the ‘Appreciation of Indian Film Music’ open course at the University, we had never really interacted with each other till the end of the second semester. Or should I say till the beginning of the third? 

My IRCTC records show that I had boarded the 11th of July Danapur-Howrah Express in Patna for Howrah, from where I was going to take another train to Bangalore. So, if my calculation and/or memory is not failing me, it must have been the morning of 9th when I received two missed calls from an unknown number. Out of sheer practice, I chose to ignore it, deciding not to call back. After a couple of hours, the mobile beeped again. There was a message that read something like this – “Hi. This is Neha Kumari from APU Education. Call me ASAP.”

The Masters program that I am pursuing at the University has entered its last phase, but there are still people – quite a good number of them – who I still fail to recognize. Either I know their names or I recognize their faces, but certainly even now I am not able to correctly assign a name to each and every single face in the batch. Leave the larger batch aside; some people from even my first year class have of late started behaving strangely with me.  

I dialed the number, still trying to recollect the face whom I was making the call to.

Bihar elections were due in a few months. I am not sure if the dates of the same had yet been announced, but the state’s atmosphere had certainly started to thicken with the flavor of Janatantra ka Kumbha Mela. Nitish Kumar, the incumbent Chief Minister, in an attempt to showcase the achievements of his government (which to a great extent were also BJP’s achievements) had launched a competition for University students called Jigyasa, for which his government was inviting Research Proposals.

Neha wanted to participate in the same and, as it was a group submission and as the last date was closing fast, she needed to build a team quickly. It was in that context that she wanted to talk to me. I told her that I would be more than happy to be a part of her team, but at the same time warned her that I myself was unaware of not only the nitty-gritties of the competition, but the probable research topics themselves. She said she had all the required materials with her and that these were no issues at all.  

Thus I was on Neha’s Jigyasa bandwagon, still wondering how me and why me? After all, I was from Development and she from Education and we had almost never interacted with each other in the college.

We decided to meet in Café Coffee Day in Prakash Jha’s mall in Kurji on 10th evening in order to sort out the materials that needed to be read and to finalize our probable group members. This plan, however, she cancelled at the last moment saying that since both of us are by chance boarding the same train to Howrah, we can as well do the reading in the train itself.

On the 11th late evening, as the clock tower struck 9, we met at the Patna station, where it turned out that although both of us were no doubt travelling to Howrah, our trains were different. As she rushed towards the foot over-bridge to get to her train, she said that she had already mailed me the PDFs that needed to be read and that we would be meeting once we are in Bangalore. Not long after, my train crawled slowly onto the platform throwing the whole of it in a state of sudden pandemonium; its shrill, ear-piercing whistle drowning the competing, loudspeaker-empowered bhajans of Hanuman Mandir and azaans of Masjid just outside the junction. 

18th of July, 2015 was Eid. Surprisingly, even Metropolis – the newly hired, intimidating and prison-like girls’ hostel – with huge, black iron rods as its boundary and a sinister-looking iron-staircase (that seemed to be directly borrowed from some United States prison) just in front – was in a festive mood. The girls had just been transferred from simply-too-good Noor Manzil and Aarusha and not-really-so-bad-either Basapura to this hell-of-a-place which, to add to the excitement, swayed – although (not to defame it too much) in a mild manner – whenever apparently a heavy lorry passed from the nearby expressway. It was as if to uplift the mood of the girls and to give them something to feel good about that the venue of Eid had been shifted entirely to Metropolis. By the time we met in the study hall located in the basement, the preparation for the evening extravaganza was in full swing.

Today was the last day of the submission. Besides me and Neha, there were Sujeet and Bimlesh – both of them from education – and Sameer – a passed-out senior who was conspicuous by his absence. This was for the first time that I was meeting our Jigyasa team, a team consisting entirely of Biharis and put-together single-handedly by Neha. I had no-prior experience of working with any of its members and hence I decided to simply flow with the current.

We started at around 11 in the morning and by 5 in the evening we were ready with our proposal. And through all this, we had taken out time for lunch, I had visited the nearby tea shop with Vasu(ndhara) and Neha had made a professor go through our proposal and recommend changes, if any, which needed to be made therein. By 6.30, our revised and edited proposal was successfully uploaded on the Jigyasa portal. As evening descended on it, and as stars began appearing in the sky one after another struggling against the Bangalore air pollution for their survival, even Metropolis started looking beautiful. Was it just the building that had grown beautiful with the slow, soft onslaught of darkness or was there more to it?

We were quite satisfied by the manner our document had shaped up in such a small duration of time and we cajoled Neha in giving us a small tea/coffee and biscuits treat at the nearby tea-shop. As she smoked a Gold Flake Lights and belched the smoke out of her lungs, she told of her prior work-experiences. Although I am now unable to recollect it distinctly what she had actually worked as earlier, it must have been something related to the media, for I remember her saying that she had either worked with or interviewed Jitan Ram Manjhi, the then Chief Minister of Bihar.

When we are in a competition, we must try to win it and do everything needed for it, even if it involves pulling some extra-legal strings.” She said she knew someone sufficiently high up in the bureaucracy who can make sure that our paper gets cleared-up for the next stage and that she will ring-up the person today itself.

When the results came, however, we had not made it to the next round.

At the time we had approached her contact in Bihar, we were not aware that some other team from the University was submitting a proposal to Jigyasa as well and hence we had told him that only one team is participating from our University. This, as it turned out later, was not the case. A different team was selected by Jigyasa, it went to Bihar and even got itself clicked with Nitish Kumar. Whether it got selected because our communication with Bihar was not full-proof or on its own merit is something that we will never know for sure. This write-up, in any case, is not to suggest one way or the other.

The way Neha had put that team together, worked dedicatedly on the proposal, contacted the professor and requested him to go through the document at such a short notice; and the way she was determined to clear the first round, who could have thought that not even four months down the line, she would end up freeing herself from everything and everyone material in this universe?

Even after Jigyasa results were out, we had managed to keep in touch in an irregular manner. It was only later that I came to know that she was married and had a son studying in VIIth standard in the famous Doon School. That was the happier part. The sad part was that she was undergoing a painful divorce with her husband and was depressed over the same to the extent that she had to take sleeping pills in order to find her sleep in the night.

I remember she had tattoos at the back of her neck and on her wrists, her face was round and her eyes were black at their periphery. I thought she applied kajal to them as many Indian girls like to do in order to look prettier. However, I have my doubts now. Was that really kajal or had the cups of her eyes simply turned black due to frequent lack of peaceful sleep .. a precursor to the impending disaster that went unheard in the real world, just like its virtual-world counterparts that went unheard on FB .. those four posts in ten days?  


(9th of November, 2015. I take a look in my laptop. I find that I still have two folders named ‘Neha 1’ and ‘Neha 2’ in the Jigyasa-folder. The PDFs she had sent me to read and our final, submitted write-up are still lying therein.) 

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