It is not everyday you sit in front of your computer on a Saturday morning and get emails like this:
Sent: 12/28/2005 11:40 PM
Subject: A final note
This email is a combined suicide note and a confession letter. I have let people down and have no reason to live. You don’t know me. I’m an ordinary boy in Ahmedabad who read your books. And somehow I felt could write to you after that. I can’t really tell anyone what I am doing to myself – which is taking a sleeping pill everytime I end a sentence, so I thought I will tell you.
I kept my coffee cup down and counted. Five full stops already.
I made three mistakes, I don’t want to go into details.
My suicide is not a sentimental decision. As many around me know, I am a good businessman because I have little emotion. This is no knee-jerk reaction. I waited over three years, watched Ish’s silent face everyday. But after he refused my offer yesterday, I had no choice left.
I have no regrets either. May be I’d have wanted to talk to Vidya once more – but that doesn’t seem like such a good idea right now.
Sorry to bother you with this. But I felt like I had to tell someone. You have ways to improve as an author but you do write decent books. Have a nice weekend.
17, 18, 19. Someone had popped nineteen sleeping pills while typing a mail to me. Yet, he expected me to have a nice weekend. The coffee refused to go down my throat. I broke into cold sweat.
“One, you wake up late. Two, you plant yourself in front of the computer first thing. Do you even know you have a family?” Anusha said. In case it isn’t obvious enough from the authoritative tone, Anusha is my wife.
I had promised to go furniture shopping with her – ten weekends ago
She took my coffee mug away and jiggled the back of my chair. “We need dining chairs. hey, you look strange?” she said.
I pointed to the monitor.
“Businessman?” she said as she finished reading the mail. She looked shaken up, too.
“And it is from Ahmedabad,” I said, “that is all we know.”
“You sure this is real?” she said, a quiver in her voice.
“This is not spam,” I said. “It is addressed to me.”
My wife pulled a stool to sit down. I guess we really did need some extra chairs.
“Think,” she said. “We got to let someone know. His parents may be.”
“How? I don’t know where the hell it came from,” I said. “And who do we know in Ahmedabad”
“We met in Ahmedabad, remember?” Anusha said. Pointless statement, I thought. Yes, we’d been classmates at IIMA years ago.
“Call the institute. Prof. Basant or someone,” She sniffed and left the room. “Oh no, the daal is burning.”
There are advantages to having a wife smarter than you. I could never be a detective.
I searched the institute numbers on the Internet and called. An operator connected me to Prof. Basant’s residence. I checked the time, 10:00am in Singapore, 7:30am in India. It is a bad idea to mess with a Prof early morning.
“Hello?” a sleepy voice answered. Had to be the prof.
“Prof. Basant, Hi. This is Chetan Bhagat calling. Your old student, remember?”
“Who?” he said with nil curiosity. Bad start.
I told him about the course he took for us, and how we had voted him the friendliest prof.
“Oh that Chetan Bhagat,” he said, like he knew a million of them. “You are a writer now, no?”
“Yes sir,” I said, “that one.”
“So why are you writing books?”
“Tough question, sir,” I stalled.
“OK, a simple one. Why are you calling me so early on a Saturday?”
I told him why and forwarded the email to him.
“No name, eh?” he said as he read the mail.
“He could be in a hospital somewhere in Ahmedabad. He would have just checked in. May be he is dead. Or may be he is at home and this was a hoax,” I said.
I was blabbering. I wanted help – for the boy and me. The prof had asked a good question. Why the hell did I write books, to get into this?
“We can check hospitals,” Prof said. “I can ask a few students. But a name surely helps. Hey wait, this boy has a gmail, may be he is on Orkut.”
“Or-what?” Life is tough when you are always talking to people smarter than you.
“You are so out of touch, Chetan. Orkut is a networking site. Gmail users sign up there. If he is a member and we are lucky, we can see his profile.”
I heard him clicking keys and sat before my own PC. I had just reached the Orkut site when Prof Basant exclaimed,“Aha, Ahmedabad Businessman. There is a brief profile here. The name only says G Patel. Interests are cricket, business, mathematics and friends. Doesn’t seem like he uses Orkut much though.”
“What are you talking about Prof Basant? I woke up to a suicide note, exclusive to me. Now you are telling me hobbies. Can you help me or…”
A pause, then, “I will get some students. We will search for a new young patient called G Patel, suspected sleeping pill overdose. We will call if we find anything, OK?”
“Yes, sir,” I said, breathing properly after a long time.
“And how is Anusha? You guys bunked my classes for dates and now forget me.”
“She is fine, sir.”
“Good, I always felt she was smarter than you. Anyway, let’s find your boy,” the prof said and hung up.
Besides furniture shopping, I had to finish an office presentation. My boss Michel’s boss was due from New York. Wanting to impress, Michel had asked me to make a presentation of the group, with fifty charts. I worked three nights last week until 1:00am, but had gotten only halfway.
“This is a suggestion. Don’t take it the wrong way. But do consider taking a bath,” my wife said.
I looked at her.
“Just an option,” she said.
I think she is overcautious sometimes. I don’t bite back.
“Yes, yes. I will,” I said and stared at the computer again.
Thoughts darted through my head. Should I call some hospitals myself? What if Prof Basant dozed off again? What if he could not collect the students? What if G Patel was dead? And why am I becoming so involved here?
I took a reluctant shower. I opened the office presentation, unable to type a word.
I refused breakfast, though regretted it moments later – as hunger and anxiety did not go well together.
My phone rang at 1:33pm.