Rustam Pastonjee was five when his mother succumbed to blood cancer. In a way, the absence of a mother affected the child’s upbringing coupled with his father on army duty, constantly. That his father took to alcohol post the death made matters worse. He was left to the charge of one Miss D’Souza who reared him as one of her own. Yet, the trauma of the loss had cast a permanent dent in his attitude. His indifference stemmed from this very fact.
An average student at school, his teachers complained constantly of this dull, passive boy who shied away from making friends and preferred to keep his own company. It seemed as if he was gradually drifting into his own world where nothing mattered. His father was too proud to notice anything unusual and Miss D’Souza wanted to be the perfect step-mother. He would sit in the back-benches and as if in a trance stare endlessly at specific items that caught his fancy on that specific day-the black-board, the tilted table or the broken window. Questions he did not ask, curious he was not to anything, it seemed.
Slowly, the indifference turned melancholic. He, as his father, was too proud to admit anything and this continued to balloon inside. He found comfort in dope introduced to him by yours truly, although by accident. It so happened that he was forced to associate himself with the boys in the locality by his father. Unknowingly, as was the norm of the age I introduced him to the prohibited. Little did I know of its consequences. I live to regret my stupidity, yet, comfort myself thinking that it was not my doing that he grew accustomed to it. After all, I knew my limits, he didn’t; and at my age then, I had no idea whatsoever, the difference between a weak and a normal heart.
Slowly, the poison took a central position in his life and ripped it apart in pieces. From indifference to the “I don’t give a shit” to “Go screw yourself” to again indifference, he traveled the whole way highway.
I asked him once-“Rustam, don’t you think you have carried the ghosts of the past a little too long?”
He rarely answered questions. I had known him for about a decade now so I had known.
He cast a “Don’t be stupid” glance at me. Lowering his head he just grunted and sat down on the stairway, our makeshift bar at the topmost floor of his 3-storied bungalow.
He used to say-” Hrishank, now that I have seen death I am not afraid of it. I could cry and cry and continue doing so or I can close my eyes and pray that she’ll come back. But I cannot just delete it from my memory. I am prepared to go there myself. As Churchill said, “ I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my maker is prepared for the ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”
And he would laugh uncontrollably stopping only when he found himself out of air.
One day, the day fifteen years ago his mother had left for good he decided to let go too. It was not a quick one, so the doctor says. He must have choked on his own puke and died a painful excruciating death. Had a calm face when his father discovered him though.
Looking at Dhawal now gives me a sense of deja vu and am afraid it might be more of it. As I think more of it, the more it frightens me. I do not doubt the strength in his character, am astounded by it on the contrary. But structurally only the names have changed it seems.
I am meeting him in Dadar today. Our usual Saturday night thing at the Kalpana Bar. He might or might not turn up. I will keep you posted what happens and what transpires. Anticipation. Anxiety. Apprehension. Deep-seated regret?