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DEATH-WISH

Stepping into a salon the other day, I saw three men they were partially covered in a shroud-like white sheet lying still on the chairs with their eyes shut. I looked closely at the mirrors for any sign of life but the room was empty save for those corpse-like figures. Apart from the low hum of the AC, I could only make out a faint, foul smell, one that reminded me of disinfectants inside hospitals. For a while, I thought feverishly about alibis. But then I suspected that I would not need one. Perhaps the world had already ended and my after-life seemed as unremarkable as the life I had left behind, now that I was trapped with an itchy stubble in a salon full of corpses.

But things began to stir soon. An attendant, who had perhaps strolled out for a gutkha break, returned and resurrected one of the men with a head massage. Another man was revived with a drop of a putrid hair oil (the source of the foul smell), while the ring tone of a mobile phone brought the third back to life. Doomsday had not touched Lucky Salon yet, but, as I awaited my turn, I began to plot my death-wish because December 21 was not far away.

A return to Shillong with its brooding mountains and pine forests basking in golden light was a must. Wait, how about visiting that deserted beach to watch the emerald waters turn blue? Perhaps I could use the time left not in travel, but with three dogs two Labradors and one Alsatian who may never be able to ward off an intruder but would slobber all over my face and feet? I would have to leave them once though, to soak in a day of Test cricket at the Eden Gardens. Or ought the remaining days to be spent in the company of unfinished books and favourite music? Time would also have to be set aside for visits to Mocambo, the Royal Indian Hotel and Nakur.

Choosing among conflicting desires is never easy. But what I did know for certain was that only caped crusaders are dumb enough to die while saving a city. For the rest, a death-wish is an inherently selfish affair. Is that because when faced with the possibility of the end, the human mind manages to liberate itself, at last, from the burden of selflessness? Ironically, a death-wish also tells us what we treasure the most in our own lives. Distant, enchanting places, books and music, pets or cricket each element is thus a clever ruse that shackles me to the dreary business of living.

The deceptive quality of a death-wish, I discovered, is clearly hinted at by those fat tomes on psychiatry. Apparently, a death-wish is often an expression of an unconscious desire for the death of another person. I wondered who could that be, as I sat watching the three men getting their faces painted white with lather.