A solo motorcycle ride across India, and into Bhutan, becomes much more than just a test of physical endurance when 57-year-old, Pune-based, speech therapist Ajit Harisinghani decides to go in the pursuit of that most elusive of all human desires—Happiness.
With the idea of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness on his mind, he traverse a potpourri of terrain; riding through landscapes that change daily. From arid land to Verdant field, from jungles with glimpses of elephants and tigers to tea gardens...
Along the way, he meets a yogi and his singing goat, explores ancient caves, is frightened in a wild life sanctuary, sees a schizophrenic bicycle and helps a police inspector overcome his stammering problem. A variety of experiences later, he is finally in Thimpu where a Buddhist monk reveals the road-map to being happy.
A funny, honest and entertaining real-life adventure story that promises to surprise, shock and perhaps even liberate!
Ajit Harisinghani is a speech therapist by profession and a traveller by passion. He lives in Pune, with his wife and daughter. The Living Road is his second book.
SUNDAY IS JUST about winding up when my cell phone buzzes. I wonder who is calling so late. It’s almost midnight. I press the answer button and say, ‘Hello.’
‘Hello, sir. I am Rahul Bhatia calling from Nagpur. Remember me?’
Food and drink have diverted blood to my stomach and my brain is not at its alert best. I have no idea who the caller is. I’m ready to sleep and am in a half-daze already. Besides, Rahul is a common enough name.
What he says next jerks me sober.
‘Sir, I am committing suicide.’
‘What...? Who...? Where are you?’ I finally ask.
‘In Ambajari park, sir, cyanide in my hand.’
I wonder if this is a hoax but the desperate voice sounds genuine enough.
‘Sir, I just wanted to thank you for all you did, but I can’t take it anymore. I had improved but my stammering has returned. I want to die. I’m useless. I can’t even speak properly.’ He is sobbing and I’m still trying to recollect who he is. Obviously one of my old clients but I can’t remember his face.
‘And, you know.... my father.... today he got angry when I stammered while attending to a customer. I am worthless... how will I run the business? I can’t even speak properly. What’s the use of living like this?’
‘Rahul,’ I say, ‘thank you very much for calling me. Really, I’m quite flattered that you thought of talking to me at this momentous time in your life—the time of your death! I can’t wish you all the best, or even a bon voyage because I don’t know what happens to souls who have committed suicide. Do they regret it? Want to reverse it, but can’t? I guess we’ll never know.’
I ask him if he could defer committing suicide for a week. He could come say his goodbyes in person. A long silence follows and then he says. ‘Yes, but only if you promise not to try and stop me.’
I tell him that, in fact, I will help him commit suicide, but a week from today.
‘In any case,’ I point out, ‘no one is really waiting for you “up there”. In fact they’re not expecting your arrivel for six and a half more decades!’
The lightness and irreverent humour in my voice must have surprised him. Maybe he expected me to panic and try to stop him from killing himself. Maybe that is the reason he had called me in the first place—to get some dramatic attention? After all, he was ending his life and wanted at least one onlooker. Whatever he felt, my response seems to have deflated the pressurized balloon of his mind, which I pictured was slowly coming back to earth.
He sounds a bit calmer now, says okay, he will throw away the cyanide. I ask him how he’d got hold of it in the first place and he says. ‘Don’t you remember? My father has a sports trophy workshop where cyanide is used to etch metal? I tell him to be careful where he disposes it. A non-suicidal animal in the park might ingest it by mistake and die. He actually laughs at that one and agrees to come to Pune for a personal goodbye. Is that relief I hear in his voice, or am I just imagining it? After all, it’s a seven-day respite from self-execution. One more week to live!
I wish him a good night and get ready to slide into slumber land myself. It’s been a long day. But Rahul with his pinch of cyanide keeps intruding into my thoughts, not letting me sleep. I switch on my laptop and open up the case-records’ files. There he is.
Resident of Nagpur.
Only son of a businessman.
I remember him now—a personable young man with a very slight stammering problem. He’d attended three sessions during which he’d told me he was constantly afraid of being laughed at because of the way he talked. His father was another source of stress, pushing him into the family business.
As I read through his case history, I wonder if my gamble has worked. Could he have been too far gone and dead already? Cyanide is known to b quick. I imagine him lying frothing at the mouth in a dark Nagpur park. Unsettling thoughts... can’t seem to switch them off. Having long passed the age for my mother to sing me to sleep with a lullaby, I pick up the remote to switch the TV on, hoping to catch a boring programme. That generally does the trick. Not this time though. Channel-surfing, I pause on a popular news network to admire a charming, sari-clad woman with a diamond-stud in her nose and Madhubala-lips. The camera then moves to focus on the person she is conversing with. A handsome, regal, middle-aged man dressed in an unusual, maroon, knee length, checked- tweed garment is talking in the calm and unhurried manner of someone used to being listened to interested, I put the remote down and watch. The lady is addressing him as Your Majesty. Then a bottom caption confirms that it is indeed royalty I am listening to. His Royal Highness Jigme Singye Wangchuk, king of Bhutan!
He is saying that not GNP (Gross National Product) but GNH (Gross National Happiness) should be the true measure of a society’s progress. While economic prosperity is important richer countries are not necessarily happier ones. Rarely have I heard a ruler talk with such gut sanity. When the King’s speech is over, I wave my wand, the TV shuts off.
Maybe Rahul should go to Bhutan to find happiness? Maybe we should all go to Bhutan. Maybe I should go to Bhutan. I go to sleep hugging the nascent plan to take off on my motorbike and go find this Promised Land and bring back a chunk of happiness to share with the Rahuls of this world. My dream that night is an audio-visual fantasy where I am riding an undulating road coursing through the green, green hills of Bhutan where the branches of the road-side trees are bent; loaded as they are with an iridescent fruit which, legend guarantees, grants everlasting happiness to everyone who eats it.
A day later, Rahul arrives on the early morning bus and comes straight to the clinic looking disoriented, his face frozen in stress. Well, what did I expect? Here was someone who only 48 hours ago had been ready to kill himself.
‘Sir, I am scared... just scared... so scared to die... You saved me that night or I would have done it. ‘I gesture him to sit and pour him a glass of water which he gulps down too hastily, gags and then spends the next minute coughing. Once he’s settled, I ask him what had triggered Sunday night’s drama. That starts him off on a litany against his father who has been forcing him to join the family business which he has no interest in. He actually wants to work with cars but his father won’t hear of it.
‘What You want to be a mechanic?’
Over and over again during the next two day’s sessions, he dives into the sea of his misery to come up with nuggets of problems and ‘FATHER’ is written on most of them. The problems keep coming. No one cares for him. He is so lonely. I listen and listen till I near the limits of my own tolerance. The list of his complaints seems long indeed. I advise him to write out all his problems, and bring me this complete list the next day. I caution him not to miss mentioning any. Even the smaller problems should be on tomorrow’s list.
The following day, his list is ready—all four tightly packed A4-sized pages of it. I take the list from him and spend the next ten minutes reading it out aloud. I then signal him to follow me out to the open porch where I take out my cigarette lighter and click the paper afire.
‘There....no more problems! You are now free.’
I affect a calm expression on my face but inside I am not sure which way this would go. Will it shake him off his track of self- pity or, will he get angry and hysterical?
He doesn’t say anything for a minute but his sky, knowing look tells me he is sticking to his stand.
‘Are you trying to stop me? I’m here just to wish you goodbye. I am planning to commit suicide, remember? And you said you would help me do it.’
Yesterday he was scared of death. Today, he is afraid to live!
When I put my arm around his shoulder I feel him flinch. Tactile defensiveness—a classic feature of the un-loved.
‘Sure, commit suicide. I’ve promised to aid and abet it,’ I tell him. ‘But let us first decide who or what are we trying to kill here. Who is our intended victim? Rahul says he doesn’t understand what I am trying to say. Isn’t it clear that he, Rahul, was the victim?
‘It is your mind that you need to murder, not your body, ‘is my reply. ‘You don’t hate your legs do you? Or your eyes? What about your arms? Your liver? Your heart, your lungs? You have no real grouse against them, do you? So why kill these innocent organs? Commit suicide of your mind. That’s where your problems are lodged. If you hate being Rahul, become someone else. Drop your father. You’re sinking under his weight. Become your own boss. Rebel! Every generation must rebel. That is how evolution takes place. Imagine where we’d all be if the caveman’s son had listened to his father and not ventured out? Rebel...Drop your past!’
For the two weeks he stayed in Pune, Rahul changed his name to Vikrant. He, the son of a rich businessman, took up a job as a waiter at the Darshan Hotel on Karve Road. The owned, an old friend, on my request, had consented to give him a job. One of his regular waiters was on leave and he was looking for help anyway.
At the hotel, Rahul was on his feet all day long. He lived a lifestyle totally alien to him. For two weeks, he slept near the hotel in a shack with some other (genuine) waiters. He had no time for his speech sessions with me. His job allowed him no rest. Only work and sleep. No time to feed his self-pity.
The following week, I had to leave town. By the time I returned, Rahul was gone. My hotel owner friend said he had left suddenly. Not even taken the salary due to him. I called his mobile number and was told in three languages that it did not exist.
I hoped the same did not apply to its owner.
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