The Boy Who Loved — An Exclusive Excerpt

1 January 1999

Hey Raghu Ganguly (that’s me),

I am finally putting pen to paper. The scrunch of the sheets against the fanged nib, the slow absorption of the ink, seeing these unusually curved letters, is definitely satisfying; I’m not sure if writing journal entries to myself like a schizophrenic is the answer I’m looking for. But I have got to try. My head’s dizzy from riding on the sinusoidal wave that has been my life for the last two years. On most days I look for ways to die—the highest building around my house, the sharpest knife in the kitchen, the nearest railway station, a chemist shop that would unquestioningly sell twenty or more sleeping pills to a sixteen-year-old, a packet of rat poison—and on some days I just want to be scolded by Maa–Baba for not acing the mathematics exam, tell Dada how I will beat his IIT score by a mile, or be laughed at for forgetting to take the change from the bania’s shop.

I’m Raghu and I have been lying to myself and everyone around me for precisely two years now. Two years since my best friend of four years died, one whose friendship I thought would outlive the two of us, engraved forever in the space– time continuum. But, as I have realized, nothing lasts forever. Now lying to others is fine, everyone does that and it’s healthy and advisable—how else are you going to survive the suffering in this cruel, cruel world? But lying to yourself? That shit’s hard, that will change you, and that’s why I made the resolution to start writing a journal on the first of this month, what with the start of a new year and all, the last of this century.

I must admit I have been dilly-dallying for a while now and not without reason. It’s hard to hide things in this house with Maa’s sensitive nose never failing to sniff out anything Dada, Baba or I have tried to keep from her. If I were one of those kids who live in palatial houses with staircases and driveways I would have plenty of places to hide this journal, but since I am not, it will have to rest in the loft behind the broken toaster, the defunct Singer sewing machine and the empty suitcases.

So Raghu, let’s not lie to ourselves any longer, shall we? Let’s say the truth, the cold, hard truth and nothing else, and see if that helps us to survive the darkness. If this doesn’t work and I lose, checking out of this life is not hard. It’s just a seven-storey drop from the roof top, a quick slice of the wrist, a slip on the railway track, a playful ingestion of pills or the accidental consumption of rat poison away. But let’s try and focus on the good.

Durga. Durga.

12 January 1999

Today was my first day at the new school, just two months before the start of the tenth-standard board exams. Why Maa– Baba chose to change my school in what’s said to be one of the most crucial year in anyone’s academic life is amusing to say the least—my friendlessness. 

‘If you don’t make friends now, then when will you?’ Maa said. They thought the lack of friends in my life was my school’s problem and had nothing to do with the fact that my friend had been mysteriously found dead, his body floating in the still waters of the school swimming pool. He was last seen with  me. At least that’s what my classmates believe and say. Only I know the truth.

When Dada woke me up this morning, hair parted and sculpted to perfection with Brylcreem, teeth sparkling, talcum splotches on his neck, he was grinning from ear to ear. Unlike me he doesn’t have to pretend to be happy. Isn’t smiling too much a sign of madness? He had shown the first symptoms when he picked a private-sector software job over a government position in a Public Sector. Undertaking which would have guaranteed a lifetime of unaccountability. Dada may be an IITian but he’s not the smarter one of us. 

‘Are you excited about the new school, Raghu? New uniform, new people, new everything? Of course you’re excited! I never quite liked your old school. You will make new friends here,’ said Dada with a sense of happiness I didn’t feel. ‘Sure. If they don’t smell the stench of death on me.’ ‘Oh, stop it. It’s been what? Over two years? You know how upset Maa–Baba get,’ said Dada. ‘Trust me, you will love your new school! And don’t talk about Sami at the breakfast table.’ ‘I was joking, Dada. Of course I am excited!’ I said, mimicking his happiness.

Dada falls for these lies easily because he wants to believe them. Like I believed Maa–Baba when they once told me, ‘We really liked Sami. He’s a nice boy.’ Sami, the dead boy, was never liked by Maa–Baba. For Baba it was enough that his parents had chosen to give the boy a Muslim name. Maa had more valid concerns like his poor academic performance, him getting caught with cigarettes in his bag, and Sami’s brother being a school dropout. Despite all the love they showered on me in the first few months after Sami’s death, I thought I saw what could only be described as relief that Sami, the bad influence, was no longer around. Now they use his name to their advantage. ‘Sami would want you to make new friends,’ they would say. I let Maa feed me in the morning. It started a few days after Sami’s death and has stuck ever since.

Maa’s love for me on any given day is easily discernible from the size of the morsels she shoves into my mouth. Today the rice balls and mashed potatoes were humungous. She watched me chew like I was living art. And I ate because I believe the easiest way to fool anyone into not looking inside and finding that throbbing mass of sadness is to ingest food. A person who eats well is not truly sad. While we ate, Baba lamented the pathetic fielding placement of the Indian team and India’s questionable foreign policy simultaneously.

‘These bloody Musalmans, these filthy Pakistanis! They shoot our soldiers…

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