The Lost Night

The lamp was dim, the coffee grew colder. His eyelids drooped yet he told himself he could not afford to sleep. The room was comfortably furnished, although it felt nowhere near inviting. The walls were dull and the aura felt lifeless. It was 3 am almost and the even the computer
seemed tired as it hung from time to time. The man grew agitated; but he reminded himself of what he wanted to do. Today was the 14th of March; he knew very well what that meant. He looked at the blinking cursor, pondering upon what would happen. It was going to be one of the most important days of his life, whether good or bad, that was up to fate. He took a deep breath trying to calm himself down. The screen glowed in its artificial luminosity and he went about continuing to press buttons and shifting the mouse. He could hear the humming of the machine he sat before. Then there was the annoying noise from the construction site where a new shopping complex was coming up. There were numerous machines at work and even more labourers. He wondered how they felt working so hard and be treated like dogs by everyone. But then, they were meagre labourers, he thought. What he was going to do was way more prestigious and glorifying. The Silicon Valley was world-renowned and electronics engineers were certainly more respected and made much more money. And so the monotonous clicks of the keyboard buttons followed.

The insipidity of the whole scenario was broken when a woman entered through the door, rubbing her eyes, still half asleep. She walked in and shielded her eyes from, what seemed to her, the intense glow of the lamp. She looked perplexed and then when it struck her, “What are you doing being up so late in the night, Rajesh? Go to bed, dear” she said to the man presumably called Rajesh. He looked up from the cathode ray tube monitor screen to look at his mother. “I have important things to do, ma. I will sleep when I can, once I finish my work. You go and sleep first.” The woman moved towards the kitchen and decided to get herself a glass of milk. Rajesh still continued with his work and put his glasses back on where they belonged. “Really, I can’t believe it, its 3 in the morning. What’s wrong with you?” said the mother, her tone somewhat assertive. “It’s none of your business. I can do whatever I want to. It’s my life. Please don’t disturb me”, retaliated Rajesh. He looked worn out, even haggard. He was exasperated but somehow there was a force that kept him at work, refusing to give in to his mother or the intense drowsy malaise.

Becoming an electronic engineer had not been easy. Rajesh was from a middle-class New Delhi family that lived in those crowded old city areas that seemed repulsive to many. Going to a less-known and comparably ill-equipped school had been tough and his drudgery lasted in university and even after as he looked to reach his ambition – wealth. Yes, he believed in passion and all the stuff that teachers and so called spiritual gurus rattled about. But it was clear to him that the single thing that would turn around his life would be wealth. It was the thing that could buy one anything, absolutely anything, perhaps even love nowadays. The lack of it during his childhood had driven him even more towards his goal. So, there he was at the stroke of 4 in the morning working in his 2 room flat with his mother, toiling to finish an application for a job that paid heftily in the US. He wanted the American dream just like the thousands of others who immigrated to the Land of Opportunity.

Click! The mouse sounded as he pressed the Send button of his email. RAJESH was prepared to do everything billions of money-hungry people did everyday on the planet. It was what drove billions to school and work. The only thing common among all the people from various cultures, races and traditions was the desire to be rich and spend to get material wealth. He just could not imagine that his mother actually thought that it would be good for him if he lived and worked in Delhi instead of the US. It was understandable for him that tradition and culture were to be valued but they couldn’t simply match his yearning for wealth. And so, as the sun rose, Rajesh dropped into bed.

A few days later as the first golden rays shone through the window, Rajesh woke up and stared at the calendar. This is it, he thought, it was the 14th of April, a whole month after his application deadline. Any moment he would be holding the single most valuable paper of his life – his acceptance letter. He prayed in his heart and went to work at the office he loathed. When he returned, he burst out with excitement, “So, ma, where is the mail?” He leapt towards the spot where his mother pointed to and ruffled around looking for an envelope postmarked from the US. He went over the mail four times and then it struck him, reality tore him apart from within. Two words appeared before him in his mind – “Not Accepted”.

He couldn’t believe it, all his struggle, all his hard work had come down to this – failure. Tears rolled down his eyes, and splattered the front cover of the newspaper he was pretending to read as he sat on the couch. He really did not want to upset his mother. It would break her heart that the one thing her son had been working so hard for, was over. So this was his reward for everything that he had done – Embarrassment and humiliation? He closed his eyes and went out into the balcony for a breath of fresh air. The sky was surprisingly clear and the moon shone through with its brilliance. A gentle breeze ruffled his hair as he walked towards the railing. From the height, the darkness looked calm and tranquil, satisfied with everything and at peace with itself. It seemed to mock him, tell him what a loser he had been. But he did not want to get sad again over his failure, he was too tired of doing that. It was incredible how unfair life is to me, he said to himself. The void looked inviting and seemed to beckon to him; Rajesh wiped off his tears and took a deep breath. Then, without any hesitation, he grabbed the railing and hoisting himself up, jumped right over into the gaping darkness.

“Sure, the report for the new circuit design for microchips will be on your table tomorrow, Mr. Sharma.” A pat on the back brought a wide grin on Rajesh’s face. He went to the coffee shop for a quick break before getting down to finishing his report. As he got there, he peered into the distance and once again, he couldn’t help looking in awe at the several monumental skyscrapers. It had been remarkable how his hometown had changed. And looking at the dizzying heights suddenly brought back terrifying memories of darkness and a man about to plunge to his death. He shook his head and went into his cabin. That night had transformed Rajesh; he now loved how he could be in touch with his roots of rich culture and tradition and yet be modern and progressive. Helping create new technologies, he was helping society advance but he still had the chance to go back home and celebrate Diwali with his mother. He had found a new respect for life; it had indeed been almost a re-birth for him. And rather ironically, all this came thanks to a great loss.

“Ma, I am back home”, he greeted his mother who grabbed him in a tight embrace. Somehow, the land and its people, the whole atmosphere, seemed to reinvigorate his spirit. Every day felt like a festival, a celebration of life. It was the same as if a lost son had just found his way back to his parent’s home. And so, Rajesh went back to completing his report on his novel idea of combining integrated circuits on microchips to create faster and more efficient processors. He felt like he was living for his passion, there was this inexplicable flame burning inside of him that powered him and everything seemed possible. He knew this was the right way of living a fulfilling life so that in retrospect, he could look back at how he had followed his passion and realised the key to happiness. He knew he would never forget that night – how a loss had changed him and made him realise that all his life he had been doggedly pursuing something that he never wanted. His life now was much more than what he dreamt of having in the US. He now knew it that he had been looking for the wrong thing and was glad that he had now found the right one.

The lamp was dim and the coffee grew colder. However, it was not a tired and exhausted haggard guy who sat at the table. In fact, it was an ecstatic Rajesh who was delighted at the success of his new idea and the prospect of him being approached by corporate giants for buying his revolutionary idea. He had done it, he felt successful and all the toil in life seemed worth it. It was then that he realised how his life had dramatically changed that night. Everything that he took for granted seemed to be priceless now. And for a moment, his breath stopped and his heart felt as if it were in his throat. He leapt to his feet and rushed to his mother. “I know what you did that night. You hid the letter, didn’t you?” and he hugged her tightly, a wide grin running across his face from end to end. His mother simply replied, “Did I not help you?”

Sainyam Gautam