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Hacktreks Travel 2

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The Point of No Return: Love and Death in India
Colin Todhunter

I suppose that men cannot really describe other men as being "sweet". Someone I once knew in India, a woman, liked to call certain men sweet, but I never felt that I could. But Sach was sweet. He had a gentle nature, a particular sweetness. Some people may be described as being likeable, but Sach was more than that. He was the sensitive type.

I had not long arrived in Delhi after having spent four months in Chennai, and was on the Main Bazaar, the big traveller hang-out, when I met Sach in the courtyard of the Shiva Hotel. I sat next to him and asked Mr Kahn, the in-house chai-wallah, for some tea. Sach began to talk. He was second or possibly third generation British-Asian, and had been travelling in India for quite some time. India was intended to be part of his big world trip that would eventually take him to South America. That had been his plan before leaving England, but things had changed. He would never leave India.

Sach looked like any other traveller who had been on the road for a while. He was unshaven with straggly hair, and wore the usual traveller friendly hippy-type gear. Sach had met a French woman earlier in his trip. He had fallen in love with her, and she with him - or so he thought. It was to be no short-term, superficial traveller fling. But six months into the relationship, when they were together in Hampi, she woke up one morning and told him that she had had enough. It was out of the blue. Sach had been devastated. He still was. But there was more. She was pregnant and when I met him was about to have his baby. He told me that he was about to be a father, yet did not know where his ex-girlfriend was. She could have been in India, France or just about anywhere. He had lost her. She was gone forever.

Sach told me that he had given his heart to this woman. She had held it in her hands. He was the type who would have wanted it that way. He was a highly sensitive person. I suspect that being "in love" or falling "in love" can mean different things to different people. Sach struck me as the all or nothing type. As I sat lstening I thought about "love" and pondered that at one stage he may have told her that he would give her everything he was - his love, his onliness, his selflessness - and a lot more besides. Those are my words and feelings, not his. If he did not actually say this, then he surely must have felt it. Perhaps Sach felt or said all of those things in his own way, in his own words. And I thought that after she left, he may have gazed out of his hotel window each night, wherever he was, and looked mournfully into the street, across the hills or down onto the plains, wondering where on earth she was that night, all the time trying to recall her voice, her laughter, her smile. Did he still call her name? Did he wonder if his would ever pass her lips again? I don't know. Possibly none of that happened - but I'm almost certain that it did.

Sach’s father had just died and he was trying to get back to the UK in time for the funeral. His money was running out. I guess he had almost spent what was intended to be two years worth of travelling money in just over six months. Such is love. He was having no luck. All of the flights back home had lengthy waiting lists. He could not get home. To make things worse, even if he did get back, he was 20,000 pounds in debt to various banks. He had little incentive to work if a large slice of his earnings was to go straight into paying off his debts. I do not know how it works, but I suspect that the banks would have some legal claim to a large part of his salary. Part of the reason for his trip seemed to be to escape his debts. One of the last things he asked was whether I knew of any informal cash-in-hand work in England. I didn’t.

I met Sach on one other occasion only. The next day he was sitting in a street café on the Bazaar. He looked down; even more so than the day before. He was resigned to the fact that he would not be able to get home in time for the funeral, and told me he planned to go in to the mountains to buy hashish to sell to foreigners in Goa. It was not really a plan. It was a half-hearted fumble to try to salvage something from the wreckage of things. Deep down, he probably knew it.

You never really know how low a person might be feeling. And Sach was low - very low. He was young, had tearful deep brown puppy dog eyes, was highly personable, and had a certain positive magnetism that still managed to flicker despite his depression. I could see it and I could feel it. He seemed to be one of those people who had been in love with life - and with some French woman as well. But the next day, I was to find out that all of his positive attributes did not account for much in the events about to unfold.

Sach had lost faith in humanity, belief in himself and in hope for the future. He wanted a better tomorrow and almost anything would have been better than the day he was living. Sach was on the trip of a lifetime - he would make no other like it. Two days later he was dead. Someone told me that a foreigner had been found hanging from a ceiling fan in a hotel a few doors away from mine. His name was Sach. He committed suicide. Five thousand miles from home, alone and lost. He ended his life in some faceless hotel room on the Main Bazaar in Delhi. He must have shed a thousand tears onto the marble floor in that room. Then again, he may possibly have had none left at that point. He was by no means the first to end his life on that street. Over the years there were always tales of some foreigner committing suicide in this or that hotel.

A few months earlier during late 2001. The former Beatle, George Harrison died. He had his ashes flown to India and some were scattered on the Ganges near Varanasi. I am not a great Beatles fan, but I expect that they may be destined to become the Bach or Beethoven of their day when people look back in hundreds of years to come (if indeed anyone is left by that point). George had great affinity with India and its belief systems. He was a Hare Krishna devotee and was usually described as a "gentle" man - even a sweet man. He came from my home town, and like me, had grown up to the sound of seagulls and the foghorns from the ships on the River Mersey. Because of our common birthplace and the fascination with India, I felt something inside me when he passed away although I had never met or known him. His death was widely reported in the Indian press. Everyone will remember George. He was famous. He did not die alone among strangers in some characterless backpacker haunt. Suicide on the Main Bazaar is no way to die. I had known Sach and also felt something inside when I heard that he had died - but what I felt was much deeper.

Before he reached Delhi, the final destination, Sach had been to Rishikesh. The place were George Harrison and the rest of the Beatles visited in the 60's. Out of all the Beatles, Harrison gained most inspiration from this encounter with Indian mysticism by returning to the UK to write songs, play sitar and to develop his beliefs. It could not have been more different for Sach. He did a Reiki course while in that town. He told me that one night in his room he experienced a "visitation". A figure entered the room, whispered his name and disappeared, yet he felt her presence for some time next to him as he lay on the bed. His was a bad presence according to Sach. The mind can play tricks when under immense pressure, but the experience was as real as real could be for him. Sach was obviously unnerved by it all. India does strange things to people. It can inspire and create dreams. It did so for George Harrison. In a different way, it also did for Sach. I can only speculate but Rishikesh appeared to be some kind of watershed in both of their lives.

What happens when dreams shatter into pieces and are blown into the gutter where no one gives a damn? Sach chased an illusion, a bright but elusive rainbow. It faded to nothing. He was still in love when he died; still shackled by emotion and unable to fall out of love. To see through an illusion and walk out of it the other side takes time. Suicide ends the potential for that.

Sach died five months ago. He was not famous; he was not a millionaire; he did not come from my home town. He probably did not even get a mention in the local Delhi newspapers. But everytime I find myself on the Main Bazaar I at least think of him. I also think of his poor mother who lost her husband and then her son. Maybe she never got to hear his story. Perhaps she was informed only that he had committed suicide. I don’t know if he left a note or had spoken to her. And I don’t know if I was the last person (or only) person who he opened his heart to. Sach was sweet. A young man with the hopes and dreams of youth. This story is in memory of him. Some may say that suicide is selfish and for the weak. I disagree. There is nothing without love, and if it makes sense, even less without hope.

© Colin Todhunter October 2002
- The Madras Diaries
Traveller Tales on the Road in India
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Colin Todhunter

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