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Friday, May 11, 2012


Tony Mathews was just another guy, making his living at one of the hundreds of call centres inBangalore. He had been working there for two years now. Two years ago when he finished his engineering degree he thought that the call centre would be a good place to get some experience and money while he prepared for the entrance exams of the management colleges. He used to work all night and go for coaching classes during the day time. He hardly slept and soon the lack of sleep caught with him. He didn’t get into any college the first time. The second time he decided to study on his own. But it wasn’t easy to study on his own, so he didn’t get into any college the second time as well. This year he wasn’t even sure if he was going to appear or not.
Lately he wasn’t sure of anything. Nothing really mattered anymore to him. He went to the call centre every night and did his job mechanically. Then he would come home in the morning and sleep till it was evening and already time to get ready for another night at the call centre. Sometimes he would start worrying about where his life was headed but then it would become too hard to think about it and he would just stop thinking. He earned enough to get by the month comfortably enough, but without any savings. In theory he could have lived the rest of his life this way. But in only two years he was among the oldest guys around and this fact had started looming around his mind to make him aware that there was something wrong. But it had not yet entered his mind to make it clear what was wrong. He was determined to not let it enter his mind. He had become, like Pink Floyd once said, comfortably numb.
It was just another day in the life of Tony Mathews. He was sitting in the company cab on his way home. He was on the verge of falling asleep when another car jumped the red light at an intersection and rammed right into the company cab. It collided on the side on which Tony was sleeping and he took the brunt of the impact. He was in the hospital when he woke up. His right hand and a couple of ribs were broken. There were scratches on his swollen face where the broken glass had cut through. He was in pain and for the first time in a lot of years he was happy. He felt really happy and excited. He remembered the last time he was so excited was when he had taken an exceptional catch while playing cricket in college. The pain was like getting high to him. He remembered the first time he had smoked pot in college and everything had slowed down. He still smoked from time to time but now it couldn’t get him that high. This pain made him feel alive again. He realised that he had been dead for a long time and the accident had woken him up again.
He went home and thought about it for a long time. Maybe it was the endorphin and adrenalin that gave him that euphoric feeling. But whatever it was, he was glad to be alive again. He started to think about all the things he had always wanted to do. He realised that studying and clearing the exams was his only way out of this hell hole he was in. He was motivated and excited and made a lot of plans. But the next day all his motivation was gone. Once again he felt nothing. He knew he would have to return to his office in a few days and everything would be the same again. He felt like he had lost a huge battle. But the worst thing was that he had stopped caring once again.
That is when he took a decision. He desperately wanted to feel alive again. So he took a hammer in his left hand and put the already plastered hand on the table. He lifted his left hand and stopped. After a long time he realised that he was trying to think this through but he couldn’t think. So he closed his eyes and let the hammer fall on the cast. The next thing he knew he was on his knees on the floor, clutching his right arm close to his chest, trying to swear but all that came out was a muffled scream. He stayed on his knees and rocked back and forth with his eyes closed shut trying to keep the tears inside. And then he started giggling, not at what he had done but at how good it felt. He fell back and started laughing. He had found a way to be alive again.
And so it went on everyday after that day. He would slam his fist into the wall or bang his shin against a table. He would whip himself with his belt and sometimes just run into a wall. Lying afterwards on the floor he would laugh hysterically at the irony of it all. Hurting himself was the only way for him to feel alive. Sometimes he would sit and think about why it was so but he could never understand why pain was so pleasurable. He continued to find more and more interesting ways and more and more painful ways to hurt himself. He slammed into things, cut himself, burnt himself and even tried to choke himself. All this made his day easier to bear. He would sit in his cubicle and think of how he would hurt himself again. Once he went to a bar and started a fight. But the other guy was so drunk that he couldn’t even land a straight punch at Tony. The bouncers threw both of them out. The whole experience was bad and Tony decided it was better to hurt himself in the privacy of his own apartment. He became addicted to pain. Every other day he would show up at the call centre with bandages on his hand or a swollen face. It was better than cigarettes and alcohol and even marijuana. It was better than sex. It made him feel happy. It made him smile.
After just two months of continued self torture Tony Mathews found himself on the roof of his four story office building. He had started to get a little bored of the small injuries and decided to go for a big accident; something that would really hurt and hurt for days. He decided to jump from the top of his office. It was four stories and he calculated that if he didn’t land on his head he wouldn’t die. It would just mean a few broken bones and months of sweet pain.
So there he was standing on the edge of the roof, looking down at the road below. At this time of the night it was completely empty. Suddenly he had an overwhelming fear that he might die. And as soon as he realised this he also realised that the wind was particularly strong that night and that he was precariously balancing on the edge with the wind coming in from behind him. He had nothing to hold on to and at that moment he froze. All he needed to do was take a step back but he was too scared to move. He stood there at the edge feeling more alive than ever before. So alive that for the first time he was scared of dying. He realised it wasn’t the pain that made him feel alive. It was the fear of death. He realised he had become so numb that he mistook pain for pleasure. He hadn’t had any sort of stimulus for such a long time that even a negative stimulus of pain made him feel good. For the first time in his life he cared about his own life. He didn’t want to die.
Slowly he took a step back and exhaled loudly realising he had been holding his breath. Everything was clear to him now. He went down and quit his job. He walked out into the night surrounded in a whirlpool of feelings. He was happy and scared and excited and nervous. He realised even if he had cleared the management exams he would have felt the same as he did in the call centre. It would just have been a different cubicle in a different office in a different place. He would have earned more but he would have been as numb as he was here. He didn’t know what he was going to do now but he knew that he wouldn’t let himself get that numb again. From now on he was going to live every moment of his life. He was truly alive.
That’s when another guy jumped a red light. This time it was a truck. This time Tony Mathews wasn’t in a car. That was the last anybody ever heard of Tony Mathews.

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