It was July and monsoon had just kicked in. The first deluge of the season was heavy enough to hold the traffic for hours on the roads of Mumbai. The traffic didn’t seem to move, and Gloria’s patience was running out as rapidly as the water from the overflowing drains. After waiting for forty-seven minutes in her car, annoyed, she decided to stop by the mall on her right for a relaxing cup of coffee. She took a swift right turn with no obstructions, to make her way inside the mall’s parking area. Very neatly, she adjusted her car in between two others and pulled out her keys.
A cup of coffee and silence to contemplate on, was all she needed. Gloria was the Vice President of Ortan Advertising and had just laid off seventeen employees for cost cutting purposes, but she didn’t think of the misery of her employees or the pain she had enforced upon them. She did not let guilt take over the sweetness of the coffee she was sipping on and decided to push away every such thought to her subconscious because she knew she wouldn’t be able to deal with it alone. She wanted to feel nothing. “It was only practical. It had to be done”, she thought to herself.
“May I?”, a voice called from above her head. She looked up, interrupting her next sip. A dark and handsome looking man, some six feet tall, was leaning against her table, to face her. One of his muscular hands was holding the chair suggesting he already knew she would agree. Gloria didn’t think at all. “Yes, please”, she blurted out almost immediately. After the man took his seat she wondered for a while why she had allowed a strange man to have coffee with her.
“Hi, I am Raghu”, the voice interrupted her thoughts.
“Hi, Gloria”, she replied in bewilderment.
“I am on a mission here Gloria. I am going to share a secret with you, the secret of life.”
“What?!” she laughed. “Is this some kind of a prank?” she asked, half chuckling.
“No, it isn’t”, Raghu replied calmly.
“You are insane!”, she said as if declaring it to everybody sitting in the café and got up to leave.
As she turned around to leave, Raghu held her by her wrist which caused Gloria to look at him instantly. He was sitting with no sign of panic; his face was calm and composed. His grip on her hand was tight enough to not let her go and gentle enough to not hurt her.
“I know what you did today. You took away seventeen jobs from innocent people. I know you feel miserable about it, but you wouldn’t face your misery. I know that you wish to undo it, but you wouldn’t because you have convinced yourself that it’s the right thing to do. You are not a callous, 27-year-old. You are a young, beautiful woman with a heart of gold but with no courage to accept it. You are a naive victim of your father’s death. I know, any pain less than the pain of losing your father is no pain to you. I am here to tell you ignorance will not give you peace. I am here to tell you that I know who you are and who you ought to be”, Raghu stated as if stripping a culprit naked in a court of law.
His tone was emotionless and yet his words hit Gloria like arrows out of a bow. She stood there startled, “How do you….?!” “Don’t ask questions, I just need you to listen to me. All your questions will be answered but not by me, for I am not here to do that. I am here to tell you that you will soon be at peace if you understand what I am here to tell you.”
Gloria kept staring at him. ‘Who is this man who knows everything about me, my life? Why has he come to me today? What are his intentions?’ She wanted to ask him. But she knew better. Something in the stranger’s eyes told her to trust him. She took her seat with no further questions.
“I will listen to you”, she told him.
“Good”, he replied. “I want you to listen carefully and ask no questions. There is no escaping karma, Gloria. Most of the times it’s predictable; you know it will strike back and it does. You suffer, you realise, but in spite of all the wisdom, you do what you want to anyway, keeping the consequences aside and so the cycle starts all over again.”
As soon as she heard the word ‘karma’, she felt a sense of guilt; the guilt she was avoiding ever since she walked out of her office, the guilt that she was now ready to confront, the guilt that was slowly turning into fear. She composed herself and decided to pay attention to Raghu.
“Then what is the point of all the wisdom that has been bestowed upon you, upon the human race? In this age and era, have you ever come across any Saints?”, he continued without waiting for an answer. “When I say saints, I mean the real ones. The ones we heard about in stories told by our grannies but were not lucky enough to witness. I know you haven’t. And just in case you have, I am sure you would never want to be as pathetic because that’s what they are in today’s world. It’s all about how selfish and materialistic you are. Being the best at the cost of innocence and happiness. Being a leader even if it means leading in the wrong direction. It’s simply not conventional to be a saint.”
“Are you telling me I am selfish and materialistic?”, Gloria asked almost involuntarily, offended. “Please don’t ask any questions. I am not here to answer you”, he replied with no sign of emotion and continued.
“So, I was saying, there is a loophole in this process which I wish to share with you. The secret of life. The truth is we live and the reason why we live is not to achieve fame, money, respect or any of those things but to simply neutralize our wrong doings by bearing the consequences of our karma. So, when they say devils don’t die easy, believe them. You see, they must neutralize every sin by paying for it one by one to even deserve what they call ‘hell’. And when one is done being miserable enough, he finally gets to live! Only, that’s not on earth! Can you imagine how amazing a place like that would be, where all you’ve got to do is live in peace with no rewards and no punishments? Is this not what everyone desires for when on earth? Because they also say you get what you deserve and after being pathetic enough to die there is nobody who deserves anything less.”
For the first time since he had arrived, Gloria sensed emotion in the stranger’s voice. She sensed excitement as if he knew what it was like to be in a place like that.
“But this time, right now when you can’t help but breathe, you can’t elope from this cycle of life. It might feel like you are walking on a carpet of red hot burning coal, so painful that every step is tearing you down and at the same time preparing you for the next one. But what’s worse is that you make this path for yourself and the pain of admitting this truth is gigantic. It ruins you and it is colossal enough to destroy your future, moulding you into something that you can’t ever envisage”, he continued.
Gloria could suddenly feel the pain. She could relate to every word that came out of the stranger’s mouth and felt the burn, it was almost physical. Her father’s death had changed her. She had forced herself into believing that care and love for any other individual will only hurt her in the end and hence had refrained from it. She spoke to her colleagues only professionally, she had no friends. The only individual she remotely cared about was her mother. This was not what she wanted from life, but she had forced herself to adapt to it. In this conquest of what she was and what she had forced herself to become, she had lost herself. She was hurting but not realizing it until today. The stranger, she thought, described her pain as if he could look inside her soul and see the ugly wounds from the burn.
“I know you don’t regret what you have done today”, he said to her, “and you wouldn’t ever. Yet, it will break you down, there will be this needle poking your heart continuously and the sting of it will be immense. It will make you feel rotten and in the middle of this entire chaos not once, and believe me when I say it, not once will you regret what you did. You will certainly try and undo it, but you will never regret it. The circumstances will be such that in spite of knowing the reason and being completely aware of where went wrong, you will not be able to find a solution until you have suffered enough and have reaped what you have sown. Follow your heart Gloria! Neutralize what you have done, for the pain you feel is real to you and those seventeen people. Let peace come to you.”
The stranger abruptly got up to leave. “Wait!”, Gloria instructed. “Why are you telling me all this? I mean I know you are not here to answer…but…?”
The stranger left. Gloria took a glance at her watch to see if there was still time to make it to the office. Her watch said 7:20 pm when she entered, and it said the same when she got up to leave. “Looks like my watch just broke down”, she thought to herself and started to leave in a hurry. It had stopped raining. She started driving back to her office. On her way back, she thought about everything that the stranger had told her. She wondered why he had refused to answer her questions and when she would get her replies. She thought about how she believed every word that he had uttered and then thought ‘why?’ She wondered about the impact it had on her and what she was about to do.
Gloria barged inside the President’s office with her letter of resignation after around 40 minutes of driving. She handed it to him and looked up at the watch on the wall behind him. It said 8:00 pm. The colour from Gloria’s face vanished. She was shocked. Her watch was not broken after all. “How long does it take from City mall to Ortan, sir?” she asked sweating profusely. “Thirty to forty minutes, why?”
Gloria said nothing. ‘Even if I had made it here, say ten minutes early, that would mean only ten minutes in the café. It’s impossible!’ she thought to herself.
She panicked and sprinted out of the President’s office. She started driving back home. “How is this possible? Was I dreaming? No! It can’t be” …. “Stop! There is a red light, there is a truck in front of you, stop!!” she screamed at herself…
“You found me”, Raghu said with a glowing smile.
“And my answers”, Gloria said with a smile. “I resigned, hence neutralized my wrong doings. I have nothing else to pay for and now I am here with you.”
“But I am still here, its Earth. Same people, same traffic, my house, my office its all the same.”
“It is! Only now, you can live here with no rewards or punishments. This is the space between right and wrong, where we exist. This empty space is where everything is the same except the purpose of our existence.”
“What is the purpose of our existence?”
“To live fearlessly, with nothing to lose. To live in peace.”
“Is this what they call heaven?”
Mehak Mathur | PGDM 2017-19