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What was most surprising about Uncle’s death was not that he died but the way he died. Anybody can jump from the balcony of his house on the fifth floor of a high-rise but you’d not normally hear him escaping serious injury and / or death and then, after sitting stunned (most probably) for a good ten minutes, to have the impudence to go up and jump again. When I heard of it I was aghast at first and, subsequently, simply outraged. What irked me most was that after the unsuccessful attempt he climbed (oh yes, ladies and gentlemen, climbed!) all those 80 odd steps to his flat to jump again instead of taking the lift. The police had it from a certain bird-watcher housed in another building some 400 metres or so away - trying to spot the winged creatures in the locality at 6:00 am through his binoculars - that Uncle appeared quite in control of the situation throughout. In fact, before he jumped, he even adjusted his trousers and tucked-in his shirt. The cheek of the man! Then, Uncle plunged down into the abyss even as the bird-watcher let out a stifled cry before craning his neck out and try to espy the action on the ground. Later he was to face a tough time with the police who wanted to know why he did not rush out to help, far though he was. Anyway, our friend saw nothing because the high boundary wall of the building where Uncle resided blocked the view. He was yet to make sense of what he had just been witness to when he again saw some action on the balcony of the same accursed house and this time he let out a full throated cry because there was Uncle perched atop the cement railing again. He did appear a bit shaken, his hair were tousled and his shirt was crumpled, but he was all in one piece – or so it appeared to the guy with binoculars. Then, rather in the fashion of a stand-up comedian who is delivering his punch line, Uncle made his infamous jump yet again and this time the ground rushed to crush him in a lethal embrace. Uncle, aged 38, had completed his mission. No one heard anything. No one saw anything – except the man with binoculars and he, too, could not see it completely. The police were all for dismissing the theory of the second jump as mere hallucination of an excited imagination but were forced to accept the guy’s statement when they saw marks on the stairs – all 80 of them – made by blood oozing out of some part of Uncle’s body while he was climbing up. When even after several months I found myself seething with anger, I decided to get into my Uncle’s mind. What was he thinking when he was making his way up to jump again? What was he trying to show -his burning desire to die or his utter contempt for life? I went over whatever I knew about him or had heard from the elder generation. A vague image of his
formed before my eyes. Uncle was no genius but he had flair and a sharp, logical brain. This would have compounded his bewilderment when his best thought out ideas made little sense to those around him which, indeed, did happen on numerous occasions. He must have tried to reason and failed. He must have tried the emotional route and got sick of it. He must have tried to dictate his terms and would have felt foolish. He must have tried being servile and would have felt nauseated. This much I could guess. But, despite all my attempts, I was nowhere near to understanding his thought process on that fateful December day till I went over, around 6:00 am, to the house of the binocular fellow last week. He ushered me in nonplussed but just then the clock stuck six and he instantly understood why I was there. Silently we went to his balcony from where I saw the balcony of Uncle’s house just as my companion had seen it that morning almost a year ago. Together we stood in the winter chill and, after I had told him about what sort of a person my Uncle was, he spoke: “I suppose the nearest I can come to describing him would be to term him insane and I’d be mad to do so.” I agreed. That was the joke. And Uncle had pulled it off, not even caring whether the world would ever come to know about it. I guess that’s what supreme artistry is all about. My pent up anger melted into tears which fell down my cheeks, on to the railing of the balcony and, from there, to the ground several floors below. I understood, if only incompletely, what he was thinking on his way up those stairs: he was pushing himself along, determined not to let go of the chance that life had finally given him –quite inadvertently, of course - to frustrate society’s need to describe, categorize and, ultimately, file away everything and everyone to its satisfaction without ever taking the trouble to really understand anything or anyone.