By February of this year, K. was seeing a psychiatrist, arranged by his father at the time of the breakup, who K. told me was briefing his parents on his condition. He was also getting back in shape with Krav Maga, the Israeli martial art, and was even going on dates. He laughed more easily, and rarely talked about his ex.
When my mother came to Delhi to visit in May, K. fretted over what gift to bring her, settling on six boxes of tea. We all went to dinner. He ate my dessert, and laughed at my jokes. I thought he had turned a corner.
So the decision that he would make just days later was the most terrible shock of my life.
In northern India, one is often hostage to the environment, with little choice but to hunker down inside to escape. In late autumn through the winter, the region is shrouded in toxic smog. After a brief spring, it experiences ferocious heat, which this year was incandescent.
I tried to escape to the Himalaya foothills, but there were forest fires. A few days before he died, K. sent me an article on the heat wave, the worst in 45 years.
“India ain’t easy,” he wrote, and I had to agree.
For K., the heat and the need to hunker down meant being home with his parents and brother, where little could be confidential and the lack of privacy could be suffocating.
As Geetanjali Shree writes in her Booker Prize-winning novel, “Tomb of Sand,” about a joint Indian household:
The word ‘privacy’ isn’t even in the dictionary here, and if anyone lays claim to such a right, she is eyed with suspicion. What’s she hiding, after all? Seems fishy.
Nearly four years into my stint in Delhi, K.’s unhappiness in the months before his death crystallized for me the tension between modern Indians’ aspirations, and the old and unchanging expectations of family that weigh on them so heavily. It was in this cramped space between opportunity and duty that my friend felt trapped.
It is impossible to know, ultimately, what drives a person to suicide, and I have come to appreciate that I will never really understand K.’s despair, and all that may have fed into it.