This short story answers the question: ‘What will you do if you know when you will die?’

Kolkata is the quiet central character in Amit Dasgupta’s new collection of short stories about belonging and death.

Sarala had finished the cooking and left. A large bunch of flowers adorned the table which Karuna had specially ordered from Berlin and which had been delivered earlier that morning.

He got himself another coffee, settled comfortably in his chair and then, opened the little red book. There were some folded pieces of paper. The first, which was torn at the folds, was on a letterhead, which said: “Destiny – Everything Astrology”. There was no address or telephone number and the writing was in Bangla. His name was written on top and he knew that it was his astrological chart. It said very little, apart from a recommendation that he should wear black or blue clothes, a ring with a moonstone to ward off evil, and that his predicted occupation would be in business. He thought about it and said to himself that he preferred wearing shirts that were blue in colour and never owned a black shirt. He did not wear moonstone and no, he was not a businessman. He had worked as a civil servant all his life. Most certainly a seriously erroneous prediction, he decided.

He could not make much sense of the next piece of paper in which a series of numbers were written in pencil. He put these aside. The first page of the book had a prayer written in a beautifully stylised script that was almost calligraphic. The next page had the astrological chart with a hand-drawn and remarkably ornate and complex design. Whoever had prepared it had not been in any hurry.

He read the details with regard to his father: born March 7, 1920; Calcutta; Sunday; at 8.43 in the morning. More drawings and charts followed and then, he found a loose piece of paper. It was again on the letterhead that read “Destiny – Everything Astrology”. There was a chart and a number of mathematical calculations in green ink; his father’s name and birth details were written on top.

He was stunned with what he read next, as he turned the paper over. “On the 73rd birthday, there would be a serious accident. No physical injury would be suffered but it will trigger depression and melancholia. Within three weeks, death will occur.”

He remembered how on March 7, 1993, on his father’s birthday, his parents had dropped in to see him and the family. After breakfast, they had decided to leave and though he insisted that they stay for lunch, his father was insistent on leaving right away.

On the way home, the bus they were travelling in met with an accident. None of the passengers were injured, other than his mother, who suffered head injuries and was bleeding profusely. They were taken to a nearby nursing home on Harrington Street. He remembered receiving a phone call from his father urging him to come immediately. He had rushed across to the nursing home. Doctors were attending to his mother. His father looked shaken by the incident but mercifully, he had not suffered any physical injuries. All attention was, consequently, focused on his mother.

The doctors had to put a number of stitches on his mother’s head and after a week, she was discharged and came home to convalesce. His father went into a state of deep depression on having seen his wife bleeding and injured and blamed himself for not having stayed for lunch, as his son had requested him to. Perhaps if he had, this accident might never have happened.

On April 2, 1993, not even a month after his 73rd birthday, his father died of a heart attack. Did his father remember the astrological prediction, he wondered. And if he did, why did he insist on leaving instead of staying in the house? Could it be that, like him, he did not believe in astrology? Was he testing fate?

He read the prediction again. There were some more mathematical calculations and drawings and then, he clearly read his own name and other details related to his date, time and place of birth that had been written by his father. As he held the piece of paper, he found that his hands were trembling. The ink was not clear in places and much of the writing had faded. He adjusted his spectacles. With a struggle and with the help of a magnifying glass, he finally made out the words: “Your son will die at the age of 73 and within two weeks of his date of birth; death will be peaceful but he will be alone at the time of death, just as it would be in the case of his wife.”

He was shocked. The year in which it was written was 1941, several years before he was even born! He sat back and sipped his coffee slowly. Today, he was 72 years old. If the prediction was right – it just had to be, since it was so accurate with regard to his father and more unusually, as he had just read, also with regard to Kamala. He reached out for the Bangla-English dictionary and went through the prediction again, just so that he could be sure that he had translated every word correctly.

He closed his eyes and thought about it: Death within a fortnight of his 73rd birthday, peaceful, alone. It would be the atonement for his not having woken up on the night that Kamala died. He would die next year!

The thought of death did not unduly worry him. There was nothing that made him want to remain alive. He had lived a full life and death was an inevitable ending. With Kamala’s death, a big part of him had also died. Karuna was well settled. Bernd loved her and Kaushik, and they were financially comfortable. Who the heir would be was not going to be an issue with regard to the flat and whatever other savings he had would be put into a fixed deposit for Kaushik’s education.

But what he particularly liked was having a clear knowledge, well in advance, as to precisely when he would die: 365 plus a few days here and there. It allowed him to plan for his dying.

He was excited and happy. Clearing his table of all other papers, he took out a scribbling pad and decided to list out all the various things he needed to get done, so that there were no regrets and no loose ends 365 days later.

The scribbling pad appeared inadequate, as there were, he told himself, many things to prepare for. He decided that a diary would be the best thing to get. Actually, two diaries, one for the remaining months of this year and another till his 73rd birthday next year. “To give it finality,” he said, “and to organise things for myself.”

Would the stationery shop across the road still have this year’s diary. Why not check? He called them up and sure enough, they said he could have this year’s page-a-day diary “at a throwaway price” and next year’s diary had just arrived. He asked them to have both delivered to his house.

He was filled with a sense of excitement and purpose. Finally, after so many years, he felt he had something to do, something to look forward to and plan for. It would become his single-minded preoccupation for the next twelve months, of that he was certain.

The phone rang and it was Ram Lal informing him that someone from the stationery shop was coming up to deliver the two diaries. He smiled. The pieces were set, the game was about to begin and he was playing with white pieces.

Excerpted with permission from The House and other Stories, Amit Dasgupta, Yoda Press.

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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.


During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.