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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

More on the lonely mind

I wrote the following 'story' when I was 20. I wonder what those who are around 20 now would think about it!

If you sit up late at night with a full belly trying to usher in a drowsy stupor which your mind is still too wakeful to let advance much further, you can half-heartedly struggle to fall asleep – and with a hectic day behind and another busy one before you, you might quite possibly succeed. Sans those prerequisites, however, with a mind that has nothing palpable to occupy itself with and is reluctant to find one, that half-heartedness would be as good as a positive disinclination to slumberous pursuits. You have, then, long hours of waking in store for you: hours that will prove as tedious as they are enthralling, as infernally fast as damnably slow, while from within your heavy eyes, a reasoning mind tottering on the brink of an exotically aesthetic subconscious tries to harmonise observation and philosophisation with a foreign slowness.

Provided you are not a particularly early-to-bed buff but have made falling asleep with just about a couple of hours for the day to close its account a comfortably regular habit, you’ll find that the fabled midnight isn’t all that far away – in fact, it’ll probably be the first time you look at your watch when you find the hands super-imposed: your thoughts were still wandering, you were still undecided, not yet settled down, so to speak. You are not sure I am not a false philosopher, a bungling amateur as it were, if I must bring the base, earthy reality of chronometry into this ?...No fear, my dear fellow; you can take it from me that an irregular if repeated contemplation of the hour-marker as you course along in the enveloping darkness is, if anything, a subtle accessory to forming a placid chain of thought – maintaining an unambiguous contact with the reality of the passing present, if you please.

Enveloping darkness, I said.Turn off the lights, throw open your windows, stretch back in a deliciously uncomfortable position on your chair, put up your feet on the table and succumb, if you may, to the charms of tobacco and the blushful wares of Bacchus. Let go of the last vestiges of conscious rationalisation, let the forgotten being deep within your soul escape from its bondage and look at what you think is the ‘real’ you.And listen.

A crystal-clear indigo sky lit by the remorseless, implacable glare of celestial arc lamps disconcerts me with its immense pettiness by the apparent similarity to some grotesque man-made machine: though admittedly, there have been such nights which conjured up in the imagination the identity of a divine cloak studded with immortal fire – and thereby brought me the closest I’ve come to sincerity of religion.Quite on the contrary ….but somehow, vaguely, disturbingly similar, have been nights when the moon struggled with torn bits of cloud to compete with the human lighting of the streets, which seemed to transform the ethereality of Time almost into something you could touch. And so you take it all in: the sky as you find it, the breeze whispering through acquiescent reeds; the ceaseless chirp of crickets you’d notice only by its absence; truck tyres burning on the distant highway; dogs barking, frightened by the ominous monotony, rising and dying away… a drunk scraping along, the night watchman trying to keep himself awake, someone snoring in the next room…. And your steady breathing, your own heart unconcernedly, steadily, wretchedly beating away. Insects whir and buzz, something rustles in the courtyard; a firefly flits around the room, drowning your whole entity in the unfathomable deadly magic of an unearthly green point.

Perhaps enchantment is cliché, but the physical fact is as it has always been: there’s no more fight left in you, your Being has fallen; languor – bodily as much as psychological – is total; you’re rendered willfully helpless on the imperceptible motion of the wheel of Eternity. You can almost hear the dew caressing the sensual Night as she curls up, contentedly, like a kitten. Just as the stark naked hopeless aimlessness of existence in a vast void roars in your ears you also feel your mind trying to clasp the slippery evanescence of a Great Justification. And then, also, in the wee small hours of the morning, when a cool, fresh breath of air kisses your fevered brow, when you have nothing more to reflect upon, nothing to condemn, nothing to declaim or regret, when you have no more prayers to say, no more smiling faces to recall and no more tears to shed, you feel lonelier, smaller, more alien than ever before. But there is no complaint, no bitterness, no self-pity; as with tousled hair and red-rimmed eyes you strain to catch the first glimpse of the eternally renewed miracle of light and life, you’re expecting more of everything than you’ve ever dreamt of doing, somehow assured that you will not be disappointed.

The brow of the horizon greys with a frown as the sun rudely, flippantly shatters its reverie, even as an embarrassed blush spreads with the self-admission that that very same reverie had become acutely – it had seemed for a moment inescapably – uncomfortable. Be that as it may, the world has had aeons of practice and goes about the business of general awakening with some shade of sensibility. But you, whose total experience spans an insignificant handful of years, whose flimsy materialistic armour has been mockingly puffed aside by this one dreadful night of disparaging revelations, look sluggishly out at a yawning gulf of Sisyphean futility waiting for you: you have no more foolish dreams left to fall back upon, or, paradoxically perhaps, no time for them. You aren’t going to turn up with a healthy appetite for breakfast or a general aura of bon vivant about you, that’s a dead cert, but then, it’s your fault that you didn’t take a dose of sleeping pills last night in the first place.

Oh well, you tell yourself, hang it all and get down to the sweet, comfortable, regular business of life. Fine. Only, as you travel in whatever manner you choose along the disgustingly familiar track to your everyday destination a very incongruous thought strikes you; it seems you have seen through the motivation behind the apparently wanton excesses of popular festival. You laugh out hoarsely, startling the automaton behind the steering wheel.

The day won’t be a particularly fruitful one on any count. You will lose a client, make a wrong diagnosis or be taken to task by or by your professor. And that again will seem strange by its failure to leave any mark on your ‘normal’ self. Colleagues will find your conversation lifeless, just as you find theirs banal. You come awake just about lunchtime, precisely as you discover other heads beginning to nod! Which, by the way, doesn’t help much to remove your listless apathy.

You make artful excuses to get off sooner than usual, go out of your way to engage in physical exertion or social intercourse with abortive gusto, and finally end up alone in your room with a book in your lap and your eyes on the ceiling. Having visually exhausted your immediate surroundings of possible objects of intellectual occupation within the better part of an hour, you look out to see a sickly pallor of smog descending upon the city, unkempt smokestacks marking the point where the celestial orb took inglorious leave. Great black flights of winged creatures head determinedly homewards. Night comes swiftly, silently in a vain attempt to take man’s luminous contrivances by surprise. You sigh, throw down the book, start cursing, decide against it and go out.

This evening they’ll be surprised by your gay, charming, sudden vivacity; you alone know that you are making amends for the Creator’s lack of imagination. You have won a private battle, let me tell you if you didn’t wildly hit out at the last miserable guest who came up for an ebullient handshake. Or again, perhaps you lost the last chance of salvation.

As you hear the clock wearily striking again somewhere, it hits you. That hollow feeling in your stomach, the stale, bitter taste of bile clutching at your throat …and as you wildly look about for what, at this moment, you desire most of all, the gnome with glinting, lecherous eyes is walking down the endless tunnel through your mind, his hobnailed boots thudding hollowly; his hunched, wrinkled figure casts no shadow. And then you go to dinner…

You forgot the chemist’s this evening.

Suvro Chatterjee
UG 2nd year (1983).


dipayan said...

I do not think that I can understand and comment on this piece properly. However, one thing that I could make out is that so many people live their lives in so many different ways and when they look back at what they(most of them)did in a single day,they would find themselves dissatisfied overall. The last paragraphs have some connection with the Redemption by Christ where it is told that He would come down again to save people from heinous sins. But when people turn deaf ears to Him, He goes back, His efforts bearing no fruit. These people actally just lost a chance to attain salvation!
I'll try to bring out more fitting comments. Just allow me to read it for sometime.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thanks Dipayan. Yes, keep thinking. Just one hint: the man with hobnailed boots is an obvious reference to the Devil, the anti-Christ!

Greek.theatre said...

Like Dipayan, I too admit that I do not understand much of this story, although it has a tremendous power to grip us. Had it been any longer, it would have been tedious to read. The twist and the length is just about fine.The composition is, in other words, spot on.
There is a hint of Poe in the text; perhaps 'Fall of the House of Usher'?
It probably deals with angst and ennui fed by physical illness. The bathos at the end makes light of an issue that is otherwise given a sinister moral and existential treatment.

Subhanjan said...

What makes me think after reading this is that at my age I do not have even half the quality that you had in your second year at college. Today very very few at their second year of college can write something like this. Perhaps one in a hundred thousand graduates.

Shilpi said...

I don't think I understand too much of this 'story'. All it seems to me is that you're the narrator and the 'experiencer'? But I don't understand what exactly is going on. Is this stream of consciousness writing? And somehow it seems to me that the narrator is fighting against death and has won this battle within his mind....


Shilpi said...

I have been prodded into commenting, and I'll write here first. I visit this piece, at least, once a year. Last year I obviously visited it and decided to comment too. I've been perplexed this time as to why I didn't understand the piece earlier, and why I didn't understand what was going on. One possibility is that I got entangled in certain descriptions, got lost and forgot what I was reading. Like the description of the stars in the night sky, the torn clouds, the dew, the night curled 'contentedly like a kitten', and the blush of dawn, and the frown of the grey horizon, and the line which follows right after and makes me smile quietly....The second one is that I'd never read anything you'd written which sounded this way and had probably closed my brains. I remember thinking even quite recently that I was very glad that you didn't write this way.

I wouldn't disagree with the last line in my previous comment even now but the whole story sounds alarmingly like the recurrent battle within the mind of a human being till something gives way....and one is blessed by some divine grace and the hobnailed boots grow fainter and maybe louder sometimes but fainter too, and hopefully never claw in like a hook again. This time 'round the essay suddenly reminded me of that bizarre zen saying that goes something like, 'the mountains stay the same before and after...'

I read it loud too, and more than once. It sounds quite frankly amazing when read aloud, and the meaning becomes clearer too when read the right way. Instead of trying to understand or force an understanding one can just read it fluidly and let the images rise in the mind. But I do think it's something that one must have experienced at some level to really grasp the changes and the trails...and one needs to remember too, as to what is happening.

That's all for now.