I’m at Hillar Shahabad. Life is passing fast. It has started raining. Train is moving through the villages. It has entered the tunnel cutting the Pir Panjal mountains. The whole world is conversing inside the train. People are looking at each other. Some are silent. Some are talking continuously as if they haven’t talked for years. The tunnel isn’t ending. Life is beautiful despite all its ugliness and futility. The journey. This vast sky. One man in the vehicle I’m traveling in is telling us about all the villages that run parallel to this mountain range. He mentioned a village ‘Sangaldaan’ that rests at the top of the mountain. He talks in Gojri, Kashmiri and Dogri. Four of us identify ourselves with different religions. We are talking about life. The brevity of life.The sun has set. Lights have started blinking. I’m in the Ramban market. Two of the passengers sitting on the front seat are from Bihar. One of them is hunchbacked. Evening has fallen. I’m traveling towards a place I call home. All of us are looking at the road. The road ahead. The absurd within and the absurd outside. Scary and life sapping.What is drifting me towards finding meaning of this meaningless life? Failures maybe! Fear! Or some amateur quest emanating from inside! A transient quest of an ephemeral creature! The Prologue of Nikos Kazantzakis’s ‘Saviors of God’ starts with the following lines: ‘We come from a dark abyss, we end in a dark abyss, and we call the luminous interval, life.’ What is this abyss? What’s in there? The abyss lies in our hearts. It has taken hold of the metaphysical in us. We have been circled around by numerous abysses. He further sets out to define three duties of man and the four steps to accomplish them. And thus the battle between flesh and soul rages on. We are the losing side. We never win. We struggle in our ascent towards something that escapes us all the time. All our life we try to grasp something that remains with us, that stays on; but in the very process everything that comes to us leaves us the very same minute. We live and then die. The brevity of it. Absurd. Futile.
And then one fine day it presents itself to you as starkly as it could; while having your lunch, talking to your siblings and your eyes fixed on television, it all becomes clear. It runs past you for a flash of a moment. The mist of illusion dispels in seconds and you become spectator of everything you have been part of. Gesticulations. The vain murmurings. One’s crawling around a circle. You become privy to what you were thinking most of the time, imagining it always. And here it comes real, all dancing in front of you. It matures with you.The repetitiveness and futility of life strikes you hard at the very conscience. It comes to you for an instant and disappears quickly. You try to retain it to make it a part of your memory. You recreate the scene in your mind to understand it better so as to decipher its absurdity, the pattern. You stop looking for a while and the thing stares back at you. You freeze for a moment. It smirks looking at you. You move away and tend to forget. You continue living. Absurd stays on. It grows, becomes immortal.
This is the very time we realize that all through our lives, we followed a pattern and forgot to choose a different one. One that was novel and never trodden by others to give us a glimpse of another abyss. Abyss over abyss. A reason to live further fulfilling our thirst for the unfound. The despair of failures has always made us feel weak at the knees and heart. Having not achieved what I desired sends shivers down to my body. I don’t know what have I desired? Which desire fulfills us, makes us complete and desireless? What lies beyond desires? What is the greatest desire, one that surpasses everything, one that takes us to heights? Yesterday evening, a pall of gloom surrounded me while I was riding my motorcycle. I stopped for a while, rested my hand on my heart and looked at the sky. A cloud of darkness had taken hold of my heart. It had started raining incessantly. It was raining black and I was drowning in it trying to save my heart. I locked myself inside the room and felt like a prisoner condemned to live in the eye blinding darkness. The room looked as if completely shrouded in a blanket of despair. There was nowhere to go. The menacing darkness. I drowned.
I had realized that there was no escape. I wanted to live devoid of memory, memory of past, present and future. I wanted to live without thinking that the days were all same. I wanted to believe that it was all new. I left the door open. I wanted to experience the rains anew. It bored me. The dark clouds and the flash of lightening. Thunder. And more rains. Nothing made me happy. I kept looking at the sky. I felt sad and slept. I didn’t wake for two days. Sadness swept over my entire being and I felt broken. Everything becomes clear. The past and the future. Something disturbs you all the time. It’s something like a clot at the back of your head. Lump in the throat. I continue living knowing that it is a dream; labyrinth, a maze of futility. Torture. Drama.
I look back at the days and I find nothing. Void. I don’t remember anything. Nothing of the past year and of this year. Nothing of the day spent a day before. What is there for me to remember? No pilgrimages and no sacrifices. No great struggles. Not a single mountain conquered. I have lived simple like many other thousands. Eat, work and sleep. This is the pattern I have followed. No stories to narrate and remember. I have lived ordinary like an invalid.
And the sorrow of living continues. The gradual decay of human flesh and then the stink that comes with diseases. A man once healthy is transformed into something that is inexplicable. The ugly and terrible fate of man. Horrifying. He turns into a ghost. Bones. He begs for life. Life makes him a beggar. Once a man of purity and dignity is grounded to nothing. His heart runs haywire. His breath skips his being. The kidneys stop filtering. He is deserted in the valley of diseases. He’s eaten bone by bone, flesh by flesh, beaten mercilessly and left to decay. His spirit wanders aimlessly, shattered. Disease makes him mad. Love and memory is of no use to him. He curses life and death. He curses himself and the existence. Life loses its way. Disturbed, it meanders meaninglessly, never resting, always searching and yet finding nothing. There’s no respite, no concessions, only the despair of struggle, struggle that takes you nowhere. Life drowns itself into the abyss. It gives up. It accepts the reality and surrenders.
A vacant gaze at the time and the space around. What lies ahead? What has been accomplished? All of my life went like a flash; 10 years, 20 years, 30, all of it. It all seems like waking from a dream. You try hard to remember the sequence of events, characters, stories and events. You forget all of it. All of this is a dream. Each day. It slips fast. Like a desert storm. Like the waves in the ocean. Born and gone. The mystery deepens and expands and thus grows the torment. The torment of living without knowing anything. And we, like the unmanned ships sailing around for centuries together, not familiar with the sail, sailing without any aim. Always sailing and never reaching.
What will remain of me? Nothing. It’s a journey that doesn’t deliver. It only takes. Everything. Your entire life. Every single portion of it. Joys and sorrows. Pain and comfort. Love and prayers. Memories and the stories with them. Houses. Places. People. Everything that’s dear to you. All of it what you have built. It razes the tower of your life to dust. Life is a merciless warrior. Nobody escapes it. And yet you tread cautiously, fearlessly hoping to find some place where you can rest for sometime and then start again. It cuts half your journey. Nobody can break its will. It follows you all along and in a sudden strangles the life out of you. You shiver, faint and die.
And the longing continues to live, passing from one soul to another. The longing to live for eternity, not exactly eternity, to see this to the end where it stops. Mankind. Time. Universe. The time when somebody will come down to the earth and reveal to us the truth. Secret. Why it all started? Where it has reached now? What distance we have scaled? How much far we have to go? What lies ahead? We die during the ascent and all our little triumphs over truth are bought to end. We die in the very beginning. We die without living. We die willless. The very lump in the heart kills us. We die without seeing it unravel completely.The voices inside shout and command us to save ourselves from the dreadful glare of life.
I do remember the second duty in ‘Saviors of God’ which commands:
‘Dig! What do you see?’
‘Men and birds, water and stones.’
‘Dig deeper! What do you see?’
‘Ideas and dreams, fantasies and lightening flashes!’
‘Dig deeper! What do you see?’
‘I see nothing! A mute Night, as thick as death. It must be death.’
‘Ah! I cannot penetrate the dark partition! I hear voices and weeping. I hear the flutter of wings on the other shore.’
‘Don’t weep! Don’t weep! They are not on the other shore. The voices, the weeping, and the wings are your own heart.’
The Comforter, remember, is death!
Author’s Bio: Sushant Dhar was born in Anantnag, Kashmir and currently lives in Migrant Quarters, Jammu. His essay ‘Summers of Exile’ was anthologized in ‘A Long Dream of Home’ (Bloomsbury India, 2015). His write-ups have appeared in Outlook, The Bombay Review, Muse India, Indian Short Fiction Magazine and Indian Ruminations. His short story ‘Avenged’ has been translated into Bengali and will appear in an anthology to be released in the Kolkata Book Fair, 2018. The author can be contacted at dharsushants[at]gmail.com