Beginning at the beginning
August arrived on my calendar of chaos with the memories of an end and a beginning. An end on August 3. A beginning on August 15. A death. And a life. Each year, the end precedes the beginning, which is laced with the end of its own, the end of its several ends. Like every year, I mourn an end, the end. And thank heavens for a beginning, the beginning. The beginning that lives on…The beginning that’s still breathing, breathing in, breathing out, each day, every moment, though still not aware of the deeper purpose, the sublime meaning, the higher end. A beginning that’s still grappling with an end, one end that ended many means, too many ends. A beginning that’s still trying to make some sense of the big, bad world that the earth transformed into on the day of the end. It was one end too many…
I, the beginning, am on a personal pilgrimage to Aligarh, the Mecca of education that made and unmade me (It taught you things you needed to unlearn, and didn’t teach you stuff that’s a sin not to have learnt. It taught you how ‘not to be’ more than ‘how to be’). You are travelling by road. It takes two hours to reach there, but, since you survive an end on the road (a gruesome end, a bloody end; I’m not afraid of death, but my idea of death doesn’t include having been shredded into smithereens, giving a tough time to your kith and kin to collect your last remains), you reach in five hours and thank heavens for that. Your ‘loved ones,’ assuming you to have ‘met with an accident’, sleep peacefully, only to be shocked to see you alive in the morning. The night there is heavy on you. A leaf from your diary is a testimony to yet another night you spent wide awake — A strange vagueness of thought and purpose gripping you hard, a strange thought playing in your head, a vague, unfamiliar stirring causing a havoc within: “Where do I go? Where do I keep going? What do I do? What do I keep doing?”…
It’s 4.45 am. The city seems to be fast asleep. The muezzin’s azaan wafts across the city’s sleepy visage: Assalato khairun menannaum, assalato khairun menannaum (namaz is better than sleep, namaz is better than sleep). The faithfuls, alas! are way too fond of their sleep to shake it off and step outside the comfort of their bed at such an hour. I’ve been lying in bed, but haven’t been able to sleep a wink: I can scarcely sink into sleep if I’m not sleeping in the familiar comfort of my bedroom — this is worse when I have to live out of bags and suitcases, I just CAN’T sleep.
Tossing and turning in bed, I am seized with an urge to pray. (My faith, since the end, has always been flickering, but now I am beginning to believe, again). Even as the thought of going to the mosque, kneel down and prostrate strikes me, I ‘m wondering if the God I had so gladly forsaken ( or vice versa) would embrace me? Would He forgive my enormous sins that weigh my soul or would He turn away His face, ignoring the effort I take to walk all the down to the mosque — tucked away between narrow lanes, into the heart of a colony, which shows little signs of being awake? Would He be angry that I am dictated by “sudden urges” to pray, and have not made it a practice, making it a part of life — namaz, after all, is one of the most five tenets of Islam, the four others being tauheed (faith in One God)zakaat, (charity), roza (fasting) and haj (the holy pilgrimage to Mecca). Here, I want to put on record that I have never worn my religion on my sleeve and don’t approve of people making a spectacle out of what should be a private matter in the individual domain. Prayer is only a form to bring the Created closer to the Creator. A prayer should never be reduced to empty chants, devoid of any inner connection, devoid of any sense of the divine communion.
When I enter the mosque, I delude myself with the thought that maybe I’m getting closer to God, that may be He is watching me. I also thought that may be because I have been too grounded (literally) and rooted to the soil( not quite literally) that I’ve often failed to look up above in the sky, but how can the sky not see the creatures crawling in earth’s skin? As I enter the mosque, I think of a divine communion, though my mind is eternally on the mundane — breakfast, driving down city streets, my unfinished book, the incomplete poem, and other similarly ridiculous thoughts to think in a mosque.
The mosque, large and spacious, is almost deserted. There are barely ten people, and I, like a child, seem to be chuckling to be one of them. I notice I am the only clean-shaven, boyish looking man in the congregation — rest all sport beards, flowing, swinging across their chest as they recite the holy verses. In the second row, there is a small boy, taking a nap on the prayer mat. He must have been dragged out of his bed, I surmise. The prayer ends and the imam enumerates a whole host of things that he seeks divine blessings for: world peace, health, happiness and welfare of all the people, success for the youngsters, and raahe mustaqeem ( the right path) for those who have been led astray by the evil. A chorus of “Amen” resonates in the near-empty sanctum sanctorum of the mosque after imam’s each line.
When I had stepped inside the mosque, it was dark, but when I stepped out it was the light of daybreak that welcomes me. Have I travelled from darkness to light? I don’t know.
As I stepped out, a rag picker had begun his day. He is rummaging through a heap of poly bags, biscuit and wafer wrappers, torn pages of newspapers. He is looking at a scantily clad woman in The Times of India, oozing out from its dirty surface in the crackling early morning haze. A biker treats himself to an empty road — driving past me in tearing speed, his Yamaha roaring off along the deserted stretch. As I walk along, I catch a few glimpses of faces in the windows that have begun to open in the multi-storeyed apartment buildings around me. A new day has begun…
Back to work
On your way back, you survive another close brush with death. On the highway, your car slips on the liquid charcoal (thanks to road repairs) and rams into an auto. Thankfully, there is no speeding heavy vehicle behind, else it would have hit your car, turning you into another statistics of people killed in road accidents. Luckily enough, you survive, living to tell the tale. Things are back to normal, again. It’s the same routine work, again. You are happy to be back to the same rigmarole, to the familiar rut. You don’t complain when you are stuck in traffic for hours on end, you don’t feel anything when you can’t drive more than 20 kmph, when you can’t even crawl. You smile at the simpering, uncouth bastards that seem to abound on the roads of the city you love so much… And you just go on…surrounded by the daily tragedies and triumphs of the city…And sunk in your own…
Flagging off a new journey…
I have been like a derailed train. Like a lost track. For long. The destination still eludes me. But I keep taking the journeys. It’s yet another Independence Day, which is also my birthday. On the day, I suffer from withdrawal symptoms. I want to go away, far away, from everyone, from everything. I think of some couplets by Ghalib (Forgive the poor translation):
Rahiye ab aisi jagah chal kar jahan koi na ho
Ham sukhan koi na ho aur ham zabaan koi na ho.
(I shall go now and live at a place where no one lives
Where there is no one to talk to, to speak your tongue none.)
Bedar-o-dewaar saa ik ghar banaayaa chaahiye
Koi hamasaaya na ho aur paasabaan koi na ho
(A house with no doors, no walls should be built
There shan’t be any neighbour, to watch over no one)
Pariye gar bimaar to koi na ho timaaradaar
Aur agar mar jaaiye to nauhaa-khwaan koi na ho
If you fall sick, no one shall look after you
And if you die, to cry there shan’t be anyone.
On the day, when ‘freedom’ floated all around, I wanted to run away…not because I am an escapist, but I could see no reason to celebrate..I could feel the end watching over me, smiling at me…I did scribble a few lines to present myself…lines which I had thought could be parts of a long poem (it’s actually in a ghazal form)…the poem that remains incomplete to this day…
Aaj phir aasman choo jaane ko jee chahta hai
Aaj phir lahron se lar jaane ko jee chahta hai
Pharpharata hai umeedon ka tiranga, dil ko
Raqs dil khol kar kar jaane ko jee chahta hai
Kab talak maange madad khud se twarruf ka koi
Khud hi ab khud mein utar jaane ko jee chahta hai
twarruf: introduction, khud: self.
I set out on a new journey, flag off a new beginning. I am born anew. And am looking at the old world, with a new worldview. I am hoping that all that keeps me going remains around. I am hoping that all that keeps me ticking keep me, well, ticking. But at the same time I know that there are some certainties and certitudes in life you would be a fool to take for granted. I am only way too aware of the transient nature of human happiness, the impermanence of things: All things must pass, everything must end. The only enduring things are love, compassion and kindness. May love live forever! And may forever be long enough!
Life goes on
It’s not my end yet. And I go on, breathing in, breathing out…In the days to come, I will just go on, as life does, go on until the tryst with my end…when death puts full stop to life…