INSIDE MY HEAD
‘He can’t move. Father, open your eyes!’ a lonely voice soared in the silent fields of Amalpur.
What would satisfy a human? The question has hung upon mankind all these years, yet there has been no answers. What do we live for? What would lead to happiness? Is it to be attempted in pursuit of wealth, or is it to be attempted like sages, pursuing God, yet the question arises. What do they see in God? Why pursue? Is it God they are looking for, or is it happiness, or is it rather an outright denial of the fact that our lives are to be passed in utter futility, without possessing ever the knowledge of the reason of our existence? Are we destined to perish as ignorant beings?
People will never find out these answers, for I don’t believe there to be a correct one, because we can never answer these as long as we can’t see the beyond, what after this life?
What are we doing here, really? I ask again. What would we accomplish here if we are destined only to die, and leave our efforts behind?
I tell you, people have gone mad searching for the answers, people have been transported to a world of indifference, decaying in the lack of knowledge. People have abandoned property and lived like beggars, and what more, some have gone on to find answers in the heart of nature, away in Alaska, or in unknown, virgin corners of earth, an effort to connect with the inner being lost somewhere in the buzz … but I tell you, nature could only provide you so much respite from these never ending accusations. Eventually, in these dangerous paths, winding and unwinding, they lost their minds, some driven to the point of suicide, for they could never find the reason, and at that time it would seem the only thing that matters.
But even long after they are gone, the question persists. What would lead to happiness?
Anirudh sat back with the grin of a victor, the desk giving away a slight creak as his weight fell back. It had gone better than he had planned. He could see the confounded faces in the classroom, not asking questions, but soaking in his knowledge, and he was convinced that the speech was good enough to leave behind an impression of his superiority.
The evening was dark that day, letting him wonder and fall back into this inactivity. But now as he looked outside, lit by the faint light of the lamp in the courtyard, and watched the kitchen hut where his wife, Shamala, was preparing the night’s dinner, like the waning light of the lamp in the courtyard, he felt his momentary satisfaction slipping away. The clamour of utensils and crockery, loud enough for the silent night, seemed only to accentuate Shamala’s anger toward him.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
Three years before, when Shamala had married him and arrived at that home, it had spoken of wealth and wellbeing. Wealth was proliferating as the crops covered their whole land in brilliant golden hue, another house (with bricks!) was being built beside the hut, and there was even talk of buying a television (Television! You can wonder how royal the idea might have seemed in a place, where the whole town passed into the hands of darkness as soon as night arrived). Coming from an orphanage, Shamala had stood in awe on the day of marriage, awe at the signs of prosperity that were in her husband’s house, and now, hers. But this feeling had passed, much like the other feelings of a newly-wed, and with familiarity, an inquisitive gaze took its place, looking at the gaps in the walls that seemed mere cracks before. And probably, it was what urged Anirudh tonight to look deep into a person’s mind, and wonder about satisfaction and happiness.
His father was taken ill soon after his marriage. It was two years ago that he had been shaken awake by his wife at the strike of midnight, telling him that father was squirming in his bed and trying to mumble something. And when he reached, he was half turned, lying on his left side, with his mouth hung open like a dead man, but it was his frantically moving eyes that told them something was very wrong. It turned out to be a heart attack.
“Dinner’s ready,” a loud shout reached him amidst the sound of scrubbing utensils, but was it an invitation? No, no, it floated in their house, proclaiming an imminent battle, and he knew the roars of utensils had become too quiet for Shamala.
Anirudh sighed. He crossed the courtyard in silence, washed his hands outside in the hand pump, from where, through the half engaged curtain, he saw his father sitting in his wheelchair. Shamala was laying a cloth over his lap so that he wouldn’t spill any food over his pyjamas, but when the act was over, the wrinkled kerchief looked more like her frown. He walked in silence inside the room. The kitchen was a mud hut of two small rooms; it was in the southernmost corner of their land; south, from where in daylight their fields could be seen spread far and far, till the gold seemed to dissolve into terrific blueness, and beside it a pond was visible that now reflected the moonlight back to them in all its shininess. Anirudh sat down in front of his father on a bench, and watched him struggle with a spoon. The lamp was placed by the door, so that flies would be away; its case was dark, blackened by use. The light coming through the translucent casing was dim, yet it shone enough to show them the contents of his plates, lying disarrayed much like the loosely tied hair of his wife, but he said nothing, for an anticipation hung in the air as Shamala moved in hurried steps, of an awaiting fury of words if the vow of silence was broken. So, he sat down and watched her rough hands serve the food, and ate in silence.
“I can’t do it. I can’t do it. I have got now more gray hair than your father. I can’t serve him anymore. Get him help,” Shamala said when they were alone, in bed. The lamp was put out to save kerosene, and his father was asleep in the adjoining room.
“Help?” Anirudh said impatiently. “We have barely food to eat in our house. And you talk of help?” His eyes blazed in the darkness as he looked at her, but the truth couldn’t be denied, for it was a reflection of her face, which had sunken like a dry leaf, of the hollows of her eyes that had gone frighteningly deep like two pools, and of her hair that had grown thin and grey. The last five months had been tiring for her. The initial eagerness to cure his illness had gradually passed into passivity, and now, in the final days when father had become too frail, too ill, floating in an uncertainty between life and death, it had putrefied into this hatred like she had never felt before, whose stink nowadays kept him awake at nights.
“Yes, yes, in the name of God, I talk of help. Get it, for I need it more than he.”
“What help? The crops grow no more like before, half destroyed by insects, and the other half will probably dry out in this heat. There is no money in the jar.”
“Then dig the earth for money. I don’t care. The man of the house isn’t supposed to sit this way in his room all night, and tell there’s no money. I am not even thirty and I feel like hundred. Bring help, till then I am not going to cook. There will be no more food.”
She turned to her left and slept.
But of course there was food, as it must be. The words of her mouth were lost the next day. When the sun rose, her feet set in motion. On the days that followed, the food continued to be lain down like it had always been, on the wooden table of the kitchen, intermixed with her rhapsody of bitterness, and sitting four feet away from the lamp, in the shady light he and his father continued to taste the tunes in her rice and sharp salted daal, a taste that he carried with him as he paddled to the school, where it spread further as he made vale attempts to baffle his students, talking about subjects that baffled him as much. And the household persisted in obstinate silence amongst the noise of knocking utensils and roughly deposited plates.
However, a few weeks later, in the month of June, when the seeds were being planted and the fields were dotted with people in dripping sweats, when the land started to crack in thirst, this noise in the household intensified into a sharp cry that Anirudh would never be able to forget.
‘He can’t move! Father, Open your eyes’ she was saying, but when Anirudh walked into the room, pushing the dirty curtain out of his way and saw his father lying like the other day, it in no way surprised him, for he knew dead men could not move. And a new cry dominated the air in their household, with perverseness of a sense of relief associated with it. Beside him, Shamala tore her hair and beat her breasts as neighbours came in, their interest peaked at this new happening. And more women came in, and more tears were shed. A few calmed his wife, telling her it was a mercy from God, a few others reverberated his goodness. And even in the days that followed, Shamala wore white in sadness, and realized how her father had fulfilled her promised, for no food was prepared in the house for ten days, and she shed some more tears for that. And eventually the neighbours stopped coming, and grief stopped gushing out of her eyes, until one of those days that it seemed father had never lived there. And time passed, and she found her voice again, once more the utensils knocked together, because of damaged crops or her worn out sarees, and it seemed to grow in loudness, driving Anirudh further into the corner again in the house, sitting by the lamp in his study, wondering about his students and satisfaction of human beings.