There is no love of life without despair of life. I hear him pronounce this through the pages written some good 70 years ago. Sitting here, alone, I find this phrase demanding attention, drawing me to focus on absurdity that life is. Time seems to have come to a halt. The constant din of ceiling fan wheezing above adds to this sense of timelessness. The hand of this table clock keeps on ticking. And nothing exists at this moment, but this strange desire to cling to life – knowing very well that she holds forth no promises, only a sense of familiarity. But then, even death redeems nothing. Or does he?

I do not know. I cannot know. For all I know is this that I have soaked in enough sun to live on. A smile from the girl walking across the street is enough for me to fall in love with her and with life. The sea-green water breaking on the shores is enough for me to set the sail to some distant land. Watching a toddler crawl on his belly is enough to drive me to reach out for the heights I aim for. And, watching men suffer is enough for me to denounce this very life I so dearly cling to. For all I know is I ride the waves. And death would stale my ride.

But why this tenacity to live on? Has life given me enough reasons to believe that redemption is her ultimate gift? Has she given me enough reasons to believe that everything would turn out just the way I want? That when I die I would be led the way to heaven? That my memories would be respected by posterity? That my fame would outlive even the very stones I kick with my dirty boots? No. And yet, I find this strange, unexplained desire to cling to life, make love to her every living moment – knowing very well that once I die, I would have no more befitting words than “Eternal Regrets” to embellish my tomb.

I had met a man once, a year and a half ago, when I was visiting the Banaras Hindu University. He earned his living by singing devotional songs at the gate of temple of Shiva. He was alone and had no one to turn to in this old age. He had been there for past 20 years, and during all these years, never once did he see the God he loved so dearly; and yet he lived on.

And then, on my way back, there was this man I met on the train to New Delhi; a poor, half-naked monk, embittered by life, and haunted by his past. All his life he has been trying to come to terms with the sins he had committed some decades ago. He was a ranker in the Indian Army, and in one hockey match, in the heat of the moment, had smashed his stick on one of his fellow player and had killed him. That was some good 15 yrs ago. Since then he had been on the run. God for him had become a meaningless phrase. And yet, he lived on.

There are men and women I saw on the streets of Madras and Bombay and Calcutta, picking foods from the city dumps, rearing their child on the roads, and waiting for hours, in long queues, for 2 pints of water from the local municipal water tanks. Their knee-high shacks leave no room for any movement, whatsoever. Privacy is a luxury they cannot afford. And the sea (I speak, here, of the fishermen living along the coast of Madras) could swell anytime and wash them away. The sight makes me throw up in disgust. And yet, they live on.

The life enamors them as much as she did Alexander, the Great.

But there are men who choose to turn away. Giving up life and her pleasures. But I wonder whether that serves any purpose. Death, to me, is a dream, as much as life is, or rather a transition between dreams. And all they do, by giving up life, is scuffle around from dream to dream.

There was once this strange old hag. She had a way with the spirits. She lived alone and had nothing much significant left to be done in her life. One day she received five thousand francs from a sister who had died bequeathing her the money. Now this money had to be invested properly. The woman remained true to herself. At that time, a lease had expired on one small patch of land behind the local church, and the proprietor had erected a tomb on it. Made of black granite stones, the tomb stood out in a grand way. The woman liked it so much that she bought it for four thousand francs. Then she got her name carved out in gold on the door to the tomb. Satisfied with her investment (now that the investment was secured from any political upheavals, or changes in stock market rates), she ended up paying herself a daily visit to her final resting-place. That was the only time she came out for a walk. She would go down into the chamber and kneel on the prie-dieu and pray for hours together. It was in these moments that she stood before the realization of what she was and what she would become. And this continued for as long as she can remember. One day a symbolic gesture even made her realize that in the eyes of the world she was dead. On All-Saints-day, arriving later than usual, she found some violets scattered respectfully around the entrance to her tomb. Some visitor, having seen the grave empty of any offerings, may have strewn the flowers to respect her long neglected memories.

Such is death. And such is life. Dreams, and nothing more.

I had once thought this life to be a chance, so short and precious that it would be sinful to waste. One is prompted to work, to do something worthwhile. But one would waste ones life, if by doing one loses oneself. Life is to be lived in the constant awareness of this self, and never by any rules of the book.
All my life, I was urged to live a virtuous life; asked to choose the right over the wrong. But the more I live, the more they become a haze, a mist of confused notions – these choices, I mean. I do not wish to choose any longer. To live a moral, ethical and just life is an oxymoron; for how can one love ones life and yet be moral? How can one live ones life and yet be just? “To long for morality when one is a man of passion is to yield to injustice the very moment one speaks of justice. Man sometimes seems to me a walking bundle of injustice”.

What does it matter – all these prattles about morality and ethics, Of justice and equality, Of religion and God? To be selfish is ones only religion. Can you imagine life minus the acts of her cruelty? I have seen a baby mountain-eagle tearing apart its weaker brother and pushing him out of the nest, over the cliff! One day, this same baby would grow up and spread its wings to the chilly wind and fly off over the rock. And you would stare agape at its magnificent beauty and power; you would look around and see the mountains, with ice capping the dull gray rocks, and that same eagle soaring high up in the electric blue sky, and, in that moment of inspiration, you would perhaps even write a poem; or perhaps cry out with utter passion, “Life IS beautiful!!!”. Indeed.

One cannot live ones life and be just, moral, ethical at the same time. One cannot be anything at all. One simply lives. Or rather one is lived. Some slaughtered mankind in death camps. Some tried to prevent further killings.

Someone bored into the heart of nature and brought back the secret to unlock energy out of matter. And some used that secret to make nukes. Men were burnt in gas chambers and the grease was used to make soaps for human consumption.

For ages, tribes of men across the world venerated the Swastika. This symbol stood for joy, laughter, happiness and good luck. People placed it on their doors to ward of evil. But during the last war, millions shivered at the very sight of it, because for them, it was harbinger of unspeakable terror and death – the symbol of Evil itself, the symbol of Nazi regime.

“Arbeit Macht Frei” – said the plank over the wrought iron gates to Auschwitz I, meaning, ‘work will make you free’ – an adage from karmic philosophy. How ironic men can be! But then it is in the nature of man. And thy shall do what thy nature commands of you. Men ride the waves, slipping down to the trough and then rising up the crest. There cannot be anything otherwise.

One moment I am the lecher, drooling over some nubile young lady, and the other moment I am the Buddha, ready to worship the very same lady I desired…. Life is the eternal golden braid – with strands of good and evil enlaced. To pick at the strands is like to pick at the very fiber of life. And if you are insistent, then life itself will come apart. Or become more enmeshed.

This, perhaps, explains my sense of despair. And this, perhaps, also explains the exhilarating joy at my being alive. The love of life and the despair of life co-exist, in this very moment and in all the moments yet to come, like strands of good and evil, thoroughly enlaced and makes me what I am.

And there is no love of life without despair of life.

(The ‘him’ I mention here is a writer named Albert Camus, who once wrote the opening phrase ‘There is no love of life without despair of life’ in one of his Essays “The wrong side and the right side” way back in 1937. He happens to be the youngest writer awarded the Nobel for Lit.)

//Jan 2001

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