It was dusk, and a murky, heavy darkness was gradually replacing the pale fading light of the tired day. We, two of us, strolled back, tracing our steps to the half-lit, half-dark building of The School.
"Would he be there?" she asks me.
"I hope so."
Actually, I was no surer than her. Yet, the situation was almost a test of my spurious confidence in my luck and myself. I prayed to the powers that be, for his presence tonight.
As a matter of fact, far from knowing him, I had not even ever met him. But today was the Jumbler's Night, and I was told that he would be there. She was with me because she thought I knew him, a misgiving for which I was to be blamed.
During my visits to The School, I had heard about him and his peculiar qualities. One day, during one of our regular rendezvous, I had mentioned these things to her and she had got interested. I don't know what had come over me, but I had also told her that I knew him personally, and thus, had entrapped myself into a commitment of introducing her to him.
The durban at the gate saluted me. He had grown accustomed to my unaccounted presence in The School campus. I remember the first time I had loitered through the school gates. The durban had tried to stop me with a routinised intention of asking for my credentials. I had casually waved him aside with a contemptuous gesture of hands - so characteristic of me in such a situation. That had subdued him into a respectful obsequiousness, from then on. He had never again questioned the bases of my entourages to The School.
Perhaps, even I didn't know the reasons for my visits to The School, except that it was a peculiar and interesting place to go once in a while. I was neither a teacher nor a student, but would move around the campus as I please, with no one to ask me for an explanation. I would peep into the classrooms, visit the library, sit in the Staff Room, or just roam about. Somehow, the place seemed homely and familiar.
We entered The School building and walked across the tube-lit corridors towards The Quarters (The Quarters, as they are called, are an assemblage of old, now abandoned, residential buildings, which the school authorities had recently got converted into laboratories for him. However, they still retained their obsolete context and the inappropriate name).
The corridors, I had noticed earlier also, undergo a metamorphosis after sunset. The darkness walls up the open sides and they start giving the impression of a hazily-lit tunnel, almost like the labyrinths of the dreams. At night they an uncanny aura of mystery, and arouse an urge to traverse them and to discover their beginnings and the ends. My earlier explorations, however, had taught me that they had neither a beginning nor an end to themselves (I would always end up where I started from). They only connected all the buildings of The School to each other, and if one knew one’s destination, one only had to travel across them following a set of learnt or guided directions.
Our ‘destination’ was The Quarters, and so I knew which corridors to choose and which to leave. We walked on the mosaic floor, which was originally designed to create some kind of optical illusion of uneven depth. But time had deprived it of its originality and the shuffling of soles of countless foot-wears had weathered off its design.
Her wooden heels click-clacked on the floor, and echoed through the silence, that hung between us. As we turned once left and twice right, I mused over the immediate future, and my stakes in the encounter with him.
The verandah of The Quarters was large and open. It was dimly lit and the pale fog which had floated through, gave an impression of immense unexplored spaces. I looked at the door of The Lab. It was partly open and one could see a few articles through the two inch crack. I looked at her. She was pale and tense. I had hoped that she would propose our going back and thus, save me and herself from the ordeal. She disappointed me by nodding her head towards the door. This affirmation of her intention to meet him was, it seemed, less an act of courage and more a kind of hypnotic response to an unusual situation.
I took a deep breath and knocked at the door.
“Come in,” a confident and amicable voice came from behind the half-open door. I was somewhat taken by surprise. I had expected a gruffy and eccentric voice. This intonation hinted as a much more resolved and likeable person behind it. I looked back at her again. She looked slightly startled. We waited for about two long seconds, re-orienting ourselves, and then opened the door and entered.
He was sitting one a chair, peeping into a cage which had all its walls covered by a thick black paper. He was middle-aged clean-shaven person, with his hair neatly combed back. His face had a likeable flexibility, though the deep creases on it, accumulated through experience of having lived an intense life, had a confidence-inspiring firmness. He looked at us and his face lit up with geniality. Stretching his hands, he came to us. We shook hands.
“Welcome,” he said. “I was expecting you two.”
Obviously, he had mistook us for someone else – which was good, since it made my position more secure, requiring less explanations and justifications.
“Please make yourself comfortable,” he waved us to the two armchairs in the corner. “I will be just through with The Beast.”
The Beast was what had brought us here tonight. He has created quite a sensation when he had synthesized this creature, which was said to have no parallel in the physical world. What probably was most intriguing was the aura of mystery which surrounded Its existence. While almost everyone knew about It, only a handful of people were believed to have seen It. And these few, invariably, refused to talk about what they had seen. I was once introduced to one such person. When I asked him, he made a rather cryptic remark, “The Beast is only your imaginary reality.” He never explained the remark.
It is not surprising, therefore, that over a period of time, everyone had formed their own impression and opinion about what the Beast was like. These impressions were so different from each other that instead of resolving the mystery, they had only further deepened it.
As we waited for him, I looked around the room. It had a disorganized appearance. The plaster on the walls had worn-out, and one corner advertising the vestiges of an old wall-paper, sticking to it like a glorious thought faded past. A low-power bulb, hanging from the ceiling, emitted yellow oppressive light, which was further accentuated by the lamp which was beside him, and was focused inside the cage. There were some similar cages cluttered on the top each other in one corner. Another corner was occupied by a large table with books stacked on it. Apart from these, some small pieces of items, like ash-trays, papers, empty tea-cups, etc., were littered over the floor. And of course, in the center of the room was this uncomfortable stool on which he was sitting, peering inside the cage with deep concentration and enthusiasm.
I shifted my attention to her. Apparently, she was much engrossed with what he was doing, and was oblivious of the time and the world. The somber atmosphere of the room forbade me from speaking and drawing her into any kind of small-talk. In a way, the situation was welcome, since it obviated any awkward questions from her.
Suddenly, with a gesture of content and satisfaction, he stood up. With a last glance inside the cage, he came to us, giving us friendly and what seemed to me, a mischievous smile.
“I believe you have come to see The Beast?”
We nodded, expecting an invitation to have a peep at the synthesized specimen of human fantasy. He looked at us as if he found our curiosity quite natural.
“I am afraid, that would not be possible today. But I will tell you something about The Beast which nobody else knows."
He drew his stool near us and sat down, as if to tell a long story. That he had disappointed us had seemed to go unnoticed by him. I was plainly disheartened, and waited for an explanation for his refusal. He lit a cigarette and inhaled the smoke. The silence lengthened the suspense. At last, he spoke.
“The Beast, as it has been nicknamed, is not new to the mankind. In fact, It is not even a creation. It had always existed in the mind of the people. I have done nothing, except having given It a form and a shape. And even now, it is less tangible than the impression people might have given to you. I am still trying to decipher its nature. To some, It may appear as insightful and seductive as the snake in the Garden of Eden; while to others, It may be plainly mischievous and amoral as Loki. The Church would have named It Lucifer, and Freud was probably referring to It when he talked about that “cauldron of bubbling impulses” – the unconscious Id. I suppose, it all depends on people and their personal and historical sense of evil.”
He paused. He had still not given any reasons why we could not see the Beast. However, in terms of what he said, the omission seemed immaterial. Aware of my own sense of evil since the evening, I tried to conjure up the image of the Beast.
"In one of my experiments, I learned something very insightful about It. I believe, you will find it interesting”, he paused for some time, looking at me. "I had known that It doesn’t like bright lights and open spaces. I reasoned that, left in the open, It would try to dig a shelter for Itself in the ground. So, on day, when I put it out in the broad daylight, something significant happened.
"As expected, in the beginning, It was uncomfortable and reacted violently. It struck out at everything within its reach, with an almost blind rage. For almost an hour, I watched this display of Its ferocious energy from a safe distance. And then, it suddenly grew calm. I could sense that something had changed within It. Almost with a sense of purpose, it started digging into the ground. Very methodically, It dug a rather large hole, and descended into it. I followed him maintaining a safe distance. The dust raised by it helped me in keeping Its track. My feeling that its course of digging was guided by some purposeful instinct was even stronger now.
"And then suddenly, It stopped. I could neither see the dust being raised, not hear Its effortful panting. I thought that It must have got tired – or must have across some impenetrable rock. I crouched in a corner for It to start digging, or to return. But time went by, and nothing happened. It was as if I was alone in the tunnel. I was getting uncomfortable, and started crawling forward…"
He stopped and bent down to stub his cigarette on the floor. I noticed that the floor was littered with stubs and ash.
“What did you find?”, she asked, her yes widened, unable to conceal her curiosity.
“You know that, my dear”, he smiled and winked at her. “In fact, you know that better, for you came from there yourself.”
I was puzzled at this turn of conversation. I looked at her, and then at him. Her eyes were still widened, but more out of insight and realization, than out of curiosity.
“You mean, the time has come?”, she asked.
“Of course, it has. After all, it was he who led you here, isn’t it?”, he said, pointing at me....
"Hey! What’s going on!!", I was feeling uneasy. "What are you two talking about? How do you know each other?"
"You’ll know. You’ll know soon", she patted me on the shoulder. "Come, I will show you."
She got up and started moving towards the door. I looked at him, but he seemed to have concluded the interview. He nodded, as if asking me to follow her. For a moment I hesitated, then moved to follow her.
When I came out of the door, she was stepping down from the verandah into the darkness. I took a few strides, and was by her side on the steps. I was too perturbed and perplexed to ask her any questions. But I knew that. Come what may, I had to get to the roots of this enigmatic situation.
I had expected us to step on the ground after a couple of steps. In the darkness, it was difficult to see where the steps were leading to, but I had no reason to doubt my daytime memories of the building’s structure.
That’s why I was taken by surprise, when we kept on descending into the darkness. It was all murky black surrounding us, and the ground seemed to have disappeared. Even she was not visible, though I could feel her presence by my side. When I tried to look back, she stopped me.
"Don’t look back! The dizziness of depth is far more unbearable than the dizziness of the heights."
Her voice now had a calm and confidence, which somehow soothed my anxieties. I felt the ground firmer under my feet, and the eerie feeling I had been having, evaporated. As we continued our downward journey, I noticed the darkness giving way to a soft blue phosphorescent glow. We had entered into a sort of cavern. The atmosphere was gradually growing more and more tranquil and nostalgic. I had, I noticed, grown accustomed to this peculiar situation. In fact, I was feeling quite relaxed and excited.
The cave suddenly opened up in, what appeared to me, an architectural dream. It was like a three-dimensional maze. All around us were multitudes of arches, staircases, paths leading in all directions. The richness and symmetry of the structures was overwhelming to the senses. The place had an air of illusion and anticipation about it.
She seemed to know her way, and chose a flight of stairs, ascending in a spiral.
"Where do the other paths go?" I enquired.
"Same place where we are going", she said, as if that was self-explanatory.
"Then why did you select this very path?"
"Maybe it would suit you better", she said with a smile.
In a way, I understood her, though it was difficult to pin-point the exact meaning of what she had said. Her words were comforting, and that seemed to enough justification to trust her judgement. I followed her with a sense of wonder.
We climbed up the stairs, and then crossed over a series of bridges, tunnels and stairs, traveling at a leisurely pace, as if time didn’t matter. I was too much overcome by a feeling of awe and humility to really care where she was leading me to. I was content to be with her, mindless of the beginnings or the end of this journey.
That is why when, while passing through the tunnel, she suddenly disappeared through the solid wall on the left, I was shaken out of my trance. In panic, I took two long strides to reach where I had seen her disappearing. But she was there, standing in a well-concealed opening in the wall, which led to a kind of platform. There was a closed door at the end of platform. She was looking at me intently, with a kind smile.
"I have led you up to this point", she said. "But now you have only yourself to rely upon to experience what lies behind this door."
"Are you going to leave me?" I asked.
"No, I’ll be with you, but that will not really help you much."
She bade me to follow her, and turned. Almost reverently, awed by the mystery behind the door, I fell in step behind her. We crossed the platform, and with almost no effort, she pushed the door open.
I was hit by the force of some supernatural energy, which sort of sucked me inside. I was blinded by the bright benign light, and the music was driving me into wild paroxysms. I tried to keep my eyes open, but it was like looking into a whirlpool of gigantic energy. I was feeling dizzy, and tried to get hold of myself.
And then I fell.
It was like a tunnel, a sucking whirlpool, which gradually became darker and darker. My hands stretched, wildly seeking a support, waving blindly in a helpless panic. Darkness parted, leaving space for me to go down and then closed in on me. Deeper and deeper… irrevocably deeper. I was engulfed by the murky monolithic black, was coloured by it. My own boundaries were blurred. What remained of me was a bunch of mythical, imaginary, nebulous body sensations. Merely a darkness, encapsulated by another. There was no ‘I’, just an all-pervading stretch of eternal darkness. I had dissolved. The blind, shadowy, vaccuuous had become me.
The falling had ceased. I was everywhere, flowing around in the entropic, structure-less static nothing. I was nowhere.
No form, no motion, no light, no time. An eternity passed away.
The movement started as a slight tremor, a gentle sway, a ripple in the dark primordial pool. It passed through me, and restored the sensibility of a mass, which I could recognize as ‘me’. I gathered my lost sentience, trying to define the architecture of my split-out being. The explosion, the blast, the ensuing revolutions was sudden and unexpected. The deafening flood of a Titanic energy, the unbriddled fury of the unknown, lying dormant of eons, burst forth. An enormous gush of savage intensity caught me lost in structuring myself. I blew into pieces, and scattered around in the storm. The tempest hit me in a ceaseless succession, tossing me around, wave after wave, with an overwhelming force. I tried to resist, to recapture and to maintain my naïve vanity in my sense of being. My efforts were redundant in the face of that tireless momentum. It pierced my will, and blew me helplessly along its vertiginous course. I resigned myself to its power to dictate my directions.
It was then that they appeared. The Images. From the dark, swirlling, zooming haze which had engulfed me, they emerged and disappeared in an incoherent succession. Formless, shapeless figures, they screamed, laughed, shouted, wailed, and sang at a deafening pitch. I watched their demonic, chaotic movement, mesmerized and unaware of their affinity with me. And then dawned that awareness, slowly seeping through me, and along with it, a chill, a horror, a nameless repulsion for these alien beings. I fought in defense, and tried to hit at these cruel indictments of fate.
"We are the ghosts of your own making", they cried and eluded my panic-stricken blows at them. I realized that they were right. Vague, formless memories of the sins of the wandering soul lit up and acknowledged and confessed their existential guilt. I had sinned, had forgotten and had neglected. And had taken that as a way of life… which life? I tried to recall and peeped through the blind corridors of my memory. Through the dim, misty sense of a life lived –and forgotten – something emerged. And what emerged was an unlived life and countless debts of living. I shuddered and turned away.
They squealed in delight. A saddistic, revengeful delight in my agony and regrets. They revelled in my misery and danced around me – an infernal rhythme of diabolic fascination. They closed in on me, drawing me, possessing me.
"Please", I pleaded. "Save me, forgive me for my sins. I want to live again. I want to free myself of you."
Magically, the dance ceased.
All of a sudden, there was a silence. A piercing, deep silence. I turned, but they had disappeared – and a dark, nostalgic void had replaced them. The movement, the spiralling thrust from nowhere, had also ceased. I was again hanging lose in a vaccuum. The dark sordidness had taken shape of a benign grey mistiness.
I floated aimlessly, waiting for something to happen. I was feeling light and cleansed. It was like being nearer to Home - a nostalgia – not for a life back there, but for an eternity to be there for mine. That was always there before the Fall.
A grey point I was looking at for some time, gradually started becoming lighter. Something was happening. I waited in anticipation. It grew brighter and brighter, a cherubic soft aura radiated from it whose intensity grew with each moment. Streams of emotions – of love, of piety, of a kind of and wonder, of surrender – rushed out from within me, and tripped over each other. Enraptured, I watched this unfolding of the light. I bathed in Its intensity and felt an unaging affinity to It. As if this was the Home, the Mother, the Source of all that was me and was not me.
"My child", a soft mesmerizing Voice echoed in the grey primal pool and touched the core of my being. I felt transparent, and yielded to an archaic instinct of relatedness to this Being. My soul lay itself bare to absorb Its benevolent essence. "Do you still want to live?"
It was neither a question, nor a statement. Or perhaps it was both. It was also a decree, a judgement exiling me from my Home, which entailed an assent and a grateful acceptance.
"Yes, you will live", the Voice continued. "but you will live under the curses you have created for yourself. You will live with them and learn to live with them. They’ll be part of your life as they have never been before. They will permeate your existence and save and contradict it. In your journey, they‘ll be your guides and obstacles. Your final freedom will also be your imprisonment to them."
I paused, as if to let my Karmas sink within me, and then said, "Would you like to meet them?"
"I have met them", I shuddered.
"No! You have seen them and feared them. Feared them for their alien familiarity. You’ve pleaded with them, and they have been merciful", It paused. "No, you have to meet them and know them and accept them. Come!"
And I felt being helplessly sucked from within that benign aura. It didn’t matter any more. The will, the resistance against life was futile and redundant. I was happily absorbed and lost.
Image... the Essence of life, floated by. And I absorbed their silent commentaries of their re-introduction into my life. What was to be me – the playground, the arena of archaic forces – was being written...
…“I am your Rationality. I’ll help you not loose yourself. I am the tyrant who will impose sanity on you, and imprison you in my clutches. I’ll enter all your relationships and breathe them hollow and soul-less. You’ll love me and hate me for never letting ‘meet’ others and yourself..
…”I will wage war on Rationality. I’ll fight with it and tear you asunder. You’ll yearn for me, for the sense of belongingness, for love and intimacy. I’ll entice your wandering soul and suffocate it within the confines of the commonplace mediocrity. For I am the Life you’ll contradict in the process of living…”
…”And I am your insights and confusions. I am the Words, that will guide you and misguide you. At my will, I will make you superficial – or push you down into the overwhelming gamut of the Unknown. You’ll try to conquer me, and I will lead you into blind corners, and tear you apart, reducing you to wrecks of insanity. And yet, I’ll save you from losing yourself to the insanity of Reality….”
…”I am the First Principle, the violent, free wild energy. You’ll lack me and love me and fear me. I’ll implore you, seduce you and yet elude you. I am the contrast you’ll try to emulate and fail. I’ll join the Words and build up images you’ll worship and succumb to…”
…”And you’ll run after me, sketching my images, and losing me. You’ll interpret me and re-interpret me for I am the Reality that’ll haunt you and yet remain nebulous and hazy. I am the illusions you will paint on the horizons, and dreams you’ll cherish for yourself. I’ll negate your existence, in order for you to find yourself. I am waiting for you, my lost traveler!...”
…”I’ll make everything vulgar and plebian in your life. I’ll cut your wings and bind you to earth. I’m the Time that’ll make everything look critical and important. You’ll try to imprison me and I’ll flow out of your fingers. A sense of passing away, of loss, will hypnotize you and you’ll whither away – futile, mocked at, alone…”
…”And I am the end, the final aim that’ll dog each of your steps. I will contradict Life. But you’ll never be able to recognize me as separate from Life, for I’m Death. My shadow will be your shadow. I’ll fascinate you, and haunt you in the long hours of loneliness. You will live through decaying feelings and faces. But I’ll help you to live and grow, and will thrive on your own sense of mortality…”
They came and went by. Awe-struck, I listened to the drama of my life, unfolding and being preordained. Cursed benedictions, harmonious contradictions, the amoral blend of good and evil, being rolled into a pattern, which was to be me – and my cross to bear…
I felt tired. A sense of lethargy, negated by a promise, crept up and possessed me. Absorbing, I waited for the curtains to go up…