Scenes from Judge’s Ghat on a cloudy day, Or Questions on Death.
A walk by the riverside can mean a number of things. For the old man it might mean some fresh air in his tired lungs, for a child it might mean ample space to run and burn his energy, for lovers it might just mean sitting together, trying to make the best use of the horizon which includes pretending that the endless flow of time, by some act of magic, has been put on a stop only for them. What makes such pretensions remarkable is that these sometimes turn out to be the only shots at their private eternities which otherwise resist production. Curiously, for me, such a walk a few days ago had resulted in a number of questions which disgusts me and laughs at creativity. I am grappling with them to this day.
It was late at noon and I was alone in the house. I needed to take a break for my work only to come back to it with some rest and fresh perspectives. The general ideas about a walk by the riverside lured me into taking one and I did not try to guard myself from the temptation. Quickly collecting the essentials, I came out and took a taxi. Initially, I thought that I would just take a taxi ride, but it started raining while I was on my way. So I thought that I would get down and see whether the camaraderie of the rain and the river manages to evoke some inspiration which I needed desperately at that moment. When I finally reached the riverside, the rain had stopped. But it was cloudy outside. I got down at Judge’s Ghat and started walking as i watched a man trying his hard to anchor his boat to a post but failing miserably every time. A little later I came across a very familiar scene of a sradhh ceremony which was being performed under a nearby shed. I have seen these before but this time what struck me was a mundane and a tremendously bleak statement which I felt was being communicated to me. I saw a garlanded picture of a very old woman who was probably the mother of a family of four sons who were now standing in a line to perform their ceremonial rites. What was remarkable was all of them were old with the first one in the line barely able to carry the length of his life on his knees. The conditions of the rest were a little better but it was far from what one would consider remotely healthy. To my utter disgust, I felt the line was a little longer than it actually looked like. After all, it is a matter of time that all these seemingly loyal sons will join their mother and their last rites would be taking place in the same way if not in the same place. It was my private version of the Great Chain of Being whose beginning and end were out of sight. But it was visible, palpable....very much so in its movement which is romantically determined and pathetically irreversible. But there was nothing fascinating about it. What I saw has been happening all along. It is a repetition of the most cheaply accessible truth which requires no intellectual comprehension.
It is futile to assert that all this was known. But the regularity of it, somewhat divorced from it’s process, had not struck me before. We keep talking about death because it allows us to do so from a distance. We don’t discuss it because we know what death is. We discuss it because we don’t know what it is. We try to appropriate it, we try to win against it, we try to look for it, some even tries to discard it. Tagore writes Mrityunjoy, Mozart composes Requiem, Mann writes Death in Venice, Bergman makes The Seventh Seal...all in the name of death. You might look away from it, you might love it or you might worship it... yes, you can do whatever you like because there is room for free play. But what do these do to the regularity of event? The meaningful meaningless of it? The futility of it? These questions evoke responses inside which I have not been able to understand. With every recurrence of the event, they fill me with a sense of irritation..and also exhaustion ..Perplexing as these are, they sacrifice themselves at the feet of thought..but comes back in a much more nagging and particularly nauseating form to ask,