The mythos of reasoning

This is an image of a dolphin trapped in a bottle. I've used this surreal image because my story is an absurd one about a man trapped in a bizarre environment.

That day, I found myself on purple grass under a green sky. There were two moons in the sky and half a sun that burned furiously. I was sweating profusely, but when I wiped a little sweat off my forehead, I realized that I was sweating blood. I panicked. I shuddered. I thought I was approaching death. I wasn’t weak though. And so, I ran. I ran past trees with whalebone trunks and leaves that looked like caterpillars. They seemed alive. I ran past a lake brimming with all sorts of cats. I tried rationalizing things. Was I in hell? Did some ‘event’ transport me to another dimension? Was this the afterlife? I tried bringing everything I saw around me to the level of my reasoning, but I struggled. And so, I sat down and tried to recollect. My memory was fragmented. I only remembered a station…a train…a loud thud. Then it dawned on me. I was in a coma after an accident, and this was a lucid dream! Then something attacked me. Something feral but invisible. It tore a chunk of flesh out of my left arm that was already sweating blood. I screamed in pain. I shrieked. I yelled for help, but I soon found myself drifting out of consciousness. I woke up later to find myself missing an arm, although I didn’t feel it. Then I felt a burning sensation where my missing arm was. I hypothesized again and thought it must be phantom limb and phantom pain that I was experiencing in a lucid dream because the doctors had amputated my arm in the real world. I still hadn’t woken up from the coma, I thought.

As the days passed, I felt hunger and thirst and drank from the lake of cats. The water tasted like piss. I then managed to fashion a weapon of sorts out of metal reeds I’d collected (I can only call them that) and slay two cats and eat them raw. They tasted like fish, and they didn’t bleed when I sliced them open. And then, I found myself falling into a pattern of sorts. I avoided any strange animal I came upon. And I saw many – three-horned rhinoceroses with gills, elephants without tusks and tails, cougars with blue coats, walking on seven legs…I hoped the invisible predator would never return. Years or what seemed like years passed and my reasoning was failing. My instincts, however, had sharpened. As I explored the strange biosphere, I encountered both things and occurrences that had a supernatural or surreal aspect. I started wondering if aliens had abducted me and placed me under observation in an unnatural habitat to see how I’d respond. But that didn’t explain how I’d healed from having my arm torn off. Had they changed me before placing me here? Had they tampered with my biochemistry and my human nature? Was I becoming an alien myself? Is this how they captured other species and transformed them into creatures like themselves?

Then one day, a memory flashed in my head. A memory of a hospital. And I thought that perhaps everything I’d known was simply a hallucination. I was just a mentally ill man in an asylum living out a terrifying make-believe reality, completely oblivious to the truth. But that posed another question. How could I have known the true world unless I’d experienced it at some point? Was I a functioning individual who suddenly had a psychotic breakdown because of a personal catastrophe? And then I wondered if anything was real. We spend our lives looking for answers, but what if there aren’t any questions, to begin with? What if some sentient being somewhere dreamt us all into existence, and when its dream turned into a nightmare, earthquakes, and plagues and train accidents occurred? What if this being’s dream made room for each creature – man, woman, child, animal, bird, fish, and dreams within the massive dream made each life? And when a dream within the dream took a surreal turn, realities got turned inside out. This was an absurd explanation, or perhaps a profound one, I don’t know, but it was the best I could think of.

Now, I still live here in this bizarre place. Centuries or what seem like centuries have passed. I still sweat blood and don’t have an arm. I look at my broken reflection in the lake of cats and it looks the same. I haven’t aged. I’ve stopped praying for help. The invisible monster never returned. I hunt. I eat. I survive.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

Closure

This is a black and white picture of a weary man. I've used this because it symbolizes resignation and the apathy that follows sorrow which are the chief themes in my story.

I met another version of him after three years: a totally different avatar. I wanted to meet him after reading one of his recently published poems. The tone of the piece showed a shift from his earlier work. His initial writing was effervescent, or like David’s psalms began on a note of melancholia and then gradually drifted to a note of triumph. Now, he wasn’t religious by any means; but he’d seen beauty. He’d seen her in an elegant ivory dress: a little coy, but willing to embrace a bedraggled him. You could always sense that he’d had an epiphany or a cathartic moment of sorts because his writing reflected it. His poems didn’t allude to similar artists, were not allegorical; or filled with symbolism. But there were these gentle nuances in them that soaked the reader with a softer, mellow happiness. They had this rhythm to them and he didn’t use meter, rhyme or traditional form to enforce this. He was brilliant, but his recent work, however, scuttled across more esoteric surfaces. These were cryptic, self-indulgent, full of surrealism; and experimentation. They also had a confessional element to them, or at least that was my impression. It seemed to me that he was in the throes of some suffering. Now I will not use a cliché and call it ‘existential angst’, but it was some hopelessness, some piercing, daunting anguish of the soul.

We met at a café near his place because he said it was convenient for him. Both of us had changed with time, and it hardly took a few sentences spoken to realize this. His openness and his frankness, which had surprised many once, had all disappeared. He never did bother about showing anybody both his strong and vulnerable side because he didn’t care about people’s opinions. Now, however, he seemed reserved, but it was a different kind of withdrawal. I doubt that insults or people trampling him had caused this. It was more of an apathetic, everything around me moves or stands still, and I do the same. There is no escaping. I’ll forever be trapped in this spectrum of meaninglessness, and on some days the emptiness is expansive; on other days just a slit within, that had engulfed him. I wanted to struggle with him, fight for him, help him see elegance again; but I realized soon that he was far gone.

“Your eyes, they give away everything. I see it: the hollowness, the antipathy towards the positive; and I just want to know why,” I said, and he looked at me with a lopsided grin, and said, “It isn’t something obvious like the loss of a loved one; or failure after failure that did it. It also wasn’t something sudden: I didn’t wake up one morning, go outside and stopped seeing the rose, and only saw the thorn. No, it was always there, I just didn’t embrace it. All those ‘inspirational’ poems that made me a ton of money never reflected me. Sure, I’ve seen beauty, but she fades just like man does. Her influence is only ephemeral, and as time passed; and I fell into the same pattern day after day, I gradually realized that I was always forcing myself to smile, that my love was just a momentary gush, that my sorrow a duty. I found myself questioning meaning and found nothing. There were times when what I was going through frightened me because I was gradually stripping each virtue or vice I clung to of its essence to see if there was something real, but I found nothing. So I let that cold draft of apathy freeze all the falsehood that I had invented to sustain myself, and finally found a barren me: exposed but not vulnerable; tired but not filled with self-hate; indifferent but not wounded.” “But has all this given you closure? I ask this because I read ‘Listless’ the other day, and it seemed as if you were writhing in inner hell,” I said, and he said, “‘Closure’, ‘Peace’, what are these things but man-made concepts that we glorify as universal truths. You’ve interpreted my poem as being confessional, but it really is a piece about a broken, sentient being unlike me: A person who fears leaping across that chasm of angst to that place of total aridity I’m in now and hence is unstable. The esoteric symbolism all serves to reflect this penultimate state.”

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)