Thirthankar Chakraborty – A Walk on the Beach

“Why can’t you feel with your heart for a change?”

I looked up as a toy helicopter flashed into the night sky guided by a vendor on the beach. The pavement was crowded with people – walking, or sitting on the benches, talking animatedly, eating pop corn, and watching their children. The Gandhi statue stood a hundred metres ahead with its back to the sea, brightly lit by floodlights from all directions. I kicked some sand off my sandals. I didn’t know how to answer her question.

My thoughts rolled back three years to my final year in high school – my Indian philosophy teacher with whom I had spend hours discussing human nature – satwa, rajas, and tamas, or the mind, the vital, and the physical, the three principle constituents in a human being. I recalled the analogy that my teacher often made between a person and a horse-drawn chariot. “The body is the chariot, the vital is the horse, while the mind is the charioteer controlling the horse, and leading the atman in the chariot towards its destination.” Why then should I feel and not think?

I wondered whether I should share these ideas with her. Would she understand them?

“Yes,” I said instead, “I know, I don’t have a heart. That’s the whole problem. You know, you deserve someone who can understand you better, someone who is not as heartless as I am, someone who possesses all the qualities you desire in a man.”

“But I don’t want anyone else,” she said holding my hand and looking into my eyes, “All I want is you. I just want to make you believe in love.”

I looked away. I could make out scattered couples kissing on the dark rocks to the left, meshed by their ego, unconscious of their surroundings, unconscious of the grandeur of the sea, constantly breaking into manifold waves only to retrieve its energy and come crashing down again.

She followed my gaze and looked at the lovers. She held my hands tighter.

“You want to sit?” I asked her.

“Yes,” she replied.

We found a rock and sat close together. Gently, she took my hand in hers, and leaned against my shoulder. Her hair brushed my forehead. I could see dim lights in the distant waters belonging to fishermen’s skiffs. The vastness of the dark ocean plunged me into a silent reverie.

I imagined myself floating on infinite waters, lost in time and space. Free from all desires – no more feelings, no more joys, no more sorrows, no more pleasures, no more pains, nothing that could torment my being. Life’s absurdities no longer perturbed my thoughts. I was one with all, and yet all seemed alien to me.

“I love you,” I heard her breathe in my ear.

What is love? I threw the question at the sea. The waves roared incessantly. I paused for a moment before answering, “I am sorry, I love only myself.”

“But why?” she begged, “I am sure you love me the way I love you! Why do you always hide the truth with that answer?”

A silence followed. I watched a wave as it crashed on the beach. I could feel her eyes boring into mine, seeking desperately for some hope, some response.

“Do you still believe in what you said the other day,” I asked her, “that the heart was closer to the soul than the mind?”

“Yes, I am convinced of it. The Mother says so in her conversations.”

“And you believe in The Mother?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Then, what if I told you that I thought differently, that the soul is closer to the mind than to the heart?”

She kept mute, waiting to learn what I was driving at.

“Have you read James Joyce – Araby for instance, or The Dead?” I asked her.

She shook her head.

“But you are acquainted with the Romantics, no doubt?”

“Yes, we studied them in tenth standard, last year.”

“That’s the whole problem with the teachers at our school. They bring up children with a few romantic notions of five or six major poets, convincing them that theirs is the only work worth looking into. Yet, what do you understand about Shelley’s ‘desire of the moth for the stars’? Or Keats’ bold lover who can never kiss his beloved and yet loves her forever? It all sounds so noble and ideal, but in real life, it is so intangible, so vague, and so distant. Do you understand what I am saying? Children have no option but to define love in these selected romantic terms, though they have no clue what these terms are about. They don’t realize the complexity behind love. They don’t appreciate the subtle beauty in realism, like the beauty in probing into the mind of Joyce’s Gabriel in The Dead. Do you know anything about ‘romanticising’?”

“No,” she replied.

“You love me, right?”

“Yes.”

“And you get the feeling that we are twin souls and all?”

“Listen, I love you. And that’s all that matters. As for twin souls, yes, I do feel that at times. I know I’ve been with you before this life, I am certain.”

Her voice got all mystic whenever she said such things. All at once, the whole thing seemed to be a big joke, a comedy.

“But you don’t believe that, na?” she asked.

I laughed inwardly. An old flower vendor came up to us and asked if we wanted to buy the last garlands of malli-pue left in her basket. I told her no, and watched her walk away, looking for other customers. I looked back at the vast ocean, and heaved a sigh. Perhaps it would be unfair of me to ruin her romantic notions.

Ainsi, toujours poussés vers de nouveaux rivages, dans la nuit éternelle emportés sans retour, ne pourrons-nous jamais sur l’océan des âges, jeter l’ancre un seul jour? Lamartine, one of your romantics, amazing poet isn’t he?”

“I’ve never read him, but the lines are beautiful!”

“Yes,” I drew another long breath. “The heart is so unruly, isn’t it? It’s the cause for all sorrows, and yet, it’s the centre of all passions, all motivation to live. And we can’t live without it. But, is it possible to depend more on your heart than on your mind?”

“Yes, I think so.” She looked behind, as if to check whether we were being watched.

“What if I ditched you tomorrow, and went around with another girl, would you still love me?”

“Yes,” she replied spontaneously.

I smiled, almost laughed, “Was that your mind speaking? Or your heart?”

“The mind does not understand such deep emotions,” she softy chanted, shaking her head gravely.

“Of course, it doesn’t,” I agreed verbally, looking down at her narrow forehead. I recalled what my psychology teacher had once told me, “In constitutional psychology, a narrow forehead is usually a sign of narrow-mindedness.” How I had laughed then!

My eyes wandered off. On the left, I could just make out a couple on the dark rocks. Their limbs were all entangled. They were kissing each other almost savagely. All at once, I felt sick. Suddenly, I was conscious that her hand was clasping mine and was resting on my thigh. How did it get there? She held my chin with her other hand, and turned my face towards her. I looked into her dark eyes, the same eyes that had fascinated me, even from a distance, just a year back. They were now overshadowed by darkness. She drew my face closer. Her breath smelled weird, almost disgusting. A wave crashed on the beach. She closed her eyes, and slowly touched her lips to mine. I could feel the cracks on her rough lips. Mildly, she tried parting my mouth with her tongue, but I resisted. She kept her lips pressed against mine. I could feel her lips grow moist. Her eyes remained closed. Another wave broke on the rocks. I waited. I could hear a food vendor approaching, shouting, “Sundal, sundal.” I lightly placed my free hand on her bony cheek, and drew my face away. As she opened her eyes, I forced a smile, “Thanks,” I whispered.

She smiled back, “Try analysing that with your mind,” she challenged.

“Hmm…”

We sat silently for a while. She, lost in her feelings, I, lost in my thoughts, like two complete strangers sitting together at the start of a long journey. The sundal vendor passed by.

Was there a hope for friendship? For understanding? I felt so lonely. It all seemed so absurd. What was I doing there? Who was this girl I was sitting with? I recalled Camus’ L’étranger. Like Meursault, I yearned for something other than the mundane existence I was living. I felt like diving into the dark waters that stretched out in front. I felt like merging into the starry sky. I wanted to get away from life, to someplace beyond.

Escapists – that’s what my philosophy teacher called Buddhists, and Mayavadins. “Rejecting life is not the solution,” he emphasized. But what if he was all wrong? What if the ultimate truth in life was its absurdity? What if the Self and Nature were eternally separate principles? And that the Purusha or the state of Nirvana could only be achieved by rejecting Prakriti and life? What if there was no purpose in existence and in this so-called “god’s creation”? What if it was all a mistake?

No, I was thinking too fast. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest.

Suicide was not the solution that Camus suggested. What was it then – a life of Sisyphus? But that seemed so unsatisfactory. A life that evolved in a constant spiral – wasn’t that Görtler’s view? But what about Seymour? Didn’t he commit suicide just like the banana fish? He was a saint. But if I agreed with him, I’d be denying all that my teachers had taught about Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy.

“This is absurd,” I breathed.

“Hmm? What did you say?” she asked.

“Nothing. Mind if we walk?”

“Umm, what’s the time?”

“It’s almost nine.”

“Ok. I have to be back home by nine fifteen.”

I could see she was somewhat disgruntled. I stood up, “It’ll do you good, you will feel hungry, and then you can eat more than the little you have for dinner!”

She forced a weak smile as I helped her up.

“You never do what I ask you to,” I continued, “I ask you to read Monte Cristo, but no, ‘I don’t have the time’, I ask you to keep a diary, but no, ‘that’s not necessary’, I ask you over hundred times to put on some weight, but even that you can’t do for me. And you call yourself my lover! Just look at you. You look like a polio patient!”

“Shut up, that’s not true. Any girl would die to get a figure like mine.”

“Fine, but don’t you realize that I don’t like it? It hurts my aesthetic sense?”

“Fine, you tell me what to do, and I’ll do it for you.”

“I am telling you to put on some weight. Isn’t that enough? You want me to draw you a daily diet or what? Eat these many sweets, so much butter, etc. etc.?”

“Uhum,” she answered, smiling and nodding her head.

“Fine, I’ll do that for you! Today you start with two rashkadams after dinner.”

“Mom doesn’t keep any sweets at home because neither I nor my brother like them.”

“Ouf! Fine. Come we’ll go get some for you.”

I couldn’t believe I was spending so much time with this girl. And yet, there I was, walking hand in hand, while passers-by kept glancing at us.

All the sand in the beach… It was all so absurd!

But why let the horse guide?

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