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All of us walk - both literally and metaphorically - from cradle to grave, along life's one-way street, experiencing situations, indulging in deeds, analyzing circumstances, and arriving at decisions, that fabricate our individual life stories; our reality. But are they really real?
The short story that follows explores this question.
It was surmised by anthropological researchers that the human body evolved in a manner that was primarily meant to enable it to walk and run on two feet, leaving the hands for more productive and intricate work. Sanga seemed to have been born with this idea firmly rooted in his subconscious.
It was vouched for by his parents that he had started to lurch and sway on his two tiny feet much earlier than what toddlers were supposed to. At school, he could outrun his mates in no uncertain terms. As he grew older, he increasingly tended to keep to himself. He would go for long jogs very early in the mornings, and if time permitted, equally long walks in the evenings. All alone.
But was he really alone? A glimpse into his mind would have provided a quick and definite answer - No. While his maneuverable limbs remained dedicated to their rhythmic perambulations, the mind played host to a horde of thoughts - thoughts of abstract entities and material beings known and unknown, seen and unseen, heard and unheard of - who affected his psyche in myriad ways, who made up his reality, his world, and universe. Wasn't life essentially a mind play - where an individual supposedly sported with a range of apparent adversaries and supporters using an assortment of means?
Having been endowed with a congenital condition, which resulted in the growth of minimal facial hair, Sanga always felt inadequate after attaining puberty. A society that eulogized the vibrancy of growth, enormity, and profile of these deceased dermatological produce and showered munificence of repute and status upon those who happened to measure up well by these standards, greatly accentuated his sensitivity. His arms would be forced to abandon their routine, as his hands would unconsciously go up to his chin to feel the nonexistent stubble. His mind would imaginably consort with such blessed men and situate his face behind their hirsute shrouds in its valiant bid to revive his sagging spirits. With health-conscious men of all ages sporting a variety of hair colors and textures indulging in morning jogs and evening walks along Sanga's regular route, he would be constantly involved with someone or the other and was never alone.
Manhood brought with it the urge to impress women. Being the reticent kind, most of his escapades with the members of the fairer sex were in the realm of his thoughts. It would be unethical and immoral to probe, expose, and discuss associations and incidents of this nature and would suffice to say that there was no dearth of such happenings and also that they were all entirely of an honorable sort. Their only outward manifestation would be an occasional jerk of the head to send a tuft of hair sliding over his forehead northwards, or a sudden puffing of chest and repositioning of shoulders. Women too being equally concerned about their figures and looks, there were sufficient number of representatives of this sub-species of beings on the jogging tracks and walking paths, and Sanga would never be notionally alone.
* * *
Inevitably, Sanga tied the knot one day and the couple established a family. After the initial illusory sensation of everlasting bliss, and inevitably again, the pressures and pulls associated with a family man raised their disconcerting heads. Sanga tackled the taxman, was incensed with the intriguing attitude of the insurance man, balked at the bestial behavior of bankers, griped at the government, bore the baleful berating of his boss, suffered his sneering and sniping subordinates, fought fissiparous fetish, frequently fell foul of his father-in-law, wrestled with work-holism, and struggled with the slyness of serendipity. Except for the knot-tying act, most of the others were largely accomplished within the confines of his intellect. Age had begun to show in the form of an enlarged body mid-section, which in turn made jogging a tiring proposition. The mornings gradually lost their privilege of witnessing the spirited jogging of a young man and instead had to settle for the less impressive spectacle of a sedate middle-aged walker. The walker however, was never alone. He had one or more of those he constantly grappled with for company - notionally.
And then something happened that changed his perception of life.
The infirmities of old age caught up with Sanga's parents. Both had outlived eighty summers and time only waited for an opportunity to trip their frail bodies over one of its various implements of obliteration and dispatch them to their deathbeds. Time hadn't had to wait too long.
One octogenarian followed the other in quick succession across a series of events that started with a fall resulting in a broken limb, and consequent hospitalization, which involved sedation and surgery. The two never really recovered from the trauma. Sanga had heard about the cataclysmic effects of anesthesia on the brain, particularly aged ones. Now, he got to see them - live.
Both his parents began to lose their sense of orientation to time, space, and what was supposedly reality. They failed to recognize people from the latter half of their lives; they began to see things that were invisible to apparently normal people. Sanga's mother would cook, wash clothes, and do all the other regular house-keeping chores sitting on her bed, with nothing but thin air ahead, above and behind her. His father, reserved by nature like the son, would sit and stare away into nothingness, but his eyes would clearly indicate they saw visions which others around did not.
The doctors attending on them conjured up a long, fancy, and unpronounceable name for the condition and explained that it was akin to a circuit being erroneously rewired. It was quite a common after-effect of sedation in aged people, they said. Perhaps, to contain and settle the spark of disbelief in Sanga's eyes that they could discern, the head of the team of medics referred the patients to a clinical psychologist who also happened to be a persuasive talker. He confirmed the conclusion of the medics and when Sanga and he were alone, picked up a shaped piece of wood with a flourish from a corner of the room where a carpenter had been working lately.
* * *
What does one do, if this piece of wood is to be nailed to a masonry wall?" he asked Sanga
Perplexed, Sanga answered, "Take a hammer and a rawl-bit, make a hole in the wall, insert a rawl-plug, make a corresponding free hole in the wood, and then screw it down to the wall."
"Ah! Spoken like a professional," commended the psychologist and added, "And when you have done it, you believe that the piece of wood is now fixed to the wall."
"It is not a question of belief," replied Sanga. "I know it, because I can see and feel it."
"No, your brain interprets your premeditated actions to yield those results. It makes you believe so, just as it makes your mother believe something different."
"Is there, then, no difference between reality and illusion?" asked Sanga, still more confused.
"I would say that the line demarcating the boundary between them is rather hazy," replied the psychologist.
The condition of Sanga's parents deteriorated rapidly and not very long after, they departed for their heavenly abode. The bereaved and distraught son, went for longer walks to give vent to his sorrow.
However, the short but unsettling dialogue with the psychologist, began to slowly take root in Sanga's mind and its effects were felt in the course of time. Others perception about him began to matter less. The importance of his own viewpoint about others and the world started to diminish.
Increasingly he found himself walking truly and blissfully alone.
* * *
What is your take on the notion of reality?
Is reality really real?..