The Philosophy Of Encounters
The Philosophy Of Encounters11 mins 25K 11 mins 25K
This in neither a story nor an essay. This is where a few tangents shooting off various spheres of thought, intersect. This is about the physics that makes this clockwork go, the world man has painted for himself. This is about how atoms collide, to illuminate themselves for barely a fraction of a second, only to speed away again. This is about our instincts and the invisible commandments we trust in. The Philosophy of Encounters.
My grandfather shuffled ahead slowly, gazing at the houses lined on either side of him. Eyes dimmed by the ravages of age, multiple cataracts and a worsening case of glaucoma, his movements spoke of a man of much energy trapped by the fetters of age. He would stop occasionally to point out to me surviving monuments of a long lost childhood. We came to a shrine, and from his pocket emerged a little bundle, a handkerchief knotted to make a pouch for the coins he had brought. A little square room, not more than a few feet wide, it had a polished, lacquered old stone floor and walls cracked with age. The barred windows and their shutters were rusted and frail. The wall at the far end ensconced a few images of Jesus, Mother Mary and St. Joseph, together with a retinue of other saints.
A few candles were alight, a few of them melted to stumps and the rest as though they had just been lit.. The faith of men when rewarded, mostly showed itself in flaming candles, fuming incense sticks and fragrant flowers. “Child, do you see the irony? Men and women offer their prayers and a few gifts at altars when they want a promise from God. Have you ever thought what good burnt stumps of candles are to God?” he said turning to me with a smile, a rare mischievous twinkle in his eye. I helped him down the stone stairs, his arm on my shoulder. “But every time I’ve come to this shrine is for the broth the old wives used to make in thanks for a new born calf!!” I laughed. I wish I had to myself more of this side of my grandfather.
His face once carried a resemblance of might. It still does, mellowed by age. His glasses are thick and he has to take them off occasionally to rub his tired, sunken eyes. He is a man of many faults, false illusions, a fanatical sense of righteousness, a hardened man. But, I love him. The way he tries to stay aloof, the way he tries to hide the soft flesh beneath the callouses. I know I’ll never tell him that I love him, I know that he believes I do and I know that he, of all the people, wants a confirmation. It hurts, but the wall has grown so thick and rooted, like the disease that has stolen his eyesight. He never complains about his worsening eyesight, he’s proud. He never lends me money, he wants me to be proud too. He tells me, being undignified enough to beg before any, dead or alive is for the weak.
He once told me, while my potty was still in use, “Love is not to be paraded like a trophy, words dripping with honey and exquisite gifts. It’s for the weak. It’s supposed to be a secret……in here.” He placed my palm on his heart. But now, he comes to the shrine with silent prayers and coins, things have changed. I wish we were a bit weak, Grandpa.
He shifted in his seat to ask my mother where we wanted to go shopping. I tried to make eye contact and for a split second, he looked at me only to wheel back to the steering. From the very first time I set eyes on him, I’ve had to fight the urge to hold his face between my palms and stare into his eyes. He is a huge man, but I have never seen another who is as vulnerable as he. His eyes have always refused to meet mine. I have no idea why. I think it’s because my eyes are filled with too many questions. I’m curious about where he goes each night after he’s dropped us home. I’m concerned about if he’s had his lunch each time he has to wait for us. I’m inquisitive about his wife, his children. I want to know if they come to meet him at the door, smiling, the little ones getting in the way of his legs. If he would snatch them into his arms and retire to bed after a fulfilling dinner, as always, delicious.
Very few men have had such a profound effect on me. I cannot bear it that I cannot speak to him, I speak miserable Hindi, my mother is the intermediary. He’s quiet throughout and speaks only when addressed. When he speaks, a “Madam” is always appended to the end, like a reflex. I hate it, I’m humiliated. I wish he’d address me as an equal. I am nothing, not even an equal, I have nothing but my parents’ hard work and prestige to call my own, I have nothing.
I wish I could tell him that. Not in Hindi. Not in any language. Not through my mother. Not with the gesturing of my hands. I wish I could look deep into his eyes, to try to find what I seek, to let him know what I feel.
His eyes have silver in them and are soft with smiles. I find him standing still at some turn or on a busy street, every evening. When I ride to him he looks up with a toothless smile. I have never seen him in anything but the flowing, brown robes of Capuchin priests. His robe has a wide flap which conceals a breast pocket and when he shifts his walking stick to the other hand and lifts his hand to his pocket, I know what he’s up to. He has an assortment of candies with him at all times. I halt by his side and get off my bicycle. On his outstretched palm is a toffee. I smile and pop it into my mouth. He speaks my name and I’m overjoyed, he remembers. We walk in silence for a long while, often halting to look at posters and people and little children rushing back from school.
The children love him for the treasures he carries and are always trailing him. I often tell him that I’m past the age for toffees and he has always answered me with his beautiful smile, “You are never too old for candy, my child.” I first met him when I was a toddler, and our friendship was flagged off with a Mongo Bite! I grew up rummaging his pockets and dirtying his robes. I was used to calling him “Father” and I learned his name later when I realised that his name was not “Father”! He knew all our names well, but the day came when I saw bewilderment in his eyes. He asked me my name.
I don’t see him wandering the streets anymore, it’s been long since I last saw his childlike innocence light up his face with a smile. Life swirled by and we got carried apart by swift currents.
We exchange smiles in church, every Sunday and when I go to him his face fills with joy until he remembers that he has no candy to offer me. I tell him it’s okay; I have nothing else to say. I cherish the silence we once shared so much that I couldn’t bring myself to break it. I take his hand in mine and give it a brief squeeze. I hoped he’d understand.
Now I stand before him at the altar, and in the instant before I’m pushed forward, a flood of memories is let loose. I step forward and kiss him on his pale cheek. He’s cold and I can feel his stubble against my lips. He’s smiling, calm. I smile back at him like I’ve always done, every Sunday. I felt a prick in my eyes and a tightening in my throat, a lump on my chest. I lowered my veil over my face and moved on, nobody noticed.
I believed I was in love. When I looked at him, I remember thinking how he was everything I’d always wanted. I loved with a love that was more than love, like a child who had just been gifted a much desired toy. I was looking to complete myself from the outside. I was looking for someone to bust the emptiness. But I’ve always been a wanderer, anchors are not for me. I tossed and turned like a vessel caught in a storm. I believed myself lost. I regretted the love that I was once excited about. Now, looking at him reminds me of how little I knew about myself.
When the sky cleared I saw that land was near, a land more majestic than the destination I had marked on my map. I had been lost, but in being lost I found a path, the road less travelled by. The destination I had set my eyes on and the man I once loved mean nothing to me now, I have found completion in myself. Like two particles of light we met and the force of our collision set us on paths we’d never meant to traverse. I’ve found that regret has done me more good than love ever could. Nobody need love me to help fill my spaces. I love myself. The walls that had been raised within me, to cut me off from myself, now lie in ruins. Antevasin I am. I have crossed over. Tolkein would say, “Not all those who wander are lost.”
He pulled me from the dark corner where I stood watching the dancing crowd. Barely two classes old, as a meringue student, I had no choice but to dance with him, my young, energetic instructor. I moved my body to the rhythm he set as he gently enticed me through the crowd; they parted to watch us. That’s all I remember. I never felt his fingers guide me through the dance, I never felt the beat of the music press against my ears, I went blind. For moments I was left spinning in space. I was dancing.
When the world came alive again, he had left me and I sagged against the wall. I tried to remember what I’d done. I heard applause and even a “Sexy!!” The party went on in full swing. I danced again, but the magic never showed itself. I’ll never know what came over me. But, it was enchanted: for a few precious moments I was alone, my thoughts had deserted and I was left in a silence so complete that even sleep could never grant.
I’d never meditated according to the rules, when I try doing it, I snap at a mosquito or think the weirdest of thoughts. If what I’ve heard of how real meditation feels, is true, then I think I know it now.
There are as many kinds of love as there are particles in our universe. “Love” is the all en compassing commandment. But Christ was mischievous enough to let us find out for ourselves that Love can also be dangerous, that it can also be deceptive, that impostors are quite common, that since Love exists, there must also be walls. We all are ‘Antevasins’ in our own respective rights. We have crossed over, to try to venture into the open to find the answers we seek. Some of us have even left the comfort of familiarity into the embrace of change, trailing ‘enlightenment’. I have learnt to answer my own questions and to seek answers within me. I have met and walked with great men and women, and from them I’ve learnt to live my own greatness and not to try conquering it, elusive as it is to those who seek it outside themselves.
I’ve been engaged in concocting this theory for a bit now; how each encounter sets off a spark, that like lightning illuminates our path, tearing at the darkness. Every encounter, be it a person, a situation, a journey, a destination, an animal or even the self, is a flake of skin one sheds, because there’s new growth from within. We change by subtle degrees, hardly noticeable, but we transform inch by inch into new persons every day, by the light of these encounters.
Sometimes, we follow a path in the undergrowth, only to come against a wall. But, when lightning streaks across the clouded sky, you realise you’ve been facing a mirror. You’ve been facing yourself all along, and to get to the other side, where the sky is bright and the rolling blue fingers the fringes of earth and sky, you need to cross yourself. There are lessons we have no way but to learn, and the only way out is through the storm.
“The far seeps even into the nearest. After all we hardly know our own depths!”