He Will Travel

He is not much of a traveller.

But what if he took to the road – and continued indefinitely – through meandering and forking and damp and dusty paths? He stands thinking while wiping his thin spectacles with a kerchief, one leg propped up against the crumbling, exterior surface of an abandoned asylum at the end of a little-known lane. He is in close proximity to but carefully beyond the range of a shaft of very pale yellow light.

He considers welcoming the prospect of serious and compulsive wandering. No, this will not be the stuff of self-help or epiphanic literature. Hardly the poetics of well-being. This will be movement for the sake of movement. He would not be running towards anything. He would not be finding anything because he is convinced there is nothing to be found. Just that the turbulence that has begun to wreak havoc inside his mind will find release. Periodically, it will dissipate through the sweat of physical exertion.

He will travel now, he kind of resolves. He will not consciously seek the thrill that comes from exploring an exotic culture or the romance that comes from dining with strangers. Instead, he will let himself be dissolved in parades of masks at carnivals in disorganised neighbourhoods and in colonies of tents at refugee camps on war-torn tracts and in bands of exorcists performing superstitious rituals on the edges of shady jungles.  

Footsteps. Then –

“Wait! Come back!”

His train of thought is interrupted by the loud and impatient voice of an inebriated young man trailing a girl in an ill-fitting coat, very short skirt and thigh-high boots. She is gaudy from head to toe.

“Shut up! Shut up! Get lost!” she cries angrily without turning to look at him. The two then unleash a string of profanities at each other.

Words, he reflects on them, when the prostitute or pimp or whosoever they are have exited the lane. He read somewhere there is a violence in them – unsurpassable, extreme! A capacity to –

maim

and mangle

supreme –

lies hidden in lingual dots and crosses,

lines and curves –

that defeats

all weapons and blades in verve.

Simple is lethal injection,

quick the business of guns.

The bloodying from fang or claw,

too, is just temporary woe.

But alphabet mean, scrawled or spoken –

your immortal core

wounds and

wounds and

wounds

forever

ever-

more.

He thinks of the burning effigies on the streets of the city. The abandoned asylum. The stench of decay and anarchy. He thinks of the lump of an infection in his throat. Some of the things that have been said to him.

Throughout childhood,

throughout adolescence,

throughout adulthood.

So. He reverts to the idea of movement. He is going to travel. He will be untied from rigid territories and unmoored from unmoving maps. He will know no borders; his geography shall be composed of open and empty ether. To many eyes, it will be a hollow and shallow existence. A scattered and rootless life. One’s living should be anchored in an intimate local community. One’s working must be determined by concrete principles. One’s thinking ought to be definite. One’s ambitions, well-pronounced. Right and smart, he agrees, but for them. The relentless pursuit of safety and security and stability has not endowed his being with either depth or density.

At office, he feels feeble and amorphous. He works in a room of twenty identical cubicle-counters separated by aisles. Day in and day out, he carries out the same tasks – facilitates deposits and withdrawals and transfers; releases credit, writes off debts. He marvels at the all-consuming ability of money. Its tremendous unificatory function. The rustling of notes and the clinking of coins is music to each and every ear. Money receives and tolerates the Left-oriented and the Right-inclined. Despite its addicting, manipulating and even deranging tendencies, it retains a strange negotiating power. Magically, all in a mere trice, does it bond those divided by race and creed, class and gender. Also, he appreciates the human dimension of his job. On account of his efforts small and big, someone secures a house or begins scholarly study or, at a critical moment, is rescued from what would have been a premature and particularly heartbreaking death.

And yet, when stripped off these pleasant domestic stories, his conversations and dealings are always reduced to a limited set of perfunctory sentences that is maddening in its monotony. Usually –

“I need some money.”

“How much?”

“X.”

“Will and can you pay back X plus Y?”

“Yes.”

“Good. Then, take it.”

“Thanks.”

“You are welcome.”

He goes on punching and inputting letters and numbers. After a hectic ten hours, when he stands up from his desk and screen, he finds that the cubicle-counters have multiplied exponentially.

20 x 20

400 x 400

160,000 x 160,000

The walls of the office, having been extended indefinitely to make room, are nowhere in view. Deserted by client and colleague, he is left all alone in the brutal, bureaucratic maze. That is when he is ready to shut his eyes with his palms and cry. Like a child.

An obsessive and unrestrained walker will he be, he decides. By that, he will possibly be mounting a major assault on all that he has managed to make of himself till date. He doesn’t mind or care. He is ready to fly.

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