Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Experiments with Sanity

Mind and Body, Body and Soul (Part I)

There was something off about it all. But he couldn’t point his finger at what it was exactly. His eyes blinked too slowly and sights rushed by in the seconds they stayed open. Anxious faces, stern expressions, closed doors, noisy corridors. People stared down at a body, whispering to themselves furtively, as if to keep a secret from the person sleeping on the table. A woman sniffled back a tear, a sad expression on her face, which hardened slowly as she approached the table from the corner of the room. And then, he felt suddenly as if his head was being bombed.

It was an explosion inside. Flashing by him, as if pulled on a reel on fast forward, were scenes, people, mountains, buildings, cars, the random odd objects he kept in his bedroom. He saw the little girl at the flower shop from last Wednesday, picking out a white rose and jumping up and down in delight. He asked the postman where he was to sign and he pointed to the dotted line at the bottom right of the receipt. He smelled the sharp flavours and spices as he cooked lunch one blissful Sunday afternoon after a good night’s rest the previous night. He heard the raucous celebrations and laughing cacophony from the neighbouring flat, because the cricket match was on. He felt a hand caress his own and he felt the nerve signals running at lightning speeds up and down his body in thrill. It was an assault on his mind, as if someone had put everything into a box and was tumbling it over his head now. He saw smiling faces from childhood days, felt the sweat in his shoes as he stepped through the door for his first interview, saw himself looking at himself in the mirror after shaving, felt his fist connect with someone’s jaw. Fear, anxiety, jubilation and ecstasy excited his mind through the ups and downs of several years within a space of seconds. Words heard and songs sung, criticism and appreciation, love and hatred, bewildered his mind as it numbly took blow after blow. He heard a scream, “Watch out!!” someone shouted from behind him. The accumulated wealth of his 27 years poured out in front of him.

Shaking his head, he woke up in his own bed. Slowly, he allowed his eyes to fall into focus, resting on the cupboard untidily filled with books. His mother would freak, seeing books kept this way. A scream, he thought suddenly and jumped slightly, startled. A dream, it was a stupid dream, that’s all.

Out in the streets later, he was polishing his glasses with a white handkerchief, when the girl walked up to him, dressed in red from top to bottom. “Could I borrow a match?” she asked. He fished out his lighter and lit her cigarette for her. She leaned forward, cupping her hands around the thin flame, as her lush, jet black hair fell forward past her ears. But you don’t smoke, he thought to himself. She looked up at him and smiled that familiar, naughty smile he had never seen before. As their eyes met, locked by her piercing gaze, he began to form the words to ask her who she was. But she just held his hand and started to take him away. “Come with me. There are things to do.”

The club played annoying music, all too loudly. The modern techno songs relied on both voices and instruments to be heavily synthesized. But he could barely hear any of it. It was odd, but he figured his ears had probably just gotten used to it and were reflexively tuning it all out. He’d been here long enough for that to happen now, in his awkward dance moves. He didn’t enjoy discotheques, he remembered as the words flashed past inside his mind, like a stock-ticker. But she swayed like a belly-dancer, caught in slow motion. Her face, with clean features and eager, forward lips, shone calmness and excitement at the same time. She spoke to him softly, but he could hear every word. He could hear the words as they escaped her lips, but then they fell out of his mind and were dropped from memory. He had forgotten how she had begun, by the time she reached the end of a sentence. How lucky, he thought to himself, that she isn’t asking any questions. He chuckled to himself, and in a sudden bravado, met her dance expertly with his own to the crescendo rhythm. The key was to counter the speed, he knew, by going the opposite direction. So he slowed.

She barely seemed to notice his absorption in his own thoughts as they sat at dinner, and continued to do most of the talking. He watched the delightful play of her lips, moving up and down as she spoke. He watched her eyes, light and intoxicated with joy and the wine. “You look beautiful tonight”, he said to her, the warmth in his heart confirming that it was the right thing to say. “You say that all the time”, she replied, giggling into her wine all the same. It is true, his mind said to him, you do say that every time you see her. The moon was shining above them, full and proud in a cloudless night sky. He wondered, randomly, why everyone was looking at him tonight. Surely she was the one to ogle at tonight.

The waiter had come bearing the after dinner champagne, looked right into his eyes, holding his gaze for about half a minute. “You’re going to be alright”, he said. Funny. Those are the only words I’ve heard someone else say all day today. He looked at her and she smiled. Forgetting the waiter, he admired those beautiful lips again.

That night, he had a funny dream. It was pitch black and smoky in the room, both at once. And out of the smoke, maybe a physical smoke or maybe just some sort of barrier to the senses, voices had hurtled down on him, clashing and echoing like gongs and drums and overpowering his mind until he screamed for everyone to be quiet.

He couldn’t remember things clearly when he woke up though. Except that there had been a great deal of crying and pleading involved. About … something.

 An Axe Through the Fabric of Truth (Part II)

“What is it? Why is it like this?”
“We can’t really say for sure, right now.”
“Could it be … something like …?”
“There’s no evidence of that.”
“Test it. You must do something!”

The sun shone brightly down on the vast, sandy beach. He looked down on his navy blue suit and trousers, the black polished shoes and the brown briefcase, and he frowned slightly. He should have been better prepared for this. It was a lucky thing his feet weren’t sinking into the soft sand. And none of the sand got into his shoes either as he walked towards the waves. He took a deep breath, calming himself and not letting the glare of the cruel sun disturb him, unchallenged as it was in a cloudless sky.


“Please stay very still as we begin.” He felt the need to keep on walking, to feel the soft, wet sand beneath his feet.


“Do not move. Can you hear me clearly over this?”


The sound of the waves was very soothing, a gentle lapping at the back of his mind. He felt like he was gliding slowly, in the direction of the waves. To get his feet a little wet, yes. Good. There was nothing to spoil the sound of the waves melding and flowing into one another. A solitary gull flew above him, its flapping wings standing out white against the azure above. The flapping made an unusually loud, disturbing, sound in middle of the equanimity all around.


A strange buzz filled the air and he looked up at the skies. From the horizon to his left, a tiny speck approached, slowly growing larger. It was a bi-plane, he judged, probably carrying an amateur pilot on his Sunday morning solo flight run.


The plane was sweeping visibly lower in the sky now, approaching him at very near its top speed. The sound of the twin engines buzzing began to fill his ears and everything around him, getting louder and louder every second. It was only a few metres above the surface of the sea now. As it pushed away the air from ahead of itself, the waters below were disturbed, fanning outwards to give the impression of an honourable parting to give way. He stood, absolutely still now, unable to move his arms of his legs, looking straight ahead at the oncoming plane and the growing buzzing.


It passed over him in a violent rush of air and sand, producing ear-shattering sound, as he fell flat on the sand, caught confused between awe and terror. In the wake of its passing, the blinding white light of the sun beat down in redoubled fury. The rays struck his closed eyelids and he couldn’t open his eyes even if he tried. He screamed.


“That’s it. That’s it, it’s over now.”

He slept, or so it felt. But it was a strange dream. The pressure of the white, angry sun was gone, but still he couldn’t bring himself to pry his eyes open. He tried walking away, away from the sea, but the voices kept pushing him in their own directions, cajoling and softly persuading. He wanted to be away from the waters and feel safe again. But the voices inside his head kept muddling those thoughts, as if by some magical force wiping away his grasp on reality. He had to get away. He had to!


He woke up in a garden. The soft, manicured grass was lush green. He was lying under the cool shade of a tree, resting against mighty, old roots. He looked around and shivered at the memory of that strange, sightless dream.

 Lose it All to Walk a Free Man (Part III)

A strong wing blew in as soon as he opened the narrow wooden door. Zipping his jacket to brace himself, he latched the door from outside and took a deep breath. It was one of the warmer days in the middle of a bitterly cold winter. The wind whipped his scarf around his neck and pushed him backwards in his tracks. Sometimes, he remembered, some of the older houses creaked in the wind, the wooden planks restive in the fury of the weather. It was a funny memory, leaping up at him as his eyes fell on objects within his sight, immediately reassuring as well as completely fresh. He could remember, almost feel, the sun-burns from a few months ago, when he’d fallen asleep out in the sun one lazy afternoon.

Well, it had been like this for years, so now was a silly age to complain. He should concentrate on matters more relevant – such as timing his breathing to match his footsteps, necessary in order to make good time while conserving strength. Already he could feel a chill flow down his throat to his lungs.

As his boots made headway through the growing snow blanket, he saw a rag-doll, red and yellow, lying half buried in front of him. He bent down to pick it up. Something I’ve seen before? But it was stitched, fastened in some way, to a long piece of thread. He pulled at it further, growing more curious now. There was something odd about the doll alright, the way the big, round eyes stared at him.

The thread was attached on the other end to a cellular phone. Very strange. Wiping the ice off its surface, he saw it was already dialing. In fact, someone on the other end had even picked up.

“Hello?” he said, slightly unsure and feeling more than a little silly, talking into a strange phone from the street.

“Please, come back. Please!”


“He’s talking! Oh God, he’s saying something! Can you hear me? Can you hear my voice?”

“Who … who are you? What is this?”

“I can’t believe this! It’s been 2 months, Jim. Two months now! Please! You have to come back!”


He felt a tremor run down his body, as if every nerve ending on every inch of his skin went suddenly on alert. The harsh, chilling winds of the winter blew around him, swirling him now in snow and frozen soil. No, it was a furnace, sweat dripping from every pore in his body while the freezing winds blowing in a hurricane with him at its centre. It was warm. It was cool. Pleasant, perhaps. Or a raging thunderstorm. And then a mild rainy day, like the day his younger sister had died ten years ago, in a bicycle accident. It was everything all at once, while the snowstorm whipped in a circle with him at its centre. But his mind, his mind was locked still on the one word.
Jim. That was his name. That’s my name! It’s my –


It was a sweltering hot day as he hiked up the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, his backpack weighing him down on his trusted mountaineering boots. He went one step at a time, slowly but confidently, letting his body run through its training. Breathing was important, not stray thoughts. Whenever he stopped, he saw hundreds of miles of flat African forests and plains around him. It was him and the mountain. Nobody else.


They sat around the sleeping body in a circle, looking at his peaceful face with hope and expectation.

“He spoke to me! I tell you he did!” she shrieked, caught between disbelief and delight.

“We’ll see soon enough. You need to relax now. You’ve had a long day,” the doctor said, placating her. It was his job to sound calm in all such situations, so he did. But he wondered tensely what they would see next.

The members of the family sat patiently around the sleeping body of Jim, 23 years old, Caucasian, who had had a motorcycle accident 2 months ago. They sat quietly, barring a few stifled sobs every now and then. Patiently and quietly, they waited for their son to wake up from his sleep.

He was blind now, and his legs were destroyed. A tough life lay ahead of him in this world. Over the past two months, since the operation, all the technology and healthcare that would be required to make his life more comfortable had been bought and set up.
If only he would wake, and not scream like the last time he did.

Naïve, hope. Innocent, blameless. His parents would cry and would beg endlessly for his mind and his broken body to return to them. They would urge him to live in their reality, if they had any idea where he really was. But then there would be so much explaining to do.

It was a choice, although not a conscious choice. A blind, broken body and conscious mind had surrendered, in a moment of weakness, to the subconscious. Every morning was a new world, each with its instant memories and fresh starts and sad endings. Every evening was relaxation with new faces of friends of many years, years of another man surely, yet still years he had lived with himself and them. Every leaf falling from a tree in front of him triggered fresh old memories of younger years. Every day was a journey into a new life, with family, surroundings and new histories of an old world. So he lived, bemused slightly sometimes but absorbed all the same. Until, sinking deeper still, he would learn to accept completely and neglect his silly misgivings.

Jim slept in this world. And so lived in another, with a mind of infinite possibilities and infinite power, creating as he went in, one step at a time.

Mind and body, body and soul,
An axe through the fabric of truth.
Lose it all to walk a free man,
Break on through to the Other Side.


GlassHalfWhat? said...

Move to Wordpress. They have a 'like' button!

Which I wanted to click, and I couldn't.

Confused n Baffled said...

true. a 'share on facebook' will have to suffice for now?

and thanks :)

ashwita said...

experiments with sanity is an awesomely gripping writing. i thoroughly appreciate the way a word flows into the other. would frequent your blog. thanks for the read!