Thursday, June 23, 2011

Rimpo and the Sparrow

The mind is a labyrinth of mirrors. For Rimpo, this labyrinth is long and narrow - a straight line of a path that betrays no twists. On this path he marches everyday, towards the same point of no becoming. Measured thus against eternity, Rimpo became small and shrunk by the side of everyday objects. The axe he uses to cut wood became larger and heavier. The piece of land he tills became wider. The roof of his hut stood higher and the screeches of the birds above became more distant. And the mighty Himalayas next to his farm, he dares not even raise his eye to.

Rimpo has been living alone ever since his mother died. He has always been considered a dullard in the village, and possessing no great property, he has never received attention from any of the girls. He had his heart broken a few times in his boyhood and then he learnt how to not make similar mistakes in judgement. Life is a slow process of learning how to avoid the traps and the temptations. Along the journey, Rimpo grew hard in his eye and sure in his step. Now that his dear parents are dead, he hardly meets the villagers. They consider his farm at the end of the village as a vestigial organ, a reminder of a time where it was a part of the social life but which has far outlived its usefulness. From beside the farm stretches the thick Himalayan jungle and down below roars the torrent from the mountains. Rimpo and his farm are transparent to the villagers, they belong neither to the village nor to the jungle.

Rimpo knows every sound and color that invade the privacy of his mind. He knows their rhythm just as well as he knows the rhythm of his heart. The roar of the torrent below has a rhythm. The screeches of the birds above have a rhythm. The morning light that shines into his hut has a rhythm, and so does the breeze that comes by nightfall. Into this rhythm, he constructed his life; and into this, he weighs in his every step.

Years passed by without counting, and Rimpo shrank smaller and smaller. Days became seasons and minutes became days. Like an ant that lived for an eternity, Rimpo achieved a patient and non-judgemental gaze over the world, over himself, and over the insignificance of one towards the other. In the labyrinth of his mind, the color of the seasons blended harmoniously into a gray monotone - where yesterday meets tomorrow and where sound meets silence.

One day, this harmony is disturbed by a sparrow. Rimpo watched as it barged in indignantly through the window and started pecking on the pile of paddy grains that lay on the floor. Those pile of grains are his labor over the whole year, as he tilled his harsh land by the stony look of the Himalayas. He needs every grain in that pile for himself, to bear the winters to come. Rimpo knows the rhythm by which he shoos the bird away : how his hand raises up and swats the floor below, how his lips open and a sharp hiss of air whistles through his tongue. But now, he just waits and watches the sparrow. It pecks at the rice, grain by grain, as few as are needed to sate its tiny hunger. It then flaps its wings and flies away.

The sparrow comes again the next day, at the very same time. Rimpo watches it peck the grains and then fly away. He now knows the rhythm, how and when this would happen again. But he cannot let this happen. So when the sparrow comes, Rimpo stands there waiting and addresses it thus.

"Dear friend, I am honored by your visit to my humble abode. But I am afraid I cannot offer you enough space and succor for another day. I cannot shield you from the infinity of the world. I am a shrinking man, and soon I will be smaller than yourself. The span of your wings shall soon be greater than the stretch of my arms. Go find a bigger man for your friend, and a warmer hut to bide your winters in."

Then the sparrow replies, "Rimpo, Though you have not seen me much before, know that I am your friend. I am fickle as a sparrow and I do not step into the same door twice. Many people have found me walk in but never paid me attention. But I am as much their friend as I am yours. I hop from garden to garden, from hut to hut and over streams and meadows. I stay not in the same place for long, as I love this whole infinite world. My world is not to be feared. But you do not live in the same world as mine."

"What do you mean ?"

"Often man hears nothing but echoes of his own voice from the past, reverberating from the walls of his memories. Man sees nothing but the reflections of his own character, breaking from the prism of his mind. And man feels nothing but the cold of his loneliness, in the vastness of existence. Every thought that he weaves is a thread to cover himself from this cold. These threads knit together into a shroud that envelopes one's mind. Through this shroud, man cannot see the world for what it is. He cannot hear the world for what it is. And he cannot smell. When was the last time you smelt something, Rimpo ?"

Rimpo tries to protest. He definitely can smell, but does he care for smells ? When was the last time he cared for smells ? He answers, " I do not want to know."

"Smell is the basest and the most wicked of the senses. It is how nature tells man that he is her subject, that he cannot break free from her. Would you like to see the world of smells ?"

Rimpo puts on his shoes and trails the sparrow. As he comes out, he sees that spring is the season and that the Himalayan forest is full of its smells. A million shades of green lay basking in the rays of gold. Through these colors, Rimpo detects a smell that unearths a long forgotten memory from his childhood. Thread by thread, his thoughts get unravelled by the smells, exposing the core of his being to the mercy of nature. The sparrow flies above and guides him through trails that he has never taken in his life.

Rimpo asks, "How big is the world that a man can experience in a moment ? "

"Each man knows for himself. For the most part, a man has but four or five thoughts. They shape his goals and they mould his actions. The long threads of memories that a man weaves laboriously over his life are only felt for their weight, but never experienced in totality. But even this entire weight of memories is mocked for its finiteness by the infinity that is offered by the very moment of now. The mind is a labyrinth of mirrors, and rarely ever does one get to peer outside."

For the first time in his long journey of life, Rimpo sees himself in this labyrinth. And he sees it to be not straight, but spiraling into a thousand loops.

The sparrow continues, "Man becomes a slave for his own habit. Each loop creates an illusion of eternity, masking the finiteness of experience. True freedom is indeed freedom from one's own thoughts and habits. "

Rimpo finds himself now in a forest of Rhododendrons. The trees are in full bloom with colors of rose, white and red. The air is also lighter, the sparrow has led him up a mountain trail into a meadow. Rimpo asks, "Why do you bother yourself with me sparrow ? What makes you love me ?"

"Love is but a realization that each moment in a finite existence has a window towards infinity. When I realize thus, I cannot but feel love for everything in the world. But I should leave you here, my friend. I am but a sparrow and I cannot fly any higher. Beyond this meadow, you need no friend. I bring you here so that you can see what I cannot."

Thus saying, the sparrow flies back into the valley below. In that moment of clarity, Rimpo sees neither the sparrow nor the tortuous path that they have climbed together. Instead he sees a different person that has pored out of his own self - a person bigger than the mountains, and for whose step nothing is large. The labyrinth of his mind is dissolved. He sees nothing but the sun that is shining through his eyes. No mountain blocks his path nor his view. In that tiny window of time where he is truly himself, he sees that he is immortal.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Catching the bubbles of happiness

Happiness is a substance that has some strange chemical properties. For one, it is an extremely short lived substance and disintegrates quickly into the surrounding atmosphere. It cannot be stored in a sealed container either, as it decomposes spontaneously in the absence of light. It has neither a distinctive odour nor a distinctive color. Due to its whimsical and short-lived nature, many physicists have long doubted its existence. A fringe few do so even today.

But owing to its indirect effects on other substances in controlled lab experiments, which are carefully studied, and to its numerous sightings in the wild, the existence of happiness is now established beyond doubt. What still remain controversial, however, are procedures to synthesize happiness and its effects on human beings.

Despite numerous failures in synthesizing it in a lab setting, it appears that happiness forms quite readily in nature and seems drawn towards life forms in general, and human beings in particular. The age of a person seems to be a critical factor in attracting happiness, with young children being particularly susceptible towards catching large doses of happiness when they are outdoors.

The most common form of happiness is that of tiny bubbles that drift in the air. These bubbles are transparent, but they sometimes shimmer brightly in the sunlight due to certain optical properties. The human eye seems to be partially capable of detecting these shimmers, with young children reporting that they see such bubbles drifting and dancing wildly at the corners of their eyes. One is supposed to see these bubbles sideways, as a direct gaze would rend them transparent. A more successful method for catching happiness is by listening.

Since the bubbles of happiness form and dissolve spontaneously, they make a curious crackling sound as they pop. A carefully trained ear can latch on to these popping sounds, and thus lead a person to the source of a large concentration of happiness. People have thus been led to happiness in very unsuspecting and nondescript places - such as the top of a crossroads, or next to a puddle in a stream. Sometimes happiness hangs in a thick cloud around a man carrying a big luggage and sweating profusely. Sometimes it trails the scent of a woman walking tip-toe on a quiet street. Sometimes it lurks behind a group of quarreling kids. And sometimes it flutters around two lovers who are lost in each other. These are by no means an exhaustive list of places where one might bump into happiness, indeed such a list would be impossible to make. With every passing day as the sun lights up the world, huge clouds of happiness condense in the atmosphere and drift around the place. Whether they do so with a pattern or just aimlessly is still open to debate.

When one comes within hearing distance of happiness, a curious manoeuvre can be followed to make the happiness descend directly onto oneself. The efficacy of this manoeuvre has been known in the popular culture, but the scientific reasons behind it are still under study. One is supposed to smile widely and look sideways towards the source of happiness. A simple lip-smile will not do - it should be accompanied by an eye-smile where the eyes glint in the shimmer of the bubbles. And lo, the cloud of happiness swooshes down to one's face and runs up one's nose. The after-effects are reported as widely varied, ranging from a sudden swing in one's step to one sobbing silently. The only common effect seems to be that of a general exhilaration.

It is also hypothesized that happiness is a fundamental ingredient of life, as essential as Oxygen. But the whimsical nature of its interaction with life-forms prompts many scientists to question such a strong hypothesis. If all life-forms need happiness to survive, how would they find their daily dose of happiness ?

We cannot say anything about this yet. But it is generally accepted that happiness is very good for the health of human beings. So we conclude this article by giving some tips for the interested reader on how to spot happiness.

  • Memory seems to be bad for happiness. Most people have bad memories that inhibit them from perceiving the fullness of the world around. This prevents them from spotting happiness even when it is lurking quite nearby.
  • Happiness appears to be contagious. The more the people one infects with happiness, the likelier that one gets a new dose when all of one's bubbles of happiness pop out.
  • As a converse, selfishness is quite bad for happiness. One's happiness won't last for long when one is alone.
  • This can be extended to also one's thoughts and actions. The more isolated one becomes, and the more sure in this isolation one becomes, the lesser the happiness that comes one's way.
  • Smiles seem to be particularly good at attracting happiness, even when it is several kilometers away.
  • Early morning by the sunrise and the early evening by the sunset are the best times to catch happiness.