Friday, October 3, 2008
This was a lazy afternoon, a hot uncomfortably warm April afternoon. Weary and bored E.Babu stretched his arms, took a deep breath and slowly exhaled, releasing with the breath the creeping lethargy he felt in the office doing nothing. He stood up and walked over to the window. Peering down the window from his fourth floor office, he could see to his left, Mohammed Ali road leading up to Bhendi Bazaar and to his right as far as the Byculla Bridge, if he craned his neck far enough. Mohammed Ali road ran parallel along the length of his office block though right below his office he could see only the far side of the road due to projection over the Windows of lower floors. The traffic below now was much less chaotic than in the mad morning rush of people trying to reach office in time. There were no unnecessary honking of horns or pushing and jostling to get ahead. The afternoon traffic was much more disciplined, leaner and quieter. As E.Babu was scanning the traffic casually, he saw a funeral procession silently moving up in his direction far in distance near the Bhendi Bazaar. The men looked pensive and grim in their white kurta-pyjama and round white caps. They were carrying the body covered in a green and red fabric decorated with glistening foils, tinsels and real flowers. There were six men carrying the fully draped body placed on a bamboo frame wedged over their shoulders. The entire procession seemed noiselessly floating towards him rather than walking as if a light paper boat gently pushed in quite still water moving out of force of its inertia. By appearance and the attire of the men, it was a Muslim funeral procession. Soon they were near enough for E.Babu to have a clearer view of the body. Now he could see the profile of a human form under the heavily flower laden cover. Something appeared to him bizarre about the body. He saw it simmering like images you see over burning hot roads in summers. It wasn’t such a hot afternoon, perhaps a little uncomfortable. He looked at the body curiously, which was now a lot closer to him. It was a bizarre sight indeed. He saw a strange quivering simmering vision. Just a few inches above the body, there were two human figures arguing and occasionally pushing each other while a crouching man with snow-white beard at the head of corpse looked at them amusedly. The man turned his head and looked straight at him. Involuntarily he hid his face behind the wall. Immediately realizing his folly, he again looked at the corpse sheepishly, which was now quite close at the road below him. He chided himself for the act and looked at the scene down below with a lot more positive aggression expecting to see a perfectly normal funeral procession passing by. He was surprised to see the same simmering transparent animated images suspended above the body of dead person. He rubbed his eyes in disbelief, peeled them wide to have a clearer view, it made no difference. The images were very real. He felt a wave of fear surge through his whole body. All this while the crouching bearded man seemed to be looking at him intently. He felt a momentary blackout and then heard someone talking to him inside his head without any audible sounds.
“What do you think?”
Surprised he looked curiously around him and then at the bearded man, who nodded his head in acknowledgement. He kept quite.
“What do you think, E.Babu?"
“What do you mean? What is going on out there?” E.Babu called out.
“Well, this person lying dead under the ornate cover is Jamal Ahmed. Apparently he led a boring average life, therefore sum total of his sins against his good acts end up in a dead heat except a rare incident, which is the cause of argument between these blokes you see at the base of the corpse. The fellow with tiny horns on his head is from hell while the fellow with wings and a shining ring above his head is from heaven. They both agree about extremely dull existence of Jamal, what they are unable to agree on is whether his one act of aberration was morally good or bad.”
“Isn’t an average person regarded as sinner?”
“So, what happens to him?”
“I don’t know. All the sacred books say that if you sin you go to hell and if you do good you go to heaven. None tells about a guy’s fate who is exactly in the middle, zero balance person.”
“What is the dispute?”
“Well, Jamal once gambled and won some cash, he did not keep the cash though. He gave it all to a charity. These two gentlemen are unable to agree on totality of action if in its entirety it was morally correct or wrong.”
“Isn’t this a farce?”
“ I mean the whole concept of stick and carrot, reward and punishment and hell and heaven does not make any sense.”
“It makes sense to me.”
“I mean the basis of reward and punishment is very brittle and stands on our sense of feeling pain and pleasure. But pain and pleasure are only relative to our physical existence in this world. Therefore if a hell or a heaven exists it has to exist in this world only. Parameters of existence beyond death, if there is any, are bound to be qualitatively different, otherwise death, as an interface to such existences has no meaning. Without a physical body the kind we have in this world, there is no way one can feel the pain or the pleasure, besides both feeling of pain and pleasure evolved as necessary tools for our survival. That pain and pleasure are used as tools of retribution and reward is merely a by-product of cultural evolution and not the needs of our survival kit”, said E.Babu.
“Assuming that pain and pleasure can be experienced only with a physical body and also granting that after life necessarily have different sets of parameters, still something akin to pain and pleasure will replace them. After all, thread of continuity has to link the two lives to make adjustments and corrections. Agreed though, hell and heaven have clear stamp of human imagination but something similar has to exist.”
“Not just human imagination, but the very concept is not tenable on other arguments too. For example our morality, on which the foundation of good and evil are laid, itself is transient Therefore what is regarded as good today may not be good some time later and similarly sins of today may not necessarily be sins some time in future. As we know sati was once an act of high morality just as child marriage a socially accepted virtue. By the way, who are you? Jamal Ahmed!”
“I am Maya”
“Maya! You know the illusion.”
“Oh, I always thought Maya to be a woman.”
“Funny, you thought so, illusion to be either man or woman.”
E.Babu felt yet another momentary blackout. This time when he came to sense he found himself peering down the window at Mohammed Ali road. He said aloud, “What a vision in the middle of an afternoon. Maya, indeed Maya.” He chuckled. As he turned away from the window, he felt a sharp pain in his chest and collapsed.
He felt very light, in fact completely weightless and floating above the floor. He saw from high above grim and anxious faces of his colleagues carrying his body on a stretcher. There at the back of the stretcher he saw the quivering transparent images of the two fellows floating and trailing the body arguing over his fate.