Narayan’s Dilemma

Narayan read a poem on an obscure blog, and it left an indelible impression on his mind. Growing up, he wasn’t religious, unlike the rest of his Tamil Brahmin family. He wasn’t even spiritual. In his twenties, Narayan renounced every form of institutional religion. He deemed them ‘chimerical tales given undeserved importance by authorities, giving them selcouth advantages over the masses.’ It was all a means of power. That was what the Catholics, with their Inquisition, the Protestants with their fire-and-sulphur, predestining-one-to-hell-before-he’s-born, vengeful God, the Hindus with their newfound, aggressive Hindutva that aims to convert under the facade of resisting conversion, and even the nirvana-seeking Buddhists sought.

Later, in his thirties, Narayan wrote an essay against spirituality. The very notion of seeking light within or without until one has grazed the feet of the divine seemed ludicrous. There was the hard, cold floor of the bathroom, the spiteful sun at noon, breathing on you like a dragon, and the soft pillow that gave you the illusion of freedom from the 9 to 5. That was all. People seemed to herald faux-spirituality and come up with bizarre notions of life and light. They sought eunoia which really was an ephemeral altered state of consciousness similar to getting high.

Why then did this poem that spoke about the unseen and unknowable pluck at some heartstring until the chord reverberated through his very being? Was it the science-fiction terminology used? Was it because, like every other person, Narayan desired truth, a purpose to a banal, lonely existence? He pondered this while he made his way to work.

For ten years, he had worked for the same company. A digital marketing firm that promised pay rises and promotions but delivered nothing. In the quotidian office with white desks and blue chairs, Narayan wondered why he did his job with meraki? Even though deep inside, he knew that he’d forever be a corporate slave, a cog in the machine that blessed only the crème de la crème and never a BA graduate from a scandal-ridden government college, Narayan lived for his work, or at least that’s what he told himself.

The poem was a puzzle with its bizarre metaphor and verses written both in meter and free verse. Narayan wasn’t sure if it was even a wonderful poem. It talked about freedom, or at least that was his interpretation. It gnawed on his mind like a catchy pop tune that enters one’s consciousness and refuses to leave, like an unwelcome fly sitting on a bowl of fruit in the dining room. Finally, fed up and wanting some respite, Narayan left the office early. He begged his boss, saying he wasn’t feeling well, and went home and lay in his bedroom under the ceiling fan, moving like a wraith.

Narayan slept early. He had a dream that changed his perceptions and way of looking at life. He saw an enormous, mechanical Leviathan with fifteen tendrils, breathing dust. It swallowed the sun, the moon, the stars, and all humanity. It ate Narayan, too. In its obsidian belly, where magma flowed, giant pincers gripped people, crushed them, and drowned them in fiery streams. Narayan watched, transfixed. He wanted to scream, to urge people to help each other by uniting, but then realised that nothing he could do could save them. He woke up trembling and sweating.

The next day, Narayan re-read the poem a hundred times. The author used a pseudonym so he couldn’t contact them. Narayan knew what he had to do. He booked a slot at Billy’s Café, which held an Exchange of ideas Thursdays where people could speak about anything and have others debate them.

The following Thursday, Narayan stood in front of a small gathering of upper-class Bangaloreans and foreigners. He trembled before the mike, but then some dreamy languor possessed him, and he started speaking.

“All your lives, you’re led to believe that there’s beauty in finding purpose. But examine the lives you lead and let me know if you’ve found meaning. You’re working six days a week, providing for a family you’ve grown bored with, despising yourself but pushing your alcohol-fueled selves to the finish line, believing that everything will matter. But what if fate is like a giant monstrosity, eating you up, feasting on intestines, colons, brains, femur, radius and ulna? You haven’t realised it’s devouring you, consigning you to bleak oblivion where a greying sky will look upon what it regurgitates with insouciance. I’m here to tell you you can defeat fate. Yes, fate himself, the almighty strongman who writes every detail of your life on a page and uses his will to make them happen. The thing is, fate is an illusion. You lose when you believe in old adages like things happen for a reason. You lose when you believe that an unseen hand predetermines the course of your life. Think about it? A nightmare is eating you alive, and you deem it something tangible. Nothing is concrete! Everything is a construct of the self! And when a few selves agree on an illusion, they call it reality. So the only way to be free is to die. Yes, to kill the nefarious, spiritual soul that makes you worship. A poem I read did it for me. But I can help you.”

People looked at Narayan, speechless. If it wasn’t his rhetoric, then the mesmeric quality of his voice did it for them. Finally, one man stood up and asked: “What do you propose?”

“I’ve resigned from my job and have rented a small assembly room in Indiranagar. I’ll give whoever’s interested the address. Come there, and I’ll tell you more.”

People gathered week after week at the small assembly room in Defence Colony, Indiranagar, to hear Narayan speak. He spoke like a man enlightened but denied illumination.

“People ask me if I meditated and gained a super-consciousness, but my ‘enlightenment’ stems from spiritual death. All spirituality is false, and understanding that isn’t enough. You need apathy to consume you entirely, to remove your soul from your body. Only then will you realise nothing is real except the self. The self isn’t some spiritual entity grasping for higher love. It’s consciousness which is immortal. It colours what we see according to its hues, and we call that illusion reality. Even the most irrefutable scientific proof is something that’s agreed upon by several selves and functions in a reality constructed by them. We’ll find nothing except immortal consciousnesses struggling to link if we were to tear the veil. This world provides us with a means to connect.”

“So, are you saying that human beings are gods?”

“The very concept of the homo sapien is outdated. If not for his mind, he’d be nothing. It’s the mind that’s immortal, that’s a god in some sense.”

“How was the corporeal body created then?”

“It wasn’t. We imagined everything.”

Discussions like these went on for hours, and Narayan would rebuke the crowd for being corporate slaves, worshippers of concrete and metal who couldn’t see past office cubicles. However, he didn’t decline donations from foreigners and other wealthy people. Instead, he claimed that bit, enjoying the illusion while it lasts. Narayan believed that after death came eternal loneliness. The self found itself in emptiness, without a world to communicate with other consciousnesses. And so, this reality was superior to the one to come, and it was up to people like Narayan to prepare other selves for eternal isolation.

Finally, a group of devotees asked Narayan who created the immortal selves, and he didn’t have an answer. Perplexed by a simple question, Narayan kept reiterating that selves were eternal, but this didn’t satisfy his questioners, who soon started their own cult that emphasised that nothing was real.

It was when some of them took their own lives because they concluded that if everything was a delusion, death was the only thing definite, that the police knocked on Narayan’s door. His fame grew exponentially, and he made headlines in India. He paid off the judges, escaped a prison sentence, and continued preaching, adding that all selves were in limbo before existence and eternal isolation after death. It was the period in between where they took hold of their creative faculties and engendered an illusion that seemed frighteningly real.

But the trials and their aftermath took a toll on Narayan. Soon, he started adding elements from Hinduism, like moksha, to his theology to appease the government, which wanted him thrown in jail for tax evasion. This worked well, and he took to wearing saffron robes and self-aggrandisement. He appeared on TV shows as the new age sage who reinvented Hinduism, emphasising nirvana in this life by purging oneself of impurity.

Eventually, Narayan’s philosophy strayed so far from what he initially believed in that he turned up to conferences high as a kite and mumbled non-sequiturs. He riddled his long-winded harangues with sexual connotation, expletives and meaningless jargon, but people still listened.

“I’m the saint of the nouveau-riche, the hamartia of the old gods. I dreamt of a long metal phallus, and I was the come that escaped it. People damn me! They put cases against me! But I’m the voice of the fucking voiceless, the roar in the cave. Give me the backsides of the naysayers, and I will kick them for you! The self can go to hell, and isn’t the sky blue? Damn you! You prodigals! You shall not dare to dream! Fuck! Do you think I’m an anthropomorphic squirrel speaking? Tell me? Bloody hell! I know all the aphorisms and allegories because the self is immortal. My self is! Bloody hell! Listen, you fuckers, there is no catharsis in life, only green dirt.”

Finally, unable to live with himself, Narayan returned to the poem that started it all. The poet now used her real name and had a contact form up. Narayan hastily typed out a message.

I loved your poem, Catharsis. The form and the sparingly used metrical systems stunned me, and the idea it expounds changed my life. I have read it so many times that I know it by heart. What did you have in mind when you wrote it?

The next day, a hungover Narayan woke up and checked his mail.

Thank you so much. It was a silly poem about an ex. I know nothing of form and meter. XOXO. – Clara

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