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Lifeless life

—by Muhammad Nasrullah Khan

Inside of the dark, gloomy room, a middle-aged Professor was moving restlessly, plunged into dark recollections. He had too many failures in life—which was a sign of good taste. His mother’s fatal disease had augmented the sorrows of his spirit. He did not want to lose that last refuge. Five years ago his father’s painful death had settled many horrible heavy things upon his mind, adding to his melancholic loneliness. He was an alien and outcast in the society of proudest and wisest animals. All his hopes, dreams and ambitions resulted in nothingness—merely an absurdity, a grievous fiasco.

To evade that dismal state of mind, he came out of that dejected room to smoke in the misty moonlight, which was giving a look of his inner world. In the moving circle of smoke from his cheap cigarette, he started squandering in the memory of childhood, how full of life he was, in the far off mountainous village where he spent many moonlights playing with his innocent peers, quite unaware of the agonies of the world. The wolves’ howls were less terrific than man’s stinging.

He completed his early education in that village’s sluggish school, where teachers were half-literate, half human but complete brutish; they knew nothing about education, all they taught were the slangs and vulgar jokes. The Professor had to burn midnight oil, so to speak, to remove that impression upon his personality. The contemptuous memories of their brutish beatings passed across his mourning mind, leaving bitter taste. The school was the only detestable memory of that rural life; otherwise everything was very pleasing and memorable. He was in the dome of nature. The games, the innocent dreams and thorough association with all environments were very pleasant.

In that sweet sounding memory, one lovely catching face suddenly appeared in his mind; she was his childhood friend, both of them had spent the early days of life together. They would enjoy the beauty of youth, the natural ties of pure passion. The long walks in search of colorful butterflies in the beautiful valley of the village used to be the most pleasurable event on Sunday. Before sleeping, they would enjoy the stories narrated by grandmother, which would take them to the imaginative, unknown world.

The story of “Juma Pagal,” the mad man of the village, left long lasting impressions upon his mind. Juma was a very mysterious character who used to appear off and on. Graveyard was his living place, where he lived with many dogs. Of the many stories that were related to his madness the most interesting was “Pardesy”, a talkative shopkeeper of the village, told to him later on, when he was quite grown up. Juma is “Ashik”, lover of Rubab, the daughter of Choudry (a feudal lord). They both were class fellows in the city, and were lovers; but when Choudry brought Rubab back home, knowing the story, Juma also came along. However, Choudry kept him in a overly heated cell for forty days, and after forty days… (you could well imagine what had happened to him after forty days, the price of love). You could read this story in those days in the eyes of lovers. It was a pathetic yet an interesting story. At noon, Juma was found dead in the graveyard.

That story seemed to be very tragic at that time, but later on the Professor found such “choudries” everywhere, dominating the society, the masters of his country. Those dreamy days passed very quickly and soon he was on the rough and hard track of life. The world of mad man was left far behind and now he was in the world of Kafka’s Cockroach. In pursuit of his dreams he had to leave the village. In the town he became the ardent supporter of the Socialist party of his country. All his aims and goals were now focussed on the emancipation of poor people. His prime age was spent in pursuit of that dream. He had spent most of his beautiful days of youth in the dark and dingy jails. But when his political party came to power there was no place for people like the Professor, all the exploiters occupied high positions—that was an incurable shock for the Professor; he had sacrificed the prime rose of his age…

Later on, he got admitted in the Philosophy department and indulged himself in the prodigy of his subjects, which opened new windows in his mind. But his voracious reading and thought provoking discussions created tremendous problems for him. The dwellers of ignorance turned against him. Among them the most bitter were his teachers, who always set their sharpest-toothed dogs upon him. But his pursuit of knowledge was not disturbed by those little cankers. Rather he was enlightened by the truth, which Nietzsche had revealed to him: “Spirit is the life that itself strikes into life: through its own torment it increases its own knowledge.”

Did you know that before? “No I did not know it before,” he replied to that great silent voice of the great man, and kept on working with those “well-fed” philosophers of his department.

He had submitted himself to the ugliness of the educated class. In those days he came across Anjela, who was working on her book “The Last Man”. It was very soothing to spend time with her. They could talk for hours without being burdened by each other. “Do you know what is rare in your personality?” one day she asked, a sudden question. “I think I can meditate for many days, and you know thinking is the first step towards wisdom,” he replied. “What are the next steps?” Anjela put another question, while looking in his eyes. “Yes, I would be a wise man when I would be able to claim these three things of Sidharth: I can think; I can wait; and I can fast”. He uttered these words while looking at the reddish horizon. “But there is something else which I love most in your personality,” Anjela lit two cigarettes, gave one to him and kept on speaking, “I often feel as you have been passing through a painful process of thinking, you don’t find words to express that agony, yet your eyes speak of that contempt”

Anjela paused for a moment, and started talking again: “I can enter into your hidden worlds through your eyes, I know you are suffering in this sick society where suffocating mediocrity rules; you are often assailed by pain and have been struggling long against this pain—I can see every thing in you eyes; your eyes often give vent to this disgust; don’t store this pain into your mind, come on, speak about these ugly intellectuals in the most ugliest words—bloody, rascals, vultures.” She started kissing his wild eyes wildly. He cleaned her wet eyes and burst out into a live laughter. From that day their friendship got meaning—the meaning which was going to give birth to great meaninglessness.

Muhammad Nasrullah Khan

They started looking at life with the same eyes—that was the beginning of a real torment for him; he learned very late in life that to search for immortal relationship in this mortal life is the biggest folly which almost every man often commits.

He had read about the bitter taste of love, but like all others he never cared for the advice of victims. The first day of his lovemaking was the last day of his wonderful freedom. The taste of first kiss of the beloved remained with him for several days and he considered it the only truth in the world—how foolish he was. Man always fabricates beautiful trap of deception around himself to escape the disillusionment of his spirit.

Basically he is alone, and this loneliness becomes more painful when he finds himself moving towards death. In the gigantic, immortal universe his mortal presence makes him frightened and coward. To avoid that fear he starts developing more stupid relationships with others just to close his eyes to reality. But every relationship ultimately appears in the form of deception.

Unfortunately man keeps on living with this disillusionment throughout his life, and at the end surrenders himself to the unseen superpower—leaving the world never to comeback to tell whether his deceptions are over, or have changed to another sea of deception. The passive associations with friends, women, or children are the greatest cause of human tragedy. He creates pains for himself when he relates his happiness to others.

This was what happened with the Professor when he started thinking that Anjela could save him against the attacks of agony. He became quite possessive towards her. But she left him with a funny argument: “God is the greatest lover of man and He can never bear any rival in His love; He is one and alone; therefore He likes man or woman to be alone; they can live together but without such passion. Our separation is with the will of that divine power, goodbye!”

The tragic end of that relationship was not exceptional, but it left great emotional stress on the professor’s mind. To overcome the humiliation of that failure, he indulged himself in the dirty pool of worldly affairs; life had forced him to give in to the needs of the stomach.

Now all his life was stuck at the stomach. He had become the character of “Waiting for Godot” and life was merely “shoe off and shoe on”. Although the Professor had surrendered himself to the goose of society, yet the internal waves of dissatisfaction often disturbed him, when he would be alone at night. All pampering to his heart could not mitigate the suffering of his soul; suppressed emotions, augmented by the sense of loss, had sucked the essence of his existence. That was one of the soul-destroying sleepless nights of the Professor. He put a dejected look at the descending moon, returned to his room and fell on the bed—waiting for another meaningless day of a lifeless life.

—Muhammad Nasrullah Khan Pakistan, spring 2001

Fire eaters at the Fête de la Musique in Paris

Fire eaters at the Fête de la Musique in Paris —photo by David Henry

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