The Last Book

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The night was hot, and so was my seat. I had been sitting in the same position for quite some time now, reading a book under the faint light the lamp over my head had to offer. The seat opposite to mine was empty, and had been so since I got on the train. I looked at the seat, and wished I had bothered to look at the reservation list and catch the name of the person who was to occupy this seat. It could be a woman. Who knows, we might strike a conversation or two, and then exchange meaningless stares throughout the night. She might pretend to be a lonely woman, waiting for the right man. And I, I might speak with the arrogance of someone who doesn’t care about love, but is secretly hiding a case of heart-break. Who knows, right? Anything can happen, until it has actually happened.  The woman might just have missed the train, and I might have been destined to marry her, but we will never actually meet. Every passing minute, every passing second could change a lot for me, without me even realizing it. I could suffocate, or get robbed, or I might even find a treasure, all in the next few moments. Anything’s possible. Then how do I have any control over the course of my life. I can fight the suffocation, or kill the robber, or discard the treasure, but what if that too was supposed to happen. Is it all just a set of pre placed dominos? I got back to my book, but it did not interest me anymore, I was still stuck on figuring out how I would introduce myself to the woman who might occupy this seat. Just then, a suitcase rolled from my rear and entered the space between the two seats. Closely following this suitcase was a man, an old man who smelled of whiskey and stale food. He was dressed in a black overcoat that looked too good for someone of his demeanour. His hair was jet black, and was cleanly combed back. A sharp triangle rightly fitted itself over his neck. It carried on it a pair of thin, dark lips and a sharp, plunging nose. It also fit in a pair of eyes that seemed to change colour. If I were a man who did not play by logic, I could have sworn they were completely black for a moment. The man took the seat opposite mine and slid the suitcase underneath it. He looked straight at me, as if he could see through me. I don’t know why but I felt naked. A prepossessing guilt rose within me. I avoided his stare and got back to my book. I tried to focus my eyes on the text, but they would constantly try and record if any movement took place behind the book. I gave up on it, and finally questioned the man.

“Excuse me, why are you staring at me?”

“I am not staring. I’m merely looking.”

“Can you please look somewhere else?”

“I can, but I’d rather continue to look at you.” He replied even before I could complete my sentence.

I sighed in irritation and pushed my face back into the book. Here I was, expecting a woman, and all I got was a creepy old guy instead. The book was tough to read, mostly because I had lost touch over my mother tongue. The translation did help, but I seldom used it. How can a writer convert text from one language to another, without affecting the meaning of the former? I had my doubts, and so I struggled to find my own interpretations of the text. I was trying my best to concentrate, but the idea of an old man staring at me would not let me. There was movement in the background, and I raised my head to see that the old man had now come closer to me. He was bending his body, in an attempt to look closely at me. I threw my book on the seat and faced him, this time with intent to fight.

“What do you want?” I inquired.

“Just a look at the book you read, sir.”

“I’m reading it right now. And because I’m not carrying any other reading material with me now, I can not lend this book to you.”

“Oh no, sir. I do not need to loan it. I already know the story in it, rather too well I’d say. I only need a look. Just one.” He replied with a straight face.

I now noticed how coarse his voice was, as if something had been forced down his throat. It made me pity him, maybe he suffered of some illness. I contemplated his request, and decided to let him have a look.

“Okay, you can have a look. But you promise not to bother me anymore.”

“I do not see how I bother you, young sir. But if you allow me a look at your book, and agree to answer a question, I promise to leave this seat and find myself another one.”

“But all you said was a look at the book.” I replied annoyingly.

“I like to take actions in phases, sir. Do you accept my terms?”

I saw no harm, and hence I nodded in agreement. I passed him the book. He opened it to the last page, smiled at what he read, and returned the book.

“Now for the question.” He said. He paused, as if taking his time to think upon the question. After a moment of silence, he leaned towards me, and asked

“Do you regret killing your father?”

“What! How dare you. What gives you the right, you lonely old fuck.” I shouted at him.

“It is merely a question, my friend. I only need a simple yes or no.”

I ignored him. I did not need to answer a stranger, and especially not someone who accused me of killing my father.

The old man got up from his seat and pushed his face into mine. “Do you blame yourself, for not being at home the one night he wanted you to be?”

I pushed him aside, and threw him back at his seat. He got up, almost mechanically, and then ran his hand through his hair, trying to get them back to how they were. The colour in his eyes flickered. They were completely black for a moment there. I was sure of it this time.

He smiled at me and said. “Do you think he would have survived had you come home early that night?”

I did not pay any attention to his question and picked up my bag. I decided to change my seat with someone. If this man does not intend to leave me alone even then, I will call the authorities on him. As I turned to leave, he caught me by my hand.

“The time has come. The time to pay retribution. It shall happen tomorrow, as you complete your journey, both physically and spiritually.”

And now, I lay here on the floor, constantly replaying this incident in my mind. It is cooler than it was last night. This morning, as I got off the train, I slipped and cracked my skull open. I’m surrounded by people, but more than that I’m surrounded by blood. Somewhere in the crowd, I see a familiar place. It is an old man, with slick black hair, and dressed in an expensive black coat. He raised his hand to show me the book in his hand. It was the same book I was reading last night, but somehow I could not remember its name. As I once again remember the events of last night, I wonder, was I just following a pre-written story all along?

Is There A God?

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Am I an atheist? Am I an agnostic? Or am I a believer? To tell the truth, I have no clue at all.

I often tell myself whatever happens, happens for the best. And there have been many instances that do support my belief. But when I sit and contemplate, I have no scientific explanation as to why that would be true. We have a tendency to attribute whatever happens to us, good or bad, to a mysterious being looking upon us all from somewhere above. And that subconsciously affects our decisions.

At times I will stand before the idols in my home and pray for what I desire. And at times I will wonder how absurd it is. Believing that a mass produced industry product is capable of being the abode for the one that supposedly the creator of this universe, seems whimsical. Though, I do understand that it acts just a proxy for Him; but shouldn’t a representation of such a being be a little more, umm, amorphous? Believing that we are mere puppets of a higher power but still capable of representing him with a fair amount of unanimity among us seems contradictory to me. I cannot comprehend that how although we as humans are a fairly homogeneous race when seen through the lenses of biological anatomy, but still can have thousands of different higher powers in every different sub section of our society.

Yes, I do have many ambiguous thoughts and this is not an attempt to either resolve them or seek answers. It’s just an outlet for venting them. Like every other thing that makes me a human, this is one of them. Raised in a fairly normal Hindu family, I never questioned the existence of god. But in the last one year or so, specially after reading “Sophie’s World” and few other articles, my perspective on how I view everything around me, has changed.

I once read someone saying in an article that the most sensible thing to do if you are religious is to question the existence of god. Blindly believing its existence is against everything religion stands for.

On the other end of the spectrum , there are many who do not believe in a higher power, and science is their advocate for it. They will vehemently propose its pragmatic and arguably gospel nature. And I, in part, stand by it. But I also believe that science is not infallible. It is on a learning curve as well. Everything we know now is not everything we will ever need to know. Our existence is just a speck in the multidimensional progression of time. And what follows our existence and inevitable death will definitely falsify many of our beliefs which we today hold as gospel. History is testimony to that fact. So to believe that everything we now know is definitely everything we need to know, is a naive assumption to make.

Before I part, I will take a leave by giving words to a thought that has been on my mind for a while.

There are some perceptions and ideas in our everyday life which somehow we chance upon, and they consciously or unconsciously stick with us. Gradually we start designating them as our own thoughts, and we start to believe in them. In fact, every person is shaped by their experiences. To believe that you, as a human, are a single entity is a farce. We are ever evolving and the most explicitly obvious yet the least commonly understood fact is to accept that you change, your opinions change and that gives you credibility as someone who can understand himself on his own rather than someone who blindly accepts what others have told him about himself. I believe such a self-realization brings us somewhat closer to whatever we are supposed to learn in life, about life.

The Ability To Trace Back Our Existence

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I recently read an article about the stem cell research going on at the University of Edinburgh. In a nutshell, and yes I am trivializing this, stem cells are repair related biological cells that have the capacity to become any specialized distinguished cell. So basically, the same cell can become a part of your muscle, or your brain. Obviously, this is a much more complicated procedure than I am making it look, but I’m not here to teach you as to how you can artificially grow your clone (On a side note, it would actually be fun to have your clone as your wingman. He/she will point towards you and say, “Have you met me?”). Stem cells will basically change the medical-economical environment as follows. First, they have the potency to fasten testing and reduce costs of drug research, because now drugs can directly be tested on artificially grown stem cells, instead of wasting considerably more time/money testing them on animals. That’s a win for medical science, economists and animal rights activists (and animals in general). Way to go, stem cells. Another way, in which they will help, is by their ability to help replace damaged or diseased cells in diseases like Alzheimer, Cancer, and the likes of many other untreatable deadly ones. So essentially, as we develop medicine further and further, we eradicate more and more incurable diseases. At the current rate of things, one day every disease, except the adamant common cold, might become curable. As I finished reading the article, the idea of slowly becoming the masters of our death made me wonder about the significance of life and its beginning. Was all of this meant to happen? Was it always going to be this way that one particular species evolves and becomes so intelligent, that it basically understands everything. Can we really ever interpret ourselves, or the nature that created us? Philosopher Immanuel Kant believed quite the opposite, and following his ideologies this famous quote crept into our everyday lives:

If the human brain was simple enough for us to understand, we would still be so stupid that we couldn’t understand it.

Even while we are still considered pioneers in invention, to dismiss what we have discovered till day as insignificant, will be a fool’s arrogance. We are getting there, slow and steady. This spiritual war, of finding how we came into being, and more importantly why, has waged many brains tired. When you take a universal view of life, nothing is really that complex. It seems so, because beneath every layer of complexity is a less complex set of processes. The solution to any problem lies in the most fundamental or basic building blocks of a system. So if we can really reduce everything to the most simplified version of itself, the complexity slowly fades away. And we have been doing that for years, by dividing substances into molecules, molecules into atoms, and then finally, atoms into neutrons, protons and electrons. You don’t have to believe in God or even an eternal power to realize that we human beings are on a one way road to knowledge, there is no coming back. Only by destroying life can we completely understand it. Even according to Science (which is something I stick by), the earth, or for that matter our universe, came into existence after The Big Bang. So something happened, something triggered the universe into being. But when this something- which could be Nature, God or even pure coincidence- created a system, (our Earth, which is so simple yet so efficient that it can essentially strive on its own) did it really want one species to be substantially more intelligent than the others? Your pet dog does not wonder about stem cells, because if it did, it would be busy curing rabies and not napping on the floor. But, you do. You care about living a healthy, happy and comfortable life. So, were we humans, created to think for the universe? Are we supposed to work our way into the most intricate mysteries of nature? Does nature really contain within itself, agents of development and destruction, which is us humans?

Today and tomorrow, affected by so many other socio-economic-political problems, our speed has slowed down considerably. We have so many other problems to worry about, that the enthusiasm of discovering the essence of nature has taken a back-seat. Or so we think. Is stem cell research another solution to one such problem (incurable diseases, which is one hell of a problem), or is there a much bigger play at work. Are stem cells not taking us one step closer to perfection? Just like with space missions, artificial intelligence and door knobs, every alteration in nature is made by understanding it, by dividing it into the smallest known unit. So aren’t we, knowingly or unknowingly, doing what we think we don’t have the time to? Like all the other amazing mysteries that scrape our brains, this does not have a universal answer. But you cannot deny that our personal growth and our spiritual advancement are somehow inter-related. I do not know if we are destined to meet the mystery we call life, our creator-God, Devil or Nature- but we are eventually a part of this creation. For sake of this argument let’s call her Mother Nature. So Mother Nature, a self thriving and complete system, created within itself, a species that could and does like to question everything. So does this creator want us, a part of its creation, to strip her, bit by bit, so that we extirpate her creation, and in turn understand her? But then I take a double check, I think again. Aren’t we still considered pioneers? So could we humans be just another stepping stone in this stairway of enlightenment?  Are we another threshold in this story, another barrier in the process of evolution?  And a more intelligent, more adept and more capable creation of the creator will follow us and will use our knowledge to set out on the path of tracing back the common existence of the universe. We can never know this in time, because we will either trace back our existence or perish and give way to this more powerful specie.

I do not know if we, the human species, are destined to interpret and solve each and every thing in the universe, I can only poise this question to you. What I understand is that as we move forward in this journey, with years of mist blinding our vision, we do see a hazy vision of the beginning. We seem to be completing this circle of existence and enlightenment. We are going back in time, by moving forward. We are moving away from ourselves, but also coming closer. We do not know what lies ahead, we do not know if we will ever reach the end. But what we do need to realize is that it is not just about wanting to know how and why we came into being; It is also about questioning, are we even supposed to?