Saturday, February 23, 2013

Thoughts of a man called I

Long ago, there was a man called I who lived in a world of thoughts. Voiceless, faceless, nameless speech bubbles followed him wherever he went – speech bubbles with thoughts in common print, without punctuation, without exclamation, without feeling. I was not handicapped in any other way. Thoughts just tried to crowd out everything else in his life, that’s all. I found it frustrating when the source and the background of these featureless messages seemed vague. Often, even the context or the tone remained elusive. I could guess, of course, but certainty would have helped; maybe, not always. There were also occasions when he could not be sure if a speech bubble with a thought that seemed to be his was actually his. When alone in a room and almost certain about his own thoughts, doubt usually followed close behind – maybe, there was someone standing outside the room, not really spying but still close enough for that external thought to creep in.
When he was young, he thought he would go crazy with the thoughts haunting his mind without respite, awake or asleep. With time, I learned to live with that constant company. He became quite adept in doing his daily tasks, though the thoughts in speech bubbles remained in the foreground. He wondered if he was a robot completing programmed background jobs externally while internally archiving the continuous flow of new data for unknown reasons.
Before his twenties, he realized that he should abide by two important rules to deal with his situation, his handicap. The first rule decided that I would not interfere with the thoughts. He knew that he could ruin himself, others and his relationships by just giving voice to some of those thoughts. The second rule dictated that I should not try to influence any action based on those thoughts. These rules helped him to live a rather normal life.
I had a wife and two kids. He could often guess their thoughts but he did not judge them or act any different with them. I gave gifts ready to accept whichever speech bubble that followed immediately, ‘awesome’ or ‘shit not that’. When he and his wife enjoyed an intimate moment of companionable silence, with the kids elsewhere, he remained unperturbed when a bubble floated around, ‘god i am so tired how i wish i could get away’. When they made love, he ignored the thoughts with apparently dissatisfied complaints along with those possibly connected to joyful ecstasy. He accepted with a studied sangfroid the thoughts about him and their home, about other homes and people, about other men and women. When they cuddled and said ‘I love you’ to each other, he took it at face value ignoring any negative thought that trailed behind those words, accepting only those thoughts that seemed positive and congenial to the situation. I accepted the fact that it was impossible to be perfectly correct with the rules all the time.
His professional life was easier given the impersonal nature of office relationships. I was a conscientious worker. I joined that division as a young trainee, and in ten years gained two promotions and five increments in pay. The division worked in an airy room, on the second floor, with a single door and large windows on either side opening out onto the corridor. There were thirteen places, six on either side along the length of the room for the subordinates, and a large desk and a heavy big chair for the supervisor facing the twelve. The thirteen had little in common, and presented a rather cosmopolitan mixture of religion, region, caste, color and class. There were five women and eight men. The supervisor was a big fat woman who rarely talked and resembled a mastiff in appearance and composure. Her perpetual disgruntled expression made the man called I wonder if she too could read their thoughts.
The supervisor insisted on being the first to enter the office in the morning and the others had to queue up on either side of the door before her entry. She noted those present during that parade and marked the rest as absent with loss of pay. In the evening, the subordinates had to clear their table before leaving. The supervisor was always the last to leave, staying behind for fifteen or thirty minutes grading that day’s work and setting the next day’s target for each.
I focused on the work from nine to six and allowed the thoughts to intrude only during the brief legitimate breaks for the eleven o’clock coffee or the one o’clock lunch or the tea and biscuits at three. I found the thoughts that floated within the room amusing and appalling in equal measure. When he felt that a joke or an insult or thinly veiled barb was aimed at him, he took it in his stride. At times, I felt like shouting at them, ‘Hey, I know what goes on behind this charade of political correctness.’ But, I did not intrude into that free flow of thoughts.
The thoughts bordering on caste, religion and region were the worst. I was troubled a great deal by the contempt and the latent intolerance. At times, I was perplexed by the pains taken to differentiate or herd together. He liked to think that his own speech bubbles were immune to discrimination or prejudice though he was not totally sure. Further, he reasoned that his colleagues deserved the benefit of doubt because he could not be sure of the nuances in meaning. ‘my fine nose and light eyes are from a foreign visitor to my ancestral house’ – was that thought with pride or was that an attempt to do away with racism by ridiculing it, I thought.
Then, there were the personal thoughts about debts and loans, insecurities and worries, spouses and kids, money and money. There was sex too. I found it amusing that the prim and proper matronly colleague in her early forties received most of the lascivious thoughts. Strangely, the nubile twenty-something attracted only paternalistic and envious thoughts, probably from the men and the other women respectively, I conjectured. At times, he could not be certain about the object and the subject involved. A speech bubble with ‘that man/woman has such lovely lips’ could after all belong to any man or woman; maybe, even the supervisor, I slyly, silently guessed from behind an impassive face. From those thirteen heads studiously bent over dusty files and rickety keyboards came lewd, loving, disgusting and sweet thoughts that I tried to notice only during those brief moments of leisure.
Then, on a Wednesday that started unexceptional, I and the other eleven subordinates were taken unawares when the supervisor went on a rampage castigating. The events that followed that day changed his life forever. The supervisor called each subordinate to her desk, read out a carefully worded appraisal, those quiet words contrasted with the harsh reprimand and punishment that it contained - extended hours, increased number of tasks, reduced pay and even demotion for some. Though she allowed each one a chance to offer arguments in defense, none offered resistance faced with that silent, staring, malevolent, despising countenance. I too faced the same music and later tried to think. But his mind was crowded with speech bubbles filled with the collective sadness, despondence and hate. Then, one speech bubble crept in and stood out, ‘i will kill her’.
He checked if it was his thought and convinced himself that it could not be his. Then, he looked around and tried to find the right owner. But none of the faces seemed particularly hateful. Some were even remarkably calm. Outwardly, all twelve seemed to be in the same dissipated state. I took a deep breath and concentrated on the thoughts.
On that day, that lone thought stood like a dark, watchful stalker biding time. On Thursday, other thoughts joined its company. By Friday, the details were clear. The murder was scheduled for that evening. The victim was, of course, to be the supervisor. Each step of the murder plot came in separate speech bubbles. ‘it will be dark when she leaves the office in the evening’, ‘she will take the lift to the ground floor and then the stairs to the basement car park’, ‘the single bulb in that stairwell should be removed’.
That evening, I waited in the dark behind a pillar near the place of execution. Every pillar there seemed to hide silhouettes in its shadows. I waited and waited.
I heard the supervisor lock up the office upstairs. Then I heard her footsteps move towards the lift. The lift stopped at the ground floor. But instead of coming nearer, those footsteps moved away towards the front exit, away from the staircase leading to the basement car park. Breaking her regular habit, she did not go to the basement car park that day. I still waited and waited.
I saw a figure step out from behind a pillar, with a long, menacing dagger in hand. Then another stepped out, and another. I too stepped out and faced the others. The twelve colleagues looked at each other, some shamefaced, some smiling, some angry. I and the other eleven put away the daggers. They went their separate ways after wishing each other good night. I was quite surprised that there were no speech bubbles lingering around there then. Thoughtless and tired, the twelve went home.
That night, at home, I felt as if I was entering a new home. It seemed as if it had become a real home for the first time. I smiled, laughed and played with the kids with carefree abandon. He surprised his wife with uninhibited tenderness. I thought of asking her ‘how long have you shared this’ but then decided to go ahead with life without unnecessary words. The speech bubbles with thoughts still darted around freely like ghosts – familiar, sinister, inconvenient ghosts clashing and crashing as usual. But when the couple said ‘I love you’ to each other that night, it was different. I knew that it sounded true probably for the first time.
Long ago, the man called I lived in a world of thoughts. One day, he realized that everyone had his handicap. He lived happily ever after.


  1. how long have you shared this

  2. Hello arjun,

    I wonder hw u write this effortlessly.. When people like me can not even comment properly.


    1. Are you talking about my effortless comments, KP? :-)))

      Thx for being here,

    2. Well that could be one but wat I talked abt was the effortless portal of 2 personalities in one! The regular use of I and HIM says it, and I had to read carefully to understand it.
      So if I understood correctly its not the alter ego but something else that is tr in every one rite? Is it the reasoning?

    3. Good points, KP...

      I do not like to restrict a reader's reasoning by stating mine...but try this scenario...

      How much of thought-control do we live with? Even with the ones we love, we want to know only a part of them that suits us...and at times even control their thoughts to an extent that might seem loveless...

      Further, look around you...the politically correct behaviour and all that...but we do know what really goes on behind that charade, don't we?

      Then, further...consider creative we like them to be what we like...but then the best creative thoughts are those that hurt...

      On and on and on...:-)))))))

      Thx a lot for initiating this discussion...means a lot