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Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Some rats perceived a sinking ship and jumped overboard. Others chose to stay put. At the end of the day, we shall know which rats saw things more clearly.

Perhaps it was his wobbling in the dark along a muddy path with the energy levels of a starving village dog. Perhaps it was the slipperiness on the muddy up-beaten track, which was why he had decided in his drunken stupor to take, because his constant falling on soft grass was better than on the muddy quagmire of paddles. He could only curse the heavy downpour for his downfall. For one, he couldn’t battle Mother Nature, who had generously dispensed drums of water through a sieve of the evening sunshine. You could say, of the rain, that a giant wind had taken the sea as an orange by the mouth, and sucking it, had spat in the face of the sun, who winced lightning, and then hurled it all back at the countryside as rain and bolts of thunder.

And there was no denying that he was in a manhole. It was no time to have second thoughts whether he shouldn’t have taken the shortcut path. In his cloudy puzzlement, there was no gainsaying that shortcuts were dangerous. He had fallen into a manhole. His hopes lied drowned in a drowsy sea of despair for when a man fell into a hole, the bottom was there, right there! And there he was, right in the bottom. Lady luck had been considerate, for she never let him break neither his neck nor his limb at the impact of the fall.

Here he was, trying to use his hands, struggling with energy, and zeal to get himself out of the fifteen-feet manhole, but every attempt was a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure because he had never learnt to get better of his life. He always ended a task even before he began. Besides, his one and only exercise? Lifting a beer bottle from the table to his mouth and replacing it back to the table! That’s why the secret forces of despair and guilt seem to pull him earthward, at his every attempt. And he learnt, to his cost, that that kind of struggle was only good for tough mohines, not drunkards with noisy bladders.

He cursed again Mother Nature and gave up his heart sinking with him, as they say, into his boots, at the thought that he was going to spend another night-out, this time in a manhole. Not a comfortable lair for a gentleman who after imbibing one too many, bragged to his mates, that he could drink himself silly out of his five sentences, but still find his way home, and with his eyes closed. Not a very comfortable place for a gentleman who had sworn to drink as long as there was passage in his throat. Nor for one so proud to admit that he was supporting the global cause against misuse of the scarce water resources by drinking beer.

So he made himself comfortable, creeping to the deepest and the darkest end of the manhole the now abating showers couldn’t reach. To keep himself busy, he chanted faint hymns to the cold fruitless crescent, as if pleading to the lunar goddess to petition the wrath goddess against further aggression, against an intelligent gentleman who had been forced to drink one for the road, just to spend time with his fools. Yet the gods, as always, seemed deaf to cries and drunken lobbying, especially ones coming from lips of such a supplicant, for they were polluted protestations, more detestable than spotted livers in the sacrifice.

The rain had stopped. The half moon had long disappeared. Sleep crept at his tortured eyes, coiled itself around his brain, and since it was pitch dark, he could sleep without closing his eyes; the night would have been his eyelids. He caught the sight of a disappearing shooting star-but his blurring 20-15 vision could be playing tricks on him, as he was not sure whether he had seen the meteorite or only its flight. His eyes told him the star had gone to the east. His sank heart thought it had headed for the west. His mind’s eye professed not even to have seen any shooting star.

Somewhere in the near distance, a hound bayed its displeasure at the sound of shuffling feet in the puddles—those of a fat man walking along the same muddy path, and practicing his Triple Jump antics in his bid not to soil his shoes. Somewhere in the far distance, an owl hooted sadly at him, and a huge male porcupine screeched closer to the manhole, a myriad of wings and legs scraped jagged edges to produce a chitinous shrill and never-ending songs. Frogs with swollen throats piped and thrummed to their own tune-time—lending credence to the generalization appealing to fallacy that, the silence of the country was, in truth, silence in name only.

Perhaps these perturbing noises made the fat man take the shortcut, as his drunken predecessor had done earlier on. He heard a faint cry nearby, and strained his tired eyes in the direction from which the faint cry had come, but seeing through the pitch dark was like trying to see through a blanket. Perhaps there was a truth in curiosity killing the cat, for it was his search, that led him to the manhole. And fate, being so cruel a joker, made the earth slippery and welcomed the fat man inside the hole. But spared him of any further aggressive jokes, for save for the shock, he was absolutely unscathed with his roller coaster landing.

The drunken man was terrified with the tempest that had thrown the whale, with so many tons of oil in his belly, ashore in the manhole. That’s why he was quietly watching from his caving curve at the hefty figure that had come to meet trouble when the fashion of this world was to avoid such encounters. The fat man was desperately struggling to get out. Climbing zealously but falling down at every effort. Shouldn’t one stop digging when they fell into a manhole? What a pity-he had chosen the wrong hole. The drunken man thought lazily.

Yet the fat man was not about to give up. He struggled with his Prometheus climb even though the efforts led him back to square zero. He tried and tried, repeatedly, risking the exhaustion of the little strength of a chicken left in his biceps could spare. He was one of those fighters who were not ready to throw in the towel at the whims of fate.

He held on his grasp on the steep climb trying to reassure himself that, like life, this was another endless labour. That gave him a little encouragement-the fact that he knew a little more about endless labour. The story of Sisyphus came to mind, how he was doomed to push a rock up a mountain, knowing nothing would come of this effort but that he would repeat it indefinitely. He reassured himself that there was joy in this, in a man’s struggles.

At his fifth fall, he decided to take a rest and replenish his failing strength. And reflected too why, in spite of his enthusiasm, he had been unable to reach the top of the mountain. That was his moment of clarity. And he knew he had to get to the top. He was not spending a night out in a manhole of his misery. Defeat was for losers. But then, why did the top still elude his grasp? Why was a man, like a rat, scurrying to grasp the unreachable tip of life? Perhaps he was obsessed with attainment, that he perceived the summit as that place where he would live forever. A place about to be transformed by his burden. With every breath, he looked himself standing at the top of the mountain.

A mumble distracted his meditations. He heard it again, coming from the opposite end from where he sat. And this time, it was loud and clear.

‘That’s a steep climb son, I’ve tried it too. But couldn’t reach the top, can you?’

He was terri-fired! Had he heard a voice of a ghost? He got up too quickly and his fingers and hands and strength, reviving back at the speed of horse, he was back making a hasty climb like that of a man who dreamt quickly for fear of waking up.

‘You can’t son-you haven’t the invention of a cockroach.’ The voice jeered and mocked.

It is always not easy to tell how fast a fat woman can run marathon until when a lion chases her. In the history of his life, he had never been so scared half to death—twice! This time, he had been scared for his own good and for the best, that is, because in an instant, his fright had given him motivation-and he was out of the manhole. Both his hands free. And his struggles, adding height to the mountain of his achievements. It even surprised and hurt him to find that what he was struggling to reach wasn’t high and wasn’t difficult, after all. And he laughed.

He was even tempted to get back to the manhole, on a mission the like of which he’d never undertaken before—to thank the voice for the greatest gift one voice could give another—the gift of motivation. But that would wait for the next day for he needed full recovery from the daze. The drunk man, of course, had his eyes popping up in the dark the more—than the Richman’s, when he saw Lazarus on the other side, and realized the joke fate had plunged him into.

If the rat cannot flee fast enough let him make way for the tortoise!

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