A Sinking Ship / Ritwik Chaudhary

The ship seems to be sinking. It is silent in my room, and I am alone in it. The ship has stopped. There are no windows here. Some time ago I went to Silpi’s room, who told me there seems to be some problem. In his eyes he was projecting life, which exists beyond death. I saw that his room partner was sleeping, his oblivion had the smell of the sea, where each man will be if the ship sinks. He sleeps like nothing is happening, and it is the natural state. Life and death to him have no meaning. I sought his company earlier because he is a writer like me. He told me writing is his first love. I believe in art. There is no meaning in life. Art has no meaning. I feel a shudder. I am silent. I think about what I’ve left behind, people and places I used to identify with home. Since I left home, it has been carved into my memory as a scripture. It has a story, but it can only be written.

It was a day in summer when things were beginning to slip away, and the slums near the gutter by the train tracks, beneath the sky and the towers, were little worlds having a lot to speak about me as well as this story. Along the way, I thought about the need to go where I was going, in the local train. The art of writing is an act of living. ‘Was I living truly?’, I asked myself. A man sat opposite me, light face, reading a newspaper, silent and patient. Throughout the journey he kept reading and stopped only as he had to get down. He wasn’t even reading, perhaps, nor it seemed he had anything else except his reasons to do them. At first, I wondered who he was. Nothing could be said about him, except that we were both in that moment sitting opposite each other without saying a word. He wore simple clothes, was old, and seemed thoughtful, until I noticed that his sober nature, like his reading habit, was the manner in which he liked to live his life. In this, he was telling a story. I was thinking about my own story. ‘Do I tell my story as my truth?’ Suddenly, in the evening glow, I saw a house lit by the light of dusk where a man sat watching television. I got down at the station, the Sun had gone down, and the sky was dark.

I arrived at the New School of Philosophy. I stood outside the building under streetlights and the city lights. A cat looked from the grill before disappearing behind the wall between the building and the church that shone like the moon. I waited for a while outside, as two women passed me. Everything was still. Only the church broke the silence, St. Theresa Church, where, from the prayer hall where religious functions are held, such as on that night, music could be heard, a hymn that spoke of God as truth, the words unclear for the most part, but the orchestra sounded like a dream about the world where it occurred as a divine story. I went inside, deep in thought or acting to be so. People had begun entering, but I was the only one sitting. In the middle row, where I sat, there was a cupboard at the corner which had books – zen, consciousness, popular works I didn’t have an interest in. A book teaches you, has a philosophy, and is not a material possession. In this light, books must be read, and their only cultural significance lies in learning, even in heresy. There were seven rows, divided in the middle by a small space. At the back, there was an ornamental curtain made of beads. Behind the lecture space there was a city size hall, with two or three chairs by the wall where snacks and beverages were kept on a table attached to it. People were beginning to fill the hall. Everything was volunteer run, and candles and flowers were placed on the tables. There were no empty spaces, except in the other room which had only a table and a chair. Behind the teacher’s desk, there was an office. There were books here as well.

I thought “I believe in art. The work of art is a god, a creation made by man. He sees in human works a divine world where he is a traveller. He is in search of a home, but finds instead houses.” I began reading the material for the lectures that I had taken out. The teacher had arrived and the class settled down. He stood up, and said: “Our lives are meaningful. We strive, every now and then, for meaning. In this, we are philosophers. The definition of philosophy is to find something to live for. The greatest philosophers had changed their lives. Why? The question begins within. The answer, there is none. Philosophy, therefore, is like religion. It has no reasons. And I ask myself, everyday, if it truly is the truth. I was born in Israel. Once, in my childhood, I was playing in a park, and my friend took me to a hut. This lonely hut was at the edge of the park, beyond which was the forest. An old man lived there. It was a bright morning, and around the hut there were leaves. He was a friendly old man who told me that he went to the forest everyday to bring wood. Then, he went to the city to sell it. He also collected tortoises. He lived alone, nobody came there, except many years ago, a man came who went into the forest. He was a traveller, and said he was going to Jerusalem. The old man took him beyond the forest, gave him water and food, and he continued on his way beyond the mountains. The image stayed with me. I went to Jerusalem years later, and then later came to India.”

He continued: “Who am I? That cannot be answered. In this light, we are guided by an inner reality, beyond comprehension, a world where the sky, the moon, crows, walls, trees, everything we recognize in the outside world as true, appears to the self as fiction, a sort of dream. It slips away, and one must hold on to it. Philosophy is a futile task, wasting life on what does not exist. The question, then, is: What is the truth? I ask myself this question, every day. Whenever I see the stars burning deep in the night sky, and the sea waves drowning the silence, I lose my faith and come closer to myself. Perhaps, this is the search of philosophy. “

I sat thinking, with a question. The chairs were empty, some students had left, others were still there. A woman came and sat next to me. She asked me what I was thinking about. I told her that I had a question. She sat for a while, and after a few moments got up and left. I left after a while as well.

On my way back, as the train came to a halt, I saw slums once again. In the shade of night, they were awake. Wires carried on above the houses, which were half lit. A woman said something to a man who did not reply, busy watching television. The train started moving again, and the slums continued for a while along the tracks then disappeared.

The ship, too, has started moving again.

Ritwik Chaudhary is a writer and actor. His writing can be found in Indian Ruminations, RIC Journal, Kitaab, Zeno Magazine, Countercurrents, and the anthology ‘A Map called Home’ published by Kitaab. 

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