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Misam Abbas
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I
Lover And Beloved -- The Mashed Potatoes


"So," said Frank, "how has it been going?"

           Tipsy, for some reason, wasn't in a good mood and decided to not play along with the trite. "Frank, you know very well that the last time I was summoned into existence, by the writer that be, I was with you. We have both been wallowing in nothingness for some time and now suddenly we are called into existence. To ask how it has been going is absolutely and completely irrelevant."

           "Wow, looks like you haven't been drinking for some time, it's just that I couldn't find anything else to say and not saying anything seemed more impolite than mouthing triteness"

           "When did you start to care about being polite?"

           "I am sorry, it's been so long that I have forgotten what I am supposed to be like"

           "That's the problem with us, we never remember what we are supposed to be like, and I don't like it. When I emerge from nothingness, I find that I still don't have anything -- I am still nothing, and this saddens me. It makes the nothingness unbearable."

           "So, you would rather not exist than exist in nothingness."

           "Unfortunately, to not exist, is not an option given to us -- remember Nausea -- remember the meaninglessness of the mortal remains"

           "Tipsy, what do you have against nothingness, I love you, I can still look into your eyes and say that nothing else matters!"

           "Oh, Frank! In this reincarnation you have been consumed totally by the trite, or else you are pretending, for you have loved me, but that never relieved the burden of the mundane."

           "Very well then, we'll just sit and curse life again. I just wanted to talk a few pleasantries before we started being puppets but it seems the writer has a more powerful hold on you this time."

           "Frank, I love you, you know that I love you as if none else existed, as if not loving you was an option as inadmissible as not existing. You know that, but you are not satisfied with that. You want my love for you to prevent me from wanting anything else. But I want it, I want it desperately. I want to feel, I want to belong to this world, I want to feel something besides just loving you. I want an anchor in my life. If I say your love is all I have and all else in nothing, it seems that I am belittling our love. If I have only mashed potatoes in my house and I eat it, it wouldn't mean I am very fond of mashed potatoes."

           "But I know you are fond of mashed potatoes!"

           "Frank, my dear Frank, how can you be so irritating and so lovable at the same time," said Tipsy with a merry laughter.

           With Tipsy finally recalling that her role was also to spurt merry laughter into the world at periodic intervals and not merely to paraphrase Sartre, the stage was set for Frank and Tipsy to walk into the bar. So arm in arm they walked in, trying to look like and feel like any other `normal' couple. The looking wasn't too difficult and the feeling wasn't too easy.

           "Madam, Sir, what may I bring you today?"

           "A bottle of whisky, two glasses and some mashed potatoes please," said Frank.

           "Sir, mashed potatoes are good but most people would ask for French Fries and Masala peanuts in this place with their whisky"

           "When you say most, dear waiter, do you realize that most is not all, in fact the makers of the English language went to the extent of making two entirely different words for it. Look at these two words there is not a single letter common in the two. So please do honor the makers of the English language and get me those mashed potatoes"

           "Very good Sir, perhaps in some time and place I would like to discuss your obsession with the mashed potatoes. I have seen many kinds, I tell you, but I have seen none that were so touchy about mashed potatoes. Perhaps your esteemed mother met with an accident making mashed potatoes. Though I find it difficult to imagine what sort of an accident one can meet with while making mashed potatoes. And another thing which just came to my mind, if, and pardon my insolence, your esteemed mother did meet with an accident while making mashed potatoes why would you like mashed potatoes? Most people would actually start disliking mashed potatoes were such an occurrence to infringe itself on their existence. Though that can get you started on your `most is not all' speech once again but I am willing to take the risk."

           "My good waiter, no mother of mine met with any accident while making mashed potatoes, but I do know of a waiter who is going to meet with a very unfortunate accident while taking an order of mashed potatoes if he does not proceed immediately to get the mashed potatoes"

           "The point that you are trying to make, although in very oblique terms, is well taken. I will do as you say; your wait time will be approximately seventeen minutes. Thank you Sir."

           "Frank, I was wondering that myself, why are you so touchy about mashed potatoes today?"

           " Aha -- I am glad you asked it -- for I was going to explain it myself. You say that the fact that if you have mashed potatoes as the only option and you eat mashed potatoes does not imply that you are fond of mashed potatoes. My point is that it also does not imply that you are not fond of mashed potatoes. I was just trying to elucidate it by ordering mashed potatoes even when we had the option of French fries and Masala peanuts."

           "What about those that have eaten only mashed potatoes all their lives?"

           "Tipsy, my dearest, it has been my contention that there are no intrinsic values in different types of foods, and it is wrong to say that French fries are better than mashed potatoes. In fact I would go to the extent of saying it is wrong, even to say that they are different. For they serve the same purpose -- to fill up your stomach." Frank was talking with animation now. He seemed to have recalled what he was supposed to represent. "I am toward life what my friend, so and so, is toward food, place horse meat or a Masala Dosa or chowmein in front of him and he will proceed to eat the item with the same indifference that he would show the other items, but eat, he will, for that fills up his stomach."

           "So Frank, you make the choice of being indifferent toward the varieties presented before you, to the extent that you deny that varieties exist. But still you would grant that people may recognize the existence of varieties and may choose to choose one over the others."

           Thus, Frank and Tipsy rambled for a few more sentences and understood each others' position in literal terms, and yet, were further away from understanding how a different line of thought from their own was possible. The mashed potatoes, perhaps having a volition of their own, chose this moment to make their presence felt, and appeared on the table alongside the whisky.

           "No matter whether there are choices or not, no matter whether you chose mashed potatoes or not; mashed potatoes are what you are going to get," said Frank triumphantly.

           "As long as they come with whisky, I don't really mind," concluded Tipsy.


II
Mother And Son -- The Delegation


"So there, my son, you must do what I failed to do, you must find the meaning of life," said Cecelia, beginning another of her philosophical lectures that Sisyphus had come to love and to hate.

           Sisyphus knew that his mother said this in all earnestness. Though he wanted to play along with his mother's fantasies for she was old, sick and about to die, but the very earnestness in her voice and the force of his own convictions made him feel it was his duty to disabuse her.

           "Mother, you know that I am a proponent of the meaninglessness of life and the fruitlessness of all effort. And it is not merely my life that has lead me to this belief, but yours too, from what I have seen and what you have told me. I think that you also share my belief that life does not have a meaning. Why then, do you insist on giving me the assignment of finding the purpose of life? My rock is parked outside the house, and tomorrow morning, again, I will take that rock up the hill and watch it fall so that day after tomorrow I can take it up again. And it does give me great pleasure in watching it fall, for if it did not what would I do the next day? I am too old to find another rock."

           " My dear Sisyphus, listening to my young son saying that he is too old gives me great sadness. Such cynicism in one so young is not a good thing. Leave the cynicism to me, and believe me I have enough of that for both of us. You must do as I tell you to, you must find the purpose of life. Mine may not have had a purpose, mine may have been meaningless but yours must be a life which knows what it wants to fill up its days with."

           Sisyphus could not prove to his mother that life's purpose did not exist. If you look for something and you find it, you prove that it was there. But what happens when you look for something and don't find it, what do you do when the space that you are searching is infinite. You do not have a way of proving that it will not be found. The purely logical thing to do would be to continue looking -- but it appeared irrational to him. Interesting thing, this looking for the meaning life, thought Sisyphus, logical and yet irrational.

           "You are so quiet my son, you cannot find an argument to get yourself absolved from the duty that I am assigning you. I am your mother, Sisyphus, and if there were an easy way for you to deny my request I wouldn't have bothered to make the request."

           "Mother, perhaps there is no argument that I can think of to prove that such a thing as meaning of life does not exist, but I am convinced of it. Why do you want me to add this thankless task to my duties? I do not enjoy the rolling of the rock, but I have accepted it. I have made myself inert. The task that I do day after day does not bother me; I perform the actions, as an actor would act his part. I am a good actor, dear Mother, and few realize that I am merely playing a part and I like it. Why do you want to disturb this fine balance, why do you want me to expect that something can change? The only thing I expect to change is the shade of the brown the rock is, and it does change with the seasons and I rejoice at the newness that the changing shades bring me. I will live my life like this mother, please allow me to."

           Cecelia could empathize with Sisyphus. It would not be wrong to say that she felt the same and would not want to be assigned the task that Sisyphus was. But she had nonetheless, taken that task upon herself, and having been unsuccessful at it, it was her duty to delegate it.

           "Mother, you are so pensive, you are so sad. I love you, Mother, and would do anything for you. Tomorrow I would roll two rocks instead of one if that would make you happier but please don't assign me a task that is doomed to failure. I do not believe that such a thing exists and to search for it would be dual agony for me the fruitless labor -- and the disappointment of the irrevocable failure."

           Cecilia waited patiently for Sisyphus to end and then said with finality, "Son, your task is not to find the meaning of life but to search for the meaning of life, and if you fail to do so, do as I have done, and ask your offspring what I have asked you to do."

           Having thus delegated her task to Sisyphus, Cecelia died peacefully with a look on her face that came deceptively close to a smile of contentment.


II
Self and Self -- The Loner


I can converse with those around me. When I talk to a person, I have an idea about what the person is like and talk about the things that may interest the person I am talking to. I can think of topics that the person I am talking to is likely to have opinions on. When I say something and stop, I would like the other person to respond, to confirm or deny what I have said after relating it to experiences that he or she may have had.

           When I create an illusion of a conversation between two fictional characters I can juxtapose two varying opinions that I have on the same subject -- or anticipate the responses to my opinions that may contradict it.

           But if I do not have the opportunity of conversing with somebody who is likely to have opinions that relate to mine and I do not have the leisure or inclination of creating characters -- what do I do then?

           What if I am faced with the enterprise of conversing with myself? I cannot relate stories of trivial occurrences in my day and expect myself to come up with a matching trivial story to fill the emptiness.

           Even if I were to think of an occurrence during the day and then categorize similar such occurrences there would be no anticipation of the unknown. A conversation I would have with myself could begin -- I talked to a couple today who were planning to have a child. And then I would say, " Ah yes, I heard such and such couple and so and so couple were also talking about the same thing". And there the conversation would end. There would be no need to recount the details of what each couple had said for the self and the self would both know it. Such a conversation, if carried out with someone else, may still be worthless, but it would serve one function: it would fill the emptiness.

           This brings us to the question of what is better. Is empty space better, or is space that is full of worthless objects better? What is better if a third option does not exist?

           What can the individual fill up his days with if it were not for the external world? Is the individual empty without the external world? And if the individual is empty how is it that the external world fills up the emptiness. The individual is empty then more than one individual together should also be empty. So the filling up of the emptiness that one experiences when in the company of others is essentially an illusion.

           What if this illusion is as good as it gets? The loner then has the realization of the truth and boredom. Further, those who live in the company of others then have an illusion of fullness when, essentially, there lot is no better than that of the loner.

           Saying this, the loner justifies his state of life and since there is none to contradict his opinion the conversation ends there.



About the Author (click here) © 2004 Misam Abbas, all rights reserved
 appears here by permission



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