He was rolling a stone up a hill. He was Sisyphus, a character in Greek mythology. Sisyphus was condemned by the gods to continuously roll a stone up a hill from whence the stone would fall -- futile and hopeless labour. Yes, he was Sisyphus -- rolling a stone, faster and faster, perspiring, tired. . . rolling a stone.
The alarm went off. He woke with beads of perspiration on his forehead. He got up immediately. He was determined to attend the classes. Then suddenly, a flash of his dream. He lay on his bed again and lit a cigarette. Fuck the classes.
For the past eighteen years: classes and classes; rolling and rolling. His thoughts went back to pre-primary classes -- he didn't remember much about them. His classmates -- Arun, Alka and Shalini. . . Shalini, She appeared very beautiful to him then -- where was she now? Her existence had touched his and then a blank. Why? What was the purpose of it all? What was the purpose of life? What was life?
He had changed schools in class one and then never seen any of his friends again except -- Manu, Manu Dixit. Manu had come to his school in class eight -- Manu, a friend from kindergarten had become an acquaintance of class eight.
Class eight: what did he remember of it? The subjects, Geography for instance -- what did he remember of it? Did he remember the factors affecting the produce of jute in south-western Bihar, which he had probably mugged for his trimester? What was the purpose?
He lit another cigarette.
"I'm bunking all classes today, how will it affect my life ten years from now?"
Ten. . .ten. . . class ten.
In class ten I went to a coaching -- for Geography -- Ha-Ha, how ludicrous it seems now, he thought. But the summer of '92.
"Those were the best days of my life."
Yeah, maybe -- not that it made a difference. He spent a lot of time with his friend Shiva, the best friend that he ever had, that summer. From the coaching they would go to the British Library. Then on the steps in front of the library , armed with Arthur C. Clarke's Profiles of the Future in their hands they had tried to write a science fiction story. What was it called? They hadn't given it a name. What's in a name? "A rose by any other name, Would smell as sweet"
He laughed aloud. You couldn't take only Geography at the coaching -- so, he had taken English also. He was taught "Julius Caesar" by Mr. Larkins. Mr. Larkins often wrote some quotation from the text on the board and the class was supposed to point out the context. Kaushiki always got it wrong. Kaushiki, why did he suddenly think of her? Does she even know of his existence now. Certainly during and after the classes they had talked a lot. Her existence had touched his and then. . . Shiva did not approve.
"Pitega, bahut pitega," Shiva had said.
"Why?" he had retaliated, "I am only talking to her. Not raping her."
Where is Kaushiki now? Meaningless, it was all meaningless.
"For want of anything better, it is the cigarette that I kiss! A little alcohol too, what else is bliss?" Suddenly he composed this silly rhyme. I am really a poet, he mused.
With Shiva he planned his future -- they would appear for SAT, go to the US, to MIT. and become theoretical physicists. They had read A Brief History Of Time a few days before. Their discussions sometimes turned philosophical. What would happen after death? They had struck a deal, whoever among them will die first will come to meet the other. They had even decided on the venue -- the dead man would be sitting on a chair reading The Times.
Shiva did not keep his promise. He died in October, '92, and never came back. He was born, he was a brilliant student, dreamt about winning the Nobel prize and died. Why? No reason at all. Pure randomness.
Another brilliant classmate died in class eleven, committed suicide, some had said. The leading theory was that Chandra killed himself because he didn't do as well as he wanted in class ten boards -- he was placed seventh in class.
I was placed in top six, he recalled, and that he had observed to Shiva that he felt guilty. No something was wrong. Shiva had died before Chandra, yet, he distinctly remembered. Both Chandra and Shiva were very good arm wrestlers -- probably they are arm wrestling in heaven now. That then is the purpose of life -- to arm wrestle in heaven!
He studied hard for class twelve boards, he missed topping the college by a mark. His father was more sad at his misfortune. He had studied hard because he knew no other way.
"But now I do," he mused as the butt of his cigarette caught fire.
He was admitted to a good college and once again the classes began. As a fresher he was the most enthusiastic of all. He tried everything: sports, cricket, badminton, and then drama, debating, mimicry, singing and so on. His acads were badly screwed.
In his second year he gave up everything to take up cigarettes and alcohol. His acads were screwed even worse and he didn't give a damn. In a drunken state he often stood on the balcony, gazing into nothingness. To anyone who questioned him he said, "What is life, if full of care, We have no time to stand and stare."
This is a very nice poem, he thought, especially these two lines.
"No time to wait till her mouth can enrich the smile which her eyes began."
But, in his life there was no romance. There couldn't be. He had blocked everything because everything was meaningless.
He started going to prostitutes, first he was afraid but now it came as second nature to him. After his first sexual intercourse with a pro, love lost all meaning to him.
He recalled that he had written something after he lost his virginity. He took out that piece of paper and read aloud.
"Fuck fuck fuck; Love love love. Love fucking; Fuck loving. What else is life? What is life?"
"Life is a game, play it," came the answer from outside his room. He started but then he realised that it wasn't meant for him. Someone was reading:
The steps of the reader of the above lines receded and the voice grew fainter and fainter 'till all that he could make out was:
"Life is. . . Life is. . . Life is. . . ."
He got up suddenly, that was it. Life is. How come he never thought of it? Nothing need to be added to it.
"Ah! sweet nothingness of life," he said with satisfaction.
He put his last cigarette to his lips and lit it, it flared up. He had lit the wrong end.
"Oh! Fuck!" he said to himself and threw the cigarette away, the tobacco all
© 1999 Misam Abbas, all rights reserved
appears here by permission