‘Do you know what’s the problem with what you write?’ my filmmaker friend asked me.
Naqi and I are old friends. He knows me well. I write and sometimes he is kind enough to animate my words.
‘Please enlighten me.’
‘The world needs to be a happier place.’ His voice resonated of exasperation.
‘The world needs to hear happy words. People need to forget the dark side. They need a light at the end of their personal tunnels. But you my friend write only of heartbreak and sadness.’
‘Yeah! I guess you are right.’ I nodded. ‘But this is what I am. I can write of happiness and joy and laughter. But I don’t want to.’
Yeah you guessed right. I am a writer. And yes, as my well-meaning friend mentioned, I write of sadness and tragedies. In fact, I write when sadness resonates inside me and my eyes are filled with tears. Each tear gives birth to a word. Sometimes the stories are about my own life. But mostly these are just figments of my imagination.
Writing enables me to wear the skin of my characters. I live the life they live and I breathe the air they breathe. Their sorrows vibrate in my soul and their tears cloud my eyes.
I see the smiling face of an old and poor woman. I am not fascinated by her smile. Instead, I walk along the deep lines creasing her skin. I peer into the cloudy pools of her eyes. I feel the roughness of her hands. I taste the bitterness of her broken heart and I feel the tiredness of her exhausted soul.
I see a child playing in the park. I am not charmed by his excitement and joy. Instead, I see the burdensome life ahead of him. I feel the stinging of thorns lining the path to adulthood. I watch the grey clouds of worry circling his head. I hear the thunder of disappointments, still distant and far away and I fear for his sanity.
I see a couple romancing in the rain. I notice the magic of love but I choose to ignore it. Instead, I see the fading colours of passion. I taste the sourness that comes with possession. I sense the growing distance between the souls and I hear the tinkling of breaking hearts.
‘Well I guess Naqi was right. Maybe the world does need to be happy. Maybe it does want to live in the light and deny the existence of darkness.’ I walked into the tired evening, the dipping sun painting my lawn, a pale-yellow shade of gold.
I looked around. Autumn was gently receding; making way for the blissful winters. I heard the crunch of dry brown leaves under my feet. And I felt the rustling of dry breeze amongst the leafless branches of the old Peepal trees.
‘Hello! Who goes there?’ An old, raspy and deep voice whispered out of the rose bushes.
‘Who is there?’ I was surprised as the bushes were too small to hide anybody.
‘My my! If it isn’t my old friend? How have you been son?’ the voice was warm this time.
I peered closely and there he was – my childhood friend, the old turtle.
For those of you not familiar with him, I had been friends with this ancient turtle since I was very young, probably four or five. He lived in our backyard. He was my mentor and my intimate friend.
‘Hey! You are still alive?’ I was amazed. I never knew turtles could live this long. He was at least two hundred years old when I last met him. And I was just a four year old kid back then.
‘Yes, still alive and apparently in quite a good shape.’ He winked at me and gave me a warm smile:
‘What about you son? How have you been?’
‘I am fine. Just a little grownup I guess.’
‘Well it doesn’t matter as long as you keep on believing in talking turtles. Eh?’ He cocked his gnarled head and inspected me in detail: ‘Fine you say? You don’t look so good.’
‘Just a bit sad I guess.’ I smiled at him.
‘Oh! That you will always be – a bit sad.’ The turtle chuckled softly:
‘You were sad when you were a child. You are sad now and you will always be sad.’
‘Why do you say that?’ He always had a knack of saying the most shocking of things.
‘Please scratch my back a little. I have an itch that doesn’t go away.’ I just laughed, bent down and started scratching his mottled grey-green back.
‘Are you hungry? Can I bring you something? A carrot perhaps?’
‘Nope. I have had my fill. The brown leaves tasted just fine this afternoon.’ He burped a little to confirm the fullness of his stomach.
Some time passed without him or me saying anything. I just kept on scratching his back, while he closed his eyes in contentment. I looked at him closely. There was no change. He looked the same and smelt the same – the pleasant smell of dried up moss and ancient magic.
‘Why did you say that about me?’ I asked him when he reopened his eyes.
‘Why did I say what?’ He yawned a little:
‘That you have been and will always be sad?’
‘Hmmm! You see son, when God created the souls, He first created a big shimmering blob of conscience.’ He shifted a little to catch the last rays of the dying sun.
‘Then He took that blob into His old wise hands and molded souls out of it. He sat back and took pleasure in what He had created. But something was wrong somewhere. God could feel it.’
‘Did He make a mistake?’ I asked the turtle unbelievingly.
‘No. Not a mistake. Once you can guess something is missing from your work, it is not a mistake. It just means you want your work to be perfect. And God is the ultimate perfectionist.’ The turtle nodded his wise head:
‘And why have you stopped scratching?’
‘I apologize. I was lost in your words.’ I started scratching his mottled back again with a sheepish smile.
The sky had turned orange. There were a few stray clouds with purple edges. It was a beautiful evening – full of marvelous colors and old magic. The birds flew over my head – flying back to their hungry children and little warm nests. They looked down on us with amazement – a grownup man and an ancient turtle – but had no time to stop and exchange gossip.
‘So what was I saying?’ I was brought back by the turtle’s deep voice.
‘You were saying that God thought something was missing in the souls He had created.’
‘Yes…..something was missing.’ The turtle relaxed his body in pleasure. Apparently my scratching was doing wonders to his itch.
‘And God knew what was missing. He picked up a handful of souls and kissed them softly. With that kiss, His creation was complete.’
‘Why……? Why did that last kiss matter?’ I looked at the turtle in confusion.
‘You see son, God being the creator of all, knew very well that life would bring sadness to the souls. In fact, life brings more sadness than joy. He wanted some souls to understand the essence of sadness. This handful of souls, God made them the Prophets of Sadness’.
‘So the last kiss was the kiss of understanding?’ I was beginning to grasp what the old turtle meant.
‘Yes! The last kiss brought understanding and also a special power – the power to absorb sorrow and the power that could heal.’ The turtle looked up at me and smiled.
‘Happiness is a drug which keeps you human beings sedated and oblivious. Joys make you unmindful of the sufferings around you. But the pain and suffering live on, feeding on your blissful oblivion. There must be a few souls capable of rejecting the drug of happiness. These few souls are the Prophets of Sadness.’
‘So that is why some people come to me and confess their fears and share their sadness?’ I asked the turtle, while thinking of so many of my strange encounters.
I thought of the middle aged friend of mine who held my hand and wept over a wasted life.
And I thought of the old man who whispered of his fear of death in my ears.
I thought of a friend sharing his desperation for a love he was never going to find.
And I thought of the woman who told me she was afraid nobody was going to ever love her.
I thought of the little girl who was sad because nobody liked to be her friend at school.
And I thought of the little boy who was bitter about the bullies making fun of his short height.
I thought of all those familiar and vague faces and I relived their pains, sorrows and fears within a mere moment.
‘I listened to them. I felt their stinging pains. I shared the burden of their sorrows. And I felt threatened by their fears. But I never healed them.’ I looked at the turtle through the misty curtain of my disappointed tears.
‘No my son. This is where you are wrong.’ The turtle patted my hand affectionately.
‘A tree never talks to the people resting under its shade. But still, it provides them with something they need. The tree provides them a place to shed off their tiredness and a place to rest awhile’.
‘I would like to think I am a shady tree. But I am really not that. I am not even a bush.’ I knew myself better than the old turtle.
‘No? Not yet? Ok, no issues.’ He was still smiling.
‘Remember son, ego is the poison that stunts the growth of shady trees. Ego climbs up the tree trunk and wraps itself around the delicate branches. It sucks the life force and keeps on sucking it until the tree dies. You get rid of your ego and you will reach your true destiny. You will become the Prophet of Sadness.’