‘Have you listened to what the dead man said?’ Maga asked me.
‘Yes I have.’
‘And what have you understood?’
‘That past was a dream, future is a fantasy and present is all that ever matters.’
I looked around at the moonlit desert. The sand was silvery grey; while the night sky was the various hues of blue and almost pale blue around the full moon. The moon on the other hand, was brilliant – a bright round lantern of liquid mercury.
‘Jawdat! Listen to me son.’ My old father used to tell me, while we sat on the sand dunes, watching the long lines of caravans leaving and entering Damascus.
‘Jawdat my darling son! Everything in the universe speaks. The mountains, the deserts, the oceans and the clouds – they all speak. But in order to understand them, you have to first learn their sacred language.’
He was a strange man – my father. He was a priest once, but not anymore. He was ousted from the ranks of the holy, once he started questioning the power of gods. The other priests called him mad and I had the same opinion too. But his exit from the temple brought us two closer together. We sat together and ate together and took long walks in the golden desert surrounding the ancient city of Damascus.
It was only when I listened to what he said with attention that I realized something. He was not mad. Instead, he was blessed with a miraculous ability of seeing the invisible and looking beyond the horizon. He had seen the true light and his wise words spoke of the rationale of his beliefs.
‘What of the light father?’ I asked him.
‘What of it?’ He looked at me perplexedly.
‘Does the light speak too?’
‘Yes it does and so does the darkness.’ He nodded his head and his eyes reflected the expanse of the clear blue sky.
‘The darkness?’ I was confused. ‘Darkness is nothing – even pure darkness is the absolute absence of light.’
‘Not at all Jawdat.’ He smiled knowingly. ‘Where light is all energy, darkness carries neither matter nor energy. But still it exists. And its independence from energy ensures that darkness travels through time without any transformation. This intact nature of darkness makes it wiser than the light.
‘But what do they say? What do they tell us – the light and the darkness?’ I asked without understanding his line of reasoning.
‘The light tells us that life is a sacred triangle.’ He bent down and drew a triangle in the sand with his brass-tipped staff.
‘One corner of this triangle is survival; the second corner is love; and the third corner is desire.’ He drew the ancient symbols for each of these elements – a smaller baseless triangle within a circle for survival; a crowned heart for love; and a snake for desire.
‘And where does this triangle reside? Does it remain suspended within the confines of the soul?’ I asked him. To me soul encompassed all.
‘No my son!’ My father said, drawing a circle enclosing the sacred triangle and the three symbols. ‘The sacred triangle with its elements of survival, love and desire, exists within a real moment of time.’
‘All moments of time are real father.’ I laughed.
‘No Jawdat!’ he looked at me sternly. ‘The past is obscured in the dust of time; and the future is just a possibility. Only the present is real. So it is in the present that the sacred triangle hangs and resides. And that is something that the darkness tells us.’
Through my many journeys, experiences and interactions, I had learnt the universal language. I had come to know how to listen to what everything said, but understanding the language and the universal secrets were still important dilemmas for me.
I could listen to the sunlight and could understand the energy and chaos that it conveyed. But strangely, I found the moonlight to be mostly peacefully silent. Though, sometimes it whispered softly in unintelligible words, it was its silence that I found most comforting.
I scooped up some sand in my palm. I looked at it closely. The grains were all together, yet separate and individual. Some shone with a sparkling brilliance, while others were just grey and black speckles. I clenched my fist and the sand slipped out. I tried to hold it in but it all drained out.
‘Tell me O’ Maga, the wise one!’ I asked the old woman, watching her silver beard blowing with the night wind with fascination. ‘What is the most significant – the past, present or the future?’
‘Hmm!’ She raised both her hands and tied her hair with her many-ringed fingers. The red and greens of the rubies and emeralds flashed from within the silver threads. ‘What do you think child? What do you believe is the most significant?’
I looked at her face. She was silent and her eyes were shut but there was a subtle smile dancing at the corners of her mouth.
She was a strange one too – the old woman. Maga – that’s what she told me her name was. Sometimes I thought Maga was the embodiment of the sacred triangle for me.
I had found her….rather she had found me. My caravan was attacked by the robbers two nights out of Balkh. I was deeply wounded and was left for dead by the other survivors. How many days and nights I spent in the cold mountains, I do not know. Each sunrise brought along misery and thirst, while each night burnt me with her cold freezing fingers.
Then one evening, something cold and wet was pressed against my blackened and dry lips; and slowly a few drops of water trickled onto my thorny tongue. I opened my eyes. My head was resting on her folded thigh and her kind face was smiling at me. She had drenched her black scarf in water and was wetting my lips.
Slowly and gradually I came back to life. She had pulled me back from the clutches of death. At first I thought she was just a vision – an illusion and product of my deranged mind. But the revival of my strength assured me of the reality of her existence.
We remained together after that. It was not that Maga needed me in any way. She was old but still wild enough to carry a curved dagger within the folds of her black robe. She apparently needed neither food nor water. I had never seen her eating anything except sometimes she chewed on some dried roots and mushrooms.
Maga was my sacred triangle – in that there was no doubt. She was my survival when I needed to cling onto life. And one night she became my desire when my senses were heavy with lust and the body was craving human touch. I expected myself to be disgusted in the morning. But when the sun rose, I found my heart filled with only love for her. So yes, she had become my sacred triangle.
‘My past has made me what I am and my future is pulling me into itself. But I am breathing in the present and the future is never sure. So perhaps the present matters most of all.’ I brushed off the dust on my hands and looked up at her.
‘Yes!’ She suddenly opened up her kohl-lined eyes. I peered into them and the reflection of the bright moon looked back at me.
‘Past is only a dream and the future is a fantasy. Only the present is real – as real as it can be.’
‘But what if the present is also a dream?’ I asked.
‘That is possible too of course.’ She smiled at me. ‘But you are living this dream…aren’t you?’
‘Past is important because it started with your birth; and the future is important because it will end with your death.’ She spread her hands and the night wind blew her long robe in a trail of shadows.
‘But what is enclosed in between these two absolute realities, is a series of moments. Each of these moments becomes the future, present and then past. But it is only when the moment exists in the present that it matters, because it encompasses the entirety of your existence.’
‘Maga?’ I asked her suddenly. ‘Do the dead regret not living in the moment?’
‘That is something only the dead can tell you child!’
‘Hmm!’ I sat down on the cold sand and she rested her head on my shoulder.
I smelt the sandal wood smell of her silver hair and closed my eyes. The night was melting fast around us and the moon was diving below the horizon. Soon it became just a yellow shadow in the West.
Maga whispered in my ear and I opened my eyes.
The night had enveloped us and the desert was all black – a bottomless well. The wind had died down and the lonely stars, were sparkling silently – witnesses to countless tragedies.
I looked at her and she directed my gaze towards a few stars lining the horizon. A few of them gradually detached from the others and slowly crept nearer until they became a short trail of moving lanterns. The dead night air sighed again and brought the murmuring of the wavering wails to our ears.
There were shadows hiding behind the lanterns, which slowly became human. It was probably a funeral procession, creeping along the soft sand with deliberate steps. The wail had become a rich mixture of grief and tears, the heralds of some unspoken tragedy.
I saw the wooden box, solemn in its quiet grace, riding the shoulders of hushed mourners. Though it jerked and rolled with each step, its occupant was very much dead and lifeless.
‘Jawdat!’ Maga again whispered my name and then muttered some words under her breath.
I felt my body dissolving into the darkness. I became the night wind and caressed the wet cheeks of the tired mourners. I felt their burden of grief and then stole into the dark coffin. I became the darkness itself and crawled beneath the dead eyelids. And the dead spoke to me:
‘Touch my lips, which have kissed a hundred virgins
And caress my eyes, that have dreamt a million dreams
Feel my heart, that once throbbed with passion
And trace my veins, that once pulsated with life
But no more
Now I am a lonesome traveler, walking a dark path
My lips are black and eyes are lightless,
My heart is still and my veins are silent
I was a man once, but now am just a bundle of flesh,
beginning to rot and stink
I was alive once, but all my dreams,
are obscured by darkness
Look at my wife, beating her chest in grief
Her tears are flowing, but already beginning to dry up
Tomorrow she will live again, for death is a lonely journey
Listen to the shuffling steps that belong to my sons
They are weary with sorrow, but their hearts are filled with hope
Tomorrow they will walk afresh for death is a lonely journey
Listen my friend…….and listen very carefully
My time has come and yours will come soon
I am dead and you will die soon
Life is the glimmer of the dew drops, which evaporate once kissed by the sun
Life is the dust on the wings of a moth, which turn to ash once kissed by the flame
So live your life, live it to the full
For in the end,
it will be only you and your dark lonely journey’