Of late I’ve been experiencing a strange mental turmoil.
Days and nights have been passing in a timeless, rather pleasant blur—nothing unusual about that, as the passing of days and nights in a blur has pretty much been part of my philosophy and lifestyle since 1963, when my Class 2 teacher recognized and highlighted it with a vitriolic comment or three. But in the past few months, the blur has been interspersed with short but incredibly vivid interludes of fantasy that are as engrossing and disturbing as they are impossible to wipe off the cerebral slate.
Last night, I actually experienced intense déjà vu within dream. The weird thing is (or was), in my dream I was not myself—meaning, I was not this dusty old bandicoot who even now sits in a dusty corner of East Delhi on a sultry mid-August night writing this crap. Instead, in my dream I was a dusty old historian from South Delhi in body, mind and soul, a part-time heritage walk mentor specializing in ancient Sultanate and Mughal monuments. I was walking through the Mehrauli Archaeological Park area on a grey, misty, bitterly cold January day with a small group of men, women, children, and a few other creatures including a squirrel wearing bifocals and the crafty look of an avaricious advocate. The walk was going quite well in my dream, though I was mildly irritated by the squirrel which kept asking me searching and intelligent questions about squinches, domes, arches and other such architectural things that I knew very little about, and that chuckled and chittered loudly and derisively whenever I fumbled for answers.
All at once, without warning, the swirling mist intensified into a white-out fog. Alarmed, I froze in mid-step and called to the others to stop …even in dream I remember noting how flat and muffled my voice sounded. And then, like the clouds of moisture-laden air that wander amidst the deep gorges of Sohra and Pynursla, the dense fog magically thinned into great billowing columns that parted like pearly curtains and evaporated into blue nothingness, and I found myself bathed in brilliant sunshine, and that’s when I realized two things:
One: I was no longer with my group in Mehrauli but standing alone, utterly alone on a vast, treeless sweeping slope strewn with scree, surrounded by incredibly tall snow-streaked mountains;
Two: I knew for sure I had never stood on that slope or ever seen those mountains in my life, yet I knew I had been there before, experienced that experience before…just as I knew exactly and fully what I would think and see and hear and smell and taste and feel at the very next moment and at every moment from then onward, for ever and ever…
…And that’s when, even as I clutched on to that timeless déjà vu, it slipped away and vanished with the growing awareness that I must be in the coils of dream, because there was no way in which I, a heritage walk mentor, could have transported myself from Mehrauli in south Delhi to what appeared to be a steep mountain-side amidst the high Himalayas…leave alone experience déjà vu in that desolate place. And with that awareness that I was dreaming came a tidal wave of terror that I might awaken to find myself not the historian/heritage walk mentor that I actually was, but as someone else…perhaps even as a decrepit old writer lying in bed in east Delhi. And at that thought a great abyss of dread opened up deep within my mind as the tidal wave tossed and turned me hither and thither and eventually flung me, battered and bruised, on to the shores of consciousness where I lay trembling, awake at last.
How could I possibly have dreamed such a dream, in which I was not only someone else but had actually experienced déjà vu as that someone else?
I have no answers; only questions, that sound so demented I am almost too scared to voice them.
Yet I must.
Have the global clouds of angst and anxiety, spawned by Covid-19, finally overcome my cerebral defences? Do they now wait, like monsoon clouds in their brooding and silent enormity, to pour forth their giga-tonnes of fluid insanity and wash away what remains of my cognition in a raging neural flood?
Have I waded for too long in the limpid pool of Mann Ki Baat, to now be flushed away and drowned in the foaming toilet of Monsoon ki Bath?
Have I finally achieved the position grimly foretold for me by my class 2 teacher, and become quietly yet indubitably insane?
In the sacred name of Bakasura the Ravenous, will I ever be able to escape from this realm of Guiche into which I have wandered wonderingly and now wonder wanderingly?
These and other troubled musings kept me tossing and turning till dawn; whereupon, after a few cups of healing tannin and caffeine solutions, I went up to the terrace and put a load of clothes to wash. Watching the sheets and pillow cases tossing and turning in the washing machine just as I had tossed and turned half the night, I began to feel better. Slowly but surely, that familiar old timeless and rather pleasant blur of being returned to soothe my frayed neurons, dendrons and rhododendrons. The washing machine hummed contentedly; the birds chirped happily as they hunted bugs in the foliage; a squirrel streaked across the tiles, sat on its haunches a few feet away, chirruped a series of questions and stared at me through shrewd eyes, waiting for a response. I stared back at it, wondering why its accent seemed so familiar…but the moment passed, as did the squirrel.
My questions may have no answers; I realize that now, as I write these words.
Indeed, my answers may have no questions.
Yet I find some blurry comfort in the immortal lyrics of that great and little-known Tamil bard of yore, Konal Kuttilingam (c. 644–596 BCE) whose octrain ‘Ode to Calavai-Pen‘ was translated and soulfully rendered by Irish blues singer Anne O’Nimus at the New Orleans Jazz Festival, 1963 shortly before her tragic demise due to an accidental overdose of pandemonium nitrate.
Wash’d like a garment might thou feel, O beloved, in this Kaveri of Life
Beaten and scrubb’d by Great Calavai-Pen* on Her adamant stone
Yet despair not! Only by this Bath of Anguish, this Path of Strife
May’st thou for many Muttal-Thanams@ of the Past atone…
Be joyful, then, as She cleanses thee, wrings thee
Spreads thee to dry: do not moan and groan
Behold! the Vapours of Illusion leave thee, pure and free
To ask: “Dog without bone, or bone without dog…who is more alone?“
[(Tamil) *Calavai-Pen = washerwoman; @Muttal-Thanam = idiocies; boo-boos. Translation by the late lamented & lamentable Periachandu Dorai II of Mayiladuthurai (1946 – 1997)]