11 October 2013

Nudity is not a bad thing

[Written more than two years ago but still 'fresh' I feel]

Years ago, when my friend Mahendra De Silva was working at Telecom, he would now and then man the help-desk over the graveyard shift. This was in the early days of the Internet. One day a man had called, clearly distraught. He had misdirected an email. He was wondering if Mahendra (or anyone else) could stop the email from going to the unintended recipient.

The answer to the query had been a polite ‘no’. Since SLT was the service provider, the man had asked if there was an Internet equivalent of a mail sorting centre or even a postbox from which such a missive could be retrieved. Mahendra said he didn’t know how to alleviate the caller’s distress. We found it amusing. We saw also the tragedy and the pathos.

I had forgotten this story. It came to me last night by accident. I was searching the internet for something I had written more than four years ago and came across something else I had written.

This was when I was working at The Nation newspaper. I used to write 10-15 questions for the features section. This was a set I had not saved and could not remember having written.

‘When the violinist painted the landscape before him in melody, did the trees bend low in gratitude or exhaustion?’ I had asked. I had also contemplated trees and rivers. Here’s the relevant set:
‘What else can the river say to the tree but ‘passing through’? And the tree, can it say anything else but, ‘I can see that’? And when tree and river become dust and sand do their respective footprints indicate a better, more enduring embrace?’

Sandwiched between tree-river conversation and music-tree commerce was the following: ‘What do telephones talk about when they gather after the day’s conversation is done?’

There was a time I took the notion that ‘walls have ears’ literally. I couldn’t understand the line. I’ve wondered, since, whether things inanimate have lives of their own. Another question in that set spoke to this notion: Isn’t it true that when we move our eyes over a page the words look back with equal scrutiny? It is possible that the ‘telephone-question’ was a logical extrapolation, for we read wordless things and as such the ‘un-worded’ (such as wall, desk, ballot-box, love letter, heart-stop moment, held-back tear, stifled laugh and so on) do have things to say.

It is interesting to mix things up or at least to imagine that things mix themselves up on the sly, when no one’s looking. Imagine computers and email accounts secretly exchanging passwords. I know there’s a thing called hacking and that email accounts are peeped into deliberately. I am not talking about human-hand explorations, though.

What if walls actually had ears, if inboxes could exchange knowing glances with one another or if mobile phones occasionally forwarded ‘sent-messages’ to random phone numbers? It would persuade us to exercise a greater degree of circumspection, I think. In the very least, it would make one examine the gap between self and projected-self and ask ‘who am I fooling here?’

It could be pretty disconcerting, really. Like getting around without any clothes. Or being under constant surveillance. I remember spending a couple of months in the psychiatric ward of the General Hospital, attending to a friend who was suffering from depression. At one point he removed all his clothes and said ‘now I have nothing to hide’. Undressing the tasteful wraps of the mind is far more difficult of course. In the end, however, we have to confront the mirror that is our conscience. It is an inconvenient thing for it is designed to summarily undress. It would be far easier, in a sense, to be naked. The problem is that it would be easy only if everyone else is ready to be thus undressed or remain naked.

It boils down to individual choice. We can mimic the rest and fool ourselves. We can make conscience mirrors go to sleep. Telephones, if they can talk, would then have to go silent and walls, out of seeing the same nudity fresh as the beginning of time would shut their eyes. Pages would not have much to say. People would gasp of course, but I’ve heard that there’s nothing like sleeping naked. Mahendra would say that such a person would never have occasion to call SLT in the middle of the night and beg for something, anything, to cover his/her nudity with.



Anonymous said...

Just to understand - this river DOES flow quite close to the said tree, and not look the other way and say 'I don't know you' when the tree bends low to touch water, right? Then yes.

Couldn't help thinking of this song and think you will like it.

Either way, beautiful, as always.