"A profound unmitigated loneliness is the only truth of life"
- R.K. Narayan

I can never forget the charming Dr. Mahesh and his adorable family. The tireless doctor of my beloved native town and his devoted wife, and most of all their effervescent son who seemed to inherit every bit of his father's passion. And even more unforgettable is that fateful night, when the waters of Godavari flooded our town and erased it off the map forever.
That night my father, the town collector, had received a hotline call from the state administration. Someone, who was close to my father, had called to inform the dam had burst and that the gushing river was on its way to drown all of us. He had said we had only an hour to save ourselves. I can recall how frantically my father had woken me and my mother up and rushed into the car. How crazily he drove out of the town that he was supposed to save. And then stopping over at my sister's house to gather her family, and then madly driving out of the town.
As we passed the silent streets, me and my mother had cried, seeing many of the houses we knew, and had shuddered imagining the painful fate that awaited those good souls.
And then we had passed Dr. Mahesh's house, and I had expected dad to stop to pick them up. The doctor was held in great reverence all through our town - for his dedication in helping our town, for his sacrifice of rejecting lucrative offers in the city so he could help the forgotten people of our remote town. My father had been so proud of Dr. Mahesh. Yet he did not stop that night and kept driving. I had looked at his face and shrieked, and he had replied back in hush tones, "We don't have much time son; the flood will be here soon! And then, we don't have any more space in the car too. My family comes first for me, and I am just doing my duty towards my family.. first!"
So we had driven away, abandoning a soul that had abandoned its luxury for our sake. Just because for us, family came first.
Today, as I sit facing the whisky bottle, with my parents long dead, I ponder if it was worth saving us. My dad had sacrificed his duty towards the town in fulfilling his duty towards the family. He had chosen to save a son who could not claim a bright future, and a daughter who spent all her time fighting property battles with her in-laws. Had Dr. Mahesh been saved that night, it would have led to the saving of many more lives, through him. With his courage, commitment and knowledge, Dr. Mahesh could have been a building block of our society.

But it wasn't to be. That night vanity had won over sanity, and bonds of blood became the ark that floated high over the waters of fate, whose blind current drowned rationality and humanity.
They say family is the building block of society. But to me it seems that, actually, family blocks the building of society...
"So now that we went through the lesson, tell me, what is the real purpose of education?" asked the teacher pointing to one of the students.
The boy sheepishly stood up, "ma'am, the real purpose of education is to make each student so independent that he becomes self-thought..."
Some of the brighter students chuckled. Teacher immediately responded, "What? repeat that last words again?"
"Ma'am... self-thought"
"That's what happens when you sit in the last bench. I have stressed so much on that point. It is self-taught, not self-thought. It is pronounced as T-O-T, tot. It is not thaw, it is tau. Taught, not thought."
Boy did not want to be embarrassed in front of the girls, so he tried a retort, "But.. ma'am.. how can one teach without first thinking? So first I need to self-thought na?"
"Enough now smarty pants.. don't think too much. You can sit down now" and teacher gave him long hard stare.

"Most of the people in this country are such horrid dogmatists," he rued as he took a sip of water. "Especially the older generations. They only focus on the rituals and procedures, and call it their proud culture."
"So many of social norms are pure dogma - they never enquire the purpose behind their traditions. Festivals and functions are celebrated in such a wasteful manner; children sent to school like clockwork, and then pushed to take up the courses which everyone takes; religion is sacrosanct and its tenets just cannot be questioned. It's a blasphemy for children to ask why for their elders' diktats." and he took another gulp of water.
"How can science even think of setting foot in such a dogmatic land yaar? We, the rationalists, who use the open-minded enquiries of science are branded as anti-social and are attacked." and then a final gulp of water which made the bottle empty.
"But does science have all the answers that are needed to dispel this dogmatic veil?" enquired his friend who had been thoughtfully listening to him.
"Maybe not, but we do have all the necessary tools to get there: like the openness to pursue broadminded enquiry, the steadfastness to be persistent in the face of failure, the courage to question the obvious, the dynamism to adapt to new contexts and the pragmatic maturity to strive for relevance..." he tried to take another sip and finding the bottle empty, rose up to walk to the water filter, "can religion and tradition claim to be so dynamic and relevant? They still ordain the same old rituals which are so out of place in modern times. These dogmatic fools don't have any understanding of the issues we face today, like environmental crisis, human right violations, declining living standards, etc., and they still continue to push the same old foolish rituals. They create all these blind rules in the name of some God and then foolishly tow the line. The dogmas have killed their spirit of asking those difficult questions."
He turned on the water-filter to fill the bottle. His friend looked at the filter and jibed, "Hey isn't that the RO filter which wastes more water than it purifies? You should switch it off during these hot summer months man. So much water shortage out there.."
"Oh, and risk my health with the municipal water is it? No way my friend," he laughed.
"But the municipal water isn't so bad.." his friend smirked in response.
"Sorry! No ifs and buts when it comes to health man..." he interrupted his friend, "science has taught us how to keep good health and I shall never compromise on those principles."
"It doesn't work that way, Amar!" she gave a sharp look at her husband, "I am not your tuition teacher who will hold your hand and make you write. I am your wife. Yes! as a loving partner I will stand by you and will mutually work with you in our family and life decisions..."

She stopped for a moment to watch her son playing in the garden. As a doting mother she always made sure her son was protected and taken care.

"How many times, Amar? how many times?" she got back to staring the husband, "I understand that when things don't go your way, and there are external factors troubling you, then you need help. My father has pitched in so many times. I, myself, have stood by you and helped. I even gave away all my jewellery to help you..."

Amar's face went from crestfallen to distraught. He did not want this lecture but he put up with it as he needed her help.

"We can save you from everything, but not from yourself Amar. You are a human being, for god's sake, not some dumb animal. Humans have some bit of common sense about the consequences of their actions, don't they?" she turned to look at her son in the garden once more, "how do you expect me to help you from yourself, Amar? There is only so much someone can do. Finally, after one point, if you are stupid human being, then I think you just got to pay for it..."

She shrieked as she saw her son going towards the rose bush yet again. Just the previous week he had scratched himself with the thorns. She got up to run towards the garden.

"Look Amar! I cannot help you anymore. Once or twice is fine, but if you keep doing the same mistake again, then you have to face it. I can save you from the world, but I cannot save you from your own stupid self. I am just a human being, not a God..." she ran into the garden to save her son from the rose bush.
My wife says that she touches herself whenever she misses me.. i mean, is that okay? Isn't that somewhat perverted?

If you see it as desperation, then may be, but let's not defile the notion of touch itself. The concept of touch is a deeply human aspect, very intimately bound up with our emotional selves.

I guess so. Our skin covers us completely. It is the home we live in, the layer that separates me from the rest of the world. So when I touch someone or something, I make a brief foray beyond my boundary into the reality outside.

We are all born with the need to touch. It pervades our lives and our thinking. It unconsciously undergirds our self all the time. For instance, imagine someone has left the lights on, the fan running, and the water tap flowing. Which one would you first go to turn off?

The water tap ofcourse, because water is so precious and can't be wasted.

But isn't electricity precious too? So after the tap, which one would you switch off next? Fan or light?

The fan - maybe because it consumes more electricity.

No. Bulbs consume as much as the fan. It's all because of the importance we give to touch. When light, wind and water all three are flowing, we are more concerned with what we can touch and feel. And in that order we decide to respond.

Oh I see!

The concept of touch has infiltrated so many other aspects. Don't you see advertising slogans like 'touching lives'? Alas, why is the world so besotted with sex? Precisely because sex is such a touch-filled activity. Has there ever been a concept of remote sex or sex from a distance?

I had heard of something like that, but I guess it never picked up.

Yeah, it won't; there is no human aspect if there is no touch. Something that lacks touch is not human. That is why your partner touches herself when she misses you. She imagines you touching her that way. She has no stronger way to feel your presence. .

No wonder, many businesses today speak of having a human touch.

Yes. They had started with saying 'business with a human face', but quickly realised that face is just a mask. The reality was in the touch, not in the face or the voice, and soon started saying 'business with a human touch'.

And other similar metaphors I can think of. When someone forgets, they say he is out of touch. And when one is angry or sensitive, she is said to be touchy. When they need luck, they touchwood. 

Yeah, and doctors are said to have a healing touch. And why do you think the whole world is going gaga over touch-screen phones. No wonder everyone is so hooked up with their gadgets. They just want to keep touching...

Oh that was a good one! I guess I will have to go now. It was a nice topic to touch upon.

Okay! see you some other day then. Do keep in touch...

They called her Indus. But deep in her heart, she was always Sindu - the flow. And when they named her Indus, it was like they were playing with her letters in order to reverse her flow.
It was in the heart of her home where she was born, she found the most comfort. But, as the tradition would have it, women never stayed in their mother's home. She had to leave one day. She had to flow out, navigating the boulders of custom, meandering through the dreary sands of culture, babbling over pebbles of society and Nature, until one day she would flow into the sea of nothingness - that realm of dissolution - where all souls merged into the great undifferentiated waters.
The thought of flowing beyond the borders of her home petrified her. Who knows what lay beneath! What kind of men crouch there and what parts of their body would they dip into her. Here in her birthplace, she was still reasonably pure, but out there she did not know how they would defile her. She had heard scary stories, of rivers of blood (i.e. trains of dead) flowing back and forth.
But she felt the push to flow forth. She did not know what compelled her. They said it was tradition; she felt it was more like Natural law. Yet she did not want to go... as she found solace in the cold confines of her glacial home, far from the territorial pursuits of terrestrial animals.
Then one day, like manna from heaven, came the walls. Those thick concrete walls that divided, delineated, and deterred. The dams - which they called 'temples of modern civilization'. Built with bricks of fear, glued by the concrete of suspicion, reinforced by steel of caution, and watered by streams of lethargy, the dams stood strong, breaking the law and stopping her flow.
Far out there, beyond those dams, across the borders of her home, lay thirsty hearts, yearning, craving, pining, for her waters. Yet, Sindu, though designed to quench their thirst, chose to stay back, in the home where her cold heart lay...
He had been living in the rented room upstairs for years, and through all those years he kept observing her - the maid - coming to work at the landlord's house downstairs. He was an author and would sit by the window for hours, trying to find the right words for his story, and all he could think about was her. He would love those moments when she came to the terrace to dry the clothes. That was when he got a chance to say a 'Hi' to her. He waited for those moments.
She always carried a grumpy face, as if to say she did not like the work and yet had to do it. Over the years the grumpiness had left a permanent mark in the wrinkles of her face. Yet, for him, the grumpiness did nothing to dent the joy he derived from beholding her visage and its glum expressions.
She never smiled at him, even tried to avoid his brief conversations, yet he kept at her. He loved her body. There was something ineffably attractive about it - like a mix of menace and delicacy, or stubbornness and sensitivity, like insanity and sensibility roasting each other to bring about that perfectly tanned skin.

On days when he got aroused seeing her, he would use that flow to pen some amazing chapters in his story.
For her, it was exactly the opposite. Her body was her biggest burden. It always came in the way of her life - it was a stumbling block. During childhood she could not run around and play freely like her brothers: her mother always kept covering her with a bundle of clothes and restrictions. "You are a girl. Be careful about your body when you are outside." She could not sleep freely too. Even in the hot summers she could not sleep outside (like her brothers) as she had to be careful about her body. Later on, when she went to college, nearly every guy friend that she made seemed more interested in her body than in her. She had to drop out of college, just because her body always came in the way. Finally she had ended up doing these domestic chores. And even here, the old man would not let her work in peace and kept trying to touch her in many places. She hated her body for how it had bogged down her life.
For him, her body was an inspiration. He saw how it gave her power over the men in a male-dominated society. In fact, he thought that from the perspective of her body it was a female-body dominated society. Every thing in her life revolved around it. She never had to stay hungry - the body had the means to feed itself, and the more it fed the more it become empowered. Such a powerful influential positive feedback loop that binds society and Nature into a vicious circle. It was in its pursuit for the female body that the naked face of the male libido wore the diplomatic hat of chauvinistic finesse. Though it was primarily for her body, yet men were being nice to her, unlike how they were towards him. He was talented and creative, yet he was out of a job. He had to struggle to earn his bread, but she could just command it with one nudge of her body.

He long pondered over the miracle of her body, visualizing it like a sceptre of human dimensions. While she spent sleepless nights in her room, imagining the blank and objectified future that lay ahead of her.

For him, her body gave meaning to everything in her life. For her, the body stole meaning from everything in her life.

Then came the point where he got so besotted with her body that he began madly desiring for it; while she became so disillusioned with her body that she began detesting it. He wanted to steal her body and wear it upon his soul; while she wanted to escape from her body and bare her soul from it.

One afternoon, while drying the clothes on the terrace, she noticed the author wasn't in his room. This was her chance. She climbed up the roof, up onto the huge water tank, took a deep breath and jumped in it. In the evening, when he got back to his room, tired and famished, he went straight to bath. He turned on the shower. As the drops began to pour, he sensed a vague temptation in the water and instinctively opened his mouth and began to drink it.

The water, which carried the juices of her body, would turn to blood and integrate with his. What was her body in the morning, became his by evening.
His daily ride to work was a long one, meandering through winding city roads choc-a-block with careless parking and haphazard driving. Yet he was in good spirits today, as he pondered upon how his city living was vastly better than his father's village life.
Urban life was what civilization was about - village life was apparently relatively downtrodden.
"When my father was a boy, he had to walk many kilometres to the neighbouring village for school as well as to work," he recalled the tales his father would tell, "but my city is so full-fledged that everything is within city limits. I never venture out to another city in need of anything. City life is so empowered."
He had to brake suddenly to avoid an unexpected pot-hole. He went around it and continued...
"They used to walk through the forest barefoot. That's so risky, especially with those sharp rocks and thorny shrubs.. But city life provides us with so much protection.." he had to honk hard to force his way out. A traffic cop had stopped many riders without helmet and they had jammed the road.
He always wore a helmet. It was necessary to save those last strands of hair on his head.
As he drove, he reflected upon various improvements that city-life had bestowed upon him compared to his father's village life, like, he could listen to the radio while the village-boy only had the chirps of birds and the swish of the day breeze; he could glance upon glamorous advertisement banners and movie posters along the way, while all that the village-boy had was trees, muddy roads and cattle.
"Oh the cattle are no exception, even today. They amble upon the roads even today as if it was still a village for them.. " and he laughed at himself, "Some things never change in this country..."
And he continued driving through the smoke and cacophony, to his office at the other end of the city. A city that had grown so big by slowly (and silently) consuming all the villages around it.