Ramblings by Ali Haider Jafry

Wednesday, May 18, 2016 KELS 0 Comments Category :

I love travelling by rail, particularly at night. Maybe part of it stems from the wanderlust borne unto each one of us by the curiosity that has served to define mankind’s very existence on this rounded rock that we have greedily come to call our home. Maybe it is a consequence of the aura of tranquility tinged with chaos that pervades me every time I step foot on a railway carriage; surrounded by bustling men, women and children I have never seen before nor will hear from again, going about doing what they usually do, oblivious to the proceedings in their whereabouts. There was a time when I used to gaze upon them with a distinct condescension, wondering why the norm of social mannerisms was subjected to such complete disdain in those quarters. But I have come to accept what happens as the new norm, for it happens too commonly to be looked upon in disgust. Now, within my bubble of calm I walk through the narrow aisle until I come to my personal throne that others refer to as a window seat.

With Beethoven’s Ninth caressing my eardrums I gather what I can from my immediate surroundings as the train noisily begins its harassment of my digestive system along with part of my tailbone. I see the commoners talk, argue and sometimes fight but the commotion usually subsides as a horn signals departure and the friends and foes beg their leave. As if in answer to my constant grumbling, the roof of the railway station retreats and in its place thereafter lies Xanadu itself: a full moon beaming down upon endless fields of wheat and rice, punctuated here and there by pastures replete with dozing cattle; a couple of rivers roaring in their might as the moonlight graciously imparts them with a little of its own splendor; and the stars of course, resplendent as always, floating in an ocean of oblivion that serves only to intensify their apparent sagacity. The occasional comet or satellite is what makes the journey all the more worthwhile; well that and, as I now realize, the increasingly false sense of philosophical wisdom that has begun to take shelter in the familiar cage of narcissistic surety in my noggin. Then reality becomes a distorted illusion, paving the way for fiction to take its place. It is in these circumstances that the realest of questions come to haunt me, as they’ve done Plato and Nietzsche and Descartes before me. Unanswered though they might be, they still beg me for my unworthy opinions and I gladly oblige, having nothing better to do.
When I see children roaming about in the compartments I ask myself why we insist that man is born pure and free; innocent and above all reproach even when greed, narcissism, selfishness and vanity come so easy to us while altruism and love must be taught. Why must our whole lives be spent in trying to fight ourselves to please others, culminating in the death of our natural selves until what is left behind is only a mold trying to mimic its cast, failing miserably at times and partially succeeding at others?
As the train makes its way along the tracks, meandering through the countryside and taking the same old turns that I have come to commit to memory, I ponder upon predestination and free-will. Are we truly free to choose as we please, or is the very notion of free-will a glorified fa├žade, a reassuring one at that, because there only ever are so many choices to choose from? Why do we detest the path that is laid out for us and choose the one that caters to our idea of free will? Is it all a consequence of the vanity that has haunted man from before time began?
Speaking of which, why should vanity exist at all? I can understand the remainder of the emotional spectrum, everything save this single sentiment, for it has no true cause and it most certainly serves no purpose. Why must we take pride in who we are and in what we’ve accomplished, when we are but specks of rust going in circles around a fairly mediocre star?
When the conductor approaches me, I hold out the ticket in front of him and am reminded of the infinite manners in which numbers define our lives, and indeed ourselves. Is our perception of the world around us only a series of numbers being subliminally comprehended by the darkest corners of our brain? Are our feelings entirely the answers to a series of mathematical equations hardwired into our brains? Are beauty, ugliness, good and evil all thus objective, or a consequence of this evolutionary set-point, rendering the concept of objectivity rotten to its very core?
I ask myself whether all that is around me is real or not, because though a certain someone did say ‘I think, therefore I am’, a mere existence of the consciousness does not entirely satisfy me. Are all of our desires, feelings and ambitions a figment of our imagination, so dream-like that we never truly know we’re actually asleep? Is what we term ‘death’ only an awakening of our consciousness from this livid dream? Or is it oblivion; emptiness stretching on forever and ever, too long to be comprehended by the feeble minds that we possess?
With the Ninth still blaring in my ears, I continue to feel every bit the Plato that we have all come to think we are at one time or another. I think to myself that though the aforementioned thoughts might be harrowing to the uninitiated, I must brave through the murky waters of my mind’s deepest echelons and emerge enlightened on the other side. In my search I look up to the sky for answers and the stars in their infinite wisdom smile down upon me, divulging some of their secrets and imparting a little of their wisdom to me. They tell me that though I might not find the definitive answers to most of the questions I pose to myself, I must not worry, for I’m not the first to fail. Perhaps we should look up to them more often. We might find some of the answers in our origins; in knowing that we were born in the cataclysms that birth and kill the stars, ejecting plumes of stardust that eventually became our reality. That should at the very least give cause for our arrogance.
My temporary intellect leaves me as my journey ends and the symphony dies down, leaving me feeling grounded once again. I take a few minutes to rest at the railway station as the commoners hurriedly go about getting to their destinations. I look around and absorb, taking in everything that the eye can see, appreciating the fact that of all the planets in all the star systems in all the galaxies in the universe, mine is probably the only one that houses life so complex and advanced that I can gaze out at the universe and realize how small and insignificant I truly am. It is then that I realize that I do serve a purpose: I am the universe’s own novel way of experiencing itself; and it really does not matter whether what I sense and feel is fiction or reality, for all I can care about is that it is truly beautiful while it lasts.