The Best Of Days
They were the best of days. A rather sequestered workplace duly appointed with a chalk board and a big bag of sugar, tea around noon, with engrossing, even profound problems presenting themselves every afternoon… this was his work. There seemed to be some inspiration in every possible solution to the problems that presented themselves every day, and there was a sense of freedom, like he was breathing in fresh air the whole time. The days stretched long, and into the evening, but there was always something to think about on the way back from work. It was a scenic walk, trees full of birds nesting and chirping their little throats off, even as the occasional falling leaf or twig, as his friend and colleague claimed, added to the chaotic sound scape. There was no silence in his world, and yet, there was this quietude. There were no challenges like the ones his friends faced, there were no million dollar projects to run, there were no safety drills to organize, there were no bombs to defuse, nor triathlons to prepare for. There was just the next day, the next problem, the next incredible revelation. Nothing seemed to be able to stop these ideas, and when they came, they came in a flurry. There was a revelation, and a possibility because of this, and another revelation, and a simplification that somehow presented itself. He was treading the landscape of discovery, it seemed, and there was little he could do at times to make it seem anything less than exciting. When the ideas didn’t flow, there was nostalgia. There were the forests he visited, memories of his mother, there were memories of the deer he spotted running across the street near his house, or the parakeets that flew in some chaotic synchrony, in their small groups.
The chalk boards never seemed free from stains of white. Clockwork mornings, but usually, plenty of lazing on his sun-bathed bed. He pondered the previous evening’s walk. The street was the same as always, but there was something new to feel yesterday, the ideas seemed to have a different texture to them. In the synchrony of his steps he traced patterns and in the chirping of the birds, he found a random landscape. The huge tree trunks seemed smaller and ordinary at times, and at times, huge. The puffy cumulus clouds of the late afternoon seemed to distill the sunlight that hit the trees, as birds circled overhead, riding on currents of rising air. He remembered the last few things he wrote on the chalkboard, as if to somehow relate these things inordinately to the birds. There was something that one bird did that seemed to espouse this idea, there was some underlying pattern to it all. Then, as his thoughts drowned because the ring of a bicycle bell rudely interrupted, he was distracted by a young girl who made her way on the bicycle slowly. He stopped and observed the bird, as if it revealed something. The bird was tailing another, and seemed to speak a language. Never too far, it said, and not too close either. And let us explore, it seemed to say, let us fly randomly. Solutions normally presented themselves frankly, but somehow, this was different. This was real life, and there were two birds… were they mates, or were they courting one another? Would they behave differently were they not, and how? Were they of the same nest, trying to find their way around their habitat, a vast translucent expanse? Whatever it was, he was sure that the rules wouldn’t be the same for a different set of birds. Schools of fish and crowds of people he had seen on the one visit to the city, at the train station. Cattle. “Packed like sardines”, the expression went, and yet, how ironic that the sardines would probably have looked a splendid shoal underwater. To lie, pickled, waiting to be consumed, and yet, to be useful. Yes, to be useful, he thought, was this impulse, in nature, and not to compete – not always, anyway. In nature, animals seemed to need one another, as food, or friends, or mates. Was there a pattern to all this? Were the rules – not too near and yet not too far – still applicable, when a predator entered the scene? How was it outside of the atmosphere, and did things in the cosmos behave similarly – conservatively, as if to need and want other things? Did the life we think we were witnessing uniquely here on this planet exist elsewhere, and were the rules of life, complex, intelligent life, any more or any less conservative? Questions upon questions and more questions… and possibilities upon possibilities. Not a word written, but hundreds of thoughts perused, like he was some navigator of the mind’s network of ideas. Was he to solve theorems alone or wrack his brains on the next big problem or saunter through his mathematical ideas on that much abused chalkboard, or was he to observe these patterns in nature every evening? What was the world of the abstract that the world of the real wasn’t? Were there rules in the world of the abstract that were somehow constrained by the world of the real? Were we limited by our senses, as the anthropic principle probably didn’t suggest, that we could discover the universe in a specific way? Were we limited by our imaginations to a point that, like the birds chasing one another, we didn’t dare venture too close to the truth, and yet made progress enough to stay close enough? The questions remained every single day.
Another day, another muse caught him, a different one. The rows of trees he spotted on the way back from work – there were twenty. The trees flowered in the spring and the street was beautifully lined with pink-white gonads, as it were. And it seemed amusing to him once that the girls wore flowers in their hair. One of his girlfriends had heard him say, “You look stunning enough today, that I can forgive you wearing another creature’s private parts”. He had almost not recovered from that, saying it as he was seventeen, despite being a rather handsome lad. He was not always this curious about the world indeed, there were busier days. School seemed a breeze, full of poetry and essays and grammar. There was not much mathematics then, at least not the sort he had learnt to do later. He had pondered some big questions, but the world seemed full of the moral and amoral and the rich and the poor. Full of constrasts and principles and success and failure weighed by these principles. He was inspired by nature, but he wasn’t convinced it was for him. The impetus came from this need for a quiet life he developed later.
He then remembered every minute of that panic in abject horror, and it never left him, because, in a sense, he visits it every day. This loud, overbearing bang that first pierced the air, and the many gunshots fired thereafter. A terrorist was once on the same train he was travelling on, and had opened fire not far from his right ear. That deafening sound of an automatic rifle and the bloody visages of three people in his vicinity were probably the last things he had seen and heard before he went unconscious. He had been picked up by an emergency team after the incident with a bullet wound in his head. He recollected that days later, when he regained consciousness, he was told that he was lucky to have survived it. Who wasn’t indeed, except those three unfortunate people? He was nineteen, and wide-eyed and curious, and now, a victim and shaken. Signs of his victim -hood lasted. He had lost hearing in one ear, and had no hope for full eyesight, being blind in one eye, very nearly. He had been rendered clumsy, yes. He saw those rows of trees like anyone else had, but without depth: he imagined the depth. He drank his cups of tea but spilled or dropped the occasional cup. He couldn’t drive or cook. He greeted people because he recollected knowing them vaguely, only to realise they were his colleagues. Yes, he wasn’t his old self, not after the incident – but that was a decade ago, and his habits had built up into their consistent inadequacies and their droll idiosyncrasies over ten whole years. And this too was fine. Life, after all, was better here. Whatever else the bullet did to him, it didn’t take away his power to think and to imagine. He thought to himself that he may not see as well as others but that he could imagine better.
The violence of a decade ago had left him feeling weird and shocked initially, but probably never built this need for redemption into his otherwise staid, placid mind. He was just in the wrong place, he kept telling himself. His wife said the same thing every time he thought about it, and said no more. It was a self-evident truth, now, that he had been unlucky that once. But that wasn’t his only misfortune. It was probably the least potent of his misfortunes, because he had lost his mother when younger. It was the saddest day of his life, not the day his mother died, but three days later, when he discovered from his elder cousin, and not his father, that she would never come back. She had a lymphoma and he had believed then that like the colds and aches and pains that visited her every year, this illness too will go, but it didn’t. One day, his mother died, and three days later, he had mourned and felt sadder and more lost than any day in his whole life before. More than anything, he couldn’t believe that his mother wouldn’t somehow just come back.
Pausing to collect his thoughts, even as he lay in bed, he asked himself how other people see his world. Would they find in it the same curious behaviour that somehow seemed worth examining? Where would someone else’s satisfaction come from? What would they deem important at the deepest, most genuine core of their minds? What were the best of their days? Were they also like the ones he experienced presently, trampling over beautiful flowers and pondering big questions abstract and real alike, or would they find their best days in the haze of conversations and books and wine? Would others need companionship to trigger the curiosity that he inherently felt, that his wife sensed him to be full of when he returned everyday? How would the rich, with no avenues to think idly about the world as he did, spend their busy days? He had seen the professor keeping busy in meetings, and preparing reports and sundry papers and it hadn’t interested him as much as the thrill of discovery or solving a problem had. What was he to them, a worker bee whose results they lived because of, while he lived by the results themselves? The thought didn’t fill him with remorse of any kind despite that it seemed egotistical – for what would they gain from the pennies that he gained from the thrill? His little world seemed so full, so rich and deep with pleasure.
Waking and pondering as he always did, these thoughts sent him down familiar territory. He knew all the demons here, but new pleasures kept coming. Now all of thirty, he was developing his first real grey hairs, a bulging tummy and a faulty gait. He was pondering big abstract problems on his chalkboard, and big real problems in the field of view that every evening’s walk back from work afforded him, when consistently bright blue skies, the sneaking evening sun and the myriad species of birds regaled him. There was some praise to be heaped on this strange idleness, after all. Despite his suffering, which he allowed, was neither the greatest, nor the mildest, he had found some paradise in the sedate progression of his every day and creativity in himself as everything around him stood nearly still. He was a child treading the field of possibilities, and as all children do, all he seemed content with, was the next really interesting thing.