do not be misled by the title through which i crown this elegy. by estranged i do not imply that it was you who actively went away from the circle of my consciousness, it is possible that i may have pushed you myself towards those outer regions of existence where undestined things merge with other fates. what i intend to do is to look for that exact moment in mortal time when the estrangement began. the later events are just fallen leaves, in which the decay had already germinated. i believe the moment of birth is given undue importance and the moment of conception does not get its share of limelight: the first stir of your microbial cell, the moment you became something from nothing.
many a evenings we spent looking at the breaking waves after hours of tiring study. amidst prosaic discussions about the intricacies of economic theories, you would utter half-lines from Yeats’ poems. you would startle me by stating meaninglessness of your own ambitions. ‘let’s say by my efforts and hard work i am able to save new-borns from not dying prematurely, so what? what difference am i making? that baby will grow up to be another normal person, where is the miracle?’, you would say neither dejected nor morose but as a matter of fact like an angel might ask a god when he plans to make a man. then you would also cry when you had to see ten still-born humans in a day. so isn’t life the miracle? the mere fact of being, the rhythm of your heart? the new-born will grow up and love and i am only repeating your words when i say that no love is normal. similarly no life, no person is normal. it is only a matter of befriending a man or a woman. she is normal when you don’t know her. he is special when he is your friend. so how thin is the wall between miraculous and mundane, it falls down with a whispering act of friendship, with a faint breeze of empathy. you would show me the shapes in sea-foam and the shapes of clouds and I with my cold heart would acknowledge the similarity but ask you with words made of stone: ‘so what?’ , a curve of my lips mocking the uselessness of your imagination, successfully concealing my intention to push you towards that state of your mind when you unknowingly compose odes to imagination and art in the course of normal conversation, in defense of a careless remark by your philistine of a friend. ‘art begins in the palm of your hands. you give meaning to the random lines etched in your flesh. that meaning is your work of art. you see it in the composition of matter, the neither/nor of atomic nature is art. Heisenberg was an artist. your cook is an artist. the grains of rice, i have observed how you look at them, each grain has my name etched on it and it shall come to no one but me. there is no one who does not create art, the foremost being our dreams. the coldest rationalist must be having most fluid of dreams.art is life. we are born to compare things and the final comparison is with god.’ you did not know that i secretly recorded your ramblings with the intention of writing them on a birthday card for you when you would be having one of those mid-life crises. but for you i am no more. after your estrangement which later became mutual, during some summer nights when there is nothing to do and the heat in the city by the sea is suffocating, i step out of my little apartment to catch some breeze and ponder over us. i pick my digging tools like a laborer and sit by the roadside in hope of some reason to hire me pay and me the wages of understanding which I could bring to your shop and buy your forgiveness but I remain unemployed. on one such night i stumbled upon something in my memory which was covered with webs spun by time. it was an event where there was a party at your home and many people were invited. we had a good time and when much time had passed and most of the guests had gone, some of our other friends, you and I sat on the rooftop around the pretentious fire in the city of flimsy winters and talked into the early hours of the morning. somewhat under trance and somewhat exhausted, we spoke of thousand things the center which was the myth of reincarnation and the circle of life. you were silent and listening to our ignorant, yet dipped in the wisdom of drunkenness, mythologies. from the corner of my eye I figured that you were looking at me like Brutus may have looked at the dictator of Rome the day before assassination. I turned my face towards you and looked at your features that I had never encountered before. Your contorted face with deep frown and the passion of abhorrence in your eyes looking right into mine. Sometime later you withdrew to your room and the party disbanded after an hour and i drove back home, forgetting about the entire matter. that’s it. that look was the culmination of whatever had been brewing in your great mind. i will never know. i believe we met after that a couple of times and wrote each other some insignificant emails then your frequent travels began we lost touch. my specialty faded and i became just another normal person. ‘so what?’ i wish we had quarreled over something tangible. over money for example or mutual love interest or prestige or any other important thing. but now time has passed. the moon has waned. the night has fallen. blame lies with me too, i should have tried to speak to you. may be i am equally guilty. Here is some Yeats to whom you introduced me for which I shall be ever grateful to you and for many other things:
far-off, most secret, and inviolate Rose,
enfold me in my hour of hours; where those
who sought thee in the holy sepulcher,
or in the wine-vat, dwell beyond the stir
and tumult of defeated dreams; and deep
among pale eyelids, heavy with the sleep
men have named beauty.
‘like you cannot step in the same river twice, you cannot meet the same safdar twice, for every time i see you, you are a different man!’ i do not remember when you said this to me, nor this: ‘a paragon of courage on friday, a bag of sorry bones on tuesday’ or this: ‘you cannot even laugh properly’. you have said so many things to uplift me and so many things to throw me down. i first saw you at some leadership conference where you spoke about a popular theory while the audience, bunch of bored teenagers, had chicken soup for the soul. you have frequently accused me of mixing fact and fiction all the time, let me tell you this: there is no fact, all is fiction. after beholding you for the first time, I didn’t see you again for an year or so. i did not know if we were in the same college. then one day i saw you in the library, you were walking quickly with that determined step and bold gait of yours, like a person who means business and doesn’t have time for mindless reflection. later on i realized that our predispositions are very different and i felt a little intimidated by you. surprisingly, the day next we spoke for the first time at another event of insignificance for a selected audience of which you and i were coincidentally a part. the first thing i noticed about you at lunch was that you ate a lot. not that there is anything objectionable in this but i am just stating my impression of an observation. afterwards, we had silent conversations in pockets by mutual lifting of eyebrows while entering a common lecture hall or waving at each other from afar and some times by an occasional exchange of verbal pleasantries. one day I asked you if you knew the name of an orange-flowered tree outside building and you said you had not seen it. I think it was these inconsequential exchanges which constituted the early foundations of our friendship before it matured into a real one. oh it is talking and talking and philosophy and exchange of weltanschauung which makes people into friends in most uneventful, unadventurous and tritest of circumstances. i remember the most prominent feature of your face when you smiled were your eyes in fact you had your entire face in your eyes and I read in them everything you thought about me. ‘what is this strange fellow like?’, crossed across the expanse of your mind so many times. initially, i believed that our friendship was a friendship of convenience but gradually when the stories of our past were narrated in private conference, it grew stronger, the cement dried over countless cups of coffee and many of my shakesperean monologues and your hemingwayean statements. but i remember that there was a certain aloofness in you all the time and at times i found you a little vain and pretentious. i read some sort of a conflict in you and tried to have you confess it but i failed and i accepted you as were and associated many of your acts to your nature and naivete. but then again that is what made you stand out: your own individuality and uncompromising strength of character which i utterly lacked. you were so sure of yourself and so confident of your opinions and views while i was a wavering shrub bending at the slightest gust of wind. so naturally i admired you and attached qualities to you of which some you really had and some, in retrospect it seems to me, i invented. gradually i made out of you a friend who had two sides (all this was in my mind, you always invariably had one side: your own true self). and so I started making demands out of your imagined side which in my naivete i thought you will fulfill as my friend and confidant. strange and confusing, right? it is because i am really trying to think what happened and why due to my own act i lost a friend like i had never before. life went on, we were deeply aware of each other’s consciousness in matters big and small. i made a mirror out of you, though you were younger than me, your stolid character made me do this. i believed i had someone whom george bernard shaw would really call a friend: the only service a friend can really render is to keep up your courage by holding up to you a mirror in which you can see a noble image of yourself. this was it i think. in my mind’s eye i had thought that i could see every aspect of my reflection in the mirror. i would not expect a mirror to break on a bad hair day or a bad face day or a bad conscience day. a mirror is the most objective object. you see what you are, it tells you honestly of your affairs. tell a lie, eat your dead brother’s corpse, adulterate, love, love, love, sin, sin, sin, the mirror will tell you that the color of your eye is still beautiful or your bulging forehead is still the apex of ugliness. ‘people like you shouldn’t worry about such things’, i remember when you said this to me. ‘i personally don’t think anyone is going to hell’, this conversation runs in my memory as well. ‘i don’t have the courage to experiment like you, i am not like this’, one of the best conversations we ever had, i remember this too. in this case the matter is simple, out of human frailty, that universal culmination of all things criminal, that adam’s curse, that consequence of the fall, that misery of existence, out of this human weakness, i confess that i crossed the bounds of liberty which should never have been surpassed. was it a premeditated act? no. was it a thoughtless act? yes. i have stated the rationalization of my act before the confession of it, this does not in any way mean that i put you in the error. unfortunately, not wanting to, i let you go. so this was a story of two failures, the burden of both of which falls on my dreamy shoulders alone. if you could be so magnanimous as it lies in your character, forgive me. the day could dawn. the moon could wax. i write here for you a passage from muhammad asad’s the road to mecca which reflects how you liked your coffee:
on my return to our camping palace, i make the camels kneel down and hobble their forelegs to prevent them from straying at night. zayd has already lit a fire and is busy making coffee. water boils in a tall brass coffeepot with a long curved spout; a smaller pot of similar shape stands ready at zayd’s elbow. in his left hand he holds a huge, flat iron spoon with a handle two feet long, on which he is roasting a handful of coffee beans over the slow fire, for in arabia, coffee is freshly roasted for every pot. as soon as the beans are lightly tanned, he places them in a brass mortar and pounds them. thereupon he pours some of the boiling water from the larger pot into the smaller, empties the ground coffee into it and places the pot near the fire to let it slowly simmer. when the brew is almost ready, he adds a few cardamon seeds to make it more bitter, for as the saying goes in arabia, coffee in order to be good, must be ‘bitter like death and hot like love’
that night i understood how gregor samsa must have felt when he found himself metamorphosed into a huge insect in the morning. i had a malarial fever which was coming and going in waves, taking me through and playing with my mind in mysterious ways. my consciousness transformed into a two-dimensional plane and i was a solid net of squares, like a chess board drawn on paper but with no enclosed boundaries. All the lines which crossed each other had open ends, like a big tic-tac-toe matrix with not nine but twenty, twenty-five cells. i felt i was that solid geometrical web and my consciousness blinked at the cross section of lines, as if there were bulbs placed on these nodes. i have never experienced such a transformation of existence, it was not a dream, i could feel myself. after recovering from my illness, i realized the strangeness of the phenomenon even more. i recalled the time when you and i had experienced the effect of mind-altering materials on our brains. my fever-dream closely resembled that, but it was more of what we could call a bad trip. you were my first travelling friend. in a way i owe my life to you: while we were walking to our rooms during the early hours of the morning in the deserted streets of the city where that sufi jew, baruch spinoza lived centuries ago, in a state not suitable for carrying a responsible activity, you saved me from acting rashly with a body which though mine was going through so many new novel experiences. you remember those two drunk russians whom we met on the way and with whom i almost picked a fight, i would never know how or why. you made me run and we ran and ran and those russians shouted in their alien language things undecipherable but definitely heavy with profane curses. ‘next time do that when you want to die’. friendships born out of such events and begun in adult life are more durable and exciting because they are not based on naive sentimentality and are usually life lasting. while travelling, you meet people with their best sides on and you never see any other side of them. but you and i hailed from the same city, naturally we had to be friends. besides we had so much in common. both of us love walking and i recall we walked for hours and hours. you were a seasoned traveller and i loved your tales of which i am sure some were highly exaggerated. i could believe that you came across george clooney walking around the streets concealing his real identity but i could not believe the story which you presumable heard from a travelling group staying at the same place as you and if you yourself believed it then god bless your naivete. all of your tales were exciting though. but i think the most important thing that bound us together was psilocybin. i recall what you told me about your one such experience and i was very moved by the clarity and strange method to this madness: ‘i had ingested a modest amount of mushrooms and then walked towards the park. it was in the afternoon and the sun was, the atmosphere was very pleasant. i did not feel anything while we walked towards the spot of our choice with best visual stimulation in form of flowers and trees and chirping birds. i had with me my friend whom i had asked to look after me and notice my behavior. gradually as the elements in my stomach hammered the magical contents into my blood stream, i started to feel things move. the physical phenomenon started to alter and slowly i was perceiving everything around me very intensely. the colors were richer and brighter, the sounds were sharper and more pleasant, the humdrum of the park was easy and likable but i started to notice less the physics when my sort started to take me in the past to the time when i was deciding after finishing university whether to go back to my parents or work where i had graduated. then my mind shed all the events of the that particular period in time and focused on the people involved in that decision making that is my parents. i suddenly felt emotional about my father and my mother. i recaped all the arguments in favour of going and in favour of staying. after apparently a long time under this reverie or whatever i began to cry the faces of my parents came before my eyes and i became worried. back in the plane of normal consciousness i tried to tell my friend that i wanted to get out of this situation. so we went to the nearest burger place and ate to our fill. only then did my despondency lose its grip on me. later i asked myself why did my mind take me to that particular point in time and not to anywhere else?’ compared to your profound and meaningful experiences i recounted to you my own experience which was without any dilemma and was therefore plain reverie. ‘i consumed a very small quantity of mushrooms at around sunset near one of the canals with a couple of friends. we then walked towards a cafe which was at some distance. on the way, one of my friends simply got mad and started laughing. when we reached the cafe, we sat down on a table for six. there were only four of us. few minutes passed, nothing happened to me. then a boy and girl of around twenty came over and sat with us. my mouth went dry and i music playing in the background sounded divine. and then i experienced the full effect. my hearing sharpened. i felt as if everyone, near and far was speaking in ear and i believe i could tell at that moment that i understood what they meant. it came in waves. the girl sitting opposite me looked like a character from a victorian novel. and another of my friend who was not mad sat opposite me too. he had a full bushy mustache and beard and he hailed from sindh. my mind began sketching in my eyes what must my friend’s dad looked like. the lights were brighter and music angelic. this stayed for a long while but no morose thoughts entered the sphere of my senses. the most beautiful feeling was hearing all voices together. my friend who had gone mad, slowly came to and brought food. which gradually brought us to our senses and we stepped out.’ now since then i have read aldous huxley’s the doors of perception which is a beautiful account of a similar nature but definitely more profound and enlightening. his primary observation is that such experiences could help us see the mystical side which in totality could be a life-changing phenomenon. for every experience in the normal sense there is another experience as its antipode in the induced but very real other world. it has been six months since we have met and talked about matters sacred and profane. there is no estrangement between us and we are as much friends as when we first met. I am writing here a passage from the book i quoted above to induce your intellectual mind to arrange a meeting:
From the records of religion and the surviving monuments of poetry and the plastic arts it is very plain that, at most times and in most places, men have attached more importance to the inscape than to objective existents, have felt that what they saw with their eyes shut possessed a spiritually higher significance than what they saw with their eyes open. The reason? Familiarity breeds contempt, and how to survive is a problem ranging in urgency from the chronically tedious to the excruciating. The outer world is what we wake up to every morning of our lives, is the place where, willy-nilly, we must try to make our living. In the inner world there is neither work nor monotony. We visit it only in dreams and musings, and its strangeness is such that we never find the same world on two successive occasions.What wonder, then, if human beings in their search for the divine have generally preferred to look within!