A Town Beyond Sorrows

Tahir Mehmood

He was a puppeteer; this is how he knew himself. She was a puppet; this is what she knew about herself.It had now been years that he was in this line of work. She was with him for all these years, too. That was only what she could remember. The puppeteer was on the stage when she first opened her eyes and then her mouth. She never knew that puppets could evolve, too. From a finger puppet to a sock puppet, and to a live-hand puppet, her evolution grew from simplicity to complexity; both in construction as well as in operation. The days of a finger puppet were very simple. She was on the stage, could look around and speak words but was hardly able to mimic the life in complexity. Then he transformed her into a sock puppet, and there she felt a bit of freedom and life. She was always on one corner of the stage, but started learning about surroundings. There were many other puppets on the stage, as well. She saw them performing different roles; of few she could make sense, while others raised a string of unanswered questions.Gradually she realized that the puppeteer was taking keen interest in her. His passionate eyes and crafty hands were always warm and soothing, and she felt growing changes in herself. She observed that more parts were being attached to her, with various strings attached to her head, hands, limbs and other parts of the body – she was growing into a marionette. Her whole body was built around a rod which while very firm, felt flexible enough to move around. The strings made her body parts move in different directions and she felt a degree of growing freedom with every passing day. Sometimes she could feel the puppeteer hand above her head. As she grew in freedom, she barely noticed that the puppeteer was also on stage in the darkness. She saw herself moving her limbs, using her eyes, and speaking words to the amusement of the audience sitting around the stage. The other puppets on the stage were left to primitive shapes for reasons unknown and this made her feel almost like a king or queen. She was at liberty to consider herself as much more important as she moved about the stage. Then one day she realized that she could think, too! She felt amused and empowered as she could imagine things about herself and others. She also noticed the audience in various moods; quiet, sorrowful or jubilant. Sometimes she could also feel the existence of visible and invisible strings, and the puppeteer standing in the dark. He was neither visible to the audience, nor to her, but still she was aware of his presence.One night after the puppet show, she felt words pushing her in a manner that she was unable to stop the anxiety of knowing and unknowing. ………………………………..The puppeteer always felt glad as with more puppets, the number of audience increased. He expanded the stages, used more lights, improved the sound quality, and his puppets started moving and speaking more freely. He knew what they were doing and saying, yet the puppets spoke with so much certainty that his craft was often unnoticeable to others. He remembered how all the puppets were initially created, though their construction and functions later became a routine for him. However, he knew the marionette was becoming more popular as he evolved her to move and speak more freely. The various parts attached to her were more dynamic in nature, and the strings attached to her became invisible. Everything appeared to her and the spectators as acts of free will! And one night, the marionette spoke to him directly and amused him with her questions. “Who are these human-like figures on the stage?”“Other puppets,” he replied briefly in a state of great amusement. “Who are these puppets watching us on the stage?”“The audience,” came a monosyllabic reply.“Why are some of them clapping, while others sad with tears in eyes?”“Ah! This I can’t explain to you tonight, but we must amuse them to come back again. I like it when they weep and laugh while watching the puppet show. It means I am doing well to absorb their attention!”The puppet felt a bit perplexed, but still asked, “Why don’t you clap?”“Well, I am busy on the stage creating, prompting, controlling and synchronising all that makes it a successful theatre.”She saw other puppets wearied from the day’s work, feeling sleepy and bit irritated from this conversation. But her mind kept thinking for a while before her body and mind submitted to the sleep that approached her in the darkness.  The stage went quiet in those moments of slumber.…………………………….On that night, while sitting in a corner on the stage, the puppeteer kept thinking on those questions. The questions were simple but he felt proud of his creation. Then he started thinking about himself. It took him to his days of childhood when he had learnt the art of puppetry from his mother. His father had died few years after his birth, and the lonely mother was left to raise the family. His mother could only teach him a few basic lessons as she was always more worried about feeding her children. Then one day she also passed away quietly. This tragedy was catastrophic for all the children, but it also freed them to learn and live life; not through the eyes of their mother but life itself. He left home at once, and never turned back. After years of travelling, he finally decided to settle in this town and opened his own puppet theatre. Now he had a wife and children, and like his mother, he always felt worried about feeding them. With their faces in his mind, he left the stage for his home while the puppets were still slumbering. He saw the eyes, ears, mouths and limbs of the puppets lifeless without those moving strings that he had mastered using craftily. He knew the puppets were not mindful of the fact that these limbs and strings need a great synchronisation that need a master to function properly.    The puppeteer’s eyes, hands, and limbs were also feeling tired due to the day’s labour, but he did not notice anything due to growing worries about food and family.   ……………………………..It was the annual festival night for the whole town. The puppeteer had organized a grand show, and more than usual spectators were expected. Although he was not feeling well due to a suddenly developed pain in his spinal cord that had affected movement of his limbs, yet he was busy tying strings of all the puppets for the show. He noticed that the central rods of a few puppets were marginally damaged but then there was no time to replace those and skilfully tied them to ensure flexibility of their limbs without losing control. The marionette was already in a fine shape but out of habit he just went to her. He found her in deep thought, and once he touched her, she came back to life. He saw a twinkle in her eyes and felt warmth in her body. This was something new that he had never felt while playing with her. The marionette was also feeling a special sensation in her entire body. For months she had been brooding about herself, about the other puppets, their habits, life under stage lights and life after darkness when shows ended and the spectators had left. These hours of deep contemplation gradually started connecting various dots. She felt a rising power of self-awareness and consciousness. But with expanding awareness, she had started feeling new sorrows in life. For the first time in her life, she felt the separateness of all parts of her body. She had always thought that she was a single piece and could never disintegrate. Similarly, one day she noticed the presence of various strings attached to her body and their role in all her actions. This had jolted her notion of free will.  Strangely, one night she noticed the presence of the puppeteer in the shadows on the stage. He was continuously moving his hands, and uttering words – the very words that echoed on the stage. Excited, afraid, frustrated and lost in painful moments of contemplation and revelation, she realized that in fact nothing belonged to her; she was never herself. She was not her creator. Someone had gathered various limbs, attached them and made them appear one by fixing everything to a central rod with different strings. ……………………The sorrows and emptiness led to more nights of contemplation. She gradually started noticing the puppeteer and his hidden movements on the stage. She feared him for long, but seeing his work and love for all, she gradually moved closer to him. First, she admired and adored, and then she fell in love with him. Knowing herself had led to knowing him.One night under the magical spell of self-awareness, she asked the puppeteer few questions while he was holding her hand.“Why have you made me?”There came no reply but she could feel the warmth of love in his grasp that was reassuring. She could understand the unsaid words of love and became certain that love was the reason of her coming to life. All these years, the puppeteer had taken great care of her, from creation to awakening, and adorned her as a puppet could be. Every night she had slept like the dead, and every morning she was welcomed by the power of life with all strings in place. In that grand organisation of the puppet theatre, nothing belonged to her but everything was put in place to give meaning to her role in the play. “Why do you control me with these strings?”Again there was no answer but she felt her strings loosening up a bit from the central rod. This reminded her of a comic play where complex issues of fate and freedom were debated. She almost murmured to herself: “If there were no centre, no strings, then what could unite all the limbs to give meaning to their role on the stage?” Then she felt the presence of the puppeteer’s hand on her limbs through strings, but that did not diminish the power to move her limbs. “Do you love me?”Again came no answer. But suddenly he tossed her in the air with great care. In those brief moments of joy and liberty, she saw much beyond than usual. She got glimpse of amazing men and women approaching the theatre. She also quickly captured the sight of a beautiful lake, a majestic mountain and green fields surrounding the stage; not very near, not so far off. They all appeared waiting for someone more than a puppet to explore them. She felt a strong urge to go to those unchartered territories; perchance only for a while. Her strings had already loosened enough, and managing a walk through these territories could be attempted by mastering the art of life. She knew even puppets could walk at their will in times of action and play.“Why must I die? Why can’t I live forever? Why am I a puppet and not the Master?”There lived and reigned absolute sorrows in those questions of emptiness; of nothingness, of not belonging to the self but to some other self. This sense of nothingness engulfed both of them. The few tears that had silently rolled down from the half-shut eyes of the puppeteer were self-revealing.In unique moments of common loss and pain, the puppeteer and the puppet both embraced each other for long. None spoke a word and silence prevailed. In those moments of love realization dawned upon her that the creator and creation were not separate. From the state of nothingness, they both felt transformed to a state of oneness. In a perfect union, their hearts spoke in a language that needs no words; yet they listened and understood the words of wisdom:“Nothing that was created can be infinite and limitless, but this does not kill the life that one can live, the role one can play, and the legacy that can be left for posterity. The moments one lives are eternal. Grasp every fleeting moment of life and live it to the fullest. Make each moment eternal through perfect consciousness of self. Knowing the self will make you taste the blisses of nothingness and ecstasies of oneness. Nothingness leads to perfect union with oneness that even transcends the consciousness of infinity.” In that self-revelation, while the puppet was talking to him, the puppeteer had also seen his Master. Both of them had also understood the importance of their role on the stage of life. Their transformation from nothingness to oneness was complete.……………………..That night, the puppet show went splendid. The spectators clapped in frenzy as the puppets moved from finite to infinite.