Nomads

Tahir Mehmood

A brief faint smile appeared on her face as she was sitting alone on the bench in the almost empty orchard. It was a beautiful summer evening, and a rain shower had come like a bliss. Years ago they both had met in the same orchard that was located in one corner of this mountainous town. She was waiting for her friends and then all of a sudden he appeared in his casual manner and sat beside her. A little perplexed, she took a while to respond to his greetings with a smile. He smiled back and took out a book from his rucksack and fixed his gaze on the pages. She casually looked at the book cover with the title, The Pain was Enduring. She herself was an accomplished author and could not resist to enquire about the book. He told her that this was a book by a famous mountaineer who had once come there and found the love of his life. He married the girl and adapted to the native ways of life. However, the nature was cruel enough to bring pain to their beautiful life. The girl, while giving birth to her first child, succumbed and could not survive. The mountaineer stayed there for the rest of his life and raised his kid into a grown up man, who one day went to climb the highest peak around and did not return. She listened to the story without uttering a word until he had gone quiet. She then asked a few questions about him to which he replied that he was a traveller and this was his favourite destination, one to which he returns after every few years.

He, a traveller, and she being an author, could not resist from prolonging the conversation. This was decades ago and after that they made it customary to meet in this town after every few years. He would narrate to her the tales of his journey to the mountains, to the deserts, to the oceans, and to the wastelands and the cities that were full of life. Each time she listened to him as a mystic revealing mysteries to his followers.

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The vast deep oceans, desolate deserts, high mountain peaks, and multitudes of humanity taught him the lessons that he whispered to her in those moments of sharing. His narration was quaint and broken, half certain and half uncertain, time and space could converse to each other through his words.  

“The cities were too proud, and appeared in great haste. The men cried to the women, and women were often half-attentive, and mostly complained of falling sick. The children were sent to schools to learn the power to be free, but most felt attracted towards buying colourful chains from the shops enroute their homes. All men advised others, and none listened to anyone. Mostly amidst clamours and deafening sounds they conversed to each other. Their truths were so powerful that it could kill many. Time was often laughing on their truths, but none was willing to listen to its whispers.”

Then suddenly he said to her, “Do you know life just happens to us. While living is an art, life is wild and nomadic.”

“What is the secret of a ‘happy life’?”

“I think happiness is being a bit fanciful about life. It could be more appropriate to be ‘living through’.”

While he was still narrating the tales of cities, she asked about his voyages to the vast oceans. She held his hand firmly as she felt herself riding on waves of the vast oceans once he started speaking.

“The oceans boasted freedom. The vessels could go around in any direction, never bound by limits. But what was freedom, to steer the boat in the waters that posed a limit to embrace the shore fully. The boat could only touch and kiss the wet sand and feel destined to fall back to the limitless oceans. Her desire of living on the seashore amidst multitude of men and women remained a dream unfulfilled. She had seen the fate of few boats that could not resist and tried to embrace the harbour by going over the raised hedges. In one brutal collision with the unfamiliar, they went from bruised to broken. She concluded that most desires are ignorant of limits, freedom has a price, and it is safer treading on familiar waters. The people on the seashore too yearned to hold her back, to embrace her forever but did not move forward, merely casting dreamy looks and wishful howls.

They both felt uncomfortable on this sense of limit and imposing destiny. Yet they both looked towards the open sky, felt unchartered freedom and their gaze went beyond the limits.  

“Love and freedom are not always absolute or perfect,” he whispered to her. She nodded affirmatively in silence. But her heart too made a silent prayer where shores and waters could fully embrace each other and live in perfect union forever.

………………………………….

On that summer evening, sitting on that lonely bench in one corner of that almost deserted orchard, she had been waiting for him for a while. As he had not appeared so far, and she went back to her favourite hobby of living in the memories of their previous meetings and conversations.

“Does freedom absolve one from responsibility?”

“I too have a question to ask. Do desire make you oblivious of the reality?”

“What is the relationship between desire and freedom?”

“Are all desires empowered to ride on the freedom-horse?”

“No, certainly not. To swim across a stream, one must know how to swim. To traverse the oceans, one needs to build a ship.”

“Absolute freedom is like absolute power; both corrupting.”

“Righteousness or self-righteousness?”

“Man will keep struggling around ‘to be, or not to be’. There is nothing wrong in standing up for the righteous act, but one should give allowance to others’ opinion, too.”

“Is moderation cowardice, or hypocrisy?”

“Any extremist view can exploit this line of argument to cajole others. The world is mostly misled than ably led.”

“Life is like a seesaw. Removing or adding weight to one side of the plank can cause an imbalance. Maintaining little off-balance weights on both extremes does allow one to move up-and-down, and brings freedom and joy. Perfect balance can be a stalemate. Perfect life can stagnate. Little oddities give a sense of movement and joy, and also avoid bumpy rides.”

“Aim for oneness, but do not fear difference.”

“Strive for perfectness, but give allowance for imperfectness.”

“You mean flexibility is a virtue!”

“Yes, and glory lies in going the extra mile.”

“Patience is not holding nerves against what can be easily endured, and compassion is not showing amenability to friendly acts. Swallowing the bitter pill that can be easily thrown out is an act of patience or compassion.”

“Revolutions, I mean bloody revolutions?

“Well, man’s habit for haste has caused much waste. The sun is never too hot or cold at dawn or dusk. The middle point should reach through a steady progress.”

She would have preferred to stay deeply engrossed in thoughts and contemplation, but was beginning to get hungry and thirsty. She remembered once in a bit funny way he had said that ‘all stomachs only know two words of the language, ‘fill it’’. She thought, albeit a little mockingly, that hunger, ideas and dreams remain inseparable.

At that very moment the oranges and berries above her head and around her seemed to have ripened.

…………………………

When she had just finished eating, she saw him approaching her. He was limping a little and on crutches. In his last travel, he had gone to conquer the highest mountains around. She expected a mountain warrior on his return, but seeing him on crutches was a painful sight. She forgot the pains of the long wait, and prayed instinctively.

“I was here in the town for the last few weeks, but did not inform you as I was struggling with frostbite that had left my left foot completely rotten. They had to cut it, but here I am now, able to walk again.”

Then he narrated to her the story of his incomplete journey to the summit. He had climbed more than halfway to the peak, but then a stormy blizzard blinded him for many days. He found a niche to hide in the storm and managed to survive except his sore foot that had turned almost numb. He wanted to continue the journey but then one night the peak bent down and whispered in his ears, “The storm had come to crush your resolve but you survived. Survival is a virtue; a guarantee that a fresh start can be made. Only the fittest survive and reach the peaks.” She then gave him an orange to eat. He took a brief pause to quench his thirst and hunger, and told her that the mountain peak had also shared a few secrets.

“All peaks have to endure the majestic isolation.” The mountain peak said in somewhat stoic tone, “From the top, I have seen all about life and death. I have seen revolutions and evolutions turning oceans to deserts, cities to ruins, life embracing the decay, and death giving birth to life. Each one struggled to achieve the ‘absolute’ to encroach upon others. Coexistence was a choice that only few virtuous ones exercised. In fact, they respected life more than those who fought over the ‘absolute’ to later confront and discover a new ‘relativity’.”

“Motion is life, and death is transformation into a new motion. In fact, all things are in a great nomadic search; in a whirling motion for ultimate connectivity to the centre.”  

“What did the peak say about life and living?”

“Life is a phenomenon that happens to all living beings. The essence of struggles lies in inventing the art of living. Life has been endowed with the freedom to dream.

“So, what is the art of living?”

“Well, there are no definite answers to the questions posed by life. Life wears many hats, juggles many balls at one time, and is always on the move. The best attitude is to keep a good watch and keep transforming.”

“I can’t stop enquiring about a happy life,” she reiterated with a grin on her face.

“For a successful life, focus and struggle are the keys. For peace, silence is virtue, empathy is brotherhood, listening is more powerful than speaking and an art of greater understanding. For enduring love, respect is a panacea. For health, keep walking the mountains, eat grass, less is more and simple is gold.”    

The collective struggle of human race is to perfect the art of living where all forms of freedom are adjusted in a manner that no one is able to encroach upon others; where the ‘absolute’ could converse to the ‘relative’ without offence. This shall be the ‘great transformation’ to embark upon new journeys.

………………………..

He then became quiet for a long time, almost appearing exhausted. He then shared his final resolve to continue the journey as his search was yet incomplete. He stood up almost abruptly and took a step forward. It made him stumble and as he was about to fall, she leaped forward and held his hand firmly. With her support, he felt balanced and strong enough to leave his crutches there. On this, he gave her a smile, and she caressed his shoulder assuredly. Without uttering a single word, their gaze met, and they both could see a dream cottage on a mountain top. They shared a firm resolve to master the art of living together.

In the far distance, the lonely peak smiled quietly. Someday, someone was to share her burden of secrets and embrace her loneliness.   

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The writer is a traveller and student of human history. He can be reached at tmabbasi@yahoo.com