You might have seen a man talking to himself. But have you seen a man talking with trees? I have. I often see a man in deep conversation with trees, plants and flowers. I try to eavesdrop what is it about but I hear nothing. I imagine what it could be but again I hear nothing. But my intuitive sense tells me there is a soundless language from an arcane world that he and trees, plants and flowers know and converse in.
I try to decode the cryptic messages they exchange but they remain as stubborn as the deafening dark of a cave. But they must have secrets as a cave has, I feel. I never dare ask the man what it’s all about nor does he bother to tell me anything about it. The wind, I am sure, witnesses what transpires between them. The wind carries their inaudible whispers and quiet murmurs like the feathers shed by exotic birds to places nobody has been to. They are the statues of silence, poet Rilke reminds me. Can you see statues of silence? I at least can’t. But I have certainly seen the man in the midst of leafy arches talking to tall green statues of silence in the orchard like lawn outside his grand old office building left by some Narsingh Das who fled to save his life from the engulfing fires of hatred at the time of the Partition of Punjab. Perhaps trees, plants and flowers whisper in this man’s ear the screams of Narsingh Das and cries of his frightened to death family. Perhaps they tell him of the royal impotence of representatives of the British colonial Empire who were rendered dumb on the other side of the wall in their protected government officers’ residences when the painful noises made by people running for their life rent the sky.
I am not alone who can see this ordinary looking odd man talking with foliage. Some other people also see him away from his office in the morning and evening in a large park left behind by fleeing rich Hindus and Sikhs in 1947. He whiles away his times looking at old trees whose peeling skin looks like the patina of time.
What times do to humans do to trees is what people guess he is thinking. They say he has studied philosophy. And philosophers, they believe, are half mad if not completely. But nobody of course says this to his face. That would be too rude. The philosophically inclined see things which ordinary folks cannot imagine even in their dreams. They even talk to things that do not exist, not for the normal human beings at least. But philosophy, they feel, may be necessary but it is evil in the end. It starts with good questions such as how did we come into being, what is the meaning of life and where are we heading to? But the answers it offers are pure evil as they rubbish what is sacred and sanctify what is profane. So it’s better if this man talks with trees instead of philosophizing on the meaning of their life. He shouldn’t be allowed to burden ordinary mortals with the insidious effects of his sacrilegious mumbo jumbo. They don’t openly express their apprehensions. They try to be discreet, not out of respect but rather out of fear. Don’t you fear odd men on the verge of madness?
They are aware the odd man has also done studies on mysticism and is well-acquainted with its eccentric rituals and impenetrable mysteries which, they believe, are a potent force. Mystics are gifted with supernatural power. A person however odd or mad connected with them cannot be dismissed lightly. The oddest and the maddest are in fact close to mystics. To imprecate such a person means bringing a curse upon yourself. So the man talking with trees is spared. He is rather taken as a curiosity, not negligible. People dismiss the rumour that the man has written some books. When does he find the time do to such a boringly abnormal activity? Anyway men here don’t read books which neither guide to profitable enterprises nor pave the way for one’s salvation in the hereafter. Thank the Lord, the man isn’t indifferent to the feelings of the people around despite being what he is. He no longer writes books. He stopped doing waste labour years back.
Anyway he is a funny sort of guy. He wakes up in the middle of night and gropes for his slippers in the dark. He, being more concerned with mind than body like a mad man, slips and gets one of his legs fractured. He wakes no one up and drags himself into his bed. He tells his family in the morning what happened to him in the night. They take him to a hospital. ‘Please take Rs25,000 from the cupboard for the medical expenses’, he asks his wife. He undergoes surgery. At the end of the day comes the medical bill. It’s Rs400,000. He comes home when discharged from the hospital. After a few days lying in his bed he says to his son causally: ‘what’s the point of living if one can’t walk up to the trees and …’.
I along with a friend go to see him. He receives us with a smile suggestive of pain and utters a gleeful sigh. ‘Will you like a cup of tea’, his wife asks us. We say no thanks without meaning emphatic no like typical Punjabi guests. The man mustering his strength says loudly to his wife who has left the room. “Tea please’. We both say yes of course a cup of tea with you. Sipping our tea we try to cheer him up. “Yar, Bahut ji lya a, kafi nahi? (Have lived long. Isn’t it enough?), he says nonchalantly. A day after I receive a message: ‘Kazi Javaid is dead’. A few friends gather to offer his funeral prayers in a small park. Two old trees left of what was once a preserve watch us in silence. — firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in Dawn, November 23rd, 2020