Along the Mystic River

Don’t go mad. In abject solitude, alienation and despair, a priority in the backward capitalism of the new, manufactured modernity of this fragmented nation-state, don’t go mad. Don’t enter the sea and drown in madness. Reject suicide, the first sign of the death wish. Refuse to accept insanity as a preliminary to the Final Solution. There is no final solution in insanity. There is no final solution anyway.

Like a solitary animal eternally slithering across infinite horizons, the sea too is terribly lonely and mad. It can drive you mad. The saline waters, the full moon tide can be addictive but don’t get drawn in by these temptations. They will slowly tranquilize you, fill your senses with the death wish and reduce you to pulp fiction written in a mental asylum on the back of bizarre prescriptions.

Reject all stated, statist, status-quoist paradigms and protocols of discipline and punish madness and civilization, rationality and irrationality. Clinically dump them in the waste bin of your word document. Press Control Delete.

Don’t even consider anger management, or thought control, or even the idea of emotional well being and spiritual bliss as a two-in-one packaged deal. Refuse deal-makings with yourself and the political unconscious. Stop looking for salvation gurus, perverse and fraudulent big business male chauvinist babas, or the 10 steps to full and final happiness. Don’t waste a glance at those books or leaflets or TV shows, promising instant salvation. Change your diapers. Wear an old, faded, cotton shirt. Hang your old bag on your shoulders. Walk out into the world. Smell that woody book with an anonymous letter inside. Kiss the script. Kiss the sunshine. Kiss her lips. Get stoned.

Walk zigzag. Read the fingers on your palm, and the veins of your skin. You are your own astrologer. Blue is the warmest and the coolest colour, the colour of the veins, the colour of the sea. Even in the dark. Blow your blues away. Listen to your whistle in the dark. Does it sound like the backdrop of that lilting, sinister, uplifting, Tarantino whistle in that ‘slave movie’? Chained is no option, reject it at once. Try Unchained. Break those mental shackles. Unlock the chains.

Touch your skin. Her skin. Touch the skin of the north wind. And the moisture in your shirt’s ancient fragrance. Nothing manly about it, really. Touch the soul of the skin. Build a scaffolding of faint desire. Raw desire. Make the nuance and the sensuality your unwritten history from the mainstream and the margins. Reject the conformist mainstream and the clichéd margins. Build a new scaffolding of a new epic neo-narrative. Slow down. Take your time. Feel the cool north wind with the smell of rain and old stories. Celebrate the return of memories and images. They help you find new memories and images. There are stories within stories. Dark eyes within dark eyes. Skin within skin. Symbols within symbols. Don’t be shy. Touch the skin. Become moist, inside. Breathe easily. Be quiet.

“To do is to be. To be is to do. To write is also to fight and liberate.”

Walk together. Walk solitary. Walk the zigzag Zen path. Don’t wander about in search of Truth. There is no other truth than this zigzag. Turn the blind corner, discover the bylane, walk the broken, raw, rough, unexplored path. Find and make a new little path, pebbled or soaked by the summer flowers of the amaltas tree. Draw graffiti. A diary on the sly. Notes from the zigzag.

In this surreal backdrop, where mindless television babbling, stupid upwardly mobile successes, morbid ambitions, carnivorous capitalism or the insatiable need and greed of the affluent society makes everything seem so collective and reachable, and simultaneously, so alienating and unreachable, the most terrible forms of abject solitariness are stalking the landscape. You open your eyes, and you can see it point blank. In this superpower hallucination even suffering, especially suffering, on your face, is rejected with cold blooded precision. In that sense, if you see it and feel it and want to change it, do so at your own peril.

It’s like that stoic woman in Vidarbha, once again alone, not waiting for a miracle or a Godot, even as the suicides are all around her, and every politician and bureaucrat has cheated her. What does it mean to be without absolute hope and in relentless despair in a stated democracy?  What does it mean to hang yourself, all alone, on a solitary dead tree, or next to a thirsty well.

You enter the terrain near Wardha, where both Mahatma Gandhi and Vinobha Bhave made sprawling ashrams, and next to which, in Nagpur, thousands of Dalits became Neo-Buddhists led by Babasaheb Ambedkar. You can still see women with the bullocks, ploughing, half bent, toiling with the earth, mostly landless, holding on to their dignity and hard labour like the promise they made to Babasaheb. Between great leaders and saintly geographical locations of history, what is it that the fate of the people never seem to change?

In this emptiness, under a stark afternoon sun, you can see the colours of their faded sarees and their dark skin, and the resilience of their mind and bodies; and you know, the luxurious traps of sanity and insanity are all both pulp fiction and a figment of imagination. For most people, life and loneliness is not even a choice.

You break out of the madness of civilisation also because you fear the loss of cultivated sanity and your entrenched comfort zones. So as not to get trapped inside the infinity of this museum, it is also crucial to preserve critical thinking and deeper emotions, identify with the collective suffering, join the resistance in myriad forms, visibly, in theory and praxis, and even if that be so, invisibly, like that outsider of Albert Camus, Kafka’s K or Jean Paul Sartre’s protagonist in the Iron in the Soul.

Resurrect Phaniswarnath Renu’s tribal fringes as in Maila Anchal and Muktibodh’s brahmaraksha. Rediscover Mikhail Bakhtin’s anti-establishment spoof and caricature, Jesus Christ’s liberation theology and Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu and his longing for love as much as Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha;  his, final, solitary discovery of the meaning of life listening to the many layers of the language of symphony of a clean, pristine, sublime river.

Engage with life, our troubled life, history’s apocalypse and sudden attachments and detachments, addictive like lonely quests of self identities; watch that incredible film Hiroshima Mon Amour by Alain Resnais. It will remind you of Guru Dutt’s Kagaz ke Phool.

So don’t go to the sea. Go to the river. Don’t get drowned inside the hidden swirl of the current. Listen to its flow, allow it to move across your fingers and eyes, drink its eternal bubbles, break the instant bubble. Calm yourself. Let the river calm your senses. Walk the lonely path next to the gurgling sound where the river disappears under the earth. You can still hear its sweet, sweeter sound. Walk with the sound. Disappear. Join the river.

As that mad German philosopher said, if you gaze too long at the abyss, the abyss will gaze back at you. As in Kafka’s bylane on the streets of Prague, or Ritwick Ghatak’s middle class female protagonist on the streets of Calcutta, her chappals torn, her not wanting to die. Or Myshkin and Raskolnikov of Fyodor Dostoevesky’s back streets of St Petersburg. They all share the existential solitude of compulsive invisibility and torture, both as protest and resurrection, sorrow and longing.

In the alienated world of our times, as Sartre said, even freedoms are defined by their un-freedoms, as it was that of Jean Genet, in the Prisoner of Love, his body and soul trapped, amidst the heady struggle of Palestine’s original freedom.

Or, shall we discover hope, as in Camus’ Combat journalism, incandescent, brilliant and luminescent, against war and against fascism. To do is to be. To be is to do. To write is also to fight and liberate.

Every character in these epic narratives of circular longing is simultaneously alone and in a collective, like Stephen Zweig’s imprisoned chess player, or communist genius Antonio Gramsci— also imprisoned— finding their ways out from between the pages of the last century and contemporary black holes. Much of our loneliness outside prison is derived from the loneliness of Soni Sori inside the prison. But her prison is her own, as is her loneliness. Like that of thousands of others who can’t read a book or magazine, or post a letter to the editor from a high security prison in Raipur.

Indeed, like in the great European fims against the backdrop of fascism, amidst the relentless struggles against it by radicals and rebels, you would never know how a moment of sublime meeting can suddenly become a moment of departure and exile, perhaps condemnation and death. It’s like holding a suitcase in your hand and looking for a last glance of longing, and the train is already blowing the whistle. In this holocaust of eternal suffering, you are forever in transit. In love. In the absence of love.

As Leonard Cohen writes in the Beautiful Losers: “A great sadness overtook us as we looked out at the miles of sea, an egoless sadness that we did not own or claim. Here and there the restless water kept an image of the shattered moon. We said goodbye to you, old lover. We did not know when or how the parting would be completed, but it began that moment…”


This article originally appeared in .

Amit Sengupta started journalism when he was 19, even while he was working in the relief camps as a student of JNU after the State sponsored genocide of Sikhs in Delhi in 1984. Since then, he has been an independent president of the JNU Students’ Union, writer, activist and editor, closely involved with multiple people’s movements and conflict zones in contemporary India. He was Executive Editor, Hardnews magazine, South Asian partner of Le Monde Diplomatique, Paris. He has earlier worked as a senior editor and journalist with Tehelka, Outlook, The Hindustan Times, Asian Age, The Pioneer, The Economic Times and Financial Chronicle. He is currently a professor at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi.

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