Children once upon a time there lived an old man near the great wall. He lived all alone, ate grass and at night spoke directly to the stars. He had been living thus for the past four hundred years. He was very thin and lanky sort of fellow. But he was very agile and he had eyes like those of Christ. The old man was always alone and did nothing much.
On the other side of the great wall lived people and their government. They had laws. They paid taxes. The masters had slaves. The slaves had hopes of becoming masters. There were many schools in it where you paid pittance for bad education and churches, temples and mosques where you could pay god and buy forgiveness. There were hundreds of libraries. And there were thousands of books. And all of them proclaimed the same tale about the Tin Tin land.
Once upon a time there was nothing. So, the first Emperor Xulu came to the land. And he founded the mother city with two subjects. Within hundred years there were too many subjects and consequently too many kings. The whole society was always in a state of ferment. And then rose Xulu the Beneficent. He killed everybody. And the rest whom he left became his devotee. And so for many years there was relative peace, as his court historians say. Xulu the Beneficent established his rule over the Tin Tin land. And his court historians say that he began his first day at the court with a massacre of three thousand disobedient citizens. Xulu the Beneficent had many sons. The eldest was also the ablest. And rest were worthless. The eldest son killed all his ninety nine brothers and he proclaimed himself the king. Peace was once again restored. And thus time went by. Seeds became trees and trees gave fruits and died without remorse like fruits do. The new King was an able administrator but he could not help devoting his time to reading poetry and drinking wine. He was by far the most talented poet of the Xulu dynasty. It was around this time that foreigners arrived. They looked strange. It was as if they had just emerged from their mother’s womb and their bodies were soaked in amniotic fluid.
The foreigners were very smart. They brought with them plethora of scientific equipment and religious texts. This impressed the King very much. The king allowed them trading rights. Soon a trader’s colony came into being. The traders then brought with them their sons and daughters and wives and mothers and fathers and sisters and concubines. The traders grew prosperous and they started thinking about how to make more wealth. So, unlike the past they started bribing the officials. It was around this time that they established a dictionary and encyclopedia making factory. The factory grew and produced millions of books. And with it the traders influence also grew. Finally there was a battle in which not a single drop of blood was shed and yet the traders won. The traders had bought all the influential courtiers of the king. Thereafter, the traders established their rule. The Xulu dynasty came to an end. Soon they set up colleges and universities. These colleges and universities produced young men and women who were quite well read. They knew how to read future in the books that were written in ancient past. These young people began writing poems in which they expressed their anguish. They wrote novels in which they depicted the sordid present. They also wrote long essays in which they complained that as trade brought wealth, the wealth has once again brought with it its attending poverty.
Amidst all these the old man, the protagonist of our story was born. It was said about the old man that his father and mother who were weavers had found him floating in a basket in the river. The old man grew up under their care and protection. Very soon he taught himself to read and write and later when he grew up he enrolled himself in a law college. The old man was a lawyer who lived a monkish live. He did not care much about the worldly comforts. He was earnest as a prophet. One day the old man, who was then very very young was walking down the river. This was his favorite way to pass his time. He could speak now to the birds and the trees. He saw a group of young men teasing a very old woman, he was furious and he left the place immediately. Soon he came across a money lender who was beating a peasant. He could not withstand this so he left the market immediately. He then arrived at a chai-khana. Here he saw a judge kicking a waiter because his tea had arrived late. The old men got up and forswear to do something to change all this. But what he could not understand.
So the old man took a leave of the world. He climbed a mountain and entered a cave. He meditated on the suffering of the world around him. And after one hundred months he came back to the town. That afternoon when he walked the market, no one could recognize him. He sat down under the Bodi tree to delivery his maiden sermon. There was no one to hear him. The first being to come was an injured street dog. Soon bees and butterflies came and then an old woman who was once a whore. They listen to him in rapt attention. They could not understand what was being said. But they could make out that something important was being said. That day the old man said three things: (a) produce things that you consume (b) dignity is worth much more than gold coins (c) those who fight in the name of religion should be thrown out of the city-state.
There was no one to clap. But the wind couriered his voice to the merchant’s court and they heard what was being said. At first when the people heard him, they said he was a mad man. Soon they began to doubt their own sanity. And in short time they became his followers. The old man started teaching people about the constitution. It was a parchment that contained the limits of their being. And hence, he argued even the birds ought to know how to decipher it. The old man wrote and spoke all the time. The world for him had become a big lecture theater.
Sometimes afterwards the old man succeeded in causing the merchant’s heavy financial loss. In the past everybody bought salt. Now they were its creators. This model of living sent an alarm bell in the merchant’s inner rings. The merchants hired lawyers and brought the matter before the court. The court decided in favour of the merchants. And thus, the old man was thrown out of the limits of city walls.
One day, I woke up and received a phone call from one of my engineer friend. He was very upset. And so he asked me if I could accompany him to a nearby deserted Island for a short vacation. I agreed. Those of who live in the city, I mean inside the bureaucratic cages, are always looking for chances to get out of it. One likes living without a name, a passport and a ration card. And so we both left the city. The moment we arrived, I found the beach to be really empty. It was a kind of beach that I had come across while reading Albert Camus’ The Outsider. The beach matched his lyrical description. I was sitting while my friend was talking over the phone. I got a bid bored so I started walking. I kept on walking until I could see my friend appear as a needle in a desert. The wind was cool. And egged on by the beer I was carrying in my stomach. I kept walking. The wind was so strong that I felt that I only had to lift my arm, and I could start flying like an eagle. Now, when I turned back, I could see that I had arrived at a place where there was nothing. It was only I everywhere. My heart starting beating loudly and as it happens in a dream I started running back. But, my legs hit on a stone and I fell flat on my face. I became unconscious. The screen of my mind had shut. It was complete darkness now.
Later, when I woke up, I found that I was lying inside a cave. There was nobody there. So I thought maybe all this talk about ghosts and spirits are true. May be some kind and angelic spirit had carried my body to this cave. But then when I went outside I saw the old man. He was cooking fish. And he offered me some. What was he doing there? And who exactly was he? I could not understand. So I asked him. He stayed silent and spoke nothing.
Next morning when I woke up, I felt like leaving this place, and entering the city. I was on the other side of the great wall of Tin Tin land. I wanted to rush and wear the garment of my identity that I had left behind. I asked him the same questions again. And thus spoke the old man. He said, look I have been living here because I felt and said some truth about my mother city. And this irked the rulers of the city. So you see I have been forced to live here for years now.
And when I was about to leave, I saw the old man trying to push the wall back. He was aided by the wind and the birds. I left like laughing. And asked him as to what exactly was he up to, he said, I am trying to push the wall back. But this is stupidity. You are so learned in law and history. Why do you have to do all this!
The old man said. When I had first begun this, I was alone. Now you see, the winds are aiding me. And so are the birds. The wind changes its course to help me, and these birds you see, they leave their morsel for me. Who says I am alone. Today you have come alone. And soon you will go back. And maybe you will spread my words. After all words do travel and reach the nook and corners of people’s soul.
I came back to the hotel and narrated all this to my friend. He listened and said, it is time we go back. May be you can write a long poem about this. And so we left.