Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Tales from Togaland

Ted heard a knock on the door. And then another. He didn't bother to answer it. He wasn't expecting anyone. It was 11, his bedtime. And then, he heard someone call out, "It's me, I've been looking for you". "Am I expecting you?", Ted asked. "You've always been expecting me", the stranger answered.

The last time Ted saw his father when he was 9. He was 81 now. Or perhaps 79, he didn't know for sure. But there's one thing he knew, he knew he'd live to see his father. At least once before his maid finds him submerged in the bath tub. There's something he had to tell his father, that his mother wasn't a bad mother after all. She provided him with everything he wanted. Good education, a kind stepfather and left behind $35 after clearing off all the debts.

Ted lived all his life in a humble cottage amidst the mystical wilderness. Amidst wild elephants and the placid cheetals. Amidst scavenger vultures and charming peacocks. 'Civilization' he had only heard off. But he would never forget the day he heard the train blow its whistle. The day he walked miles and approached the railroad that flanked the forest. He remembered how he ran, petrified by the screeching sound. He pledged to never go back. And he never did.

The stranger knocked at the door another time, "Where have you come from?", Ted asked the stranger. The stranger was silent for a while. And then he answered, "It's called civilisation". That word rang a bell in Ted's mind. He was reminded of the shriek. He had never seen a train before. But he thought of it as a monster dragging human corpse. "And what is your business here?", Ted questioned. "I've come to take you with me", the stranger answered.

Ted had heard nothing about civilization. Apart from the shriek. He was sure there was more to it. He craved to know. Though, he never wished to experience it. So, he unlocked the door for the stranger. And when he did, he saw a young man with a pleasant face dressed in a black cloak. "Hello", the stranger greeted Ted. "What's your name?", Ted asked. "Well, lets save that for later", the stranger said, "Can I have some water?". Ted walked into a dark room and some time later came with a bowl of water. "Who sent you?", Ted asked. “Civilisation”, the stranger answered, “the crusade on a mission to conquer the world”. “What do you want from me?”, Ted asked. “The world outside longs for you Ted”, it was the very first time the stranger took his name, “the mortal world”.


Since then, it’s been 100 years. Ted has had many such visitors. Over and over and over again. His house, a speck in the endless forests, rests calm. An occasional knock at the door is possibly the only voice ever heard. The fear of civilization still causes a chill to run down his spine. But Ted’s glad that it’s the only facet of civilisation that has ever reached him. He still longs for his father. He still longs for someone he doesn’t have to call stranger. But stranger he is. Stranger to the world that calls him Ted. Stranger to those who have seen his decomposing self in the bathtub. And then they call him ‘dead’. They say, “Ted, are you dead?”.

Then Ted answered, “Dead - is that what civilisation calls their immortal selves?”.