The Monkeys by fire ; The Old Man in the Woods

monkeys fire old man sidharth vardhan
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(A short fiction by Sidharth Vardhan
A tribute to Kafka
September 24, 2015)


We monkeys have sat by this ever-burning fire for generations because we are afraid to go outside the perimeter of its light into the dark. Although we have tried to look beyond into the darkness every day hoping to find something; yet all of us are afraid to go outside in dark. And this fear is not baseless, for whoever has entered the darkness has never returned.

Thus this fire has a very central role to play in our lives. It has been there for as long as memory goes back into the past. One is often tempted to ask who created it in the first place – you can depend upon monkeys to let their curiosity rule them. While over the years, the organized efforts have been made to increase it by feeding wood and thus increasing perimeter of its light – one must add ‘quite successfully’; the question of its origins remain debateable. Some argue that it was always there – but the imagination finds it hard to deal with infinities. These days it is even contested that it was a result of an explosion.

However, a widely accepted view has been that the Old Man did it. The Old Man, who it has been claimed, lives outside the perimeter of light. Many monkeys have repeatedly claimed to ‘see’ him there – although their descriptions of him so different from one another that it render any explanation impossible. And they keep fighting among each other as to whose description is better than other. Another thing for which you can depend on monkeys for – to form their opinions on things they know nothing about and then fight to prove they are right.

They have formed factions – major as well as minor. There is, for example, a faction, J, which is sure there is an Old Man and he is very kind since as, so the legend goes, this old man first asked one of our ancestors to kill his son; but later out of total mercy told him he need not do so. Kind, isn’t it?

There is another faction, C, which argues that the old man actually sent his son to us, named Jay Cee – after doing a plastic surgery on him to give him the form of a monkey. I personally think that that the son, if there is a son, wouldn’t have agreed to go through plastic surgery for monkeys like us.

Yet another faction, I, will have it that Jay Cee was only Old Man’s messenger to our little land like many others, who had come to us to tell us about the day the fire will be dissolved and all bad monkeys will be punished. Kind of makes you feel like you are in a classroom where the teacher has gone out on an errand and will punish in-disciplined souls on return! Anyway, none of these messengers seems to have done their job well – we are still confused, aren’t we?

Another faction tells you that there is more than one old man out there – It sounds very much like a monkey thing to do, to go out looking for many where you haven’t yet found one.

And all these factions along with many others have each one or more leaves of its own. Each faction claims its leave(s) to be THE LEAVE containing the message either narrated or written by Old Man himself. There are so many THE LEAVES containing so very different messages written in so many different languages one can’t help but marvel Old Man’s creative talents. Me? I personally refuse to love a leave that doesn’t start with words, ‘Burn me before you kill an innocent on my account’. (If any of my fellow monkeys happen to be listening, forgive the mockery! that runs in our monkey blood.)

There are a few who scorn at all these factions and say there is no Old Man at all – and these last are themselves scorned at in turn by rest, for others won’t be reminded of that possibility. There is no presence as painful as an absence – that is any presence ever felt Whether real or apparent … Which reminds me if any of my fellow monkeys asks, this meeting never happened, you don’t know me.

Anyway, some of these last who say there is no old man at all, claim the old man is an illusion – the result of our vivid imagination which shows brain what it wishes to see. The argument is favored by the fact that despite the large extension of illuminated land as the fire has grown over the years – even to areas where the Old Man was supposed to be; he is still not to be found. Instead, he seems to have silently crawled back as if avoiding us, hiding from us. Maybe he has too many wrinkles and feels hideous.

Instead, so these non-believing monkeys will have you believe, that Old Man was imagined back when the fire was still new and fears high; our ancestors needed a human that could father them and in absence of such a father figure they might have imagined one. In fact, we monkeys have always found it difficult to get over our daddy issues. That could explain all those fights. Who daddy loves the most? We say “us”, they say ”us” and then the fight.

Whether or not, this father figure is real, these infidels argue, it is high time we become independent of him – even if it is tempting to believe in a higher figure, if only as someone to curse on a rainy day. He, if he is, definitely seems to be wanting to be forgotten – or wouldn’t he have explained beyond doubt how he wants to be acknowledged? At the moment, one cannot help but wonder whether he thinks of anything of our acknowledgment or further requests and gifts we keep on making.

And one doubts if he did anything at all worth acknowledging. For example, how did he created the fire in the first place? Some argue he used woods and stones; others argue that he used petrol and wood – you see even on this point there has been no clarity but most seems to agree that a fire implies an old man who started it – for fire, they say, can’t create itself and monkeys, they all seem to be surely incapable of doing it.

There is also the very nature of Old Man – in fact, some people think that he is not old at all; still, others, though very few, are sure that it is a woman and there are some who say he has a vulture head. These last are considered primitive by others.

Also, what is there to say that Old Man is not a bad guy? In fact, look at the facts – his messages have created only confusion and differences. We are fighting with each other stupidly – one could claim that he is making us fight each other for his entertainment; powerful have always made fun of powerless –the temptation is just too strong. Just look at how we monkeys play with insects. Yes, I insist upon it. The Old Man is just making fun of us; it sure must be hard for a man in his position not to laugh at our monkeyish behavior.

Maybe, just maybe Old Man is the biggest enemy we have. There is an old proverb among us – a good impostor is one that would have you cut your tail and that of others, give them to him/her and still have you believe that he/she is good and has done you a favor.

Anyway, the hard truth remains one can never be sure.

And yet all these factions are so sure of being right they must kill others to prove it – in service to or protection of Old Man they say. At times, one walks along the perimeter of the fire’s light for a lone walk, dejected with all this barbarian behavior; and looks outside the perimeters; hoping – yes hoping for sometimes one can’t help it; hoping to see him … And yet, all the while being sure that there would be nothing but darkness visible.


Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoy it, you can rate it on its Goodreads page. You may find more of my fiction here, particularly my book, you can download it for free,  and some of my reviews here, though most of my reviews are only on my Goodreads profile.

Copyright – Sidharth Vardhan


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