(A short fiction by Sidharth Vardhan
First written on December 4, 2018)
There is a body next to my bed. The body of a sick kid. A very, very sick kid. I call it a body because I am already thinking of it as dead. And that is how I write. Not as I see but as I feel. As an impressionist and not as a realist. And anyway, the only people who have any claim to realism have either killed themselves, gone insane or in jungles feeding the kids like these.
The body. How it makes my life a nightmare! It wails and cries and moans and screams – and it does all that, I know it sounds absurd, silently. Every morning on waking up, I spend several minutes trying not to think about it. For what is there is to think? Earlier I used to be normal, more or less, before one day, this body appeared next to my bed and now when I am one of Kafkirs.
Kafkirs, as you know, react to their misfortune in different ways the first time they see a body next to their bed. Many of them are too embarrassed by their presence. Some even hide it and go on pretending to be normal – successfully for a while. Others like me react at first by posting to social media. But even while we do so, we act as if we ourselves can’t help the distressed kids. As if these bodies belong to some other planet, far beyond our reach. They are all far closer out there in jungles just beyond the city walls. Though it remains a mystery how they come they suddenly show up at bed step of people like me turning us into Karkirs.
I bet many of my readers will stop reading as soon as they realize that I am a Kafkir. But you must realize that a Kafkir is like the rest of humanity. Every human being has Cain’s mark – a Kafker is different only because he or she suddenly saw it once and, once seen, it can never be unseen. Who knows a body might appear at your bed step tomorrow and turn you into a Kafkir too.
But I understand you. Till the body appeared on my bed step, I was just as prejudiced as you. You are prejudiced against Kafkers like us because we feel compelled to speak about bodies. Kafkirs often show an undesirable change in their behavior. They would grow absent-minded, sometimes they would start weeping for no apparent reason – in fact, they would weep at parties and festivities, at dinner tables full of merry crowds. But all these are only signs that the disease will grow worse. And it would always end in madness or suicides.
And your prejudice is so well justified. Truth is like the burning, blazing sun, that must not be directly looked at with naked eyes. The only option for a Kafir is opt-in ignorance. To chose to develop an ignorance of the fact of the existence of these bodies. Pretend as if they are not there, pretend there is nothing awkward happening. That is what normal people do and expect Kafkirs to do. Treating the bodies like they should be treated – an inconvenient fact that must not be talked about in order to retain social decorum. Like you would do if someone makes a noisy fart in Queen Victoria’s Coronation party.
But it is much harder for Kafkirs to do this as they must wake up every morning to the sight of these suffering children.
Still, that is what I am trying to. I try my best to ignore it, to not let it catch me. As you can see I objectify it by calling it an ‘it’. I haven’t ever tried talking to it. Never seen other bodies directly. Still, my family and friends and neighbors like me much less because I often end up talking about it. And because I can’t even pretend to hate the body.
It is not because I hate it or feel disgusted by these bodies that I objectify them as normal people do. I am Kafkir after all, I have no claim for normality. No, I feel sorry for them. I do. There was a time I used to click its and other bodies’ pictures and post them on Facebook and the internet reminding people of their existence, begging them to spare them a thought. I even tried to talk, hold discussions about them with my friends – often to later’s frustration. I sometimes wrote about them – lines deemed beautiful by some people and, which, have earned me some popularity or notoriety. Not sure though, if it helped the kids. That is why I stopped – or perhaps because of threats made on my life, how often I had a nightmare of being lynched!
No, I objectify it because giving it a personality scares me. For a fellow human, I would feel compassion. The greatest handicap that human being can develop. Compassion is, after all, nothing but imagination – we see a suffering soul and imagine, whether consciously or unconsciously, ourselves in its condition. And the thought of being in its condition hits one all of sudden and with full force making one scared. Think what terror must a body like one next to my bed inspire! Compassion does not help the one already suffering but it makes the compassionate one miserable. And thus, despite all poetry and romance that surrounds it, compassion is a disease that only multiplies suffering.
Unfortunately, I suffer from this disease. And so badly that a part of me, against all logic, wants to help the kid. I am a fool that way. And after all, the boy (or is it a girl? I am not sure.) is just like what? eight years old? ten years old? The terror in its eyes, the way it has folded its legs next to its belly into a circle against the cold temperature (the very thin cloth it wears is hardly a protection from cold) and the very trauma that seems to be the essence of its whole existence can move the most cruelest of hearts to compassion..
And I am a good person – at the end of the day, I am a good person. I am, I am – you must really understand this. I am a very good person. It is a fact of the utmost importance if you are to understand my dilemma, the sole reason for writing this. And so you must realize it, though I am not sure myself. You see I cry on seeing the death of dogs in movies. And the sight of the kittens makes me a part in my heart go all ‘awww’. I suffer for all the miserable souls in the universe and yet I can’t move an inch to save the kid crying by my bedside
But some people, the anti-Kafkerists, take their prejudice too far. Anti-Kafkerists claim that the bodies are themselves symptoms of hearts that are too compassionate. That excess of compassion in Kafkers must be exercised to solve the problem of bodies… But the ‘problem’ according to these people is not the suffering of bodies but their inconvenient visibility because Kafkers won’t shut up about them. They put too much power with our (kafkirs’) imagination, our diseased imagination.
I wonder what these bodies that would appear on bed step of some of us turning are into Kafkirs and dooming us for life are suffering from. I look at the body next to my own bed. Its skin must have been an unhealthy shade of white but it has gone scarlet all over the face because of some kind of persistent silent anguish it seems to continuously suffer from. Dark black dots that weren’t there the first day it appeared… Or I didn’t notice them. But they have grown darker, more prominent over time as if the darkness was slowly devouring the child. I could call the kid anorexic, but it is more like a child of famine because it doesn’t have any food to eat or drinking water.
I never tried talking to the kid, for fear of increasing my compassion. But this once I slightly kick the body a couple of times to get a reaction from it other than the usual silent moaning and screaming. It only increases the intensity with which it Moans as if annoyed at being disturbed like that.
I sometimes catch myself wishing it was dead already. It is a wonder how these bodies survive after all this time in that miserable condition and without food or water. And I stop myself for even this wish is a symptom of compassion.
Must I take a knife and kill it? I wish I could. But I am not strong enough to give it a mercy death. No. Anyway how long it will live anyway? A few years? Months? Days? Hours? Minutes? It always seems like minutes, that the body would die any moment now… But it never does. Like a body caught in some sort of Zeno’s paradox, it seems to always grow lesser and lesser, dying a rather slow death and yet it never becomes nothing.
I can’t help stealing a glance at it every now and then but I must not look at it for too long. Especially at its face. The biggest source of disease of compassion. The anguish in its eyes, the wrinkles formed of intense, persistent pain but what bothers me particularly about its face most is those lips – grown brown and so dry, the way they quiver, I am moved to almost feed it. Give it some water to drink. Maybe, I sometimes tell myself, I could fetch some water from my kitchen (less than a dozen steps away) and give it to drink… Only once, no one has to know….. May it would make the body a little miserable. It is so easy. And won’t take long. Even I with my, busiest routine of the world could find time to do so. And like I said I am a good person.
But no it should not be done. The body probably won’t be saved. But even if it could be saved, I must still not do it. I must live, for myself. And the simple act of bringing the body a glass of water could kill me. Because that is how it starts – the slippery slope of compassionate acts. Now you are just giving it a glass of water, next thing you know you would be feeding it. And then you are trying to help other bodies – the ones are at bed step of others. Next, you are looking after them in jungles. You forego your own meals because you would rather feed a child. Till you realize you can’t help them all. And one day, of all the agony that ensues, you kill yourself or go insane. Many Kafkirs have gone down that way. And I have their examples to know not to make their mistake.
After all, chances are even if I save this one kid it would grow up to find another body by its side and thus suffer just like me.
And it is not like it is my kid. Right? It is just as much anyone’s responsibility as mine. Or rather it is as little of my responsibility as anyone else’s. No, I would rather just ignore it. There is nothing to be guilty about that. I just must ignore a dying child and not offer it water, I am a good person after all.