It took just a few seconds and a knotty brain teaser in class five to awaken me to the potent scent of life’s absurdity. This at a ridiculously young age of ten.
A lion, a goat and a bundle of grass, said my teacher, her face like a shut gate.
A person has to ferry them across the river in a boat. As the boat is tiny, this person can only carry one other alongside.
If the person leaves the lion and the goat alone together, the lion will eat the goat. If the goat and the grass are left together, the goat will eat the grass, my teacher announced.
The glee on her face, the glint in her eyes were unmistakable.
She seemed delighted with the riddle’s cunning as much as on the torture it would inflict on us youngsters in the next hour. Oh, the secret villainies of teachers.
Why on earth would a person want to take these beings along with them, this strange assortment of creatures, in the first place? I thought perplexedly.
This even as something began to spiral within my insides in concentric waves like waves in water. Whatever it was, it was moving round and round and it smelt of sweat, a black reek. It came to me that my teacher’s puzzle was not only stupid, uselessly disturbing and an irrational poser but one that showed up life as senseless.
I lost interest in the puzzle.
Instead, within my head, a series of quick thoughts bubbled.
It came to me that we all live in a closed-looped universe. One that is utterly uncaring of people’s survival. If sitting on a boat with a lion and giving up boundaries was meant to teach us anything it was this.
What’s more, the meaning of the phrase the road to hell is paved with good intentions, something my father used repeatedly, but I never understood, exploded bright and clear at this moment. I mean, if one wants, from the goodness in their heart, to spend time, setting everything aside, in service of a bleating goat, a sabre-toothed lion and a bundle of coarse grass and risk being eaten, butted and stung by tiny insects, then what can I say other than the fact that you have self-deserting instincts.
The fact that schools teach children to think along these lines made me lose respect for this institution.
Surely, you can understand how it must have been for me. A girl who had her head in the clouds suddenly staggered with the truth of life on a normal school day.
It seemed unfair. Rather than pay heed to my age, my girlhood, and start small then tip-toe around a bit to reveal the not-so-appealing truths, these awakenings had got going altogether and gobsmacked me in the face. No warning.
My throat locked up, my stomach was in knots, my body turned sweaty and I felt nauseous. Whatever sense of promise, magic and wonder there was to childhood was shot to hell.
At least to me, at that point, it seemed like it did.
From this point on, for the next two years of my childhood, a kind of boiling high noon set in for me. That’s the best way I can describe my many subsequent stir-ups.
If I began to regularly catch on to the truth that everything in life is pointless, I also began time and again to catch on to another truth: the stupidest thing one can do is look for meaning in life.
Life, in short, I understood, is not all it’s cracked up to be.
I know you will say that at my age growth is meant to be more about gathering physical skills, coordination and muscle control rather than one with huge mental changes. That such odd rhythms are reserved for those hitting puberty, big kids or for grown-ups.
But what can I say other than wisdom happened to me really young.
That I went to bed normal one day and the next day was different.
That, at twelve, I use my glimpses of life’s absurdity as a way to be free. To be myself. To push against rules and directions. To laugh. Yes, and to enjoy life’s senselessness.
That I choose to not carry the lion, goat and a bundle of grass, this forced baggage, to not solve the absurdity of this puzzle, to not be part of this clueless, self-inflicted nonsense, these annoyingly active verbs.
That I am in a happy place, not the sad place I imagined I would be three years ago.
That I am in a place of my own where I need to just carry my flag. And grow as I see fit.
My teacher says I am a ‘young rebel’, my school labels me ‘a misfit’, some of my friends think me ‘an enormously bold girl for saying that there is no meaning to studying or to life itself’ and others ‘weird’.
I do not care much for any of their comments just for the fact that life is easier for me when I refuse to take things around me, joy and sadness, success and failure, loss and gain, personally.
Far too many things happen during a day, even during an hour, a week, a month, a year. One can fool oneself to believe they have meaning or a certain pattern but wait for something unexpected to happen then you know the opposite is true.
I have found a place of comfort between the universe and I.
It’s time for my friends get to their best living experience by setting out on their own adventures. Like nomads.
Their awakenings may be vastly different from mine yet it would have equal merit for it would be their truth.
Some might understand life to be sensible, reasonable. Full of colour, rich with promise, plump with rewards.
Others may find their awakenings to be frighteningly different.
I say it’s okay to let go of the normal, sometimes. For, after all, the definition of normal keeps changing. And really there is no one definition of it.
Chitra Gopalakrishnan, a New Delhi-based journalist and a social development communications consultant uses her ardour for writing, wing to wing, to break firewalls between nonfiction and fiction, narratology and psychoanalysis, marginalia and manuscript and tree-ism and capitalism.