For some reason, the word ‘loneliness’ reminds me of the Scottish Highlands. I haven’t been there, but it’s like a dream that you vaguely remember after waking up. Something that you haven’t experienced first hand, but you can allude to as if you have known it from another life. I don’t know what the Highlands are like in reality, but I presume it is both beautiful with the fluent landscapes, and eerie with the lore about the Loch Ness monster.
Loneliness. Like Scottish Highlands. Haunting and murderous. Obsessive and vicious. It can be a curious fixation you can’t shirk off and at the same time be a pain you can’t bear.
There are times when the irresistible charm of solitude draws one into the shell and makes them build an abode there, and be permanently caught in it, like a spider in its own web. Every crumb of solitude is devoured ravenously because it is the only thing a famished spirit craves.
And then there are also those moments when loneliness bites like a bed bug and sucks one’s essential life force; it drives a blunt dagger into the chest and lets the blood drain out of the vacant heart - slowly, agonizingly. The carnival of the world then fades into the ether and there is only an imaginary line at the horizon that divides the sea of tears from the sky of sanity.
What does someone invaded by such savage loneliness search for in this world?
एक अकेला इस शहर में रात में और दोपहर में आब-ओ-दाना ढूँढता है आशियाना ढूँढता है
(A lonely man in this city is searching all day and night for food, water and shelter)
Let not the lines from this supremely melancholic track trick us into thinking that the man is suffering from poverty in terms of food, water and shelter; the basics are mentioned only to highlight his existential angst. It’s a life devoid of the emotional essentials. His condition is one of abject penury in terms of ‘being alive’. It speaks of a man who feels he has died inside. It is a feeling that we so cleverly hide with our seasoned gimmicks; a feeling that gets lost in the melee of everyday preoccupations.
Listening to these lines, I wonder what privations must be haunting the people who live behind the windows I see from my room at night. Every glass box of light that shines amidst the night’s darkness must be seeking something – love, laughter, peace, conviction, faith and then some that they themselves can’t decipher. Behind every window there must be despair clinging to the walls and disappointments crouching in corners.
For the man who has exhausted all hope, the search is ambiguous and never-ending; it goes beyond day and night.
दिन ख़ाली-ख़ाली बर्तन है दिन ख़ाली-ख़ाली बर्तन है और रात है जैसे अंधा कुआँ इन सूनी अँधेरी आँखों में आँसू की जगह आता है धुआँ
(The day is an empty vessel, and the night is a blind, bottomless well. From these empty dark eyes, only smoke arises in place of tears.)
I have always perceived despair as a bleak, grey entity that blurs our vision and distorts our perception. But it seems despair/hopelessness pervades the human heart in the sooty shades of black, especially to those who have gone to the pits and touched the abyss.
Do people really hit such lows where they lose all positive perception of life and get pushed to the edge of sanity? Yes, they do, when they forfeit their life purpose, when loss becomes their only perceived reality and days are rendered directionless. I have seen and heard them at close quarters. I have watched them writhe in insufferable throes. I have felt their agony in my veins.
To them, the day is a bare vessel that has nothing to offer and the night is a cavernous well that belches only darkness from its belly. I have heard them describe themselves as wasted and spent, with only smoke coming out of the vacuous eyes. Smoke in place of tears – it can happen only if a quiet volcano is simmering inside waiting to erupt and set their very soul on fire.
They then search for a valid reason to be alive, but they have no legitimate excuse to die either.
जीने की वजह तो कोई नहीं मरने का बहाना ढूँढता है
No reason to live. No excuse to die.
These are stinging lines that make me wince. Broken and defeated, how many people are driven to the precipice, unable to resolve this dilemma!
What will I not do to save someone standing on the brink like this, lurching between hopeless life and perverse death?
If only we had answers to all our questions and life could resolve all our riddles!
एक अकेला इस शहर में… A lonely man in this city…
He further watches with distress the roadways that stretch longer than lifetimes. Roads which, perhaps like him, run forever without a breather and yet, don’t reach their destination. Neither the man nor the roads know where they are running and in search of what ultimate end.
इन उम्र से लंबी सड़कों को इन उम्र से लंबी सड़कों को मंज़िल पे पहुँचते देखा नहीं बस दौड़ती-फिरती रहती हैं हम ने तो ठहरते देखा नहीं
These lines hold up a glazing mirror to me. The snide remark about our inherent nature to keep running isn’t lost on me as I stand in my balcony and watch vehicles zipping through the 14 lane Sheikh Zayed Road. What am I doing, sprinting without a pause like this? Where to, actually?
Or like these roads, am I supposed to keep going, and find my freedom in the mindless running, like our iconic Forrest Gump?
All said this city feels so estranged to the lonely heart; it is so filled with unknown faces that it desperately looks for something familiar and recognizable, someone to associate with, something that would provide it with a sense of acceptance.
इस अजनबी से शहर में जाना-पहचाना ढूँढता है
ढूँढता है ढूँढता है
Every lonely man in a city….regardless of which part of the world he might be in....at night and in the day…is searching for means to survive and an abode to reside…
एक अकेला इस शहर में रात में और दोपहर में आब-ओ-दाना ढूँढता है आशियाना ढूँढता है…
Flush with melancholy and metaphors, this sweet lament written by Gulzar leaves a dull ache behind as I retire for the night. But I will endure the ache tonight for all the lonely hearts in cities across the world. I hope the morning shines fresh light into their lives and they find a renewed reason to be alive. May there be wholesome new beginnings in their lives. And in ours too.