My first attempt at fiction
The boy was tired.
He had come a long way from comfort, and there seemed to be no way of saying how much further he would have to go. The only thing that kept him going was the thought that he would not be able to live easily without finding the answers.
Coming to a stream of reason, he stopped to drink of it, and looked back at the way he had come. Had he not been so uncomfortable not knowing the answers, he would never have embarked on the journey. For it was no easy task he had undertaken. He was traversing the paths that thought traveled, emerging from deep within the dense foliage of emotion, and finally pouring itself out at the sea of consciousness. It was like following the path an unbridled horse had taken, for there seemed no purpose, no reason in the movement. The paths were tortuous, and here and there he observed places where the thought had broken through cobwebs of sloth, gaining momentum, but no direction with every step. There were pools he came by, but he stopped not though he knew that thought had sipped from them, for he knew the effect these had had – thought had become drunk with pride. And there were trees under who’s shade thought had rested, but he hurried through, for he knew they cast shadows of doubt. He looked at the water, but the stream of reason was brackish, and he sighed and plodded on towards his destination, the source of thought.
At times he grew frightened when he saw what lay ahead, he had to cross mountains of despair, traverse valleys of self-criticism, and shiver through rains of misery. But he found sustenance in the fruits of hope that battled against these and survived, if only to nourish his spirit. And he grew confident when he looked up and saw the star of wisdom, which guided him, and set forth with fresh vigour.
But there came a time when his will to go on seemed to succumb. Long had he battled, but his arms grew tired, and his strokes grew weaker. He feared he would soon fall prey to despondency, which constantly hovered around, waiting for him to falter. He sought to strengthen himself of his resolve, but the mists of time dimmed his vision, and he began to question why he set out on the journey.
‘It would have been easier to live like the other boys,’ he thought, ‘I would play, sleep and live in a world of escapism.’
But he had chosen to look beyond the easy world, and had decided to plough through reality, and now he wondered whether he had gained or lost.
Just when he felt the seeds of doubt take root in his imagination, draining it of its fertility; when he felt that his world would be left barren, and creativity would spring up no more, he came to the well of illusions.
Then he saw the old man beside it.
‘The wise old man!’ he cried and ran towards him.
There had been talk of the wise old man even in his world, where people spoke of the man who knew all about life. Some spoke of him as a possessor of great knowledge, and that his hair whitened with every wise thought he had, while others cautioned that he was a sorcerer, and showed things that one would rather not know, and that once one heard what he said, one’s life would seem devoid of happiness.
But the boy was not afraid. With all the courage of innocence, he cried out to the wise old man, ‘Wise sir, will you help me with my quest?’
‘Think well, my friend,’ said the wise man, turning from the well of illusions, ‘for knowledge can wound.’
The boy was confused.
‘But wise sir, I was told that knowledge brings growth.’
‘Growth is always painful. The knowledge you seek will rend apart your veils of ignorance, but what you see will be painful, and wish as you might, the comfort of ignorance will ever be lost to you.’
The boy was silent.
After a while, he asked softly. ‘Will there be only pain?’
The old man smiled. The boy was still young and had a lot to learn.
‘Growth is painful,’ he repeated, ‘and confusing. But if you work your way through, it makes you powerful.’
The boy was silent again.
Then he said, ‘Speak to me, sir.’
The wise man beckoned him to the well of illusions.
‘Look inside,’ he said. ‘What do you see?’
‘Myself’ replied the boy.
‘Is it you?’
‘I see myself,’ said the boy, staring at the reflection, confused now.
‘What you see is an image. It is an image of yourself, and you may think it is you, but it is yet only an image.’
The wise man drew closer to the well and asked again, ‘What do you see?’
‘ I see you’, replied the boy, looking at the water.
‘Do you see me?’ ‘I see your image, sir’ the boy corrected himself.
‘Throughout life, it is images that occupy us. We create an image for ourselves, and we believe that the image represents who we truly are. We cease to realize that we keep changing, and when reality strikes us…’ He picked up a stone and threw it into the water. The boy’s image underwent grotesque transformations as the water struggled to calm itself. ‘…when reality strikes us, we know that something is not right, that the image we see cannot be us, but we hope that life would leave us as we were.’
‘And the image of others?’ asked the boy.
‘Isn’t that an image too? We help create these images and we see others only by their images. We forget that the image is of the person as he once was, not how he is.’
The boy was troubled. ‘But I like to think that I know my friends,’ he cried.
‘You will, if you do not bind your friends to their image. Realize that people change, and give them room.’
The boy gazed at the reflection as he thought about what he learned. Then he realized that though he had changed because of the knowledge he had gained, the image remained the same. And others would still believe he was as his image.
‘So it is all a play of images,’ he reflected aloud. ‘Realize, my friend,’ continued the wise man, ‘that knowledge too needs nurturing. You need to care for it, till you grow strong enough to accept it. Else you might discard it unused, and all it will do is poison your mind against trying it again.’
‘I’ll do my thinking, sir,’ replied the boy, ‘but you have still not helped me with my quest.’
The wise man laughed.
‘The quest you undertake will take you a long way before you find answers to what you seek. But what I have told you will build strength to help you along the way, if you use it wisely. And along this way lie your answers…’
The boy thanked him, and set along the path he pointed…