The Last Madman

Dear Taimoor,

You have been sending me letter after letter, begging me to impart to you an account of the events that have led me to be admitted to this horrid place—a place only good for the ones who have completely given up on life and the struggle which that life entails. Very well—you have always been a good friend of mine and have never held back from trying to the best of your ability, as limited as it may be, to understand my mind. You are almost always humble and do not keep a high opinion of yourself. That is a quality indeed seldom found in individuals, and perhaps it is because of this that I find you so enjoyable as an interlocuter. Most of the other people I have known in my life only feign ignorance—but you truly do know the extent of your own uninformed mind. But overall, you do not matter to me all that much. I understand you crave my approval to keep progressing in your life. Remember how grateful you were when I, with ‘tricks’ of psychology, revealed to you how the unusual nature of your childhood has made you the way you are. Nevertheless, I have no intention of being too condescending today, amusing and mirthful as it may be for me. No, I am in a better mood today and would not hesitate to put down the account of my last week here to perhaps cure myself of the intensity of these memories that keep causing me anxiety every time I recall them—at least that is what these doctors claim writing will do for me. I will give you a short account of the past week.

Taimoor, it all began when my brother had terrible back pain, and he decided to go on a trip to Karachi in search of a qualified doctor to help him with it. I decided to join him on this trip because, at home, I’d gotten tired of the rut I was in. We bought train tickets, and when the time came for us to go to the railway station, dad carried us there on his motorcycle. When we arrived there and stood waiting for the train, I shared with Nooj my final decision regarding marriage. You see, my friend, I had been torn between two fine women for marriage—and choosing between them had been my preoccupation for a while. I had made my decision and asked Hania to marry me. I believe I talked to you once about Hania. She’s a very smart girl—any other girl I have ever met seems to be the epitome of stupidity in comparison with her. We had been dating for a few weeks only when I asked her to marry me. The other girl was arranged for me by my family for marriage, but I declined that offer in due time despite the opportunities that marriage would have allowed me to seize.        

I will not venture to elaborate on the trivial details of the story so that you may see variations in the detail I put in the course of my narrative. After a while, as we waited in anticipation, the train arrived and, just as I had suspected, Nooj had barely been listening to my words as his eyes were compulsively fixed on the incoming train. We lifted our bags from the ground and with some difficulty, found our compartment and seats. At this point, I was glad to have decided to accompany Nooj on this trip. He sat beside me, and opposite us sat an old woman and a young man, presumably her son. As the train became alive and lurched forward, I recall thinking that my life was as good as it could be. I had a wonderful fiancée, a trip to look forward to, and a good few days of unrest before me. This was only at the start of the trip, my friend. It all went downhill from there. But yet, I cannot make myself regret jumping on this ‘journey of self-discovery’ as I have come to call it. You’ll see what I mean. 

Where was I? This has become a common habit of mine: forgetting my train of thought. Let me read the letter as I have written it thus far again…

Yes, I seemed to be talking about the start of the trip. The journey was extremely exhausting, Taimoor. I could not sleep, as hard as I might have tried. The whole compartment had dozed off with the exception of myself. I was alone as I could have been: my fiancée was asleep, my brother was asleep, and so was everyone else. I resolved to meditate on the choices I had made. I could not feel even a tinge of regret at the choices I had made so far.

When we arrived at the Cantt Railway Station and left our train with the bags hanging from our shoulders, I was sheerly excited by the clouds that were hanging over this city; there was no intense sunlight that often characterizes a day in Pakistan. We found a rickshaw and made our way to a hotel. It took us a while before we decided to stay at the Umpire Hotel, a large building with magnificent views from the balcony. We got a room, and I immediately ran for the balcony when we were finally settled. The balcony overlooked a bridge, behind which was an intersection nearby. I took great pleasure in dragging my chair into the balcony and sitting on it with my legs crossed, taking in the sheer immensity and modernity of this big city. You could see motorcycles, cars, and sometimes carriages just driving by through the bridge, and it would be like watching a miniature version of Karachi from the outside; so sublime did the view feel, and so distant did the residents of it appear.

Half an hour after having enjoyed the view, I took out my phone and called Hania. I was excited to let her know I’d finally arrived here. We had a heart-warming conversation after which I took a nap. After a few hours, Nooj woke me up, and we both made our way to the Aga Khan Hospital. On our way there, while we were on the bus, I looked out of the window and saw the skyscrapers towering over the city and people everywhere. I felt positively sick at this sight—I felt I would vomit any second. Nooj, who had been sitting beside me, asked me what was wrong, and I explained to him why I thought the sight of this city had me so affected. He couldn’t understand my disgust—he was loving every second of this trip. The city had so allured him that for a second I felt disgusted at him too. How could anyone bear the sight of crowds—of the bulk of copies of the same person just wandering around everywhere? I do not understand the people who do not share my sentiment. Anyway, after we arrived at the hospital and sat quietly in the waiting room, waiting for Nooj’s turn, I texted Hania once again. While we were conversing, Nooj’s turn came, and he left me alone. I was still rather grumpy from my experience on the bus—I could hardly be cheerful. And she felt it in our conversation. And in the middle of our conversation, I suddenly told her that I wasn’t in the mood for chatting anymore. She seemed to be taking it quite personally and reflected that in the way she responded to this abrupt farewell. Then suddenly the thought of losing her waged a war on my mind. My heart flared up, and a sickening feeling came over me like a man told he was to be executed in half an hour. My attention sharpened over the self that hid melted inside the layer I had shown her; he growled inside and wanted to escape his chains. He wanted to sabotage any corpuscle of satisfaction that may venture to come upon my deteriorating mind. By this time, my brother returned. My fingers trembled before the screen and I hardly had any energy to continue the conversation with her on my phone. I walked anxiously behind my brother, feigning a normal state of mind while a tempest of despair had been causing havoc inside me. I thought I might even puke. So much sacrificed, so much resolved, all of what? So that he could ruin it for me with a single line of text. No! Nothing more was clearer to me at that moment than the fact that the sanest action that was left for me to perform was suicide. The choices were too many, and they would always paralyze me. I would marry her. But what if it didn’t happen? Then all shall have been for naught. My impulses had let out the dragon suddenly and I stood before it, being burned to ashes as it spattered fire on me. I didn’t deserve this fate in any way! How could I deserve it? What had I done wrong? Even as I write this, a disgusting emotional energy has seized control over my person, and my fingers are moving the pen with trembling vibrations. Forgive the smearing over the page; it is unintentional. Some inmates here are even staring at me. Imagine, madmen staring at another madman, isn’t it comical?! Anyway, I must finish my account and fulfill my promise to you, my dear friend. Finishing our business at the Aga Khan University Hospital, we made our way outside and hopped into a rickshaw. The phone still shook in my hand, and I thought of turning it off lest the messages that were to come should bring about my death right at that moment. How could she not understand that it was not I who had sent that abrupt farewell for the day? Didn’t she know me better till now? I couldn’t help thinking that I was perhaps deluded into thinking that she understood me perfectly! Maybe, all my life had been a pursuit of finding my reflection, and now that I had supposedly found it, I was unleashing all of me. I couldn’t unleash all of me, I realized. Perhaps I could never do it as long as I was with her. But I loved her too much to break it off. I wouldn’t have been able to bear the loss. Nothing was as certain to me as that I could not have survived the adversities of this world after such a world-shattering loss. Who would I confide in if ever? 

This city had been like a gas that had reacted with the solution of my person and floated the precipitates of my true self to the surface. This was perhaps why the city had so sickened me. It had shown me how ordinary I was amongst these crowds of moronic copies of humans. I think you can now begin to understand why I am now in this place, spending my days like a vegetable. These doctors wake me up every day, sit before me, and ask me all sorts of questions. I can answer them; I have self-knowledge enough, but they would never understand. They are indoctrinated too. Only she could have been my doctor. She was at least half my soul, if not all of it. Would I be able to love if I do not have her before me to see my reflection staring back at me?

Anyway, when we returned to our room, I had half a mind to jump off the balcony. So peaceful would it have been after the few seconds of the thud as I collided with the ground, I seemed to think at the time. But this whirl of a hot, sticky stew of disgust scraped off my heart over and over again and disgusted me more and more by the second. This was when I understood as clearly as I could the impulse of people who committed suicide rather abruptly without clear motives: they must have stared at the abyss and been terrified of making the choice of either jumping in it or holding back. It must have been so better just not to exist, to not have to even consider the choice, much less make one without regret.

I had, by that time, not slept for two days. My mental workings, or lack thereof, had started to take their toll on me and I would have to think hard in order to make sense of my predicament and also of my surroundings. I have gotten used to it. I lack three day’s sleep even as I am writing this letter. If my letter fails to make sense, that is to blame, not me…Where was I? Oh, yes! The next day when I left the hotel with my brother to make for the hospital once more, I was all but destroyed. I could not think. The possibilities had paralyzed me. My constitution was so weak that I was afraid of falling flat on the ground any second as my feet alternated somehow. As we walked through the alley, I heard the cries of an animal and scanned around to find a horse being flogged by its master. My breath fell short and my eyes could not stop the river of tears from dripping. I rushed to the animal, pushed the tyrant away with my foot, and embraced the animal. I swear that it kissed me as I did so. Its face contorted into a smile and we were both but happy to be rid of choosing for a moment. The blood that gushed out of its bruises spilled down my face. I screamed aimlessly and my vision began to blur and I could barely see the faces of the crowd that had gathered around me. As if they cared! Then I lost all vision and slipped into oblivion. My brother must have been paralyzed with disbelief at this episode. Ha! I even laugh here sometimes thinking of how he must have reacted.  

They tell me here that I should have no hope anymore, that the intensity of emotions I have experienced thus far has ‘destroyed’ my sanity. I do not believe them. A psych-ward is not altogether separate from the business of this place. And I don’t believe the word ‘sanity’ anymore. There is no such thing. There was a time when people who were thought mad were also thought to be special, in contact with the divine somehow. How I wish I was born back then! Now I am an invalid for these people, a malfunctioning brain! They will gladly treat me as such! I will not have it!  

Taimoor, in a world that is occupied all across the horizon by strangers, she was the least strange person I have ever met; like she and I had been two mutations that by chance had happened to be almost the same, and the thought there may not be another one like her terrifies me beyond anything else and any other horror that has been a part of my life. It is a rare privilege to find the same soul in a different body, one only a few individuals get to experience. Almost every other similar experience has been infatuation mistaken for love. I was watching the film Romeo + Juliet before I started this trip, and there is one thing that has stuck with me that I think most people miss: in the scene where they lay their eyes on each other for the first time across that fish-tank, notice that their own reflection is also reflected back to them superposed on the face of the other; as if they are finding themselves in each other. That’s what my love for her is. I saw myself superimposed on her. That’s what all love truly is, I have come to believe: to find yourself outside yourself, to find scraps of your own creation that you thought you exclusively possessed in another, to know that there indeed exist a few rare individuals who will emit your essence in some other place in this world. Whatever we do, the dizziness while staring at the abyss shall always elude us. We shall all—at least the smart among us—feel crippled by our own freedom. I think I finally understand why the slaves who willingly associate themselves with their masters do so—to not have to choose. To be told what to do is always easier than to choose and then risk regretting it. We kill the future that every other choice entails—and we’d rather let someone else kill it for us than to kill it ourselves; we fear getting our hands dirty. Inaction is the most despicable action. I am the last madman in this new world—this world of spectators who are outsiders to their own lives. Are there any individuals—any madmen—remaining in this new world? If so, I’d love to make their acquaintance.

So, I will advise you this—choose! Do not let anyone make your choices for you. Make your life such that if you had to live it over and over again, you will not be terrified of what is to come. Don’t deny yourself your freedom, my friend. And understand the cruel joke of freedom! I should laugh at it—but I only cry.


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