Written by Ehtisham Tanvir
Life was getting really boring for him. Or maybe there was nothing left for him to explore, for all he could think of was idling and do nothing. He knew something was not okay, there was something that was bothering him but he didn’t know what. Or maybe he knew it just right but was just ignoring it, unknowingly. He was really confused. After college, he used to just sit in his room, alone. He had started to like darkness. He started spending time lying on his bed alone with lights out, listening to music or just doing nothing at all. No hangouts with friends, no time spent with his family, nothing. He was getting more and more concerned about what was happening to him.
Days passed but his mental state didn’t change.
One day, following his usual routine, he returned home from college and just locked himself in his room and lay on the bed. His room was sunlit with the golden rays flowing in his room through the windows. He was getting sleepy, but didn’t want to sleep, so he just picked up a random novel from his shelf and started reading it. The novel was about an old man and his young son who was a shepherd. His son used to take his sheep for grazing in the fields nearby his home and meanwhile spent time thinking about his life and what lay ahead of it. The novel was enjoyable and he kept reading. He was amazed to find how similar the life of that shepherd was to his own life. Flipping through the pages he kept reading till someone knocked at the door. “Yes?” he called lying on his bed. No one answered. He called again but no response this time too. Irritated, he decided to ignore it. But again someone knocked, this time a bit louder. “Mom, is that you?” he asked a bit confused. No reply. Puzzled, he decided to check it himself. Rising from his bed he walked to the door and pulled it open. To his utter surprise, he was standing at the entrance of the playing field of his primary school. On his right hand were the same old swings, where he and some of his dearest friends used to play. The field was in exactly the same form and size as it was 15 years ago. He couldn’t believe his eyes. He looked behind into his room but there was no door or a room or any house whatsoever. His mind was buzzing.
He just couldn’t comprehend what was happening, for, just a couple of minutes ago he was lying on his bed in his room and now he stood at a place he had left so many years ago! “I must be dreaming”, he thought to himself. Sure he was, because all this just couldn’t happen. He used his senses to check if this was real or just a weird dream. Just as he thought, a silly dream. But the thing that was bothering him was why on earth had his brain chosen this particular place for this dream? He hadn’t thought of that place for so long that he couldn’t even think of the last time it crossed his mind. Puzzled, he decided to just proceed with his dream. He stepped into the field, no one was there except for an old man digging into the field to plant flowers he had in a basket beside him on the ground. He couldn’t have a clear look at his face from the angle he was seeing. It was already evening and the sun was completely hidden behind layers and layers of dense clouds along the horizon. The weather was perfect, he loved it. Walking towards the old man, he thought that on hearing his footsteps, the old man would turn around to have a look at who was approaching but he didn’t respond at all. Either he was way too absorbed in what he was doing or was aware of his presence but was just ignoring it.
Walking, he reached at the spot where the old man was working. “Excuse me?” he asked hesitatingly. The old man turned around at once. “You have come finally!” the old man exclaimed with joy in his weak voice. He was a bit taken aback at such a reaction from someone he had never met. He tried to look at the man’s face closely to figure out who he was. The man looked familiar, but he couldn’t say for sure who he was. “Do you know me?” he asked sounding suspicious. “Sure I do son. What do you mean?” the old man didn’t look impressed. “I mean I don’t remember who you are. You look familiar but I don’t know you.” he said, feeling a bit embarrassed. The old man smiled and got up. He was exactly the same height as his. “Come with me.”, said the man as he started walking towards the inside of the school, still smiling. This was getting weirder. “It’s just a stupid dream”, he thought looking back at the place where the door to his room had vanished, and started following the man. The man tried to pull open the door of the school but it was locked.
“It’s locked?” said the boy, inquiringly.
“So what? It’s a dream. Isn’t it? Just take us in!” said the man laughing.
“How?” asked the boy, amazed.
“You know this place. Don’t you?”
“Yes. I do. It’s my old school.”
“So what are you waiting for? Just take us in!”
“But I don’t know how to just jump into that place! I am not a magician.”
“But you are a day dreamer and day dreamers have a strong imagination. Use your imagination to take us in. It’s not that difficult.”
The boy was amazed to find out how much the old man knew about him, but for the time being he decided to just ignore it. Closing his eyes he thought hard of how the inside of the school looked like and when he opened his eyes, they were standing in the classroom where he had all his lessons when he was six years old. The boy looked impressed by himself.
The classroom looked old and dusty. The teacher’s table was empty. On the blackboard behind the table, a vase with some roses was made with chalks of different colours. All the chairs were empty except for the one on which the boy used to sit. On that chair was a sheet of paper and some colour pencils.
“Go pick it up. Its yours.” said the man pointing at the sheet and the pencils.
The boy reached the chair and was amazed to find that those really were his pencils. On his sixth birthday, his grandfather bought him those. He picked them up. They looked new and shiny.
“Come sit with me. Let’s talk.” said the old man sitting on the chair at the far side of the room.
The boy took a chair and sat next to him still looking at the pencils he had in his hands. “My grandfather gave me these when I was young. He died a couple of weeks after that, I think. I really miss him.” said the boy not looking at the man. Just as he said that, it dawned upon him that the man sitting right next to him was actually his grandfather! He looked up and saw his face. A drop of tear was rolling down the face of the old man. The boy hugged him and he hugged him back. Letting go, the boy took a deep look at his grandfather’s old wrinkled face. He looked just like his father. “I am so glad to see you. It’s been so many years. I really miss you.” said the boy, not taking his eyes off the man’s face. The old man smiled back and said nothing.
“Do you know why I have come to see you like this?” the old man asked after a pause.
“No.”, replied the boy.
“Because I think it’s time to clear all your doubts you have about your life.”
“I don’t have any doubts.” the boy said, puzzled.
“Oh yes you have. Show me your hand.”
The boy held is hand in front of the man who took it in his own hand and squeezed it with all his force. It didn’t hurt, but as the man let his hand go, it all came back to him.
“I think there’s nothing left for me to find in the life I have. Life has stopped, nothing is changing and I feel mentally ill.”, said the boy to the old man
“Life stops only when you breathe your last. It keeps changing as long as you are alive. It’s your attitude towards life that is stagnant.” replied the man.
The boy looked confused, so the man decided to explain it. He took a pencil from the pack and hid it behind his back. After a while he asked the boy:
“What has happened to the pencil?”
“I don’t know. It’s behind your back. I can’t see it.”, replied the boy.
“Exactly! The changes that occur in your life are also hidden. The only way you can see the change is by using your inner eye. This eye works in a different way than a normal eye. It uses the light of an enlightened mind, the brain of keen thinker and the nerves of an observer.” explained the man. After this he showed the boy the pencil he had hidden behind his back. The pencil was way shorter than it had been before.
“What has happened to the pencil?” asked the boy.
“It is dying. When I hid the pencil behind me I took a sharpener too which you didn’t notice because you were too busy looking at what was shown to you. You completely ignored what was happening behind you or even right in front of you.”
The boy looked around and the room was now all messed up. The chairs were all broken, the tables all gone. Even the blackboard had irregular, messy shapes on it.
“What happened here?” asked the boy horrified.
“What you didn’t see.” replied the man.
It was getting clear to the boy now. Since the day he gained the wisdom to think, he didn’t spare a moment to look at what was happening around him and why? The time he spent with his friends seemed as if it was all wasted. He could have spent that time observing his life closely.
“No.”, said the man, “The time you spent with your friends was not wasted. The time you spent idling was wasted. Your worldly desires wasted your time. Don’t blame others for what wrong you have done to yourself. You are young. You have a sound mind and a sound body. Don’t waste this on things that have little or no significance.”
This took the boy by surprise. “How can I do this?” asked the boy, concerned.
“You are spending your life without any kind of direction. Ever heard of a road that goes nowhere? Every path leads to something. Even if you don’t know the path, it will take you somewhere new. It is only after you have completed your journey, you will find out what your destination is. Everything you do during your journey is without any aim or with an aim so insignificant that it is not worth your life. This kind of a path drives you and makes decisions for who you are and what you want. So instead of living your own life you are living a life and following a destination that is carved out by your surroundings and the things you love.”
The boy’s brain was now working fast. The old man’s words were resounding inside his brain, making sense.
“But,” the old man continued, “on the other hand there is a life that is way better and more productive. It is a life what you yourself carve out. It is a life with a proper goal and hence a proper direction. Now consider a place you want to go. What is the first thing you do?”
“I find out where the place is, what the proper way to go there is and what do I need during my journey.” answered the boy.
“Exactly! Now, once you know your path and know what it takes to reach there, what you do next?” asked the man again, excited.
“I get what I want for the journey, prepare myself mentally and physically and set off.”, answered the boy in as-a-matter-of-factly way.
“Yes, but you are missing a very important thing! What if you have to take other people with you too?” asked the man.
“Why do I need to take people with me when I am the only one to follow my destination?” inquired the boy.
“How do you know that it’s only your destination? There are chances that a close relation of yours is following the same destiny or a destiny that lays just on the same path but maybe a bit earlier or a bit later than yours.”
“I don’t get it.”, said the boy, “Even if they share my destiny, what is the point of taking them with me?”
“When the journey is long, your biggest enemy is loneliness. Many have failed in their journeys just because they had no one by their side when they fell. You need relations around you because you always need someone to fall back on. You walk together and follow your destinations side by side, helping each other.”
The boy was deep in thought.
“So,” The man continued, “all you need is to figure out what you need in your life. This is the part in which only you can help yourself. You need to think and decide what you want. Just keep this in mind that whatever you decide, it should be worth your life. On your death-bed, your conscience should be satisfied. That’s all I ask of you.”
The boy had so much in his mind that he couldn’t figure out how to remember all of it when he woke up. After all this was a dream!
“How am I supposed to remember all this you said? My memory is not that sharp.” asked the boy childishly.
The old man laughed. “Where do you think all this is happening? In your own brain you silly boy!”
“You mean I already know all this?” the boy asked bewildered.
“Of course you do. How else do you think your mind is playing games with you?” said the man still smiling widely.
“How long will this dream last?” asked the boy.
“Just as long as you want it to be!” replied the man.
“Then we should talk more. I don’t want to wake up now. This is beautiful.” said the boy.
“Remember son. I am just a fragment of your own imagination. Do not get obsessed with something that does not exist. You need to face the real world and follow your destiny. There is a cold world lying ahead of you. You need to figure out a way to tackle with it.”, said the man, now serious.
“Alright. But can we meet again? There may be times when I need good advice.” asked the boy hoping to get a positive reply.
The old man smiled, with a tear in his eye. “Son, I am a part of you. The problems you will face will either be solved by you, yourself or by your fellow travellers. I am telling you this again. Do not get obsessed with something that has no significance. It will lead you nowhere.”
The boy was getting the point. “So I think it’s time to leave then.” said the boy smiling for the first time.
“I am here in your mind always, and yes you need to move on now.” replied the man smiling back.
“Just one last question before leaving. Why this particular place for this dream?” asked the boy curiously.
“Where else do you think you could meet me? This is the place you last saw me. Don’t you remember?”
It all came back to him like a flood of memories.
He was sitting in his classroom. It was his art class, when the peon came to take him to meet a visitor. His grandfather was there to meet him on his birthday. He lived far away from that place. They spent the whole day together, talking. His grandfather gave him those colour pencils as a gift on his sixth birthday. After only two weeks of his visit, his car was found wrecked, off the road to his house. He was dead.
When the boy gained his senses the scene had totally changed and he was lying on his bed, in an awkward way. The novel he was reading was placed neatly on his chest. He picked up the novel and continued reading the last two pages left.
The young shepherd had finally found the right path to his destination.