No Such Thing As Separateness — A Story by Chitra Gopalakrishnan

No Such Thing As Separateness

The sleepy-headed boy vendor, coiled in a small wooden charpai, his rugged, full-of-holes tarpaulin flapping in the dusty wind, was slow in his dealings with us, the blazing sun having undone him into a sluggish, energy-less, slack somebody. My mom and I were by his stall to buy two dark green, spherical watermelons from among a mountain of them. We wanted the dark green variety and not the ones that were striped and light green as they taste better.

 “Join two scooped halves of this watermelon and you will have a big, red, glowing world within reach,” my mom said to me, on this, on-fire, inhuman, June, New Delhi afternoon. She held one watermelon within her palms and twirled it for effect while she made me carry the other. Her white muslin pants and top stood in contrast to the brown haze around. If you know anything about Delhi you will know that in the summer loose soil, road dust and fly ash remain airborne, they fly in the air as if with wings, beeping danger to the lungs of every living thing.

As the fiery-thick dry, westerly winds enveloped my face and the tar of the road shimmered with a mad, swollen, energy, the sun turned in on me as much as her conversation did. Her words leapt off her large-lipped mouth into my pores jumping past all the barriers of skin. All I could do was to surrender, happily, to its power as a wide-eyed, believing, five-year-old boy who home-schooled with her. 

And when back at home, when I joined the two dribbling, sopping-wet halves of the watermelon, to have the sun in my bowl, my flesh-of-the-fruit magic, my using-its-water-as-glue miracle felt amazing. I can still find no words to describe my novel experience at that exact moment. I remember how I palpitated for days in joy and how the bone-dry air around sapped up my enthusiasm, its drumbeats, its explosions, despite its seeming lack of thirst.

I am told at eighteen months, I started to call my mom Joo, stretching liberties with the word janaam, ‘my life’, an endearment my dad used for her. Most times, I never ever felt Joo was years ahead of me. She was as well adapted as me to climb bargat (banyan) trees and monkey around within its endless branches, watch girgits (chameleons) change color and disturb bee-hives, play in the fury of Delhi’s sun and the cold, gray of its winters with stray cats, feed hungry, roadside dogs, gather pudgy, flared-out, red, semul (silk cotton) flowers as trophies in spring and raw, green mangoes in summer; her appetite for adventure as large as mine.

“Pull a thread and you can pull in the world,” Joo said another time, another year. “Every person, tree, flower, vegetable, animal and thing in our universe is connected as there are many cells common to all organisms, so hurt one and you hurt them all,” she explained. 

Joo’s trillion tales of one-ness grew me; my body and my mind knew this as it knew breathing.

I lived in the hope of connections that were to happen, the newness these moments would bring and Joo never disappointed me. “Sugared plums, microbes, dance, god, grammar, Cezanne, algebra, bird flight, music, refraction, Shakespeare, formulas, dust devils, Plato are not separate but connected things, they sit one upon another,” she said, with pep in her voice, when I was in my seventh year. Her fun way of jumbling up everything she got me in the know of, with some detail and other times in great detail, made me feel like a traveller discovering a new place.

Joo told dark stories as well. “Look at the sun,” she ordered me, one brilliant morning, as it shone round and yellow as an egg yolk. “Its photons make bio-chemical changes on earth. They cause photosynthesis in plants so they become food for herbivores and they, in turn, become food for carnivores.” There was nothing unusual in the badness of her tale, I reasoned. After all, fairy tales, history and newspapers talked of the dreadful too. Cinderella of ill-treatment. Puss in Boots of a certain wickedness in the methods of the cat. And Red Riding Hood of the evil inside each one of us, the wolf within. My city, too, I had read, fell seven times in the past and was crumbled to dust; its present state full of clashes with the certainty of a fall. 

Joo’s real thunderbolt came on my eighth birthday.  “Do you know this?” Joo asked me, in a voice that held conspiracy, even as I cut my cake with her and dad, “The entire universe was contained within a single point.” How could our terrifyingly large world and everything in it emerge from a dot? I asked. Even getting my mind around Delhi emerging from that dot was impossible. 

“When the big bang, the mighty explosion, took place, the contents of that single point – neutrons, protons, electrons, anti-electrons (positrons), photons and neutrinos – came together to form the universe and those particles cooled, forming stars,” Joo announced. I think I understood what Joo said, though many words were gobbledygook, and her earlier words “touch a petal and you disturb a star” made a lot more sense now. 

Joo’s birthday present for me was a children’s version of physicist and cosmologist Lawrence Krauss’s writings. “Every atom in your body came from a star that exploded,” Krauss wrote in one piece. In another, he said to us, “You are all stardust; you couldn’t be here if stars hadn’t exploded, because all the elements – the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, iron, and all the things that matter for evolution – weren’t created at the beginning of time, they were created in the nuclear furnaces of stars.”

My father added more thrill of we-are-all-stars saying quantum physics goes even further than other sciences. “Its scientists say particles exist at different states at the same time and can be present in more than one position at the same time.” Too complex for me now, so I took his words as true.

I began to scavenge libraries to know if people in the past believed in this one-ness as well. With the help of a young librarian, at the British Council, in the heart of my city, whose spectacles covered his face, yet whose eyes smiled from behind the glasses, I found the abridged works of Baruch Spinoza, born way, way back in 1632 AD. The librarian explained to me in simple words his idea of a single infinite substance, which, Spinoza believed, to be the cause of all things. Of their essence and existence. He also told me the texts of Hinduism and Buddhism talk of the unity of the mind and the world.

I was now forever caught in the excitement of people being connected to one another, biologically, and to the earth, atomically, and beyond this within the invisible links and continuities between everything.   

My trust in the connectedness of people, however, smashed to bits, when I got to school, to class six, at age ten, six months ago. Never having been to school, I knew I was different. I got called ‘Freak’, ‘Weirdo’, and ‘Loon’ in my first week and my body was roughly collided into. These bumps were no accident as every time they happened the air inside of my lungs got sucked out. This in a school that advertises its ‘zero tolerance to bullying’. 

“He is a zoo-animal escaped his lonely, echoing, room at home to talk gibberish at school,” my classmate Pradip said, within my earshot, with a Delhi-crude obscenity thrown in, a word that Joo has prohibited me from using. “Know that Platetoe and Schezwan are not real people, only persons in your mind,” said Ravi, cornering me with a sneer. “Who thinks of learning as super fun?” Ratan, his best friend, threw in, a real glassy-eyed, horror on his face. 

Humiliation, like happiness, is a sharp emotion that leaks out without much warning or mercy. Tears dripped, my sweat ran fluid like a river, my insides melted and I began to know moisture as a thing, a twisted, menacing thing, which flowed within no matter how hard I tried to still it, drown it. Waves of shame formed in my head, looming bigger and bigger, until they were scary, until they sucked me into their sticky, black center.

The dis-connectedness from my schoolmates, their fierce sense of competition, their meanness, their mocking of me became more difficult to handle with each passing day. I had never felt so alone, so empty, so helpless, so in need of help. I shrank into myself as if my skin had been peeled away and my world turned smaller. Another feeling, fear, made its presence felt, drawing me into a state of numb panic. One which mixed my anxious, irregular breathing with sweaty shame.

As my fellow students would not change the way they treated me, I told Joo, last week, that I needed to change my school. I threw a tearful tantrum in a shaky voice. “I am not going back to that school. They all hate me. I don’t have a single friend. I don’t fit. I can’t adjust anymore and I won’t. I want all of this to be over. And I miss your way of teaching. I can’t connect the dots at school with the subjects I learn.”

“Shshsh,” said Joo gently, taking me into her arms, “It is easy to like a normal child, harder when it comes to someone who is different. Give them time to get used to you, find out who you are and they will come to accept and make space for you.” Calming my sobs, she added, “You have the skill to make connections between things already and learning will happen without you even knowing of it. I, of course, will always be there to plant crazy thoughts in your head.”

Her words soothed. Then Joo came up with a real surprise. “I have volunteered at your school to teach classes on life-skills to the sixth grade. This to all five sections of them, two weeks from now. Maybe I can help with your bad situation. I was going to tell you about this tomorrow.”

Was she doing this for me? Did she know all the bad things happening daily to me as I told her some but not all? No one likes a snitch. A ratter. And I know when she feels anger she does something about it, stitches things into shape in her own Joo way.

I know children don’t like their parents being at school. It is not cool. But I know Joo has a gift for miracles. My gut knows she will get me out of the corner I have been pushed into. I know she will make me carry my burdens a little lighter, even help put some of them down. As make me feel safe and in control of my life. 

“What will you do?” I want to know. “To get things started, shake up ways of your friends’ way of thinking a bit, and allow them to look past surfaces of people and things, I have an Alien and a Zombie in mind, I will get two students to play these uncommon and far-out characters, who are off-center, and then you will see what happens after,” she says mysteriously.

I can’t wait to see how chilled out with my classmates she will be, how popular. I guess I can wait a while to resume my interrupted story, for my connectedness to my classmates and for the oneness with everything to happen, yet again, but I know I don’t have the patience for a long wait. 

Author : Chitra Gopalakrishnan ©®
All Rights Reserved To The Author

One thought on “No Such Thing As Separateness — A Story by Chitra Gopalakrishnan

  1. A story, based on deep thoughts, is always a gift to the readers. No Such Thing As Separateness — is such a story written by Chitra Gopalkrishnan, a Delhi based author and journalist. This is a story of a 10-years boy and his mother who amazingly guides her child to perceive the idea of interconnectedness among everything in a friendly communication with all necessary inputs. Chitra narrated the story in an artistic style where readers will witness a perfect balance of emotion and logic. The running words of beautiful coinage made the difference. Most Interestingly, the child in the story will finally take the seat in your heart and ask you to tell your own story! I think, it’s a unique short story by definition.


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