The old washing machine retired after serving us for about ten years. When the new machine was installed I remarked jokingly to my co-traveller, “I’ll retire before this machine retires.” I assumed, of course, that the lifespan of a washing machine was about ten years.
Though the remark was made in jest, it kept revisiting my mind. I had never before thought of the brevity of the life ahead of me. The ten years of life I spent in Delhi now seem like a snap of the fingers. I remember landing in Delhi with a lot of frustration gifted to me by my previous workplace. The fifteen-odd years I spent in that place had seemed (and still do) like an eternity. Those fifteen crippling years had given me the weird impression that life was too long an affair, a pain to be endured.
Delhi changed all that. Time flew in Delhi on the wings of some celestial rocket. If my previous workplace extracted the lion’s share of my time for waiting in serpentine queues for water or cooking gas or other essential things of life, Delhi kept me fully engaged with meaningful activities.
However subjective a notion meaningfulness may be, it has the potential to make one very calculative. Like the calculation about my remaining years in job sprang in my mind unconsciously. Like the calculation that my co-traveller and I did soon after about the money that we would possibly accumulate at the time of my retirement. Like the place where we could live out the last years of our life…
I remembered what Zorba the Greek (the protagonist of Kazantzakis’s eponymous novel) told his master: “A man’s head is like a grocer; it keeps accounts. I’ve paid so much and earned so much and that means a profit of this much or loss of that much! The head’s a careful little shopkeeper; it never risks all it has, always keeps something in reserve. It never breaks the string. Ah no! It hangs on tight to it, the bastard!”
So much calculativeness, so much understanding, is most people’s problem, Zorba would say. It leads people to amass more and more without ever realising that one day much of all that is amassed will come to nothing. Nothing. The machine of life will break down one day without fail once and for all. All the treasures amassed will stand back with hands folded in absolute indifference. Or perhaps laugh raucously at the folly of their erstwhile master.
There’s a kind of folly, however, that Zorba advocated. The folly that surpasses all the calculations and all the understanding. The folly of letting the string go.
The folly of standing mesmerised by the music in the foliage, for example.