Recently, an old friend of mine who also is under the bondage of a commercial bank, confessed to me he has been contemplating digging a well in the backyard of his house. The gushing fool that I am, I broke into an impromptu lecture about the deteriorating quality of underground water in the cities, advising him to go for packaged water instead. But he was looking to dig a dry well, he protested. He was trying to get away from his employer on weekends, holidays and ungodly hours.
I remember how he was one of the first adopters of the social media, the erstwhile Orkut and the ilk and the current rage, Facebook and WhatsApp. In an awakening of sorts, his paymasters had barged into his social media accounts. Continuing his wail, he said he didn’t know how to put it, except that his private space had started resembling a town in the Middle East Asia ravaged by fatwas of totalitarian forces. He left me in no doubt he would give his right hand to reduce his WhatsApp account to an ionic dust. He eventually stopped to ask me how the sun shone over the patch of earth I inhabited. That was how I was reminded of the opus of Haruki Murakami, Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, the one in which the protagonist steps down a deep, abandoned well, time and again, to forge a passage into a surrealistic world in search of answers to the social and spiritual problems tearing him apart. Indeed, it was as if he were split into two and a vital lump of ‘something’ bonding the halves had been prised out of him. After a bout of swinging between existence and semi-existence, he would slip into an elaborate, subcutaneous hotel where he would meet many other figures some of which were faceless while others preferred to remain in the dark, with a few exceptions. The shadows and voices down there were nothing short of riddles, but some of those he would meet there were the nefarious avatars of people he loved or hated the most, including himself. These were influences and emotions that were churning his life into a cosmic lump of dirt.
In Murakami’s book, the protagonist finds a baseball bat and bludgeons whatever it was that had been bothering him. I went on to summarize the contents of the book to my friend, which was not an easy job in itself, whereupon he blurted that it seemed to be a symbolic solution rather than real. I said, true, but that was how the protagonist managed to unravel the knots in his life, or at least that is how it looked like when I last read the story.
I kept thinking about the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle long after his phone call. It is a multilayered book, bristling with symbolisms and motifs, obliterating the boundaries between the conscious and the subconscious, the physical and the metaphysical, the present and the past, and perhaps the future too. One moment you are treading the beaten path of everyday life and the next thing you have is a shallow water blackout. The funny (and sad) thing is you are partly aware of what is happening, realising this had been the larger truth all along and the little path you were used to was only a part of the landscape, almost a ruse.
Many other things take place in that mesmerizing book. Indeed, the protagonist was not the only one who would slip down a dry well of his own volition, nor was he the only one suffering from afflictions of existential proportions. Nor were the problems being faced by the other characters exotic or unique to them. Many of us go through the experience of being splintered into two (or more) and something vital being sucked out of us by the machinations of the living and forces of systemic proportions, and if the systems are rotten, so be it. No wonder, the urge to vanish to the bottoms of a deep hole in search of answers grips some of us from time to time. We would want to do that if only to beat the probing tentacles hell bent on sucking out the remnant protoplasm out of our hollow shells.
I wonder, too, if the advent of social media is not a response to the urge of finding that proverbial well? People like to slip down some wormhole in quest of a mind boggling range of stuff missing from their lives, often leaving behind empty shells on the terra firma. And like the Murakami’s book, what people meet down there are the projections or fragments of others, ranging from whimsical to downright feral; flashes, fumes and fogs of friends, foes and families. But do they truly stumble upon the objects they are lusting after, fight their wars and recover at a least a part of the fudge they are hankering for? Do they escape the claws and antennae of the world, including the newly developed fangs of their paymasters, that would rather have them under the lights on a slab? The jury is still out on such illusions, but the likes of Facebook and WhatsApp have started resembling surreal arenas where phantoms wrestle in make-believe encounters, fighting out insecurities, fetishes and complexes. Forgive me for painting a bleak picture of these digital wells but the brazen encroachment of this vicarious watering hole, as lamented by my friend, might just be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
No wonder my friend is clamouring to dig up a new, physical well. It has to be a dry one though.