My woman says, tell me a story. Which story, I ask. Any story, she says. For a moment I think that she must be asking for those innumerable stories that I have told her not only to inform her but also to take her out from the pits of the dark moods. She says a big NO. What she is asking for is not a story that I have told her. She wants a story that is absolutely new; it should be a narration either of a real incident or an imaginary one. When your woman asks you something like that be sure that she is going to infer something from your narration. It is a mind game for sure. Be careful on such occasions. As I know her very well I tell her a story which has a positive outlook about human nature and a moral. Now it is time for her to be guarded. She asks me where I heard this story first. I tell her that I studied it in the primary school. Then she demands another story which is a pure narration, not something which I had read at some point of time.
Therefore I tell her story; in fact an incident. I was travelling with a friend on his motorbike. I have not been travelling by bike for a long time. So I perched behind him on the pillion seat, with both the hands clutching on the steel clamp just behind me and also with my leather bag hanging from my shoulders. At some point he embarrassed me by saying that I was doing the backseat driving by pressing his sides with my thighs. Yes, I was doing so. Except in trains, if I am not at the driver’s seat, I do a sort of driving. My legs would go from clutch to break to the accelerator and my hands will automatically go up as if to inform the driver about an impending obstacle on the road. Good friends take these side piloting efforts with compassion and the straight talkers ask me directly whether I am not feeling comfortable with their driving or not. And interestingly, such are the occasions when the guys on the driving seats open their bundle of stories that often recount the incidents of their prowess in driving. Hapless, I sit and listen while my feet work upon the invisible clutch, break and accelerator.
My friend tells me about how the land mafia turns all the marshy lands into real estate. He points out the multistoried buildings across the river and informs me that all those buildings stand on marshy lands turned into building sites. I see huge hotels, housing complexes and other public and private buildings and wonder how the city has been growing fast, of late. My friend tells me that the building mafia fills even the backwaters and makes reclamation land and using some loopholes in the legal system, they convert into real estate. Once huge buildings are built there, as the real estate kings are either from the political class or are related to that class in various ways, they remain there forever. While the people who occupy those buildings enjoy the scenic beauty lined by coconut trees, lagoons and backwaters, they forget the fact that they are the real encroachers in the ecological system. My friend shows me a marshland which has been turned into a ground. He tells me how they played the trick; they converted the marsh into a ‘land’ by organizing a political meeting there. They sought permission for the political meeting and on the pretext they got the marsh filled. Soon there will be a huge multiplex, says my friend.
My woman listens to the story carefully. Then she tells me about the fears that she has about the future of the world. She is a very sensitive woman; the smallest of ecological problems affect her mind. She becomes sad. She believes, like many scientists in the world that human beings are not just human beings. They are collaborators with millions of bacteria. Their lives cannot be extracted from those of the bacteria. Our I-ness is not a constant and our I-ness cannot be even the I-ness because the I-ness is totally depended on the presence of the bacteria present in our body at that moment. According to her there is no I but only the combinations of the imaginary I’s and bacteria. Today, she is not concerned with I or bacteria. She is worried about the change in ecology and how it would affect us in the long run. But her concerns just do not end there. She says, as a sensitive scientific mind would believe that with the changes facilitated by such mindless notions of development, we will slowly lose the sense of remember and also the sense to experience. This would cause a series of losses, right from the alphabetical loss to the loss of traditions that include the oral traditions. A vast repository of songs, memories and rituals passed on through oral traditions would end without leaving a trace. We all live in the world of encryptions where marking the things in legible forms has taken important roles. If something is not marked, it does not exist, the notion goes. She is worried. I listen to her carefully. Suddenly I remember the story of a woman musician recounted by the late neuroscientist, Oliver Sacks. Lillian is her name. She slowly loses the ability to read and recognize things. She can write but cannot read. Even her musical notes she can write but cannot read. This condition in medical terms is called PCA (Posterior Cortical Atrophy) and the person affected by this condition would slowly lose the abilities to recognize words and things around. Imagine that situation. You know, but yet you do not know. It is quite surreal. When my woman told me how things disappear from the world by the end of the present century, I just thought of Lillian, the musician.
A story is lost, a song is gone, a memory is not traced, a place is not marked. Only because we do not encrypt them, they go out of parlance. This would be a condition of our future where things would exist yet they will not. There will be things that crave for existence from their oblivion. There will be a lot of silent cries in every mind because there will be no chance of articulating them. When a common idea of articulation is lost, the basis of narrating something is lost. When the logic of narration is lost if one attempts it, may be it can sound like blabbering. What could be done? Nothing could be done. There will be slow evolution of methods of surviving in that world and luckily we will not be around to see or experience such a world. In that world, the kind of things that we have been using, the kind of words that we have been uttering, the kind of emotions we have been experiencing, the kind of urgency we have been feeling to share etc would become useless and anchorless because the milieu or the gestalt of their existence might have been nullified by then. Exactly the way we have museum-ized so many implements and also have archived so many languages, our daily parlance of language, customs, manners and emotions also would be archived. She says that there would not be even the concept of archiving because the history as a genre itself would not make sense as it could be completely useless for those generations to come.
Eerie indeed it is. However, I was thinking something different. What are the conditions that make a narrative possible? Why did I choose to tell her a story which I thought should vibe with her love for peace and solace? Why did I think that my story would be full of hope, good deeds and human redemption? I knew that she did not like disturbing stories. She has a lot of qualities regarding understanding a human being by gestures, manners, language, behavioral patterns and so on. She is a very sensitive soul and thanks to that she remains a bit melancholic at times. As I knew that she was my listener, I conditioned my narrative and made it full of hopes and human goodness. That was the reason why I told her a moral story. But she wanted something else. Hence I chose the second story; a real incident. There too she made connections and she was so happy that I could come up with a story that involved human sensitivity towards ecology. And her happiness had another reason that she could connect the ideas that she had been thinking of late with the story that I told her.
That means, a narrative is largely determined not only by the mental conditions of the narrator and the listener (who would be mostly absent or far away from the location of narrative/narrating act) but also by the physical conditions within which the story is narrated. For example, the story would have been different had my woman been sitting with me in a coffee house, sharing a sandwich and sipping coffee or juice. The narrative would have been different if we had not fought in the morning. The narration would have taken a different turn if she had asked me to speak to her over phone. The story would have been a bit more elaborate had she asked me to send it by an email. It would have taken a different shape and tone if it was a google chat. The story could have been a different one if it was a diary entry or a blog. But the story and its crispiness were all determined by whatsapp. She needed a quick story because she had something to test with that story; she had just read some scientific finding regarding the disappearance of languages and oral traditions with in this century. Our writings are conditioned by the circumstances of its production. The physical conditions really control the way the narratives are produced. When I type out something in Malayalam in google I find it as a very funny challenge. The transliteration software does not make certain words right. For a writer, the sight of a mis-spelt word is one of the most horrible scenes in the world. So what does he does do then? He avoids that word and chooses something else that would be correctly done in transliteration. If he was writing on a piece of paper he would have definitely chosen a different word. That means, as the modes of encryption change, the very narrative take a different form. It is sad because we lose certain wonderful expressions. When we lose those expressions, we lose those experiences and feelings behind those expressions. We create physical conditions so that we need not experience those feelings as there would be no mode to express them. Slowly, our expressions would be limited to those which could be expressed by the smart phones or similar futurist devices about to happen in our midst. Is there a solution to this? I do not think so. We can guard our memories. We can create more opportunities were human beings could meet in person and exchange words , ideas and emotions. We can remember strongly; that is the only way against forgetting. Technology helps us to store but they make the forgetting easier. Choose now. Do we need better storage facilities or strong powers to remember? I will go for the latter.