Thursday, January 05, 2006

Measuring sanity in a land of no perspective

The mistake was made when he first set off, but even that does not matter anymore. He might rue his conception instead. Now that was a bad idea, he thinks slowly, the thoughts forming gradually as he trudges onwards step by step towards a horizon that promises nothing. Had it not been for his birth he would not be lost in the Rann. (And do you see where this is going?) With no future ahead he instead reaches reflexively for the past. But there is no respite here, not even in past glories, the things that keep a lifeless man going. The only sound he has heard for days is the crunch of crusty dirt beneath, and with every breath he has inhaled the sharp pungent odor of salt. This salt has entered his head, it has seeped through his skin. Now everything is bitter. Even if he is found (highly unlikely) and the effects of the Rann wear off, what will he do about the sour residue?

Men are overcome by madness in the Rann. Women too, for equality’s sake. For days they can walk confidently towards a shimmering horizon, but sooner or later find themselves less sure of what lies there. By now, this is inevitable, they will have realized the ground beneath cannot be trusted. From above everything appears the same. But beneath the parched, cracked surface, a spot of water turns the ground into an adhesive quicksand. So if the next step cannot be trusted, how can they progress? Survival depends on a series of such small challenges.

Exhausted, he may not move at all, instead choosing to be stationary. All around him the mirage shimmers, and there is nothing but flat ground from end to end. And so, wherever he stands is the center of the world. He does not want to be at this center, but at the periphery, the boundary between desolation and civilization that can be crossed over anytime.

The sky is an oppressive entity, as much a part of the land as the land itself. Between the two lies claustrophobia. How can a clear sky, otherwise so light, press down so heavily? It is a place to lose all perspective because there is nothing to compare with. What is size in solitude? What is speed when there is no barrier to break? It is a blank board, ready for rules to be written. A lost man can swagger about here, unsure of where he stands but sure that no one is watching.

Of course he will be lonely. But he will not dwell on those things, will he? His eyes are on the vanishing point, where a mere ripple on the horizon will send waves of hope through him. If it is another mirage he waits a little longer before hoping next time. It is not like the desert. Deserts have dunes, and so there is hope; the rise of every dune could conceal something. Because the Rann is flat, there is no hope. So there is a trudgetrudgetrudge towards godknowswhere. In a perverse way it simplifies things: there is nothing to worry about except a longer life. Can you see it now? – “Lose yourself and your worries in the Rann!”