“How can people live the way they are living?” Arun hissed. “How can they be happy?” He scratched his forehead in disbelief.

“Unlike you, most of the people have low expectations,” Smriti explained. “Not only you don’t know what you want, but also you think damn too much.”

“I can no longer tolerate these imbeciles.” Arun shook his head. “Their stupid faces. That expression of contentment.”

“Well, you can’t help it, can you? You have to bear with them just the way you do with me.”

“You are not like them.” Arun sighed.

“Was that a compliment?” The woman chuckled.

Arun ignored her remark. “You know,” he went on. “I pity these people. I pity all of them. They think they’ve got it all figured out. But I know for sure that they secretly regret their life choices. Working in a 9 to 6 job, married, and parent to a child. They all know they are trapped. They all know that they are in bondage. And are dancing the great dance — a choice which they all willingly made. But for what? And why?”

“They were afraid of freedom,” Smriti chimed in. “They were afraid of the endless possibilities. Only a few can handle freedom.”

“Exactly.” The man bobbed his head. “Exactly,” he repeated. “Don’t they ever realize that it’s all futile?”

“But everything in this world is futile,” Smriti decreed, a faint smile on her lips.

Arun was at a loss for words. What Smriti said was true. Everything in this world was futile. So what was the point of their conversation? What was the point of it, at all? He stroked his stubble. His head drooped and his eyes focused on his feet.

Smriti nudged him with her elbow. “What are you thinking?” she asked.

Arun’s eyes locked into those of Smriti’s. “Nothing,” he answered curtly.

“It scares me whenever I see you lost deep in thoughts. You seem so lifeless, so remote. As if you are a part of this world yet so distanced from it. As if you have ceased to exist.”

“One day we’ll all cease to exist.” He sniggered.

“Yes, one day, but what about the present? Don’t you ever feel you are squandering all of your precious time away.”

“Why?” Arun cocked his eyebrow. “I am not mimicking the bourgeoisie. I am free.”

“But you are not happy.”

“Who is? Those who claim to be are either lying or faking it. And what is happiness anyway? If not a temporary respite?”

“I don’t know what happiness is. But when I look into your eyes, I know for sure that it isn’t there.”

“Happiness is overrated,” Arun said with emphasis. “Nothing good has ever come out of it. Do you think Dostoevsky was happy? Or Monet and Van Gogh? No. They were all miserable folks. It is misery that fuels the creative and artistic minds. No poet has ever produced a masterpiece without being in a tight embrace of unhappiness. It is the deepest sorrow that gives birth to the profoundest of all minds. It is the strongest pain that gives birth to the profoundest of all arts.”

“Why are you unhappy then?” Smriti smirked. “You are not an artist or a creative person!”

“I don’t know.” Arun sighed. “The cause of my misery is largely philosophical, I guess. I have not yet come to terms with this universe. I am unable to comprehend this existence. I can’t make sense of this world. To hell with the world. I can’t make sense of my own life even. And more than that I can’t make sense of these happy smug faces that I see all around. How can people find contentment? How can they resort to total resignation? Don’t they ever feel the need to find answers to the big questions? How can they live the way they are living? How can it be enough? The current lifestyle of theirs? How can they not resist? How can they let themselves go with the flow? Do they even know where they are headed to?”

“That’s because most of the people have abandoned the quest. They have realized that there is no point questioning this world. They have learned to live life as it comes.”

“But isn’t it depressing? Such kind of existence? Do they even know what they are doing?”

“Well, the same could be said about you.”

“Yeah. But at least I am trying to figure things out. The people I am talking about have given up altogether. They have surrendered. Just like that.”

“And what have you figured out so far?” Smriti looked at him contemptuously. “How close are you to finding the answers? How close are you to enlightenment?”

“Honestly? I haven’t figured out anything, but I –”

“They all know they’ll get to nowhere,” Smriti interrupted. “That’s why they have abandoned the journey.”

“But that doesn’t mean we should,” Arun protested. “Yes, the quest is hard, indeed. Moreover, we don’t know what we are looking for. But to concede defeat so early …”

“That’s what scares the hell out of people.” Smriti gestured with her hand. “The difficulty of the pursuit. Moreover, they all realize that total freedom is not worth it. Therefore they seek bondage in order to stay sane. They realize that they need their own masters to serve. We can’t handle total freedom, Arun. We can’t. It’s damn too frightening!”

“You are right. But don’t these people ever feel the need to have a higher calling?” The man looked at the lady with questioning eyes. “Don’t they ever feel the need to do something more, rather than propagating their genes? If continuing human species had been our only purpose, we wouldn’t be having such a powerful, contemplative mind. We wouldn’t be having such a huge brain if our purpose was to breed like animals.”

“Why do you think people opt for the obvious? Family brings stability. It is the easiest way to find a purpose in life. Not all the people have the talent or the courage to pursue their dreams. Therefore they compromise and do what humans have been doing for ages — survive as well as we can and raise the ablest children we are able to. It’s not a higher calling, but definitely a calling indeed. But what do people like you do? If it’s not whining and complaining all the time then what else? You fool yourself and have a sense of superiority that you are different from these regular people. But are you? What is your higher calling? Let me guess. Thinking all the time? And what do you think you are achieving by your endless rants? Or do you think you are in some way contributing to this world? Don’t deceive yourself. This world doesn’t give a damn about anyone — no matter whether you are a bourgeoisie or a man of intellect. The world doesn’t give a damn. Life will go on whether you exist or not. There is no person in this world who is irreplaceable. The world is not in the need of heroes. It has never been. So stop cursing this world and its inhabitants. The universe doesn’t owe us anything. It is not obliged to explain itself to us.”

There was a brief silence. Smriti heaved a sigh. And then a couple of seconds later, she resumed, “Don’t get me wrong,” she defended herself. “I am not asking you to change your ways or views. All I am asking you is to accept the world the way it is. It will help no one but you. Have you even seen yourself in a mirror? Have you even seen your own eyes?”

Arun scratched the ground with his toe. Never had he expected Smriti to be so vociferous. She was right. A change in perspective is what he needed. He needed to accept the world with open arms. It wouldn’t make him happier in any way, but it would certainly make him less cynical. His understanding of the world needed an upgrade. And here Smriti was, sitting beside him, helping him to do exactly that.

Smriti broke the silence at last. “Hey,” she said in a polite voice. “I am sorry. Did I hurt you?”

“No! Why?” Arun replied, head still facing the ground.

“Damn! You are sad. You are the saddest man I ever met.”

“I know.” He laughed. “I am proud of that!” he added after a pause.

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