There is something eerie in the air these days. Else, why would you come across so many strange news? Events which are bizarre. Which defy reason. Which evoke a whirlpool of thoughts, a phantasmagoria of feelings.
There is something oppressive. Absurd.
I remember when I read Kafka’s The Trial. Quite a few years back. I had heard it was great. And I knew a bit about Kafka’s standing in philosophical literature. But that was all.
I had this approach (and still have, to some extent) toward books: I read because I just loved to read, loved to know, and not because I was out to discover hidden meanings. Or truths, or philosophies, or some kind of enlightenment.
I wasn’t reading on the plane of the intellect. But of feelings. And reading The Trial was the most strange experience in that realm. I felt suffocated. Oppressive. Like I was shut inside a closed room, with no light, no air. It took me some time and much effort to finish The Trial. It was an exhaustive task. One which weighs you down, makes you gloomy and you don’t know the reason why.
When I read about the girl who was locked in a prison cell for three years for no reason or crime, got out and landed in a mental asylum, I thought to myself, ‘Incredible’.
‘What’s so special about this girl?’ you’d ask cynically, ‘She got out in just three years. Don’t you read of people who get stuck in prison for years for crimes they haven’t committed?’
The story says that 18-year-old Raheela of Faisalabad was living with her aunt. (It’s not uncommon in Pakistan to give away a baby-girl to a close relative who is either childless or has fewer children). She got very attached to the aunt. When her uncle took a second wife, Raheela went mad. Literally. The report further says “…a hakeem suggested a minor operation”. It scared the hell out of her. She disappeared.
How did she reach Karachi and ended up in jail? How could a hakeem suggest a ‘minor operation’ for mental illness? Had she really become insane or the revulsion she fell at her uncle’s behaviour was socially so unacceptable that the society simply stuck the label ‘mad’ on to her soul?
There are many questions. But who would answer them?
I could. If I would take leave from my job, talk to the authorities in Karachi Central Jail, meet the advocates who got the mad girl out of this madness, rush to the Mental Hospital, Hyderabad, discuss her case with the psychiatrist, see her medical reports, track her family down to Faisalabad, talk to her parents and siblings, the aunt, the uncle, his second wife, get the ‘hakeem‘. I might then reach at some semblance of the truth.
I could do that. But would I? Do I have that streak of madness in me, that passion to seek the truth? Wouldn’t I start “talking sense”, become “sane”, and ask myself, ‘Can I get leave? Do I have the money for this expedition?’
Even if I was working for a newspaper, would the editor send me for investigative reporting? Wouldn’t he say “What’s so special about this story? We have already got the APP’s version. Is there anything left in it? Besides, we don’t have the money to spend on such stories. And why the hell are you becoming so sentimental about that girl?”
So here am I. Doing nothing. Trapped in a cobweb of thoughts. Wondering about justice. And the decay of our legal institutions.