Thursday, January 2, 2014

Thoughts

It was a near perfect Sunday morning. Clear blue skies and a cool breeze which would kiss your face softly if you stepped outside. It was a great day to relax and unwind and get ready for the upcoming battles in the coming week. I made myself a cup of tea and started reading the newspaper. Tea and newspaper was a satisfying experience. Especially on Sunday mornings. So, while I was reading the newspaper an ad caught my attention and it suggested an interesting way to spend my afternoon. A saint claimed that he was enlightened and was giving a discourse on the inner workings of our universe. I decided to attend the discourse as I had nothing better to do. I was mostly suspicious of Godmen and organised religion but the saint's claim of enlightenment made me curious to know more. Not that I believed in the concept of enlightenment but I definitely had a fascination for it. Listening to what the saint had to say would be an interesting experience.

Anyhow, I arrived at the place of discourse and saw that a substantial number of people were interested in what the self proclaimed saint had to say. I hoped whatever he had to say would be interesting enough to make my sunday afternoon worthwhile. I took my seat in the hall and eagerly awaited the saint's arrival. I was expecting an old gentleman in flowery robes and a beard that would reach till the man's stomach. But, I was quite surpised to see a young professional looking gentleman in his mid-thirties. He wore a prim blue shirt and nicely fitting black pants with formal shoes to boot. His rimless glasses, clean shaven face and neatly combed hair reminded me of a news reporter. I could see that I was not the only one who was surprised as many of the people had bemused expressions on their face. The person sitting next to me thought he had arrived at a business conference accidentally until I assured him that he was indeed at the right place.

The saint began his discourse by clarifying that he was not really a saint but a philosopher. A philosopher who had experienced enlightenment and that's why people considered him a saint. His philosophy was quite straightforward and personally I thought that it was a ripoff of Buddha's teachings. Anyways, his idea was that all human actions emanated from one source. Thoughts. The stream of words and sentences that come in our heads quite randomly. Thoughts were random but they defined our lives and would be a precursor to our behaviour, actions, emotions and feelings. But his philosophy was not the reason he claimed enlightenment. He claimed he could read people's thoughts with pinpoint accuracy. And hence he could understand any person's feelings and emotions. He claimed he could even predict people's future actions as thoughts propelled action. To prove that he could read thoughts he would randomly pick five people from the audience and predict their thoughts. He was a human thought detecting machine. And he claimed only an enlightened being could be that. He argued that thoughts signified the true inner nature of an individual. After hearing these words, the atmosphere in the hall had become electrifying. The experience was akin to attending a magic show where incredible things could be witnessed. Even I was eager to see how things would proceed from here.

The saint initiated the process by randomly picking a woman in the audience as his first volunteer. The lady promptly walked to the stage and stood beside the saint. The saint explained that to access any person's thoughts he would have to gaze at the individuals eyes for a minute while holding the person's hands. He proceeded to hold the lady's hands and looked at her intensely for around a minute. "Whom have you lost recently my dear lady. I can see so much of grief in your thoughts" he asked her abruptly.

The lady seemed genuinely startled at this proclamation and she looked a little unhinged. " I lost my son three weeks ago" she answered slowly.

"And I sense guilt too in your thoughts. Do you feel you could have saved your son's life"

"Yes. I feel extremely guilty. I feel I could have taken better care of him. Maybe then he could have survived"

"No my lady. There is nothing that you could have done. You cannot fight destiny. No one can. Forsake your guilt. I can see that it is crushing your heart. Take a deep breath. Let go and be free."

"Thank you Sir" the lady replied gratefully and proceeded to take her seat in the crowd. The gathered crowd was both impressed and shocked at this magical display of mind reading. My logical brain was inferring that this was probably staged and rehearsed. But my instincts were telling me a different story altogether.  I felt that the reaction in the lady was extremely genuine. There seemed to be a visible improvement in the demeanor after the saint reassured her. Her drooping shoulders had picked up and it looked like a huge burden had been taken off her shoulders. That gave me reason to believe that perhaps it was not staged. Still, some people were just good actors and hence any judgement at this stage would be premature.

The saint then began to pick another person from the crowd. He picked a sleek and sophisticated person in his late twenties. The person was slightly hesitant to go to the stage as if he was scared of his thoughts being strip searched. But he eventually took the plunge and reached the stage.

The saint held both the volunteer's hands and looked at him squarely. After a minute or two, the saint remarked "You should not have come to the stage son. Now I know why you were fearing to come to the stage son. You wanted to hide your thoughts"

"No no. There is nothing like that" the sleek man stammered in a rather alarmed way.

"Ofcourse it is like that. I can sense fear in you. Fear due to infidelity. You have cheated on your wife haven't you"

The lady who was sitting next to the sleek man, presumably his wife, suddenly broke down at those words and started crying incessantly.

"It's not true. It's not true at all" denied the young man.

"Do not give me untruths and insult my powers by suggesting I am saying untruths" shouted the saint. "I suggest that you confess everything to your wife. the burden of lies will eventually eat you away to the core. Go and unburden yourself without regard to the consequences."

The sleek man stood there for a while before meekly nodding his head and proceeded to his seat. It looked like he was going to take the saint's advice and confess to his wife.

The whole family drama that had unfolded in front of our eyes had elicited a lot of gasps in the crowd. This time, nobody seemed to be in doubt about the saint's capabilities. Meanwhile, the sleek man and his wife had left the hall with the wife still crying profusely.

The third person the saint called for volunteering plainly refused to go to the stage. A few people laughed and someone in the crowd made a wisecrack statement of hidden affairs and dirty underwear being washed in public. I personally could not blame the person for not volunteering as the idea of having your thoughts being X-rayed publicly was indeed scary and not everyone's cup of tea.

Eventually, the third volunteer was found in the form of a thirty something male with a moustache. The saint again responded by holding both the hands and staring intensely at the volunteer. This time the saint reacted differently. He quietly hugged the volunteer and clenched his shoulders. "Do you want me to share your thoughts. I can understand if it's too personal" asked the saint.

"No. You can share whatever you have to say I have no problems with it."

"Thats very brave of you I must say. So, have you attempted it or are you planning it" the saint asked.

"Attempted?"

"Yes. I think you know what I mean. Suicide"

"I attempted it three days back. I was about to hang myself but my wife intervened and saved me"

This time there was an uproar in the crowd with quite a few "Oh my gods" from the people at this revelation. I was taken aback and shaken too. I observed the volunteer closely and saw a normal looking person. I could never have guessed that the person was suicidal.

"What led you to this situation. I am not able to pinpoint the exact reason" asked the saint.

"I lost all my money in the stock market. I gambled it all away" the volunteer replied solemnly.

"I do understand your anguish. But I suggest that you do not take this extreme step. If you go who will take care of your family. Do not orphan them. Restart your life. Get a job. And build your wealth again."

These words seemed to re-energize the volunteer. He nodded vigourously and worked back to his chair with what seemed like a spring in his step.

After this episode, I was virtually convinced of the saint's thought reading skills. And so was the crowd. Whether this constituted enlightenment was debatable but even I had to admit that what I was seeing was remarkable and extraordinary. After seeing the three volunteers, I was quite confident that the process was not staged. No one could be this good in acting. Not even Oscar award winners.

The saint called on the next volunteer. She was a middle aged woman, most probably a housewife. I cannot recount the exact details as her thoughts were mundane and unremarkable especially when compared to the other volunteers. She was worried that her daughter was not eating her food properly or something on those lines. One of the crowd yawned loudly at that. That was perhaps the most remarkable incident with regards to the fourth volunteer. Even the saint seemed a little disappointed at the anti-climax.

For the next volunteer, the saint pointed at the general direction of where I was sitting. "You!" he exclaimed. I looked around me wondering whom he had chosen.

"You in the yellow shirt" said the saint. Yellow shirt! I thought excitedly. That has to be me. I looked at my shirt and confirmed the colour. Of all the multitudes of people, I was chosen as a volunteer. Wow, what were the odds! I had no reason to object going to the stage as my thoughts were as boring as the lady's before me. After this, there would not be a semblance of doubt about the saint's thought reading abilities since I would be a part of the experiment.

My head was in a tizzy as I was walking towards the saint. I was extremely nervous and excited and my knees trembled as I walked. Someone was going to read my innermost thoughts and feelings and perhaps my innermost nature. I was generally skeptical of people who purported to do anything supernatural. But if there was ever a person who could read my mind the saint was one. I reached the stage and stood next to him. He clasped my hands as he had done with the others. His hands were ice-cold and sent shivers through my body. The first thing I noticed about him were his eyes. They seemed glazed and intoxicated. Yet he seemed in total control. He then went on to look at me intently. I realised that he was not looking at my eyes alone. Infact for the first thirty seconds, he looked everywhere but at my eyes. My shoulder, my chest, my stomach, my legs, even my crotch before he finally settled on my eyes. I looked back confidently, comforted by the fact that I had nothing to hide and no troublesome thoughts. Meanwhile, even I was also staring and observing him. His arms were twitching involuntarily. Something told me he was getting uncomfortable. He took around four minutes before he eventually stopped staring at me. My instincts were telling me that there was an art and science behind what he was doing. I felt he was trying to tune in to my body language by mimicking it and thus understanding the vibes. His approach seemed extremely scientific.

When he finally spoke he seemed disturbed about something. "Since you are my fifth and final volunteer and there were so many others with whom I have accessed their inner nature, I feel exhausted. That explains why I have taken more than my due time. Anyways, here are your thoughts, my friend. You like to be alone. Intensely alone. You can remain alone without company than most people can. And, uh, you are worried about the health of someone beloved. Isn't that true my friend" His diffidence in mentioning the second part told me that he was not completely sure of it.

"Yes sir. You are right. I have a tendency to be alone. And yes, my father has suffered an accident. I am extremely concerned about his health" I replied.

The saint heaved a sigh of relief. "Meet me after the discourse" he said quietly as he shook my hands.

I walked towards my seat and as expected the crowd were none too happy with my thoughts. The crowd had got used to fireworks after the first three volunteers. But, I was quite satisfied with the experience. I sat down at the seat while the saint went into the finer details of his philosophy. There were far more buyers to his philosophy now that he had impressed everyone with his performance. I was not paying much attention to the discourse as I was busy piecing together the experiences I had with the saint. The more I thought about it the more I was getting confused. He had successfully penetrated my thoughts and found out something very few people were aware of. Was it due to a supernatural ability that he was able to access my thoughts. What he had done was unbelievable. He had guessed what could be considered my inner nature. And most remarkably, he knew I was concerned about someone close to me. Unless he followed me regularly there was no way he could have done that. What he had done was truly magical.

I was shaken from my introspection when I heard a loud applause from the crowd. His discourse had ended. Many people decided to honour him with a standing ovation. I stood up too and clapped enthusiastically. While everyone were departing, I proceeded to the backstage as he had asked me to meet him.

The saint seemed to be waiting for me and shook my hands warmly as I entered the backstage. "Hey. I found it really difficult to access your thoughts. I would like to conduct the exercise once again. For my satisfaction. I take this very seriously. Would you care to join"

"Ofcourse. I would love to join" I replied.

"Great. Meet me at Hotel Ramada then. Say tomorrow 6 P.M"

"Sure. I will be there" I said excitedly.

"Very well. Thank you so much for catering to my whims and fancies" he said smilingly. "By the way, do you play Poker?" he asked.

"Yes. Occasionally"

"That explains. Anyways, see you tomorrow" he said and departed to his room backstage.

I could not believe my luck. I would get another opportunity to interact with the magician. In my eyes, that's what he was. And I wanted to find out his tricks. Because every magician had one. I could not wait to see him the next day

The next day, I reached the Ramada hotel at the designated time. I had a hard time sleeping the previous night as I was recollecting and analysing the events of the day. I felt that I was missing something. Some trick or sleight of hand which could explain something as mysterious as thought reading.But, I was hoping that my meeting with the saint would change the equation.

I knocked at the saint's room and almost immediately he opened the door and led me inside. "I am glad you could make it. You know, yesterday I found it difficult to understand what was going on in that head of yours. I almost guessed at what you were thinking and going through. But for me there is no room for guessing. That is why I take it really seriously. So I want to take another shot at it"

"Sure" I replied.

"If you don't mind, I would like to take this medicine before I start. It really helps me you know" he said pointing at a box containing a green coloured powdery substance.

"The medicine helps you in the process?" I asked. I was quite intrigued. The medicine looked like a psychotropic substance and maybe it was the reason for the saints glazed look that I had noticed the previous day.

"Yes. This is no ordinary medicine. Without this, it is virtually impossible to access other people's thoughts" he said while putting two spoons of the green powder into the glass of water. Once the powder dissolved, he quickly gulped down the glass.

And sure enough, his eyes had become glazed and his body had completely relaxed while he was sitting in his chair. His eyes were gazing at me intently as if trying to penetrate me.

"Now come here my friend. Let me hold your hands" the saint said calmly.

"Wait. Can I try this too. Can I try to gauge your thoughts and inner nature.

"What. How can you? You don't know how to"

"What if I try the medicine too"

"No. You still wont be able to. You are not me. You are not a saint. You need enlightenment for that"

"I know I am not. And if I am not able to do what you do, it will just confirm you are a saint. If I am also able to gauge your thoughts then it is basically the medicine which does most of the work. Right?"

The argument struck a chord with him but he was not totally convinced. I realised that he still had doubts of his saintliness. So, I decided to use that point in convincing him further

"If I fail to read your thoughts which I most probably will, it will show for sure that the medicine only works for saints like you. There will be no disputing that you are a saint and not some street magician"

My persuasion seemed to be working. "There is no way you know a thing about this. You wont be able to read my inner nature and what I am and what I have done. And that will prove I am a saint. Besides, merely drinking the medicine does not work. You need to have access to the mystical secrets too" he said while handing me the medicine.

"Surely" I said while gulping down the medicine. The medicine tasted like a pungent version of vanilla. It was nothing like I had ever tasted before. And its effects were instant

The colours in the room suddenly looked brighter and with a clarity I could not imagine existed. I looked at the saint and smiled at his smiling face,. But after the medicine the saint was looking like a totally different person. After around two minutes, the effects of the medicine really started kicking in. It exponentially improved my observation and made my thinking extremely sharp and acute. I stared at the saint and observed him intently. I could observe the minutest of his expressions in his eyes, face and even his nose. The medicine introduced intuitive, perceptive and discerning abilities that I never knew I had.

"So, how does it feel my friend. Is it working" the saint asked curiously.

"You have trained for years haven't you"

"Trained in what" said the saint taken aback at my observation. He had not expected this.

"Trained in the field of face reading and body language. I can see that in you." I replied. "That's how you are able to make the accurate judgements about people." I said. The medicine was actually working. It was not like I was reading his mind. I was just reading the signals that his mind was emitting through body language and facial expressions. I was just able to discern things that I normally wouldn't. Someone like the saint  who had years of extreme training could combine his experience of reading people along with the acute observation that the medicine induced to make it look like he was mind reading.

"Listen. It's enough. Stop observing me. The medicine seems to be working to an extent. I don't want you to read me anymore" the saint said. His expressions were changing. He was extremely worried about something. I wish I had his skills to make more refined judgement. But my mind was still piecing things together slowly. The saint had something to hide. That had become clear to me.

"I think you better leave. It was a bad idea to give you the medicine" the saint continued.

"But don't you want to read my thoughts anymore"

"I want to but I don't want you to read mine. Do you know who I am" he asked. His voice had suddenly changed. It had become more edgy and dangerous. He looked at me without smiling. I suddenly realised what he seemed to be hiding. His eyes reflected the answer. I got the vibe that he was a hardened criminal. He was not your usual conman who pretended to be a saint. He was far worse. I suddenly realised that he could sense the fear in me. He could read my mind and know that I had found out.

"Do you have a revolver with you" I asked. I did not intend to ask that but the sentence just poured out of me.

"No. I do not carry a revolver. But since you already know, the knife is the weapon of my choice" He opened the cupboard in his wardrobe and showed me a large glittering knife to prove his point. "I intend to use this on you if you try any funny business" The way he smiled at me told me that he meant it too. The look in his eyes terrified me. It told me that he was very capable of murder. I had to keep my calm but. I knew I was not dealing with a reasonable person. I knew If I panicked he would use the knife as a reaction. I did not have many options in front of me while he was contemplating killing me.

"But you have changed. I have read you. You are a saint now. The past is behind you. You have reformed now. Killing you will not help you. It will only take you back. And you need to go forward" I said pleadingly. I was bluffing at this point. I had no idea whether he had changed or not. But I was desperate and I could not think of any other choice.

"You have changed right. you are a saint now remember" I continued calmly. He kept looking at me with a strange expression while I said this. I was not sure whether my strategy had worked or not. I knew he could read me much better than I could read him. I half-expected him to say "Nice try kid. But it doesn't work on me" and then use his knife to perhaps slash my head.

"You are a philosopher now. Remember, that's what you said during the discourse. Philosophers are rational people" I tried again.

The final sentence had a definite effect on him. Mentioning the word Philosopher had done the trick. His reaction was completely different. He kept the knife on the table and fell on the chair. He was on the verge of breaking down. My bluff had worked. It was strange to see a self proclaimed murderer almost cry in front of me. But I was more than relieved. He was trying to reform and luckily my words had reminded him of that.

"I assure you that I will not mention this to anyone" I said.

"Get out of here before I change my mind" he replied quietly.

I overcame the temptation to run and slowly walked out of the room and closed the door behind me. As soon as I was outside the room, I ran down the stairs and fled the hotel as fast as I could.