JagjitUppal

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The Diary of a Mad Man A short story by Jagjit Uppal

He was found dead on a footpath. Not an uncommon occurrence in a modern metropolis; also not very unusual that deaths like these are due to malnutrition, perhaps, starvation. And it was very unlikely that someone would come to claim their cold bodies. Not different from the deaths of beggars, urchins, vagabonds, unknown citizens, the insignificant….

Even this particular case would have gone unnoticed but for a diary found on his person. Of course we can hardly call it a diary proper: a few loose, folded sheets of paper, to be exact three in number, covered with badly, but boldly scribbled jottings. With no name, no address; the person remains unidentified. What makes us curious about the writer is the single bold line on one of the sheets: Diary of a mad man.

The sheets present a strange, disturbing account of the person. In any case, he does not appear to be a mad person: though, perhaps not sane either, in the normal sense.

We would like to present these sheets as they were written: they are not dated and we do not know their precise serial order. But on going through them we discover that: perhaps, the man was starving for fifty days, as he records on one sheet and this could be the first account that he set down: for on subsequent sheets, we find him more disturbed, and possibly in a state of delirium. Does the effect of starvation make a man visionary or, turn him on to madness, a peculiar dementia? On what probably, according to us is the last sheet, the dead man writes: “I have to withdraw to restore my sanity.” This sentence could not have been, in all possibility, written by a demented man.

The final comment, that we would like to add before presenting the ‘diary’, is that the jottings do not appear to be observations that are usually normal. These are perhaps fantasies of his imagination.

We have hardly corrected or rewritten the notes, though at certain places, where a certain sentence did end abruptly, a word or two have been added to keep up the rhythm of sporadic and staccato phrases.

THE FIRST SHEET:

‘It is quiet, but the stillness of the night hums with sounds. I am alive. The vacant roads, uncontaminated by human feet, appear to have achieved rest at last. The buildings are breathing once again – these office blocks, which when invaded by humans at daytime, resembled dead corpses being devoured by an army of human maggots. Let me not try to remember the daylight hours – the sufferings, the idiocy, the drudgery the rat race towards soul-annihilation, - no, a soul-less existence in which you are alive only when your subconscious plays games in a dream world, and when during waking hours life is mortally mechanical.

The din and noise wakes me rudely to the stupid reality of madness. A procession. A religious procession. Religious? In front there is a woman, bedecked with garlands; people bow to her in reverence. She has been successful in fasting for fifty days. Strange, I too have not eaten for fifty days. But she, I hear, has seen a vision of God…I am not interested…There is another funny person riding a horse and carrying a sword. People are dancing.

“In the corner of the road the Lawyer is standing, with his face to a blank wall, in the act of defending a client. This Lawyer, the people say, lost his mind by talking to walls. But, the people, they too ride on horses and carry swords and dance about on the roads. Let them keep their sanity. The Lawyer is defending someone, his client? I go to the Lawyer. He smiles at me and congratulates me on having won my suit.

“The night is pregnant with a serene, solemn, pious, sane, and fragrant atmosphere.”

THE SECOND SHEET:

“I see people running. There is a mad rush. I am afraid. I run with them. There are a number of long queues. I stand. This is a new land. Once you enter it, there would be food, work and plenty. They ask me my name. I do not know. My background? I do not remember. They beat me. They all beat me. I do not want food. No clothing, no work…Release me. I want no new land. Let me return. More beating. Kicking…

“I awake. Daylight. Human ants. An accident. The motorist is dead. He is my friend. Once when I threw orange peel on the road, he had rebuked me… I had no civic sense. Nonsense. All over the road now, he lies. With his tiny brain spattered with blood over the road. Dirty. I feel wretched. I do not like daylight. I want to sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep…”

THE THIRD SHEET:

“Horses are running. Horses are sovereign. I hear a horse laugh. They have caught me. They want to kill me. I have no sense of humor. I don’t laugh with them. They have to kill me. They strip me.

But they too are naked. The black horse wants to trample me. The white one wants to dash me against the wall. I do not want to be killed by the horses. I run. They run faster. Horses can run longer… and they go places. I cannot compete with them. But, I only want to escape. They are mad. I have to withdraw to restore my sanity. I want freedom from this race. But I run. They run faster. I scream. I can speak. This is the first time I have heard my voice. I scream. I laugh. I can speak. Then why has my mind’s tongue kept on torturing me? I scream. I run…The day is night. Night has overtaken. The black horse has won…”

Postscript: We are now confronted with the evidence of a witness who claims to have seen the writer of this diary running amuck; and on seeing the witness, he is said to have screamed ‘H-O-R-S-E’ and have collapsed…

[Published in Onlooker April 15-30, 1977, India]

 

Kamini Uppal