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‘I often feel I’m an ant,’ Samuel said.
‘An ant?’ Meenakshi frowned in spite of herself. As a psychiatrist she had trained herself to accept any fancy, however farfetched, from a client without any visible reaction.
‘The ant climbs up a tree and moves to the end of a branch,’ Samuel continued. ‘It creeps on and on until it reaches the last leaf of the branch, the most jutting-out leaf.’
‘Then?’ Meenakshi was genuinely interested now.
‘It reaches the tip of the blade,’ Samuel stopped. Meenakshi could sense the angst that throbbed in his vocal cords. She kept looking intently into his eyes. ‘It bites the edge of the blade tightly with its jaws and hangs there. Hangs, not sits.’
‘What is it doing there? Just hanging?’ Meenakshi wondered.
‘Waiting for what?’
‘For a passing crow.’
‘To be eaten by the crow.’
Samuel was passing through acute depression. He was a lecturer of English at St Edmund’s college. He was 35 though he looked more like an adolescent who had forgotten to grow up. He was a blogger of some repute who loved to boast about the Alexa rank and the PA and DA of his blog. He boasted to his students and posted screen shots of his ranks on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
The principal of St Edmund’s college, Reverend Father Lawrence, was not quite chuffed with Samuel’s accomplishments in the half-witted blogosphere. ‘Even if you conquer the whole blogosphere, your future is doomed if you don’t get a PhD,’ Father Lawrence told Samuel often enough.
Samuel detested PhD which he thought was like looking for the meter of the dictionary or investigating Hamlet’s penile dysfunction. Father Lawrence, on the other hand, thought PhD ought to be the ultimate aim of any academician. ‘You’re floating on the evanescence of Alexa,’ he told Samuel, ‘whereas you should be probing the depths of the soul. PhD probes depths. Alexa floats on surfaces.’
‘Even if you conquer the whole blogosphere, what use is it if you lose your soul?’ Father Lawrence went on.
The question agitated Samuel. It scorched Samuel’s soul. Samuel grieved. But Samuel didn’t know why he was grieving. He didn’t know he had a soul.
Samuel, are you grieving over the acacias unleaving? Samuel heard someone ask him. The beautiful acacias on St Edmund’s campus had begun to shed their leaves. Their glorious yellow flowers had disappeared long ago. It is the blight acacias are born for: unflowering and unleaving. It is Samuel you mourn for, Samuel heard someone say.
Samuel began to see an ant walking up a tree. The ant was waiting to be eaten by a crow. It is the blight ants are born for. What about the ant’s soul? Samuel wondered. Shall I do PhD on the ant’s soul? He asked Meenakshi.
Meenakshi frowned in spite of herself. “Sorrow’s springs are the same,” she said as she wrote the name of an antidepressant pill on the prescription slip. The ant’s sorrow is the acacia’s sorrow is Samuel’s sorrow. Let Alexa sleep, Samuel. Let the ant grieve at the edge of a leaf blade. Let the acacias unflower and unleave.
PS. Inspired partly by Gerald Manley Hopkins’s poem, Spring and Fall.