Can you hear the Fifth Horseman?

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep...

For the past few nights, it has been foggy in the back of the woods where we live. In The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, TS Eliot wrote about the fog of a “soft October night”, here in the wilderness the fog begins to roll in around mid-December when there’s nothing soft about the night, especially past midnight.

It’s biting cold, the wind sweeps down howling like a banshee, the landscape is barren, and our somnolent suburbia wears a deserted look. Soon after evening descends, the fog begins to roll in, swathes of cotton clouds, first spookily translucent and then dense and opaque, reducing visibility to near zero. It stays that way till the fog lifts, if at all, the next morning.

Driving home late night from distant Delhi is reduced to cautious kerb-crawling; ‘Speed Kills’ when you can’t see what lies ahead of you. But kerb-crawling is not without danger. There are patches where there’s no kerb to follow and then there are patches where the kerb is not painted in black-and-white stripes, as it is supposed to be.

We can rest assured that tenders have been issued and contracts given, bills submitted and huge sums of money paid, on repairing and painting kerbs. We also know where the money has gone. But there’s nothing we can do or are willing to do about it. So why crib? Life’s cheap in this country.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

The fog leaves dirty streaks of soot and dirt on the windowpanes of our home. What looked ethereal, albumin white on the road appears faintly yellow from inside the apartment as I switch on the lamp. Is it the light that the lamp casts or is the fog really smog?

The food is cold and needs to be microwaved; it comes out dry and slightly bitter. Truly the remains of the day. What do we toil so hard for? For fame? Money? To create a legacy that will be inherited by
others?

We love to think that we are indispensable to our families, our professions, our country, the world at large. We forget that the graveyard of history is littered with the tombstones of those who thought they were indispensable, that life would not carry on without them.

High on the adrenaline of success, fame and fortune, we forget that we are mere mortals, transiting through this world on an endless journey, from nothingness to being to nothingness. Being alive tonight is no guarantee that I shall be around tomorrow night to switch the lamp on and watch the fog rubbing its muzzle on the windowpanes, rubbing its back on the windowpanes.

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.
I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Each morning I discover a few more strands of hair missing from my head, gone forever, there won’t be any regeneration. I can feel the slow wasting of the body, the sagging of once taut skin; the creeping sense of middle age is overwhelming, as are the intimations of mortality.

Friends I last met many years ago look different; those with whom I went to school and college are coping with spreading waistlines and worrying over cholesterol levels. Some have already left for the other world, early departures to the deep, dark beyond.

Youth makes us forget the eternal truth that which is born must die middle age reminds us of it; each passing day, each passing year takes us closer to the unavoidable visit by the grim reaper, the moment when we shall be compelled to shut our eyes forever, no matter how hard we try to fight against the dying of the light.

This alone is real; everything else is maya.

The writer is a senior journalist based in the National Capital Region. His Twitter handle is @KanchanGupta

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