As the train blew a mighty whistle and moved with a lurch, I settled myself comfortably in the almost-empty compartment, and took out a motivational book from my bag. The book was quite an old, locally published book titled – Just think written by some unknown man named Sri Ram Niwas. Having flipped through few pages yesterday, I had found it an engaging read. A good book, you will agree with me, is a great companion to ride with.
Well, little did I know that an unexpected visitor would make this train ride even more worth remembering…
Minutes later, I was swimming through the oceanic depths of the book; too engrossed to look up when a passenger limped on his staff and settled on the seat in front of me. A quick glance told me the passenger was an elderly man dressed in traditional dhoti; bespectacled, tall, dark and skeletally thin, probably in his seventies, giving the impression of those old, mellow, wise, men, we all know, belonging to some remote rural villages, their life fashioned by hardships and experiences galore…
As time ticked by and train trundled on through the wilderness of Assam, I closed the book and decided to take a ten minute nap. The destination – Guwahati- was an hour away…
And then the elderly man asked, “It seems you love reading books, young man…”
“Huh…?” I interjected. Actually his words caught me off guard. The elderly man, despite his outward demeanour, had spoken in fluent, unerring English…
“Yeah…” I said a little later. Perhaps I wasn’t quite adept at hiding my surprise for the elderly man smiled knowingly and said, “Sometimes, even the old ones like me surprise the young ones like you!”
“Oh…no…I mean, that’s fine…it’s indeed good to know you can speak in English, Chacha (uncle),” I said hastily with an awkward smile. It was needless to say that he was a learned person.
“So what kind of books do you read?” Chacha asked.
“Well…I love every genre…self help, non-fiction, fiction, and…”
“Romantic?” he suggested with good humour.
“Oh…” I smiled sheepishly, getting redder, curious at the candid Chacha and conceded, “yeah…but mostly I love motivational, self-help books…they are like good food for mind!”
He chuckled and said, “that’s appreciable…so what do you love about motivational books…what do they teach you?”
“Many things, Chacha,” I leaned forward, quite interested in the flow of congenial conversation, “To be positive, to stay upbeat…it’s like…hmm…mostly about thoughts. How to think positively? How to have control over your endless thoughts…”
Chacha smiled and surveyed me. Seconds passed…I shifted uncomfortably as if his eyes were making some sort of evaluation. Then he took off his glasses, wiped it clean with his dhoti and put it on before saying: “Okay…let me ask you something, if you are convenient enough to answer.”
“Indeed, Chacha…I’ll be happy to oblige,” I agreed, wondering what was to come.
“It’s a simple question, really, nothing sort of technical…well, here we go: What is thought?”
His question seemed to linger on me for seconds. A simple question, my mind registered. I opened my mouth to answer when, strangely, words melted in my mouth. All of a sudden, like a split-second- change, the question didn’t sound like it did before. What is thought? I thought, straining my mental senses, Thought is…hmmm…c’mon! it’s a simple question…what is thought…What I am thinking now is a thought…but what actually is a thought??…I wrestled on with these thoughts!
I had to confess: Of all the books I have ever read, I didn’t come across such a thought provoking question: what is thought?!!!!
I racked my brains again. Speaking truthfully, it was not a complicated question like: what is God or why we are on earth? NO! It was a question so deeply indelibly connected with us: Thoughts! So simple yet…so secretive…
“It’s our perception…our way of thinking…you know those emotions in our mind…” I answered uncertainly. Chacha smiled his amusing smile. He almost appeared like judging me.
“Very close…but not the confident, sure answer I’d expected…” he said kindly.
“Yeah…” I admitted with a small smile. I felt guilty. I would usually boast and brag about reading a lot of books. And now, I sat abashed and ignorant…
“Think, think…just think what is thought?” Chacha bantered jokingly, as if enjoying my confusion.
“Well…chacha…I am eager to hear your thoughts about thoughts!” I urged.
“Well, well, well,” Chahca winked, “before I do so, tell me: Are you a vegetarian?”
“Yes…” I replied puzzlingly.
“So, tell me: How does a fish taste?”
“I told you, I am a veggie…I don’t know…” I murmured. I couldn’t help feeling that the topic of fish was somehow fishy!
“Well…some of my friends say it’s delicious, a little sour-
“No, No!” Chahca interrupted, “Do not say what your friends think; just say what ‘YOU’ think about a fish?!”
“Well, how can I think about it…I told you, I haven’t eaten a fish, I –
I stopped abruptly, intrigued. Understanding began to flood my mind.
“So…” Chacha continued, smiling at my wonder struck face, “the first trait about a thought is: Your thoughts are simply the reflections and impressions of what you’ve seen, heard, felt, and sensed through your senses – thoughts are like a storehouse of your experiences – Nothing more, nothing less, but a mystery nonetheless!” he finished poetically.
I pondered at his words.
Chacha resumed, “Since your mind is devoid of the thoughts relating to fish, you cannot decipher exactly the delicious taste of a fish! Now, can you tell how does a Himalayan-fruit named ‘Alycus’ taste?”
“No…” I shrugged; I had never heard the word ‘Alycus’ let alone taste it. I struggled to say more, “I don’t even know what it looks like because none of my five senses have come across this fruit; and yet…” I let my words trail off as a different train of thought occurred and I voiced, “and yet I can assume or imagine what would it be like….either sour, pungent, sweet, acrid or –
“You are thinking about those fruits that you’ve tasted in your life in your past. Your thoughts about ‘Alycus’ is based on your thoughts of other fruits you’ve sensed…and,” he suddenly grinned shrewdly, “there’s nothing such fruit called ‘Alycus’ on this earth!”
“What?” I blurted, nonplussed, “So you made it up?!”
He smiled his ‘yes”. I laughed. This wise man was weirdly more than could meet the eyes.
Chacha then took out a matchbox from his handbag. Perhaps he would light a bidi or cigarette. But he simply lighted up one match and said – “Touch the fire.”
“Hey! It’ll burn me…” I recoiled in my seat, not understanding. Chahca blew the fire out and spoke in matter of fact voice, “your past experiences with the fire told you not to touch it. It was your thoughts – your storage of experiences – that prevented you from touching the fire. Ask a naive child, say a small boy, to touch the fire; the child would touch the fire without his thoughts preventing him because –
“– because the child had no thoughts in his mind about ‘fire’; he simply is unaware; there is a lack of storage of thoughts with respect to fire; only when the child touches the fire and gets the fright of his life would the thought of fire register in his mind!” I finished.
“You are catching up, child!” Chacha remarked wittily.
But several questions burst forth in my mind and I demurred, “If you say thoughts are the storage of our experiences or that we cannot think about something if our senses hadn’t encountered a particular experience before, then how come great inventions and discoveries or great feats was achieved by mankind? How could the Wright brothers ‘think’ about making tons of metal known as aeroplane fly in the air? How does a spark of an idea sometimes flash in our mind without thinking?”
“Interesting observation, boy,” Chacha quipped, “and thus allow me to speak the second trait about thought: ‘Thoughts can piece together the scattered pieces to create an altogether new masterpiece!’”
“Thoughts can piece together…” I was unable to keep up with his lyrical articulation.
“Speaking of Wright brothers,” Chahca continued, “The idea of aeroplane hadn’t just flashed in their minds; they had been observing the flying creatures – the birds, flying insects – over a number of years. They studied these naturally flying creatures in depth and detail; their mind absorbed the knowledge and stored the thoughts; next they applied and processed these thoughts to see whether tons of metal can be made air-borne. In other words, their raw thoughts – experience and knowledge about the flying birds – got pieced and knitted together to create a masterpiece called Aeroplane! Just think, if the Wright Brothers hadn’t observed the flying birds, could they have really thought to create this flying object? I think not!”
“Captivating Analogy….” I murmured, quite captivated.
“But yes,” Chacha said, “Intention and Willingness are required to process these thoughts to create something new.”
“It’s like writing a masterpiece novel, isn’t it?” I suggested, “A writer keeps on storing the thoughts about literature through endless reading of books and continuous writing. These thoughts are set into motion through will power and intention to piece together the scattered pieces to create a masterpiece isn’t it?”
“Exactly,” Chacha approved, “An entire novel in English language – no matter how long – is made of just 26 Alphabets! It’s the inexplicably undeniable power of thoughts that allows a writer to piece together these mere 26 alphabets into a marvellous plot and create a masterpiece! So you see, whenever an idea sparks up in our mind, the origin of that idea is actually from of your accumulated thoughts about a particular subject which you’ve been experiencing many times!”
“Wow, quite thought-provoking!” I uttered, simply bowled over, “Thoughts are terrifically powerful.”
“Precisely…” Chacha said. “Think wisely and these thoughts can turn your life wonderfully!
A silence followed. The train swayed rhythmically and I was lost in my own train of thoughts, thinking about the thoughtful conversation that had taken place. A short while later, Chacha stood up, limping slightly on his staff and began wrapping up his bag.
“Will you get down at the next station?” I asked.
He nodded with a smile.
The train began to slow down and, few minutes later, drew into ‘Kamakhya’ Station.
Suddenly, I realized, I hadn’t asked his name. Who wouldn’t want to stay in touch with a learned person as he?
“Chacha…what’s your good name? Sorry, I hadn’t asked…My name is Saurav. I would be happy to stay in touch…”
The train came to a halt. With a mysterious smile and eyes twinkling, he replied what I would remember for years to come: “My name is written in the book you were reading…I am Ram Niwas!…”