Alive, But Not

There are only three of us left – the only three alive in the world. What happened to the rest, you ask? They exist – but only in frame and name. Just three survive – alive, breathing and feeling.

What a world it was when the others lived. When we worked to live and not lived to work. It started slowly. Like all these things do. They flaunted to the world how their stuffed wallets made life infinitely better. How working day and night, killing yourself to climb above the rest, made ‘living’ worthwhile. But alas, who knew they would kill themselves in the process – not one at a time, but a race as a whole.

It started with pictures of partying all night, because after relentlessly labouring the whole week getting drunk one night was the high life. Soon came the ominous books – Increase Your Productivity. As the days passed, I glanced at faces hooked to the computer and ears plugged to wires. “Good music?”, I asked. They stared. “Music? Why music? Listening to a podcast on multitasking! What use is music to rise up in my boss’s eyes?”

I laughed. Ah, here was one who believed in the Gurus, the Gurus who preached – all work and no play gave Jack a fat wallet. But as the days became years, the laughter died. One day, as I went looking for a tree to sit under, a fat book clasped in my hand, dazed eyes looked up at me from the laptop screen. The fingers still typed. They asked, “How can you lose precious time reading a book when you can listen to an audio story while meeting your service deadlines? Multitask! No time to lose!”

Bewildered, I tried. I tried to become one of them. I set my coffee cup beside me instead of taking a break in between work. I boasted of the hours I put in on the weekend and the “all-nighters” I pulled. But I collapsed. I went into a deep sleep and emerged again with a fat book in my hand, to sit under a tree and marvel at the squirrels chattering by. But then there was no one to laugh – because everyone had transformed. They breathed, they walked, but they didn’t feel. They didn’t pause. They were humans, but not alive. They partied in high rises and travelled the world – laptop in tow. All glassy eyed. They breathed green notes and gulped down codes.

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Left on my own, I set out alone. To mountains and valleys, skipping through streams and rivulets – on the search for a kindred soul. Faces I met plenty on the way, no time to soak in the sun but putting up pictures on ‘the gram’ – because what good will smelling the flowers do when there is no one to show it to?

Back at my workplace after the blissful vacation, I left for home after work at 7 pm. They asked, “So many days you wasted, wouldn’t you want to put in a few extra hours?”

And so I continued my lonely search, for whom working was the means of living a good life. And not life.

One beautiful autumn day, as I hopped to the sound of crunching leaves (because now, no one laughed, not even at despicable me), I heard the strums of a guitar. Shocked, I looked up to see two men – one singing, the other playing. Their eyes sparkled. I looked around to see if anyone recorded the performance – because it must be for a channel to make money from? But there was none. I approached them and they smiled. They said, “Come, join us! Heal your heart!”

And as I did, they told me stories of how they remained the sole souls left, who enjoyed music and art, and danced to nature without worrying about how to generate dollars. How did they escape, you ask? Got lost, and far away from this dystopian world – trekking some mountains, they say. But I don’t believe them – I am sure they almost died, just like me – otherwise would they really start seeing the world with a bright gaze in place of a green stare?

So there are just three of us left alive in this world, three of us alive, breathing and most importantly – feeling.

Angana Bhattacharya is a PhD Scholar at the Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati.

Featured image credit: 愚木混株 Cdd20/Pixabay