The Sane and the Insane

It was a chilly evening and I was waiting for the bus. When it finally arrived at the bus stop I boarded it. Inside, it was not so crowded that I couldn’t get any breathing space…but crowded enough that when I walked to the rear I brushed against elbows and stepped on some toes. People were cursing me under their breath. One guy was singing a song. He was standing facing the window and holding onto the overhead bar. His body was swaying to his own tune. I stood silently beside him. He finished his song and looked around for applause…there was none. Everyone around him was absorbed in their own thoughts. He caught my eye and saw that I was looking at him with interest…time for another song. ‘Pa, pa, pa, ni, dha, pa’…he sang. He was singing loudly and he was enjoying what he was doing. A few people around us gave a weary look, as though disturbed from some serious contemplation by a madman, shrugged, muttered to their neighbours about ‘public drunkenness’ and went back to staring out the window. ‘Mr Drunk’ didn’t notice. He had already moved on to his next song, an old MGR song that must have been quite a hit in its time. I didn’t understand the words, but did it matter? He rolled his eyes with each note, jerked his head this side and that as if indicating each rasa and gave me a big smile. “Saar, ne ennake marakave mudiyadu,�? (you will never forget me) he told me. I nodded and gave him an encouraging smile. That was what he needed. He launched into his next song. Maybe this was a Shivaji Ganeshan number. He was a single man, all-in-one movie orchestra. In between stanzas he would do the percussion and then the flutes and the veena. The low lighting of the bus lent a surreal-comic tinge to his face. A few people were now looking at us. What did they make of the spectacle? A drunk disturbing the ‘public peace’ and an apparently sober youg man egging him on! I was fascinated with my new found friend. The bond that had formed was only visible to the two of us. He evidently didn’t give two hoots about maintaining the decorum at public places. He was happy doing what he was doing, giving expression to his joy, paying obeisance to his screen idols, maybe living out his childhood fantasy of being a singer. And us sane people were pitying this ‘insane’ man? I looked around me. I saw the sad faces of my fellow travelers. Maybe the one sitting in front of me had financial problems, the one behind me had marital problems and the one on my left couldn’t get an erection. We put the ‘sane’ and the ‘insane’ into air tight categories. And woe betide any man who accidently gets locked up in the jail marked ‘insane’. He is instanly judged by the world of the sane. But that night on the bus I couldn’t figure out who was really sane – the half-dead zombies all around me – and who insane – the merry man dancing to his own tune?

3 responses to “The Sane and the Insane”

  1. Anil says:

    Brilliant and chilling at the same time! In one breath you have questioned the very basis of our modern society…who is sane in the end? Who or what set of parameters decide the degree of saneness? Is singing at the top of your voice in a public place insanity at worst or foolishness at best? Is a politician sane if he orders the police to shoot rampaging protestors? If I have understood it correctly this is exactly what post-modernists question and criticize in modernism, the rigidity and conformity to set of arbitrarily determined (and imposed) social mores, no?

    Lovely write up. I loved the way you evoked the whole scene with your words. It felt liek I was there as an invisible observer. You really should write more often! It will sharpen the bite of that pen of yours!

  2. tushar says:

    Thanks. Yeah…that bus ride was amazing. And I was enjoying it fully. I wish people were more open about their feelings instead of conforming to the set norms laid down by…? God knows who.

    About modernism being rigid and set, not quite. Modernism began as movement across a wide spectrum of arts as a revolt against ‘traditional’ forms of art, literature, social organization and daily life had become outdated, and that it was therefore essential to sweep them aside and reinvent culture. The movement started in the late 19th and early 20th century. In painting, impressionism, cubism and surrealism; literature: James Joyce and virginia wolff; architecture: corbusier, louis kahn, frank lloyd wright; Music: stravinsky

    So the modernist movement itself is a revolt againt rigidity and conformity. Its a different matter that modernism became the new status-quo which then post modernism criticised.

  3. Anil says:

    I should have clarified. I was not talking about the origins of modernism but more about the current state of modernism. Indeed, it is ironic that modernism has ended up becoming the very thing it rose against in the beginning.

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