Saturday, 12 July 2014

Rendezvous in the Garden of Kublai Khan

Though the meeting between Jorge Louis Borges and Italo Calvino, two of the most celebrated writers of their time, was predestined and even preconceived in their minds and set in the fabric of time that abounds in their reality, the other meeting took place quiet by chance. It was only chance that destined that the character that followed Calvino on that day was Marco Polo and not one of his many wondrous and surrealistic creations like the Reader or Qfwfq.
And it was exactly this ludicrous throw of the die that interests God so much that destined that the one next to Borges not be the Librarian or Ts’ui Pen or even the multitude that together were known as Orbis Tertius, but rather the memorious one Funes.
As Borges and Calvino greeted each other with brotherly hugs in a small lighted room with plush leather chairs and a table that hosted a plant that was more decorative than practical, the characters met as well.
Funes, immobile on his bed, was gazing out the window when Marco Polo in all his adornments entered alongside Calvino. There was no brotherly hug when their eyes met across the firmament of the room, which was in some ways due to the disability of Funes whose head and hands where the only things that he could command for movement.
As their creators talked to each other smiling and laughing serenely over cups of hot tea, the two creations of two individual but spectacular minds gazed at each other. It was Marco Polo who broke the ice.
‘Delighted to make your acquaintance.’ He bowed low in courtesy ‘I am Marco Polo merchant, sea farer, traveller, and confidante of the great Mongol emperor Kublai Khan. Whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?’
Funes stared at him for sometime without speaking, then his shrill tone cut the air. ‘I know you, though I must say I imagined you different. I am Ireneo Funes of Frey Bentos, son of Maria Clemintina Funes.’
Funes reached inside his pillow and brought out a packet of cigarettes which he offered to Marco Polo.
‘Thank you but I prefer a hookah. Have you ever had the fortune of using one?’
‘Unfortunately confined to the bed as I am and subject to the fickle nature of fate, I am here very sparingly and at such moments I have not had the opportunity to come into contact with the instrument and so have never used it.’
‘Well’ said Marco polo looking at the two creators absorbed in their diatribe. ‘Seeing as how they are busy and how we have all the time of the world in our hands shall we adjourn to more quieter and serene place which I am sure that you have never visited.’
Funes looked out the window at the sun sailing across the sky on its lightness. ‘I would like a change of scenery. This moment seems to be historic and time has slowed to a crawl. I accept your invitation.’ Funes turned to look at Marco Polo. ‘But I believe even this silent place of yours will soon bore me with its monotonousness. There is only so much that one can imagine.’
‘On the contrary my friend.’ Said Marco polo smiling and sat down on a richly woven carpet of red inlaid with intricate designs. Horses and armies sailed across its vast tapestry, great wars were fought and the blood of the brave seeped into the redness of the fabric. The soft air brushed past them bringing with it the smell of laudanum, roses, lilies, orchids, daffodils, peaches, and a multitude of other unique flowers but all lost in the mix. Grass stretched out beyond the carpet with occasional bushes and trees here and there to all sides. Only one wall was visible from their observation point and it was covered with the tendrils and leaves of a plant with half green and half yellow leaves. The sun was to their right and the shade cast by the poplar beneath which the rug was spread offered them protection from its unflinching glare.
A leaf floated from the poplar on to Funes’s outstretched hand. He held it between his fingers feeling its texture and murmured ‘I imagined it different.’ In a louder voice he spoke to Marco Polo.
‘So this is the famous garden of Kublai Khan’
‘Yes indeed. We spent many a day here, the great Khan and I, talking about my travels and the cities of his great kingdom that I have visited and he, with all is royal duties, could not. Lands far and near. Lands reached by sea, by desserts, by air, beneath the ground. Those times hold an affectionate place in my heart’ as he spoke these Marco Polo’s eyes became alight with fond nostalgia.
‘The Khan is not here is he?’
‘Alas, no. Today it’s just us, but as one of the Khans most trusted and beloved friend I have the freedom of his garden.’
Funes looked around again at the endless plains of grass and shrubs and trees and at the only wall that was visible from their vantage point and the creepers crawling their way up it.
‘The garden is not at all like what Borges imagined. As a part of him I only saw what he saw and I must say the view was totally different. It was more compact for Borges. But it’s not just that,  every aspect of it.’
‘Many versions of the gardens exist.’ replied Marco polo. ‘It exists as part of those that read about it. All are real and all are beautiful. This garden was the one that first came into being and I being the first as well can only visit this garden. The others are homes to other me’s. Same, yet different.’
‘Everything is only ever different and never the same.’ Funes said shifting to a more comfortable position and picking the apple on the set on a high pedestal before him. He scrutinised it a while before setting it aside near him. Marco Polo meanwhile began preparing the hookah. He smoked a bit and handed it over to Funes who looked at it apprehensively before placing it in his mouth and taking some deep breathes. He let the smoke out slowly, obviously pleased with the outcome.
‘But it is the only place I have ever known except for cities of glass, of hidden signs, of bountiful memories, and of unforgettable streets.’ said Marco Polo also taking an apple from the pedestal.
‘Yes, yes. This is the place where your existence and its own existence could be either real or imaginary. Either the garden could exist with you, with the outside world nonexistent or the outside world could exist with the garden and you a figment of someone’s mind.’ Funes took another deep drag on the hookah. ‘The eternal question of the ambiguity of existence or shall I say the existence of existence.’
‘And what is your take on that, if I may ask?’
‘Simple. We exist and that is it. Same as everyone. The need for the question of existence does not arise. It is ridiculous.’
Marco polo bit into his apple relishing the taste and the conversation. ‘How so my friend?’
‘Well people who have existential crisis, have it only because they are able to generalise everything. For me, I have never been able to generalise anything. My eidetic memory does not allow me to. To generalise something you must close your eyes to the uniqueness that permeates everywhere. Nothing is the same. Everything differs. One grain of sand is not the same as the other so even calling it collectively as sand is absurdity in itself. Realisation of uniqueness of each instant of time, each gust of wind, each dot of colour can only lead us to see the world in multitudes. To have existential crises one must believe in the sameness of things. Someone fed up with repetitiveness gets affected with the malady of existential crisis.’
‘So in effect you argue that the world or life in general is not repetitive?’ asked Marco Polo as the juice of the apple dripped down his chin.
‘Indeed. If one were to look closely one would see that everything is different and non repetitive. In a world of many differences, man would be left marvelling at the infinite intricacies. He would, in fact, not have even time to question his existence. He will realise that as everything is different and so is he down to the very last fiber. Bombarded with this multitude of differences he will never be bored and will see existence as such, not as something that is given to everyone, but uniquely intriguing and worth pursuing. Existence, when applied to him is very different from the existence of another. The question of existence en masse is the only thing that troubled humanity. Even referring to everyone under the common name of humanity is a falsehood. For one generalisation is impossible in this abundance of uniqueness.’
‘All right then let me ask you this.’ Marco Polo interrupted. ‘Over there by the wall do you see the creeper? That plant is made of yellow and green leaves, doesn’t this much define the plant in its entirety?’
‘No, not at all. I have memorised each and every aspect of it and I can tell it abounds with differences. One can say that the plant in question is a creeper that is on the whole sporting yellow and green leaves but on closer inspection one will see it not in its generalness but in its differences. From here I see that no two leaves are the same shade of yellow or green; that veins move along it tracing subtle patterns that at a glance seem the same but on closer inspection are like infinite labyrinths. A map of one will not reveal another. The shape of the leaves differ as well and the life that flows within each. There are multiple creepers there and I challenge you to show me one that is identical to another. It is impossible.’
As Funes finished his long diatribe, he dropped the hookah he was holding on to the floor and threw away his uneaten apple. He then turned on his bed and regarded the sky seen between the leaves of the tree.
‘Not even the patch of sky seen between two leaves is same. That is beauty of the world.’
Marco Polo sat there with only the core of the apple remaining in his hands following Funes’s gaze. He spoke after a moment.
‘I understand what you meant when you said that everything is unique. But what I must ask you is this, isn’t individuality or uniqueness also a kind of generalness? By striving to be or by no fault of one’s own being unique, everything in this world is being generalised into the word unique. Even you did it yourself a while ago. So the uniqueness in essence also generated a monotonousness; a monotonousness of uniqueness. Furthermore in all its uniqueness, everything is in a state of relationship with everything else. So one can make a conjecture about something from a visibly different thing.’
‘Elaborate’ said Funes drawing his gaze back to Marco Polo, prone on the rug.
‘Fine. Let me give you an example. Water flows down to the sea. Therefore I must make a conjecture that the water that flows into the sea had its origin in some place that was higher in elevation than the level of the sea, since for flow to be there a difference in height is necessary. So the flow of water refers inadvertently to high places. So the information of these high places is contained within the water of the rivers. And as it flows through all the land, all of lower elevation than its predecessor, it slowly comes down to a lower and lower place and finally to the sea and so I must assume that the seashore is one of the lowest elevations in the land. This also explains why the water of the sea does not flow over the lands. So even in this uniqueness, the water has spoken to me about some other thing. In this case a mountain which must exist and from which water must pour down. So the uniqueness does not mean isolation from everything else and that is where the mass or classification happens. It is enough to know about one to know in many ways about the other.’
‘So this relationship speaks of generalisation? That is what you are saying isn’t it?’
‘Yes.’ Replied Marco Polo. ‘Even with uniqueness present, one thing can speak to us of a multitude of things so a generalisation can be made even there. Everything contains everything else. The thought of existential crisis arises not only in the cusps of boredom but also in the times of adversity and in deaths claws. For in moments when you are hanging over deaths jaws, individuality no longer is of import. At that time everyone is everyone else. Existential crisis is a kind of bond that connects us and at the same time deprives us of each other. It is the question of all questions.’
Marco Polo stopped for awhile and picked up the hookah that Funes had dropped.
‘Let me tell you that in all my travels I have seen many cities. They are all different but in the end they are all cities and they speak of the one city. The city of our heart and soul.’
Funes smiled across at Marco Polo through the rising fumes of smoke.
‘I disagree my friend. I love your points, but I disagree.’
‘So must I’ replied Marco Polo lowering the hookah.
And they sat there these two characters drinking in words and thoughts of each other that was at the same time the voices of their creators and of themselves.
The uniqueness of this conversation was due to the meeting of those two characters but the existence of the conversation was always there, non unique in the meeting  of any two characters.
When Borges and Calvino went their separate ways after an engaging conversation, so did Marco Polo and Funes. They lived together with their creators, as beings existing on to themselves and not there at the same time. Until one day, they along with their creators existed finally in memories of the mass in unique ways but generalised as recollections.

They still exist, these characters, in a different way as Marco Polo so acutely observed. They exist as parts of us and as parts of their creators. Each of them blended with the uniqueness of the reader and the generalness of the writer who led a single life and can now no longer exist in multiple ways as was possible in the beginning of his days.


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