One cannot be humble and aware of oneself at the same time.
- Madeleine L'Engle, A Circle of Quiet
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Icarus was an ant and he had a heart. It was rare for ant to have a heart. But however may one discourse against it, he had a heart and he was conscious of it. And it was growing difficult gradually. It was an awkward feeling- something hammered continuously just below his throat and made him restless with an obscure pain. As he was still half-asleep, lying on the sand beneath his minute shape, he dreamt of swimming in a pot of fresh honey, warm and sweet, now submerging, now emerging up and down in that mellow sweetness. The earth beneath him sustained his delusion for a moment or so, but it became gradually difficult for the fragile images to hold on against the heavy footsteps that now intruded his choicest notes and it was a terrible cacophony. He woke up with a jerk, his head still heavy, his eyes unfolding its purview like morning flowers- and then it was all feet and dust. The first troop for the day’s haunt was already on its way out and he had still been sleeping under a thin blanket of warm dust- his half-awake mind still weaving a vast free greenery through an opaque window, but he closed them. With scrupulous care- as if himself watching his every movement with a tender detail, he pulled his body up with his two legs in the middle, gave a stretch forward to the two legs at the front, and a stretch backwards to his two legs at the back, gave his head a steady circle around his neck, took a deep breath and was ready for the day.
A little walk around the mole-hills and caves nearby was enough for him to realize, much to his surprise and, little to his panic, that he was not in a familiar surrounding, and if it was friendly, it was to be known only in matter of time. It seemed to be a place like his own, but he wasn’t quite sure about it. Had he been walking in his sleep and has unconsciously come to a place, inhabited by like creatures but completely different? And whatever the place be and no matter how has he happened to be there, is there a way to find a way home? Or is he still dreaming?
There far stood a captain with his troop briefing the subordinates, Icarus presumed. He himself belonged to one such troop, and had he not been there by some unknown consequences, he had been receiving the same orders before starting an already finished day! But he was a free ant today. Why, he did not know. And this sudden sense of freedom demanded excess of him, and he was filled with an empty exhaustion, without moving a limb. He at once felt superannuated, for had nothing to do, and aimless for he did not know where to go, accompanied with the care for memory that was yet to be restored. Thus he looked for a place to rest, wearied with this intrinsically perplexing soul-search, added with the embarrassment and guilt to trace one’s own probable wrongdoings down memory lane. He laid himself down in a cave,which seemed to be deserted for good, pressing his chest into the thin dust on the earth, and without making a noise, even by his movement, heard; curious to the slow beating of the rarity he possessed. He knew, it was to draw him greater troubles, if he was not already into one, but he was happy listening to its reassuring reverberations against a hopeless world.
He now opened his eyes, and in front of him was a busy antdom with its usual rush, his heart still beating, and beating slowly. He looked at the captain, who had now done briefing to his troop, the routined speech to follow the routine and strive hard so that the routine can be routined, and yet some lagged, some showed over-enthusiasm, some played dubious games and the rest twist and turn their malice and benevolence to rise upwards in their search for a better anthood -like the lieutenant, the captain, the major, the general and so on till we might reach God. But neither of them had known of an ant born happy and remained happy till he was laid safely down into his grave or was smashed under a boot. At the end of all of their meticulous endeavour how foolishly they forget that they still are ants; weak, insecure, pathetic ants.
He was gradually coming to terms as his memory was slowly, if not steadily, had shown signs of restoration, and the image of the green field near his colony, was now quite potent in his mind. There the dreaded heat of the summer and the spoils of the rain had made way for autumn with all its shades and glosses- along with many butterflies with many colours on them, dancing as elusive dreams on the velvet yard under the fragile sunlight of the early winter. It was so marvellous to have a heart! But he had known the dangers too. ‘An ant shall work for today to save for the future.’- he had learnt, like all wise ants do. ‘It is not only forbidden to have a heart, it is shameful. An ant shall not possess a heart, for heart makes no room for food. And if an ant owns one, he shall take a knife and tear it out to make room for more food.’ his father had told him. They all were saving, all of them in front of him, that crawled about the dusty earth in search for a grain and carry it back home to store it in a safe corner. It seemed, they all were busy in the preparation of a feast that was not known when to be expected to be declared and by whom, and none had any idea either if it was any sooner. He felt the immense burden under his shoulder as he stood stationed, of a great ugly antdom, that stored up immeasurable amount of food, shredded down to dust, for an imagined posterity that is to come lest we survive ours…
His head was ringing heavy with words and he could get that everything was not quite alright with him. He was still lulled between sleep and consciousness, and he might have fallen asleep in between but he was not sure of it. The beats were still audible, though at times growing faint in the sights and sounds that now surrounded Icarus. ‘Is it at all rare to have a heart?’ he thought to himself. He had heard innumerable stories of other worthy ants, those now we swear upon at every instance, who had enough courage to declare that they possessed one, and how they had been mocked at the face of this entire antdom. ‘Once there was a great ant- worthy of all ranks that we meagre things go around and yet somehow fail to achieve and sustain.’ said one. Who exactly, he could not remember but this part of the tale was his favourite. “He lived a life of utmost poverty. He possessed nothing, yet he possessed something that kept him happy forever. He was said to have drank somewhere from the forbidden pond, and gained forbidden insight into the scheme of things that we break our heads upon and can’t catch a thing. He started asking questions at once, and it is said, he asked too much, and he taught other ants to ask questions too. And the general came to know about him- this ant, the great one, was a captain himself but the wicked thing had more ants behind his vile sting, and they led him to scratch out his grave of himself, something they say the general himself shuddered to go near, and we know how measures are generally taken in such case. We don’t touch a piece if we can smell an ounce of danger be hidden in it. But he was courageous, this great ant, and he did not shudder, he did not even panic. They intimidated his courage, he died like a soldier, proving his worth above all of us that still crawl around so wretchedly. But what a waste it is,I think of it. He was meant to be the general, they say, but he asked questions.”
‘Isn’t it that probably all ants have a heart but they deny it to themselves and thus to the world?’ Icarus asked, to himself. ‘It is easy, in fact very easy to lose it to the noisy world, like an ant, to stoop the head down, as if born this way, and measure out the earth from corner to corner in search of sustenance and never look upward into the sky. Who will tell them, it is in themselves, that the magic of freedom is bestowed, in those ups and downs, those promising notes of affirmation after a pregnant still silence, the motion of the entire universe pulsating with a promising outburst. It is too bad for ants not to have wings, but who cares, if they don’t have, they shall make one.’ Icarus desired wings. All ants desired wings, but it is said that wings led them to dreadful death, far ignominious than being smashed under the boot or drowned in a pail of water. Death came slow, and almost with an air of uncertainty, but when it came with all of its dread and terror, it swallowed even the words that these ants left after them. Icarus was not afraid of dying, but he desired a peaceful death- like that of the great ant- ‘He lay down beside that dreaded pool. There was no debt to be paid, as he owned nothing. His legs were first to stop and then slowly his body and then his head, that then looked westward in a strange fashion when he closed his eyes. His body was left there, and no ant was allowed to touch as he died there, but those who had admired him secretly had seen him smiling even after his death and took him to be just dreaming. They were happy, he could now forever dream there, peacefully.’
‘What he might be dreaming then?’
‘Why? green field and butterflies.’
And where do butterflies come from?
They are but portraits on the air
Painted in memory of yesterday’s lilacs.
Icarus had fallen in love with a golden butterfly. All ants that grow wings fall in love with golden butterflies. But for Icarus it was different. He was not like other ants, considerably lazy, and mostly thinking about this or that. He would often slip into the garden where the butterflies would come in the afternoon, and silently watch them fluttering from one flower to the other, drinking their sweet honey. They were as many in numbers as they were in colours- there were love’s plenty. But it was a golden one that caught the attention of Icarus, and when he was conscious that within moments he desired her wildly, he was ashamed of his slight build. But then save the wings, that tiny little butterfly did not, in any case, exceed Icarus in physical manner if she did not fall short and he felt assured. But they were still worlds apart.
He knew not when, following the fragile, flippant, fickle little thing he had come far off from his familiar land, away from his peers and home and colony, to a land of strangers. And then there he met a dead end beneath a huge wall that intended to touch the sky at the very onset of its self-contemplation. It was unsurmountable, if not unavoidable, for horizontally his eyes met no possible end, as did vertically. He was to turn back, but he could not gather enough courage to do so. It was then he met a fellow ant, somewhat eccentric in manner, and at first acquaintance came to almost hit him to death, and Icarus could still feel the pain, that reminded him of the blow!
And just then, probably everything fell in place,or probably everything out of, and images in perfect coherent fashion came stumbling down the floodgates of his memory. Everything was clear to him now- the day before, he followed the butterfly and had lost both his way and his beloved too. As he was about to turn back, possibly in search of his way home, he had met a drunkard ant, who first took him to be a threat and attacked fatally, but then assured of his harmlessness and rather, helplessness, lured him to drink something- the strong smell of which still lingered in his senses, and he had lost his mind and thus forgotten everything to a sort of trance that the drink had drawn upon him. Now with recalling the blow which he had taken on his head quite sportily, he had established an order in his thoughts that resisted any such attempt so far. As far as he could remember, the story of the great ant was passed on to him by this eccentric ant, and he was also informed that he had located the forbidden draught from which the great ant had drunk. It was warm and sweet, like honey, and Icarus had vague memories of taking a dip into it and swimming for a long time. Then he had prayed, as the eccentric ant had advised him to, for the most desired thing in the world, Icarus had believed to be. It was difficult for him to focus- first came a pair of wings for himself, then the golden butterfly, and at last, as now he was quite deep into meditation, he asked for wisdom of the greatest kind. The rest was still vague to him, and he could not substantially recall much, other than what he had experienced after he had woke up. It was quite unacceptable for Icarus that he had wasted a day without doing his duty where his peers added every bit of their energy in piling up their hope to rise in rank sooner or later. He himself had dreamt of becoming a captain, if not a major, and unwillingly nourished the thoughts of becoming the general someday. He had to find his colony, no matter how far did it lay. His family was waiting, his peers were waiting, his dreams were waiting.
He found himself back on the road, and now coming out of the daze, he walked with freshened vigour but gradually as he proceeded, his thoughts slowed him down. He blamed himself of being deluded to neurotic thoughts, and doing blunders that are incurable beyond measure for a thing that is as slippery as a butterfly, but yet his minds couldn’t deny what brilliance she had.
She flew as swift as time
or tide, when she flew.
And then she sat on a flower.
As dreams deem to sit upon eyelids.
On a bright sunny day Icarus, an ant of worldly ambition was drawn to the green fields merely to fall in love with its vast beauty. But every great beauty must have a great excess to accommodate the tragic and therefore the sublime in it; and thus he understood not, whither his body went and whither did his mind go, and on what wings did he fly till this other end of the world. Upon this thought, Icarus found that he was not rendered heavy by his thoughts, but he was heavier than he had felt himself to be, a day before, which has made his steps slower. He traced this gain in weight up to his shoulder, and to his profound astonishment, he noticed a pair of wings. He did not believe himself just at once, but his heart had assured him of the truth. Though spilling with over-joy, was there a prophecy of doom imbued in it? And Icarus smelt fear in them- for they were wings- nascent and fragile, but wings after all!
Icarus continued his walk, for he felt, if he stopped, some grave transformation might befall his way, but after a while he stopped. Where was he going? Even if he walks till the last drop of his spirit has not dried up, even if he reaches his colony that lives far away, somewhere in his memory, will they accept him?-- A clown ant with waxen wings! He tried to move them in vain- neither had he any training in the matter of flying. ‘Ants do not fly, except unto death’-- the horrible truth that was passed on since ages, grew fitful to his senses that were slowly withering--and he started walking again, apprehending something terrible that approached him, and for a moment he thought, he could outwalk it.
But then he stopped again--in front of a huge dark space--insensible to mere antly perceptions. Now where has he walked to? He lacked meaning of everything he saw or perceived--whatever that led him to this place, has come wiping his foot marks on the way--there was no past, and hence there was no future, but an everlasting dreamlike eternity of the present--forever enriching the soul through its absolute silence, yet forever elusive, as one image dissolved into another, and there was no certainty, in the very first place. And it is then that Icarus stood witness to the sorcery when the condensed darkness around, made way for all his repressed desires to shine through in remarkable vibrance-- the golden butterfly sitting softly upon a stick--immersed in self-contemplation.
Every word that he had discoursed since, was in a defense against the mysterious entity that kept him alluring-the one that now sits, fanning the tip of her wings along with the passing breeze. Between them still stood the huge dark chasm that rendered their union impossible. And do these damned things fly?
In an almost half-hearted disbelief he lifted himself unto the air, his nascent wings brushing against the heavy air of the evening, to the golden butterfly of his waking dreams. And then Icarus flew, for the first and obviously, for the last time- without an aim, without a single dimension, without an unity of purpose. Slowly his stamina drained out, as it was a longer flight than he had actually anticipated, and he felt a gradual numbing of his limbs, with a warning that he might give up any moment and fall headlong down the bottomless abyss gaping beneath him. But his wings were firm, clapping tirelessly upon the air and sustaining the siftless flight guided by a hollow hand towards its possible trajectory. And now, as he inched towards the butterfly, he was caught up with another apprehension--he was getting warm, his heart beating faster and faster than ever and so fast that it might have given out any moment, and sweet melodies poured into his ears. He had completely lost the control over his physical entities and his wings, as it were, working for itself, he was elated all the way nevertheless- even when the warmth had intensified into heat, and the steady figure of the butterfly looked to him rather like a candle flame than what his eyes had led him to believe... He landed on the flame itself- his wings evaporated in a jiffy, his heart finally gave up in unutterable agony, and his burning passion for union with the world contrarily made him crumble into himself, in a gesture of ultimate withdrawal. Before he closed his eyes for good, a white ring of smoke from the flame rose upwards unto the heaven, probably assuring him that all his prayers are heard and done with, thereof.