I woke last night to the sound of gunfire. I had been warned of the presence of a band of poachers who have been setting up camps in the forest along the preferred trails of elephant herds. They mean business, these people. I’m told they have hired the services of a sharpshooter to do their nasty work for them. We give him cash, booze, and cigarettes, they say, what more does a man need?

There is talk of how the ivory winds up in workshops where they are carved into temple or household deities for good and greedy men who cannot forgo the exquisite pleasure of adding an ivory Ganesha to their “divine” collection.

The world, I am sure, is full of men – poachers and sharpshooters alike – who are clever at putting a price on everything that crawls, flies, and stands still but how, in the name of our 30 million gods, do you go about putting a price on an elephant? Will the agonised bellow of an elephant falling dead in the forest ever trouble their dreams?

I was reading somewhere that on a plaque atop the highest man-made mountain of prehistoric times, it says, “Purpose not known.” What does that mean, purpose not known? Is it that we, who pretend to know everything, don’t know what the purpose was or that the people, even as they were building it, were conscious of a larger purpose that was unknown to them?

Purpose not known. I remember feeling an odd sense of exhilaration when I read that; the precise purpose of my life too, I feel, has not been made sufficiently clear to me!

Doesn’t living mean divining for ourselves life’s real needs? There are lines in our lives drawn a long time ago by those who love us, but we must remind ourselves that they are only notional lines that pretend to separate our own needs from the needs of others. They are drawn by people who have their own inherited idea of what danger means. They say don’t cross this or that line and get yourself into trouble, but I know now that there are ordinary people who cross those lines and shift forever the balance of the world.

There are times when I think there are faculties in us that are comatose and need to be activated so we can begin to see our physical world for what it really is: a world of trees and stars and mountains in a hypnotic state of collapse, rotating, growing old, and rotting in front of our very eyes. The world is an extension of our own bodies, and in all our creative endeavours – when we paint or write or meditate – we must learn to see it grow daily and invisibly old, suffering strokes, and lethal jolts to its ancient constitution.

All its remote and secret lakes, its scarred mountains, its parent solar system, the transient bodies of all its animals and birds, everything in the world, at every moment of the night and day, is silently, invisibly ageing like our own bodies and gathering, before our unseeing eyes, to a close. What can we do?

Nothing, except to learn to see the world not as an earthly depository of our fears and manufactured desires but as a wandering star, trapped forever in an absurd orbit around a sun, moving punctually, comically almost, towards eventual dissolution.

After I have crossed my arms and wound them tightly around my shoulders, I lie down and close my eyes, listening to the oldest sound in the world – the morose sound of the rain muttering endlessly through the night in an evergreen forest. I don’t know what time it is; I feel as though I have walked all day through a green dome that called out to me, growing darker and greener as I made my way deeper into it.

Early the next morning my sleep is pierced by the sound of a bird high up in the trees – a streak of pure and joyous whistling. If only I could lie here and grow slowly old listening to this song! If an asteroid were to strike our planet again, please God, let the songbirds survive. Later, just as I am beginning to prepare myself mentally for the unanticipated rigours of another rainy day in the forest, I actually hear Nitya’s voice telling me about the whistling prowess of the Malabar thrush.

Nitya! Just then the whistling fills the forest again, a shifting register of questions, riddles, extravagant complaints and – who really knows about these things – even timely advice as to how not to stumble in the afterlife.

The things we spawn endlessly in the ponds inside our heads – how do we cut a sluice and make them flow to the great river of the heart? Kabir says, “All know that the drop merges with the ocean but few know that the ocean merges with the drop.”

They are pounding paddy everywhere, husking rice till all the powdered lies creep on their skins like a monsoon rash when they are asleep. Perhaps they are all true devotees of the god Krishna who, at the height of his persuasive powers, in the Gita tells the warrior Arjuna: “It is better to speak what is “beneficial” than to speak what is “true”.”

God of scaffoldings, hold my day up!

The thought occurs to me again today that the real fast you break in the morning is not the physical one of eating but the more elusive one of speaking. How I hate those mindless inanities of the morning, the irresponsible surrender of what I have always believed to be a private right: the right to your own first words each morning, the right to lie silently in bed before you break the verbal fast of the night and speak the first words of the day.

The earth has just completed another rotation on its own axis. Mind and speech, having spent the night free of each other, are now separate and rested; there is no need to rush and yoke them quickly back together again. The gods, they say, dwell silently in the mind; it’s the demons that wish to speak. So, stay the breath – don’t allow it to lapse mindlessly into speech.

Yes, that first word in the morning must not be careless; it must be voluntarily and deliberately spoken, from now on until the last day of my life. If the ability to speak is what separates me from other forms of life, then I must reassure myself every morning of the ingenuity of that state. And before I swat away all the lies and rhetoric that will soon settle like stubborn flies on the shrinking carcass of my day, I must be careful with the words I will surely add to the millions and millions that make up the routine verbal sewage of the world.

I find it useful to lie in bed very still each morning after I have opened my eyes and spend a few moments in active contemplation – what the great Roman philosopher Seneca used to call a “pre-meditation” – reminding myself, since I am so prone to forget, of the narrow and ephemeral nature of the world I inhabit, and cultivating, little by little, a muscular acceptance of all that the day might bring. In this way I may be able to teach myself to look back upon the events of the day without blame or remorse and look forward to the actions of the unfolding day with eagerness, accepting that in the same room, along with that eagerness, sits both anxiety and disappointment.

My mind is a blank. I hold my breath a little longer. Then I speak: “What a sinking, spreading, heartless, magical son-of-a-bitching life!”

And the day begins.

Excerpted with permission from All Stray Dogs Go To Heaven, Krishna Candeth, BluOne Ink.