When Once the Question, “Why”?

Praditha was a slight boy of ten years; his dark skin betrayed the life he lived; and the hands which reached out to add to the fire revealed hands misshapen from toil and hard work. “Grandfather, when will it rain?” Such a question received a warmth from the old man he so loved; whose long white beard reached just below mid-chest; with a face cut with deep ravines of wisdom; and pock-marks from a childhood ravaged by disease; and yet a youthful glint in his eyes. “Why do you ask?” grunted the old man.

The boy did not expect such a question to his question, for his answer would reveal a motive and intention he did not wish to reveal. But he had learned long ago that no amount of careful consideration would sidestep the wisdom of his Grandfather; nay, it was beyond wisdom; it was an uncanny knowledge that pierced the very soul of his young mind. “I ask to…” but he paused, looking down at the fire, wanting to embrace its warmth, yet to avoid the steady gaze of the man on the other side.

“If it rains, then of course you cannot be expected to work in the fields. You must then go out into the woods to explore, to do what you have been doing on other rainy days.” Praditha continued to look down at the red glow; a sudden spark broke the silence, and tiny pebbles of hot balls crackled and shot towards the boy, who jolted backward. And in that instant when he jerked his head back from the fire, he saw the sly and playful smile of his Grandfather.

For he knew; they both knew. In the world in which they were born, lived, survived, toiled, and finally died, there was little time for play; there was time for a smile; for a thought; for reflection upon rest; but play was a time of waste, except on a day wasted by rain.

The boy had heard of villages where play was commonplace; larger villages where the old ways were lost and children played every day; where such questions of “when” changed to “why”, as in, “Grandfather, why does it rain”? But in his village, such questions were without meaning; the why would come only when games would be played on days even when the rains did not come. But with the emergence of the why came the destruction of a way of life; of daily toil, where son, father and grandfather would awaken with the sun; where the sun would be the gauge of work; where being and the world within which, were never separated, because the questions of why would never emerge to separate the two.

The why of the world, as with the emergence of all such entities, always comes at a cost. “And,” Grandfather added, “when it stops, then we shall work all the harder the next day.” Beyond the fire, the glow of warmth enveloped Praditha. For it was Grandfather who had worked for some seventy years; yet his smile gave off the warmth, as the embers slowly died, and darkness revealed the time of sleep.

The Fireside Storyteller

Once upon a time there was a world without fire; darkness was upon the face of civilization; silence was upon a village, subdued, left to the solace of singular thoughts, for storytellers of eras bygone had lost the enchantment of wide-eyed boys who gasped with exploding imaginations as the village sage writhed with tales of courage and conquest, of flickering flames and bursts of stardust sparks as tongues spewed tales of untold gold, goblins and golden maidens; but without the flickering flames at the center of the village, the stories once told became silent; darkness revealed only shadows, with no faces half-hidden or half-revealed. For it is the half-revealed face which makes mysterious the half-hidden face; and it is the half-hidden face which makes one pause with a shiver up the spine, and the sigh of safety to see the half-revealed face.

Shadows without light reveal only darkness; bright and overwhelming light without shadows blinds the imagination; and so God created the fire, the campfire, the bonfire, the village center, where the storyteller sage would spin his tales of wonder and bring enchantment into the dormant lives of toil, of daily farming, coaxing the soil to bring fourth sustenance for the day. Fire — the fireplace by which we read, still retains the mystery and places us into a momentary trance; turning a page, we look up and see the quiet glow, a crackle, a burst, and for a moment we pause as we are drawn into the mystery of the sage storyteller who once told of a tale, long ago, when…