Having a Literary Experience

by Aditya Dev Sood

The plane shudders and groans, forcing me to look up. The rumble of the cabin has passed clear through my body, rattling my stomach. I give up trying to read, or even to think, allowing myself to acknowledge the inchoate signals emanating from deep in my bowels, rising up through layers of nervous networks up into the swirling bowl of consciousness that I carry around with me wherever I go. Yes, I hear you, I tell my mind-body, I hear you. No more cognitive demands — iPad off, eyes closed — let's breath deeply, unclench, and we’ll just ride this thing out.

The aerial maneuvers finally end, and the low rise of Nagpur city’s buildings begin to take shape. The airport is likely to be quite near the rest of the city, I imagine. The conference guys will be there with a sign, I’ll grab my luggage and soon we’ll be off and away. Still, something is happening inside of me that needs my attention. Am I just queasy from the hard flying? Is this maybe a fart? Or is this something more insistent? More certain of its peristaltic beat and rhythm, due to arrive, right on time, this Saturday morning at seven-thirty, as on every other good day? A lot rides on this, and I have to listen carefully to what my mind-body is saying.

We – my mind-body and I — scramble to the aisle and reach for our luggage from overhead. The long stretch to the spine and diaphragm briefly pulls us out of our red-eye stupor and makes us one again. But it has also accelerated the routines of the morning, making this impending dump a more real issue before us, requiring us work separately but together.

The flight attendants are at namaste, but we can offer only a wan smile in response, as we step out door to the head of the stairs. Nagpur airport, in the distance, looks none too shabby – a single large terminal two enormous stories high, with the kind of metallic paneling that every mid-end mid-size mid-concept shopping mall now sports. Maybe the bathrooms will be okay in there, I tell my selves. Some of us wonder when we should get our luggage off the conveyer belt, others imagine having to squeeze the bag into the bathroom stall, even as the conference guys get tired of waiting and take off without us.

We woke up — me, my mind, my body and our wisp-like consciousness — before four this morning to catch this flight, barely registering the serial indignities and distractions of Delhi airport. It’s now some time before eight, and we can sense all the other mind-body complexes around us. Each one of us, clinging to the handlebars of this tarmac bus, appears similarly cocked, disrupted of our morning routine, regretting the tea and cookies that we were all served on flight. We are all caught out of place, off-step and out of rhythm, aching for home and seeking a place where we can feel safe and defecate in peace.

The doors hiss shut, the bus rolls forward, sloshing all of our soft, pulpy bodies forward, setting in motion so many waves of fluid energy rocking forward and back, forward and back, within the folded leathery sacks which house and host our selves. One does not always see things this way, one is often less scattered, one is often, in fact, one — a single self, reflecting more serenely upon the world-picture, as it forms upon the even surface of our consciousness. That surface is now in spate, rippling and dispersing light in all directions, frothing loudly on account of the gurgling convulsing pulsing oceans below.

I’m one of the first off the bus, and seem to be leading the pack into the terminal building. We are a giant snaking stream, heading around the first conveyor belt after the large column to the right. The toilets are on the far end of this enormous hall. We all swerve left, and in the process I find I’ve dropped several places, maybe fourth, maybe third, we'll have to see how things play out. There are people coming out as well, we shuffle, I’m third into the men’s room, which seems a bit small, only maybe ten urinals and three bogs. The two men ahead of me lock themselves right in. I try the the third, but it’s locked. I push, nothing, I knock, silence. Come on, what is this?

I cross my arms and look ahead, the first in an imaginary queue starting behind me. It turns out that most others are here for the urinals. I look ahead, avoiding my own gaze in the mirror behind me. No one else around me matters and I have nothing to offer anyone right now. This is surely one of the limits of sociality, a state in which other, higher forms of self are cut off, and those that remain serve only the needs of corporeal function. I hear the telltale rattle of a handheld bidet along what I imagine is a cold white tile. That sounds like good news. After some tinkling and shuffling one of the doors opens. In a few swift maneuvers, I’m down and ready.

What was of the body is quickly becoming other, passing on and becoming part of the gross substantiality of the world. It is no longer associated with this life, the body that I know, close, continuous, comfortable. What remains of the body is that much lighter, less dense, possessing that slightly increased proportion of vitality, anima, energia, quickness, life. The throes of ecstasy and agony are receding, and I am being released into a most sublime state of being and not being.

All aesthetic experiences have this character, I realise. All forms of art begin with this very slight disruption to the surface of consciousness, which then pulls one down further, far below the surficial instrumentalities of language and thought, into a deep and dark ocean of uncertainty. The self splinters into so many fragmented and diffused aspects, which feel like they will never come home to one another again. There is no recourse to the extremis except in creating and completing something other, of the self but also distinct from it, an artifact in other words. The thing must be pushed on and pushed out, expelled in order that one can feel whole again. The artistic medium employed, the technologies necessary, the craftmanship achieved, all of these factors can appear merely incidental, necessary and instrumental appurtenances of the creative imperative. The art object, in its further circulation and reception, then appears as a possibly embarrasing reminder, a mere execrescence of the original artistic experience.

I’m smiling at myself in the mirror as I wash my hands. Ground personnel are about to remove my one lonely bag from the conveyor belt when I flag to them that it’s mine. The sun is filtering in and filling the entire Arrivals Hall. It's going to be a great day outside in Nagpur.