There once lived a curious person, born on a Wednesday in late March in the capital of a once vast and mighty empire, six seas away from her people’s people.
I say curious because not only was our friend, let’s call her Eudaimonia, neither here nor there, but her mind refused to function like that of others. While everyone else was content enough to think in straight lines, Eudaimonia’s mind went in spirals. In her brain, all things were connected. She carried with her a deep and old knowing, as if she had come from another time or was perhaps plugged into some invisible realm.
Eudaimonia could commune as effortlessly with the spirits of those no longer with us (such as her late maternal grandmother) as she could with non-verbal beings, like the neighbour’s many pets, who responded very well to our curious friend’s affection. (Legend has it that it was a neighbour’s dog who taught Eudaimonia how to walk… but that is for a different story.) Yet curiouser, Eudaimonia’s night-time dreams unfurled like movies (maybe it’s more apt to say documentaries because there was daytime-truth in them). Having little guile, sometimes Eudaimonia would blurt out these truths in the most inconvenient places, which not only alarmed those within earshot but also worked to reinforce the perception that our friend was anything but ordinary.
Had these curious attributes been received by the majority as something to celebrate and protect, our story would end here and we could assume that Eudaimonia lived a staid but nonetheless happy life. Alas, this is not how most good, or at least memorable, stories go.
For the first few years of curious Eudaimonia’s life, she did experience the stuff of fairy tales. Raised in her grandfather’s home by protective elders who indulged her curiosities in a neighbourhood full of chatty pets with whom she would while away entire afternoons, life was sweet. Eudaimonia’s uncle cooked juicy chicken curries and chapatis for her, and her otherwise stern grandfather would beam whenever he saw her, “My little sunshine!” Eudaimonia would spend hours dancing in front of mirrors, or in her dream world, communing with spirits and envisioning splendid stories for herself and those she loved.
One day, Eudaimonia’s teenage cousins moved in. Rescued from boarding school to where they’d been taken after their now-estranged father abducted them, a dark cloud descended whenever they were about. Eudaimonia’s mother explained that some very bad things had happened to them in that school. She shared this in a voice mixed with pity but also assuredness, as if to say that these things would never happen to Eudaimonia.
Eudaimonia, ever the kind soul, made every effort to befriend her cousins who initially treated her as a pest. Maybe it was out of spite for the love Eudaimonia received from the elders in the house and that too which she often left in her wake, but before long her cousins turned their attention to her in ways so cruel, the light in Eudaimonia’s eyes began to wane and it would be a very long time before it shone through them again.
Crudelis, the younger of the cousins, a teenage boy on the other side of puberty would lure Eudaimonia into any empty bedroom during the middle of the day when the elders were otherwise occupied. There, he would pin her to the ground and do unconscionable things to her. Malignis, Crudelis’ elder sister would always appear out of nowhere, yelling at Eudaimonia and threatening to tell the elders what a dirty thing she was.
Before long, not only was the light gone from Eudaimonia’s eyes but her voice gave way, too. She lost interest in talking to her animal friends, stopped dancing, and would get into such curious trance-like states that she would routinely fall down the stairs in her grandfather’s house. The movie-like dreams became nightmarish, frequently waking her up. In each of them, she was being chased, attacked and overcome. She too began to carry around a dark cloud.
Eudaimonia’s blessed uncle was moved out of her grandfather’s house by her unkind cousin’s mother who hoped to take the home for herself, and slowly Eudaimonia was pulled away from her grandfather. The sanctuary that had once nurtured young Eudaimonia’s curious spirit was no more. Eventually, she moved with her mother and new little brother into a new home and then joined the local grammar school. Though she had lost some of her sunny patina, Eudaimonia’s mind still worked in a concentric way. This served to attract the ire of the stern and rigid teachers in Eudaimonia’s new school.
“This is no place for your little stories, young lady! Speak sense! This is not how things are in the real world!”
Not only did these words confuse Eudaimonia, in whose mind knowing and seeing, which continued to emerge in the colours of the rainbow, was the essence of real, but the chastisement attracted the ridicule of the other students who would point fingers and laugh at Eudaimonia. Children can be cruel and as if sensing that Eudaimonia was different, they bullied and picked on her mercilessly.
Eudaimonia learned that it was safest to neither be seen nor heard. She participated little in class, hid from her classmates during recess and began to wither on the inside, much like a weed, unwanted and unkempt. On the outside, she began to gain weight, blowing up like a balloon. She’d eat herself into oblivion, as if to steady herself against the constant assaults she experienced from the world.
The human soul is tenacious and so, over time, Eudaimonia adapted to her conditions and began to excel, in no small part thanks to the energy and spirit of her younger brother who would remind her, by his presence, of the more joyful promise of childhood. Though more guarded than the carefree younger version of herself, Eudaimonia slowly began to come out of the protective shell she had crafted for herself since leaving her grandfather’s house. She was mindful, however, to not share too much about her vivid dreams and she never, ever let on that she could commune with spirits. Indeed, from the time that Eudaimonia’s cousins so deeply wounded her, Eudaimonia had done all she could to deaden this side of herself.
Around this same time, the spirit of Eudaimonia’s late grandmother began to visit her in earnest. It could be that her spirit had never left her granddaughter’s side but we have already shared that Eudaimonia, in response to the unbearable cruelty she experienced cut off her connection to this unseen realm. Whatever the case, the grandmother’s spirit brought to our curious Eudaimonia insistent memories of the land from which her people hailed. These memories were not necessarily Eudaimonia’s and though she herself was no stranger to this original home, having visited often as a child, she had never felt such a pull as this. As if possessed by a particularly powerful insight, Eudaimonia declared one day that she would go to school in the mountains from where her people’s people hailed, the land five rivers. And so it was that she came to spend two years in a school in a town in the foothills of the Himalayas.
Even as she settled into her dorm room in the small school that hugged a beautiful mountain range “where the mountains awake to the rising sun”, she wondered what she was doing there. The surroundings were nice enough and her new classmates a wonderfully diverse mix of humanity. But she was so very far away from home…
Eudaimonia was to learn quickly that thanks to the school’s pastoral location, there was an abundance of wildlife. Several species of monkey in the trees, stray cats and dogs in the soccer fields, mountain leopards and deer in the forests surrounding the school, and a plethora of birds whose chorus – along with the resident rooster – would not only wake her in the mornings but would share gossip and the weather forecast. Eudaimonia had tried so hard for so long to cut off these voices and here she was, surrounded by them wherever she went.
Slowly bits of the unbounded joy and sunny nature of our younger Eudaimonia returned. Though the strictures of school still meant she had to keep much of her, well, less conventional side hidden, she regained the inner confidence of her younger self that, as a child, had allowed her to bring wellbeing to those around her. She began to dance again, and not just alone in front of the mirror. Her dreams returned in full technicolour and she was able to fill very many journals writing down the insights they brought. During a particularly stressful period in school, she was visited by several distressed friends in the second floor dorm room that overlooked the courtyard (the one the monkeys had stolen into one Sunday morning and helped themselves to the recently bought provisions which were supposed to be hidden in the closet). As if guided by some spirit, Eudaimonia understood that human touch had the capacity to heal and uplift and so without ever having been explicitly shown or told how to, she would lay hands on her friend’s shoulders until they felt better. In those moments she understood what both her curious skills and the attendant suffering they had seemed to attract had been about. In those moments she understood why her late grandmother had been urging her to come to this place. Though her people no longer traversed those lands, the legacy of their spiritual inheritance remained and it was Eudaimonia who was the inheritor of these special gifts.
She made a promise to herself that from that moment on, not only would she listen to her dreams and to her inner voice but she would share the gifts of her inheritance as much and as far as she could. Though she still had to contend with the odd villain – including a society that was just not ready to accept that what we see is not all there is – and the loss of people so very dear to her such as her chicken-curry-making uncle, her stern but loving grandfather and one of the loves of her life, Eudaimonia was blessed with the fiercest of allies who taught her how to fully harness her gifts.
As she employed those gifts, she became aware of just how many others like her there were in the world who, too, had been shamed into hiding themselves or were withering away into oblivion. So she promised herself and the world that she would no longer and never ever again hide the rainbow of who she was so that others could find her in the darkness and let their own light shine as brightly as the universe had always intended.
Post Script: Some years later Eudaimonia had a dream that stays with her still. She was with the late great Jimi Hendrix, another curious soul if there ever was one, and they were scaling a tall mountaintop together. Once they reached the peak, Eudaimonia said to Jimi, “Do you see how far your brilliance reaches, Jimi?! As far as that distant horizon!” Jimi looked on in awe and Eudaimonia remembers being utterly amazed that this brilliant soul was oblivious to just how magnificent he was.
Cover image by Pradeep Kumbhashi