Life, the Universe and a cup of Tea

Originally published in BLAH magazine, 6th April 2011. For the published article – Click Here.

I’ve seen my share of end of the world movies, read my share of books with fictional characters fighting for survival, seen enough India TV to not prepare for my test the next week because ‘the big, secret experiment that the mad scientists are planning will blow us all up anyway’. But here I am, still writing this article and here you are, reading this. Why in the world is the world still here?

Whether the world is ending or not, I need a cup of tea.

The best part about the coming of the internet is that you can now see what everybody thinks about everything, whether you like it or not. You can switch on your Facebook anytime you want and see what a million other people ‘like’. The growing number of 2012 survival guides, groups and essays explaining why the universe would end that are present on the internet had gotten me thinking. Thinking about the end of the world, the beginning of it and everything in between. I had no survival plan, no group of people to stick too or stock cupboard to fill up, so my quest for answers started with all the ‘end of the world’ books and movies I could find. All those movies you watched- end of the world, alien invasions, Kung Fu….were written for a reason. They were to train you from an early age for survival without you being aware of it. All the knowledge is going to come out handy sometime, trust me.

And that’s where Arthur dent, the hitchhikers guide to the galaxy and the cup of tea come in.

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, written by Douglas Adams begins with a conclusion. The end of all human experience – the earth is being destroyed because a construction crew is preparing the way for a freeway bypass in hyperspace, but then again, that seems to me of less importance. You could replace it with the zombies from ‘I Am Legend’ or a Martian invasion from the ‘War of the Worlds’ if you wish. In either situation, you’re going to end up dead all the same. Arthur dent, the stories unlikely hero, is a bungling British ape descendant whose heroic quest is confined to the search for a drinkable cup of tea.

Besides Arthur and plenty of other characters in the book, we also meet Agrajag, who despite being a minor character is someone who is linked unexplainably (at first) and directly to Arthur. Agrajag is a transmigrating soul that has manifested itself in many life-forms over millions of years. He is now trying to make sense of the universe and believes – life or at least the end of it must make some sense. Arthur, we discover as does Arthur himself, has been responsible for the death of every single one of the life forms Agrajag has appeared as. Amongst other things, Agrajag was a newt he ran over, a rabbit he killed for food and a fly he swatted with the same rabbits skin. Desperate to try and make sense of the events of his death, he confronts Arthur, believing that he must be deliberately responsible and holding some form of a grudge against him. But Arthur who previously wasn’t even aware of Agrajags existence can do nothing else but apologize and claim he had no evil intentions. Agrajag desperate to find some logical answers works himself into a humongous fit of rage and blows himself up.

So much for finding answers.

The point (yes, I have one and I haven’t forgotten it) is that Agrajag stands in relation to Arthur, in the same way that the reader does to Adams and Mankind does to God. In the book, God’s Final Message to His Creation, written in letters of fire on the side of the Quentulus Quazgar Mountains says – “We apologize for the inconvenience.” (Remind anyone else of the Delhi metro?). Douglas Adams kind of sums up his story by saying “There was a point to this story, but it has temporarily escaped the chronicler’s mind.”

At Agrajags confrontation all Arthur can do is apologize and claim his innocence, all the author can do at the end of his novel is claim that if he had a point, he’s forgotten it and god can only ‘apologize for the inconvenience’. The more you think about it, the less sense the universe seems to make. And ‘The Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy’ instead of confirming the universe has meaning or purpose affirms its meaninglessness. Any attempt at making sense of the universe- its creation, its end and everything in between is doomed to failure just as is trying to make sense of Adams novel.

“Perhaps I’m old and tired, but I think that the chances of finding out what’s actually going on are so absurdly remote that the only thing to do is to say ‘Hang the sense of it’ and keep yourself busy. I’d much rather be happy than right any day.” These words that Slartibartfast, the designer of planets says to Arthur, seems to me the perfect summary of what the book tells us. It brings the lesson that we learn from Agrajag home.

A lot of things don’t make sense, a lot of things aren’t supposed to. We spend so long trying to analyze life, that we end up forgetting how to live it. Maybe the world will end in 2012, maybe it won’t. Fact still remains, either way there’s not much we can do about it so there’s no point wasting the little time you ‘might’ have left thinking about it. A year’s supply of food won’t really hold up against the destruction of the planet, but you could try if you want to. Sometimes all you can do is appreciate the simple stuff, accept the unexplained and the inevitable and pray for normalcy when you need it most. Whether you do this over a cup of tea, in the shower or while scribbling in your diary at 3 am, is subject to change. In other words “that the chances of finding out what’s actually going on are so absurdly remote that the only thing to do is to say, ‘Hang the sense of it, ‘ and keep yourself busy.” Douglas Adams’s sure got that right.

I’m going to go back to normal life now. Where I don’t even know how to survive a math class, let alone the end of the world. But then again, why even think about it? I apologize for the inconvenience.

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