Walking along a narrow wooded path, I was happy in my solitude in this place called the Silent Valley. It was a forbidden area except by special permission. The seclusion it afforded was sublime. I loved to wander around in the cool shade of the trees. Pale daylight percolated through their branches, casting strange shadows on the forest floor.
That particular day I was surprised and annoyed to see a figure sitting on a tree stump a few yards ahead. As I approached I expected it to turn around. But it continued sitting. It was a picture of dejection, bent and frail, covered in a gray cloak, painted starker by the ethereal beauty surrounding it. I intended to pass by without a word but the head finally lifted and I looked into the most sorrowful, hollow eyes I had ever seen. It was as if sorrow itself had lost its way in here.
“Hello. You seem lost. Are you okay? May I help you?” I offered.
“Do you think you would be able to help me young man?” he countered in a choked whisper.
“May be I could if you tell me who you are and what I can do.”
“I am Peace,” said he, standing and gathering his cloak protectively around him. “I am Peace.” His voice was almost as disbelieving as my ears.
“And what would you be doing here?” I asked incredulously. “You are needed all over the world where there is strife. People everywhere are searching for you and you are hiding here? And why are you so pale and sickly?”
We fell in step together as we followed the path deeper into the woods. Silence pressed oppressively upon us while he gathered either his strength or thoughts or both to speak.
“I have come here to heal my spirit,” sighed he at length. “For ages have I wandered seeking my rightful place, but have been denied it. I once lived in the center of great civilizations, in the heart of the people. Today I wander alone, shedding tears that no one wipes. I have come to heal my spirit,” he repeated as he pulled something out from under his cloak.
It was a white dove, spattered in blood, cut up with wounds, seemingly in its last throes. It breathed imperceptibly as he gently held it out for me to inspect, eyes brimming with unshed tears. I was appalled.
“See, see what I have been put through from the time man has evolved. Here, these are the scars of inflictions of ages past – civil wars, inquisitions, religious fanaticisms, ethnic cleansing. These two are from the world wars, and this one is for Rwanda, these here are from Vietnam. USA, Iraq, Afghanistan, India, China, Pakistan, Serbia, Germany, Japan, Russia, Africa, Somalia, Nigeria, Algeria – I have been butchered and mutilated everywhere. This one that is spurting afresh is a gift from Israel, Egypt, Syria and Afghanistan again among others.”
His voice an inaudible rustle, he sank on his knees in utter agony. He caressed the dove gently and put it back under his cloak.
“I am sorry,” was all I could manage through copious sobs. I knelt next to him.
Time was of no consequence as he buckled under the endless pain of excruciating centuries.
After what seemed an eon, I asked: “Why don’t you come back with me and take your true place in people’s hearts? I tell you they are yearning for you. Believe me. You will find yourself eulogized in writings and poems, films and songs; articles and orations; there are plays written extolling you; there are marches and candle-light vigils in your name and there are those fatigued like you by incessant gun-fire and bombs; they and you can heal together.”
His smile was thinner and less short-lived than the sliver of a new moon.
“I know. I have experienced all that you talk about.”
“Then don’t you think you will find healing there, in your rightful place?”
“Ah,” he sighed. “I was naïve once to believe so too.”
“Why? You don’t believe in these people who clamor for peace?”
A spark of sarcasm lit up his eyes momentarily.
“Clamor and peace. Can these go together? I have knocked on the doors of all such people. They will take me in only if I agree to share space with resentment and rage.
Once I went to a seminar held in my name with great fanfare. There was general consensus that peace was the need of the times. Let us fight for peace. We must wage a war and crush all violence and terrorism. Decimate the heads that destroy peace. Let them see we are not weaklings. If they have the guns and grenades, we have nukes. Let’s finish them off once and for all. Such were the statements I heard”, he said hanging his head despondently.
“I tried to speak to them and tell them who I was. I wanted to tell them that they needed total change of attitude and approach to finding me. They simply shouted me down in anger, saying I was unpatriotic.
“Such are the advocates of peace! Then there are the silent ones. They believe silence is peace. I say, when one needs to speak up, silence is blasphemy, a sin.
“And so I am here. Alone, battered, mercilessly wounded time and time again, yet wanting to heal myself so that I may finally prevail over this madness.
“Now tell me how will you help me? Will you go back and speak up for me? Can you make them understand that violence only breeds more violence? Can you be another Gandhi?”
I sat there searching my soul. And Peace trudged away, dragging disappointment along with his burning wounds.