He asked the cab driver where they were going.
"Areasontolivefor" He replied.
"What?", he laughed, "You know, that almost sounded like 'a reason to live for'!"
"It is.", the cab driver replied, matter-of-factly.
"Okay... you mean figuratively speaking??", he tried to make sense of it all.
The cab driver remained silent.
He tried to prod him a little more. "Umm... this place where we are right now, what's it called?"
The cab driver stared at him into the rear view mirror and gave him the expression one would to a lunatic, " What do you mean which place we're in? We're in a journey. Who's ever heard of 'being in a place' when you're in a journey?"
He was now sure that he had hopped into the cab of a mad man. "Wow! I have lost my memory and am being driven to a place that probably does not exist by a loony taxi driver! Could it get any better?"
But he realized that he'll gave to hang on till he got his memory back. He tried to look into the rear-view mirror for any bruises on his head that'd explain his situation. There were none.
"You look fine. They won't notice.", the cab driver said.
"Won't notice what?", he asked.
"You know.. the funny talk.", the driver replied.
"What funny talk?", he had never been so bewildered.
"The funny things you talk about. Like which place are we driving in?", and the cab driver snorted.
At this, he lost it. "I don't believe this! You are like the very epitome of madness and you call my talk funny? I mean, which cab driver takes you to a place called 'a reason to live for'??"
"Then where would you rather go?", the cab driver asked innocently.
" Well, aren't there places around that have regular names?"
The cab driver looked as perplexed as he was. "What do you mean by 'regular names'??"
"Well.. i don't know.. something like City Square or.. or High Street.. or a Park Avenue??"
The driver gave him a look as if he was trying hard to decipher the meaning of what he said. After almost ten seconds he replied, " You make funny sounds too. 'siti squay' , 'paak avenoo'. .."
"Those are names of places, weirdo! Where are you from? Timbuktu??"
" But they don't make sense!", the driver reasoned, puzzled.
" Names aren't supposed to make any sense! Names are proper nouns. They could be anything! What's your name?"
" Conscience, what's yours?"
"Kr..Wait a minute! Did you just tell me that your name was Conscience??"
The driver nodded.
Krisn laughed and shook his head in disbelief, "I know what this is. Either this is a very bad joke or i'm part of a fantasy movie gone awfully wrong."
He then added,"okay.. so Mr. Conscience... Hey wait a minute.. Con-Science! Get it?? Con-Science - The Con Man! That's what you are!", he guffawed at his pun and asked,"what's your girlfriend's name? Morality??"
"No. My wife's name is Courage and we have a kid called Wisdom."
"Rriight... and lemme guess where you live. The Mind??", he asked sarcastically.
"Not quite. The Soul."
"Aah! I almost got that right! Jesus Christ! What the fu... heyyyy... speaking of Christ, and while we're at it, who's the 'builder' of The Soul apartments? God himself, I guess! Tell me I'm right!", he smirked.
"What a silly thing to ask. We're all Gods, aren't we? Including you too.", Conscience replied, a little irritably.
"Whoa-ho! I've always felt like God but Tara wouldn't agree! And here I have the certificate of character from Mr. Conscience himself! I am loving every bit of this!", Krisn mocked.
For the next few minutes the cab was silent. Krisn did not know whether to cry or to laugh. Whether to panic or enjoy this crazy ride and see where it gets him. Finally, he decided to just cruise the course for some more time, till he gets a perspective on things. So he tried to engage the cab driver, sorry, Conscience in more conversation. After all, it was a good idea to keep the fun going till the graveness of reality came back to him. He couldn't remember much but he somehow knew that the reality, when it came back to him, would be grave.
"So what do you think Con-man? Am I dreaming??"
"No.. You were dreaming earlier, before I found you. But now you're not."
"Really? And where did you find me?"
"In your dream, like I said."
"But of course. Where did you learn such inverted logic?"
"Where did you learn your complicated logic?", conscience retorted.
"All right, all right. Didn't mean to pique you. I don't want you not on speaking terms with me. Then how'll i ever hear the... 'voice of my conscience'??", he burst into a fit of laughter at his wit.
When he got his breath again he spoke, "you know, you were right, actually. I actually complicate things a lot more than they really are. In fact, most of us do that, don't we?"
" I don't know what you mean by complicating things 'a lot more than they really are'. They really are not complicated."
"There you go again! You're so good at playing with words you almost remind me of my girlfriend Tara. She'd cling on to something I said eons back and argue about it. And we'd go on dissecting my words down to their letters till we would exhaust our vocabulary. And all this ruckus at something I did not even mean to say! I mean, they're just words right?"
" A word said, a thought indulged... is like a child born. It might have been born unwanted, but nevertheless has been brought to life.", Conscience replied.
"Wow... I am beginning to suspect that you are, indeed, Conscience.You certainly talk like that!"
A little shaken at Conscience's last words, Krisn tried to gather his wits about him again. He tried to get back to small talk.
"So how far is this place..'a reason to live for'??"
"It isn't far at all. When you spot it, you ask me to stop."
"What do you mean when i spot it? I've never been there. I don't even know what it looks like!"
"You will when you see it"
"Why do you always talk in riddles? I mean, why do people like you..you know..metaphysical creatures or something..talk in codes??"
"You mean not talk in funny language like you?", conscience winked at him in the rear view mirror.
"Oh great! I did not know that the High and Mighty Conscience had a sense of humor!"
"You've never really tried to know me."
"Coming back to your question, I've never spoken in riddles. I always speak loud, clear and simple. Maybe, with the funny language you talk in, it's lost in translation. Or maybe you just need to clear your ears of all the muck."
"My ears are in perfectly hygienic condition, thank you", Krisn retorted sulkily.
"Really?" saying thus, Conscience broke into a song-
A canary sang a song imbued
With life and love and all things true
But all that we heard was "tyoo-wit, tyoo-hoo"
"Oh! So are you suggesting that you're the canary and I'm the listener?"
"No. You yourself are the canary as well as the listener. I'm only the song."
"Riddles again!", Krisn rolled his eyes in exasperation.
"okay.. if i have to put it in your funny language, lets just say that you're suffering from some kind of a dissociative disorder. You know, where you can't recognize a part of your own self ."
"If only you had put it like that earlier, we could have avoided such a long and tiring conversation."
"But how, then, would I have flaunted my singing prowess??", conscience smiled at him in the rear view again.
At this Krisn laughed and said, "You know, it's a strange thing. I'm beginning to get your jokes"
Krisn had been thinking for a while. What started as a nightmare had become the most amazing day he had ever had. He spoke aloud,"Did I tell you you were a good conversationalist?"
"That's my job.", Conscience replied.
"And you do it very well. I wish I could ride this cab forever, going on talking to you like this."
"You could, if you wanted to"
"You mean to say if I wanted, I'd never have to get back to the drudgery of my life again?", Krisn's eyes lighted up.
"Wow! No bills overdue, no waking up everyday to a job i hate, no pandering to the whims of an eccentric boss, no coming back home to a list of complaints.... I love you man!"
"For once!", Conscience joked.
"All right man! In that case, lets just go someplace really nice and quiet, like a sea shore instead of the godforsaken 'a reason to live for' and wassay you, we get some cans of beer on our way??"
"Hold your horses! 'A reason to live for' is anything but godforsaken. And we are going there only. I said you did not have to get back to the drudgery of your life again, but that is not the same as not ever going back to life itself.", said Conscience.
Krisn's excitement swooshed out like air from a punctured balloon."Oh! So there was a catch! You tricked me!"
"Well, I am the Con-man, ain't I??", Conscience said, banteringly.
"You are also a murderer who just took an innocent man up a hill, promising him his dreams, and then pushed him off the cliff! I hate you!",Krisn said crossly.
"Well! That was the shortest lived love story ever! You went from 'I love you' to 'I hate you' in precisely forty five seconds."
Krisn continued to sulk and not respond.
Conscience continued,"You like to make judgments a little too soon. Your opinions are like the ground beneath your feet. Without them you'd fall into an unknown abyss. How about trying to put your feet on some firm ground that's not as shaky as your opinions? How about constructing it from what is based on you and not on others? Like maybe your character or your purpose of being. That's what the ground at 'a reason to live for' is like."
Krisn pondered it over for a while and finally spoke, "It doesn't make too much practical sense to me. But it kinda sounds right."
"Such is my voice. The voice of conscience. Marry it with Courage and it will make practical sense to you. That is what Wisdom is born of"
"Oh! So that's why your wife's called Courage and kid, Wisdom!"
"Yeah", There was a twinkle in Conscience's eyes (again in the rear view mirror)
"Did you see that??", suddenly Krisn was all excited.
"What?", asked Conscience.
"That was the first human being I saw ever since i found myself in your cab!"
Krisn had just spotted an old lady their cab passed by.
"Really?", Conscience asked smilingly,as if feigning obliviousness.
"Come to think of it, the old lady looked a little like my mother. Or maybe I was hallucinating."
"There's nothing like a hallucination.", Conscience explained, "At the very least, it is a message your sub-consciousness is trying to get across to you."
"Aha! Sub-consciousness! How could I have had a conversation with Mr.Conscience himself without that word figuring in? By the end of this I will have more than made up for bunking my moral-science classes in school!", Krisn was pulling Conscience's leg now.
"You did well to bunk those classes. They'd have done you more harm than good", Conscience said, matter-of-factly.
"I thought as much. So do you mean to say that was my dead mother that I just saw?"
"Maybe. Or maybe a message from your sub-consciousness. What was she doing?"
"How does that make you feel?"
"Ecstatic! I finally made her smile instead of complain!"
"Does that ring a bell?"
"Then look around again."
He saw his own self as a child, riding his first bicycle, waving at him.
"It's me! This is freaky! Why am I waving at my own self?"
"Because you are happy. Don't you remember what that felt like? Getting your first bicycle??"
"Of course I do! I had come 23rd in a class of 25 in a painting competition. But my dad still bought me a bicycle because he was proud of me."
"Because you stood 23rd and not 25th?? How did you bear the burden of such expectations??", Conscience smirked.
"Oh spare me the sarcasm! It was not a question of my standing in class. But a question of standing by what I believed in. We were asked to draw on the topic 'What I want to be when I grow up'"
"Hahaha", conscience guffawed, "Drawing a maniac must have been difficult!"
"Funny... well i drew Bugs Bunny because he made me laugh."
Conscience gave him a meaningful look (needless to say, in the rear view), "Now do you get the clue?"
"That I must become Bugs Bunny??"
"Of sorts.", Conscience answered, "You made the old woman and the young boy smile. Ever considered a profession that makes people smile? If only for an hour?"
"Well I don't see how a furniture designer like me can make people smile. Unless I stuff the cushions with tickle-powder."
"You might get sued for that. Try laughing-gas."
Suddenly their was a glint in Krisn's eyes. The kind of glint you see in a cat's eyes when she spots a rat."Keep your con ideas to yourself, Doctor Jekyll! I think i just had a better idea!"
"And I think we're there- 'a reason to live for'", Conscience screeched the cab to a halt.
Krisn looked around. He saw his mother, his teachers, his childhood friends, all smiling, playing with colors and shapes. Even Elmer Fudd!
"Wow! This is incredible!", he exclaimed.
"You'd better believe it. And now you must get off and I must get going."
"Hey.. you cannot go! Heck, I haven't even looked at you! I didn't realize until now but all this while I was only talking to your rear-view reflection!"
"I am only a reflection of who you really are. All you have to do is look into the mirror just as honestly as you do when you're spotting a blackhead.", Conscience winked at him (yet again in the rear view mirror) and said," Keep in touch!"
"And that'll be a hundred and twenty bucks."
"What?? I thought this was a free ride."
"And why must this be a free ride, Sir?", The cab driver did not sound very pleased at this proposition. Krisn started. He was staring at the cab driver who had driven him from his office to his place.
"Is that you...er... Conscience??"
"It's me, Khalif.", the cab driver said mirthlessly.
"Oh... I must have... never mind! Here you go." Krisn paid him the due.
He got off the cab, his head buzzing a little.
Khalif turned the ignition on again. And just before he started to accelerate he muttered under his breath, "He talks funny."
Krisn soon realized his boss was not as swinish as he thought him to be, but nevertheless quit his job to start an interior decoration firm with Tara. They decided to name it Happy Bug.
"What's IN, doC??"
"What's IN, doC??"
Once every month, they choose from a list of applicants, a place to decorate for free. Till now they have decorated for free one orphanage, one old-age home, their daughter's room, whom they've named Sumati- Hindi for wisdom, and Krisn's now ex boss's cabin. He chose the theme of "pearls" to decorate the office of his ex boss. The secret behind it is a private joke that they share- "Pearls before swines!"
Often they are asked what does the capital C in doC stand for? And they joke, "We are Con-men, aint we??"
So does that mean no bills overdue, no waking up everyday to do a job he hates, no pandering to the whims of an eccentric boss, no coming back home to a list of complaints??? Not entirely. There are still times when he forgets to pay his phone bill, still some projects he does only for the money but doesn't really like, still panders to the whims of his new and eccentric boss, his wife, Tara and still comes back home to a list of complaints. But he loves his life.
Oh and what became of Mr. Conscience? Sometimes, while driving, Krisn still checks into the rear view mirror. But all that he sees is the hundreds of people driving through their lives and the inverted image of a rather funny message that his car sticker bears:
A canary sang a song imbued
With life and love and all things true
But all that we heard was "tyoo-wit, tyoo-hoo"