Four distances

Prawin Adhikari | February 2, 2019
Indian Heat, Ian D. Keating

(found on a page in a book on a bookshelf in a hotel)

On the first day of 2019 I happened to be rifling through a bookshelf in a hotel in Benaulim, Goa, a bookshelf of the sort common in places where people come to forget. An annoying new habit had developed – I’d find a cheap thriller and take a red pen to it. It wasn’t difficult to understand why I was doing it – I had run away to Goa to work on a few projects, but I was failing at it. From a distance the business of writing seems straightforward, needing no more than will and diligence. But the hours curdle on the chair, nothing good comes, failure takes its familiar shape and meanness turns the mind. The red pen helped me with self-deception. Take what you get, I suppose.

Inside a book on that shelf was a piece of paper, yellowed and covered in a fine scrawl. It seemed written by another self just as unsure. I liberated the book for the piece of paper, which is to say I stole a book instead of writing mine, for some writing that wasn’t mine.

It is entirely possible that I waved it around in a crowded place that very evening, possibly to show off a found piece of prose, because I had misplaced it by the next morning. Here I reproduce it from memory, but it did help that I read it aloud to many a stranger at Blue Corner Restaurant through the day and well into the night. It is only fair that I share it. I think it should be presented in italics, the better to approximate the handwritten letters.


There are four distances.

The first is the distance that ever blots outward, like ink on a shirtfront or blood in water. It measures a child’s growing encounter with the land around. At the center is the earliest memory, and the frayed edges are the newest. This is the distance a man traces on the map of the world, remembering the farthest shores that he has touched – here I heard the call of a bird, there I dined with a stranger, and there again I watched new snow smother fresh footfalls.

The second is the distance to named places where, in the brightening dimness of childhood, oranges come from and where an uncle has disappeared to. In this distance are the first seeds of awe and longing. It is composed of names of places and people to whom loyalty is owed. It radiates to places forever just out of sight. A lifetime is needed to close this distance, for it always ends at the ends of a rainbow.

The third is the deep distance of mythology. It measures unfathomable enigmas. It is the stride of a collective past, the leap into a promised forever after. It is the length of the Ganges, the height of Sumeru, the span of an endless ocean of milk. It measures the total weight of all the beaks of all the turtles on which the world balances itself.

The fourth is the span between innocence and experience. It is the yard between two people, the wavelength made of heartbeats approaching and fleeing. When this distance shortens we come close to finally seeing ourselves reflected and when it grows we are made a distant blur, a fleeting echo and a forgetting. This is the voyage undertaken by those whom we lose, some in increments, others violently.


It is possible there was more, and it is also possible that I have perfectly recalled what was written on that stolen page.

In any case, this is all there is of it, and no more.

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