Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 05/15/03 11:53 AM

Feature: Walking on the clifftop

                                             All in the mind

Walking on the ridge of a windswept cliff, you suddenly get to see more of a cliffhanger way of life.

It is a bleak day, a blue day tinged at the edges with grey, just the day for a long walk. Along the edge of the cliff stretches the path, a winding tan ribbon speckled with the green of grasses here and there.

The path seems to lead on, ribbon thin, right up into the white clouds billowing fatly in the distance. The surf pounds below, throwing foam high into the air. It is also a day for flights of fancy.

I walk along the path, the wind buffeting me, meeting resistance in my body. The wind carries ice-tipped fingers that brush me here and there, inducing pleasant chills. I wonder, am I seen as a frail
silhouette on this immense black rock face?

Far below, I can see the undertow gleaming,dark with malice, or so it seems to me. Perhaps it waits to drag me down into its murky depths. Or perhaps I’m being fanciful, again.

Then suddenly, without warning, I slip on a wet patch and feel myself begin to slide, slide to the very edge of the wet rock, slide slowly, inexorably over it. The underside of the cliff looms up, in impassive, implacable fashion. Slimy rock, the colour of treachery, stares me in the face.

On the heels of panic comes a kind of calm. I grip the side of the cliff hard, groping for a foothold. For where there is rock, there will be a foothold. Slowly, painfully, I haul myself back onto the
cliff path.

Once back on the path, I look up at the big birds wheeling in the sky, beady intent gaze fixed below. I find I neither fear them nor can I ignore them; however, caution builds within me, bringing new strengths with it. There is a tensile awareness in every nerve, the discovery of an elemental sense of balance. I brace myself to stay upright on the cliff.

I will finish my walk.

The way is not, cannot be easy. If the cliff were a mere piece of boulder, there would be none of that immense show of strength, that austere beauty, that power.

I stare about me and see that I am standing on a huge fist shooting into the sky, not quite threatening but not quite protective either. It survives. And I shall survive too.

That is when my moment of epiphany arrives.

What, I think, is life but a walk along the cliff top? A reality full of greens, whites and boulder-blacks. A reality which also holds foamy, needle-sharp terrors and wild cries from birds of prey. As it holds promise, so it holds dangers.

Ultimately, though, when the day dawns blue-grey, when the wind whistles in the trees and the surf breaks against rock, can anyone resist a walk along the cliff path?

This ran in DECCAN HERALD of 15 May 2003.
cliffdangersFeatureFeatureslife lessonswalk

Sheila Kumar • May 15, 2003

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