Girish Joshi

A Conversation with Kurt Vonnegut

4 min read

Let me tell you something about life which Kurt Vonnegut told me many springs ago. I met him in a bar, and how did I found myself in a bar is a story for another day, but trust me I was sober all night. Kurt was standing at a corner with a glass of champagne in one hand, and a cigarette which he wanted to place between his teeth in another. It was one of the coldest nights of Phalodi, and how did Kurt found himself in Phalodi is a story for another day, but trust me that old man was anything but sober all night. He was probably in his eighties, he had curly grey hairs and wore reading glasses over his moustache. When I saw him, I knew it was an unusual setting for a man like that, unusual things had always been my fancy.

‘May I’, I said as I moved my lighter towards him to help him light his cigarette. He didn’t say anything. He looked at me for a second and then submitted to my help. I stood there, not trying to see him into his eyes, wondering what should my first words be? I always had this weird obsession with first words. How should a gentleman greet another gentleman? And just when I thought I had something of the worth to say, he told me, ‘Where is your cigarette young man?’.

‘Some of us only have within them what it takes to ignite, and not what it takes to burn. Is it necessary for a young man to smoke who walks with a lighter in his coat?’ I smirked as I spoke. And this time Kurt smiled at me, and he said, ‘I like you, young man. I like you.’

I knew it was going to be one of those nights which I’ll remember every morning thereafter in my life. I just knew, there was something about this unusual old man. He told me, ‘I assume you don’t drink either?’ and I said, ‘Yes sir, I was born a teetotaler.’ He growled and said, ‘You don’t smoke, you don’t drink, what is then the purpose of your life?’ And I kept starring at him unable to hold my cognition. I thought he must have been kidding me. He took a sip from his glass and while looking at his glass he said, ‘Two yeast sat discussing the possible purpose of life as they ate sugar and suffocated in their own excrement.’ After a pause, he said, ‘Because of their limited intelligence they never came close to guessing that they were making champagne. Aren’t we like that two yeast?’, he asked me. I looked at him how you look at a professor who has finally made you understand what you had struggled all your life to get inside your head. ‘I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different’, he told me that night, the night I never forgot.

For that moment my robin felt that he had found his batman. So I asked him, ‘So who are we? and what are we doing here?’. That’s the thing with old men, they just want somebody who’d listen to them. Kurt placed his hand on my shoulder as he said, ‘We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.’ We both laughed so hard that everyone in the bar started looking at us. I guess they were all just jealous of seeing me bond with this old eccentric man.

‘A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.’, Kurt spoke as he took a drag on his last cigarette of the night and then crushed the butt beneath his heel. I asked him, ‘So who do you think is controlling us?’. He laughed, and laughed, and laughed, and then it got hard for him to breathe, he started coughing. I fetched him a glass of water. There were tears in his eyes from laughter, he asked me to come close, and then he whispered into my ears, ‘True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.’ I was taken aback, and I couldn’t help but laugh at that moment. He stopped laughing all at once, and said to me, ‘I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”’. And then my mother woke me up from my dream, and I said to her, ‘if this is not nice, then what is?’.

All this happened, more or less.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *