Conversations with the Mad Hatter
Words: Ria Das Mukherjee
Art: Sneha Dasgupta
"Have you any idea why a raven is like a writing desk?"
- The Hatter (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland)
As a college student, one of my hobbies was to discern the various facets of my fellow commuters. I would invariably observe their attitudes whilst pretending to listen to the radio, and form conclusions in my mind. I guess I simply fancied myself as Elizabeth Bennett, surveying the masses and taking pride in my individuality.
There was one person though, whose singularity was beyond the reach of my perception. Dressed in common professional attire, the elderly man would always occupy the seat on the bus that was designated for senior citizens. He would only speak to himself.
Oddly enough, his voice was audible even amidst the somewhat chaotic chatter that filled the vehicle. This particular idiosyncrasy earned him the reputation of being a lunatic, whom people usually tend to avoid. This never bothered him much. He would continue his diurnal routine and I, mine until one fine day, luck placed us next to each other.
A lack of availability of seats can be attributed for this particular incident. Nevertheless, this abrupt change in normalcy did not create any hindrance (at first). A few minutes into the journey, I felt a gentle nudge on my shoulders and turned to see his inquisitive smile.
As I removed my earphones, with a composed unease, he asked me in which stream I studied. I believe the college I.D, carelessly dangling around my neck was a giveaway that I was a student. My reply thrilled him even more.
“A student of literature!” he had exclaimed. “Tell me kid, have you ever read Caroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland? Not the abridged ones they teach in schools, but the original version...the one, which not many have read. Have you?”
What an odd way to start a conversation! But an opportunity to peek behind the veils of his apparent ‘absurdity’.
After I nodded in agreement, he mentioned that the book had inspired him to delve into the concept of parallel reality. He sensed my intensifying curiosity, and went on to explain how the book was an absolute example of neoteric science blended into literary brilliance, and how efficiently Lewis Caroll had established a similarity between the ‘rabbit hole’ (through which Alice fell) and a wormhole.
He went on to say how the Earth, despite being the very planet where we dwell, is not entirely visible to us. We are just aware of some basic dimensions in which we exist, he said. This limitation has an impact on our social principles as well, he surmised, which is why the majority exhibits a complete disregard for anything that opposes regularity.
At this point, I did not dare question his inference.
This world of ours is not ours alone, he continued. It is laced with numerous time vortexes, which can enable us to visit strange dimensions occupied by unique beings. The rabbit in a waistcoat, the disappearing Cheshire cat, the Bandersnatch, and the Red Queen could very well be the occupants of one such dimension—an alternate reflection of our reality, he added. His words made such uncanny sense that I could not ignore what they meant to convey, even if I wanted to.
“Look at stars tonight, kid and think about what I said. I am sure the intriguing thought of this enormous universe being just a tiny speck of a particle will open your mind to the endless possibilities that lay ahead us. This is why I speak to myself in such a loud manner. Who knows? Maybe my voice can traverse through a portal which I cannot, yet.”
Towards the end, he had cheerfully inquired, “You must be thinking that I am completely bonkers. Aren’t you?”
“All the best people are,” I had quipped almost instantaneously.
He opened his bag and showed me his I.D. I do not know the reason why he felt the need to. He probably wanted to validate all that he had said.
To me, it did not matter that he was a research scholar at one of the most reputed scientific institutions in Kolkata. What mattered is that he was not afraid to voice his thoughts and opinions to a complete stranger, knowing that those could very well be misconstrued as a proof of his insanity.
He taught me that, maybe, we ought to take this chance at least once in our life—open up to someone about our deepest contemplations.
I hardly saw him on my daily commutes after I graduated. Yet, whenever I did, we smiled at each other, knowing that we held the key to an unbarred secret.
The discussions from that one time accompany me on my solitary journeys like an eternal companion. I can never recall his name though, and I don’t ever feel the need to.
To me, he was and will always be the Mad Hatter.
Ria Das Mukherjee is a post graduate of mass communication and an introverted bibliophile who hoards books and dreams. She, earnestly wishes to be a writer and also to visit Narnia, someday.
Sneha Dasgupta is "an illustrator with a unique perspective on all things", she says. Cows, sprinkles and caramel custard are love for her.
See more of her work here.