Views of an Imaginary City 38: Along the Nachilagolu

The Nachilagolu (“Long Canal”) connects the Juminta River just above Cherufi Falls to the imperial shipbuilding yards at Kulidaseh. After descending a number of locks near the falls, the canal runs for the rest of its course through a flat area still mainly devoted to rice farming, though a few industries, particularly garment factories and tanneries, have grown up along its banks. The print presents us with a view of the canal in late autumn. Two workmen are carrying the body of a man that has just been fished out of the water with the use of the long, hooked pole being held by a third workman. The men are about to load the corpse onto the mule-drawn cart by the side of the road, after which it will be taken to be disposed of in the Great Krokuta Pit (see n. 13).

The figure of the dead man is hard to make out, and we are not given any indication as to how he ended up in the canal. We can presume from the casual attitude of the workmen, however, that he is considered to be a person of no account. It seems likely that the artist intends us to view this death—either by murder, suicide, or an intoxicated stumble—as constituting the predictable conclusion of a difficult and painful life’s journey. At the same time, the very anonymity conferred upon the deceased by his small size serves as a reminder that his fate could potentially represent that of any number of the figures appearing in the other prints. All throughout the “Fifty-Two Views” series, the city’s inhabitants are, for the most part, depicted on a very small scale. It is easy to forget that each one of those tiny heads is carrying within it whole other unseen landscapes. Who can say what wild, tormenting waves are crashing down over those often almost antlike figures, or what lonely wastelands lie spread out before them in every direction, as far as the eye can see?

The wayside shrine in the foreground is dedicated to Todafon, the founder of Chogya, who preached the immortality of the soul through reincarnation. Its inclusion within the image can be read as a consolatory reminder that the soul of the unfortunate drowned man will be reborn anew within another life experience—hopefully, a far happier one.

Todafon taught that there is an eternal set of human lives. Although these lives exist in a chronological relation to one another, after death, individual souls may be reincarnated into lives taking place in periods that are antecedent, subsequent, or contemporary to their previous ones. Not only, then, is each soul destined to live on eternally in an endless succession of life experiences, but each life experience itself is destined to be endlessly relived by a succession of different souls. Even the very unhappy lives, such as this one that has just ended.

At this very moment, according to Chogya beliefs, another soul has commenced to live this same man’s life from the very beginning. The whole tragic concatenation of difficult early circumstances, disastrous key decisions, a truly epic unrequited love story, consistently and mercilessly ground-up hopes, and a stubborn inability to assimilate a certain crucial life lesson is destined to repeat itself again and again, for all eternity. If true, this is an appalling state of affairs, to be sure. But the vastness of human suffering is such that no belief system can ever offer a truly satisfactory justification for it. It may be counted as a point in favour of Chogya that it never even attempts to do so.

There is also an odd sort of nobility that this concept of endless recurrence seems to bestow upon even the most pitiful of existences. Their reiteration elevates them into something eternal and—potentially—to be shared by all humanity. For those unfortunate souls condemned to live through these sad lives, there is solace in knowing that others have come before and others will come after them. They are never truly alone in their private pain. All of this has been gone through already and will be gone through again. Others have understood—others will understand—exactly how it feels to feel this way.

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