Sonata by Unaccompanied Tortoise

a dialogue by Surajit Basu

The telephone rings; the Tortoise picks it up.

Tortoise : Hello, Achilles. This is Tortoise.

Tortoise : Not well, Iím afraid. I am suffering from a severe torticollis.

Tortoise : I guess it was because I held my neck sideways for some time.

Tortoise : Oh, hours and hours. It seems I have been doing it for ages.

Tortoise : I was looking at the creatures around me ; there were so wondrous many of them that I could not keep my turn my head away.

Tortoise : All kinds, Achilles. Elephant and fish, camel and snail, frog and rooster, and many amazing animals, some phantasmagorical beats, even !

Tortoise : Well, creatures that exist only in myths, legends, stories and paintings, creatures brought to life by visionaries and artists. Wherever I looked, one such creature would appear; they seemed to fill up all the available space, cover all the available ground.

Tortoise : Not at all terrifying, really. There was a kind of quiet harmony in all of them. In the midst of it all, a Zen monk was meditating. And there was the peaceful guitar, of course.

Tortoise : Fiddle. It makes a big difference, you know.

Tortoise : To be precise, one has no frets.

Tortoise : Thank you for your kind invitation, Achilles. I would love to drop in, Achilles, to listen to Bachís sonatas for unaccompanied violin. Unfortunately, I have a severe headache too.

Tortoise : I have tried to, but I canít find any sleep.

Tortoise : Iíve even tried counting crab. But thereís this puzzle, Achilles, thatís been really distracting me. It just doesnít seem to go away. I think I can find rest only when I have the solution.

Tortoise : Itís simple : find a word with the letters ĎAí, ĎDí, ĎAí, ĎCí consecutively inside it.

Tortoise : Of course youíre right : it fulfills the conditions, but itís a sort of "backward" solution. Thereís another solution which should come to mind.

Tortoise : Iíve been trying this for hours and hours.

Tortoise : The Zen monk I mentioned, he came up with this "infernal riddle" .

Tortoise : Well, he didnít tell me. I heard it from the snail; I believe the monk used to say this before he started meditating. Then one day, he said "Aha!" and started meditating.

Tortoise : In the state that I am in, I guess it canít do any harm if I hear one more puzzle.

Tortoise : A word that begins with the letters "HE" and also ends with "HE" ľ Hmm ľWhat about "HE" ?

Tortoise : But it does meet the conditions you set.

Tortoise : What I have in my mind is a headache. Aha !

Tortoise : I was thinking of MY headache.

Tortoise : I think I have the solution for that, too.

Tortoise : Iíll give you a hint, if you donít mind.

Tortoise : The hint is : figure and ground.

Tortoise : Do you know Escherís Mosaic II ?

Tortoise : Thatís excellent. On the print on the wall, can you see all the black animals ?

Tortoise : Can you also see how the negative space defines the white animals ?

Tortoise : Well, if one is the figure , then the other is the back-ground or ground. Either can be considered as the figure and the other as ground.

Tortoise : Ah!- the puzzles are also figure and ground. You can figure out the right answer to MY puzzle, using the figure-ground hint, relating it to YOUR puzzle.

Tortoise : I was wondering if I could come over.

Tortoise : Oh, MY headache is over, thanks to you. I will be able to drop in a short while.

Tortoise : Iíd love to listen to your new recording of the sonatas for unaccompanied violin by Bach. After all, heís my favourite composer.

Tortoise : I have even invented a theory about these pieces.

Tortoise : Yes, I believe that they are not truly solo and were originally meant to be accompanied by another instrument.

Tortoise : A harpsichord, actually.

Tortoise : Well, it gives the listener a choice ; it can be heard both ways.

Tortoise : As always, Achilles, you ask the most interesting questions. I have been debating this for a long time. It is possible, I sometimes think, to deduce the accompaniment from the original piece. And then, sometimes, I think, maybe Bach never had any accompaniment in mind at all. But it is best, I believe, to leave it to the listenerís imagination.

Tortoise : Indeed, they are wonderful as they are. I look forward to hearing them again.

Tortoise : Yes, Iíll come over at once. Good-bye, Achilles.

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