For Oedipus, the riddle of the Sphinx may be a matter of life and death but for us lesser mortals, a good, juicy riddle is nothing short of absolute joy that one can suck on with delight. Yes, the answer eludes us at first. It hides behind our back making finger horns over our head. Ducks into a hole snickering in mirth. But then the epiphany comes and we drag the answer out of its hiding by its hair. A tiny victory. A vast joy.
Riddle have been around for ages galore. The quirky tales of Vikram Betal are some of the oldest Indian conundrums. We have the Greek hero who saw through the puzzle of the Sphinx and slayed the monster who butchered numerous wayfarers. Then again Samson outwitted the Philistines with that lethal riddle of the lion and the beehive. Norse mythology is replete with posers featuring the almighty Odin. The Sumerian Riddle of the Blind reflects how high education featured in the civilization's scheme of things. So whether it's the poetic paheliyan of Aamir Khusrao, the Mad Hatter asking 'Why are ravens like writing desks', Albert Einstein's iconic Fish Riddle or the more recent Tolkein's White Horses and Dan Brown's codes, riddles continue to entertain, exemplify and educate.
So why do riddles seduce us so easily? Interestingly Aristotle thought riddles significant brain fodder to be included in his Rhetoric. His mentor Plato seemed to venerate them a lot more as he believed that a good riddle expressed that which cannot be otherwise expressed literally. Sounds awfully similar to Christ's Parables or Aesop's Fables one may say and the fundamental point being that riddles describe the ultimate truths of our universe in an entertaining and informal way making us wiser. They teach us cosmic laws without taking the pulpit. They enlighten us while frolicking with us. It is this oxymoron that keeps them forever relevant and bewitching.
Another point most people miss is how riddles grasp our imagination and stretch it far beyond limit. Many enigmas are deliberately clothed in the classic Double Entendre or double meaning. A multitude of meanings that unconsciously introduce us to the possibility of multiplicity. Infinite realms. Parallel universes. The riddles make a silent appeal to our senses to discard the monochrome and embrace the infinity. An appeal to ventilate our mind with the thousand possibilities and probabilities that co-exist in the cosmos. To become an exciting polygon.
But for me their greatest appeal lies in the fact that they show us how every problem actually contains its own solution. You may wander through the words of the riddle in abject confusion thinking this is the end of the world. But then you pull a thread and the entire edifice unravels itself. unveiling the answer you seek. The revelation you crave. And so is it with life and all the million post-lapsarian dilemmas it's riddled with for us to overcome. For each time you crack a code, you know you can go on with life for another day or two.
Satyarth Nayak is the author of the latest Indian fiction thriller ''THE EMPEROR'S RIDDLES''. An exciting mystery of ten riddles with elements of Ancient Indian history, sci-fi and Buddhist mythology, the thriller is already carrying quotes from celebrated mystery writers like Ashwin Sanghi & Amish Tripathi on its cover. The book hit the stands at the recent Delhi World Book Fair 2014 where it was a top seller and is now available on Flipkart, Amazon.in, Infibeam & Crossword.