Saturday, 31 December 2011

Happy Old/New Year

This may be my last post for the year 2011.

I hope not. I hope I will be writing and posting more material today. But it’s not quite in my hands.

My phone at home has been out of action for three days now. My internet connection at work is, let’s say, unreliable. In other words, I’m not sure from one moment to the next whether it will still be in existence. As an illustration, during the time I’ve been writing this article, it’s gone down and up several times already, and this phone (at work) is hardly usable due to constant and intense static, just as though a jammer is in operation. And complaints aren't being attended to by the telephone department.

My internet connection via cell phone is more down than up. In fact, my cell phone connection is more down than up.

And all this is hardly unique to me.

All across India, in this winter of our discontent, the electronic lines of communication are suddenly creaking wearily, like an aged mummy trying to clamber out of its sarcophagus. Parts of India have seen mobile services crash without explanation for days on end, and being restored only to crash again.

If I didn’t know better, I’d think this was a deliberate attempt on the part of our dear government, which wants only the best for us, to cut out our net access in order to limit treasonable comments online against our rulers (whom we all love) and against the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, whose members are the natural rulers of our destiny. After all, our dear government has in recent days made many open attempts to muzzle any and all traitorous online criticism of its actions, its (well-beloved and eminent economist, who would win any election he contested if only he chose to contest one) unelected “prime minister” prime minister, and its ruling family, the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.

If I had a nasty suspicious mind, I’d think our rulers – who are hard pressed politically on many fronts, including corruption, economic stagnation and imminent implosion, a crumbling infrastructure, and general public anger – were conducting electronic warfare against the population to stop protests from being organised online, as they were earlier this year to considerable effect. Of course, our dear rulers would never do any such thing, as we all know. They love us far too much, just as we love them.

So, all the electronic problems must be either a simple coincidence – or, more probably, a conspiracy. Yes, it must be a conspiracy by anti-national saboteurs. Who are these saboteurs – CIA agents? Perish the thought. The CIA is an arm of our great and noble American friends. They would never, ever, do anything to hurt us.

No, these are probably Maoists and their supporters, environmentalists and human rights activists and the like; commie scum who want to harm our glorious democracy and our great republic. After all, these vermin don’t want the benevolent forces of Big Business to chop down our forests and exploit our natural resources. They don’t want the people living in forest villages to be pushed into urban slums to work as sweatshop labour for multinationals, thus contributing to National Growth, the same National Growth which our dear unelected “prime minister” prime minister loves so much to talk about. The Maoist vermin can do anything to hurt us.

Commie scum.

Why didn’t I think of it before? It must be the Maoists after all!

But, until this Maoist menace is crushed, just in case I can’t get online again today, I won’t in all probability be able to be on the net before the 2nd January 2012 at the earliest. Therefore, to all of you, a Happy Old Year and a Happy 2012 in advance.

Now, where is that accursed Maoist?

Friday, 30 December 2011

The Holy Crusade of the Great Baboon

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, a baboon troop lived in a valley in a mountain beside a great savannah.

The valley was comfortable and fertile, well-provided with water for the baboons to drink and acacia trees in which to sleep at night, with fruit and insects aplenty for the baboons to eat and satisfy their appetite. The baboons who lived in the valley were fortunate, for they had all they needed, and were well aware of the fact.

Each morning the chief and priest of the troop would climb to the tops of the highest rocks of the mountain which bordered the valley and would gesture at the savannah that stretched, arid and brown to the horizon.

“We must be thankful to the Great Baboon,” the chief would intone solemnly, “because we do not live out on that terrible plain, where the lion and the cheetah roam, not to mention the Evil One, whose real name must not be taken; where the elephant breaks down the acacia trees, the spitting cobra coils through the grass, and the crocodile cruises the water-holes. We must be thankful to the Great Baboon that we are not like the troops which live out on the savannah, which have to fight amongst themselves for food and water and shelter in the tallest trees during the night, when the Evil One comes with sharp tooth and bitter claw.”

“We must pray to the Great Baboon,” the priest would continue, “to keep Him happy, that He does not send the Evil One to chastise us. We must be sure to propitiate Him and follow His dictates in all things.”

Then they would go down into the valley, and collect the fruit that each baboon family owed as an offering to the Temple of the Great Baboon, which was in the tallest of the acacia trees in the valley. It was half the food the baboon families could collect, but it was worth it, of course, for the blessings of the Great Baboon. And although, by the Rule of the Great Baboon Himself, the families of the chief and priest were naturally exempt from this imposition, they could not eat all of this fruit, so bountiful was the valley. Instead, the surplus would be thrown away on to the rocks, and the Rule forbade the ordinary baboons from touching it, even in case of hunger. And there it rotted in the sun, and caused some restiveness among the troop.

At night the young baboons would sit in their perches in the acacia, and shiver with delicious terror as they listened to the tales of the Evil One ghosting through the savannah, the starlight shining in his eyes, the moon sliding over his dappled pelt. Sometimes they would hear the shriek of other baboons, less fortunate than they, who had invited the wrath of the Great Baboon and been punished with a visitation by the Evil One. On such occasions the elders of the troop would be sure to lecture them in admonition and warn them to keep to the Great Baboon’s ordained ways.

One day, the priest of the troop, an ancient traditionalist, died, and was replaced by a young and fiery radical. “We,” this young priest said to the troop, “have been selfish too long. We have kept to the Great Baboon’s Rule, and have been suitably rewarded with food, water, shelter and prosperity. But those poor baboons on the plain – they have no knowledge of the Great Baboon, and so, for no fault of their own, they suffer from the lion and the cheetah, the cobra and the elephant, the crocodile and the hyena – not to mention the Evil One.”

The baboons of the troop looked at each other uneasily. Nobody liked the idea of being selfish, but nobody knew quite what to do about it. Fortunately the new priest had a plan all ready.

“We must,” he said, “immediately send out missionaries to the troops out on the plain, to convert them to the Rule of the Great Baboon, so that they too find peace in life and respite from the Evil One.”

And so the missionaries were selected and sent out, in twos and threes, and a hard time they had of it.

“The troops of the plain,” they reported back, “do not wish to hear of the Great Baboon. They claim that they have their own gods – or none at all – and they wish to keep to their own ways.”

That year the Great Drought struck the mountain valley, so that the water began to dry up and the food supplies dwindled. Soon, the baboons began to face hunger, for they still had to turn half of all they found to the Temple of the Great Baboon, and there was little enough to begin with. And still the Drought went on.

The sky by day was a burnished bowl of blazing brightness, and by night the stars were cruel shards of light, with not a trace of rain. The priest called for mass prayers to the Great Baboon, and still the Drought went on.

The leaves withered on the branches of the trees, the parched soil began to crack, and the troop faced starvation. In response, the priest called for the baboons to turn over two-thirds of all they found to the Temple instead of merely half, because the Great Baboon must have His share – and still the Drought went on.

“It is the Wrath of the Great Baboon,” the priest declared at last. “He is consumed by anger, for we are selfish, and we have not persevered in our duty towards our brothers and sisters on the plain. We must educate them in the One True Path, so that the Great One is appeased and sends the rain back again.”

“But,” a couple of the baboons argued, “the troops out on the plain have no desire to know of the Great Baboon. They have made that clear.”

“Then we must send out armies in a Holy Crusade,” the priest said, “to convert them by force, lest they persist in their sinful ways and displease the Great Baboon.”

“Are you quite sure,” one of the dissenters argued, “that the Great Baboon will be happy to have other troops made to follow Him by force, especially taking into account all the bloodshed it will entail?”

“The Great Baboon has told it to me with His own voice,” the priest replied. “Do you dare raise your voice against His authority?”

“How can we know,” the other dissenter asked, “that the purpose of this Holy Crusade is to convert them to the Rule, and not merely to seize their food and water, for the plain is less affected by the Drought than we?”

“How dare you impute such base motives to the Priest of the Great Baboon?” the chief of the troop snarled. “He speaks to the Baboon Himself, and knows all that is in His holy Mind. He has also told me that there are Heretics and other Servants of the Evil One amongst us. Keep strict vigil against them.”

Then the chief of the troop organised armies and sent them out on the plain to do battle with the baboons who lived there. And the armies had a hard time of it.

“You had told us,” they complained to the chief and the priest, “that the baboons of the plain would recognise that we had come to bear them the Holy Word of the Great Baboon, and would, as soon as we had overthrown their chiefs and priests, welcome us and convert to our ways. But instead they fight us tooth and nail.”

“It is only the deluded amongst them,” the priest and chief replied, “those that hate the Great Baboon and worship the Evil One. You shall triumph eventually, for the Great Baboon is on your side, and blesses this Crusade.”

Then the armies sent back to say, “We no longer understand what we are doing out on the plain fighting baboons who do not want us. They continue to resist us, and at night the Evil One stalks our encampments, and drags us off one by one into the wilderness to consume us. None of us is safe.”

Then the priest and the chief said, “You are fighting because if you do not, the Evil One will come to our valley, and consume our own children. You are fighting to preserve the Rule of the Great Baboon against the barbarity of those who will not believe, and those who worship the accursed Evil One.”

Meanwhile the Drought intensified, and the water in the valley thinned almost to a trickle, which was reserved for the use of the chief and the priest. The baboons of the troop began to starve almost to death, especially because they were now compelled to give over virtually all the food they could collect to the Temple of the Great Baboon. And at last some of them had had enough.

“We no longer wish to give the fruit of our labour to the Temple,” they declared. “We were once content and well fed, and we were the envy of the baboons who lived elsewhere. Now, we are poor and starving, and we are held in hatred and contempt by those whose lands we have invaded for reasons which seem more and more a lie. We want our fruit and our water back again.”

“You are lazy, you are lazy,” the priest said. “It’s simply that you don’t want to look for fruit and nuts, berries and insects for the Temple. You are parasites.”

“There are no fruit, berries, nuts or insects to be had,” the protesting baboons declared. “They have all gone to the Temple and to the armies fighting out on the plain.”

“It is a conspiracy,” the chief countered. “A conspiracy, hatched against us by baboons who are envious of our food and water, our prosperity and our Rule, baboons who live even further out on the plain. We must at once raise fresh armies, and send them out to make war against those baboons, who are slaves of the Evil One. Meanwhile, for speaking out against the Great Baboon, you are traitors, and the Rule of the Great Baboon specifies that traitors must be destroyed.”

“We never spoke against the Great Baboon,” the baboons said. “Our grouse is against the Temple, and the priest and the chief who misuse it for their own benefit – not against the Baboon Himself.”

“Who speaks against the Temple speaks against the Baboon Himself,” the priest said.

“Does the Rule say so?” the baboons demanded. “We do not recall the Rule saying any such thing.”

The priest showed all his teeth in a yellow grin, and clasped hands with the chief.

 “It does now,” he said.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2011

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Dream A Little Dream

He came in just as I was thinking of closing down for the evening, a long pale man well over middle age, with a long pale face scored by deep lines as though etched in by the years.

“Excuse me,” he coughed diffidently. “I was just passing by and I happened to see your office, so...”

“Please sit down.” I’d been putting the finishing touches on a dream, but it wasn’t anything that couldn’t wait; not a rush order. “What can I do for you?”

“It’s late,” he said, glancing nervously around the office. He’d probably never been in a dream clinic before, and I tried to imagine what it must look like to his eyes, the hanging green fronds of potted ferns not quite obscuring the utilitarian grey of the furniture and the holographic dream representations on the walls. “You probably want to go home to your family. Maybe I’d better come in some other time.”

It was late, and I was tired. It had been a long day. But I had no family to go to, not any longer, and if he left he’d probably never return. We work on thin margins in this business, competition is fierce, and I couldn’t afford to lose a client, even if he was an old man who certainly had no idea what the whole thing was about. So I put on my best businesslike smile. “No, sir, it’s quite all right. Please sit down and tell me how I can help you.”

“Ah, well.” Still looking intensely uncomfortable, he sat. “You, er, make dreams here. Is that right?”

“Well, you can put it that way,” I said, coming round my desk and sitting downopposite him, to establish closer communication. “What we do is create dream scenarios. For example, suppose you want to create a dream scenario of...let’s say, a Wild West cowboy.” It was one of the standard scenarios I used as selling points, choosing them depending on the appearance of the client. He was about the right age to have watched or read Westerns as a boy. “Now, we’d begin by roughly chalking out the parameters of the dream; let’s say, we’d decide it involves you, as the hero, fighting cattle rustlers who are in the pay of a rival rancher who wants to force you off your land.” His head was nodding unconsciously, as he thought about it. “Then, we’d put it in a chip which you can implant in your memory whenever you want to. Each time you want to have that dream, all you have to do is put the chip into a headset you’d be provided with, and play it for two minutes before going to bed. In fact, we can programme entire dream sequences like that, you know, of the same or different genres.” He was beginning to look confused, so I hurried to explain. “I mean, your first dream is about rustlers. The next in the series might be about breaking in wild mustangs, and the one after that about driving cattle to market. And the one after that –“

“But, then...” he interrupted, still looking confused, “it’s just like a movie, isn’t it? The dream consists of whatever you put in the chip?”

I’d been waiting for that question, knowing it would come. It always does, with first timers. “No, sir. I said we create dream scenarios, not dreams. What we provide is just the starting point of the dream; the launchpad, if you will. What happens in the actual dream is up to your subconscious mind. It’s like providing it with a canvas and paints – and it can create whatever it pleases. You understand, then,” I added, “that no two times would the dreams be the same. Each time your subconscious mind would do whatever it wished with the material it had been given. And, of course, you can use it over and over – however often and however many times you want.”

“I see.” He still looked doubtful. “It seems kind of...I don’t know...not quite what I’d expected.” He coughed again, looking embarrassed at what he’d just said. “Not that I doubt you, but it seems like malarkey to me. Perhaps even, I don’t know, dangerous. I mean, the subconscious and all.”

“Oh, but that’s what it isn’t, sir.” I leaned towards him earnestly. “It was developed quite scientifically, and it’s been used as a psychiatric tool for years now. I can assure you it’s completely safe, otherwise we’d never have been licensed to use it.” I glanced up at the framed licence on the wall, and his eyes followed mine. “We have very strict parameters within which we work. There are blocks implanted in the dream scenarios which prevent the subconscious from going too far. Like the boundary of a sports field, you might say.”

“Ah.” He was silent for a minute, thinking. I was silent too, knowing what he said next would determine whether I’d made the sale. On the other side of the door, the noise of the city went on; traffic, voices, footsteps, distant music. “Can you tell me a little about some of the, um, dream scenarios you created for your other clients? If, uh, it’s not confidential, of course?”

At least he hadn’t said he’d think about it and got up to leave as I’d feared. “Well, sir,” I replied, “there is a confidentiality clause, but it’s up to the individual client whether he or she wants it invoked.” Those who did specify it were usually among the large clientele who wanted erotic dreams, but this man didn’t need to know that. “I can tell you about those cases where the client didn’t stipulate that we maintain confidentiality. Of course, we can’t show you the actual scenarios. Once we’ve created and delivered them, they belong to the client, not to us. We can’t and do not keep copies.” At least not legally, but then again he didn’t need to know that.

“Yes, I understand. But still, I’d like it if...”

“Oh, of course.” I thought a moment. “There’s the woman who lost her son years ago, and who has dreams made where he’s still alive. In these dreams he’s eating dinners she’d made sometimes, or he’s married and brought the grandchildren around for her to enjoy, or maybe he and she are out travelling the world. It helps her cope with her loss.”

“But what happens when she wakes up? Won’t she be, you know...” he waved a hand, searching for the word. “Devastated when she wakes and finds out it’s all a dream? I would.”

“Actually, sir, that’s where the boundaries I mentioned come in. The dreams she has are all implanted with features specifically designed to make her realise that they aren’t real. For instance, the skies might be green in one dream, or her cat begin talking to her in another – but each dream will have something reminding her at every stage that it’s only a dream. And considering that she’s been our client for going on for three years now, it works for her.”

“I suppose,” he said reluctantly. “Are they all like that?”

“Not all. There’s another one I could mention which you might find interesting. This man’s a bank manager. Very middle class, very respectable. Not an adventurous bone in his body. But in his dreams he’s a mountaineer in the Himalayas one night, a deep sea diver the next, walking on foot through the Sahara the night after that.”

I described a few more. He listened, rubbing his chin and looking thoughtful. “You’ve told me about the good ones only, haven’t you?” he asked suddenly. “There must be some nasty ones?”

I cursed inwardly, realising he was much sharper than he looked. “A few.” I hesitated, wondering if I’d lose him, and then took the plunge anyway. “There is one man, for instance, who orders, uh, special dreams. Dreams in which he’s a concentration camp commandant at Auschwitz, or a Rwandan Hutu genocidaire, or a Mongol warrior in the Khanate of the Golden Horde, slashing and burning his way across Europe. He’s one of our best customers.”

“That’s awful,” he said, his face going even paler. “Just awful.”

“Not at all. The man in question’s a schoolteacher. Very mild and conventional, but he finds his work intensely stressful and exhausting. You know the shape some of the schools are in.” He nodded. “His dreams work off the stress, prevent him from collapsing or blowing his top. They keep him harmless.”  

We looked at each other. Outside, the sounds of the city seemed muted, and I realised it was far later than I usually stayed here. Normally, I’d be cooking myself my solitary supper by now. What the hell, I’d eat out for a change – if I made this sale. I watched as his gaze grew inward, knowing he was making his decision.

“All right,” he said, and I let out the breath I hadn’t even known I’d been holding. “I’m in. So, what next?”

“We’ll need a few details, to begin with. You wish to order a dream scenario for yourself, I assume?”

“For me?” He looked horrified. “Oh, no, not at all. For my granddaughter.”

“For your granddaughter?” I sat back, frowning slightly. “Where is she?”

“Does it matter where she is?”

“It probably does,” I said cautiously. “We normally require an interview with the subject before beginning the process of dream scenario creation. Sometimes several interviews.”

“She can’t come here.” He swallowed. “She’s ill.”

“Oh, I’m sorry about that. Of course, you can bring her in as soon as she’s better and we can accommodate her.”

The lines on his face deepened as though they were cutting into his flesh. “She, ah...” He broke off, fumbled in his pocket and brought out a photograph. “Here.”

I scarcely controlled a gasp of shock. The girl in the picture was as dark as the old man was pale, and there was no hair on her head. She lay back on a pile of pillows and smiled tiredly at the camera, looking as fragile as though she was made of sticks. The most alive thing about her were her black eyes, which seemed to burn with an inner fire, even in the photograph.

“Leukaemia,” the old man said. “You see how the therapy has left her. She’s sixteen years old, and you can’t even imagine how heartbreakingly beautiful she looked, earlier. None of us have any idea whether she’ll ever be better.” He shrugged. “The doctors say there’s hope, but...”

“I’ll do the best I can, sir,” I found myself saying, before I was conscious of making a decision. I couldn’t bear to think of those burning eyes losing their fire. “But what kind of dream do you want for her? One in which she’s healthy again? I don’t think that would be quite helpful –“

He raised a hand. “Nor do I. Nor is she the kind of girl who’d enjoy dreams where she’s the centre of attention. She’s, she’s the kind who’s always cared more about others, the outside world, than about herself. And she loves horses.”

“Horses?” There weren’t any horses in the city that I knew of.

“She’s not from the town,” he said, gesturing at the concrete jungle that surrounded us, with hardly the space for a blade of grass to grow. “She grew up with her parents in the country, and she was around horses. They had a stud farm.”

I waited, knowing what was almost certainly coming.

“There was an accident, in their car. Her parents – my son and his wife – they were both killed. She wasn’t in the car, but...”

I waited for him to regain his composure.

“The farm had to be sold, of course,” he said after a while. “It was deep in debt anyway. She was the only child, and only thirteen at the time. We – her grandmother and I – were her only relatives, and we know nothing about running a farm, or horses. She had to come and live with us, and though we’ve tried to do all we can to make her happy, she’s never stopped missing those horses.”

“So – you want a dream built up around horses?”

“Yes...especially ponies. She loves ponies most of all. She had a special one, a stallion she still talks about. It was a trick pony, and she’d shown it at shows, with ribbons and things. I don’t really,” he said ruefully, “know much about horses, as you might have gathered.”

“That’s quite all right.” I went to the desk and got my notebook. “Tell me all about your granddaughter. Everything about her.”

“Well, first...” he hesitated. “We haven’t spoken about expenses. We aren’t rich, my wife and I.”

I quoted a figure. “We offer a discount for certain cases,” I added quite mendaciously. “Cases like your granddaughter.”

“Are you sure?” He blinked at me, an old man’s heavy lidded blink. “It seems very cheap.”

“Yes, sir, no problems there.” I got out the form for him to fill in so that he’d stop thinking about money. If he realised I was giving him what amounted to a freebie, he’d be insulted. “Now, about your granddaughter...”

“When can you deliver?” he asked, much later, his eyes ready to be disappointed. “You must have a heavy workload. Three days, maybe? Five?”

I stole a quick glance at the clock on the wall. If I skipped dinner and slept in the office – and nobody was waiting for me at home, right? – then...

“You can have it tomorrow morning,” I said. “Ten tomorrow morning.”

“Are you sure?” he repeated, uncertainly. “It seems kind of soon. I don’t want to deprive you of –“

“Yes sir,” I said. “I’m sure.”


I sat back and looked at the computer monitor, my fingers tapping out the codes. Outside, the city was at last silent, turned in for the night. I’d been lost in work for hours and hadn’t realised how late it was. But it didn’t matter.

On the screen, the beach lay swathed in shadows, dawn just touching the sky and painting the waves that washed up the sand. Far away, the gulls flew out over the ocean, looking for the flotillas of trawlers that would be coming in from the night’s fishing. I touched a colour control here, pressed a key there, deepening the shadows and putting a mite more orange in the sky.

The girl came into the picture, tall and strong. She was a silhouette, her feet in the water, her small head held high. I’d decided to keep it hairless, as a link to herself. She stood in the water, and whistled, and the horse came to her.

Even I – I who’d made a thousand dream scenarios by myself, who’d created everything from lesbian orgies at harems to alien planets under strange suns, I who considered myself utterly jaded by the tastes and desires of my clientele – I felt the sting of tears in my eyes as I looked at the girl and the pony. It had almost been as if an outside force had been working through me; I’d scarcely been aware of the hours passing as I’d sketched in the scene. I forgot about the fine points of the work, the tweaks that still needed to be done, and sat back and watched.

The freshening dawn, the gentle waves, the birds like a blizzard in the sky; and, in the foreground, the girl, the rearing horse, the girl, yes, the girl, laughing, laughing.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2011

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Bike Run to Mawkdok Gorge (Photo Feature)

Mawkdok Gorge is about thirty kilometres from this town, a cleft in the earth that looks for all the world as though a giant has struck the Earth with a titanic axe. It's been a while since I've been there. It's been a while since I went on a bike run. I decided to give myself the pleasure.

This is likely going to be the last time I go for a run on this bike. It's not too old for a motorcycle, eight years, but at just 125cc it's underpowered for my needs. Also, I'm getting tired of Yamaha's cute little trick of keeping any particular model in production only for two or three years. Five years after that, spare parts become a real problem. No wonder the Hells Angels call Japanese bikes "Jap-scrap"; it's the companies with their money-grubbing who are to blame.

My next bike will be a 500cc Enfield Classic Desert Storm, but it's going to take a few months before it's delivered. You don't actually get them off the shelf, believe it or not. But it's worth the wait.

In the meantime, here's the Run to Mawkdok Gorge, in photos.

Let me know what you think.

Part 1: The machine and the man

Part 2: Leaving the city

Part 3: The Highway

 Part 4: Mawkdok Gorge

Notes: 1. The aeroplane is a MiG 21, set up for display outside the Eastern Air Command Air Force Headquarters where I used to work until 2007.
2. The fire was set by the forest department in order to burn off old  dead undergrowth.