Friday, 13 April 2012

Why India Must Build Battleships

The Defence Minister of India
New Delhi. 

Dear Defence Minister,

This is a confession.

I think I’ve been slightly harsh on the Indian defence industry. No, that’s too mild. I have been extremely harsh on the Indian defence industry.

I’ve slandered the lobbyists demanding a military-industrial complex, and I’ve been guilty of underestimating the immense boost that a defence industry would bring to the nation.

Let me, therefore, attempt a corrective. Better late than never, as they say.

Of course, it’s difficult to ignore the fact that the Indian defence industry isn’t actually geared up to producing top-of-the-line equipment yet; but, at the same time, one agrees that it needs to create something powerful and prestigious, pronto; something that will force the world to sit up and take notice, and revive the Indian peoples’ pride in their armed forces. At the same time, the government of the day – which means your government, Mr Defence Minister – should be able to take just pride in its accomplishment, so as to garner electoral gains. I mean, that’s only fair, isn’t it?

Now, what can a nation that hasn’t managed to manufacture a working fighter plane, intermediate jet trainer, aircraft carrier or tank after more than three decades of effort do that will make the world sit up and take notice? Let’s see...yes! I’ve got it!

India should build a battleship.

You know battleships: those immense mountains of floating steel, mounting turrets studded with gigantic artillery pieces, which can send huge capsules of metal and explosive soaring over tens of kilometres of ocean? You’ve heard of, say, the Bismarck or the Yamato, the Prince of Wales or the Missouri? You have? Yes, those are the kind of battleships I mean.


Now let’s look at all the benefits building a battleship will bring.

First, of course, and most eye-catching of all, is the sexiness of battleships. I mean, just think of the name: battleship. As in, a ship meant for battle, and battle only. Who could ever accuse a battleship of pacifism? And who could ever call a government which launched a battleship of being weak-kneed on defence? If anyone dared say any such thing, the government would only have to point to the floating citadel with its turrets bristling with guns, and say, STFU. Possibly you are unfamiliar with that acronym, so let me translate, sir. It means Shut The Fuck Up. As in, shut your trap, traitor.

Talking about those guns I mentioned, just look at them. They’re so utterly phallic that they are an instant balm to the average Indian male mind, which is, let’s say, insecure about its masculinity and kind of obsessed over size. One good look at them and the collective masculinity of the nation will receive, um, a boost. All you have to do is arrange plenty of photos of those guns in the media. I’m sure they’d be happy to oblige.

I mean, just look at them

Then, and we should remember this well, there is the uniqueness of battleships. Other countries have tanks. Other countries have fighter planes and aircraft carriers. Even Pakistan has submarines. But nobody – nobody, sir – has battleships anymore. With your battleship roaming the seaways, you can proclaim that India is the only possessor of this technology in the world. Why, not even the Americans have it. If that doesn’t bring forth gasps of admiration from the public, your pet media aren’t doing their jobs.

Can you imagine the photo ops a battleship offers? Someone – it may be you, sir – standing on the bridge of the craft, beside an admiral or two, gazing sternly out at the ocean as those titanic guns blast out a broadside? Which political enemy dare mess with you then? And which admiral dare claim the navy’s being neglected? Why, you could even shell a coastal forest or two, and claim that you were bombarding Maoists, like those who abducted those Italian tourists recently. Who would do anything but praise you for your toughness and ruthlessness? 

Death to everyone


And there are all the subsidiary benefits. Constructing a battleship will provide so many jobs, directly and indirectly – the dockyard workers and fitters to build it, the steel mills to supply the steel, the two or three thousand sailors the behemoth will require to maintain and operate it; can you imagine those grateful votes flooding your way? And there are the other benefits, too; with all the forty or fifty thousand tons of high-grade steel each battleship will require, you can justify strip-mining the forests for iron ore and for coal to smelt it; you can justify unleashing the army on the forest villagers, and lock up the environmentalists and human rights activists; and you can do it all in the name of national security.

Doesn’t that make you go weak in the knees with anticipation, Mr Defence Minister?

So, here’s anticipating the launch of the first ship, and please make sure it doesn’t sink on the spot.

That might be a little bit embarrassing.

Yours helpfully

Bill the Butcher.

Friday the 13th Special: Why the Zombocalypse Failed

From: The Dark Lord of the Universe
To: His loyal Minion, the Most Venerable Nicholas.

Dear Old Nick,

I realise that this letter will not find you in an altogether happy mood, and I don’t mean it as an official reprimand; in fact I’d like this entire sorry episode to remain between us and go no further. I don’t want to demoralise you in any way or reduce your enthusiasm for future projects.

However, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t discuss precisely what went wrong in Operation Lazarus, and why we’re going to have to start all over again from scratch. You realise that only if we discuss it step by step do we have a chance to identify the problem, and understand how to avoid them the next time around.

Let’s just go over the planning from the beginning, step by step, then, shall we?

I’ll admit right off that I have no memory at the moment of whether Operation Lazarus was your idea or mine; I don’t see that it matters. The fact is that we were agreed that something had to be done about that disgusting bipedal race of hairless apes before it laid further waste to the fair blue planet over which it had secured dominance. I remember both of us discussing options like provoking a nuclear war or something similar, but we both agreed that it ran the risk of destroying completely the utterly innocent non-hairless simian part of the planet’s biosphere. And so we had to drop that idea, though it would have been easy to carry out.

So we talked about other options, like introducing some kind of disease which would destroy the apes. However, and unfortunately, at least a few per cent of these creatures would have been certain to be immune to any disease we might try, and before you know it they’d be screwing their minds out in an effort to repopulate the planet;  and going by their record, it’s tolerably certain they’d succeed. Besides, the germs might mutate enough to wipe out other, and innocent, primate life. So we junked that idea.

The same went for the other bright ideas we had, including meteor strikes, tsunamis, and random induced psychological aberrations. All were either not complete enough, or potentially destructive to innocent life, or both. I’ll admit to you now that I’d begun to despair of finding a way, and had almost gone back to the nuclear war option.

It was then that you, or I, had what I’ll still call, despite what happened, a brilliant idea: Operation Lazarus. After all, and it was apparent right off, the risen dead are a self-replicating weapon, and have the terrific advantage of not being amenable to destruction. In other words, they can be revived but not rekilled, and therefore they can destroy the simian societies from the inside out. And I’m sure you were the one who pointed out that since all simian societies have corpses, there would be none immune to the effects. Even those who escaped, not being immortal, would eventually die, and become one of Them.

How we chuckled and congratulated each other, as we visualised the contagion devastating the hives of the naked apes, wiping them out in ever greater numbers the more countermeasures they took! Do you remember us discussing the fact that the more of the revived dead the apes attempted to kill, the more collateral damage they’d inflict on themselves, and the more dead they’d create? Unlike the crippled “zombies” the apes described in their popular entertainment, which could be dispatched by simply damaging their craniums, our subjects, once risen, would be utterly indestructible. Nothing could stop them, and they’d spread across countries and continents until the last living simian was gone from the earth.

Yes, it was a brilliant plan, Nick. I fully and absolutely admit that. It was a plan that deserved to succeed.

Of course, it proved more difficult in the execution than in the conception. I’m sure you remember how disappointed we both were when we discovered that it would be utterly impossible to begin the mass revival in multiple places that we’d planned. The energy involved in reviving even one corpse, we found, would require the annihilation of a couple of minor suns; and though we found a couple which would serve and whose destruction wouldn’t harm any life forms, more than that we could not manage, given the absolute imperative of maintaining the Prime Directive.

So, Nick, we had to settle for reviving just one dead ape, and relying on it to infect enough others to set off the Operation. Even so, as our calculations showed, if our Specimen Zero (as we called it) managed to infect just three or four of its fellow apes, and they infected a similar number each, the effects would spread so exponentially that in a month at the utmost, barring a closed simian society or two, it would have covered the planet. And those societies would succumb eventually, because nothing is ever completely sealed off.

Yes, even there, we were completely correct. I don’t see any problem with the planning even till that point.

Of course, the next logical problem was to pick a Specimen Zero. Perhaps, I suggested, we should choose a juvenile or a child, since the simians would have a natural affinity for these immature individuals and might allow one to get in close more easily. But you pointed out that these juveniles would be weak and slow compared to adult simians and therefore relatively easy to avoid. Similarly, we rejected the aged; they were too slow and doddery for our purposes.

For a while we discussed the merits of using an ordinary ape, like a housewife or a teacher. Being innocuous, it would be relatively easy for them to get closer to their targets. At first, the idea looked like a good one, and you remember that we almost decided on it. But then we ran a few tests, and found that they had a signal flaw: the kind of ape which would remain a housewife or a teacher would also have low aggression levels and therefore anyone it affected would contract the same low-virulence form of the infection. In other words, the housewife or teacher wouldn’t be ideal for the job.

It was at that point that we had the idea of reviving a warrior.

Even now, Nick, I’ll admit that it was a good idea. No, I’ll go further: it was a great idea, comparable to the notion of Operation Lazarus itself. Why, a warrior would be already trained and inclined to violence; it would have no inhibitions against dealing out devastation. And if we only picked the right kind of warrior, the sort which was so indoctrinated to aggression that it had no regard for its own existence, we might have the ultimate weapon we needed. Unleash such a Specimen Zero on the world, and nothing, but nothing, could come in the way of success.

Oh yes, Nick, I thought it was in the bag then. I was so confident that it was in the bag that it was without a second thought that I signed the order delegating to you the authority to carry out the Operation itself.

And, Nick, that was my mistake; I shouldn’t have left it to you. I did it because you begged and pleaded for the responsibility, and because I have so many other things on my plate, but still, I admit my error: I should not have left it to you.

Oh yes, I don’t doubt that you did all that you were supposed to. You did blow up those two little stars quite efficiently, and you channelled the energy to your chosen Specimen Zero extremely well. You handled the revival exactly as you should have. I’ve got no quarrel with you at all on that point; I couldn’t have done better myself.

No, it’s with your choice of Specimen Zero that I disagree. It’s the single reason that Operation Lazarus failed, despite all our planning and effort. Even there, I agree with your contention that you picked a Specimen Zero who was a warrior indoctrinated to aggression and uncaring of self-preservation. And you certainly did revive him, and very successfully. Nobody’s denying you credit for any of that.

But, Nick, tell me this:

Having concentrated all your undoubted talent and resources, all your vast intellect, on the task, couldn’t you have found a better subject for revival than a kamikaze pilot in a wrecked plane lying at the bottom of the sea?

Copyright B Purkayastha 2012

Wednesday, 11 April 2012


You know,” D says, leaning against the wall, “you’d be perfect for a Roman slave market.”

The young man he calls X looks up from his book and smiles uncertainly. “What do you mean?”

“Just look at you.” D waves a hand. “Those cannonball shoulders of yours, those bulging biceps, that washboard stomach. I can imagine you, naked and oiled on the auctioneer’s block. Those Romans would’ve salivated over you. I can see the bidding reaching record levels.”

X shrugs. “Not exactly something I’d find flattering, I think.”

D laughs. “That’s just the start. Then the buyer would have you trained as, let’s see, a gladiator. Train you to become a perfect killing machine, give you a sword and shield, and put you in armour with one of those helmets with holes to see through. And then you’d be in the arena, Romans cheering, blood on the sand. Ave Caesar, morituri te salutant, you know, though I think they never actually said that. When I think of how that would be, the crowds baying for the kill and you winning the victor’s laurels, well, it seems the perfect setting.“

“The perfect setting for what, precisely?’

“Huh, I don’t know. Scaling the heights of glory, maybe? All those maidens swooning at your feet. The world would be your oyster, as long as you kept winning.”

X shuts hid book and puts it down on the table. “What set this off, exactly?”

D sighs and pushes himself away from the wall. “I don’t know. Just, maybe, thinking this is too good to last. You’re young, you’re handsome, you’re bright and personable. You have a future. Whereas I’m a washed-up old man past his prime and getting wrinkled and flabby.”

“Oh come on,” X says. “You’re not old, or past your prime. And I love you.”

D nods and sits on the edge of the bed. “I know. At least I tell myself I know. But I look at myself in the mirror, and I know what I’ve lost.” He laughs suddenly. “At least you’re still with me, despite everything. That’s something.”

“Did you really think I wouldn’t be?” X sits down next to D and puts his arm around his shoulder. “What’s bothering you, really? Is it something I did?”

“No, no. Why should it be? But I do feel I’m keeping you from finding someone else, someone more your age and interests. I mean, I can’t really be very interesting to you, if you really get down to it. I don’t know anything about what young people like these days. You and I don’t watch the same movies or share a taste in music. We don’t even,” he adds, pointing at the book, which has a bloodstained dagger on the cover, “read the same books.”

“There’s more to love than just that, isn’t there?” X says. “Why don’t you ask what I see in you?”

D chuckles suddenly. “Maybe I’m afraid you’re going to say a father figure.”

“Father figure? No. You know what my dad said when he found out I was gay?”

D turns to look at X, who keeps his eyes fixed on the floor. “No. What did he say? I didn’t want to ask, really. It’s usually a pretty personal thing, isn’t it?”

“Well, yes. I didn’t actually want to tell him. But I was in my first serious relationship then – and the guy made it a condition to stick with me, that I come out officially.” X swallows, his prominent larynx bobbing. “I wasn’t really sure then, you know? I thought I was still experimenting, and I wanted to be sure. But it was either come out, or break with him. So I came out.”

“Um. And what did dad say?” D has seen pictures of X’s father in the newspapers, giving speeches and inaugurating projects. “Forget it. I can guess what he said.”

“Yeah, it was like what you’d think. For a week I didn’t go home. Slept in friends’ houses and so on. One night I slept on a bench in the park.” X looks intensely unhappy. “My mother gave in after that, but I had to keep out of my dad’s way, fade into the background. By the time I moved out for good, it was a relief for all of us.”

“And what about the guy? The one you were in a relationship with? Didn’t he ask you to move in with him or something?”

“Oh yeah. Him. The moment he found out I’d actually burned my bridges, as it were, he began backpedalling as fast as he could. I think the whole thing was only a power trip for him, to show what he could make me do.” X sighs. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t really be saying all this, right? I mean he’s not here to defend himself.”

“Does it matter? If you talk about it you get it out of your system.” D gets up and fetches two tall glasses of chilled orange juice from the kitchen; he does not permit alcohol in the house, hasn’t drunk any for many years. “And you haven’t been back home since, of course.”

X wipes the outside of the glass with his handkerchief, blotting away the condensation. “Of course. And after that I went through a phase when I pretty much slept with anyone who came along. I think they have some kind of psychological term for that kind of behaviour, but I don’t know it.”

“Yes, I can see that you were fighting your own identity battle.” D sips at his juice. “Did you win it?”

“Who knows? I don’t think I’m bi, if that’s what you’re getting at. But does it matter? I’m not looking elsewhere, nor do I have any desire to. And I don’t look to you as a father figure. It was the happiest day of my life when I met you, simply because you were so different from all of them.”

“Really? Thanks. I mean that seriously.”

“There’s something I’d like to ask too.” X pauses. “Was it difficult for you in the beginning?”

D shrugs. “It depends on what you call difficult. I didn’t have problems with my parents but I think they knew already. Besides, they were the self-conscious liberal type; they’d hide their actual feelings even from themselves to fit into their liberal ethic. You know the type of person I’m talking about?

“The real problem began with the AIDS thing. Suddenly you didn’t know who had it, or if you’d got it and didn’t know. I knew people who had it, and I’d slept with a couple of them, too. For a while I was too scared to go for a test. And of course there were all those people saying gay people deserved it because of their unnatural lifestyles. I suppose they didn’t want to know it happened to heteros too.”

“So that was your own battle? You faced it alone.”

“Yes.” D laughs shortly. “I used to lie awake at night in the dark, looking up at the ceiling, trying to face the possibility that I had it. It was like facing my fear in the arena, with my life in the balance; quite like a gladiator, actually. If you lost, you died. I only went in for the test when people I knew began actually dying from it. Not just falling sick, you understand; literally dying. Finally, oddly enough, it was a female friend who forced me to go in for it. She went with me to the clinic and took the test herself, as well. Just so, you know, nobody would think I was gay.”

“Um, well.” The glasses are empty, and X takes them away to the kitchen. When he returns after rinsing them, D is leafing through the book with the dagger on the cover. “That’s really rather trash, you know,” he says.

D looks up, grinning. “Yes, that’s what I was thinking. And maybe I should read a little trash once in a while. So what are you doing this evening? Going out?”

“No. I think I’d rather stay with you.” X shakes his head. “Too much trash outside.”

“Don’t I know it,” D says, putting down the book, “When you look back at it, we did win our gladiatorial fights so far, didn’t we? You and I, both. We’ve won each fight so far.”

“And each fight could be the last, so we’ve got to keep winning? Is that what you mean?”

“Something like that, kiddo. We can’t afford defeats, not a single one. Ever. You’re learning fast.”

“I love you,” X says. “You know that, don’t you?”

“I know,” D says, and believes it. “I know.”

Copyright B Purkayastha 2012

Tuesday, 10 April 2012


You are a metropolis.

On your eyelashes, creatures crawl, tiny eyeless mites with stubby legs and translucent bodies; creatures which are born, live and die in the follicles of those hairs on your eyelids. 

Yes. I am talking about this.

They eat a little of the oil your sebaceous glands produce, and they have such efficient digestive systems that they don’t defecate at all (in case you’re wondering whether mite faeces is oozing down your lashes as you read this, no, it isn’t).

Your mouth is a teeming wilderness, populated by millions of flora and fauna, including a substantial portion of the hundred trillion bacteria which inhabit your body. Bacterial colonies stick to the top of your tongue in mats and sheets, and swim through the mucoprotein layer covering your teeth and membranes. Protozoa of the Entamoeba group crawl around your gingival crevices and you swap them around with your significant other with every deep kiss.

Feel like snogging now?

A few of these creatures are harmful, stowaways with an agenda as it were; a much larger majority are, under normal circumstances, passengers in your mouth, eating dead cells, food particles and generally doing you no harm and possibly – by occupying space that would otherwise be taken up by the harmful ones – doing you some incidental good.

Then, let’s take a look inside your intestines. Even if you aren’t among those who harbour cute little parasitic worms (or, for tapeworm hosts, cute big parasitic worms), your intestines are full of tiny creatures hopping, skipping and jumping around, from bacteria to yeasts. It’s more than a rain forest in there in terms of the richness of life, more than a coral reef. And you cannot survive without those microorganisms. You are dependent on them to keep you alive. For one thing, some of them break down cellulose in the plant matter you eat, thus liberating the interior of the cells to your digestive juices. For another, they, even those whose only purpose of existence is to nibble fastidiously at fragments of your forming faeces, aggressively block out the others – the millions upon millions of less than pleasant microorganisms you swallow each day. 

I have a gut feeling about this.

Want to know what would happen if those microorganisms all vanished from your gut? Have you ever had a course of antibiotics and suffered the side-effect of diarrhoea? Yes? Well, that’s because the antibiotics have waged indiscriminate chemical warfare on the forests and jungles inside you, like a kind of Agent Orange in your inner Vietnam. And until the survivors grow back to fill the empty spaces, undigested food flows through you like...well, like undigested food flowing through you. Now imagine that going on all the time, and worse; imagine all these microbes vanishing. Will the space they vacate, all that lovely real estate, remain empty? Of course not; it will be flooded by invaders, murderous marauders from the outer light, whose only purpose is to consume and destroy.

Consume and destroy you, that is.

But such a marvel is evolution that it fills every nook and cranny, quite literally, with life, and seeks out, always, to fill it with viable life. That is why the passengers on your body block the enemy without; they want to keep living, and it's in their interests that you keep living. They've evolved to help keep you alive, just as you've evolved to tolerate their presence in your body.

You are a metropolis, larger by far than any the mere human race has ever built, and your countless citizens are keeping you a living city, simply by going about their daily business. You are a city that never sleeps, that never can. So look in a mirror, and call yourself we.

And tonight, as you lie down to put your conscious brain to rest, remember those mites crawling demurely along your eyelashes, eating, meeting, breeding, and otherwise leading their own doubtless meaning-filled lives. Remember the teeming millions of your passengers, who aren’t even aware that you exist as a living entity, and yet for whom you are a universe. Think of them a little.

Pleasant dreams.

Tell Me

You are the Chosen, you have Dominion
Over bird and beast and the fowl of the air
You have Dominion over your brother.

You are the Chosen. You have divine sanction
You have Manifest Destiny; and you have fulfilled it.
Oh, how you have fulfilled it.

You can’t create, but you can destroy, you can kill
The leaf trembling with dew, you can poison
The mountain stream glittering in the sunshine

You can destroy the ancient cities sleeping in the evening sun.
You can burn forests down to ash, you can break the mountains down
You can devastate them all. You have Dominion.

With your guns and your bombs, your drones flying overhead
Your machines that rip the heart out of the earth
Your factories that belch poison in the name of profit

You can kill, you can destroy, you can rule what’s left
And talk about Freedom and Democracy
For you are Chosen, you have Dominion.

Which is to say, you rule over the crust
Of a ball of rock, and the shell of air around it.
Nothing more.

You do not rule over the moon, the planets, the sun,
The myriad of galaxies, the expanding Universe.
You have no control over Time and Space

And in the scheme of things, you are nothing.
You are less than nothing,
An eyeblink, and you’re gone, you’re
Less than a meteor flashing in the night.

Tell me:

What of your frontiers, your Eternal Borders
Which you say will last forever and a day
What will happen to them as continents move
When the oceans rise and mountains fall?

Tell me:

In five billion years hence
When the sun is a red giant, swollen red ball of helium fire
Earth burned to a cinder, the oceans dry, the air all gone
Where will you be? Can you turn the tide of entropy?

Tell me:

When the wheel of Time turns, and with it all of eternity
Where will be your Dominion then, your Freedom and Democracy
Where will be your Holy Profit, your One True God,
What will you do with your Eternal Wars?

Tell me

What will be left of you
After Dominion.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2012