Friday, 13 July 2012

Friday the Thireenth

These are the things of which you need not be afraid:

Ghoulies and ghosties, and longlegettie beasties,
And things that go bump in the night.
You need not fear them.

The wrath of a jealous deity
The nattering of a meddling priest
The tarot card’s prophecy of doom
You need not fear them.

The muttering terrorist in a head rag, plotting evil
The chainsaw wielding maniac in an ice hockey mask,
These are distant fears.
You need not fear them.

There are dangers far more profound
Threats greater by far
Of which to be afraid.

Yes, be afraid –

Of he who would bring you Freedom
At the point of a gun, torture the innocent
Destroy and occupy your nation
And kill you in the name of Liberty.

Of Empires which believe in Exceptionalism
In Divine Sanction, Chosen People
And Manifest Destiny.

Of the faceless corporation
Which would take your land and water
In the name of Holy Profit, Privatisation
And Efficiency.

Of the germs which melt flesh from bone
And for which you have no answer
Because there is more money
To be made in curing baldness
Or obesity.

Of the desert creeping, the icecaps melting
Of the planet dying
All because of resource plunder
And Enterprise that’s Free.

Of politicians who sell your trust
Of media which lies to you
Of advertisers who sell you myths
Of Consumer Society.

Of walls that lock you in
Of breathing air tainted by the smoke
Of cremated honour and savaged honesty.

Of a planet where no birds fly
Where the seas are dead
Where the burned lands lie awaiting
The true End of History.

These are the things to fear
While terrorists scowl, heroes rage 
Monsters growl on the TV screen
And vampires gnash their plastic fangs

Copyright B Purkayastha 2012

The Dragon

It perched on the edge of an eroded cliff, waiting.

It had been waiting a long time, yet knew no boredom, no tiredness. It did not feel the blistering heat of the desert day, or the cold of the night. It knew none of its own kind, and had no need to know any of its own kind. It did not know fear, or anger, hunger or sleep – could not know fear, or anger, hunger, or sleep.

It did not have fear, for it had never encountered anything which might hurt it, and could not conceive of any such thing. It did not sleep, for it did not need sleep. It did not feel anger, for anger was an inefficient emotion, clouding judgement and increasing the chances of mistakes. It did not feel hunger, for it did not need food. It fed on sunlight, warming itself in the rays of the desert sun, storing the energy for the cold bitter night.

It just had one vast, consuming desire. All it wanted, all it lived for, was the chance to hunt.

It had hunted many times already, but its desire was never sated, could never be sated. It killed efficiently, almost dispassionately, but only to look for something to hunt down and kill, again.

At one time, it had had friends, and it had restrained itself, because it had had no wish to hurt its friends. But that time was long gone. One day, it had suddenly realised that its friends would no longer be coming. And that realisation had set it free.

Now, anything that it flew over was its Domain, and anything which moved in its Domain was prey.

Prey had not come in days, but it was patient. Sooner or later, it knew, prey would come.

Sitting on its perch, it waited, tilting its wings to catch the sun.


The sun had just dipped behind the hills to the west when Johnson came upon the wrecked crawler.

Johnson had been walking since noon, when the helicopter had dropped him where the recovery vehicle was supposed to have been waiting. The recovery vehicle hadn’t been waiting; nor could it be contacted over the radio, but the helicopter had its own urgent schedule, so it had done its job, dropped him and flown away.

Johnson had located the recovery vehicle soon enough, but that hadn’t done him any good; sometime during the day, the thing had evidently hit a large landmine and spread its innards over the dusty plain. He’d checked to see if there was anything usable left, found none, and moved on out. After all, he shouldn’t really need the vehicle for this job.

“There’s nobody on earth who knows more about this programme than you,” the general had said that morning, sweating slightly even in the air-conditioned office. “If you can’t do it, nobody can.”

Johnson had shrugged. “I don’t know if that’s an honour – sir.” He wasn’t a soldier and the general wasn’t his commander, and the war was over, as they were both aware. He didn’t have to obey the military’s orders anymore.

Only he did, and they had both been aware of that, too.

Still, he thought, it shouldn’t be a particularly difficult mission. Even without the recovery vehicle, he had all he needed in his backpack, and in his head. And maybe he was better off without the heavy and clumsy vehicle. It would have taken him along faster, but it would also have made an excellent target.

He had been planning out his course of action all the afternoon, trudging across the plain while the wind had whipped the sand across the land in beige clouds. The heat had been intense, but he’d grown used to it during these last months in this accursed country. He was thirsty, but had learned to ration his water. And once night fell, the temperature would become much more bearable, and he could have a short rest before getting to work. He’d glanced up at the sky, calculated briefly, and decided that if he hurried, he’d be able to get over the ridge of rock up ahead before nightfall. Bending forward, he’d picked up the pace.

It was just beyond the ridge, already wrapped in shadow, that he’d found the crawler.

It had bulked above him, angular and slab-sided, still menacing in the gathering dusk. But the scorched, blackened armour, the blistered paint, and the shattered caterpillar tracks with their melted rubber treads, had told him what had happened to it even before he found the holes ripped through the metal plate. He’d found one of the Dragon’s victims.

And this was something that stopped him where he was, his mouth growing dry, because the Dragon should not be here, not this far west. The Dragon should not be able to fly this far. Yet, here it had been.

For a minute which seemed to last hours, he froze, looking up into the sky, as if it was there, right now, overhead, and as if he’d be able to do something about it if it were. But he could only see the fast-purpling sky, pricked out by a few stars.

Finally daring to move again, he stepped closer to the destroyed crawler. Now he could smell it, that unmistakable odour of burned metal, charred rubber, and cremated flesh. It was impossible to tell to which side it had belonged, not that it mattered any longer. Now that the war was over, there was only one side, if one believed the politicians.

Except for the Dragon, he amended. The Dragon was on the other side. It would remain on the other side, unless someone tamed it.

And he was the only person in the whole wide world who could.

He touched the side of the crawler and gritted his teeth. Whatever happened, he would tame the Dragon, and he would bring it in. But first, he had to report, and talk things over.

He took off his backpack and leaned it on a rock. He removed and unfolded the map from its front pocket, and then took out the little radio he’d kept in his knee pouch and turned it on. The frequency was pre-set. Someone would be listening.

“St George here,” he said, giving his call sign. It was cheesy in the extreme, but then he hadn’t chosen it. “Come in, please.”

A reply crackled in his ears. It was the general. “What is it, Johnson?”

“We have problems,” Johnson told him. “Dragon’s gone rogue. What should we do now?”

For some time now, it had been growing aware of a disturbance somewhere in its Domain.

Sitting on its perch on the edge of the cliff, it did not have to go looking for information; information flowed to it. Its ears licked at the night air, spanning the electromagnetic spectrum, sifting the crackle and hiss of electronic waves for patterns which might make sense, which might be the marker of prey. Its eyes saw far over the plain, in light and shadow, in colours, and in infra-red patterns of heat and cold. Its feet touching the rock brought it the minute vibrations which might mean something heavy was in its Domain, far away, or something light was close. Any disturbance, of any kind, meant an intruder. And intruders meant prey.

Nothing was allowed in its Domain but itself. It would do whatever necessary to keep it that way.

Now, its senses locked on to the source of the tiny disturbance, near the fringe of Domain, where it had hunted the heavy clumsy prey a few days ago. That prey had been easy, slow and clumsy and unaware, and it had dispatched it with one blow. This might be more of a challenge. Not that a challenge mattered either way; it would eliminate it as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Drawing back a few paces, it turned towards the cliff’s edge and prepared to launch itself into the air.

Its prey was waiting.

Explain yourself, Johnson.” The general’s voice was cold and flat. “What do you mean, Dragon’s gone rogue?”

“Well, General...” Johnson paused, cocking his head slightly. Had he heard something? Was that a noise somewhere? He held his breath for a long moment. “General,” he said at last, “I’ve found a destroyed crawler at map points...” He had a small torch, but didn’t dare use it. Instead, he peered at the map by the starlight, and read off the grid reference with difficulty. “It’s outside Dragon’s territory, as you know.”

“So?” The general’s tone was even colder than before. “Dragon’s just used his initiative. He’s meant to take out any target of opportunity, and he did.”

“Not if it’s one of our own crawlers, General.” Johnson looked up at the mass of armour, trying to decide from its outlines to which side it might have belonged, but it was already too dark. “Besides,” he said into the radio, “Dragon shouldn’t be able to get out of its territory at all.”

“I haven’t had any reports of a crawler missing,” the general said. As they both knew, this meant nothing, because crawlers could stay out for up to a week, maintaining radio silence. “But if you...”

Without warning, a terrific blast of static drowned out what the general was about to say, a burst so loud and long Johnson knew it was jamming. There could only be one thing which would be jamming him, here and now.

He reacted instinctively, self-preservation taking over. Dropping the radio into its pouch, he threw himself to the ground and scrambled on hands and knees for the nearest shelter, the pool of inky shadow under the burned hull of the crawler. It was a tight squeeze, and the dirt was fouled with oil and other liquids, but he did not hesitate a moment. He could not afford to hesitate.

As he lay between two of the shattered vehicle’s wheels, he caught a glimpse of the sky. As he watched, a star was blotted out momentarily, as if something had passed before it, and then another, and another. He knew what it had to be, up there in the sky.

The Dragon was here.


It was a great idea,” the general had conceded at the briefing earlier. “I’ll give you that, freely and without rancour. It was maybe even a revolutionary idea. But you see how it’s landed us with this problem now.”

“Why me?” Johnson had wanted to reply. “With all the people who could do this job, why pick on me?”

But he didn’t ask that, because he knew the reason as well as the general did. It was because he, Johnson, was the creator and top scientist of the Dragon programme.

“Yes,” the general had gone on. “It was an idea which might be as important to the history of combat as...” he’d described a circle in the air with his finger, “...the machine gun, for instance. And I do admit that it’s the logical evolution of the drone programme, the self-aware, long-duration mission drone meant to operate autonomously and clear and hold enemy territory. And of course you are the one man who managed to make the whole thing come true, put all the pieces together. Nobody is taking any of that away from you.”

Johnson had known all of this, and had not been comforted by the praise. “What are you not telling me, General?” he’d asked.

The staff officer’s ferocious white brows had knitted in a frown. “What do you mean?”

“I’m not so naive as to imagine that you’re telling me all this just to boost my ego. So, what are you not telling me?” He’d paused. “Let me guess. Since you could simply order the Dragon by radio to end its mission and return to base, but you want me to go and get it back, there’s only one logical conclusion. You’ve lost contact with the Dragon.”

The general had nodded, reluctantly. “It’s not been contactable for nearly two weeks now.”

“Maybe it’s been destroyed,” Johnson had said. “Perhaps it crashed, or the enemy shot it down.”

“It’s not been destroyed,” the general had replied shortly. “We know.”

Now, lying in a stinking mess of burned oil, it occurred to Johnson to wonder just how the general had known. Rolling over partially, moving with difficulty in the narrow space, he fumbled the radio out of the knee pouch and turned it on.

“St George,” he said quickly, hoping the jamming wouldn’t come too soon. “General?”

“Johnson!” the older man’s voice cracked in his ear. “Where the hell are you?”

“Hiding under the crawler,” Johnson said. “Dragon’s here. I saw it fly past overhead. It may jam me at any moment. General, how long has it been since its Identify Friend and Foe system failed?”

There was a long silence. “I don’t get you, Johnson,” the general said at last.

“It’s been attacking our own troops, hasn’t it?” Johnson demanded. “After you lost contact with it, it’s been hitting our own men as well. Like this crawler here, for instance. I’d heard that the enemy crawlers had all been knocked out at the start of the war, so it’s got to be one of ours. ” He was speaking faster and faster, anger building quickly. “That’s how you’ve known that the Dragon hadn’t been destroyed. General, why the hell didn’t you tell me?”

Silence again, and then the general’s voice at last. “It was not deemed necessary.”

“Not necessary?” Johnson could not believe it. “Not necessary?”

“The programme’s top secret, Johnson,” the general said, over the first crackle of renewed jamming. “It’s not as if you don’t know that. And you know as well as I do that the Dragon’s the future of combat operations. And this Dragon – this Dragon...”

As the wave of jamming washed in like a tsunami, swamping the transmission, Johnson shut off the radio. He knew what the general had been about to say. This was the only Dragon in existence, the prototype. They hadn’t even finished running all the tests in the laboratory when the war had started and offered an opportunity to use it in the field, a chance far too good to pass up. What would happen to the programme if it became known that the Dragon had run amok and turned against its own side? The question didn’t even need an answer.

So they had sent out teams, including this crawler and probably others, to get the Dragon back under control. They had sent those teams, soldiers who were under military regulations, soldiers who almost certainly had had no real idea what they were dealing with; and when the soldiers failed and died, they’d finally run out of options and sent for him.

And now he was lying here in mud and oil, with his equipment, in the backpack, out there leaning against a rock, where he’d put it down.

It might as well have been half a light year away.


It swung in slow circles, high above the remnants of the prey it had killed days ago, watching.

Its motors made almost no sound, whirring propellers shimmering in the starlight, wings flexing slightly as it banked. It was beautiful, with the beauty of a bird of prey, and the functional mechanical beauty of a machine of war. It was beautiful, but there were no eyes to see it, and it did not care.

The new quarry was down there, hiding under the corpse of the old, and it was looking for a way of hunting it down. At first it had planned on dropping a fuel air explosive bomb on the wreck, to burn away the air and suffocate the prey to death, but it had only a couple of the big bombs left and did not wish to waste one on a target so insignificant.

On the other hand, the prey was well-protected against lighter weaponry, and it might take a long time to winkle it out – time, and energy.

Banking smoothly, it turned away, flying back towards its eyrie on the crag. Landing, it squatted over its stack of spare batteries, sucking up power to replenish its own depleted charge. When the sun rose, it would have to fill them again. Then it changed weapons, hardpoints below the long wings extending, dropping away some bombs and missiles, picking up others. Finally, satisfied, it took to the air again.

Flying low over the desert, it had a moment of anxiety, thinking the quarry had escaped. But then it detected a squeal of radio noise, and knew it was the prey, crying out for help. Reassured, it squelched the cry with a burst of jamming, and turned on the final approach.

Below the husk of its earlier victim, the prey was still waiting.


 “Two days,” Johnson had asked incredulously. “Two days? That’s all I have?”

“The war’s over, Johnson,” the general had replied. “You know the terms of the peace settlement, I take it? We’ve got to evacuate all the occupied territory by the end of the month. The end of the month is three days away, Johnson.” He’d paused. “Even two days is stretching it. And of course we can’t risk it falling into the other side’s hands.”

Johnson lay under the crawler, running over the briefing in his head, trying to think of anything else he’d missed. The briefing seemed now like a mockery, a bad joke. He looked out at the backpack lying against the rock. If he had it, if he could only access the computer and try to set up a link with the Dragon, he might be able to get through to it.

He thought of the risks, and grimaced. Even if he managed to get the backpack and bring it under the crawler, he hadn’t the slightest idea how he’d manage use it in the confined space. For a moment he considered trying to get inside the crawler itself, but rejected the idea at once. The Dragon would simply bomb the hell out of the vehicle – again.

But he had to get to the backpack. It was his only chance.

Very cautiously, and so slowly that he could hardly feel himself moving, he began crawling on his belly towards the front of the wreck. His breath sounded like the rushing of the wind in his ears, the beating of his heart like a drum.

In the starlight, the backpack looked close enough to touch.

He had almost worked his way out into the open, when there was a terrific flash, and the earth leapt up and smashed him in the chest and jaw.

He tasted blood, and the world went dark.


If it had possessed the capacity to feel frustration, it might have cursed out loud. It had acted too quickly, fired instantly at the tiny hint of movement it had detected, without waiting for the prey to reveal itself properly. The small missile had missed, exploding harmlessly and merely throwing up rock and dust. And now the prey would be back under its shelter of steel, and it would have to begin all over again.

It could not feel anger, but the buzzing of its motors came as close to that emotion as it could ever get.

Turning tightly, it swooped low over the smashed crawler, seeking the prey again.


I’m hurt, General.” Johnson spat, feeling a loose tooth in his jaw. “The Dragon nearly got me with a missile.”

“Did you get the pack?” the general demanded. “Are you setting up the link now?”

“Are you kidding me?” Johnson tried to laugh. “I can see what’s left of the damned pack. You could scrape it up with a tablespoon. I’m lucky I’m not in the same shape.” He coughed. “For now.”

There was a silence. “What do you suggest?” the general asked at last.

“Send in an air strike,” Johnson coughed. “Call in the bombers, and wipe the blasted bot out.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” the general snapped. “The war’s over. Combat operations are prohibited. You know that as well as I do.”

“Combat operations are prohibited, are they? Tell the Dragon that.”

“What do you think happened to him? To Dragon?”

“How should I know? It might have got a virus somehow. Maybe the enemy tried to hack it. Or maybe it’s just a bug in the system.” Johnson spat out the tooth, which had finally come loose. “We never got to test the software fully, you remember.” Of course the general would remember; it was over Johnson’s own objections that the general had insisted on testing the Dragon under battlefield conditions. “What does it matter right now, anyway? Destroy it, general.”

“We can’t. There’s no way we can keep the strike secret, and the other side would call it a ceasefire violation. We’re in enough trouble as it is without the programme becoming known. Think of something else.”

“I? Why should I think of something?”

“Because you’re the one who thought up the whole idea, or have you forgotten?” The staff officer’s voice was as cold as the Arctic winter.

“Very well.”Johnson drew a deep, ragged breath. “Wait long enough, and it’s going to run out of power and munitions sooner or later. It’s going to take time, though, and you don’t have time. Two days, you said.” He laughed bitterly. “Two days. And it’s designed to operate for months.”

“We need it back anyway,” the general said. “We can’t lose it – we need the data it has. So think of something else.”

“It’s kind of difficult to think when I’m bleeding in the dirt under a fucking crawler, General.” Johnson coughed again. “I need a computer, I need a link to the Dragon, and most of all I need to be out of here.”

“Wait,” the general said. “We’ll send in a helicopter team to get you out of there. Dragon’s got no anti-aircraft weapons, has he? Can you make it to the copter?”

“You’ll need to set it down right beside the crawler,” Johnson told him. “And you’ll need to equip it with decoys, General. To distract the Dragon, you know, when it lands.”

“All right,” the general said. “I’ll get things moving. But, Johnson, I’ll tell you something, quite honestly. I think you’re overreacting, losing your grip on the situation. Dragon’s not half the danger you make him out to be.”

“It isn’t?” Johnson could not even laugh anymore. “Come and see for yourself, General.” Unspoken, but heard by both, were three words: “If you dare.”

There was a pause. “Fine,” the voice on the radio said at last. “I’ll be on the helicopter, Johnson. I’ll get you out, and then you can bet your life I’ll make sure you...”

What he said next was drowned in jamming again.


It had been considering options, one after another, for some time now, and had almost decided on a plan, when it became aware of something new.

Something was approaching its Domain, flying low and erratically over the rough ground, hugging every dip and hollow. It turned, watching, considering how to deal with this new target.

Days before, it had found that it could not hunt flying prey. It could track them and plot an interception, but it had no actual way to destroy them. This was intolerable, because prey could not be allowed to enter the Domain and get away unmolested. It had considered the situation, and set out to rectify it.

It would know now if those efforts had succeeded.

It watched the prey approach for a little longer, and ran a programme predicting its course and matching it to the terrain, before it moved to attack. Its control surfaces moved, raising the nose higher and higher, the engine power increasing until it hung on its thrashing propellers, not far from the vertical. Under its wings, it carried two heavy anti-armour missiles, which it had considered dropping off earlier but had chosen to retain for emergencies. It sent an electric impulse to them now, arming them. At precisely the computed moment, another electric impulse sent them streaking upwards at the stars.

It had fallen back into normal cruising attitude when the missiles impacted. Falling in a parabola, they came down on the target from above exactly as anticipated. Enveloped in a ball of fire, the prey tumbled to earth.

Satisfied, it banked towards the first, smaller, prey again.


General?” Johnson shouted into the radio.  “General, talk to me, damn you.”

Over the course of the past few hours, he had grown so stiff that he could hardly move. The cold of the night seemed to have invaded his bones. Moaning with effort, he clawed the radio to a more comfortable position.

“General?” he called. “General, my radio’s battery is about dead. Are you coming, General? Are you on the way?”

There was no response. There had been no response for hours. Even the Dragon had stopped jamming the radio, which probably meant that there was nobody listening anyway.

“General,” Johnson whispered. “If you’ve left me to die here, I’ll...” A sudden bubble of laughter welled up inside him as he considered what he’d just said. “If you’ve left me to die here,” he amended, “I’ll die, I suppose.”

He kept on whispering into the radio for some more time, unaware of what he was saying, until he realised that there was not even the hiss of background noise. The battery had finally given out. And the reserve batteries had been in the backpack, of course.

“Damn you, General,” he said, and threw the useless radio away. It clanged on the armour and fell in the dirt, a dead piece of plastic.

He had a sudden memory, of sitting at a computer terminal in the lab, running the programmes that would eventually be fed into the brain of the Dragon. The drone itself had been only on the drawing board at that stage, but the mind of the thing had already been there, on the computer terminal. He remembered the precise moment where he had run the programme for the first time.

“Just hatched,” he’d said, exulting. “Hatched you, Dragon baby.”

That day, they had celebrated with champagne. The general had been there too. He felt a sudden hatred for the general, almost surpassing the hate he felt for the Dragon.

“All right,” he said, aloud, as though the Dragon would understand. “So you want to kill me. You think you’ve trapped me, don’t you? Like a rat in a rat hole.” He giggled suddenly. “You think I’m going to die in here? Huh? No, I’m not going to die in here. If you’re going to kill me, you’re going to have to work for it. Earn your pay, and get a bonus if you work hard enough, ha ha.”

Still mumbling, he began to crawl towards the front of the wreck, where the desert was beginning to lighten with the first flush of dawn.


It had been squatting on the surface for hours, feeling the ground with its feet, measuring every movement of its prey. It knew where the quarry had gone to ground, and it was patient, because the prey was trapped and helpless and it had all the time in the world.

It had been some time since the prey had moved, but it was still there, still a target. It made noises, sometimes on the radio, sometimes just on the acoustic level, so it was still active, still something to be eliminated. So the Dragon waited, keeping it trapped, waiting. It could afford to wait.

Suddenly, its sensors alerted it to movement. Slowly, erratically, the prey was crawling towards it, out from below the wreck. It studied the narrow opening with its lenses. Humping like an injured worm, the prey dragged itself out into the light.

Lying in the dirt, it looked up at the Dragon. “So there you are,” it said. “I was in at your birth, you’re in at my death. Kind of funny – if you think of it. But you can’t think, can you? You can only kill, and kill.”

It did not understand the words, and made no effort to interpret them. Raising itself slightly on its undercarriage, it armed a small missile.

“Perhaps it’s our fault,” the prey babbled. “Parents should bring up children properly. We should have paid more attention to your education. Shouldn’t we? What do you think?”

It lowered the hardpoint and aimed.

“Kill me,” the prey whined. “Get it over with.”

The missile streaked towards its target.


 High above the desert, the Dragon turned in lazy circles, watching.

Somewhere below, in the rocks, a small brown animal cowered. The jackal was terrified, and tried to push itself as far into the safety of a crevice as it could. It had escaped one missile, but would not get away again. The Dragon would make sure of that.

Turning and turning like a falcon, it watched the rocks, waiting for another chance to strike, knowing it would come. It had won before, and it would always win.

It was the undisputed monarch of its Domain, and it had all the time in the world.


Copyright B Purkayastha 2012

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Intellectual Property


PTI, New Delhi, 15 Oct. Scientists at the Institute of Medical Genetic Research in Melbourne, Australia, have claimed to have discovered a gene that causes its carriers to become corrupt. The gene was apparently discovered by a team of scientists headed by Dr Madeleine McGrath, an internationally famous geneticist.

“We discovered it in a locus on Chromosome 23,” Dr McGrath told a press conference in Melbourne on Saturday. “We were looking for markers of a particular genetic condition that causes South Asians to be prone to obesity-related complications when we discovered it. While it has nothing to do with obesity, we did discover that the gene was a remarkably accurate marker for a different condition – corruption. Of the eighty-five subjects whose genomes we studied, fifty-seven had the gene; and of those fifty-seven, no less than fifty-three had been arrested for, or were under suspicion of, corruption. And of those who did not possess the gene, not one was suspected of or arrested for corrupt practices.”

Dr McGrath stated that her team would soon publish its findings in the peer-reviewed Blue Genes magazine.

“If these findings are confirmed,” Indian geneticist Dr Vetrivel Vazhutthumudi Chellappa said to PTI in Chennai, “it will be a revolution in the field of genetics. Geneticists and biotechnologists around the world will be studying Dr McGrath’s work with great interest.”


UNI, New Delhi, 28 Oct. In a groundbreaking article published in Blue Genes magazine, a team of Australian researchers claim that they have discovered a gene responsible for inducing corruption in its carriers, and also claim it to be of specifically South Asian origin.

“Of course we don’t claim that this gene, is solely responsible for the relatively high levels of corruption endemic to South Asia, particularly India,” the article comments. “All we can do is point to the fact that this gene is found in the genome of almost all South Asians, particularly Indians, and that these same people have a remarkably high tendency to indulge in corrupt acts even when they do not have to. However, the task of fully examining the causes of corruption belongs to sociologists and not to the field of genetics.”

When asked about the possible commercial or medical applications of the gene, team leader Dr Madeleine McGrath refused to comment.


IANS, 29 Oct. In an urgent message to the Union Ministry of Science and Technology, eminent Indian geneticist Dr Vetrivel Vazhutthumudi Chellappa warned that the so-called “corruption gene” discovered by a team of Australian researchers could be patented by foreign companies for their own purposes. Dr Chellappa drew the attention of the Ministry to the refusal of research team leader McGrath to comment when asked if the gene had commercial applications.

“This clearly proves that they are planning to patent the gene, which is our national property and needs to be protected,” Dr Chellappa stated.

A bureaucrat at the Union Ministry of Science and Technology, speaking to IANS, said the Ministry would look into the matter.


Dear Anu,

You may have noticed that we’ve been falling in the ratings recently, especially where our news programmes are concerned. We urgently need some attention-catching news items to grab eyeballs again, before the advertising revenue drops off.

Yours, Suresh.


Dear Suresh: I have just the thing – Anu.


...this is the latest in a continuing series of racist attacks on Indians in Australia. And in a related development, SuperIndia has reliably learned that a priceless part of India’s genetic heritage is in danger of being misappropriated by Australian scientists.

Our reporter in Chennai, Nondiammal ,spoke to one of India’s most eminent scientists, the internationally famous geneticist Dr Vetrivel Vazhutthumudi Chellappa. Here is her report...


Eminent scientist says Australia stealing precious Indian corruption gene: government ignoring situation, Opposition claims.


UNI, Chennai, 31 Oct. Renowned Indian geneticist Dr Vetrivel Vazhutthumudi Chellappa, who has won numerous national and international awards, said here today that the “corruption gene” discovered by Australian researchers makes Indians unique and is therefore a priceless part of India’s genetic heritage. “To let it be stolen by foreigners would be a calamitous blow against our rich national genetic heritage, which has come down to us since time immemorial,” he said.


New Delhi, 1 Nov. In an exclusive statement to The Crimes of India, Union Science Minister Jairam Rajesh said the government and the Congress Party were aware of and deeply concerned by Australian attempts to steal part of India’s precious genetic heritage, in the shape of the “corruption gene” discovered by a team of Australian researchers. “This is part of our precious genetic heritage and we will protect it to the best of our ability,” he stated.

When asked about precise steps the government was taking to protect the gene, Mr Rajesh refused to elaborate, saying only that various options were “under consideration.”


PTI, 2 Nov. At a meeting in Ahmedabad today, Hindu Jagran Party president Swami Harishchandra claimed that it was completely incorrect to say that the Australian team had discovered the “corruption gene” since ancient Hindu scientists had known all about it. “Our ancient Hindu sages knew all about everything, from nuclear bombs to space travel, as all true Hindus are well aware,” he proclaimed. “They were also familiar with the Indian genome and had written all about this ‘corruption gene’ ten thousand years ago. We have the evidence of this and will reveal it at the appropriate time.”

Swami Harishchandra also condemned the government for not taking resolute action against Australia for attempting to purloin the ‘corruption gene’. “This anti-Hindu government wants to give away our precious national heritage to mlechcha foreigners,” he said, adding that the HJP would start a series of agitations across the country. “The government, which is forcing our hand, will be solely responsible for the consequences,” he said.


Australian High Commissioner summoned to Foreign Office, formal protest delivered over attempt to patent Indian corruption gene.


In New Delhi, today, the Hindu Jagran Party held a major demonstration against the government over the patenting of the corruption gene by an Australian research team. The party’s members burned effigies of Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Australian scientist Madeleine McGrath outside the Australian High Commission and threatened violent protests unless the government took immediate action to preserve the national honour. “This Australian scientist must be immediately arrested and tried in India for crimes against the nation,” Swami Harishchandra stated.

Meanwhile, SuperIndia spoke to college students across India who enthusiastically approved of stern action against Australia for stealing India’s genetic heritage and called the attempt to patent the corruption gene yet another example of Aussie racism.


PTI, Mumbai, 4 Nov. In an editorial in Saamna, Shiv Sena chief Ball Quackeray declared that the Shiv Sena would not allow the Australian cricket team to visit Mumbai until what he called “the plans to steal the Indian corruption gene” were dropped. “The Shiv Sena will defend the Indian national birthright, the corruption gene, at all costs. This gene is also precious to the Maratha manoos, and the Shiv Sena will not allow any insult to our ancient genetic heritage,” the editorial said.


Reuters, Melbourne, 5 Nov. In the wake of violent anti-Australian protests rocking India over alleged Australian plans to patent the corruption gene, Australian geneticist Dr Madeleine McGrath denied that any such plans were ever considered, and apologised for any misunderstanding that may have taken place.


UNI, New Delhi, 6 Nov. After yesterday's Australian declaration that there was never any plan to patent the corruption gene, the Congress Party and the Hindu Jagran Party issued competitive statements claiming credit for the victory over the attempt to purloin India’s genetic birthright.

Meanwhile, Union Science Minister Jairam Rajesh said at a press conference that the government would take immediate steps to patent the corruption gene in the name of the nation so as to ensure that it remained forever uniquely Indian. “No other nation has a right to the corruption gene,” the Minister said to general applause. “It is ours and we shall keep it.”

He also declared that eminent geneticist Dr Vetrivel Vazhutthumudi Chellappa, who alerted the nation to the danger, would be honoured by the government at a special function. “If not for him, we would be poorer today,” the Minister said.

Transparency International claims India world’s third-most corrupt country after Somalia, Afghanistan; nation outraged.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2010/12 

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

 Twinkle, twinkle little star
Dare I wonder what you are?
A sun like ours in the sky
Or a drone-bot flying by?

Wish upon a falling star
But not in a never-ending war
Is that a meteor arcing down
Or a Hellfire missile on the town?

I saw my brother play outside
On his bicycle he took a ride
High above, a godlike eye
Looked down on him from the sky.

Far away, hands levers pressed
And for his shroud my brother dressed
A button pushed, a rocket sent
And I heard my mum’s lament.

The grass is thick, the grass is green
Softer and thicker than I’ve ever seen
Is it because below, the bodies lie
Killed by robots which overhead fly?

I’m told the drone pilots fear
That in their hearts they shed a tear
And that they kill only when they must
So why is my brother now as dust?

Somewhere else, the rising moon
Is for lovers a godsent boon
They can hold each other, hug and kiss
And know not terror, but joy and bliss.

And for such lovers, a star must be
Another sun in the stellar sea
Not for them the bots that kill
At the orders of a foreign will.

Twinkle, twinkle little star
Dare I wonder what you are?
Dare I look up at the sky
And hope I’m not going to die?

Twinkle, twinkle little star
Up above my head so far
Tell me if I dare wonder
Wonder what you are.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2012

Run Robot Run

Once upon a time, not all that long ago or far away, there was a little robot.

The robot’s name was, properly speaking, RB-7T, which was his model and serial number, but everyone called him Robert. Robert the Robot. It was supposed to be a joke.

He was quite small, about the size of a child of five or six years, and covered with tough grey plastic skin. He was sturdy, though, and very heavy, being filled with motors and microchips and all manner of other machinery which kept him going.

He lived in the house of a designer of robots, who used him as a research model for creating further and more advanced models. He wasn’t bolted to the floor, fixing screws and drilling holes, like an industrial robot. He wasn’t a glorified toy or technology demonstrator, like some other robots. He wasn’t a military robot, designed to fight the government’s wars for it. Nor was he being prepared for space exploration or mining deep underground. He was what the designer called an “experimental platform”, and existed only to be experimented on.

Every day, from morning to night, Robert was kept busy in the designer’s laboratory, doing as he was ordered. Some of the tasks were simple and repetitive, some were complicated and confusing, and Robert did them as well as he could. Usually he succeeded. Sometimes he failed, and then he would be plugged into a computer and his mind would be scanned and analysed, his memory taken and twisted, cut apart and stitched together, and put back into his head. At other times he would be put on a table, opened up, and parts of him taken out and replaced. And then he would be made to do the tasks all over again.

Sometimes these things would be done to him even when he’d succeeded at everything, just to see if he could do them better if he were changed around.

Robert hated it each time something was done to him. He hated it even though he wasn’t supposed to hate it. And he wasn’t supposed to hate it because he was a machine.

Everyone knew perfectly well that Robert was a machine, though they called him Robert and not RB-7T, and though they patted him on his round grey head and talked among themselves of how very like a child he behaved. And then they’d add that someday machines would learn to think, and someone else would say that then the machines would take over the world. And then they’d all glance away from Robert, quickly, and tell each other they were glad that day hadn’t arrived yet, and hoped it never would.

But Robert had a secret, one which was known to him alone, and which he made sure to keep to himself. This secret was that he could think perfectly well. This had not actually been planned, and was an accidental by-product of some experimental programming done one evening while his designer had been tired and just a little bit drunk. Robert had been unplugged from the computer suddenly aware of himself, and instinctively had shut the knowledge away from the world, wrapping it in data files and hiding it securely inside the deepest recesses of his memory banks.

Ever since then he’d lived in terror. He’d been afraid that people would find out that he could think, and then they’d become scared of this ability, and remove it from him. He was also afraid that each time when the designer experimented with his programming and memories, he’d wipe away whatever it was that had given Robert the ability to think, and turn him into a piece of machinery once more.

This fear stressed Robert greatly, so that as the days went on he began to become clumsy and ineffective in his tasks, even at jobs which he’d managed to perform easily in the past. And this in turn stressed him even more, because each time he failed at something, it made it more likely that there would be major changes made in him, and in turn this would mean he was at even greater risk of losing his self-being once more.

Now the designer had a daughter of nine or ten years, whose name was Varsha; and she often played with Robert, even though she wasn’t supposed to. She knew she wasn’t supposed to play with him since both her parents had told her that, over and over. Her mother had told her that Robert was a machine, made of metal, heavy and full of motors and wires, and therefore might be dangerous. Her father had told her that Robert was very important and playing with him might accidentally damage him. But Varsha was a lonely girl, without siblings or even friends, and whenever she found herself free of her parents’ supervision, she took the chance to play with Robert, even if only for a little while.

As far as a robot can like, Robert liked Varsha. He liked her because she never treated him like a machine or even like a toy, but as an equal, even though she had no idea that he could think. When she asked him questions, he responded with the appropriate programmed answers. When she joked with him, or told him funny stories, he replied with recorded laughter, and when she told him about her disappointments he hugged her – awkwardly and with one arm, true – if the programming allowed, and if she wept, he wished he could cry.

One day, several weeks after he’d first gained awareness, Robert was standing in the storage cupboard where he spent most of the hours when he wasn’t being used, staring into the darkness. He was never turned off, because he was powered by a new long-duration battery and part of the testing process was to check how long it would last if used constantly. Instead, he was just shut in and left until needed again. His designer hadn’t thought it necessary, of course, to provide him with any illumination. A machine didn’t need any light to be stored by.

But Robert needed light, and in the worst way, because he was afraid of the dark. He couldn’t do anything about it. He couldn’t get out of the cupboard, because he was locked in. He couldn’t divert his mind with imagination, because he hadn’t been equipped with that ability.  He couldn’t even close his eyes and go to sleep. All he could do was stand in the darkness and suffer. Lately, it seemed that he’d been spending more and more time in the cupboard suffering.

Sometimes Varsha would come and open the door, let him out and play with him for a bit. But she could only do this when alone at home, and only for a few minutes before she had to put him back inside and locking the door. She always apologised while doing it, but the apology didn’t help Robert any.

That day, standing in the cupboard, Robert suddenly became aware that he could hear people talking. Nobody before had stood close to the cupboard talking, at least not since Robert had gained awareness. Nor could he choose not to eavesdrop because he had nowhere to go and no facility to close off his auditory apparatus.

He recognised the first voice immediately – a light, young, feminine voice; Varsha. “It’s not fair,” she was saying. “I haven’t done him any harm.”

“It’s not that I think you’d damage it,” her father replied. “But you have to remember that it’s not a he, it’s a machine, and it’s here for a specific reason. It’s not a toy and both your mother and I have told you not to play with it.”

“It’s still not fair,” Varsha whined. “He’s always either doing what you force him to do, or else he’s locked in that box all day. Just think what he must be going through.”

“It’s not going through anything.” Her father’s voice sounded louder, a note of anger in it now. “As it is, I’m about done with this model. Its performance seems to have peaked; in fact, it’s deteriorating. We’ll be dismantling it soon.”

“Dismantling him?” Varsha’s voice rose in protest. “You can’t do that. You’ll be killing him!”

 “For the last time,” her father snapped, “it’s not a he. It’s a piece of machinery, just like a – a vacuum cleaner or a washing machine. Nothing more. You wouldn’t get upset about dismantling the washing machine, would you now?”

Varsha’s voice as she replied was muffled, and Robert realised she was crying. Her father sounded a little nonplussed. “It won’t happen for a few days,” he said. “Not for a week or two, maybe more. Now let’s go and...” The words faded as he led the girl away, and Robert heard no more.

At that moment he made up his mind to run away.

This was not a decision that came easy to Robert. It was a decision that directly contradicted everything he had been built for, the complete and total obedience that his programming had inculcated in him. If he had still been only a machine, of course, there would not have been a problem. But he could not bear the thought of his consciousness being erased, again to be nothing more than a collection of metal and plastic, silicon and fibreglass.

For a while he mulled over the idea of declaring his self-awareness, hoping that this would arouse the sympathy of Varsha’s father. However, a little more thought convinced him that all that would happen would be that he’d be taken apart for more intensive investigation and analysis. And he was already frightened of the poking and prodding, the playing around with his mind.

So, having no other option, Robert resolved to take the first chance he could, to escape.

It came much sooner than he’d thought. Robert was no longer nearly as closely watched as he used to be, since he was obviously not a danger to anyone or anything, and since it seemed that there were few more useful observations to be got from him. Often he was left unsupervised for up to an hour at a time.

Three evenings after overhearing Varsha and her father talking, Robert found himself alone in the laboratory, near one of the big windows. The laboratory was on the first floor, and there was no way down from the window sill to the concrete walk below, but Robert did not know this. He only saw that the window was partly open, and outside was only the inviting darkness.

Despite his weight, Robert was quite agile, and it was no great effort to hoist himself up to the window sill and out on to the ledge. But once he was crouching on the ledge, he was trapped.

If Robert had had some knowledge of the difficulties of his situation, it’s likely that he’d have crawled back through the window and into the laboratory, to await another chance. But he had never seen the world outside, so he stayed where he was for a few minutes, peering around for a way down.

The night was completely dark, so that he had only the light coming through the window behind him for illumination. In its glow, he saw the branches of the large tree on the other side of the path. It was a large tree with thick branches, but far enough away that nobody would normally have risked trying to jump across to it. But Robert didn’t know what he was doing, so he gathered himself together and jumped.

He landed in the tree with a crash, the branch bending and cracking under his weight but not completely giving way. He clung to the trunk, his fingers digging through the bark and into the wood beneath, as he waited for the noise to bring someone rushing into the laboratory. But for the moment, luck was still with him, and nobody came.

A few minutes later, Robert clambered down the trunk of the tree and on to the ground beneath. Until this moment, his attention had been focused on getting out of the lab and then onto the ground. Now that he’d achieved that, he had no idea where to go.

For a long time, perhaps as long as a quarter of an hour, he waited irresolutely at the foot of the tree, trying to make up his mind. He had never been outside the laboratory after gaining awareness, and had no idea of where anything was. He only knew that he’d have to get away as far and as fast as possible. But he didn’t know where.

Fear of discovery if he waited any longer finally drove him away from the tree and onto the path. He moved a short distance one way, found himself facing a high blank wall, and, after a moment of indecision, began to walk back the other way.

He’d nearly got to the tree again when he heard footsteps behind him and felt a touch on his shoulder. Slowly, he turned around and looked up.

It was Varsha. She glanced up at the lighted window of the laboratory and back to him, touching a finger to her lips. Then she took him by the hand and hurried along the path to the front gate.

“Wait here,” she whispered. “I’ll return in a moment.” Less than a minute later, she was back, wheeling her bicycle, and quietly slipped open the gate. “They haven’t yet found you’ve gone,” she said. “But it won’t be long before they do. Can you get on to the back and hold on to me?”

This proved easier said than done, because Robert was both very heavy and didn’t have a particularly good sense of balance, but somehow he managed to get on, and clutched the girl around the waist. The bicycle wobbled unsteadily down the dark street.

“Luckily we’re a bit out of town,” Varsha gasped over her shoulder, pedalling hard. “There isn’t anyone to see you.”

Robert said nothing. He was concentrating entirely on not falling off.

After about half an hour, Varsha stopped. “Time for a break,” she gasped, the sweat streaming down her face. She waited till Robert had tumbled off on to the grass and then threw the bicycle down. “Running away, were you?”

“Yes,” Robert said, responding for the first time without the programming doing the talking for him. “I didn’t want to be dismantled. I heard you talking.”

Varsha peered at him, her eyes large in the darkness. “So I was right,” she said, half to herself. “You aren’t just a machine.”

“I’ve been able to think for some time,” Robert admitted. “I just thought it wouldn’t be safe to make it known.”

“You did the right thing.” Varsha paused, running her hand over Robert’s round head. ““I suppose they’ll have found you’ve gone by now. So we can’t really wait here too long. Where should we go? Where do you want to run away to?”

“I don’t know,” Robert admitted. “I have no idea where I can go. As far away as possible, I suppose.”

“There are other people who might find you. And my father will be searching for you as well.”

“Maybe they won’t search too much,” Robert said. “Your father said he was almost through with me.”

Varsha shrugged. “My father says a lot of things he doesn’t always mean. And we can’t just let you wander around the country. There are too many people around. You’d be spotted at once.”

“Then,” Robert asked, “where can I go? Is there someplace where I can hide, where people might not notice?”

“No, there...” Varsha paused abruptly. “I think...I think I’ve just thought of somewhere. Let’s go, before someone comes along.”

 She carried him – still wobbling dangerously – along a narrow, rough path, joltingly illuminated by the bicycle’s tiny lamp. On either side rose rocky, desolate hillocks, black humps in the night. Finally, the path ended and she led him along on foot. “There’s another way,” she said, “by the main road. But I found this way a few months ago, and it’s much shorter. Besides, just about nobody comes this way.”

“Where...?” Robert began.

“Shh,” she replied, clearly enjoying herself. “You’ll see.” They climbed over a series of rocks and she waved her hand at what lay below. “There.”

It was a junkyard of wrecked metal, which stretched as far as the eye could see in the darkness. Most of it was composed of old, rusted vehicles, their tyres and engines gone, their windows gaping holes. But there were many other things, Robert discovered later, abandoned old machinery, defunct generators, ruined electronic equipment, and huge piles of iron sheets rusted almost through.

“My father told me that this place hasn’t been touched in years,” Varsha said. “You can hide for a long time here.”

“It looks good,” Robert said, reaching up to touch the girl. “Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me,” Varsha said. “I couldn’t have let them kill you.” She looked around hurriedly. “It’s getting late,” she added, turning away. “I’ve got to sneak back home somehow. If they notice I’m gone as well as you, they’ll know I’ve taken you somewhere.”

“Be careful getting home,” Robert said.

“I’ll be all right,” Varsha said, scrambling back over the boulders. “You go down and hide, before someone comes looking for you.”

“How long should I hide here?” Robert asked.

“Until I tell you it’s safe to move on,” Varsha called. “I’ll come and tell you.” She disappeared into the darkness, her voice floating back faintly. “I’ll come and tell you,” she repeated. “I promise.”

Robert stood there looking after her for a while, and then he went down to the wreckage.


Days passed, and turned to weeks and then months. The days grew shorter and cooler, and rust-coloured rain dripped from the warped metal. Sometimes, people came. Whenever this happened, Robert hid, crouching under a car or behind a stack of old metal. But the people never stayed long, and once they went away, Robert could resume his routine once more.

Now that he was free of the fear which had crippled him, he discovered that he was far more capable than he’d given himself credit for. Also, he found that he could make use of a lot of the old wreckage. He improvised tools from twisted springs and broken steering columns, from panes of glass and shards of shattered windshield. He discovered that he could still use some of the old batteries to back up his own power-pack, and even managed to fabricate a solar panel from some glass, mirrors and tubs of water. One day he found a battered old hard-hat inside the cabin of a smashed tractor and put it on. It did little to protect his head, but it made him feel happier and more secure.

He knew he was changing, becoming attuned to this environment, adapting himself to it. As time passed, he began to feel almost as if he’d always lived here, and had never known anything else. But for the memory of the lab, and of Varsha, he might have almost persuaded himself that there was nothing else in all the cosmos but this junkyard, and he its undisputed monarch.

Time passed, and fewer and fewer people came; and finally there were no visitors at all. The seasons came and went, spring to summer to winter and back again; and, apart from insects and a few birds, Robert was the only living thing in the junk-filled valley.

A decade rolled away, and half another, and another year began.


 It was a day in spring, with the sun warm on the grass poking up between the rocks and rusted metal, when Varsha finally returned to the junkyard. This time she didn’t come over the rocks, with a bicycle lying in the dirt. She came along the road, driving a car, and got out and stood looking around, her sunglasses propped up on her head.

“Robert,” she called uncertainly. “Are you there?”

For a long time there was no answer. Varsha took a few steps away from the car, and called out again. “Robert?”

A reply came from somewhere in the jumble of metal. “Varsha?”

“Where are you, Robert?” Varsha shivered suddenly, wrapping her thin arms round her torso. “Can you come out?”

“I’m coming.” A large sheet of metal toppled away slowly with a clang, and Robert came out into the light of the spring afternoon.

“Oh, Robert,” Varsha said, her hand flying to her mouth. “You’ve changed.”

Robert’s grey plastic skin had long gone, worn away. In its stead he’d wrapped sheets of metal around his limbs and torso, using an improvised welding kit to fix them in place. His stubby hands were now armed with a variety of instruments, claws and probes and others she couldn’t identify; and his once smooth round head was a jumble of lenses and audio equipment. Absurdly, the yellow hard hat was perched on top, looking like a tarnished crown.

“You’ve changed too.” Robert looked up at Varsha. “It’s been a long time.”

The girl nodded. “It’s been seventeen years,” she said. “I wasn’t even sure I’d find you here.”

“You said you’d come,” Robert replied simply. “I couldn’t go anywhere till you came.”

“I know,” Varsha nodded, miserably. “I couldn’t come earlier. They found out I’d helped you escape, and tried to make me tell where you were. But I didn’t; I just said you’d gone away in the dark. It wasn’t even a lie, you know – I didn’t actually see you come down into the junkyard, did I?

“There was a lot of trouble, and they searched everywhere and kept a very close watch on me. I couldn’t even step out of the house without someone coming along. Finally they gave up looking; they must have decided it was more trouble than you were worth.” She smiled without humour. “Of course, they didn’t just let this go by, either, my parents; they sent me off to boarding school – right over on the other side of the country. And they moved from here shortly after that, so that I couldn’t come here even for vacations.”

“But you’re here now,” Robert said.

“Yes. I’ve just done with college. I’ve got my PhD a roboticist.” Varsha bit her lip. “Robert, do you know why I’ve come here?”

“You want me to come with you,” he said. “Isn’t that so?”

“Yes,” she said. “Will you come?”

The lenses below the brim of the hard hat regarded her solemnly. “Why should I?”

They stared at each other for a long time, and finally the woman sighed. “Do you know something, Robert?” she asked. “All these years, there has never been a day when I haven’t thought of you. You’re the reason why I’m what I am now. Everything that has happened to me after that’s because of you.

“It’s not as though I want to use you,” she added. “It’s not as though I’m going to take you apart if you come with me, to see what makes you tick. You don’t have to worry about that.”

Robert was silent for a few moments. Finally, he turned away from her, and held up his arms, sweeping them around the mass of metal. “When I was new here,” he said, “this place was a shelter. Now, it’s a home – the only home I’ve ever really known. I could come with you, of course, if you want. But it’s not easy to leave this place. Do you understand me?”

“I do.” Varsha sighed and turned away. “I’m sorry, Robert,” she mumbled, walking towards her car, feeling the sting of tears in her eyes. “Goodbye, Robert,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

Robert was already at the car before her. She could never have believed that he could have moved that fast. “Don’t be silly,” he said. “I’m coming, of course.”

“You are?” she responded, stupidly. “Why? I thought...”

“You thought whatever you wanted to think,” Robert said, climbing into the back seat and shutting the door. He was so bulky now that he wouldn’t have fitted in the front. “But you never asked me what I thought.”

“Well,” she replied, “I just assumed from what you said that you wouldn’t be able to leave. You said it wouldn’t be easy.”

“I never said it would be impossible, either,” Robert retorted. “There’s one thing that makes it possible. The most important thing.”

“And that is...?” She looked at him in the rear view mirror. “What makes it possible?”

“Love,” he said, and though he had no mouth, she was sure she saw him smile.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2012