Saturday, 11 August 2012

Why the Dinosaurs Disappeared: The Truth the Evolutionists Don't Want You To Know


The day the Apostles decided to hold their dinosaur race, Jesus wasn’t in the best of moods. His favourite triceratops, Kenham, had an upset stomach and Jesus had had to perform a full third of the day’s quota of miracles to heal the beast in time. And even then, Kenham rumbled and grumbled and broke forth with sour smelling eructations at unpredictable intervals.

“Not going to be a good day,” Jesus decided, and wondered if there was still time to somehow call off the Apostolic dinosaur races.

There wasn’t. Jesus discovered this as soon as he arrived at the Garden of Gethsemane, where the dinos were already lined up in racing order. The Apostles hadn’t even bothered to wait for him to turn up before getting ready, but then they hadn’t been as respectful recently as they should have been. First there was that episode with the wine, where the entire wedding party had got so disgracefully drunk and created a scene, and then that Lazarus, who almost caused a zombie outbreak before being quietly put down, and then...

Jesus sighed. Despite himself, he agreed that he might have managed the miracles better. Not thinking things through, that was his problem. That time with the pigs in Gadarene, for example, and the ruckus the owner had raised’ Jesus had to placate him with over half a day’s worth of miracles and had none left to conjure up some supper. And the other time with that fig tree which he’d punished for the crime of not bearing fruit out of season...even he was ashamed of himself when he thought of that one.

All right, then, he thought glumly. Clearly there was to be a race after all. Now what?

Clearly, Kenham was not going to win at his current level of fitness – not with his stomach still bubbling and growling, and releasing foul-smelling effusions from both ends. But it equally wouldn’t do to let any of the Apostles beat Jesus; the simmering power struggle would come right to the boil. And in his current state, Kenham would likely come in last, even behind Batholomew’s lame Albertosaurus Kurtwise, and that would never do.

Now, normally, of course, the race would be fixed, since all the Twelve knew well enough to let Jesus win, and the actual race was for the Number Two spot. But this would actually work only with careful speed adjustment so none of the others would actually overtake Kenham, who wasn’t the fastest dino at the best of times, and yet wouldn’t lose out to anyone else. But with Kenham in his current state, they’d have to crawl at a speed so embarrassingly slow that Jesus could think of several snails which might win the race instead.

Should he sit it out this once? But he’d never done that before, and what excuse could he give? They’d probably think he’d been out drinking (as well as doing other things) with Mary Magdalene again and was too hung over to race. He'd already heard dark mutterings about one rule for him and another for everyone else.

Damn it.

The problem was acute. It was so acute that Jesus sat astride Kenham, scratching thoughtfully at his beard, until a sudden deep belch from his mount jogged him in the saddle. Then he reached up to scratch his head.

“Well?” Simon called, hauling irritably at the reins of his stegosaurus. “An itchy problem, Rabbi? Or is it just lice?”

Glaring at Simon, Jesus suddenly came to another of his impulsive decisions. “All right,” he snapped. “I’m coming.” With a furtive hand gesture, he pushed another third of the day’s miracles into the dinosaur, giving him a turbocharge that Jesus himself could feel in his thighs and the small of his back.

"Just enough left for one more miracle," he thought. "But it ought to be enough."

He wasn’t quite unobserved, Jesus knew. Thomas, for sure, had seen the gesture and was hiding a little mocking grin in his beard. But then that was only to be expected. Thomas was a dangerous freethinker, and Jesus sometimes thought he should expend an entire day’s worth of miracle to drive some faith inside his sceptical head. But, equally, Thomas would keep his mouth shut, Jesus knew. With an impatient shake of his head, he yanked on the reins and pulled the triceratops into line.

The race did not go well. Jesus knew almost from the start that it would not go well. The turbocharge, instead of making Kenham faster, merely seemed to make the triceratops skittish and aggressive. He even tried to hook Kurtwise when the lame Albertosaurus ventured too close. And then he reared on his hind legs and damned near bucked Jesus right out of the saddle.

In fact, the race was a disaster. Jesus came in third from last, just ahead of Kurtwise and Philip’s ankylosaurus, which was so heavily armoured in any case that it couldn’t run at all.

Judas Iscariot, riding a lean and rangy maiasaurus, handily won the race.


********************

What the hell was that about?” Jesus snapped. “I’ll grant that it wasn’t like you weren’t trying at all. No, it was like you were actively trying...to lose.”

“Course I was,” the triceratops rumbled back. "You just try racing someday with a stomach full of gas and see how you like it.”

“So you sabotaged the whole race and now Judas thinks he’s better than the rest of them, and Simon thinks he’s going to make a push to take over when I’m gone, and there’s a civil war waiting to break out, and all because you had a bellyful of gas?” Jesus glared down at the dinosaur. "As soon as I'm gone, they'll be at each other's throats. If I know Simon, he'll go after Judas, probably with something defamatory. As for the rest..." He swallowed. "I can just see them hijacking my legacy and making a hash of it. And all because you had gas."

“It’s your fault,” the triceratops retorted belligerently. “Nobody put a knife to your throat and made you think of dinosaur races. Dino races, forsooth! You think I want to run when I don’t have to?”

“And you’re going to do it again?” Jesus reached over the neck shield, grabbed one of the brow horns and shook vigorously, but the triceratops didn’t even notice. “We’re going to hold the race over again next week,  just so I can win...and you say you’re going to do it again?”

“Why not? Dinos don’t exactly want to run for fun.”

They were passing a trail along which some merchants were driving along a line of donkeys. “You don’t want to run, do you?” Jesus asked. “In that case how are you dinosaurs better than...than those donkeys there? I see no difference at all!”

He made one of his impulsive gestures. There was a brief silence.

“Hee-haw,” said the small brown donkey which had been the triceratops.

Jesus looked at the donkey. The donkey looked back at him and twitched its ears.

“Oops,” said Jesus. “I’ve screwed up again, haven’t I?”

The donkey said nothing.

“I’ve used up all the miracle power for today,” Jesus said in a small voice. “I’m afraid you’re stuck being a donkey. But think positive – nobody ever heard of donkey races, did they? At least not yet.”

“Hee-haw,” the donkey said, and twitched its tail.

And that is the true story of how the dinosaurs vanished from the world. Of course it left a huge ecological hole.

But there was a sudden glut of donkeys everywhere, so that was quite all right.



Copyright B Purkayastha 2012

Raghead 11/8/2012

I'll be disappointed if today's strip doesn't get my site banned in Saudi Arabia. Come to think of it, it likely is already; the first day Raghead had his own site, I got about seven hits from Saudi Arabia - and then none at all. :|





Copyright B Purkayastha 2012

Friday, 10 August 2012

Preferring the Taliban


Sometimes the real news slips in through the cracks. You have to keep your eyes open for it, though.

For instance, in the midst of all the propaganda about progress in Afghanistan, and how Afghans are at least better off now than they were before the 2001 invasion, there is this “human interest” story which reported that Afghan Sikhs and Hindus have asked the UN for asylum, because they felt persecuted in the country of their birth. In fact, they felt so persecuted that they said they were better off under the Taliban.

Imagine that. Non-Muslims saying they were better off under the Taliban.

How do we know this? Straight from the horse’s mouth:

“To tell you the truth, we are not as happy under [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai as we were under the Taliban,” said Awtar Singh Khalsa, leader of the All Afghan Hindu and Sikh Community Council..."We face discrimination, and we face threats, so life is worse for us” than before the U.S. invasion. 

Afghan Sikhs

So, just how bad do things have to get if people actually say they were better off under the Taliban?

Very, very bad.

Apparently, they can't even die, because nobody will let them cremate their dead in peace, or go out at night from their temple after prayers because "knife-wielding robbers" lie in wait. One imagines said robbers would've received summary justice from the Taliban.

The figures are stark enough: Back in the early nineties, when the mujahideen had rolled into Kabul, there had been some twenty thousand Afghan Hindus and Sikhs. Today, there are about three thousand – and they are desperate to leave. And, more to the point, most of those who have left have done so not during the years of Taliban rule, but in the last eleven years of “freedom”, imposed by the Empire.

Afghan Hindu Family


Interesting, isn’t it?

It gets even more interesting when you take into account the fact that, in 2001, the Taliban had made the Hindus and Sikhs of Afghanistan wear yellow badges to mark themselves. I remember, back in the late nineties, the orchestrated howls of outrage when this happened, with comparison to Nazi Germany’s forcing the Jews to wearing yellow badges. But the Taliban’s logic was relatively straightforward, and, if one put aside preconceptions for a moment, almost sane by their standards: since Hindus and Sikhs weren’t Muslims, they didn’t have to follow the religious code imposed on the rest of the Afghan people. Therefore, wearing badges in public merely safeguarded them from harassment for not following the said religious code.

I’m fairly certain that this “safeguarding” was followed more in the breach than the observance, but the fact remains that the Afghan Hindus and Sikhs would evidently prefer the evil Taliban rule than the benevolent democracy fostered by the gentle touch of Western bombs and boots on the ground.

Irony isn’t dead; not at all.


Raghead 10/8/2012





Copyright B Purkayastha 2012

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Operation Green Hunt



This is not your land. The hills

Rock under flowing water, fern hanging

Over the pool where the fish rises

Blue sky filtered through branches.




This is not your land

The sacred hill where the gods of air and water live

The flight of the bird on the wing,

Shimmer of the sun on the water

They do not belong to you.



They never did.



Your machines of steel and anger

Would rip the heart out of the earth,

Rip the old gods from their hills and forests.

Your greed fuels your machines

Your uniformed minions, with guns in their hands

Your uniformed minions who after all are only men

As we are men, and women



Earth’s Children, we.



Your greed would make an end to everything we have

Everything we live for

But this is not your land

And we will not pay the price for your greed

And we will not go away.



No.



We will not go easily, no, we will not go easily.

We will not go easily, into the dreadful night.



This is not your land, no this is not your land

Our ancestors have lived here

The old gods have lived here

Since before the days when the hills were young.



Yet you want what is not yours

You try to take what is not yours

And death is all you offer us

And death is something we understand.

No, we will not go easily

Though you do what you will

Offer us your platitudes, feed us with

Words.



Your words

Your words are like your promises

Empty.

Empty like the eyes of the skull on the dry rock

Empty as the scars on the earth

Empty like the bellies of our children

When your machines have moved on.




But when we pick up the gun

The gun is not empty.

Our forests, our villages

Our land, our gods

Our world, not empty.



Call us what you will

Red terrorist, Maoist, Anti-national

Call us what you will, but

Our world is not empty.

We will pay with our blood

Yes we will pay with our blood

We will water the land with our blood



And it will be our land.

Our words, our promises

Are not empty.


Copyright B Purkayastha 2011/12

Note:
 Operation Green Hunt is the Indian Government's war against its own rural poor living in the forest areas of the nation, in order to take their lands and hand it over to mining companies in the guise of "fighting Maoism". The woman in the picture is one of the Maoist guerrillas whom the so-called Prime Minister of the nation has called its "greatest internal security threat"; greater than corruption, overpopulation, a crumbling infrastructure, and environmental collapse put together. Not a surprise: the Maoists stand in the way of crony-capitalist mining corporations and their profits.


Just a reminder to my readers

...to those of you who have missed this post, that a lot of material I'll be posting here over the next weeks will be rescued writing from Multiply, since that site is going down as of 1st December. You don't actually have to read them all, but seeing as I thought they were worth salvaging, you just might want to.

How To Be A Successful Serial Killer...


AND GET AWAY WITH IT

An Online Tutorial From the Butcher.

So you’ve decided on a career as a serial killer? Congratulations, and all that kind of thing. The world needs more people like you.

Now, before you embark on your new career, there are some things you probably ought to consider. After all, to be successful in any career, one needs a good solid preparation, doesn’t one?

So, here, brought to you by the most successful serial killer of them all, is a free tutorial on how to strike, and survive to strike again.

Let us begin.

The first thing, my dear neophyte killer, is to decide precisely what your long term goals are. Do you want success? Notoriety? The two are usually not the same.

You could, for instance, achieve fame in the media, and mention in the annals of serial killers for decades to come. You might have frenzied proposals of marriage from disturbed women, and your face on the cover of Time magazine. Hollywood might even make a movie on you, directed by, oh, Quentin Tarantino or someone.  But from the inside of a padded cell as a best case scenario, and from a cell on Death Row as the worst, that fame might not seem to be worth it a few years down the line.

Alternatively, you could opt for obscurity, and work in the shadows for years to decades, and achieve a good high body count, without them laying a finger on you. You could leave a mystery for posterity to clear up…but it would be without any personal fame and recognition.

Really, it’s up to you.

Now, if you opt for the first course, this tutorial is frankly not for you. A serial killer who’s truly dedicated to his craft will eschew the showmanship that goes into getting notorious, and which will inevitably, sooner rather than later, lead to an arrest. A truly dedicated serial killer will try to achieve maximum returns for the effort, and will have the aesthetic sensibility to leave behind an abiding mystery.

If you would like to be that kind of serial killer, welcome aboard!

First, you will need to understand that you need to throw out all notions of a modus operandi. It’s all very cute of serial killers in the movies and books to exterminate their victims in stereotyped and predictable ways. It makes for great drama when Leatherface fires up his chainsaw and comes for you. But that’s all it is…great drama. (Talking about that chainsaw, more on it in a moment.)





If you want to be a successful serial killer, my friend, take it from me, you must eschew drama, completely. That means, among other things, to be sure to leave no pattern. Even the dumbest police force will begin to suspect there’s a serial killer on the loose after your tenth victim turns up strangled by her own bra, and for starters will warn women to stop wearing bras. This may make some people very happy, but it is going to cramp your style. Remember that.

Lesson Number One: Make every attempt to avoid a pattern. You may want to kill naked young women in the shower. I understand completely. But if you kill only naked young women in the shower, pretty soon every woman who actually braves a shower will have armed policemen waiting for you behind the bathroom door. Putting all your eggs in one basket was never a good idea.

Therefore, as in a stock portfolio, you need to diversify. Kill the young naked women in the shower, sure; but kill old dressed women in the park as well. Kill the yuppie man in the new Mercedes if you think you can get away with it. Mix it up with strangling an occasional spoiled little brat. Variety is the spice of life.

And this also applies to every other part of the killing. Do not, whatever you do, kill at regular intervals. You may have the urge every full moon, but for heaven’s sake, suppress that urge. Get a rubber blow-up doll and slash it to ribbons in the bathroom instead, if you have to. But make sure your killings don’t follow a time pattern, unless you want to be known as the Lunatic Killer or something of the sort.

Or a place pattern, while we are on the topic. If you ever read The Silence Of The Lambs, you might recall a rather interesting observation by Dr Hannibal (“The Cannibal”) Lecter. Lecter told Clarice Starling that we covet what we see every day, and that the killer begins by coveting. He meant that Starling should look for the killer around the first known victim. Therefore, begin killing as far from home as possible, and sprinkle your killings around the countryside. On no account avoid killing in your own locality, though; even a dolt of a cop can stick pins in a map and realise that there’s a mysterious zone of immunity in the centre of a circle of mayhem.

Lesson Number Two: spread them around.

Now, you need to kill ‘em in different ways, as I said. But make sure your weapons are functional. Yes, that chainsaw we mentioned is ultra-cool. I acknowledge that it would probably scare the hell out of anyone if you came stalking them with one buzzing furiously. But it’s probably the most impractical weapon in history, if you think of it…unless, of course, your victim is tied up and unable to get away, and you’re in a nice, soundproofed environment, far enough from any listening ears, and with ample time to wash off all the spraying blood until not a trace remains. And don’t forget you need to keep the batteries charged. Nothing so embarrassing as having your chainsaw die on you just as you’re about to make the first cut, is there?

I think it would probably be better to avoid chainsaws altogether. Or nunchakus. Or katanas.

Another thing while I’m on the subject: don’t try copycat murders, hoping that the blame will go to the original killers. That’s fine in theory, but there are always things you don’t know, which will end up screwing things up. You might be able to copy 90% of the sensational Lingerie Murderer's handiwork, but miss out on the fact that he always paints kissy faces on his victims. And then where are you with your copycat murder? Nowhere.


So: ignore other happy hackers and do your own hackin’, your own way.

OK, so we’ve done with the killing. So you’ve got a nice warm corpse on your hands. You have to dispose of it. A pain, we agree, but every profession has its drawbacks. So what can you do? Dump it in the sewer? The municipal garbage dump? Weigh it down and drop it off the bridge into the river? What?

Again, never assume your victims will remain undiscovered. You may have strangled an eighty-year-old grandpa, gutted a slutty young would-be model, and brained a middle-aged alcoholic man in three different cities. Fine, but if all three of them turn up neatly buried in compost pits, someone’s going to connect the dots. So, leave some alone to be found, and dispose the rest in different ways. To repeat: don't repeat anything.

You with me so far?

Now I can’t emphasise this enough: keep a low profile. Don’t ever, whatever you do, give in to the temptation to boast, or even to hint. Don’t do it! You never hear me boast of the mound of skulls in my closet, do you? Huh?


No, you don't.

Your legacy, as a successful serial killer, can take two forms. You can leave a full confession, to be opened only after your death. The problem with this kind of thing is that some bastard or other might open it early, either out of simple curiosity or because you’re in some kind of trouble and the law wants your papers, or whatever. In either case your goose is cooked.

Plus, revealing to the world just who you were, even after you’ve left it, is so damned unaesthetic, isn’t it?

No, by the gods of murder and mayhem, far better that you die taking your secret to the grave with you. Let them debate you a century in the future, like Jack the Ripper. Let them write books speculating, and shiver in the thought that you might be somewhere out there.

Now that’s a legacy, my friends, a legacy worth the leaving!

I think I saw a naked young woman step into the shower. Did you?

On with the hunt.



(Reposted from Multiply.com. Originally written 18/4/2011)

Bitter Medicine: A Story of Chamathunagar

Unusually for a town its size, Chamathunagar had only one major pharmacy. Its name was Swaasthya Medicals and it was located in a little lane off the market, the one that opened between Bhola’s General Stores and the Badebhai Movie Hall. Everyone knew where it was.

From not just all over Chamathunagar, but from the little villages surrounding it, from places like Dimaagkharab and Pagalkhana, Kisnemaara and Uskipitaee, people came to Swaasthya Medicals to buy the tablets and capsules their doctors or quacks told them they needed to stay alive. They knew it so well that they just called it the Pill Shop. Even a quack like old Fakhruddin of Bahutbukhar sent his clients to the Pill Shop in Chamathunagar when his own sugar tablets and chalk powders wouldn’t cure his luckless victims. It was so well known as the Pill Shop that it even had that painted on the signboard under Swaasthya Medicals, and in bigger letters.

It was partly because he had a monopoly on the pill-pushing business, partly because he was a diehard conservative, and most of all because he was as big a skinflint as his cousin Umashanker Agarwal, the catering magnate, that Ramakant Agarwal made no effort at making his pharmacy attractive to the customer. It was windowless, dingy, and lined with old cupboards of dark wood in which the boxes and vials of medicines were piled with no particular attempt to ensure anything approaching organisation. Old Agarwal himself, droop-jowled and heavy-eyed, sat behind the cash desk at the back and watched his salesmen scurry around all day filling prescriptions. As long as he got his money, Agarwal didn’t really care if sometimes one person got given another’s medicines, or if someone didn’t always necessarily get the drug he’d been prescribed. The system had worked well enough for the thirty years he’d been in business, and he didn’t see why it shouldn’t go on for the next thirty.

His staff, like him, had worked there a long time. He had trained them all, as far as training went. None of them had a great deal of intelligence or ambition, and that was precisely as Agarwal wanted it. Intelligent and ambitious people were dangerous. He had enough brains in his own head to run the shop, and he didn’t see why anyone else should need to have any.

The Pill Shop had a fixed routine. Precisely at a quarter to nine every morning, seven days a week, Agarwal would waddle down the lane, one or other of his salesmen following deferentially three paces behind. Upon arriving at the shop, he would take a heavy bunch of keys from his waist and hand it to the salesman, who would unlock and heave up the shutter. It was stiff with lack of lubrication, but Ramakant Agarwal didn’t see why he should have to pay out hard-earned money on maintenance unless and until the shutter actually stopped working. After all, it wasn’t as though it was he who had to raise and lower it.

Well before nine, his staff would all arrive. They had to be there by nine, by all means, or they would be docked the entire day’s wages. Agarwal had been known to advance his own watch by five minutes so that he would be able to claim some of his men had come late, and so cut their pay. His employees were so soul-crushed that they hadn’t the spine left to stand up for their rights. They didn’t dare claim they had any.

Late one evening, though, something unprecedented happened.

It was the last day of the month, and Ramakant Agarwal was engaged in the joyless task of making up pay packets for his employees. For tax purposes, he had them sign receipts saying they got much higher remuneration than he was actually giving them, but that didn’t mean he didn’t grudge the act of paying them anything at all. Grunting irritably, he called them one by one and watched as they signed their salary slips with the fake figures before he handed them their slim envelopes. He had just finished handing out the last packet and had slammed shut the ledger when he noticed that one of his men was still hovering around the counter.

“Yes?” Ramakant Agarwal never spoke to any of his employees without a portentous frown. “What do you want, Kishore?”

“Ah, sir.” Kishore’s dark, oily face was shinier than usual with a film of sweat. “I, ah, was wondering if you could raise my pay. It’s too little for me, and...”

“Raise your pay?” Agarwal gave a strangled bellow, very like the bull Avishek Mishra used to own. “I just raised it...let’s see...two years ago. What do you mean by this nonsense?”

Kishore flinched. “Nothing, sir, nothing. I just meant that I, uh, I got a job offer elsewhere, and they say they’ll pay two thousand more. So...”

Agarwal snorted. “Two thousand more for an idiot like you? These people must be mad.”

“But, sir, they’re offering it, and they want me to join tomorrow.”

“Then...” Agarwal squinted ferociously. “You go and join them. Don’t you dare come back here again!”

Although Ramakant Agawal didn’t know it, that was the beginning of the biggest crisis the pill-pushing trade had ever had in Chamathunagar.

                                                 *****************************
That’s quite a load you’ve got there, Pillu,” Vijay said. “You got it all from the new shop, huh?”

Pillu, bent under his load of paint cans, grinned. “Yes, they were throwing these away. I got a lot of them.”

“Hoshiar should pay well for them, hey? You won’t have to work too hard for a few days.”

Pillu shrugged his shoulders slightly, without answering, and walked away down the street. Vijay turned to look at the new shop at the far end of the square. A couple of workmen were hauling a signboard into place over the freshly-painted bright green shutters. Others had been at work inside for weeks, hammering and scraping, painting and tiling. Vijay wondered what the shop would be selling. So long as it wasn’t a competitor to his tea stall, he didn’t particularly care, but he was curious.

Since there wasn’t, for the moment, a customer at the stall, not even Jaggu Ram, Vijay left his assistant Chhotu in charge and walked over to have a look at the signboard.

“Dawakhana Pharmacy, huh?” he muttered, wandering back to his stall. “Wonder what old Agarwal over in the Pill Shop thinks of it.”

As it happened, old Agarwal in the Pill Shop didn’t take any notice of the Dawakhana for several days. Even when the new pharmacy sent him, by post, an invitation card for the Grand Opening, he scarcely looked at it. “Throw it in the trash,” he snapped.

“Won’t you be going for it then, sir?” his assistant, Mukesh, dared to ask. “They say there will be a lot of good food.”

“Good food, ha.” Ramakant Agarwal snapped. “I know the real story of Umashanker’s business’ food, and he’s catering them. In any case, it would be cruel eating their stuff, since they’ll be out of business in a week. Two at the most.”

But a week went by, and then a fortnight, and the Dawakhana didn’t show any signs of folding. Through the leaves of the potted plants waving inside its large plate glass windows, passers-by could see a steadily increasing number of customers. At first only a few came, hesitantly, almost as though they were committing an act of sedition against the Pill Shop by entering this newfangled competition. But the staff of the pharmacy, in immaculate white coats, greeted them politely and quickly filled their prescriptions, and even smiled when giving them their exact change. It was almost a culture shock after the Pill Shop’s dark shadows, surly service, and how the change would usually come up a rupee or two short. The place seemed to have worked a miracle on people. Even Kishore, late of the Pill Shop, seemed to have learned to smile.

And – somehow – the regular customers of the Pill Shop found themselves turning into this big, bright establishment with its potted rubber plants and its smiling assistants who seemed to be able to pick out whatever they wanted from the shelves in a fraction of the time the Pill Shop’s people wasted in peering and fumbling. Somehow, it was easy to let their old allegiance drop away, and they began going there not just for medicines, but to pick up toothpaste and petroleum jelly, shampoo and hair dye as well. Unlike the Pill Shop, the Dawakhana stocked them all.

In certain quarters this aroused some resentment.

“It’s lucky they aren’t selling biscuits and ketchup,” Bhola from the General Stores muttered darkly to his principal competitor, Zakir from the grocery. “Or else I would be forced out of business.”

Zakir nodded. “They sell things cheaper than we can,” he pointed out. “They’re selling them at below the maximum retail price. How can they do that?”

“Zakir, my brother,” Bhola proclaimed to the grocer, “it’s not fair. It’s not fair at all. But what can we do?”

“Maybe something will turn up,” Zakir said. “Though I don’t think it will.”

“Things never happen as you’d like them to,” Bhola agreed mournfully.

One day Ramakant Agarwal looked around his shop and suddenly realised something. It was noon, usually the busiest time of day, and yet the place was unusually silent. It was so silent that he could almost have imagined it empty, but for the figures of his assistants, perched indolently on their small wooden stools. And they were indolent because there wasn’t a single customer in the place.

It sent a shaft of fear through Ramakant Agarwal’s heart.

He decided it was time to take drastic action. Heaving himself up from his chair, and waving off Mukesh, who came hurrying up, he announced that he was going for a short walk. Ignoring the surprised stares of his employees, who had never heard of such a thing, he wheezed off up the lane until he was in the market square. From beside Bhola’s General Stores, he could see the Dawakhana and what he noticed going on behind the plate glass windows chilled him to the bone despite the forty-degree temperature.

The damned place was full of customers!

Even as he watched, old Putul, who had always come to the Pill Shop thrice a month for his blood pressure medicines, as far back as anyone could remember, went in there and came out with a brown paper packet in his hand. And just behind him was Gundu Rao, almost certainly going in for his insulin. And there were others, some of them villagers...and their money, which by rights belonged to him, Ramakant, was going to the miserable upstarts in the shop there!

The thought made him feel so physically sick that he swayed and might have fallen, and Bhola came hurrying down the steps. “Are you ill, Sethji?” he asked worriedly.

Ramakant Agarwal waved him off and went back to his Pill Shop, walking as though each step meant a financial loss to him.

                                                      *************************

“I tell you,” Ramakant Agarwal said, “something will have to be done!”

Mahavir Prasad looked at his client quizzically, adjusting his spectacles. “What do you suggest I do?”

“I don’t know. You’re the lawyer, so you should be able to find out something. Get them to stop their business, or move, or something like that. Stop them stealing my customers.”

“Can’t do that,” Mahavir Prasad said reasonably. “They have as much right to run their business as you do. If the people choose to buy from them instead of you, that’s their right as well.”

“I heard the damned place is putting in a fish tank,” Ramakant Agarwal wailed.

“Well,” Prasad said, slapping shut the legal file on his desk, “from what I’ve heard, they’re getting customers because they’ve decorated the place nicely, because their staff is efficient and fast-working, and because they’ve got a location bang on the market square. If you rented better premises, and upgraded your pharmacy, I don’t see why you shouldn’t be able to compete on equal terms.”

As Prasad later told his friend and colleague Karim Bhai, Agarwal turned a sickly shade of green. “That would cost money,” he whimpered. “I’d go bankrupt!”

“If you don’t,” Prasad said with ill-concealed relish, “you will, from what you tell me, go bankrupt anyway.”

                                                     ******************************

There’s something screwy about that shop,” Vijay said.

Jaggu Ram helped himself to another cream roll. “What shop?”

“That pharmacy place.” Vijay discreetly moved the jar of rolls off the counter while Jaggu was looking across the square. The fat slob had already finished off half the contents, and looked all set to swallow the whole lot. “You know, the Dawakhana.”

“What about it?” Jaggu said through a mouthful of roll. “What’s wrong with it?”

“I’d taken my wife to old Dr Makhijani last night,” Vijay said. “She had some stomach pain. And then there was this character before us, shouting at old Makhijani in his consulting room. We could hear him clearly.”

“Huh. What was he shouting about?” Jaggu Ram reached for another roll and found to his surprise that the jar had vanished. “Where...”

“You want tea, Jaggu?” Vijay asked hastily. “You know, we’ve been going to old Makhijani for years, and I’ve never known him to make a mistake. He’s the best there is.”

“Yeah.” Jaggu slurped at the tea. “And so?”

“This other character was shouting that the medicines Makhijani had prescribed hadn’t done the slightest good, and that in the end they had to send the patient to the hospital in Kuttagarh, and that Makhijani should refund their money, and so on. Later Makhijani told us that this wasn’t the first time recently this had happened. He said he’d heard other doctors were having the same problem.”

“Hm. You think they got bad medicines from the shop? Why from there?”

Vijay shrugged. “Who goes to the Pill Shop any longer? Mind you, the Dawakhana’s doing good business, and they pay well. I saw Kishore yesterday and he was wearing clothes from the big shops in Kuttagrah where they charge you to breathe their air.”

“Did he tell you anything about bad medicines?”

“Of course not. Here, look at that guy.” Vijay and Jaggu watched a young man carrying a brown leather briefcase enter the Dawakhana. Through the plate glass windows they could see him walk to the back, where the manager had a small office.

“What about him?”

“I see him go in there a couple of times a week. What do you think he does in there?”

“That’s a medical representative,” Jaggu Ram stated, his tongue stumbling over the unaccustomed syllables. “He’s there to sell medicines to them, you idiot.”

“They must be making a lot of money,” Vijay said enviously. “Even more than you do in bribes, Jaggu.”

“What the hell did you just say?”

“Nothing, nothing. Here, Jaggu, have some more tea.”

                                            *************************************

have a friend in Kuttagarh,” Rajat Kapoor said. “A doctor working in the government hospital.”

“What about him?” Karim Bhai peered at the draft affidavit and made a couple of changes. “Some people go to law for the slightest thing. You see this man here, he hasn’t the slightest idea what he really wants...what were you saying? What about your friend?”

“He tells me the number of people from Chamathunagar getting admitted is right up. Mostly from simple things, diarrhoea and the like, which should be easily curable, but aren’t.”

“And why should that be? Any idea?”

“Well, he said that these people all claim that they went to doctors and got given medicines, but they didn’t get better. You know how Putul always takes blood pressure medicines? Well, he too is in the hospital after his pressure soared, and he’s been taking the same stuff as ever.”

“Yes...I had someone come in asking if he could sue old Dr Makhijani for negligence. I referred him to the medical board in Kuttagarh. What are you getting at, Rajat?”

“I heard there’s a bazaar rumour going around that there are fake medicines in circulation.” Rajat Kapoor tapped the table. “And it’s started fairly recently. After the new pharmacy came up, in fact.”

“That’s an odd thing. Mahavir told me old Ramakant Agarwal’s been giving him a hard time, asking for the pharmacy to be closed down, somehow, anyhow. You don’t think he’s behind the fake medicines, assuming they really are fake?”

“Who goes to his old Pill Shop any longer? He’ll probably have to shut down at the rate which he’s losing customers.”  

“So,” Karim Bhai said, “it’s the Dawakhana. Well, and what can we do about that?”

“What do you know about the fake medicine racket?”

The thin old lawyer shrugged. “Pretty much as much as you do. What I read in the magazines. They either re-pack expired pills in fresh packaging, or they sell fakes that look almost but not exactly like the originals. You know that happens with other things as well.”

“Yeah, I bought what I imagined to be a lock made by Harrison’s the other day, and when I took a good look at it I found that the top of the second R was just slightly open. It was a Harkison’s lock, you see.”

“We can’t just go in there and proclaim that they’re selling fakes, you know.” Karim steepled his fingertips in the style of a judge he much admired. “Even if we can prove the medicines are fakes, they can always claim they were honestly duped. They’ll pass on the responsibility to the suppliers.”

 “And after a while they’ll start selling fakes again, as easy as you please.”

“You’ve got it in one sentence.” Karim smiled without humour. “So what can we do?”

Rajat Kapoor rubbed his face. “I do believe I’ve got a touch of ‘flu,” he said. “Let me go and get a strip of Paracetamol. One shouldn’t take chances.”

“Since when has that started?” Karim Bhai arched an eyebrow. “You were looking fine a moment ago.”

Rajat Kapoor grinned. “These things come on suddenly, you know.”

                                                  *********************************

Would you like a receipt?” Kishore asked. “Do you need one?”

“What’s the difference?” Rajat Kapoor glanced curiously around the Dawakhana. It was the first time he had been inside the place. The big aquarium at the back particularly caught his attention, with its brightly coloured fish. “Isn’t it standard practice for you people to issue receipts?”

“No, it’s just that...” Kishore glanced around. “If you want a receipt, we’ll have to charge the sales tax. If you don’t want a receipt, we can give it to you at a discount.”

Kapoor stared at him for a moment. “I think I’ll have the receipt, then.” He watched as Kishore fumbled among the boxes on the shelves, and waited until the man had opened one. “I changed my mind,” he called out. “I think I won’t take the receipt after all.”

With grim satisfaction, he watched Kishore put the box back and pick up another.

Later, he sent off the strip of tablets to his friend in Kuttagarh, by courier.

Meanwhile, Karim Bhai went looking for Pillu.

                                                  *********************************

I see you got the aquarium,” Rajat Kapoor said.

“Nobody seemed to want it.” Karim Bhai looked slightly embarrassed. “I didn’t want the poor fish to suffer. It wasn’t their fault.”

Kapoor watched long-finned black-and-white fish swim in and out of the streams of bubbles. “To the victor go the spoils of war, huh?”

“It was as much the town’s victory as any one person’s,” Karim Bhai said. “You did more than your part.”

“Even though the analysis said the tablets were just compressed chalk powder,” Kapoor told him, “I had no proof I’d bought them there in the Dawakhana, of course, since they didn’t give me a receipt. I could’ve bought them from anywhere. That bit was your brainwave.”

“Couldn’t have done it without Pillu.” Karim Bhai smiled complacently. “I thought that since nobody ever notices the garbage man, he was the perfect person to get hold of their paper trash, and bring it to me. A little poking around, and I found all the proof I needed. The original receipts, invoices and so on.”

“Good thing I know the drug inspector,” Mahavir Prasad said. “We go back a long way, but he wouldn’t have lifted a finger without proof.”

“I never heard what happened to the owners,” Kapoor said. “Were they arrested?”

“Huh,” Karim snorted, “of course not. They just vanished overnight. They had their sources in the drug inspector’s office, of course. These things never happen without some degree of official collusion, you know. Still, I suppose as long as the town’s safe, that’s the main thing.”

“And what did Ramakant Agarwal say?” Rajat Kapoor glanced at Mahavir Prasad. “Was he grateful?”

“Oh, very grateful.” Prasad laughed suddenly. “And then he made sure to tell me that since it wasn’t my doing, he hadn’t any intention of paying me a thing.”

“Sounds like his accounts could do with a thorough audit,” Rajat Kapoor said. “I’ll make sure to drop a word in the right quarters.”

“He’ll just pay his way out,” Prasad said gloomily, but then brightened. “But that’s the best punishment he could have, isn’t it?”

                                              ********************************

Ramakant Agarwal scribbled down the numbers in his ledger, and looked around the Pill Shop. Once again, it was full of the noise and bustle of customers, and his cash box was brimming with money. Tomorrow, unfortunately, he would have to pay his employees, and he sighed to think of the dent that would make in his month’s earnings, especially after the bribe to the damned tax inspector. But some things couldn’t be helped.

He heard a slight cough and looked up. Mukesh stood at his elbow, looking embarrassed.

“Sir,” he said, ‘I’ve just got an offer for another job. They’ve asked me to join from Monday. If you could see a way to increasing my salary, though...”

“Increasing your salary? Why-” Ramakant Agarwal bit back his retort with an effort. “All right,” he said. “How much more are they offering?”

Another customer entered the shop, prescription in hand.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2011/12

Bill's Cookery Class: Cooking the Rich Person

Good evening, everyone, and welcome to my cookery show. Tonight, we shall discuss how to cook your average rich person.

Now, you understand that this isn’t your daily dish. Getting hold of this food in the raw state isn’t easy. The food surrounds itself with a shell of high walls and sometimes armed guards as well, and one has to be careful and sneaky to catch it when it pokes its soft parts outside, on the golf course for instance.

Now, once you’ve got your rich person, what do you do with it?

Preparing the rich person isn’t as easy as you might think. First, the food’s covered by a layer of remarkably thick skin, which protects the innards from any and all attacks of social sensitivity, or the tears of the victims of its rapacity. After you cut away that skin, you’ll find a very thick store of fat, far greater than the rich person could ever need for its own use. This fat will take a lot of effort to scrape away, and once you’re done, you’ll find that the useful parts of the rich person, the muscles, for instance, are so withered away as to be scarcely there at all.

Last time we’d discussed how to prepare choice dishes from the heart, if you remember. Now, if you’re planning to sautĂ© the heart as I showed you, you’ll be disappointed. The rich person either has a heart so atrophied as to be scarcely worth eating, or if really rich, has entirely vanished. There’s nothing surprising about this. Like the thick skin, this is merely an evolutionary adaptation necessary to acquire in the course of becoming rich.

So, what do you have left over to eat? Because the rich person spends so much time gloating over its treasures and planning on making more, the acquisitive centres of the brain are gigantic, overshadowing all other functions. They make splendid eating, if you don’t mind a taint of bitterness at the back of your tongue. And rump steaks; the rich person spends so much time sitting on its backside getting rich that they are really quite delectable.

We have already spoken in previous episodes of this show on how to cook brains and steak, and there’s really nothing else worth eating in the rich person, because, since the food is cold-blooded, the arteries are clogged with ice; and the intestines, of course, are full of shit.

Fried brains or grilled steak, and make sure you have a good red wine to wash it down with.

Please feel free to contact me with questions. Next time we shall talk of how to cook your goose.

Thank you and have a pleasant night.



(Repost from my blog on Multiply.com. Originally posted 14/4/2011)

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Hiroshima


Look at me. I’m a kid. I’m six years old
And I’m walking with my mother, hand in hand
Down the streets, wondering what we will eat.
There hasn’t been much food recently,
There hasn’t been much of anything.
But my mother says we’re lucky.
It could be worse, she says.
I wonder what she means.
I wonder why my mother cries
When I ask about my father. Because he’s just away
On work, flying his plane.
Away, though, for a long time now
And he never writes
Because he is so far away.

I walk with my mother, hand in hand
And I look up at the sky. Someday
I should like to learn to fly a plane.
I wonder what it’s like to fly in the sky,
Instead of walking in the sun
Till my feet hurt. From up there the city
Will look like a toy, I think, the cars like dots
The people not seen at all.
How far can one see from up there?
Maybe all the way across the world
To China or America.
Someday I should fly a plane, like my father.

I want to tell my mother this, and I pull at her hand.
“You can do anything you want, sweetie,” she says,
“You’re young and the world is wide
You can do anything at all.”
She looks down at me and smiles, her smile flashing
Light flashing, light everywhere, a light within me
Burning glowing, light lifting me
Up, up into the sky
Until I am far above the town, looking down
At the streets the cars the people
And not seeing anything at all.

One does not see much
As vaporised ash in a mushroom cloud.


"Hiroshima", watercolour on paper. B. Purkayastha, 2006

                                                        
Copyright B Purkayastha 2012

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Raghead 7/8/2012





Copyright B Purkayastha 2012


Windfall

Sometimes strange things happen.

   It was afternoon, and the shadows already beginning to lengthen, when they came down into the valley. They scrambled down the steep slope between the trees, cautiously, feeling for footholds on the treacherous wet earth. The noise of the rushing water was so loud that Lin was afraid it would drown out the sounds of pursuit, though by rights they should, he knew, have thrown off any pursuers long ago. The fear was natural. This was not their country; the land was not familiar. In their way of life, the unfamiliar was always dangerous.
It was not so much a valley they were in as a cleft cut into the earth by the torrent roaring by below them, swollen high by a season of rain. The trees on the opposite slope looked close enough to touch.
   There were only three of them, and they had been running since the previous night. There had been two others, but somewhere in the darkness they had become separated and might be anywhere by now. They might be on their way back already, under guard of the soldiers, or they might be lying dead like all the others in the camp. Lin's mind flashed an image of the camp leader, as Lin had last seen him, his face half torn away by a bullet. Involuntarily, he shuddered.
   Up ahead, Bobby raised a hand, signalling a stop. He was the group leader. Lin shivered as a little stream of moisture trickled down his neck. Rainwater still dripped from trees though the sky was clear and it had not rained for several hours.
   Bobby turned to face them. His dark face was shiny with the same mixture of sweat and water that stained their uniforms a green so dark it was almost black. The fanatical look that Lin always mistrusted had not left his eyes. He hefted the M16, the only weapon they had between them, on his shoulder.
   "We’ll rest down there a bit," he said, pointing down to the river. "Then we’ll go on."
   It was not easy to reach the water. The river had gouged deep into the earth, and the high banks were choked with dense undergrowth. Finally they found a place where the water had eroded a shallow semicircular bite out of the bank on their side. Here it eddied, almost calmly, and there was even a little pebbled beach. Here they washed briefly, and then thoughts turned to food. None of them had eaten since the previous evening. Nor had they anything on them that was edible. Lin was so hungry that even the screaming of his exhausted leg muscles had ceased making an impression.
   "Maybe we could catch some fish," the third of the group, Mon, suggested. "There ought to be some here." He took off his boots and waded into the water with the red cotton towel he had been wearing around his neck like a scarf. Bobby joined him and they scooped the towel out of the water between them, and something wriggling and silvery was suddenly on the beach next to Lin’s hand. He stared at it with fascination.
   "Kill it," said Mon urgently. "Don’t let it get into the water."
   Lin’s hand moved involuntarily and he picked up a small rock and swung clumsily at the unfortunate fish. It took several blows before the creature stopped moving. By then another was already writhing on the shore.
This way they got several fish. They then moved under the cover of the trees and with great difficulty managed to construct a small fire. The fish they roasted inefficiently and insufficiently on the embers, but while waiting Lin’s stomach was already clenching with hunger. For the first time in hours, he said something to take his mind off his hunger pangs.
   "Where are we going?"
   "You’ll know when I tell you," said Bobby. He looked at Lin with undisguised contempt. "Why, are you thinking of staying here?"
   "The fish are as done as they’re going to get," said Mon quickly. He was short and wiry, with a thin sharp nose and a perpetually worried expression. "Let’s eat and then get going."
   They started off again immediately after the meal, lingering just long enough to stamp out the remains of the reluctant fire. Bobby set as fast a pace as possible, given the terrain and their exhaustion. They worked their way up slope and further down the valley. As they went, the valley broadened and flattened out a little, but the forest was as thick as ever and at first there was no sign of habitation.
   It was Mon who spotted the hut. "Look."
   "It’s in ruins," said Lin. And so it was, with the walls fallen in on themselves and the roof sagging from the wooden framework. Bobby went up to the door for a brief look inside.
   "There’s nothing there," he reported when he came back. "The floor’s fallen in. The odd thing is, it doesn’t really look all that old. It’s as if someone abandoned it and just let it go to hell one day."
   "Maybe whoever it was got eaten by a tiger," suggested Mon cheerfully. "I forgot," he added, "no tigers in these jungles, right?"
   Lin suppressed a brief shudder. "Let’s get on," he mumbled, and immediately regretted it. But Bobby did not respond with the usual blast of withering scorn.
   "I wonder if there are any more houses here," he said. "Nobody would be likely to build all alone up here, would they?" But they saw no more houses, ruined or otherwise.
   Overhead the clouds had gathered again and a fine drizzle began to fall. Lin cast a last look back at the house as they left. It looked somehow threatening, as if it were the spoor of a large and dangerous animal. But then trees and the gathering shadows hid the house from view.
   Only minutes later it was much darker and the rain had begun to pour down. Automatically, without a word, they began looking around for shelter: a cave, an overhanging shelf of earth, anything at all. Earlier they had tolerated getting wet through, but then flight had been the only objective and they had not been quite so desperately tired.
   It was Lin who spotted the shape out of the corner of his eye. "There, look. Something…"
  It lay slightly higher up the slope and to their left. It bulged its cylindrical form between two thick tree trunks, its rounded nose lifted slightly above the earth. For a moment everyone froze, staring; then everyone turned towards it and began walking through the run-off up the slope.
   "What is it?" asked Mon, then answered himself. "Looks like a plane."
   "A very old plane," amended Bobby. They had by then reached the object and he was standing by the tip of the nose, staring down at it. The regular lines of the metal had corroded and bent, and there were rectangular places that had evidently once been filled with Perspex panels. Growing through the spaces were weeds and vines. The original colour was impossible to tell. It had all faded to a mix of rusty brown and the deep dead green of moss. The trees that must have been smashed down when it crashed had long since been replaced by new growth.
   "There’s a wing" Lin said. "It’s broken, but you can see it must have been the wing." He pointed to a sharp curve of metal, like a huge sword, sticking out of the earth. "And that must have been a propeller." It was visible only in silhouette.
   "Good Lord," said Bobby. "It must have been here right from the Second World War."
Fascinated, they squeezed past the trees and worked their way along the cigar shape of the fuselage. There was the hump of the cockpit, still with its windscreen intact, and a low hump like a glasshouse on the back. Much of the Perspex was still left on the framework of this. Both wings and most of the tail had broken away, but on the whole the fuselage was surprisingly intact.
   "Look at this," said Bobby, pointing to a reddish splotch on the metal. It was roughly circular. "Must have been Japanese. The Rising Sun."
   "Yes," agreed Lin, childhood memories of Commando comics stirring. "I remember seeing pictures of planes like this. It was some type of Japanese bomber."
   Mon had ducked under what remained of the tail and now his voice came from the other side. "Come here, there is something you should see." There was an odd tone in his voice.
   Bobby glanced briefly at Lin, then they both squeezed in turn to join Mon on the left side of the aircraft. "A door."
   Till this moment none of them had thought of the old wreck as a source of shelter. They were still all very young, and it had been a break in the danger the monotony, and the exhaustion. But now there was a way in. They stood staring at it for long moments.
   It lay open, the hatch itself long gone, a dark curving invitation to explore within. Although the rain was coming down harder than ever, it was an invitation Lin would have happily foregone, but Bobby was already climbing through. "Come on," he called. "It’s drier inside. Get in here before you both catch pneumonia."
Lin stooped through the hatch after Mon. Outside there had been some light, but inside it was almost pitch-dark, and he stumbled immediately. His hand struck the curve on the other side of the fuselage and it felt as if the whole cylinder trembled.
   "Watch it," said Bobby from his left. "It’s a narrow squeeze." A shaft of light sprang up from his hand, from the little torch he had refused to use the previous night. The beam flickered. "Batteries are screwed," Bobby muttered. He shook it and the beam brightened, and steadied. "There’s a sort of step through the middle of the thing. The wing must have gone through there. Be careful." Lin found the step and negotiated it. Bobby had swung the torch forward again, to explore the environment. "There’s a lot of leaves and stuff. And some cobwebs, but no garbage. I think we’re the first ones to have found it since it crashed."
   The sound of the rain crashing down on the metal seemed to redouble, but it was mostly dry inside. Lin shivered involuntarily. "What do you think happened to it?" he asked. "Was it shot down, or crashed by accident? And what happened to the crew?"
   "How should I know? I suppose they all escaped," said Bobby irritably. "But…you said this was a bomber? Have a look at this."
   The interior was so narrow that Lin and Mon could only with difficulty look over his shoulder. He was pointing the beam at the floor. The metal was broken here and a curve of yellow showed through. There was a black band painted around the blunt nose.
   "That’s a bomb!" gasped Lin. He struggled back. "We’ve to get out of here!"
   "Don’t be a nit," said Bobby, sharply. "If it hasn’t gone off in seventy years it’s not likely to go off just now. We could probably salvage the explosive for the organisation. That would be a sort of windfall. Then this whole fiasco wouldn’t have been a dead loss." He played his torch around and illuminated the firing handles of a machine gun. "I don’t suppose this beauty would still fire?" He squeezed it experimentally and the grip broke off in his hand. "No," he said regretfully. "Maybe it’s got some more guns, though."
   "Who cares about guns?" said Lin nervously. He could no longer see the bomb, but kept well back from where he thought it was. "I say we step very carefully unless we want it all to blow."
   "It didn’t burst in the crash, Lin" said Mon. Lin realised despairingly it was two against one. "You won’t set it off if you touch it, you know."
   "Anyway," said Bobby as thunder crashed overhead, "we aren’t going anywhere yet."
   For a moment, he switched off the torch. The bulge of the glasshouse overhead had let in a little light, but now everything was totally dark. Then he switched it on again. "Let’s see what we can see," Lin heard him mutter. He made his way cautiously further forward, but the others made no attempt to follow. Not, that is, until he called back to them.
   "I was wrong about the crew escaping," he said. "Well, at least not all did. You’ve got to see this."
   The panels of Perspex had largely blown out towards the front of the aircraft, and it was much wetter there. Bobby was crouched on the floor. He had taken his M16 off his shoulder, and leaned it on the fuselage side. "Look at this," he said. "I very nearly didn’t notice it at first."
   Bobby was squatting in front of a little niche formed by the curve of the fuselage and an oblong projection from the roof that might once have been a fuel tank. Just in front, there was an opening above and faint reflections of torchlight shone off the windshield and thick joysticks. They were just below the cockpit.
   The object on which his light was focussed lay in the niche, legs drawn up in a foetal position, looking so much like a wooden statue that Lin did not realise what it was until he saw the white glimmer of teeth. The skin was blackened and shrunk over the skull, the eyes collapsed, sunken into empty sockets, the lips long gone.
   "Gorgeous, isn’t he?" asked Bobby, laughing.
   Lin did not feel like laughing. "What is it?" he asked. "A mummy?"
   "I don’t think so," said Bobby slowly. "I don’t think it would be hot or dry enough to make a mummy here. But he’s of the crew, sure enough. He’s even still wearing his flying helmet. Or what’s left of it."
Lin took another look at the body and shuddered. It looked more and more like some creation of cloth, sticks and wire, and more difficult to think of it as once a human being. "You mean we have to stay in here with it all night?" he asked.
   Bobby ignored his question. He scrabbled on the floor at his feet, picked up something that might have been a twig and prodded the corpse. The thin white object slipped off the skin without leaving a mark. "Dry and hard," Bobby commented. "What is this thing?" he continued, looking at the object in his hand.
   "A bone," said Mon, speaking after a long time. Bobby turned the object over in his hand. "Yeah," he said. "A bone from some small animal, looks like. Must have crawled in here to die." He threw it away and wiped his hand on his wet uniform. "There’s something else there, up against the wall, back behind this body, but I can’t reach it…looks like a sword. A Samurai sword? What do they call it? Kata-something. I can’t get to it, anyway." He seemed reluctant to leave the body, but unwilling to touch it.
   "Are we going to stay here tonight with it in here?" Lin asked again. Bobby turned his head to look at him, his face instantly masked in shadows. "He won’t hurt you," he said. "He’s dead." Clumsily, he got to his feet, leaned forward into the cockpit and shone his torch around. "There’s no one there," he said. "This one must have died alone. Or maybe animals got the other bodies." He turned round, with difficulty in the restricted space, and picked up the rifle one-handed. "Let’s get back where it’s drier," he said. "We’ll check things better in the morning." When they moved back beyond the bomb, he sat on the wing carry-through with the gun across his knees and shut off the torch. "Better conserve the batteries," he said. The interior was instantly in complete darkness. Outside the rain crashed down. The forest floor seemed to shake.
   "I suppose we had better stand watches," Bobby continued after some time. "I’ll take the first watch, and then I’ll wake you, Mon. After that you wake Lin."
   Without saying anything, Lin went back towards the tail, past the open door through which a fine spray of rain was still coming in. The tail section formed a narrow but reasonably snug, tunnel-like enclosure and he could just about fit himself in there. It was not very comfortable because of the metal framework and wires running along the walls, and he shivered in his wet uniform. It seemed to be taking his body very long to warm the clothing up. But once he fitted himself in there, it was not too long before his exhausted body drifted off to sleep.
   He woke with a start, aware that someone was shaking his knee. He immediately noticed the absence of sound. The rain had stopped.
   The shaking came again. "Lin!"
   He twisted around until he could make out the silhouette. It was Mon. "Is it my turn already?" he tried to ask, but the words came out slurred.
   "Lin!" Mon’s tone was urgent. "Something’s wrong. Bobby’s missing!"
   Lin came awake then, immediately and totally. He scrambled out of his temporary bed. "Missing?" he asked. "What do you mean?"
   Mon was on his knees, their faces so close together Lin could smell the other’s breath. "I woke up some time back," he said. "I was waiting for Bobby to call me, but I felt it was already late." Lin could feel it too, that indescribable feeling that the time was already into the small hours of the morning. "But when he didn’t, I thought I’d better check. So I got up, but I can’t find him anywhere."
   "You think he went out?"
   "At this time of night, without telling us?" It did seem stupid. "Where would he go? If it was just to pee, he would hardly have been such a long time. Besides, he’s taken his gun. All I found was the torch."
   "You found the torch." That meant Bobby hadn’t just walked out on them. Not that he would, he was a fanatic who wanted to take the old Japanese bomber apart for whatever weaponry it might provide. Lin took the torch from Mon and turned it on. The beam was dim, fitful. "Let’s have a look outside."
   "All right." In other circumstances, it might have been gratifying that Mon had so readily ceded leadership to him, but right now it was not something Lin was thinking about. Mon got stiffly to his feet and pushed out through the door. Lin was about to follow, but on a sudden impulse went forward and shone his torch around the forward fuselage. He then left the plane too.
   Mon was waiting for him outside. "I told you he wasn’t there," he said.
   "It’s not that," said Lin tightly. He swallowed. "He’s gone too."
   "He?"
   "The thing. The Japanese! The place was totally empty."
   "Bobby’s taken him to bury him?"
   "Don’t be mad. Why would he…let’s go and look for him. You take the left and I’ll be on the right. Keep calling."
   Without waiting for a reply Lin turned and walked off. He had the torch with him. He had no intention of giving up the torch; if Mon had tried to take it from him, he would have fought him for it. He came around the end of the plane, stumbling slightly on a root. The darkness was almost absolute. Distant lightning flashed suddenly, half-illuminating things before darkness came down again.
   From the other side of the fuselage, he heard Mon’s voice calling. "Bobby!" It sounded weak, quavering, and inadequate in that vast stillness where the only other sound was the dripping of water from trees. Lin called out himself. "Bobby! Where are you?" It sounded no better.
   Lin walked further from the wreck, calling out once in a while. Lightning still flashed sporadically, but silently. He found nothing, and began to work his way back in a circle. The torch beam was very weak now and barely reached the ground in front of him. He shook it once, hard, and it brightened momentarily, then dimmed almost to nothing. He cursed the batteries silently.
   It was only after some time that he realised that he had not heard Mon calling in several minutes. Lin stopped for an instant, listening. No, there was no sound from Mon. Had he made a run for it? No, where would he go in the darkness, alone, without torch or weapon? Had he fallen down a precipice or something, and was lying there, too badly hurt to cry out for help? Lin turned back in the general direction of the aircraft, going as fast as he could. He was so intent on getting to it that he stumbled over Mon before he could stop himself. He looked down, grunting with the shock.
   Mon lay on his back, spread-eagled, his head thrown back. His dark green clothes were soaked black with blood, and he was obviously beyond help, but that was not the worst of it. Lin had seen violent death before this. What was shocking, what made Lin want to scream, was something else.
   From his chest to his groin, Mon had been split open. Pale coils of viscera bulged out of his body cavity.
   Lin had a sudden mental vision of the niche below the tank in the aircraft. The niche that now seemed such a natural place for someone to curl up and go to sleep. The niche that lay empty now, but which had also held what might have been a Samurai sword.
   And that ruined house earlier…
   The bone Bobby had found in the plane…
   The torch gave a final flicker and went out.
Lin turned and ran, ran as he never had before, having lost all sense of direction, not knowing where he was going and unable to see anything in the darkness; ran until he collided violently with a tree trunk and fell, rolling over and over until he came up against something large and solid. He felt behind him with his hands and felt the smooth curve of metal.
   He had somehow or other run in a circle, back to the plane.
   Badly winded by his fall, Lin struggled to get upright. He was still on his knees when something loomed in the darkness before him. He looked up.
   Distant lightning flashed for an instant, flashed up far beyond the trees, and illuminated for a moment the ancient flying goggles, the tattered leather helmet with its bulging ear shells, illuminated gleaming teeth. It glittered on the edge of the Samurai sword as it began its arc of descent.


Copyright B Purkayastha 2006/12