Friday, 24 July 2020

All Pentagon On The Hollywood Front

Or, Why Hollywood isn't remaking "All Quiet On The Western Front".

One of the most persistent criticisms of Hollywood these days - as well as one of the most accurate - is that it seems to have run completely out of ideas. It only makes movies that are remakes, or superzero franchises, or both. Of course, there's more to it than that; Hollywood only makes things that are guaranteed to make a profit by appealing to the lowest common denominator. Since the lowest common denominator is also essentially mindless, functionally illiterate, and barely able to summon the intellectual ability to look at a movie poster, cinema pandering to their tastes has to be as vacuous as possible. Superzero titles fit the requirements perfectly.
    Superzero cinema also has excellent things going for it otherwise. Look at the typical superzero. He or she is almost guaranteed to be white, Amerikastani, and always, invariably, a supporter of the authority in power and the status quo. Even the illegal immigrant Clark Kent, alias Superman, chose to grace the Imperialist States of Amerikastan with his presence and fought for Truth, Justice and the American Way. Many of them are also filthy rich; Batman or Ironman might, you know, have given some of their money to improve the conditions of the poor rather than acting as vigilantes above the law that's for the hoi polloi.
    Always, what do these superzeroes, even those not white or Amerikastani, do? They fight for capitalist Amerikastani interests. Suppose there's a hidden African country with an advanced civilisation,while the nations around them are exploited by Amerikastan, ruled over by Amerikastani-allied dictators, with high levels of poverty and illiteracy, malnourishment and civil war? Suppose in this hypothetical country someone rises up to demand that the super advanced civilisation do something to unite and liberate the exploited people of the rest of the continent? You'd think he was the obvious hero, right?
    Wrong. As per Hollywood, he is the villain. The hero would be the one who's going to stop him from doing any such thing.
    Then there is the little fact that all Hollywood movies these days that use any kind of weaponry need to get clearance from the Pentagon to make sure that Amerikastan's military is adequately propagandised. In return the filmmakers get access to anything they want, from combat ships to aeroplanes to rocket launchers, not to speak of war criminals ("soldiers" and "marines") to train the actors or even act as extras themselves. Hollywood is basically an Amerikastani Empire military propaganda vehicle.
    This is why I've said many times that the greatest Hollywood film ever, "Dr Strangelove", would never have been made today. Even then it was investigated for "espionage" because the B52 cockpit interior design it used was allegedly very close to the real thing. Of course, the real problem of the film was its anti militarist message, which wasn't Stanley Kubrick's first either. He'd already trod that track before with "Paths Of Glory", but that film was about French criminality in WWI, and therefore Amerikastan had no problem with it. The French regime did, banning the movie, but not the Amerikastanis.
    Today, of course, Kubrick would never have been permitted to make "Dr Strangelove". The producers wouldn't have financed it. The studios would have closed their doors. Kubrick would have been denounced as a "Russian agent", as would most of the actors, especially Peter Sellers, who was British to boot. But I'm almost sure that Kubrick couldn't have made "Paths Of Glory" either.
   Why? Because "Paths Of Glory" is as savagely anti militarism as "Dr Strangelove" is, only it doesn't attempt to be funny. It's based on a real life incident during WWI when a French unit, ordered by incompetent generals to assault an impregnable German position, was beaten back and troops refused to continue a senseless and suicidal attack. Three soldiers were taken at random from the units, given a kangaroo court trial with a foregone conclusion, and shot by firing squad to "encourage" the others to keep fighting. Kubrick's protagonist, the unit commander who acts as the soldiers' defender at the trial, is actually thought of as stupid by his superiors because he doesn't use this opportunity to push for promotion. A doomed mission, incompetent generals interested only in promotion, exhausted and demoralised troops who no longer want to fight....have we seen this recently? Somewhere in a possibly fictional country called "Iraq" and somewhere in another possibly fictional country called "Afghanistan"?
    And that is the reason why, though Hollywood is perfectly willing to scrape the bottom of the bottom of the bottom of the barrel when it comes to ideas for rebooted superzero franchises, it won't make another "Paths Of Glory". It won't make another "The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming", the wonderful mid-60s comedy about a Soviet submarine that runs aground off an Amerikastani island, where the Soviet sub crew turns out not to be Evil Communist Ogres or Red Defectors Desperate For Capitalist Freedom, but emphatically People Like Anybody Else.
    A system that exists on Perpetual War against human beings on the other side of the planet cannot afford to have potential recruits see those human beings as People Like Anybody Else.
    And this is why Hollywood seems to have no interest in remaking one of its own greatest all time films, "All Quiet On The Western Front." The original novel by Erich Maria Remarque, which is surprisingly slim when you first see it, came out in January 1929. Within weeks it had become an international superhit, translated into English and French, and Hollywood had bought the movie rights and begun filming. German ex soldiers, who had settled in some numbers in Amerikastan after WWI, acted as consultants and extras. While by today's standards the movie would be rather overacted (the main cast were all silent movie veterans who were used to the exaggerated gestures and acting necessary to that medium), it was also an immediate hit on release. In Germany, too, it was a great hit, or would have been, but for the Nazis.
    The Nazis, then an up and coming fascist military worshipping party, called the film an insult to the German military. They attacked movie theatres, beat viewers, and soon pressured the German censor board into banning the film. In Poland, ironically, the film was banned as "pro-German". The right wing American Legion, comprised of Amerikastani former war criminals ("veterans"), also condemned the film. They were united in opposition because of the simple fact that the movie was not just anti war, but that it showed the soldiers, even enemy soldiers, as being not at all different from you and me.
   In one of the film's, and the book's, most famous moments, the protagonist (he's no hero, thank you very much) Paul Bäumer, is trapped in a shell hole on no man's land. A French soldier jumps into the same shell hole for shelter, and in a panicky frenzy Bäumer stabs him, wounding him mortally. The Frenchman takes hours to die, with the horrified Bäumer trying to comfort him and dress his wound. After his death, Bäumer is still trapped with his corpse in the shell hole for the next day and night, and he searches the body, finding letters and photographs. The Frenchman isn't a nameless enemy any longer. He's Gérard Duval, a printer in peacetime. Bäumer thinks confusedly that he should become a printer after the war in expiation of what he thinks of as his crime; he makes whispered promises to Duval's body that he will take care of the Frenchman's family after the war, only to realise that as the killer of their husband and father he can't expect anything but hatred from them.

"The Death Of Gérard Duval". Acrylic on paper.

    It is an immensely important scene, one of the high points of the book and the movie; the other is when Bäumer goes home on leave and finds that the civilians at home not only understand nothing of the war but are still pressuring their children to join up and go to the front.
   These are not themes that will be popular with the Pentagon today.
    Even the description of combat in the book is brutal. The original 1930 film (and a not too bad 1979 made for television remake) both totally sanitise the violence, but the book doesn't. During an attack, Bäumer trips over "an open belly, on which a fresh new officer's cap was lying". His friend uses a sharpened spade to cleave a giant French soldier down to the shoulder. Bäumer's friend Haie Westhus has his back blown open so his lungs can be seen as he breathes; he's still not only alive but conscious, biting his hands in agony. So it goes.
   If Hollywood were even remotely true to  its alleged liberal reputation, which of course it is not, it would have remade All Quiet for the 21st century, maybe in 3D. Rats, mud, corpses, the doubtful affections of French prostitutes, roasting stolen duck in a former kennel, crouching in a dugout under a barrage while new recruits go insane from fear, all of it.
    Not one bit of it would have brainwashed one single person to get into uniform, so of course it will not happen.
    The original German title of "All Quiet On The Western Front" is "Im Westen Nichts Neues", which is much better translated as "Nothing New In The West."
    Im Hollywood Nichts Neues either.

Monday, 13 July 2020

Shot At Dawn: The Case Of Mata Hari

One morning, over a hundred years ago, a woman was shot by firing squad on the outskirts of Paris.

She was called a spy, a whore, the killer of fifty thousand French children. Movies have been made about her. Books have been written about her. There's at least one graphic novel on her.

Her name is Mata Hari.

This is her story.

The term Mata Hari has almost become synonymous with "woman spy", but the real story is anything but a tale of espionage. It's a story of French incompetence, evil, and judicial murder.

Mata Hari was a Dutch woman called Margrethe Zelle who was born in 1876 to a relatively wealthy family. Her father however was in debt and went bankrupt in Margrethe's childhood, and later abandoned her mother and her to run off with another woman. While Margrethe was still in her mid teens and at school her mother died, leaving her without means and unable to earn a living. So she answered an advertisement for a wife posted by a Dutch officer, one MacLeod (I assume of Scottish descent) who was on leave from Dutch-enslaved Indonesia. He was twice her age but they immediately got married within a week because he was going back to Indonesia. On the voyage by ship there he gave her syphilis. Later she had two children, one boy and a girl, both born with congenital syphilis. The boy was accidentally murdered by a colonial regime doctor trying to cure his syphilis. The girl barely survived. By this time Margrethe and MacLeod openly despised each other. He started having multiple affairs, she retaliated in turn, and they finally moved back to Amsterdam and divorced in 1904. Though the courts gave Margrethe custody of her daughter, she had no money and the girl was actually brought up by her ex-husband.

In 1905, penniless and with no prospect of a job, Margrethe decided to reinvent herself. She changed her name to Mata Hari (which in Hindi would mean Mother Krishna, or Mother of God, but she didn't take it from Hindi. In Malay and Bahasa Indonesia Mata Hari means "eye of the morning", that is, the dawn or rising sun.) She claimed to be, at various times, Indian or Malay, and that she had been trained in sacred temple dances in the East.

Mata Hari was, despite her background, extremely intelligent, fluently multilingual (she could speak English, French, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, Malay and "probably" German), and she was a good if not exceptional dancer. She soon became extremely famous for her dancing, mostly because it was a thinly disguised striptease in which she would take off everything except her bra (because she was self conscious of her small breasts). At that time striptease would have landed her in jail for obscenity, but she was very careful to get round that by announcing before every performance that she was going to perform sacred temple dances, so it was a religious affair. She became famous throughout Europe; from Paris (where she lived) to Germany and Russia, she performed everywhere and earned enormous amounts both in money and gifts of jewellery from her lovers and admirers. This lasted all the way through the 1910s until the start of WWI.

Here is an actual photo of Mata Hari dancing:

When WWI started Mata Hari was still in Paris. As a Dutch citizen, since the Netherlands was neutral, she could actually travel to both France and Germany through the Netherlands, and she continued performing. But by this time she was growing older and other, younger women had begun copying her and dancing naked, so instead of dancing her income mostly came from being a high class courtesan for very rich men. Then the Germans seized the furs and jewellery that she had in Germany for "wartime requirements". Mata Hari never forgave them for this. And, as we'll see, like her fluency in languages, this was to come to be used against her later.

The French soon became suspicious of this Dutch woman who was intelligent, fluently multilingual, had rich and powerful lovers, and being a citizen of a neutral country could go to Germany if she wished. They also desperately needed a scapegoat by 1916 because they were losing battle after battle because of the incompetence of their own generals. The French soldiers no longer wanted to fight. On at least one occasion three soldiers were even picked out at random and shot by firing squad to "encourage" the others to fight; this was later to be made into a famous film, "Paths Of Glory". So the French needed someone to blame and Mata Hari seemed a good choice. Her extravagant lifestyle when France was at war was already making her notorious in any case.

While on a journey to Netherlands via Spain, Mata Hari's ship halted at Brutain and she was interrogated and searched as a "possible spy"; one of the reasons recorded as being against her was that she could speak so many languages. Then back in Paris she was again followed, and then the French intelligence agency summoned her, accused her of being a spy, and when she denied it, made her an offer that they would pay her expenses if she would actually spy on the Germans for them. They said she could go back to the Netherlands via Spain and England (couldn't go directly because Belgium was half under German occupation and direct routes were cut). Actually the French had absolutely no intention of using her as a spy; it was an entrapment operation.

Mata Hari, accordingly, went to Spain and took ship for the Netherlands. When it stopped in Brutain the Brutish took her off the ship, took her to London, interrogated her (in all the languages she could speak), and accused her of being a spy. She protested that she was on a mission from French intelligence. The Brutish contacted the French, and the very same officer, one Major something (I forget his name and I'm not interested in looking up the nomenclature of such a maggot, let's call him Major L) said he had never heard of her. The Brutish deported her back to Spain. There she was approached by a German diplomat, who offered her money to spy for Germany. She took the money but never did any spying. The reason she took the money was because she considered it compensation for her things that were seized by Germany when the war broke out. She then, because there was absolutely nothing she could do in Spain and because she loved Paris, went back to France. At this time she was forty years old.

In Paris Mata Hari soon found that the Major L who had employed her now acted as though she did not exist. He didn't pay her, he didn't answer her letters; his agents however kept following her. She began running out of money and started moving from one hotel to a cheaper one and a cheaper one still (but still very luxurious, such as from a 5 star to a 4 and then a 3). At the same time she met and fell in love with a Russian officer, one Captain Maslov, who was deputed to the French army. Maslov loved her too and invited her to his frontline post. She had to pretend that she had health problems and needed to visit a spa in the area in order to get a permit to visit him and when she did she found that he had been badly injured in a gas attack and was in danger of losing his eyesight, yet she proposed marriage to him and vowed to remain with him throughout life.

This visit to the frontline would later become another "proof" in the case against Mata Hari.

Meanwhile Major L claimed (this was in February 1917, when the French army was beginning to fall apart and entire divisions were mutinying) that his signal station on top of the Eiffel Tower had intercepted messages from the German diplomat in Spain claiming that Mata Hari was a German agent, H-21. It's extremely likely that the messages were totally fictional because the original messages were never found, just the alleged French translation. There is a source that claimed that the German diplomat considered her a liability and may have sent a message in a code he knew the French had broken in order to get rid of her, but in that case the original messages should have survived. Based on the message, in any case, Mata Hari was arrested in her hotel in April 1917, accused of being a spy, and confined in a prison for prostitutes. As a punishment, she was regularly moved into filthier and filthier, more vermin infested, cells, while the case against her was fabricated in a military court. The chief of the tribunal was a French officer (Bouchardon, if I remember correctly, but let's call him B) who hated sexually liberated women and who in any case was also determined to find a scapegoat for France's military defeats. Mata Hari was only permitted a civilian solicitor who was a former lover and who knew nothing about military law; he wasn't even allowed to cross examine witnesses. Letters from Maslov were deliberately withheld from Mata Hari and when her solicitor wanted to call him as a defence witness he wasn't permitted to. The Dutch embassy ignored the letters she wrote protesting her innocence. The French regime media was also whipped up to a frenzy, claiming that Mata Hari was responsible for the deaths of "50000 French children" (soldiers who were children of French parents; this was a brilliant propaganda move, one must admit). No evidence was ever presented for any of this, of course; one of the tribunal members would later admit there wasn't enough evidence against her to "flog a cat". In July she was sentenced to be shot by firing squad, and was executed at dawn one day in October 1917 at the age of 41: she was shot by a firing squad of Algerian troops in red fez caps in service of the French. She refused a blindfold and refused to be tied to a stake to be shot, and one of the firing squad later said "the lady knew how to die".

After her death her body was sent to a medical college to be dissected because nobody would claim it.

Ironically, a few days after her murder, the Major L who had framed her as a German spy was arrested....on suspicion of being a German spy.

In 1930 the German government officially announced that Mata Hari had never, at any time, been a German spy.

To this day the French regime has made no such announcement.

Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Bhola Babu And The Bhairaas: A Ghost Tale From Bunglistan

There is a reason why, in this day and age, there are so few ghosts in Bunglistan.


It eej,” Bhola Babu said, “not poseebool to leebh weeth thees woman.”
    Of course he did not say it aloud. “This woman”, that is to say his wife, would skin him alive if he summoned the courage to utter such a sentiment in her hearing. He didn’t even dare mutter it under his breath, in case she saw his lips move and demand to know what he was saying. So he had to content himself with saying it inside his head to himself, and even then he could not summon the boldness to shout it, but kept it to a whisper.
    It wasn’t enough. His wife, who had been berating him from the kitchen, stuck her head out of the door and glared at him.
    Bhola Babu’s wife’s name was Opurboshundori. Everyone, of course, called her Futki Boudi. She had the voice of a dysfunctional cement mixer, the skin of a coconut, and the build of a sumo wrestler. When she walked the walls shook. When she spoke the paint flaked off the ceiling. And as for her face, well, mirrors wished they could jump off the walls and take to their heels. Not being able to do that, they settled for committing suicide by falling on the floor instead.
    “Hwat are you saying?” she demanded now. “I know you are geebhing me bad waards. Don’t try too deny eet.”
    Bhola Babu looked at her, and suddenly decided enough was enough. “I am,” he said with as much dignity as he could muster, reaching for his long umbrella, “going out. I habh waark to do.”
    “Hwat waark?” his wife replied suspiciously. “You habh no waark at thees time of night.”
    “Shomoresh Babu,” Bhola Babu said, inventing desperately, “asked me too teech heej saan how too do erithmetic. You know tha boy hej felled heej ekjamination for tha laast two yearj.”
    “Eef you are going out,” Futki Boudi told him, “don’t forget too weyaar your maask, or elj you weel bee stopped by the pulish. And breeng back one keelo obh feesh from tha maarket. Bee sure that eet eej not rotten and smelly thees time.”
    “Eet waj not rotten and smelly laast time,” Bhola Babu whispered to himself resentfully in his head, tying on the cloth mask as loosely as possible. “You ate eet all and gabhe me not a beet. And hwaile eating eet you kept shouting at me that eej waj rotten.” But he knew, once again, that he’d not dare say a syllable of it aloud.
    Bhola Babu’s real name, or, as he said, his “good name”, was Gyanendrochondro Ghoshal. He had been named by a grandmother who had decided that it would be a “mouth filling name”. And that was apparently the last time anything had filled his mouth, because he was as short, skinny, and balding as his wife was big, obese, and hirsute. And his station in life had kept in accordance with his appearance, for he was still, as he had been twenty years before, a lower division clerk in an insurance office.
    That had not stopped Bhola Babu from dreaming big dreams, though. “Eef only I could get reed obh thees woman,” he had often thought to himself, “I could become reech and famous. At least I could get promotion too aapaar deebheeshon claark or eebhen an ofeesaar.”
    But that had been back when Bhola Babu still could have some time off from his wife; he could go to work every day and his wife went back to her parents’ house at least a couple of times a year for a visit. Now he hadn’t gone to work in months; his office was closed off in a containment area, and his wife couldn’t go to visit her parents either. It was driving him out of his mind.
    “Eet eej tha fault obh theej Chaineej,” Bhola Babu told his friend Nobeen Babu, whom he met in the street outside Shopon Dotto’s Calcutta Sweets Shop. Nobeen Babu, whose “good name” was Troilokkonath Mojoomdar, was Bhola Babu’s only friend, or so Bhola Babu had it. It had been hard for Bhola Babu to catch up with Nobeen Babu, who had for some reason been waddling along as fast as his immense paunch would permit, despite Bhola Babu waving his long umbrella in a desperate attempt to draw his attention. You’d almost think Nobeen Babu was desperate to avoid Bhola Babu’s company.
    “Hwat eej?” Nobeen Babu asked, wistfully ogling Shopon Dotto’s glass display cases from the corner of his eye. Piles of sweets sat on trays under the glare of tube lights, crawled over by fat black houseflies which took time off to sit on the glass, happily rubbing their forelegs together. Nobeen Babu was resentful of the houseflies, whom Shopon Dotto didn’t ask to pay to eat his sweets. He wanted a nice plate of the jeelebees and another of the roshogollas that the flies were clustered most thickly over, proving how tasty they must be, but if he went in he’d have to invite Bhola Babu too. And none of Nobeen Babu’s money went to feed anything but his considerable stomach. “Hwat eej tha fault obh tha Chaineej?” he repeated absently.
    “They eenbhented thees dijij, thees Coronabhairaas,” Bhola Babu replied, waving his umbrella around. “They deed eet to cauj lockdown so aj to draibh ebhrywaan een thees caantry crayjee becauj obh being shouted at bai theyar waibhes. Then they can capchaar all tha land een Ladhaak.”
    “Wheyar eej thees Ladhaak?” Nobeen Babu answered automatically, eyeing a particularly large fly squatting on a particularly tasty looking roshogolla. “I theenk eet eej an Arob caantry, eej eet not?”
    Bhola Babu impatiently waved off the suggestion that Ladakh was an Arab country. “And eet eej warking. I am already half crayjee weeth my wife’s shaauting. Eny more and I weel be foolly mad.”
    “Een that case,” Nobeen Babu responded, trying to keep from drooling, “why don’t you keel her and set yourself free?”
    And thus the Great Idea was born.


Of course this was easier said than done. Even Bhola Babu realised that. He also realised that there was not the slightest chance that he could possibly murder Futki Boudi by himself. For one thing he hadn’t the faintest idea how to go about it.
    “Kaam een,” he sighed, pointing to Shopon Dotto’s shop, “and habh saam sweets. We maast talk about thees.”
    Nobeen Babu needed no encouragement. “Theyar aar many ways too keel people,” he said, round a mouthful of roshogollas the flies had lately been crawling over. His mask, pulled under his chin, bobbled rhythmically as he chewed. “You can find methods on tha eentarnet. Look at tha eentarnet, Bhola Babu, you weel find ebhrytheeng you want on eet.”
    Bhola Babu waved off the suggestion of looking for murder methods on the internet. “I do not understand thees computer-shomputer,” he said. “Also, eef eet eej on the eenternet, eet eej known way to maardaar, eej eet not? Then the pulish weel know that she has been keeled, and then they weel catch me and geebh me hanging.” He shuddered at the thought of the noose around his neck. “Also, eef I try too keel her she weel peek me up by tha legs and dash my brens out. She eej beeg enough too do thees, you know.”
    Nobeen Babu shrugged and began on his second plate of jeelebees. “I theenk then,” he said, “you can only hope that she weel get thees coronabhairaas and die obh eet.” He snapped a finger at the waiter. “Oi boy, breeng me a plet of shondesh, queeklee. That shodesh, theyar, tha one the fliej are seeteeng on.”      
    “How?” Bhola Babu groaned, partly at the problem and partly at the rate at which Nobeen Babu, free of the requirement of having to pay, was polishing off the sweets. “She nebhar goej anywheyar now. Eebhen eef she needs a box of matchej she sends me to buy eet. Arlier she ujed to go to her friends for goseep baat now she only talks to them on tha mobile phone, for hawars and hawars ebhry day een between watching telebheeshon. And,” he added pathetically, “I habh too pay tha beel.”
    Nobeen Babu made an inarticulate noise around the last piece of shondesh, and began eyeing the lalmohans. They didn’t seem to be too popular with the flies, so they probably weren’t much good, he concluded regretfully. But there were the borfis in the corner, at least three or four flies were walking on them. He began to raise his hand again to snap his fingers.
    Bhola Babu saw the direction of his gaze, the lifted hand, and got up hurriedly. “I maast be going,” he said, sidling towards the desk where Shopon Dotto sat, glowering at his clientele. “I weel see you letaar.”
    Nobeen Babu, whose mouth had been liberally watering at the thought of the borfis, which he could all but taste on his tongue, was filled with furious disappointment. “Een that kess,” he snapped, “you go get eenfected by tha coronabhairass yourself, and geebh eet to her.”
    And, after goggling for a few seconds, Bhola Babu decided that this was exactly what he needed to do.


Baat,” Bhola Babu thought to himself, hurrying away from the sweet shop in case Nobeen Babu ordered the borfis and told Shopon Dotto that he, Bhola Babu, would pay for them. “Baat, how eej eet possibool to get thees coronabhairaas? Who haj eet that I can get eenfected by eet?”
    It was not an easy question to answer. Though the state government of Bunglistan was less than active in the anti-coronavirus efforts, it wasn’t as though it was waiting on every street corner to jump on passers-by. It wasn’t even as though he could walk into a coronavirus-infected area and get it, like going to a brothel to get syphilis. The very thought of a brothel brought to Bhola Babu’s mind the supple naked limbs of girls in lingerie advertisements in magazines he had sometimes bought on the way home from work, and always thrown away in dustbins before entering his house. Futki Boudi would wring his neck if she ever knew that he wasted money on magazines. And some of those other magazines in those shops! Just the idea of touching them, something he had never dared to do, of course, made Bhola Babu go red as a tomato and his heart hammer like a tabla player banging away at top speed. If only he could buy one, just once! But he knew that if he did, Futki Boudi would smell it on him, and then tear him limb from limb.
    “Once she eej dead,” he had a sudden thought, “nobody weel tell me hwat I can buy or not buy. Then I can get those magajeens eef I want.”
    His mind so filled with happy thoughts of opening fold-outs of topless women  that Bhola Babu quite forgot what he was doing and where he was supposed to be going. Turning down a lane that meandered down towards the old temple, he found himself in semi-darkness under the heavy branches of an overshadowing tamarind tree. And there he collided heavily with someone who he couldn’t even see in the darkness.
    “Look heaar,” the other person whined. “I waj not geebhen one minute of peace hwen I waj alibhe. Can’t I ebhen get to claaimb up into thees tree een peace now that I am dead?”
    “What?” Bhola Babu was so deep in his cheesecake fantasy that he even forgot to be afraid. “Deed you say you are dead?”
    “Yes,” the other person replied. “I died two hawars ago een the hospital, from thees coronabhairaas. Now I am a ghost and I need to go up eento a tree and leebh theyar. Thees eej a tamarind tree and so ideal for ghosts. Baat you come banging eento me and geebhing me not ebhen peace now.” And the ghost burst into tears.
    Bhola Babu registered only one word, the magical word, coronavirus. “Wait,” he told the ghost, grabbing it by the arm. The arm was very thin and reedy, so that even Bhola Babu’s tiny hand could grasp it easily. “Wait, I want saamtheeng faarst.”
    The ghost emitted a terrified squeak. “Let me go,” it pleaded. “l am not haarteeng you. Pleej let me go.”
    “Only when you geebh me hwat I want.” Never had Bhola Babu felt so bold and in control. He gave the ghost’s reedy arm a shake.“You had coronabhairaas? I am looking for coronabhairaas. You get thees coronabhairaas for me and I weel let you go.”
    “That eej all you want?” The ghost wriggled in astonishment. “I can get eet for you. They habh not baarnt my body yet, so theyar are many coronabhairaases een eet. And eef I get them for you, you weel let me go?”
    “That I weel,” Bhola Babu affirmed. “Baat eef you do not caam back weeth tha bhairaas...” He threw his mind back to half-remembered childhood tales to recall what might coerce a ghost. “Eef you do not caam back weeth tha bhairaas,” he finished, “I weel find you, and then I weel pour a bottle of maastaard oil on you.”
    The ghost whimpered in even greater terror than before. “Pleej,” it begged, “not maastaard oil. I weel breeng tha bhairaas to you heaar. Let me go and I weel be back een five minutes.”
    And it was as good as its word. In fact, it wasn’t even five minutes before it returned, clutching something between its clasped hands. “Heear eet eej,” it said. “I habh brought all the coronabhairaases een my dead body. What should I do weeth eet?”
    “You geebh me the bhairaas,” Bhola Babu replied. “Then you can go hweyarebhar you want.”
    “You weel not haant me weeth maastaard oil?” the ghost asked fearfully.
    “No,” Bhola Babu told it. “I weel not haant you weeth maastaard oil. Now geebh me tha bhairaas.”
    “How?” the ghost asked, reasonably enough. “Eet eej not as eef tha bhairaas can be poot into a bottle or saamtheeng.”
     Bhola Babu was nonplussed for a moment, but only for a moment. The prospect of freedom and cheesecake seemed to have sharpened his mind wonderfully. “Thees eej how,” he said. “Raab the bhairaas on my clothes.”
    And so the ghost did, its spindly hands vigorously swarming over Bhola Babu’s apparel. It then shinnied up the tree and disappeared.
    Bhola Babu was so excited at getting the virus that he didn’t even realise that he had forgotten to be afraid of the ghost – a real live ghost! – he’d met. He’d also forgotten to buy the fish, but that was all right, because he was reminded about that.
    His wife reminded him the moment he stepped through the door, and didn’t stop reminding him all night and into the next day.


The first sneeze was so explosive that Bhola Babu nearly cracked his nose on the shelf on which, at his wife’s orders, he had been stacking her old almanacs. The almanac he’d been in the act of raising began to slip from his hand. He grabbed desperately for it and his clutching fingers ripped the cheap pink cover almost in two.
    “Hwat deed you do too my almanac?” Futki Boudi shrieked, like a steam engine venting its boiler. “How dare you tear eet?”
    “Eet waj a bhery old waan,” Bhola Babu protested weakly. “See, tha det eej from ten yearj ago.”
    “Eet eej a holy book.” Futki Boudi was totally unmollified and began bearing down on Bhola Babu like a steam engine with a malfunctioning brake. “Eet eej tha waard of grate guruj and god and you tear eet! I weel tear your ear for thees. I weel...” And then she sneezed too.
    It was a very impressive sneeze. It started somewhere near the pit of Futki Boudi’s ample belly, rode up her vast bulk, gathering force all the while, and finally emerged from her nose in the manner of twin artillery shells. “Hacchhoo,” she sneezed, and her arm, raised in the act of reaching for Bhola Babu’s ear, dropped to her side. It was, after all, a very bad omen to do something after sneezing, even if that thing was the eminently laudable act of tearing off her husband’s ear. “I weel take care obh you letaar,” she said, feeling the beginnings of another sneeze gathering. “I weel go and lie down for a while. You cook and clean tha keechen and aftaar that I weel tell you what to do next.”
    Bhola Babu could feel sneezes playing around in his nasal passages as well, and a burning, tickling sensation in his chest climbing up into his throat. But the prospect of Futki Boudi confined to bed, and, therefore, not able to rip him limb from limb, was agreeable. Besides, her sneeze could only mean one thing. “She weel soon be dead,” he thought, and got to cooking and cleaning the kitchen, as ordered. Despite the burning in his chest, and the suspicion that he was beginning to develop a temperature, he would have whistled, if only he knew how to.
    “I am feeling seek,” Futki Boudi said, raising her huge, healthy face from the pillow, when Bhola Babu came to report that he had fulfilled her orders. “You weel go and do tha shopping, then clean tha weendows obh tha front room. And then you weel scraab tha floors. Do you aanderstand?”
    “Yes,” Bhola Babu said, between coughs. “I understand.”
    “And don’t you dare cough at me. Don’t you know I am seek or saamtheeng?”
    That night, Bhola Babu’s cough worsened, and he definitely had a fever. But, as he went about his list of chores, he was filled with joy at the thought that Futki Boudi would soon be dead, and then he would be able to do whatever he wanted and buy what he wanted, too. When his wife thundered at him to “Breeng my deenaar to me een bed, and don’t cough een heeyar, don’t you aanderstand that I am seek?” he even smiled in genuine happiness.
    It got even better. “You sleep on tha sofa,” his wife decreed, as she gobbled down her third helping of fish curry and rice. “I am so seek that I can’t ebhen eat a spoonfool, and I need to sleep weethout being deestarbed by your snoring.” Since it was Bhola Babu who normally lay awake nights listening to the elephant-like trumpeting that she emitted, this was more than welcome. He even grinned to himself, between coughs, as he made his bed on the sofa, and used a wet handkerchief to wipe his burning brow.
    Soon, he thought, there wouldn’t be any snoring at all.


Bhola Babu woke suddenly.
    He’d slept badly, as he had the last several nights, his sleep disturbed by coughing, headaches, and bad dreams. In some of the dreams the half-naked girls in the magazines he wanted to buy were in his room before him, beckoning alluringly, but when he took a step towards them they turned into his wife. Sometimes there was only one of them, sometimes three or four, and when there were three or four there were three or four of his wife, all out to rip his ears off and tear him limb from limb.
    Waking from these dreams was always good, because his wife, in the real world, stayed resolutely in bed, complaining of being sick and unable to sleep or eat. True, she ate like a starving prize sow, and she snored like an air raid siren, but she did sneeze sometimes and even felt slightly warm whenever she demanded that Bhola Babu stopped thinking only of himself and feel her raging fever. So she must have the virus, and she would soon die of it, and that thought kept Bhola Babu happy while he shopped, cooked, scrubbed floors, washed up, and coughed and reeled with fever in between all the while.
    Tonight, though: tonight he felt great. He’d had some exceptionally bad dream, in which Futki Boudi had been strangling him with one hand while thrusting him into a furnace with another, and had woken just as the heat and choking were together consuming him. But as soon as he woke, he felt wonderful. Even the fever and headache were gone. With as close to a merry laugh as he could manage, he jumped to his feet.
    And screamed. On the sofa, where he had been lying moments before, there was a corpse.
    It was quite a genuine corpse. Ugly, scrawny, its face still flushed an angry red, it was very dead. It even looked vaguely familiar.
    “Eet maast be saam rascal who came een heaar to die.” Bhola Babu bent low for a closer look to see if he could recognise the rascal, and screamed again. It was impossible to deny; the corpse was his own.
    “I am dead,” he thought frantically. “That meanj I am a ghost. That also meanj that I habh to get out obh heaar aj faast aj I can go. Becauj soon she weel be dead too and then she weel be a ghost and then I weel habh to spend eetarneetee weeth her.” The very thought turned his ghostly limbs to water, and, like the same water, he melted down to a puddle on the floor and oozed towards the door.
    He had managed to slide under the door and leak down the stairs when he discovered that he wasn’t alone. All around him, flowing like him down the stairs, were tiny specks. He peered at one and saw that it was a tiny, ghostly sphere studded with knobs and spikes. They gathered around him, prodding and poking at his ghostly body, slipping in through all its orifices and pores.
    “Hwat...hwat are you?” he whispered at the sphere he was peering at.
    And the tiny sphere replied! It spoke in English, a language that Bhola Babu had, as befit a middle class Bunglistani gentleman, little acquaintance with, especially when spoken, as now, in crisp but unidentifiable foreign accents. But his fear was so great that, somehow or other, he managed to understand. “We’re the ghosts of the coronaviruses that infected that female monster up there,” it said, before forcing itself into him through his ghostly nostrils. “Now we need a new host. What did you think we were?”
    Then, at last, Bhola Babu knew. His wife wasn’t going to die from the coronavirus; she’d murdered the virus instead.
    A moment later he sneezed, and then he began to cough.

And that was the beginning of the Great Coronavirus Ghostdemic of Bunglistan, which all but wiped out the ghost population; and that is why there are so few ghosts in Bunglistan now.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2020

Sunday, 5 July 2020

The Battle of Tsushima

You're perhaps wondering what that postcard above is about.

In 1904 war began between the Tsarist Empire and Japan over who got to colonise and bully China. The Russians had a naval base at Port Arthur (now a Chinese city, Lushun). The Japanese launched a pre emptive naval attack on it, without a declaration of war, which trapped most of the far eastern Russian navy in the port (this was exactly what the Japanese again did in 1941 at Pearl Harbour, but in 1904 Brutain and Amerikastan praised it as a masterstroke). The corrupt and incompetent Tsarist regime sent court favourite generals and admirals to fight the war. Its troops were mostly illiterate, low on morale, and they saw that they were fighting a war for colonial aggression and not to defend Russia. The Russian naval ships hardly even put out of harbour, and their only competent Admiral was killed when his ship hit a mine. Soon the Japanese had surrounded Port Arthur and were shelling it.

In late 1904 the Tsarist regime decided to send a fleet to attack the Japanese ships blockading Port Arthur so that the Russian fleet trapped in the harbour could get out and the siege broken. The only fleet possible to send was in Kronshtadt naval base at St Petersburg in Europe, very very very very far from Japan and China. The Japanese admiral Heihachiro Togo was an extremely brilliant tactician, and had good fast Brutish built battleships. To beat him the Tsarist regime cobbled together a fleet of every ship that it could send, from ancient cruisers to "modern" battleships of the Borodino class, that you see in the photo at the end of this article. The Borodino class is known as one of the worst types of warship ever launched because it had cannon in side positions (called casemates) on the hull. If the ship tilted to even a limited extent water would enter through the casemates and flood the hull. Besides, the Japanese had a much better sighting and fire control system, their shells had more explosive content, and their training was much better. Apart from that they were in a location near to their own ports and could easily resupply and maintain their ships.

In order to command this fleet, the Tsarist regime appointed one Admiral Zinovii Rozhestvenskii, whose qualifications were that he was a favourite of the Tsar. The various components of the fleet had other lower ranked admirals in command, only one of whom, Folkersam, was competent. Unfortunately, Folkersam was also dying of cancer. On top of all this the Brutish, French and Amerikastanis were all united against the Russians and refused to supply coal or maintenance facilities.

This fleet steamed out of St Petersburg in September 1904, with rumours going around that it would be attacked by Japanese torpedo boats based in Brutain. In the English channel, at night and fog, the ships saw Brutish fishing boats and opened fire on them, sinking a couple and even managed to damage a couple of their own ships by friendly fire. This is called the Dogger Bank incident and Brutain took the opportunity to threaten to join the war on the Japanese side and demand reparations.

At the Straits of Gibraltar Rozhestvenskii sent part of his fleet through the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal and took the rest down the west coast of Africa, past the Cape of Good Hope, and then waited at Madagascar for the Suez Canal group to catch up. His officers in the meanwhile acted as tourists at every stop, and he made absolutely no attempt to train in fleet manoeuvres and almost no attempt to train at gunnery. Fleet manoeuvres were vital because at that time fleets fought as units, not individual ships. The whole fleet would direct its fire at a particular part of the enemy fleet at one time to try and destroy it so they had to act as one. But Rozhestvenskii made no attempt to do this. Also while all the waiting was going on the ships were getting their hulls fouled with algae and barnacles, slowing them down.

From Madagascar the fleet went across the Indian Ocean, past Singapore, and then again waited off the coast of what is now Vietnam. Why? Because the Tsar had sent yet more ships, all older and even slower, to join the expedition. And finally it began steaming North up the coast of China towards Japan.

By now the whole point of sending the fleet was over anyway because Port Arthur had surrendered, along with all the ships in the harbour, so the orders were to break through to Vladivostok. And also Folkersam died of cancer, but in order to prevent demoralisation Rozhestvenskii kept it a secret from his fleet. Not even the ship captains of Folkersam's part of the fleet, which was supposed to take orders from him, knew that he was dead.

This was the state in which Rozhestvenskii finally, on 26 May 1905, approached Japan. Togo had already replenished and maintained his fleet, and of course knew that Rozhestvenskii was coming and approximately when he would reach the area.

Now Rozhestvenskii had three ways to get to Vladivostok. The first and most direct way was between the Chinese coast and Japan by the Tsushima Strait. Further north, there were the Tsugaru Strait between Hokkaido and Honshu islands and La Perouse Straits between Hokkaido and Sakhalin islands. To use these Rozhestvenskii would have to steam east of Japan and then turn west, which would be longer and slower, but also had much less chance of running into Togo's fleet. Togo guessed that Rozhestvenskii, being lazy and incompetent, would use the direct Tsushima route and therefore put all his fleet there. He was also using radio, something very new at the time, while the Tsarist fleet was still restricted mostly to signal flags.

A Japanese ship soon found the Russian fleet at night, because the Russian fleet was - in a war zone - using navigation lamps as in peacetime. By radio it called in Togo's fleet and by the next afternoon, 27 May, the two fleets met.

Rozhestvenskii was of course totally incompetent and his fleet couldn't even manoeuvre. It was steaming in column, and didn't even manage to get into position side by side (in line abreast), so Togo's fleet - steaming in line across its route - could concentrate all their fire on the foremost Russian ships. As soon as those were sunk, Togo attacked the next foremost Russian ships and sunk them, and so on until nightfall. As soon as darkness fell Togo withdrew his battleships and sent in his torpedo boats in a massed attack. By the next morning the Russian fleet was scattered and fleeing for its life. A few ships fled for safety to Manila harbour in the Philippines. Several, including Rozhestvenskii's ship, surrendered to Japanese ships (the last time in history one fleet surrendered to another on the high seas). And only two ships managed to get through to Vladivostok.

Rozhestvenskii and his officers were held as prisoners in Japan and repatriated later in 1905. Though they expected to be shot for treason the Tsarist regime did nothing.

That was the end of the Russian navy. To this day, 115 years later, Russia has never had a real navy. The navy has always been an afterthought, subordinated to the army and the VVS (air force).

The Russian ships captured by Japan were repaired, modernised, and put into service in the Japanese navy. At the start of WWI, when Japan and Russia were on the same side, some were sold back to Russia. Togo was made a marquis and his flagship is still preserved to this day as a museum ship in Japan.

And this is just a symptom of the real disease, Tsarist corruption and incompetence. And yet the neoliberal capitalist Putinist regime in Russia nowadays extols the Tsarist system, grovels before the bearded apes of the Russian Orthodox Church, and pretends that the last Tsar, Nikolai II, is some kind of Saint.

Pictured: Russian battleships, in column, being massacred at Tsushima. The Japanese lost two torpedo boats; the Russians lost almost everything they had.

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Baka And The Clown

This is a story with a happy ending.


On the first day of summer holiday, young Baka found a clown egg in the woods.
    Baka had been bored, because he was alone. None of his new friends at school were able to come today. Most of them were watching television, but Baka’s parents said television rotted your brain, so they didn’t have one. A few were out playing Calvinball, which seemed to be the popular local sport here, but Baka had been totally unable to understand the rules and so they didn’t pick him anyway. And so, with a packed lunch packet, he’d been sent out to play in the woods until his parents came home.
    It had been very boring until he’d found the egg.
    Baka knew it was a clown egg, of course. Though he could only see the top from where it lay covered in decaying vegetation, it was large, larger than a football. Perhaps larger than two footballs. It was coloured the way clown eggs were coloured, too, striped in red and yellow, and spangled with black and blue stars.  
    Baka stood looking down at the clown egg, considering what he should do. He knew, of course, what he ought to do. Hadn’t Uncle Lumpy, who taught him at school, repeatedly warned about clown eggs and what to do if one found them? Hadn’t his father, Mr Gaijin, said the same?
    Especially here in the Borderlands, the danger was most acute, Uncle Lumpy had said, over and over. Clowns cut and bit through the barbed wire border barricades around the Circuses, burrowed under them with their talons, and fired themselves over with their air pressure cannon. They then sneaked close to human settlements and laid their eggs in pits, covered them in vegetation, and then returned to their Circus. The vegetation not only camouflaged the eggs, but, as it decayed, incubated them with the warmth of decomposition.
    “And what happens when the eggs hatch?” Uncle Lumpy had asked, glaring around the class as though he would be outraged if they did not know the answer. “What happens?”     
    “A baby clown comes out?” Baka had hazarded.
    “Yes, of course.” Uncle Lumpy had shaken his head impatiently. “But what does a baby clown do?”
    They had never found out, because the bell for the end of class had rung, and everyone had run for the exits as through a pack of clowns was at their heels.
    Now Baka looked at the clown egg and wondered if he should immediately run and tell an adult, as he had been instructed to. But Mr and Mrs Gaijin were at work, and he didn’t really know any of the other adults in the small settlement. They’d only moved here a few weeks ago.
    “It’s a Borderlands settlement,” he’d heard his mother argue before the Move. “Are you sure it’s safe?”
    “Not a single settlement has been attacked in years,” his father had replied. “Nobody’s even seen a clown outside the Circuses in forever. And you know it’s not affordable here.”
    So they had packed up their things and come to the settlement, and Baka had liked it, a lot, except of course for the constant warnings about clowns.
    Uncle Lumpy had showed them a video, from long ago, when a girl had been captured by the clowns, and a team had gone to rescue her. They’d found the place in the barbed wire where the clowns had chewed their way through, and gone back inside with their captive. Scraps of the girl’s clothes were sticking to the barbs, and there was a close up of a handprint on a flat rock; her handprint, dark with something dark red and tacky. It had looked like congealing blood.
    The characteristic Big Top that formed the core of the Circus had loomed in the camera’s viewfinder like a swollen abscess, its bulging cuticle ripped and gashed in places where the pressure inside had caused it to burst. Around it had been the other parts of a Clown infestation; the maze of narrow lanes and passages between boxy caravans and tattered stalls. Even after all the years since it had been taken, the video had been filled with menace, and the rescue team had advanced cautiously, breath bated for danger.
    The first clown had burst out of a side lane, balancing on a tiny bicycle, blowing a horn with its oversized red lips, while on its green hair a tiny red bowler hat wobbled. Its face had been white, its eyes set in circles of blue, and its immense shoes had poked out on either side as it pedalled, wider than its shoulders. It was terrifying, and it had come straight at the rescuers, fearless as a wild boar, right until the first blast of clown repellent spray had caught it in the face. Then, tumbling off the bicycle, it had honked and rolled over and over on the ground. One of the rescuers had walked over and pulled its round red nose off.
    “That should hold it for a while,” the man holding the camera had said with satisfaction. Clowns, Uncle Lumpy had said, could regenerate their noses, but until they grew back, couldn’t smell prey. Unfortunately it wasn’t easy to rip one off a clown; noses were prized trophies, and sold at high prices to collectors.
    The reprieve had been brief. From ahead, the direction of the Big Top, a tiny car had come rolling forward. It had stopped near the rescue team, the doors popped open, and an endless stream of clowns started pouring out. There had been five, no, ten, no, seventeen...Baka had lost count after that.
    “A clown car!” the cameraman had screamed. “Scatter!”
    The camera view had changed abruptly, bobbing and lurching as its bearer ran, jumping over coils of rope, discarded planks, and other detritus of a Circus. He’d made it to the shelter of a stall, and turned around, the camera switching back to show two clowns running after him.
    And he’d then sprayed them with clown repellent, right in the face.
    “Clowns aren’t very intelligent,” Uncle Lumpy had said. “If you’re in a group, and a pack of clowns come at you, split up. The clowns will split up too, to chase you, and you can take them down one by one.”
    They’d found and rescued the girl. They had been in time; the clowns hadn’t tortured her too much yet. They were still in the stage of feeding her the raspberry jam she’d smeared on the rock.
    That had been long ago, of course. Baka knew well enough that no clowns had come raiding settlements for ages.
    One Sunday, on a dare, he and a couple of others had gone to look at a Circus. It was a new Circus, still small; it had only arrived a month or two ago. Because it was still so small, it wasn’t sealed off by as much barbed wire as older Circuses, and nobody was standing guard with clown-repellent spray. It would need time to grow, consuming everything around it, before it got too dangerous to approach.
    Small as it might be, it had still looked large and frightening enough. Baka and his friends had stood on a low hill, looking down at the Circus, which was on the other side of a narrow stream. The Big Top had towered over the trees, its striped hide rippling and sagging in the wind; it was already large and soon would be massive. Even from the hilltop they had been able to just hear a honking and tooting noise, which came and went with the breeze.
    “That’s Clownish,” one of the other boys had said. “It’s how the clowns talk.”
    They hadn’t got near enough to see any clowns, of course, and Baka had been slightly disappointed. The Big Top’s striped skin, the honking, and the sense of danger, just enough to be titillating without being too much, had been wonderfully enticing. Now he felt an echo of it as he stood looking at the egg.
    He wondered what would happen if he went to get an adult. Most probably they wouldn’t believe him anyway. The others had told him that they’d never seen a clown egg in their lives, no matter what Uncle Lumpy and their parents warned, and they would think he was just trying to fool them for a laugh, like the boy who cried wolf. But if he insisted, they’d come, of course. They were bound to come, and it would be all right.
    So it wouldn’t really hurt if he cleared a little of the rotting vegetation away from the egg, just a little, and touched it to see. Kneeling, he rubbed away some of the warm, moist, blackish moss and leaf litter. A little insect, white and resembling a tiny grasshopper, watched him interestedly. He ignored it, poking the egg with a fingertip.
    It was warm. It was more than warm, it was almost hot. And inside the shell, hadn’t there been something moving?
    As though on cue, the shell cracked. The crack was quite small at first, right where his finger had touched it, and then it spread, black zigzag lines racing through the shell like lightning. The white insect, startled, leapt for safety on to Baka’s head. And still the crack progressed, and then the shell fell apart and the baby clown came out.
    It was quite a cute baby, for a clown. Its face was paper white, of course, but it had yellow circles on its cheeks, and its nose, though round and red, was tiny. Its red lips spread across its cheeks on either side until they touched the yellow circles on its cheeks. Its hair was a frizzy ginger-yellow tipped with pink.
    “Hello!” Baka said, astonished. Involuntarily, he smiled.
    “Hello,” the baby clown honked in imitation. Then it smiled back.
    It was quite a smile. Its lips drew back and back and back, and then its mouth opened and opened, revealing lines and rows of needle teeth, and still its mouth opened until it seemed impossible that its mouth could open anymore without its head falling off.
    And then it jumped for Baka Gaijin’s face.


Baka,” Mrs Gaijin said, “aren’t you hungry? You haven’t touched your supper.”
    Baka looked up from his food. “No, mum,” he said. His voice sounded muffled, almost like a honk. “I’m not hungry.”
    “You sound as though you’re coming down with a cold,” Mrs Gaijin said worriedly. “You really shouldn’t have been running around the woods all day.”
    “He’ll be all right,” Mr Gaijin said. “A few germs never hurt anybody.” He flicked his finger at a small white insect that was sitting on the table, and it jumped away. “Now you really know we’re in the Borderlands; wildlife’s dropping in.”
    “You should still go to bed,” Mrs Gaijin said. “If you’re no better, I’ll take your temperature in the morning.”
    But she wouldn’t. The clown cooties had already been spreading through the room, and were in her body, and in her husband’s, too. By late evening they would have spread right through the settlement, be in everyone’s blood, spreading to every organ, every extremity, moulding, changing, colouring.
    And come morning there would be news spreading; there was a new Circus in the Borderlands.  
    The white insect would get away, though.
    There you go: a happy ending for someone, at least.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2020
(For my friend Baka Gaijin.)

[Image Source: Ground Shark Prints]

Friday, 26 June 2020

Sticks And Stones: Modi's China War, 2020

On the night of 15th June 2020, a major clash took place between Indian and Chinese troops on the ridges overlooking the Galwan River in Ladakh. Twenty Indian soldiers were killed, and according to both China and India the Chinese also "suffered casualties". This did not occur out of nowhere; in fact the two sides had been in close confrontation for over a month on that border and there had been multiple fistfights between them. Why - the border having been calm for decades - this happened now, who benefited, and who won, is the purpose of discussion of this article.

Because of multiple problems with uploading photos and graphics on Blogger, which is getting more and more bug-ridden and dysfunctional by the day, owing to total neglect by Google, I have converted the article into a 16000 word long PDF file for download.

You can download it here.  It's free!

To be clear, CLICK ON THAT BIG ITALICISED "here" just above this line. Honestly!

Please feel not just free but positively encouraged to download, share, cite, praise, excoriate, or whatever you want to do with the article.


Links to sites presenting information in it are at the end in the form of footnotes.

Statutory Disclaimer:

As always, I am not in any way responsible for any fights, quarrels, disagreements, flame wars, or other unpleasantness rising from the contents present therein. Thank you.

Thursday, 4 June 2020

Thought For The Day

The biggest enemy of genuine egalitarian and socialist progress is not the out and out capitalist, nor yet the avowed fascist. The capitalist is concerned with profit and is amoral and selfish. The fascist has an ideology, no matter how vile, that can be identified, exposed, and countered. They are external enemies and the external enemy is always the less dangerous one.

The most dangerous enemy of socialism and egalitarian progress is the self-professed "centre-leftist". These are people absolutely without conviction, without the courage to take a stand, who are always extremely easy to subvert and direct towards pointless dead ends, fobbed off with tokenism, and who can be reliably used against their putative comrades on the genuine left of the spectrum. These are the people who would invade countries to "save them from dictators", to "ensure gay rights", to "emancipate women"; never noticing that somehow those countries also have oil and minerals to be seized by the capitalist corporations they allegedly hate. They get their ideas du jour from their favourite television channel over cups of latte and turn savagely against the genuine left for opposing these adventures. They are the rainbow flag waving, oblivious, fifth columnists breaking down the barricades in the path of the corporate exploitation machine, the cosmetics on the face of the capitalist pig.

Monday, 1 June 2020

Burn, Amerikastan, Burn

Burn Amerikastan burn

It's beautiful watching you burn

You who knelt on our necks for decades, burn.

You who broke into our countries on false pretences, looted our economies, stole our resources, raped wives in front of husbands, killed fathers in front of daughters, droned mothers and their sons.

You who claim to stand taller, see further, be exceptional, be indispensable, even as you attacked those who couldn't fight back, 

The world sees you for what you are

Now you burn.

Burn Amerikastan burn.

In the name of the children of Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Syria, Donbass,  Yemen, Afghanistan

Burn to ashes, Amerikastan.

Thursday, 28 May 2020

Long Shadow Of The Locust

Imagine this scenario.

You’re a farmer in a country, let’s call it, oh, just let’s say it’s called India.

You don’t have much of a farm. In your grandfather’s time it might have been quite large, and fertile, and the rains irrigated it plentifully every summer so that his crops never died of thirst. Even if there was a year or two when the monsoon rains failed, there was a tube well and more than enough groundwater to ensure that the harvest wasn’t a failure. And whatever your grandfather produced, the government guaranteed that it would buy it at a certain price, known as the minimum support price, so he knew that even if he couldn’t sell it at a bigger profit in the open market, he could still depend on a certain guaranteed level of income, just so long as his crops continued to grow.

But that was then.

Things happened. First, with increasing health care standards, no matter how imperfect, more of your grandfather’s offspring lived to adulthood than in his father’s time. So your grandfather’s farm was divided among your father and uncles. And, in time, your father married and bred, and more of your siblings survived to adulthood than in your father’s generation, which meant that his share of the farm was divided again between you and your brothers. So, you ended up with only a tiny fraction of your grandfather’s farm.

Meanwhile, other people have been breeding too, and their children, too, have been surviving to adulthood in hitherto unprecedented numbers. So, to house them and to supply food for them, and to rip coal and oil and minerals out of the ground for them, forests have been chopped down; and to supply the thirsty cities with water, rivers have been dammed and their water piped to said cities. Chimneys have been spouting smoke from factories, because the government has decided that unchecked industrialisation is the only path to “growth” – and also because the corporations owning those industries are important sources of funds for elections and to buy up politicians afterwards. All this has done enough damage to the climate that the rain has grown increasingly erratic and unreliable, so that you’ve had to rely more and more on your tube well to irrigate your patch of field. The groundwater level, in consequence, has been falling, and falling, and you’ve had to borrow money to dig your tube well deeper and deeper – and still the water continues to fall.

All this while, your own expenditures are climbing. Things are more expensive. Your tiny patch of field doesn’t bring in enough to pay the bills unless you begin to plant multiple crops a year. This is turn exhausts your soil, leaching out the fertility, which earlier used to be renewed because your grandfather could afford to leave it fallow between planting seasons. So you have to buy huge amounts of fertiliser as well as farm machinery, because the old ways are no longer productive enough. Pests invade your field, and the pesticide you used to use no longer work because the pests have developed resistance. So you have to buy more expensive pesticides. Because the pesticide, fertiliser, and farm machinery are not free, you have to borrow money to buy them, so you slip into debt.

Then the government decides on “economic liberalisation”, which means that it starts systematically pandering to the corporations that provide it with money. Suddenly, your minimum support price is no longer paid on time, or is simply abolished altogether. You can’t pay your loans back to the banks from where you took them. They threaten to foreclose on your land. So, in order to pay them off, you borrow again, this time from the village moneylender. And then an unseasonal storm, which happens more and more frequently, comes along and kills off your entire harvest.

You think you have problems? Your problems are just beginning.

Because there isn’t anything like enough money coming in from your farm to pay your bills and even the interest on your loans, in between plantings and harvests you need some other income. So you look for work, as a labourer or whatever else you can manage. Work isn’t available in the vicinity, so you have to travel long distances, often to the other side of the country – and it’s a big country – to look for work. In a desperate attempt to make ends meet, you hire yourself out as a labourer for some months, rush back home, harvest and plant, try and sell on the market, try to keep your head above water, and then rush off to work as a labourer again.

Meanwhile the cost of machinery and fertiliser keeps increasing, the groundwater levels keep dropping, your debts keep piling up, some foreign company called Monsanto cajoles and bribes the government to compel you to buy seeds from it – seeds that cease to grow after one season, so every year you need to buy seed stock from Monsanto again, instead of using leftover seed from the previous year to plant again. And it begins to rain when it shouldn’t, drowning your crops, and it’s bone dry when it should be raining, so that what you have left withers to straw poking through cracked brick-hard soil. And the government, which you voted for, doesn’t care. It wants to grab your fields to hand over to its capitalist cronies for factory farms or just factories, and the worse things get for you, the better said capitalist cronies like it.

You see where we’re going with this?

Then, just when you think things couldn’t get worse, they do.

You’re in the city, working at a temporary job as a construction worker, and you need to come back to your tiny farm because the harvest is due. But just as you’re about to, suddenly the government imposes a curfew because of some foreign disease that is supposedly killing people left and right. Your employer dismisses you and doesn’t even give you your back pay, on the grounds that he has no money. You can’t even step out into the street without being beaten by the police, even to buy food; and, if you do manage to sneak out of the city, you don’t have any way of getting home. There are no buses, no matter what the politicians claim, no trains, nothing. So, with no other option, you begin walking home along the highways, under the grilling midsummer sun, while the government spends taxpayer money to bring in rich Indians who abandoned the country for greener pastures abroad and suddenly find themselves unwelcome in their new homelands.

Meanwhile, your brother, who’s stayed back on the farm, has his own problems. The harvest can’t be sold because the markets and distribution systems are all shut because of the government’s lockdown. There are no preservation or storage facilities, so the produce can’t even be kept relatively fresh, and, even if there were, he couldn’t afford the fees. So what option does he have except to dump the stuff in the fields to rot in the sun?


It isn’t the worst yet, oh, no.

While all this was going on, the climate worldwide has been going to hell, too. Forests have been disappearing, fossil fuels have been filling the skies with smoke and carbon dioxide, ice caps have been melting, the ocean currents have been changing as a consequence, and scientifically illiterate imbeciles have been pretending all of this is a hoax. Evaporation from oceans that are warmer than they used to be has warmed the air above and filled it with moisture. The warm air, rising, has drawn in colder air from around it to warm in turn, pick up moisture, rise, and bring in yet more colder air, until you have a gigantic vortex of rotating cloud and wind, spiralling towards land, bringing not just destruction but heavy rain wherever it goes. This thing is known as a cyclone.

This cyclone hits, shall we say, another – possibly fictional – country called Saudi Barbaria, which is mostly desert. It dumps so much rain that actual, literal lakes develop in the desert. This sudden moisture causes an equally sudden proliferation of vegetation. And, before the sun has an opportunity to parch this vegetation to mummified hay, yet another cyclone comes along and dumps another few thousand tons of water on the desert, creating even more greenery.

Great, right? Green is good, right?


There are animals living in that desert, notably insects, those most adaptable of all creatures. One of those insects is a, usually inconspicuous, middle-sized short-horned grasshopper called Schistocerca gregaria. This is a rather well-known insect; it’s been featured in no less than the Bible and the Koran, and you may even have heard of it under its common name.

Schistocerca gregaria is also known as the desert locust.

Locusts are grasshoppers. Grasshoppers eat vegetable matter. When there is a lot of vegetable matter, the grasshoppers lay a lot of eggs, which hatch to form many more grasshoppers, which live to grow to adulthood because of all that easily available vegetable matter, and lay more eggs, which give birth to more grasshoppers, which...

You get the idea.

And then there are so many grasshoppers that they begin to eat all the vegetation. And the cyclones don’t keep coming, so the lakes dry up, as the desert returns to its usual state, and the greenery, without water, begins to die off. So the grasshoppers crowd together to get at whatever little vegetation remains, because they don’t want to starve to death any more than you do. And when they get packed in tightly enough together, they bump against each other, just as you would in those crowded unreserved railway compartments in which you’d travel back to your hometown from your construction job in the city.

Now, unlike ordinary grasshoppers, locusts – there are many species, all of which are short-horned (that is, with short antennae) grasshoppers – do a special thing when there are a lot of them in such close proximity that their hind legs bump each other. Their biochemistry changes, with increased production of the hormone seratonin. Their bodies change colour, in the case of Schistocerca gregaria to yellowish pink and black. 

Their habits change – normally night-flyers, they now switch to flying during the day, and instead of maintaining distance from each other, they now actually seek out each other’s company. This is known as the gregarious or migratory phase. Soon, the massive agglomeration of these insects takes off in search of new food deposits to devour.

And, because of that global warming, there have been unseasonal rains here and there, so the locust swarms have plenty of food. They land, eat, have sex, lay eggs, and, with their ranks swollen by the new generations, set off again on their mission of conquest, flying up to a hundred and fifty kilometres a day. Oh, and they can cross oceans too, because when they get tired, they rest on the floating corpses of their friends who died of old age or exhaustion and float, bobbing on the waves.

Now these locusts have been migrating east and west for two years, devastating countries with names like “Ethiopia” and “Somalia”, “Yemen” and “Kenya”, which you’ve never heard of. But the government, with its overeducated bureaucrats, has most certainly heard of them. It is aware that two neighbouring countries, let’s call them, for fun, “Iran” and “Pakistan” have been hit hard in recent times. Just the previous year, in fact, Pakistan had some 40% of its crops eaten by locusts, which isn’t a small amount. In fact, a one square kilometre swarm of locusts – which is an extremely small swarm – can eat, in one day, as much food as would be needed to feed, wait for it, 35000 people. Locust swarms can extend over hundreds to thousands of square kilometres.

In reality, locusts are such a menace, and have been such a menace through history, that the United Nations’ Food And Agriculture Organisation (FAO) monitors them closely and warns governments when their countries are about to be attacked. Your own government – the same one that has stopped paying your minimum support price and is having you beaten up for coming out in the streets – knows that the locusts invaded the country last year, but did nothing, claiming that the insect swarm had receded without doing any crop damage.

Well, right now, those swarms are back. They’re back earlier than ever, in greater numbers than ever, and they’re eating their way across the west of the country. In fact they’ve been doing it for some time, but that same government and its tame media, which ignored your existence as long as possible, ignored the swarms too, until they blanketed the city of Jaipur, known for its pink sandstone construction, in a pink blanket of hungry insects. Then, suddenly, the media deigned to notice it. Because it had no choice.

So, to recapitulate.

The agriculture sector had already been devastated by shrinking farms, dropping groundwater levels, irregular and unpredictable rainfall, and cyclones, The government has taken a policy decision to let small farmers die, literally and metaphorically, by neglect so that the farming sector can be taken over by corporate cronies to set up factory farms and car manufacturing plants. Farmers are drowning in unpayable debt that keeps piling up as their land becomes agriculturally unsustainable. And then you’re walking the highways starving after being thrown out of your job without pay, the economy has packed it in, what of the harvest was collected is unsaleable and had to be thrown out to rot, and now a plague of ravening pinkish grasshoppers is eating every bit of vegetation in sight.

Right. Not only was much of this – in fact every bit of it except the COVID-19 outbreak – totally predictable, none of it just turned up overnight. All of this has been developing over years to decades, and the successive, post-1990, governments of India not just ignored it, they actively connived and encouraged most of the worst of it. They, and their paid media prostitutes, actively promoted the idea that the manufacturing industry was the only way to economic “progress”, and, to do this, the farm sector would have to be sacrificed. I remember asking multiple times on internet fora over the years whether people would be expected to eat cars and television sets, and being downvoted en masse every time.

But people cannot eat cars and television sets, and with the economy sliding downhill into the nether doldrums, there is no longer any market for cars and televisions; the vehicle industry has been moribund for well over a year. And the farm sector isn’t doing exactly well for the reasons I’ve already mentioned, so that, for the first time in thirty years, the level of average nutrition is actually dropping in India. And the Modi regime has systematically ignored all of this, including the gigantic locust plague which has been moving towards India for over two years now.

And by gigantic, I mean that this is the largest plague in 78 years. It’s also much more dangerous than any plague of comparable size 78 years ago. Why? For the simple reason that the population of the planet is much, much higher than 78 years ago, and vulnerable areas – east Africa and west and south Asia – are infinitely more stressed than they were 78 years ago. Not to speak of the fact that global warming causes more and more of the flood-drought cycle that promotes swarming, and that two of the worst affected countries, North and South Yemen (I do not consider them to be one country any longer, as a supporter of the now fait accompli South Yemeni independence), have been under invasion and a starvation blockade by Saudi Barbaria and the Imperialist States of Amerikastan since 2015.

Therefore, the chances of famine are extremely high, and, since the Modi regime has shown absolutely no signs of changing its policies, have been growing higher and higher. And now the locust swarm, which is spreading steadily eastward and northward towards the agricultural heart of India, is in the act of delivering the coup de grace.

I have noticed that the Modi regime’s pet media, after a couple of days of finally admitting the existence of the locusts, have suddenly made a point of repeatedly mentioning that the locusts “entered from Pakistan”. I assume that this is not accidental; nothing the Modi regime’s media does is innocent, accidental, or without the acquiescence of the regime. I can only speculate that if the regime fails to halt the locusts through the measures it is now allegedly taking – spraying pesticides from drones – it will move on to accusing Pakistan of deliberately sending the hordes of Schistocerca gregaria over the border to harm India. This would be on a par with the Trump regime in the Imperialist States of Amerikastan accusing China of creating COVID-19, a claim parroted by paid CIA agents on Indian social media.

Speaking of which, the Modi regime – in a desperate and transparent attempt to divert attention from its endless failures – is trying to provoke a border confrontation with China. Except for the fantasy world of Modi’s pet television channels, Republic and Times Now, this is going over like a lead balloon.

Starving people have more immediate concerns than that.

Anyway, if and when the Modi regime decides to blame Pakistan for the locusts, I’ll make it easy on them and give them proof. Here’s your Jihadi Locust, Jihadocerca pakistaneria.

You’re welcome.