Saturday 10 December 2011

Bumbo XXVIII: Drone Over Eye-ran

The Scene: West Asia.

The time: The recent past. The 4th December, 2011, to be exact.

The Story: In an atmosphere charged with threats of war against Iran, a top-secret RQ 170 “stealth” surveillance (meaning spy) drone was brought down over the Iranian city of Kashmar, all of 225 kilometres from the border with Afghanistan. It had accidentally gone astray over Afghanistan. You know, the way a drone “accidentally” flies over the border and disappears only to turn up two hundred and more kilometres away. Happens every day.

But this was a Crisis, because clearly only One Man stood between Safety and the End of the World as We Know It. The Bearded Madman in Charge of Iran could not be allowed to become the Bearded Madman Who Knows the Secrets Of Our Drone.

The Bearded Madman

So they called John Bumbo out of retirement.


This is how the conversation went:

First CIA man: Bumbo, we have a problem. One of our drones went down over Eye-ran.

Second CIA man: So we want you to –

First CIA man: Don’t interrupt, goddammit. I was saying, John, in the interests of National Security, we want you to go into Eye-ran and get it out by yourself.

Second CIA man: If the Eye-ranians haven’t found it yet.

First CIA man: The Eye-ranians couldn’t find their way out of a paper bag. John, you know that you are the Only One who stands between us and Disaster. All you have to do is go in and get it out. Just the way the hero does it in all those Tom Clancy books. Hollywood can make a film out of it. Bumbo XXVIII they could call it. Just get the drone back.

Second CIA man: Or, alternatively, blast it into a million pieces.

Bumbo: Huh. You want me to blow them prisoners of war, I mean yer drone, away, huh?

First CIA man: No, blasting it isn’t the way Hollywood would like it. It ain’t heroic enough. Superman would’ve flown it back.

Second CIA man: John here isn’t Superman. Yet.

Bumbo: Live for...something or other. And die for nothin’. Or somethin’ like that. It’s somebody’s choice. I think.

First CIA man: Yes, John, we know. We know. Now about bringing that drone back –

Second CIA man: Who’s to know? As long as we get to the drone before the Eye-ranians, we can tell Hollywood anything.

First CIA man: The faster we can send John here in, the better. Before they find it. Because if they find it it’s gonna be an act of war if he has to kill somebody.

Second CIA man: Flying that drone over the border was already an act of war, you know.

First CIA man: Who cares? It’s only Eye-ranians. They’re all that Ah-muddy-ney-jad gang. It’s jus’ that John here shouldn’t kill anyone if he can help it, because the war isn’t due to start till April.

Third CIA man {rushing in}: The Eye-ranians have jus’ announced they have the drone!

First CIA man: Aw shucks. You sure?

Third CIA man: They put up a video. They say they brought it down by electronic warfare.

Second CIA man: Eye-ranians have electronics? Never heard that before.

Third CIA man: Yeah, well, we’ve already put out a statement saying they can’t have brought the drone down. Even if they did. And that they can’t find out how to build their own. Even if they can.

First CIA man: Let’s watch the damned video already.

Second CIA man: Lookit that American flag with the skulls. That’s an insult.

Bumbo: Bumbo avenge! {Fires machine gun into roof. Plaster rains down.}

Second CIA man: Yes, John, of course. Just be a good boy and sit down for a minute, will ya?

Third CIA man: We put out a story already saying that the Eye-ranians can’t have shot down the drone since it’s in one piece.And we could say that it landed on its own, as it's designed to if it's outta control.

First CIA man: Yeah, but that won’t work since they claim they took over the electronics and brought it down that way. And it looks like it landed wheels-up, which meant it didn't quite land on its own.

Second CIA man: Look here. I’ve asked this already but you really mean to say Eye-ranians have electronics?

First CIA man {to Third CIA man}: Contact the Washington Post at once and tell ‘em to run a story claimin' it’s only a purported video of the drone. Not the real thing. You get it?

Third CIA man: Yeah, but  that won’t do much good when we have to admit it is the drone.

First CIA man: Who cares about that? Joe Six Pack don’t care about what the Eye-ranians say. He cares about what we say. Get!

Third CIA man: All right. Keep your hair on. {Leaves}

First CIA man: The Russkies and Chinks are on the way to check it, you can bet. They’ll be salivatin’ at the chance to check it out and make countermeasures, not to mention copyin' it. {Bitterly} When I think of how we could’ve just taken apart them Eye-ranians...

Bumbo: Huh. Bumbo find, Bumbo kill. {Ties bandanna around forehead, accidentally covering eyes} Bumbo blind.

Second CIA man: Uh, just a second, John, I'll untie you in a moment. {turning to First CIA man} Why didn’t you just set off the self-destruct mechanism in the drone?

First CIA man {staring}: What self-destruct mechanism are you talkin’ about? There isn’t one.

Second CIA man: But I'm sure there was...maybe the damned Eye-ranians deactivated it?

First CIA man: But that would mean they actually took control of it, didn't they? After all, if the self-destruct mechanism didn't go off...

Bumbo: Self-destruct didn't go off? Bumbo set off self-destruct mechanism! {Self-destructs with a terrific bang}

{Maniacal laughter as a drone rushes out of the screen at the audience.}


Friday 9 December 2011

The Sodomizer (sic) of Your Children

I knew I was a hook nosed camel fucker and an uninformed brain dead libtard fucktard. I also knew I was a/the Devil. Not to mention a card-carrying traitor.

Now I find I'm a "supporter of the sodomizers (sic) of children" as well.

What's this about?

I just discovered that I’ve been blocked by Uruk Net.

For those of you who don’t know, Uruk Net is, on the surface, a “progressive, liberal” Arab site, which does all the progressive and liberal things – condemn the crackdown on protestors in Bahrain, support the Palestinians, the Egyptian protestors, and so on. It backed Gaddafi “to the hilt” against NATO and the “rebels”, mourned his murder, and supports his daughter’s call for a revolution. That’s all very nice of it.

Yet – there was something very strange about Uruk Net; something so strange and interesting that I swiftly came to the conclusion that it was a Zionazi propaganda tool.

You see, there's such a dichotomy when it comes to what these same people say when it comes to Iran and Syria.  Uruk Net supported Gaddafi – and yet in Syria, where an identical liberal-nationalist government is threatened by an identical fundamentalist cabal of “rebels” supported by NATO (in fact many of the Libyan rebels have been exported to fight Assad) and the same unsupported tales are being told of civilian massacres, suddenly it believes every single word, condemns the Assad government, calls any doubters (like me) “supporters of the sodomizers (sic) of children”, and so on. According to it, the West is actually backing Assad. I pointed out – with proof – the NATO backing of the “rebels”, their open hosting by NATO member Turkey, and the fact that the “rebels” have stated that their future “government” would be pro-Western. All I got was abuse.

Uruk Net’s equally full of vitriol against the Iranian government. In other words, while it’s safely on the “right side” when it comes to nations and peoples who can’t threaten the Zionazi pseudostate, as soon as it comes to the two countries that are really bulwarks against Zionism, all those liberal thoughts go right out of the window and it becomes a fanatic de facto supporter of the Zionazi cause. (It can safely back the Palestinians because they can’t actually do anything to hurt the Zionazis.)

It’s a propaganda stance that works along these lines: tell a series of obvious facts, and then sneak in a few lies under the radar so that they’re believed in the general flow. Like this series of statements, for example:

The sky is blue, water is wet, having children imposes certain duties on parents, politicians lie as the default option, the Pope eats live bats for breakfast, the average TV show is dumbed down to the lowest common denominator, and Elton John is gay.

Now, of course this is an exaggeration, but you’ll notice that if I slipped in something that was a little less over the top ridiculous than the Pope eating bats, it probably would have hardly registered as fake on your mental radar in the rest of the flow of “obviously correct” information. Zionazi propaganda isn’t preaching to the choir – it’s seeking to convert the fence-sitters. The Zionists have long been known (it was openly declared in Haaretz) to have recruited a force of bloggers and other disseminators of propaganda on the net.

It’s strange that a website should go out of its way to block someone who provides proof of a viewpoint at odds with its own. Surely if my proofs were inadequate they could just have ignored them? The moment I even mention the possibility that they are a Zionazi front, wham I’m blocked.

Significant, uh?

I don’t mean to say all writers on Uruk Net are the same. Many are undoubtedly sincere. But they probably don’t know the unwritten rules of the house.

Um, well, I suppose I could call this a badge of honour. At least I'm forcing the bastards to sit up and take notice.
That's better than nothing, isn't it?

Some links: 

Letter To The Editor

Dear Editor
(Or, rather, your sub-editor or whoever it is who reads your mail, because I am sure your exalted status relieves you from the onerous task of handling correspondence from mere readers.)

Before I go further, please note that the contents of this letter will be posted online on my blog and elsewhere, with full mention of The Shillong Times, because it has been my experience that there is some kind of unofficial “ban” in place on publishing my criticism of your articles and your alleged opinions (more often than not regurgitated wholesale from so-called “national” newspapers). Therefore, even if you choose to maintain your unspoken “ban” (which has endured by my reckoning for about four years now), you will have been named and shamed online. Be warned.
One of these alleged “editorial opinions” of yours is titled “Tactical Retreat” and was published on your paper of the 9th December. In it, you make some sweeping statements, which deserve examination in detail.
First, you (or, as is more likely, whoever you lifted your “opinions” from) claim Manmohan Singh had the “last laugh” in the end on the Nuclear Deal. I don’t know whether you are unaware of the nuclear reactor meltdown at Fukushima in Japan earlier this year, and the strong anti-nuclear-power agitations now ongoing in several parts of the country, or whether you merely chose to ignore it. From your newspaper’s flagrantly exposed ignorance of basic geographic and scientific facts in the past, the first is a real possibility. If not, you will note that not one of these nuclear reactors that were supposed to have solved our power problems (the USP of the Nuclear Deal) has come into service yet, and that the last four years of Congress party misrule has so devastated the nation that even such cravenly pro-Congress media outlets as yours cannot have escaped noticing the people’s disenchantment with the party. How is that the "last laugh”?
Then, you claim that you hope that Singh “will prevail again on the FDI in retail issue” because the “advantages are many”. Said advantages – according to you – are as follows:
1.     India needs organized (sic) retail. Does it? Can you justify this statement? A look around shows that India is doing well enough with competing small-scale shops selling just about everything one needs. The huge and bustling markets of the cities may not be pretty, but they provide just about everything, at a reasonable price, and employ an uncountable number of people. Can you honestly state that organised retail outlets will be able to provide the same services? Who will absorb the millions thrown out of work? Will you, or those who you lifted your opinions from, provide these people with alternative employment? If not, how do you justify your claim?
2.     Foreign investment in retail will bring in capital, expertise and competition. Capital to achieve what, precisely? Is there a shortage of capital in this country? If there is, why are we still talking about our alleged “booming” economy? If there is not, why should we bring in foreign capital, since said foreign capital can be as quickly withdrawn? If there is a threat of sudden withdrawal of this capital – for example, due to pro-worker labour laws – and a consequent fall in the stock market, will the government of the day stand by and allow this withdrawal, or will it bend over backwards to change laws and entice the capital to stay? What has been our experience so far on this point? And do you really have to be reminded that the East India Company first came as traders, got “concessions”, and used the excuse of “defence of trade rights and concessions” to colonise India?
As for expertise, is there a shortage of expertise in this nation? If so, why do we have Indian Institutes of Management?
As for competition, a look around any of the markets I just mentioned will show you how much competition there is already, quite happily coexisting. Do we need more competition? If we do, does that competition have to come from foreign-owned retail chains?
Assume, for the sake of argument, that FDI will bring in increased “competition”. Basically, what this will mean is that the huge international retail chains like Wal-Mart (which have tremendously deep pockets) will undercut and push out the original retail outlets from business. A look around the USA, where the traditional stores have vanished after the advent of these mega-stores, shows that this is not unlikely by any means. And once that happens, exactly what is to stop these retail chains – who then have a monopoly – from charging whatever they want? Nothing.
While on the subject, the ethics, not to say legality, of these retail chains are deeply suspect. As we all know, the same neoliberal “economists” who push FDI are also strongly in support of weak labour laws and “hire and fire” policies. This basically means that nobody is secure in his or her job, and can be replaced at any time by someone asking for even lower wages – no matter how much work he or she has put into the job or is willing to. This sounds very nice to those people sitting on a huge cushion of money, but I wonder if you – the editor of a minor, fifth-rated newspaper – or your minions would like to live in a situation where you could be dismissed without notice because someone else is willing to work for a thousand rupees less a month. Would you? No? Then by what right are you wishing this fate on others?
3.     The produce of farmers will fetch higher prices. How, exactly, is this miracle supposed to happen? FDI will result in the big retail chains looking for the cheapest sources in order to maximise profits. If they paid higher prices, it would go directly against the idea of competition reducing prices, which was your earlier point. Therefore, it will directly result in farmers undercutting each other in order to sell to them – and even there they will be undercut by organised factory-farming – the kind of factory-farming the West is now trying desperately to abandon in favour of more sustainable, not to mention healthy, practices. As for technology, that can be imported without the necessity of handing over ownership of the economy to foreign concerns. Your argument veers dangerously close to the idea that colonialism was good because the colonised countries wouldn’t have got trains and telegraphs otherwise, something once again being claimed by neo-imperialists these days.
4.     The supply chain will be shorter and more efficient. How? By the retail chain owners going direct to the farmers in the fields and buying from them? In that case, what is to prevent them from beating down the farmers’ prices since only those who sell at the cheapest rates will get the sales orders? If the government has to step in to ensure a fair price to the farmers, what’s the difference from the current system?
5.     (T)he consumer will be benefited, price-wise and in getting easier access to essential goods. How will the consumer get easier access to “essential” goods? If we define “essential goods” as food, clothing, and medicine, they are available in most markets already, in every city and village. And about prices, if the FDI is allowed, according to what we’ve seen worldwide, the consequences will be that the prices of medicines, especially, will rise sky-high in the name of protecting intellectual property rights.
6.     New investment will pour into manufacturing and more jobs will be created in the sector. Is this “jobs” in the sense of “slave-labour style sweatshops”? Because that’s the kind of “jobs” that have been created by the advent of FDI as seen worldwide. FDI will only “create jobs” where profit can be maximised – meaning where the least wages have to be paid and the maximum work extracted for the minimum side benefits. And if the economy of the nations the produce is to be marketed in suffers, and the market collapses, the factories will close and the slave labour workforce thrown out of even the pittance they are earning. I trust even you are aware of the parlous state of the European and American economies at the moment?
7.     Giving in to the opposition and dropping the proposal would seem unwise and pusillanimous on the part of the UPA government. This is called the democratic system. It’s why an Opposition exists and this is not a monarchy under the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. The Opposition is meant to pressure the government into abandoning unwise or unpopular policies. If your paper does not like the system, it should openly state that and suggest what kind of system it wants.
I would love to read your replies to these questions, if you are capable of answering them. After all, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be. Since you either wrote this editorial or allowed its contents to be published in your paper, you obviously subscribe to its contents. You are a national prize-winning columnist with the entire resources of your editorial staff to call on. I’m only a private citizen with no education in economics. You should find it easy to blow me away.
If, however, you are unable or choose not to respond, it means you have no business publishing opinions you are unable to defend. I would go further and state that you have no business being the editor of a newspaper at all.
I look forward with keen interest to your response. If any.
                                                                        B Purkayastha

Tuesday 6 December 2011

The Mask Maker

Tom’s father, Odile, was well-known as the best mask-maker in the village.

So well-known was this fact that Tom never had to defend his father’s position as the best to the other children, most of whom were the sons and daughters of mask-makers themselves. It was a village of mask-makers, which supplied the tourist traps on the highway to the national parks, and even the big shops in the cities where the streets were full of noise and the lights were bright. The other kids squabbled amongst themselves over whose father made better masks, but none of them ever claimed that their parent made the best. Everyone knew perfectly well that Tom’s father made the best.

All day, every day, Odile worked in his shed behind the little house, cutting away at the wood, shavings piling up around his feet, or sanding, polishing, and staining the finished product until it looked as he intended it to look. Many of the other mask-makers divided the various stages of the process among themselves, but Odile never did that. He took much longer to make a mask than his competitors did, and earned correspondingly less, but his work was better. He was never quite satisfied, though, with what his hands had wrought.

Odile’s wife had left him many years ago for another man, and had never contacted them again to ask if her son was all right. Odile therefore now lived with his sister and old mother, Tom’s aunt and grandmother. The aunt was a bitter, sharp-tongued woman, jilted years ago and never having forgiven the world for it. The grandmother meant well but was bent and frail and seldom moved away from her stool in the kitchen. Neither of them was particularly disposed to ask about what Tom was up to, so he seldom went to the tiny village school. Most of his time was spent watching Odile work, and he’d already made up his mind to become the world’s greatest mask-maker in his turn.

Odile had tried to dissuade him many times. The work of a mask-maker, he’d pointed out, was hard and far from financially rewarding – which was why, he’d added drily, that Tom’s mother had left; carving masks didn’t bring in enough money to buy pretty dresses and stylish shoes. He had higher hopes than that for Tom. At least the boy had a school to go to and could have a future. Tom would listen, and because he didn’t want to hurt his father, would go to school for a day or two. But inevitably he would turn up again at the workshop, and his father would look up with a sigh and finally give him something to do.

Odile had once shown Tom a couple of pictures in a magazine his friend had brought back from the city. It had been printed in one of the foreign countries where everyone was white-skinned, long limbed and golden-haired like the half-naked woman lying on a beach on the cover. Odile and his friend had been laughing at the idea of white people coming all the way to this country so that they could lie around in the sun almost naked, while the locals were that way because they didn’t have enough clothes or shoes to wear and had to be out in the hot sun in order to work. It was funny, and Tom had been laughing along with them, but there was something wrong in the two adults’ laughter. It was as though they were laughing and not laughing at the same time.

The pictures that Odile had shown Tom were of a shop in the big city. One showed the inside of a huge shop, with long glittering expanses of glass, bright lights overhead, and smartly dressed girls behind shining wooden counters. The walls and shelves were crowded with things for sale to the tourists; long-limbed statuettes carrying shields and assegais, necklaces made of brightly coloured beads, red and yellow and green, and animals carved out of wood, giraffes and rhinos and the like.

The second picture was of a close-up of one of the walls. It was hung with masks of all sorts and sizes. Most were traditional, made in the pattern of ceremonial masks of a hundred years or more ago, with long noses and heavy-lidded eyes like slits in the wood. A few were more contemporary, meant to resemble stylised astronauts and divers as seen in the occasional newspaper photo. Anyone could have made them – maybe some of them had been carved in this very shed. It was impossible to tell. But one mask, though it was in a corner, stood out from all the rest.

It was not big – all the others were larger. Nor was it remarkable because of its colour, for most of the others were more brightly coloured and polished. There was something else about it, though – something which drew Tom’s attention and wouldn’t let it go.

It was long and narrow, and showed the face of a very old man. Under a headdress of feathers, the eyebrows were high and arched, the chin sharply pointed and triangular. There was something in the centre of the forehead, a mark which resembled more and more, the longer Tom looked at it, a third eye. In its parts or as a whole, the mask wasn’t particularly exceptional. But what came through from it, almost leaping off the page, was a sense of utter, primordial evil.

“Finished with the magazine, Tom?” Odile’s friend extended a hand, smiling, ready to leave.

“Just a moment, Uncle.” Tom looked down again at the photograph, fascinated. “Father,” he said, pointing, “what is this mask? I’ve never seen you carve one of that type.”

“Which one?” Impatiently, Odile pulled down the top of the page and leaned over to look. “This one? Or that?” Suddenly he went completely still for the tiniest moment. If Tom had not know him so well, hadn’t been tuned to his moods, he might well have missed it. “None of these masks is special,” he said brusquely. “Give the magazine back now, your Uncle Feisal is waiting to leave.”

“But...” Tom got no further. Odile pulled the magazine away. “Uncle Feisal is a busy man,” he snapped. “He has work to get to.”

Tom knew Feisal had just returned from a business trip to the city and certainly had no immediate work to get to. The unfairness of it stung at the back of his eyes, but he didn’t say anything. When Odile returned from seeing off Feisal, Tom had gone from the workshop.

Late that evening, after the meagre meal of cassava, Tom had just lain down on the floor of the curtained off portion of the kitchen which served him for a room when the curtain rose again, and Odile entered. He folded himself up until he was sitting on Tom’s mattress and cleared his throat.

“About that mask,” he said.

“Yes.” Tom kept his voice carefully neutral.

“You’re right; I’ve never made that one.  I don’t even know how one of them got to the shop there. None of those people know a thing about what it stands for, you can bet. All they care about is selling whatever we make to the white tourists at a thousand per cent profit.”

Tom didn’t say anything. Odile peered at him in the semi-darkness.

“You’re not to talk of what I’m going to tell you,” he said. “You’re not to mention it at school. If the priest at the church gets to know, he won’t be happy, and I don’t want you to get expelled. Nor do I want to have to pay a fine for telling you this. The priest doesn’t want us to have anything to do with the old gods. He barely tolerates my friendship with a Muslim like Feisal.”

“The old gods?” Tom asked, mystified. “What about them?”

“Everything,” Odile said, and there was awe and sadness in his voice. “Everything.”


Long, long ago (Odile said), at the beginning of the Universe, the Great Father made the earth, and the sun and moon and stars, and then He put people and animals and plants on the land and the fish in the water, and the birds in the air. And because everything needs a god to look over it, he called together all His children, all the millions of other gods, and bade them to choose what they wanted to rule over.

And all the gods came, and each chose what he or she wanted. Sekhose chose the sky, and she made it blue, because that was her favourite colour. Vihelie became the god of rain, and when he was happy, the earth got the proper amount of water from the clouds; but when he was angry, there was no rain at all, and famine stalked the land – or there was too much, and floods covered the fields and drowned people and animals alike. Kenie chose for herself the rivers, and Nushki the sea, and so on – each god and goddess found her own place in the scheme of things. Finally, only two things remained, that no god wanted. These two were Love and Hate.

No god wanted to be the God of Love, because love can be as painful as it is sweet, as divisive as it binds, as destructive as it is good, when used wrongly. And because human beings are so capricious, not even a god could tell how they would use the gift of love. And no god wanted to be the God of Hate, of course.

By this time, all the gods had made their choices, from the stars to the grass, except for two – and it was these two who had to decide for themselves who was to be the God of Love and the God of Hate. Both of them would gladly have foregone the honour, but the Great Father insisted on them choosing one or the other, and so they could not refuse.

These two gods were Ivulho and Tuyi. Tuyi was always happy and smiling – as small as she was jolly, as round as the moon, as carefree as the wind. Ivulho was thin and grave, but compassionate and deeply hurt by the pain of others. And it was one of these two who was to become the God of Hate.

“It should be Ivulho,” Tuyi told the Great Father. “For it is true that men and women can be left to hate each other on their own, and they do not require guidance for that – but hate cannot be left to burn by itself; it needs guiding and tempering, and Ivulho, with his great abilities, can do it better than I.” From which one can understand that her primary purpose was to avoid having to do any work.

“It should be Tuyi,” Ivulho responded. “For she is happy and joyful, as love should be; but her presence will light up hate and turn it into something else, sweeten its poison and make it less of an evil.”

They could not agree, and the disagreement grew so long and tedious that finally the Great Father grew short of temper.

“I will hold two straws in My fist,” He said. “Each of you will draw one; and the one who draws the longer will become the God of Love, and the other, the God of Hate.” It happened, then, that it was Tuyi who drew the longer, and became the Goddess of Love. And she – true to her nature – went flitting lightly among the fields and flowers, and quite forgot what she was to do, so people loved as they would have done had they had no god of love at all; capriciously, painfully, and all too often disastrously.

And Ivulho – who was full of compassion and empathy – became the God of Hate. And so it was that he walked through all the lands of the world, never resting, touching all with his shadow – sowing dissent and quarrels with his very presence, even though his heart brimmed with sorrow. So it was that he wept bitter tears as he sowed war and ruination, plunder and carnage amongst peoples and nations – for he did them without wanting to, compelled to do so by his very status as the God of Hate. As the years turned into centuries and millennia, he grew aged by the burden he bore; his face grew long and mournful, for he was filled with sadness at how easy hate spread when compared to love, and how, since Tuyi had dropped her duties and spent her time in frivolity and joy, there was nothing to counteract the hate that he brought with him always.

Then it happened one night that Ivulho came to a desert, which he had never encountered before in all his wanderings – a desert of black sand and broken rock, where nothing grew and there was not a drop of water or a cloud in the sky.

“I will stop here,” Ivulho told himself. “For there are no people here, no animals – and there is nobody I can infect with hatred. I will stop here, and make a home for myself in these barren wastes where I will dwell for eternity. That way, I will never hurt anyone ever again.”

And so he built for himself a mighty castle in the desert, with high bleak walls of black rock to match the black sands, as forbidding as the desert and as cruel as the cloudless sky. In the very centre of it was a great hall, without a single door or window, where Ivulho sat on a throne of black glass and resolved to wait out eternity. But it was not to be.

Savi was the greatest warrior his tribe had seen, and the greatest warrior of all the tribes around – so great that there were no opponents left for him to vanquish, no deed left to perform. And yet Savi was restless and unhappy, for he was in love with a girl who was the daughter of the chief of his tribe, and who paid him no heed at all. Savi would gladly have taken this maiden as his mate, and her father the chief would have equally gladly given her to him; but she did not wish it, and her father would not go against her desires.

“Tell me why you will not marry me,” Savi asked her at last. “Tell me that, at least.”

The maiden, whose name was Latabi, threw her hair back over her shoulder and refused to answer directly. “Does the candle beckon the moth?” she countered. “If the moth gets singed, then, is the flame to be punished for it?”

“You speak wrongly,” Savi said. “I am not a moth, but iron. I will not burn in your flame, but glow red and white with the heat of my passion. I am the day to your night, the rain to your parched thirsty earth. You need me as much as I need you.”

But Latabi only laughed and turned away. “That is for me to decide as it is for you to say,” she observed. “The night does not need the day, and the parched earth becomes parched again when the rain has passed.”

Then Savi saw at last that she would not have him; and a great rage filled his soul, and a desire to wreak vengeance. But there were no enemies left for him to fight, for they had all declared him the greatest of all warriors, and none would challenge him.

“I will fight and vanquish the gods,” he decided. “It is they who are responsible for my unhappiness, for they could have set things right for me if they had only cared. I will clear the world of them, and then perhaps we will be free to live our own destinies as we choose.”

So he gathered up his great assegai and his shield of rhinoceros hide, and painted himself for war; and he went out seeking gods to fight. But so terrible and fearsome was his appearance that the gods, one and all, fled from his approach. And without their guidance, famine and devastation, death and despair, lay upon the land, so that the people wept; but none dared try to turn Savi from his purpose.

Thus it was that Savi wandered from land to land, seeking, in vain, gods to fight; and at last he came to the black desert where Ivulho sat on his throne of glass, brooding. And because he had neither door nor window to look out on the world, Ivulho the God of Hate was entirely unaware of Savi’s approach.

When Savi the great warrior saw the god’s black castle, he drew close and demanded entrance, but got no reply. Nor could he see a gate that pierced the mighty walls of the castle, and decided that it was no mortal being which dwelt within. And then, for he was brave as the lion, he struck the outer walls of the castle such a blow with his assegai that they broke asunder, and he proceeded to enter into its halls and corridors.

For many days and nights he walked, his heavy tread echoing through the chambers of stone, and a lesser person would certainly long have abandoned the quest. But Savi was no ordinary man, and finally he came to the very centre of the castle, where Ivulho sat on his throne of glass, still unaware.

And Savi, finding a blank wall before him, struck it again with his assegai, and it shivered to fragments at his blow; and he passed into the bleak chamber in which sat the god Ivulho on his throne.

“If you are no god,” Savi said to the old man on the throne, whose identity he did not know, “do me obeisance, for I am the greatest of all mortal warriors. If you are a god, then prepare for your death; for I am here to defeat and kill you.”

Then Ivulho rose from his throne and stepped towards the mighty warrior. “I would not mind death,” he said mildly, “for it would end my misfortunate existence, self-prisoned behind these walls of stone. But think carefully, before you would fight me. The death of a god is not without repercussions on the world of mortal men.”

“I don’t care about your words, old man,” Savi said. “I have been seeking a god for longer than I can remember, for they must be defeated and destroyed for all the harm they have inflicted on the world, and the unhappiness they have brought on my own life. As I have found you, you must fight me, and be vanquished and destroyed.”

Ivulho thought for a moment. “If you wish it so,” he said. “Shall we proceed outside to the open desert where we can fight each other in appropriate surroundings? For this chamber, large as it is, seems to me small and cluttered for that purpose.”

“All right,” Savi said. “We’ll go outside.” And the god Ivulho made a motion with his fingers; the walls fell away; and the two of them stood on the black desert sand under the cruel sky.

Meanwhile the heart of Latabi had been struck by remorse, for she had seen how the anger of Savi had driven the gods away, and how the peoples of the world, and the birds and beasts, had suffered in consequence; and she had resolved to set out after Savi, determined to quench his vengeance, even if the cost of it was her own happiness. And she had followed him, from land to land, everywhere finding the unmistakable traces of his passage but never being able to catch up with him.

Then at last she appeared on the black desert plain, and on it she saw the great warrior in single combat with an ancient man of strange and terrible visage. It seemed to her that the old man was holding himself back, that he could have defeated Savi if he had wanted; but instead he had let the warrior strike him again and again, and bled freely from half a hundred wounds.

The chief’s daughter Latabi rushed to the scene and thrust herself in between the two combatants; and, throwing herself to her knees, she implored them to cease fighting each other and listen to her. And she pledged herself to the warrior Savi in marriage, if only he would refrain from his quest of vengeance.

Then the warrior Savi threw down his assegai and spear, and embraced her in his arms, and turned to leave; but the god Ivulho called after him.

“Are you not going to kill me, young warrior? If you are not, then permit me to kill you both, to keep you from future harm.”

“I have no reason to, any longer,” Savi said over his shoulder. “If I have Latabi, I have all I want and need. Nor do I see how killing us can keep us from harm, so I shall not permit that either.” And he took her back to his village, there to make her his wife, and the other gods came warily out of hiding, and all seemed right again with the world.

But the god Ivulho knew what a terrible thing had come to pass; his face grew even sadder with the weight of his knowledge, and, leaving behind the ruins of his castle, he resumed his wanderings, seeking always a place where he might make a home alone for the rest of time.

And it was a terrible thing, for, of course, having been in his presence, Savi and Latabi had had planted within them the deadly seed of Hate; and in time it grew to flower, in them and in their children, so that brother rose up against brother, and nation against nation, and tore the fabric of humanity forever asunder.

Nor could the other gods counter it; and in vain they pursued old Ivulho, and beseeched him to return and do what he could. But he only said that he had had enough of making a bad thing worse.

And then he moved on.


So,” Odile said, “you see why I’ve never made the mask of Ivulho?”

“Because he brings hatred with him?” Tom and his father were sitting side by side on the mattress, hugging their knees, their heads close together. Despite the close heat, the boy shivered. “I could not live like that. No wonder he went away looking for a place to hide himself away. But it seems to me that there’s enough hate without the need of a god.”

“True enough,” Odile said. “But the church detests the old gods, and the people fear Ivulho too. I wonder who had made his mask. Whoever it was...I don’t know if he did the right thing, or the wrong. I don’t know at all.”

“Oh, he did the right thing,” Tom said. “I don’t doubt it.”

Odile’s teeth flashed white in the darkness. “And why do you say that?”

Tom tried to find the right words. “This...hate. If you give it the form of a god, it becomes, at least, something we can understand. Something we can understand is something we can control. It seems to me that if keeping people from making the mask is not going to stop them hating each other, then those who want us not to make masks might as well be working to stop us from controlling the hatred.”

“Anything else?”

“I don’t know...I found myself on Ivulho’s side. It was none of his fault what happened, and it’s unfair to blame him for what he could not help. He did his best, and if it wasn’t good enough, others are to blame, not he.”

Odile was silent for a long time. “I’ll make a bargain with you,” he said at last. “If you go to school regularly from now on, I will teach you to make masks during the evenings and on holidays. After you get an education, you can choose what you want to do in life. Perhaps you can make masks which you can exhibit in the art galleries abroad, and earn more in a day than we do in a lifetime. Perhaps you will wish to be something else entirely. But it’s up to you, really. Do you agree?”

“Of course.” Tom paused a moment. “Do you know whose mask I will make first?”

Odile laid a hand on his son’s shoulder. “I know.”        

Copyright B Purkayastha 2011

Monday 5 December 2011

A Little Experiment On the Difference Between Male and Female Brains

I’d like to run a little experiment here.

First, look at this:

It’s the driver’s position of a T-72 tank. This is a T-72 tank:

Check out the steering tillers instead of a wheel, and all that wiring and equipment consoles on all sides. 

Look at the periscope here – that rectangular glass thing hanging from the ceiling. It’s what you’re supposed to look through when the hatches are closed, in order to drive.

If you look over your shoulder, this maze of equipment is what meets your eyes:


Now, tell me this as honestly as possible:

Would you like to drive this thing?

OK, now that you’ve answered that question, I have another:

Are you male or female?

Yes, I thought so.

I’d lay a wager that any male who looked at that driver’s position would totally have wanted to climb down through the hatch and into this maze of equipment, grabbed those tillers, and started the engine into life. Even someone like me, a right-brained natural left-hander with zero mechanical aptitude, can feel my hands and feet itching to get to work on those gearshifts and pedals. It’s like something calling to the male brain that makes us adore doing things that are undoubtedly uncomfortable and possibly dangerous. Undoubtedly it has an evolutionary explanation – and one which hasn’t made us go extinct. Yet.

Don’t get me wrong, ladies. We men also like to drive luxury cars. But, given the choice of driving a Bentley for an hour, or a T-72, guess which we’d rather choose?

It’s a male thing. Most of you ladies wouldn’t understand.

And as for those who do – well, you’d be right down inside that tank with us.

Wouldn’t you?

Spy Story

Vasili Osipovich Zyuganov scratched gently at his chin. He hadn’t shaved for two days, to fit his role as a slightly absent-minded elderly pensioner, and his stubble itched. But Vasili Osipovich’s mind was on the circus ring far below.

Ochen’ veselo!” he mumbled aloud appreciatively, through the popcorn in his mouth. “Mne nravit’sya!”

It had been a long time since Vasili Osipovich had attended a circus, and he realised only now how much he’d missed it. How long had it been since he’d sat on a hard bench back in Rostov next to his dyadya and giggled at the antics of the clowns? Forty years? Fifty? Even though he was here in the line of duty, there was no harm in enjoying himself while he could, was there?

Through the old-fashioned opera glasses, the clown’s face looked unreal, like that of a rubber doll, with that thick white and yellow makeup. The huge red rubber nose bobbled so much as he capered that Vasili Osipovich was afraid it might come off.

Ostorozhno,” he warned, as though the clown could hear him, or even understand the words. “Ne nado tak sil’no...”

He bit back on the rest of the advice when he saw, from the corner of his eye, someone sit down next to him. It was a large man in a dark suit, with a shaven head and a scarred cheek, who glared at him suspiciously. At least Vasili Osipovich thought the man glared at him suspiciously, but in his world just about everything was tinged with suspicion. He turned away, chewed on the last of the popcorn, and stared through the opera glasses down at the ring.

The clown pirouetted, threw confetti from a bucket into the crowd and did a split. Vasili Osipovich applauded along with the rest, and when the applause had died down a bit, he became aware that the shaven-headed man was speaking to him.

“Hey, you,” the man said. “You look like a spy to me.”

Chevo?” Vasili Osipovich began to reply, and checked himself. “What you say? I no understand.”

“I said,” the skinhead responded none too patiently, “you look like a spy. A Russian spy.”

“You mad,” Vasili Osipovich replied. “No Russian spy. I, Bulgarian tourist. You want see bumagi” – he paused, searching his memory. What was the damned word in this accursed language? Ah, he had it. “Papers?”

“They’ll be fake,” the skinhead sneered. “I’m an FBI man, and I’ve got you down to rights. You’re after the design of the rocket motor for the new hypersonic plane, aren’t you? The one our Air Force’s been testing. Damned Russki, stealing our secrets.”

“What you talking?” Vasili Osipovich’s chin began itching worse than ever. “I no know rocket motor. I just tourist, I said you. Bulgarian.”

“Yeah, right. And I was born yesterday. We were tipped off that a Russian spy would be at the circus picking up the secret of the rocket motor, and here you are. Those are the plans, aren’t they?” He prodded the lump in Vasili Osipovich’s jacket pocket with a long finger. “Let’s have ‘em.”

Ti choknutii,” Vasili Osipovich said under his breath, and took out the bar of soap from his pocket. “You crazy. Is only soap.”

“What the hell are you doing with soap in your jacket, hey?” The skinhead snatched the bar and turned it over and over. “I’ll bet there’s a microchip in here somewhere with the design blueprints all on it. Huh?”

“I buy it,” Vasili Osipovich explained patiently. “I want wash clothes. Not enough pay laundry. So I buy chtobi take back hotel and wash.”

“Of course,” the skinhead sneered again. Vasili Osipovich was rapidly growing tired of his sneer. “I’ll just take it back to the lab and dissolve it in water. That’s all it will take to get the chip out.”

Vasili Osipovich suddenly felt old and tired. He no longer felt like watching the circus. “Take it,” he said, putting the opera glasses into his pocket. “I buy new.”

“Oh, you aren’t buying anything anymore.” The skinhead grabbed Vasili Osipovich’s wrist. “You’re coming with me, direct to FBI Headquarters. We’ll see how well your papers stand up to investigation...Russki.”

“Excuse me, sir,” someone said, behind them. “Has he been bothering you?”

They both turned. Two large men stood behind them, and grabbed the skinhead by the shoulders. “Stop bothering the nice gentleman, Robinson,” one of them said. “Just come along quietly now. It’s time for your medication, you know, and you need a rest afterwards.”

“You don’t understand,” the skinhead said, tugging at Vasili Osipovich’s arm. “This guy here’s a Russian spy, after the hypersonic rocket engine, and I’ve caught him.” He flourished the soap in his other hand. “I’ve got the design plans right here in this soap.”

“Yes, yes, of course,” the other big man said. He effortlessly pried away the skinhead’s hand from Vasili Osipovich’s wrist. “I don’t doubt it at all, Robinson. We’ll just go back to Headquarters and check it out, won’t we?”

“I’m sorry, sir,” the first big man said to Vasili Osipovich. “He was on a supervised outing from the mental hospital and got away somehow. He keeps imagining he’s an FBI man.”

“Is OK.” Vasili Osipovich watched the big men lead the skinhead away. The circus show had just ended, and the audience was streaming out. He waited until the big tent was empty and then slipped out.

The clown met him as arranged. “You got the money?” he demanded. “I’ve been going crazy lugging this microchip around.”

“Is here.” Vasili Osipovich handed over the envelope from his inside pocket. “You should be more...careful. I thought you drop them.”

The clown snorted. “I know what I’m doing.” He held out his red rubber nose with the precious chip. “Here you are.”

Vasili Osipovich walked out of the circus gate, squeezing the nose in his fist, smiling.

On the way back to his hotel, he bought a bar of soap.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2011