Saturday 7 March 2015

The Dead Man: A Tale of Chamathunagar

Nobody was quite sure afterwards when the dead man first turned up in Chamathunagar. Not even Pillu, who got to know him best, could be certain of the date. But once they noticed him, they all agreed that he’d been around a while but they simply hadn’t brought him to mind.

Of course they didn’t know at the time that he was dead. He didn’t look dead. He just looked like any other pavement stall owner selling cheap salwar kameez and T shirts near the bus stop, mostly to people who came in from the villages around, and occasionally even to somebody from Kuttagarh too silly to figure out that anything being sold on the footpaths of Chamathunagar had to have been bought in Kuttagarh, and so would be cheaper there. There were plenty of such stall owners.

The first one to have an inkling that something might be wrong was Jaggu Ram, who was ambling around town one market day collecting his usual hafta from the stalls. Pockets stuffed with cash, he was turning away to go for tea and samosas at Vijay’s when he noticed that there was one stall he didn’t recall seeing before. And if he hadn’t seen it before he hadn’t got hafta from it, and that would never do.

So Jaggu Ram walked heavily up the pavement towards the stall, which was in an angle of the wall of the bus station, a prime location which for some reason no other street hawker had ever claimed before. Maybe it was such a prime location everyone assumed it had already been taken over by someone else. The stall keeper, a medium sized man with a medium sized moustache, watched him come with no reaction at all. This, Jaggu realised, was also fairly strange, because people he visited on market days either looked scared or eager to please.

Still, strange or not, the man was selling on his turf, and owed Jaggu Ram hafta.

“New here to the market, are you?” Jaggu Ram asked, tapping his stick on the pavement.

The man nodded, only a little, without saying anything.

“So I suppose you don’t know the rules around here. Got a licence?”

“Licence?” the man asked, as though he’d never heard the term before. “What licence?”

Jaggu Ram heaved a sigh. “Licence for your stall of course. What licence do you think I’m talking about?”

“Licence?” The man looked at the other stalls. “Do they all have licences too?”

“Never you mind about that,” Jaggu Ram said. “Answer my question. Do you have a licence?”

The man shook his head. “No,” he said. “I don’t have a licence.”

“Then you can’t sell here,” Jaggu Ram told him. “Of course, you could always get a licence from me.”

The man watched a prospective customer approach, catch sight of Jaggu Ram, and move away in the opposite direction at some speed. “From you?” he asked. “And how do I get a licence from you?”

“There’s a weekly fee.” Jaggu Ram stroked his moustache. “It’s...let’s say...” He eyed the stall, its position and calculated quickly. “...a thousand rupees a week.”

“A thousand,” the man replied, with no inflection in his voice. “That seems rather a lot, doesn’t it?”

“Well, I like your face,” Jaggu Ram said. “Maybe, shall we say, eight hundred?”

“Eight hundred.” The man stared at Jaggu Ram. “I don’t think so.”

“Or even five,” Jaggu Ram said, cursing himself inwardly for his benevolence. “”But five hundred, that’s the minimum licence fee.”

“You misunderstand me,” the man said kindly. “I am not going to pay anything at all.”

Jaggu Ram frowned. This statement was so unexpected that it took a long time to filter through to his brain, and he had to convince himself that someone had actually refused. “You aren’t going to pay?” he asked, just to confirm.

“That’s right,” the man said cheerfully. “I’m not going to pay.”

“In that case,” Jaggu Ram thundered, drawing himself up to his full height, “you can’t sell anything here.”

“Oh, but I am going to.” The man nodded in emphasis. “And you can’t do anything about it.”

“I can’t, you say? Come on,” Jaggu Ram pointed a thick finger at the object of his wrath. “Come on to the police station with me. I’m going to lock you up.”

“Most certainly I’ll come,” the man said. “But I don’t think you’ll be able to arrest me. After all, you can only arrest someone who’s actually there, right?”

Jaggu Ram tilted his head and studied this madman. “And you aren’t here, is that it?”

“Of course I’m not. I’ve been cremated long ago, and my ashes dumped in the river. You can’t arrest a handful of soggy ashes, can you?”

“What are you telling me,” Jaggu Ram said, resisting a strong urge to just walk away and sit down under a tree somewhere. “That you’re dead?”

“Oh yes,” the man said, smiling. “I’m dead and gone. Check out the registrar’s office if you don’t believe me.”

And that is how people found out that the dead man had come to Chamathunagar.


Of course he wasn’t really dead. That was obvious to everybody. Dead people don’t get up and walk around, and nobody ever saw a ghost sell things in the marketplace in the middle of the day. And, as Vijay said, no ghost ever stopped by his stall for tea and bread pakoras, and paid for them with quite genuine money.

But he was dead for all that.

Jaggu Ram had made certain of that the very first day, after dragging off the dead man to the police station. He’d pulled out a form and a ball point pen whose refill, hopefully, still had some ink left. The refill had responded to some vigorous scribbling on an old newspaper, and now Jaggu wanted the details.

“Your name?” he’d asked, squinting at the dead man.

“Lal Bahadur,” the dead man had responded readily. “I’m generally called the late Lal Bahadur, or Lal Bahadur  the Dead, whichever you prefer.”

Jaggu Ram had ignored that part of it. “Father’s name?”

“Satya Veer,” Lal Bahadur had said. “He’s dead too, so you can put down the late Satya Veer.”

“Don’t get cheeky with me. Address?”

“I live...I mean, I stay in Churail Chauraha.” It was a village not far from Chamathunagar. “But I’m not really there, because I’m dead, you know.”

Jaggu Ram had put down his ball point and stared at the dead man. “Just what the hell is this dead talk?” he’d asked. “Don’t try my patience too much, or I’ll find some additional charges to slap on you.”

The dead man had shrugged. “Please call the registrar’s office,” he’d said. “The registrar of land records. This is the address.” Taking Jaggu Ram’s pen, he’d scrawled away on the back of the form. “You’ll find out.”

Jaggu Ram had frowned at him for a moment and then the explanation had come to him. The man was trying to blow him off, trying to confuse him so that he’d let him go. Well, he’d thought grimly, that was not going to happen. Nobody ever made a fool of Jaggu Ram.

Already rehearsing the triumphant tones in which he would bring down the weight of the law on the man on the other side of the desk, he’d reached for the telephone directory, and, a minute later, for the old black dial telephone.

The dead man had sat opposite him, smiling.

It was, Jaggu Ram had thought bitterly as he’d hung up the telephone a few minutes afterwards, as though he was enjoying it all.

“You can go,” Jaggu had said, and buried his head in his hands.

And it was all just the beginning.


The realisation that he was a dead man meant that Lal Bahadur’s business improved no end. People came to him to gawk, and stayed to buy. His wares weren’t bad and he didn’t charge too much, and anyway, it was something they could talk about afterwards.

“I bought this T shirt from a dead man!” they’d say. And of course whoever heard the story would come to have a look.

But nobody knew just why he was dead. They talked about it with each other, and thought up all kinds of fancy explanations, but nobody knew anything for certain. All they knew was that he was in the market every day, in the corner by the bus station, and he paid Jaggu Ram nothing.

This quickly got on the nerves of the other stall owners. “Hey, Jaggu,” they said, “if you aren’t going to make him pay, then why should we?”

“Because I’ll lock you up otherwise for business without a licence,” Jaggu Ram replied, jutting out his belly.

“Oh, that’s a threat,” they jeered. “Not only is he not paying, he’s got the best place on the whole pavement. And he’s selling more than the rest of us put together.”

“He’s dead, and you aren’t,” Jaggu Ram pointed out.

“We’ll see who’s dead,” Anwar, a brawny seller of fake jewellery and trinkets, snapped. “We’ll go right now and throw him and his stock into the river.”

“No,” Sushant, who peddled combs and mirrors, scissors and nail clippers, replied. “We’ll keep his stock as compensation for our losses.”

“None of you will do any such thing,” Jaggu Ram bellowed, “or I’ll see you all in jail. I’ll have no fighting in my town.”

“Well, in that case, Jaggu,” Mukesh, the street barber, told him. “Either get him out of there or get him to pay. Or stop taking money from us.”

“How do I get him out of there?” Jaggu Ram asked.

“How the hell do we know? You’re the cop, not us.”

And there it might have rested indefinitely, but for the rising tide of resentment in the market, of which Lal Bahadur can’t have been unaware. But he carried on serenely, and people continued to buy his goods, and still nobody knew just how he came to be dead or what to do about it.

One day Pillu was coming up the street with Raja, bowed under a load of old tin cans he’d collected. It was a heavy, awkward load, and he paused by the dead man’s stall to wipe the sweat from his brow. Lal Bahadur watched him rub at his face with his hands.

“Here,” he said, holding out a hand towel from his stock. “Take this.”

Pillu looked at him, surprised. “I don’t have money,” he said at last, with some embarrassment.

“Forget the money. It’s a gift – from one working man to another.”

Pillu took the proffered towel. It was brown, with a black dog on one corner, not unlike Raja. “Thanks,” he said awkwardly. “Thank you very much.”

“Don’t mention it. I’ve been watching you. You work very hard, and you deserve something nice once in a while.”

Pillu grinned. “That’s the first time in ages anyone said anything like that to me.”

“You’re Pillu, right? I’m Lal Bahadur.”

“Lal Bahadur the dead man. I know.” Pillu looked him over curiously. “If you don’t mind my saying, you look fairly alive to me.”

“But I’m not. You can check the government records if you want, just like the fat cop did. I died three years ago. I’m very dead now.”

Pillu scratched his head. “Suppose you tell me about it,” he said at last.

“I’ve been waiting for someone to ask me to do that,” Lal Bahadur smiled. “Come and sit down here, and here’s a samosa for your dog.”

As Raja scoffed down the samosa in a bite and a half, Pillu sat and listened as the dead man told his story.

“I’m from Churail Chauraha,” he began. “My father was a farmer there, and he had a fairly large farm where we grew mustard and wheat.” He paused to see if Pillu understood all this. “Since I was his only child, when he died I inherited the entire place. I thought I was quite lucky at that, since most farms split up among the children when the owner died.

“Now my father had a brother, Raghu Veer. They owned adjoining farms, which had been one big farm once, when their father had been alive. Raghu Veer died before my father, and passed on his farm to his two sons – my cousins, Ram Prasad and Sita Ram – who divided it among themselves. So each of them had about half the land I did, and let me tell you they weren’t happy about that at all, at all.

“But I wasn’t unhappy. The land was good, I liked farming, I had no debts, and I was saving up to get married. Things seemed to be going fine. I had no quarrels with the two cousins, and if they were jealous, well, there was nothing I could do about that.

“Then one day I went to work on my fields, and suddenly there were Ram Prasad and Sita Ram coming towards me with a bunch of men. ‘Who are you?’ Ram Prasad yelled at me. ‘Lal Bahadur is dead, so who are you who are working on his farm?’

“I was astonished. I’d never known either Ram Prasad or Sita Ram to have the slightest trace of a sense of humour, or I might’ve thought this was a joke of some kind. .‘You know who I am,’ I said. ‘I’m Lal Bahadur.’

“ ‘Lal Bahadur is dead,’ he snapped, and held out a piece of paper. ‘Look, here is his death certificate. So who are you who are pretending to be him?’

“ ‘Get out of here at once!’ Sita Ram yelled. ‘You usurper, you thief of our dead brother’s land.’

“ ‘I’m Lal Bahadur,’ I protested. ‘And I can prove it. I...’ But it did no good. They ordered their men to throw me out, and they did, after beating me black and blue with their sticks. When I’d recovered a little I went to the village police station and complained, but the policeman wouldn’t even look at me. ‘There is no Lal Bahadur,’ he said, this cop who had seen me maybe five hundred times. ‘Lal Bahadur is dead. Get out of here or I’ll lock you up for creating a disturbance.’

“And that’s my story,” Lal Bahadur continued. “They bribed people to make certificates proving I’m dead, of course, so they could take my land. But there’s no way I can prove it.”

“Did you try?” Pillu asked.

“To prove I’m alive, you mean? I’ve done everything I could think of. I sat in front of the local politician’s office on a hunger strike, but nobody took any notice of me. I went to the land records office, but they said I was dead and they had records to show it. And now Sita Ram and Ram Prasad till my farm and grow fat on the produce, while I sell T shirts so I can eat and feed my old mother.” He grinned. “But forget that. Look, I just found another samosa for your dog. Here, boy.”

Raja jumped up happily.


Something has to be done about this dead man problem,” Jaggu Ram said. “Or I am going to have a riot on my hands.”

Karim Bhai, the lawyer, looked up from his cup of tea. “What dead man problem? What are you going on about?”

Mahavir Prasad, the other lawyer, and Rajat Kapoor the accountant laughed. “You must be the only person in town not to have heard of him,” the latter said. “He’s been parked out near the bus station for weeks now. And Jaggu Ram isn’t happy about it at all.”

The fat policeman shot him a disgusted glance. “It’s only the chance of violence I’m worried about,” he said.

“Of course, Jaggu,” Rajat Kapoor replied soothingly. “We all know that you hate any kind of violence.”

“So tell me about this dead man,” Karim Bhai said plaintively. “Or are you all just going to spend your time laughing at me for not keeping up with bazaar gossip?”

Jaggu Ram told him what he knew. “And the mood among the stall keepers is getting ugly,” he said.

“That’s right,” Vijay added, putting on another kettle to boil for tea. “I’m hearing talk that they’ll lynch him one of these days, Jaggu or not.”

Jaggu Ram nodded glumly. “If I can’t get him to move I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to keep a lid on things.”

“And how are you going to do that?” Karim Bhai asked. “I don’t see that you’ve got any legal means to...”

“Look.” Rajat Kapoor saw Pillu going by. “I’ve seen him talking to Lal Bahadur, or whatever his name is, several times. He may have an idea. Hey, Pillu, come here.”

Pillu walked over to Vijay’s Tea Stall reluctantly, keeping a wary eye on the lawyers. “Yes?”

“You’ve been talking to that man, Lal Bahadur,” Mahavir Prasad told him. “We need to ask you a few questions about him.”

“It’s for his own good,” Rajat Kapoor put in hastily, seeing Pillu opening his mouth, ready to deny he knew anything about anything. “He’s going to be lynched any moment now.”

“I promise we aren’t going to harm him in any way,” Karim Bhai said. “You have our word on that.”

Pillu nodded slowly. “It was like this...”


It was evening, and Lal Bahadur was packing up his stall ready to depart for the day on the last bus, when he had visitors.

He eyed them curiously. They were obviously not customers, and he noticed Pillu and the fat policeman, Jaggu Ram, lurking behind the group. “What can I do for you gentlemen?” he asked.

“Don’t be scared,” the tall thin man leading the group said. “We don’t mean you any harm, but we do need to talk to you. My name is Karim Durrani, and we’ve been talking about your situation...”

“And something has to be done about it,” the short round man next to him said. “For one thing, you seem to have been the victim of a really evil scheme. For another, unless you stop selling your wares in this market, you’re going to provoke a riot and probably end up dead. I mean, really dead.”

“Well, what can I do?” Lal Bahadur said plaintively. “I have to earn a living somehow, and this is the only place I’ve found where I can sell enough to break remotely even.”

“So you don’t really want to carry on this business?” the third one of the group, the younger, smart-looking man, said. “If you found another way to earn a living, you’d take it?”

“Are you joking?” Lal Bahadur bit his lip. “All I want is my farm back. If I could get my farm back, I’d want nothing else.”

“And that would only be justice,” the young man said. “So we have to get your farm back.”

Lal Bahadur laughed. “That’s something that might happen in a Bollywood film,” he said. “In real life, not a hope.”

The three men looked at each other. “There’s always hope,” the short round man said. “Maybe we could move the courts...”

The one called Karim Bhai shook his head. “The burden of proof would be on us, Mahavir. We might win, of course, we probably would in the end. And then they’d appeal and the whole thing would begin over again.”

“You’re right,” the man called Mahavir said. “In any case it would take years, at least. And we don’t have years.”

“We don’t even have days,” Jaggu Ram said from the back of the group. “I can’t sit here with a stick all day to protect him, either.”

“Ram Prasad and Sita Ram are far too greedy,” Lal Bahadur said gloomily. “They’d never give up the land, whatever happened.”

Pillu had been sidling away, but stopped suddenly when he heard that. “Wait, wait,” he said. “They’re greedy, you say. Very greedy?”

“Well, yes, of course,” Lal Bahadur looked at him. “Why else would they do this to me?”

“So greedy that they’d do even more if they thought there was something in it for them?”

“I guess,” Lal Bahadur said. “What are you thinking of?”

The young man with the smart clothes looked from him to Pillu and back again. “I think I know what he’s getting at,” he said slowly. “And I may just have got an idea...”

“This is going to take some planning,” Karim Bhai said after he’d listened for a while. “Come back to my house and we’ll talk. You too, Pillu.”

Still talking earnestly, they went.


Sita Ram had just got into the driver’s seat of his new tractor when he saw the men.

The tractor was Sita Ram’s pride and joy. Bright red and shining black, with an engine that growled like a panther and sent a thrill right through the seat, he couldn’t have enough of it. He’d even stood up to Ram Prasad and insisted on buying it, though his elder brother had grumbled at the expense.

Well, expense or not, it made the farming much easier. And now that they had got rid of that absurd Lal Bahadur, they had so much land that they really needed the tractor. Maybe someday his skinflint of a brother would even agree that it had been money well spent.

His brother was really an idiot, Sita Ram thought. The only good idea he’d ever had in his life was to have Lal Bahadur declared dead so they could get his land. And it had been even easier than they’d thought. Of course, they’d had to spend a fair amount in bribes and to hire a party of goons, but they’d earned it all back. The extra harvest last year alone...

He’d just reached out to turn on the tractor’s engine when he saw the men standing in the middle of what used to be Lal Bahadur’s field.

It was not a good thing to see strange men standing in what used to be Lal Bahadur’s field. It was even worse when those men looked very official and formal, and positively the worst when they were accompanied by a very large, completely unknown, policeman.

Leaving the tractor with its engine sullenly silent, Sita Ram hurried towards them. “What do you want?” he called, as soon as they were in earshot.

One of the men, who had a clipboard and was making notes on it, turned. “Ah,” he said, “you must be the owner of this land.”

“Yes,” Sita Ram responded. “I’m the owner. What do you want?”

“We’re from the government,” another of the men, taller and thinner, said. He had plunged a stake into the ground and looked up from a meter of some kind. “We need to talk to you.”

“Urgently,” the third man supplied. He was younger and had on some kind of overalls with a yellow plastic hard hat. “We’ve been testing the soil here.”

“And,” the man with the clipboard said, “your farm here has the highest deposits of a rare mineral that we have ever seen, anywhere.”

“Mineral?” Sita Ram repeated. “What mineral?”

“What’s going on?” Ram Prasad demanded, coming up. “Who are you lot and what are you doing here?”

“Government people,” Sita Ram told him. “They say our farm has some mineral.”

“Is that so?” Ram Prasad’s little eyes glittered with cupidity. “What is it, gold?”

“No, no.” The tall thin man flapped a hand deprecatingly. “Nothing so common as gold. This is unobtainium.”

“Un..ot...ob...” Sita Ram struggled with the word and gave up. “What is it?”

“Just a very rare metal, used for very specific applications. You know how we send rockets up?” The tall man pointed at the sky. “Satellites? Well, they can’t go up without unobtainium. The government needs it.”

“There’s a terrible shortage worldwide,” the man in the yellow hard hat put in. “So little to go around that it can’t be had for love or money.”

“And that’s why the government wants your farm,” the short round man tapped his clipboard. “We’ve got the papers right here.”

“You want our farm?” Sita Ram blinked nervously. “But...”

“Don’t worry, the government will give you adequate compensation. We won’t just seize it.”

“Compensation?” Ram Prasad leaned forward. “How much?”

“The standard rates would be the market value of your land, but in this case it’s an emergency,” the tall man said. “So it’s going to be a lot more.”

“Five times more,” the clipboard man said. “The government will give you five times the value of the land.”

Five times?” Ram Prasad yelped.

“That’s right. Five times more than your fields are worth. All we need is your signature and we’re done.”

“Five times,” Ram Prasad said to Sita Ram. “With five times the value of this, we could move to the city. Buy a couple of good houses.”

“Marry pretty city women,” Sita Ram replied. “We could start a farm supply business. Get very rich.”

“You can do anything you like with the money,” the tall man said. “I take it you’re willing to sell?”

Sita Ram had a moment of doubt. “What if we don’t agree?”

The three men looked at each other. “Well,” the clipboard bearer said, “we wouldn’t really recommend that. It’s a matter of national need, and if you don’t hand over the land voluntarily –“

“The government will seize it compulsorily,” the hard hat finished. “You won’t get anything more than the standard compensation, and even that will take its own time coming through the government channels.”

“By the time you get it, inflation will probably have reduced its value by a third,” the tall man added helpfully. “Of course, if you agree to sell it right away, that’s not going to be a problem.”

“Of course we’ll sell,” Ram Prasad said. “Don’t worry about my brother here, he’s just not so quick to see where his real interests lie.”

“Excellent,” the clipboard said. “Now, which of you gentlemen is Lal Bahadur?”

“Lal...” Sita Ram’s mouth fell open. “Lal Bahadur’s dead.”

Dead?” The man turned over a couple of pages on his clipboard. “When did he die?”

“Three years ago. Why, we’ve been the owners of the land since then.”

“Three years? How can that be? Look here, according to our records he’s the owner of the land.”

The brothers looked. They couldn’t read the English, of course, but they could make out Lal Bahadur’s photograph and signature well enough. And it was a very official looking document, as well it might be, with all the effort Rajat Kapoor and the lawyers had put into forging it.

“Look at the date there,” Mahavir Prasad said, pointing with one neatly manicured finger. “This is only a month old.”

“How can he have died three years ago if the document is only a month old?” Karim Bhai pressed, leaning over their shoulders. “There must be a mistake.”

Ram Prasad began to say something and thought better of it.

“The government records...” Sita Ram began. “The district office...”

“This is a central government document,” Rajat Kapoor said portentously. “It’s the Delhi government. What the local records say doesn’t matter.”

“You’d better find Lal Bahadur, wherever he is,” Karim Bhai said. “If you can’t, well...”

All three of them glanced at the big policeman, who was standing to one side, stolidly watching. For all his fat, he was a very big policeman, and just looking at him made Sita Ram begin to sweat.

“Wait, please,” Ram Prasad said. “I can show you documents for the other half of the land, we own the other half as well, the government can buy the other half, can’t it?”

“Uh huh.” Karim Bhai shook his head. “The government wants the whole farm, actually. It’s all or nothing.”

“So you’d better find this Lal Bahadur,” Mahavir Prasad advised. “Oh, I’m sorry, you said he’s dead, right? So I assume you can’t find him.”

Sita Ram and Ram Prasad looked at each other. “Er, um,” the latter said. “It might just have been a mistake that someone said he was dead. In fact, uh...I think he might be still alive.”

“We could find him for you,” Sita Ram said. “If we find him for you, the sale’s on, isn’t it?”

“You mean he isn’t dead? You’re sure?”

“Yes, sure, we’re sure,” Sita Ram and Ram Prasad said together. “He isn’t dead, we’ll find him for you.”

“You’ll find him?” Karim Bhai asked gently. “I think that won’t be necessary.”

“In fact,” Mahavir Prasad said, pointing over the fields, “if I’m not mistaken, here he comes now.”

There was a long silence as the brothers watched the distant figure trudge towards them.

The policeman cleared his throat and spoke for the first time.

“Remember you said he wasn’t dead, won’t you?”


Five hundred rupees?” Anwar squalled. “It was only four hundred and fifty!”

“Prices are going up,” Jaggu Ram said serenely. “Besides, you don’t have competition from the dead man any longer, so you’re going to make more money again. And,” he added, “remember I kept you all out of having to go to jail, so that’s an extra little something you owe me.”

Rajat Kapoor and the lawyers watched him from Vijay’s Tea Stall. “There goes a happy man,” the accountant said.

“Not as happy as Lal Bahadur,” Karim Bhai replied. “You know, I’d never really thought those two crooks would collapse so completely.”

“Well, their greed got the better of them, and by the time they realised the trap they’d entered, it was too late to back out.” Rajat Kapoor reached for his tea. “Though I must congratulate you, Mahavir. I’d never have thought about demanding they compensate Lal Bahadur by giving him the tractor as well.”

Mahavir Prasad laughed. “I thought the younger brother was going to cry. And when they went back to their old farm, they looked ready to come to blows. I’ll bet there was one hell of a quarrel.”

“As long as the good guys are happy.” Rajat Kapoor frowned. “Here’s someone who doesn’t look so happy. What’s wrong, Pillu?”

“Raja wants samosas,” Pillu said gloomily. “Lal Bahadur used to feed him samosas everyday, and now he wants samosas and gets angry if I don’t give him any.”

Rajat Kapoor reached for his wallet. “Vijay,” he sighed. “A samosa for our friend with the wagging tail, please.”

Copyright B Purkayastha 2015  

Thursday 5 March 2015

A Picture That Says A Thousand Words (or 1133 to be precise)

Sometimes, one photo tells much more than one might think.

This is a statue in Paltan Bazaar, Guwahati, Assam, India. It’s rather asinine, actually, what with the drawn sword and the prancing horse, but it depicts the Second World War era Indian anti-British revolutionary hero Subhas Chandra Bose.

Who was Subhas Chandra Bose? This isn’t the place for a full biography of the man, but these are the basic facts of his life: he was an Indian nationalist politician in the first half of the 20th Century, from the Congress party. In the 1930s he went to Germany, where in 1937 he married his Austrian secretary, Emilie Schenkl, with whom he later had a daughter, Anita. Returning to India, he challenged – successfully – Mohandas Karamachand “Mahatma” Gandhi’s own candidate for leadership of the Congress Party. This infuriated Gandhi, a conniving, scheming politician if there ever was one, and he retaliated by forcing Bose out of the party. Bose then went on to form a left-wing socialist party, which still exists, called the Forward Bloc.

As the Second World War started, the British put Bose under house arrest. He escaped in disguise in 1941, managed to get to Afghanistan, where he was issued an Italian passport and using that made his way to Germany through the still neutral Soviet Union. There he helped organise an Indian Legion (Legion Freies Indien) from among Indian PoWs taken by the Wehrmacht – on the strict understanding that these troops would not be used in combat against the USSR, but only against Britain. In the event, the Germans never used them at all.

Meanwhile Japan had invaded and captured British-colonised Malaya, Singapore and Burma, and taken a much larger number of Indians prisoner. One Captain Mohan Singh from among them began recruiting for an Indian National Army (Azad Hind Fauj in Hindi, which translates into Free India Force, while the English name was the INA) from among them.    

Another Indian nationalist in exile, Ras Behari Bose (no relation to Subhas Bose) who was in Japan and had become a Japanese citizen before WWII formally assumed command of the INA. In 1943, Subhas Bose travelled from Germany to Singapore via submarine, changing from a German U Boat to a Japanese sub in the Indian Ocean. On reaching Japan, Ras Behari Bose handed over command of the INA to Subhas Bose. By that time, though most of the PoWs did not join, enough troops had been found to equip two divisions. A third division was raised from ethnic Indians living in South East Asia.

In June 1944 the Japanese finally invaded eastern India. The first INA division took part in the invasion, and Bose himself briefly returned to Indian soil. However, though the INA’s officers were mostly dedicated and of a high order, a lot of the troops proved only too eager to re-defect to the British at the first opportunity, and the Japanese began using them merely as porters and line of communication troops. Field Marshal William Slim (Defeat Into Victory) contemptuously called the INA soldiers “Jiffs”. When the Japanese invasion collapsed, so did the first INA division. The second division was destroyed in early 1945 in the Irrawady battles in northern Burma, while the third, civilian-raised division, never got into action at all.

When Japan surrendered, by all accounts, Bose decided to fly to the USSR with his staff in order to continue the freedom struggle from there. On or about 18 August 1945, while on this journey, his plane crashed in Taiwan and he was badly burned, dying shortly thereafter. His ashes are now in Renkoji Temple in Tokyo. However, the Indian government to this day – despite the findings of several commissions of enquiry – officially refuses to admit he died there and then, and refuses to bring the ashes home. That’s a story for some other time.

If Bose had lived, it is absolutely beyond doubt that he would have been a nightmare for Mohandas Gandhi and his coterie in the Congress party. Not only was he an incredibly popular (my grandmother, who met him once in the mid-1930s, was still in rhapsodies about him sixty years later) and independent-minded man not beholden to any power centre, he was socialist, totally secular, and had nothing to do with religious divisions; his INA comprised troops from all religions and his aide de camp, Habibur Rahman, was a Muslim. Moreover, by the time the war was over, it was obvious that the British occupation was finished. Whitehall could no longer afford an Indian Empire. It was only a matter of time before the British left; when, not if. And if it came to a choice of Bose versus Gandhi’s anointed candidate for India’s leadership, Nehru, there is no doubt at all whom Indians would have chosen. Even according to a site which calls him a "fascist", Indians consider him,  allegedly after Gandhi, the greatest Indian politician of the 20th Century.

Bose would also have been a terrible problem for the Hindunazis of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), who had taken absolutely no part in the freedom struggle, not even the farcical “non-violent” agitation launched by the Congress. As a secular leader who would have united all religions, he would have left no space for the Hindunazis to play their games and would more likely than not have crushed them ruthlessly. And under Bose it’s difficult to see how India could have been split into two nations at Independence. A united South Asian India – with no need to splurge titanic amounts into a bloated military – would have been an infinitely greater force in the world than it is now.

But today, India is ruled by the Hindunazi Bharatiya Janata Party, and the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, was an active RSS member until fairly recently. And only a few weeks ago the government was caught trying to quietly efface the words “socialist” and “secular” from the Preamble to the Indian Constitution.

So here’s another look at the statue I saw in Guwahati. There’s Bose, on his horse, and never mind whether he ever actually sat on a horse.

And there, behind him, dwarfing his statue, is...a poster of Narendra Modi.

Yes, that’s a good idea of what today’s India is like, one where the fascism and its brother-in-arms, corporatism, rule, and dwarf the old secular and socialist values, where tawdry posters of self-serving politicians tower over people who gave their lives standing up for what they believed in. It’s a sad commentary.

But there’s a glimmer of hope. Take a look at the poster; how it’s faded and burnt by the sun, while the statue is still looking good as new. One can still hope that in the fullness of time the Hindunazi tide will recede, and the values of the guy on the horse will triumph over the “values” of the one hanging from the wall.

It’s not much of a hope, but, hey, it’s all I have.

Wednesday 4 March 2015

Death of a Terrorist

Excuse me just a moment
I won’t take much of your time.
I am nobody important –
Nobody you’ve ever heard of
Nobody who has a right to speak
In your comfortable living rooms, to you
As you sit sipping Coca Cola
With pizza and cheese.

I know I have no right
To do this.

Forgive me
For taking this time of yours
To speak.

Let me tell you my story.

Who am I? Nobody.
I have a name, of course.
Mohammed Tuaiman al-Jahmi, that’s what they call me
And I’m from Yemen, far far away
A place where the evil men of Al Qaeda dwell.

We all know Al Qaeda is evil
And has to be fought by all means possible
For the safety of your malls, your schools
Your wives and children in their homes.

And it’s a model campaign to destroy Al Qaeda, I’m sure
With drones eliminating these terrorists
Giving them a stark choice
To give up, or to die.
It is a commendable campaign, indeed
A Crusade, though you must not call it so.

Drones, the white birds of freedom
Flying overhead
Bringing liberty.

I am Mohammed Tuaiman al-Jahmi
Who had a father and brother freed by your drones
Freed from life, and its cares, and everything to do with it.
Or maybe they were evildoer terrorist Al Qaeda scum
Though I did not know it.

And I thought perhaps
You would leave me alone then.
But I must have been an Al Qaeda myself
Even though I did not know it.

And that is why I was burned to death
By a Hellfire from the sky.
And a statement said three Al Qaeda were killed.

Do not rejoice too much in my death
There is no time to rest on your laurels.
For there are more terrorists
Behind me.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2015

“In their eyes, we don’t deserve to live like people
in the rest of the world and we don’t have feelings
or emotions or cry or feel pain like all the other
humans around the world.”

- Mohammed Tuaiman al-Jahmi, aged 13, subsequently burned to death in one of Barack Obama's drone strikes.

Further Reading:

Tuesday 3 March 2015

Something Strange

Something very strange happened to me this afternoon.

I was at work at the time, and more than a little tired. In between two appointments, I sat back in my chair, and as one will, I began rubbing my face with my hands. And then this happened.

It felt like I wasn’t touching my own face. Oh, I could feel the familiar contours of my skull, the skin and the bone beneath, but it wasn’t as though I’d ever touched them before. It felt as though I was touching a mask – a wax mask belonging to someone else.

And it was the same with my hands. I could see my hands, I could feel them on my face, but it was as though I was using remote-controlled manipulators to touch myself. In other words, I felt as if I wasn’t this composite entity of proteins and calcium, water and bacteria, mites and protozoa that calls itself Bill which was touching its face. It felt as though I was sitting inside some kind of biological robot called Bill, and I was someone else entirely.

And I felt as though, if I wanted to, I could just step out and walk away from the robot.

It wasn’t any kind of out of the body experience – rather the reverse. I didn’t feel like I was out of my body, I felt as though I was myself, but in something that wasn’t my body. I don’t know how to explain it any better than the idea that I was in one of those deep sea diving suits which are more like mini-submarines than anything else.

[Atmospheric Diving Suit]

I must repeat that this was not a dream. It didn’t happen in the middle of the night. It was in the mid-afternoon, and I was not only awake, I was at work, and both my assistants were in the room with me.

How long this lasted I can’t say. It couldn’t have been longer than thirty or forty seconds at most, I suppose, but while it was going on I had no sense of time. Then suddenly everything seemed to drop back into place, and I was inside this biological machine which comprises all there is of me. I was me again.

I don’t believe in any such thing as a dissociated spiritual entity, soul or whatever you’d call it, so I am at a loss to explain just what it was that happened to me this afternoon. I think it was some kind of temporary neural short-circuit in my brain’s wiring system. After all, anyone who knows me is aware that my brain’s wiring isn’t all that good and tends to blow a fuse once in a while. But I have never had this kind of short-circuit before, and I’m not aware of anyone else who has.

I’ll just add one more – totally speculative – point.

I said that I felt as though I was sitting inside a robot I was controlling, and I could get out and walk away if I’d wanted, didn’t I?

Well, I wonder what might have happened if I’d tried to do just that.

Jihadi John and the 1% of the 1%: A Prediction for the Future

We live in a world run by psychos.

This is not something, of course, that I was the first person in the world to realise. As we have known for some time, leadership and success in business and politics – in most fields, probably – requires a particular kind of narcissism and the sort of sociopathy that allows one to ruthlessly use others as stepping stones and manipulate them to one’s own ends. But in recent days the process seems to be getting far more overt.

Some of the overt psychopathy is very deliberate and in your face. I don’t know where my assistant gets these videos. But a few days ago he sent me one more, of an ISIStani man cutting off people’s heads with a...sword. This wasn’t the staged and probably faked videos of people in impeccably clean orange jumpsuits, kneeling before masked evildoers and reciting prepared scripts before being “beheaded” off screen.

No, this was the real thing, with a blindfolded man in civilian clothes being made to kneel on a piece of ground soaked with blood, one ISIStani pushing down his head and another then cutting it off with one stroke of a sword. Where does an ordinary citizen obtain a sword, by the way, let alone training in how to use it? Saudi Barbaria? They then drag off the corpse to dump it on a pile of decapitated bodies. And there are at least three kids among the quite considerable crowd watching the spectacle.

Not the most pleasant video I have ever watched, you’ll understand.


But ISIS – assuming it even exists as an entity, and isn’t a smoke-and-mirrors proxy of the Empire like al Qaeda, something which is extremely likely – is only small potatoes in the psychopathy stakes. After all, what can it do, chop off some heads, burn some people to death, crucify a couple of others, and in sum, outside its area of operations, act as at most a minor inconvenience? Unless it's artificially nurtured and kept alive by its alleged enemies like its parent al Qaeda is, in a few years, what will be left of it? Nothing.

Actually, ISIS has nothing on the real psychos, the ones who rule the planet. These are the people who inhabit what’s been called “Richistan”, people so obscenely affluent that normal life has ceased to have any relation to them. They’re further away from the common herd than any medieval emperor or sultan. They’re more isolated from common humanity than the earth is from the star Proxima Centauri. They’re, one might say, the 1% of the 1%. And they are far from alone in their attitude.

One can even watch this sociopathy grow. I’ve often spoken of the Great Indian Muddle Class, and how it’s become a parasite feeding off the country, It’s a creeping loss of all the values one used to be taught that civil society was based on. It’s looking at starving, ragged people and not only feeling no compassion for them, no desire to help, but an active revulsion, so that one’s only wish is that they were gone. It’s hate sublimated as common behaviour, and anyone who doesn’t conform to that hate is a class traitor.

And this kind of thing, sad to say, seems to be getting worse in much or most of the world. Perhaps a few relatively egalitarian societies like Cuba or the Scandinavian nations are holdouts, but as for the rest, the Richistanis and their imitators have got a vice-like grip on the planet. And since they are, actually, rich enough to create a bubble of their “own reality” around themselves, what happens to the rest of us doesn’t make that much of a difference to them as long as they get what they want. To this end they buy themselves governments to legitimise their policies, private armies to protect them, wars to further their interests, and plan for the time where they will remain essentially unchallengeable till the sun burns out.

And unlike the crude and infantile violence of ISIS, these people also create their own reality. They invent their own history, they manufacture facts to validate what they do and say retrospectively, and they don’t feel the slightest, faintest trace of shame or embarrassment.

In other words, they’re psychos.

Now, I believe that – assuming we don’t annihilate ourselves in a nuclear war, another thing I consider extremely likely – that this control by psychopaths is going to have, in the long term, significant biological consequences for our species. Yes, I said biological. Consider:

We all – those of us reading this – believe in evolution, I take it? When one section of the population of a particular species is somehow isolated, and stops breeding with the rest of the species, that’s when evolution starts separating them into two different species. So far, this separation was usually geographical; ‘islands” as they’re called. Let me take a moment to explain.

These “islands” aren’t necessarily actual islands, but ecological areas across which members of one species can’t venture easily. For instance, suppose there’s a large and very dry desert, on one side of which there’s a range of mountains, and on the other, a coastal forest. Let’s then say there’s a species of antelope which lives in the hills. Owing to the paucity of water and food, few of the antelope venture out into the desert, but sometimes – let’s say for reasons of overcrowding – a few do. Most perish from thirst and starvation, but a very few lucky and hardy ones manage to make it all the way across to the coastal forest. Now of course there is enough food and water in the coastal forest for the antelope population to build up there again, but the conditions in a coastal forest are distinctly different than in an inland mountain range. Let’s say that in the mountains long legs for jumping from crag to crag, and long horns for sexual displays and courtship battles are better for survival. But in the coastal forest long horns would merely snag in vegetation, rendering one defenceless against predators, and short muscular legs rather than long and spindly ones would be of much greater use in pushing through the undergrowth. So the two different populations of antelope would soon become drastically different in appearance, and in a relatively short span of time would – by accumulating random genetic changes – become incapable of breeding with each other to produce fertile offspring.

In other words, they’d become different species.

Now that’s something, as I said, happens in the case of a geographical separation; but what if it’s not geographical, but social?

What if the human race splits into two sections which don’t interbreed at all, or not enough to matter?

Long ago, HG Wells, in The Time Machine, postulated a future in which Homo sapiens had split into two different species, the Eloi and the Morlocks, after the ancestors of the first had forced those of the second underground as workers in subterranean factories, there to slave in perpetual darkness. Not surprisingly, this was far too communistic a situation for Hollywood to handle, which is why its first attempt at a movie adaptation had the Morlocks become merely evil savages, contrasted to the intelligent, cultured, simpatico Eloi. But that was, of course, fiction.

Still from Hollywood's 2002 movie. Anyone who knows me knows my sympathies are with the Morlocks

If humanity survives, and current trends continue, this may not necessarily remain fiction. Societies today are not only stratified, they’re becoming more so by the day, with an almost unbreachable separation between the Richistanis and everyone else. And, of course, just like the kings of yore, the inhabitants of Richistan breed among themselves.

Now this is significant. In nineteenth-century Europe, the constant intermarriage between royal cousins meant that haemophilia became an extremely common illness in those circles, because the responsible genes kept getting shuffled back and forth in the limited pool. Now, as I said, the Emperors of the World are psychopaths, who care less than nothing for what happens to everyone else. I can’t prove that this is genetic, but it might well be. What is certain is that culturally, at least, they pass on their attitudes into their own circles.

And of course they can afford the best of everything – the best food, medicine, shelter, everything. When climate change and desertification unleash starvation and disease on the world, they’ll still be the ones who will have access to those things – the only ones, given enough time. So they’ll remain more or less as they are now.

Meanwhile, the rest of the human race will become stunted through lack of nutrition, and dwarfism will become a positive survival advantage because very short people would not invest scarce food into attaining great height. People who can more efficiently use water – maybe because they sweat less, and have kidneys which produce more concentrated urine – will have greater chances of survival than those who don’t. People who are more disease resistant, in the absence of affordable medicine, will live to breeding age rather than their more delicate peers. And it’s more than probable that those who bond together in tribal groupings will have much better prospects than those who don’t.

Even then, life will be brutish and short, and rapid development to breeding age will be significantly important. If one can breed before one dies of starvation, disease or tribal warfare, one can pass on one’s genes. Not otherwise.

So, as time goes on, it’s going to be a tale of two subspecies; one, a tall, well-fed, healthy, relatively modern overclass with a very strong sociopathic streak; and the other, a scrawny race of tribal midgets with thick skin lacking sweat glands, who attain puberty quickly (devoting resources to reproduction rather than other bodily development) on the other.     

Then, I suppose, when the resources of the planet are all but run out, the overclass will sail off to the wide black yonder in a starship and leave the world to the dwarfs. 

And the meek shall inherit the earth.

Or something like that.

Monday 2 March 2015

Raghead: The Nobel Prizident

* This panel is an actual (very toned down) scene from a genuine ISIS beheading video (not the jumpsuit-clad Hollywoodish fake crap) I’ve watched. The “moisture patch” on the ground (which was much larger in the original video) is blood. In the video the crowd watching included at least three young boys, and there was a pile of something like seven or eight corpses in the background, not just one.

Today's Raghead strip (which is twice the length of the average one, at eight panels) is dedicated to all you wonderful Obama religionists, supporters, apologists and voters. Thanks, guys and girls! I couldn't have done this without you.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2015