Friday 5 June 2015

Self-Portrait With Time

This was directly acrylic on paper. No pencil outlines, nothing. Just brush and acrylic paint.

Title: Self-Portrait With Time
Material: Acrylic on Paper
Copyright B Purkayastha 2015

Thursday 4 June 2015

The Humvee

Once inside the White House dreary, Drone Man pondered, worried, weary
Upon how his ISIS proxies were falling by the score –
Watching frontlines creeping, nearly weeping
Suddenly there came a beeping
As an SUV gently beeping, beeping at the Oval door.
“ ‘Tis some SUV,” Drone Man said, “beeping at my Office door
Only that and nothing more.”

Oh, Drone Man well remembers, how the glowing embers
Of burning Libyan cities into the sky did soar;
Eagerly he’d watched the TV – while he’d scanned the CV –
Of the puppet he’d meant to install when Tripoli was washed in gore
For the puppet who’d give him the oil of Libya like tribute at the door
A pliant puppet slave forevermore.

But more bombing, fighting, blasting, the puppets now beyond trusting
Grilled him, filled him with anger seldom felt before;
So that then he’d sat furious, but still not uncurious
If the same formula would work if tried over once more.
“I’ll use it in Syria, try it over once more
And capture the country from the desert to the shore.”

Presently he’d had inspiration, and filled up with new passion
“I’ll get me some cannibals,” he’d said, “and headhunters galore.
“I’ll fund them and I’ll train them, and on Syria I’ll rain them
And they’ll spread jihad poison as by spore.
They’ll overthrow Assad – ” and he’d raised his voice in a roar
“I’ll own his country, forevermore.”

Deep into jihad forums peering, filled with hatred seething, searing
Soon he’d found his cannibal headhunters, people he could love, adore
He gave them machine guns, he gave them cream buns
He filled their pockets with drugs and dollars, and waved them through his door.
“We’re Exceptional, Indispensable, Exalted, and therefore
History and facts are things to ignore.”

And then in Warshington sitting, his teeth all furiously gritting
He’d read of his jihad failing in the desert, failing by the ocean shore,
“Surely there’s something I can do, perhaps stage a gas attack or two
And bomb Syria to scrap, like in Libya I’d done before
Yes, like in Libya I’d done to Gaddafi before,
Until the wind finds ruins, and nothing more.”

Open wide he’d thrown his mouth, and issued orders, north and south
Of a campaign to be launched with bombers, missiles, shells and more
“First I’m going to destroy Syria, and then I’ll pause to sing an aria
Of my plans for Iran, Russia before the blood’s dry on the floor
Of how I’ll destroy China, Russia, before the blood’s dry on the floor
I’ll own this planet, to the core.”

But to his anger and surprise, nobody this time swallowed the lies
It seemed his war he wouldn’t have, his orders they’d all ignore
As he’d sat in his Office raving, for peace they had a sudden craving
It seemed, or at least his lies were too extempore.
“I’ll think a moment, other possibilities I’ll explore
And over the planet my drones will soar.”

Then suddenly he’d thought of ISIS, born of that other crisis
His friends and mentors Bush and Clinton had wreaked in Iraq before.
“That is the very thing, that will soon make me a king
I’ll throw them at Assad until he can take no more.
And the wind shall howl in the ruins of the desert, and the shore
There will be ruins, and nothing more.”

Through the wide-opened Turkish gate, a flood in swift-rising spate
ISIS struck like a tornado at the squabbling cannibals that had gone before
Oh it shattered and it killed, as the headhunters’ own heads spilled
Like skittles off their shoulders and rolled on the desert floor.
Until ISIS’ black flag flapped in the air by the score
As far as the eye could reach, and even more.

But then the counter-attack came, and ISIS soon lost the game
Forced back in Syria it fled to Iraq, back the tide its remnants bore
And Drone Man in his Office mourned, as his pets fast lost ground
To those he’d vowed to oust, and defeat stared at him once more.
“What can I do now?” And he looked up at the door
Where something beeped, just once more.

The door he threw open, whereupon like fingers groping
Uncertain and placating, something drove out on to the floor.
Its armour was set in planes and angles, weapons hung on it like bangles
On the wrists of an aging hippie clinging on to the days of yore.
“Why, ‘tis a Humvee, like a million I’ve seen before
Just a Humvee, and nothing more.”

Into the Oval the Humvee lumbered, and Drone Man slowly clambered
Into its turret and sat, listening to the engine’s roar.
For a while nothing he uttered, not even a syllable he muttered
Wondering why it had come in through his White House door –
While the machine sat in the middle of the Office floor
Engine rumbling and horn beeping, out there on the Office floor.

In the turret he sat behind the gun, and thought of all the fun
He could have firing it at Assad’s face, and at Putin’s even more
When suddenly in a twinkling, from nowhere he had an inkling
Of an idea that came to him, seeping in through every pore,
Like a black flag flying over an armoured door
Like a Humvee with an ISIS flag flying above its armoured door.

The machine gun like a wasp’s avenging stinger, or even more a pointing finger
Pointed him in a new direction he ought to explore –
Set him to some head-scratching, and a new plot a-hatching
A plot that would bring victory in his grasp once more.
And he thought, “No wonder my plans all failed before
I never had such a good one as this before.”

“ISIS has men,” said he, “but weapons and mobility
Are things that it must have for its wings to soar
And you, my Humvee, have just shown me
How I can get them these in ways the world will ignore.
How many Humvees does ISIS need? Your advice I implore.”
Quoth the Humvee: “A hundred score.”

So Drone Man sat thinking, and presently he started blinking
As new ideas came where old ones had gone before.
“Not just mobility,” he thought sadly, “ISIS needs also badly
Armour and much more than included in my plot du jour.
Where I can find a mine full of inspiration’s mystic ore?”
Quoth the Humvee: “The Pentagon’s store!”

Drone Man said “Now my way I clearly see, the way I’ll make free
With regulations that tie me down, and send weapons once more.
Tanks, artillery, you name it, I know now how I’ll send it
In ways that ISIS will get them, and win through once more
To the victory I promised them, that to them I swore.”
Quoth the Humvee: “You won’t bore.”

Drone Man stroked the Humvee’s top, thought happily of the crop
Of headless bodies in numbers never seen heretofore –
“I’ll arm the Iraqi, the army that I know perfectly
Will cut and run and leave the weapons for ISIS, like they’ve done before.
How do you like my plan? Tell me, I implore.”
Quoth the Humvee: “J’adore!”

“Then when ISIS captures it all, and it seems Iraq will fall
I can send troops and planes and even more weapons than I’ve done before
To destroy the tanks and Humvees, that ISIS will take when the army flees
I’ll send missiles that ISIS can capture in turn, to arm its armoured corps.
Is’t all right so far, or should I seek a system restore?”
Quoth the Humvee: “I assure!”

“Though I sometimes wonder, if I’m making a blunder
In assuming things will go as simply as I’m planning for.
How many hours before the weapons fall to ISIS? A year or more?
I can’t wait if it takes ISIS to capture the weapons a year or more.
How many hours? I’m afraid you’ll say a year or more.”
Quoth the Humvee: “Twenty four!”

While I’ve been waiting for a while – at least four years – for some topic I could write a parody of Poe’s The Raven to, I scarcely expected that the Imperialist States of Amerikastan’s fairly transparent attempt to arm its ISIS proxies would provide the inspiration. Still, the muse strikes in unexpected ways – rather like one of Obama’s Hellfire missiles.

What inspired this parody was the news that ISIS captured a billion dollars’ worth of Humvees alone in Mosul (again alone), and more subsequently in Ramadi, and that isn’t including all the artillery and Abrams tanks and so on that Amerikastan sent to its famous New Iraqi Army. And the solution after ISIS captured all that? To send even more Humvees, tanks and artillery to this same New Iraqi Army. As well as missiles to destroy the Humvees and tanks it already sent. I wonder what it will send when (when, damn it, not if) ISIS captures those missiles.

Damn it, I wish someone would give me a Humvee. After all I’m not going to turn it into a car bomb or machine gun anyone from it, and I probably deserve it more than some jihadi with nothing in his skull but mangled and misinterpreted material from the Koran.

If I was the Caliph Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, I’d be composing a letter of effusive thanks to Obama right now.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2015



Tuesday 2 June 2015

A Candidacy of Dummies

On the face of it, India seems to have an incredibly vibrant democracy.

After all, look at the candidate line up for just about any election, especially in the constituencies in the boondocks where you’d think nobody would give a damn about voting anyway, especially since the outcome makes no difference in their lives. You’d think there would be a couple of candidates, and that they’d be from the two parties which would swap power every election.

You’d be wrong.

Especially in the boondocks in Indian elections, the candidate list for any constituency is often huge. You’ll have thirty or forty people vying for a seat. A few of them will be from the main political parties – say three or five or eight of them. Some of them will have serious hopes of winning. The rest will be simply so the political party concerned can remind people it exists.

And the rest?

The rest will be the independents, candidates from no party whatever, who are contesting the elections on their own bat. Once in a long while one of them might be a major politician expelled from one of the parties, who’s cashing in on his own power base by making an independent attempt to storm the citadels. But who are the rest?

Businessmen, hoping to win power and change laws to suit their businesses? Once upon a time that might have been the answer, but these days the major parties are so much in the pocket of Big Business that the moneybags can simply buy the laws that suit them. Or, if they want, they can join a party of their choice and get given a seat to contest. Most political parties these days consider how much money a candidate can invest in his own election before deciding on its candidates.

After all, it is an investment, because these days politics is completely business. I don’t think I need to point this out, do I?

So just who are the others, all those candidates who fill up the ranks, not one of whom has a chance to win? Idealists, doing their bit for democracy?

Are you out of your mind?

Let me talk about a hypothetical scenario.

Suppose, now, you’re a candidate planning to take part in an election. There are two main candidates who have a chance, because each one of them is backed by one of the main parties, and you’re one of them. Right?

The problem is, the electorate is split down the middle. Which way the election will go, by your reckoning, is impossible to predict as things stand. But – with all the money at stake, including developmental funds to be siphoned off, bribes from corporations to change laws to suit them, and the like – you don’t want to leave it to chance. You’ll try to make it a sure thing as far as possible by sabotaging the Other Guy’s chances.

How do you go about doing that?

One thing you’ll most certainly do is accuse the Other Guy of corruption and malfeasance, but that won’t take you far, for two excellent reasons: first, he will accuse you right back of the same thing, and with good reason, since unless you’re corrupt to the core you wouldn’t manage to get to be a candidate from a major party in any case. And, secondly, the electorate is probably far too jaded to give a damn about corruption anyway.

So what else can you do?

You fill the field with dummy candidates.

A dummy candidate – the term is a completely mainstream one in India, because the practice is so widespread – is one who is not expected to win; in fact, he’s not meant under any circumstances to win. His value lies in draining away votes which would otherwise more likely than not go to your opponent.

Suppose, for example, the Other Guy has a fairly common name, say Mahendra Kumar or Harjeet Singh or Mohammad Abdullah. Since money is no object – you’re backed by a Big Party, which is in turn funded by Big Business, as well as your own slush funds, dammit – you can afford to hire several other people called Mahendra Kumar or Harjeet Singh or Mohammad Abdullah to stand in the election. The proliferation of candidates of the same name will often confuse enough voters to cost your opponent a significant chunk of his support.

This is such a routine practice in North India that one common way politicians counter it is by adding a nickname to their real name, so Mahendra Kumar might become Mahendra Kumar “Bitta” to distinguish him from all the other Mahendra Kumars in the field.    

Or, let’s say the constituency has a mix of voters of two different caste groups. You’re of one caste, your opponent of another. To this day in Indian elections, caste groups tend to vote for candidates from their own castes, rather than look for merits of either the candidate or the party. So you know that your caste will almost entirely vote for you while the other lot will vote against you.

So this is what you do: you hire multiple candidates of the other caste to stand, ostensibly, against you. What they are actually doing, of course, is standing against the other guy, because every vote they get is a vote which wouldn’t have come to you anyway – but now he doesn’t get it either.

And it’s all completely legitimate! There’s not a single thing actually illegal about any of this since there's no way to prove anything.

This works elsewhere as well. As I’ve pointed out many times before, except for the far left and the extreme right, most Indian political parties are family fiefdoms, privately owned business properties passed on from father to son, and occasionally daughter. To this end, internal democracy in the parties is nonexistent. But occasionally there are rumbles of revolt in the ranks, especially when the going hasn’t been good in recent elections. There are hints that the Top Family’s position might be under threat.

Then it’s time for a quick sham election in the party, with some guaranteed loser being put up against the representative of the Top Family, and the latter’s position being overwhelmingly cemented in the ensuing wipeout of the "opponent". It’s quite likely that the “challenger” won’t even vote for himself. The function of the dummy, in this case, is to act as a sacrificial goat to head off any serious challenge.

That’s how much a farce these things are. And, yet, it’s totally legit. Again.

Now just look at the World’s Indispensable Nation, the Bringer of Freedom and Democracy worldwide, where each election sees a Chosen One opposed by a deliberately selected kook whose only purpose is to scare fence sitters into voting for the Lesser Evil – the Chosen One, in other words. And where a so-called “left-wing” politician who voted to send weapons and money to help Zionistan bomb Gaza farcically “challenges” a known war criminal and Chosen One for the right to stand against the Unelectable Kook in 2016, and you know that we’ve done it again.

Like so much we’ve given the world, from the zero to tandoori chicken, India has exported the Dummy Candidate as well.   

Monday 1 June 2015

Goa: Sea and Sand

If you're a regular reader of this corner of the internet, you'll have noticed that over a whole bloomin' week has gone by without an update (until a few hours ago, that is). Why has over a whole bloomin' week gone by without an update? It's gone by without an update because, ladies and gentlemen, I've been away. And part of that time away was spent in Goa.

What is Goa? It's a small state on the west coast of the Indian peninsula, which was (until invaded and annexed by India in December 1961) a Portuguese colony and is now a tourist enclave. It's not the first time I've been there - I'd put up a post with many photos of my previous trip in October 2012, but they were all eaten by the Great Google Photo Crash which hit my blog in April of 2014. In any case, on that occasion I'd gone to Goa with someone who said she'd love me "forever and a day" - and then I discovered that "forever and a day" didn't exactly mean what it said, so it's just as well that those old pictures are gone.

I only spent three days and two nights in Goa, which is about half the time I'd spent there on the previous visit, so I didn't do much compared to what I'd done before. I didn't go exploring the far interior of the state, riding a rented motorcycle along back routes with the then Significant Other yelling in my ear relaying routes from her Google Maps. You do realise that one can't keep consulting Google Maps while operating a motorbike at the same time? So I exclusively stuck to the main routes this time, where there was always someone I could ask the way in case the (excellent) Goan road signposting failed me.

Most people would call what I had in Goa a "vacation", but I wouldn't call it that. It was a break I needed desperately, to purge my mind of the anguish that has been consuming me for a year now, an anguish related to the ending of "forever and a day" well short of eternity. It was what, if I believed in a spirit or a soul, I'd call a "spiritual break" that I needed.

So, this is what I did. I rented a room in a fairly good but low-cost hotel in the little town of Candolim, which has a long but very tranquil beach (unlike most Goan beaches which are either taken over by fishermen or tourists). I've been to Candolim before, and I prefer its quiet and very long beach to the noisy, crowded, beaches on either side with their restaurants in shacks on the shore playing ear splitting music and boat owners pestering you to try out the water sports they're offering. In Candolim even the water sportsters don't try to shanghai you.

I rented a truly awful motorcycle and rode along the wide Goan highways at speeds probably approaching a hundred kilometres an hour, feeling the wind roar in my ears. Probably approaching, I say, because this motorcycle didn't have a functioning speedometer. It also lacked a functioning odometer, engine kill switch, fuel gauge or usable left rear view mirror. There was an invisible fuel leak somewhere - the thing stank constantly of petrol. The ignition key, which is normally just inside the rider's right knee in this model, was somehow under the left front edge of the fuel tank, where it was all but impossible to remove after a ride without burning one's fingers on the engine block. And there were two different but identical looking keys, one for the ignition and fuel tank and another for the lock. Why? Don't ask. I don't know. The fuel tank cap, in fact, was quite difficult to lock properly since the key would come out even if the cap wasn't secured.

At least the horn worked, and so did the headlight and indicators (after a fashion; when one decelerated the headlight dimmed to the point where it would give a firefly serious competition). And to add insult to injury, the renter demanded a security deposit in case I damaged his precious hunk of overheated, rusting metal, and when I gave it back he went over it looking for fresh damage. Charming.

Well, at least the damned thing didn't break down,  and, rather remarkably, didn't get a flat either.

I don't mean to say all rental bikes are that bad. The one I had last time was superb, except for a minor gearbox oil leak.

One of the things I did in Goa was give a lift to a random guy looking for a town called Parra of which I have never heard, near which was some place called Emerald Lawns. We spent half an afternoon looking for these Emerald Lawns - which he'd visited once, ten years in the past - before a very cute little girl gave us precise directions. Emerald Lawns turned out to be something resembling a cross between a church, a museum and a high class hotel. I don't know what it actually was, but there were many vehicles parked out front. My passenger - obviously angling for a lift back forty kilometres to where I'd picked him up, a place already well out of my way - invited me to go in with him. I politely declined.

He was a trusting sort, though, because I doubt anyone would want to take a ride with this:

That, by the way, is a replacement helmet I demanded and got. The rental guy at first gave me one which lifted away from its lining at the slightest speed and settled on the back of my head - when it wasn't threatening to slip right off entirely, and strangle me with the chinstrap besides.

Here are a few things I saw when on the bike:

Dolphin Circle, Calangute:

Calangute is a town north of Candolim, and has a beach which I didn't visit this time. I'd visited it last time and found it too commercial for my tastes. But outside Calangute is a major traffic intersection where the panchayat (town council) has put up this lovely sculpture. I remember it from the last visit but didn't take photos then.

Pretty trees:

Water buffalo and egrets:

Possibly derelict launches tied up on a waterway quite far from the open sea:

Fort Aguada:

This is the one place I'd visited earlier that I revisited: Fort Aguada, on a headland between the beaches at Candolim and Sinquerim. One reason I revisited it is my passion for old military architecture. I love ancient forts. The other? I had time I needed to kill.

I even found the same vendor from whom I'd bought a T shirt in October 2012. She, of course, didn't remember me, but I could tell her that said T shirt was at that moment in my bag in the hotel.

Last time when I - we - came here, they were shooting a film at the base of that tower and an actor in a Homburg was repeatedly throwing it away and going into a break dance. I assume that was the hero. I don't know what film it was and I don't want to know.

Then I went to the lighthouse next door. That's the modern lighthouse. The old one was on top of the tower in the fort. There's no way to get a good picture of the lighthouse, due to tree branches, but I did my best:

And, because I like you people so much, I took a picture of the Arabian Sea for you.

See that ship there off the coast? Wikipedia says it's called the River Princess and has been stuck there since 2009. I got a mite curious after I'd noticed it hadn't moved a metre in three days.

What else did I do?

I ate beef steak and squid, prawn xacuti (a dish I'd never heard of earlier) and pork sausages. Here's one new place I found, one which I liked a lot; it's called Blistering Barnacles and is only four months old. The name and the inventive menu card will only be comprehensible to those familiar with the works of Georges Remi, alias HergĂ©.

I browsed bookshops, vainly seeking a book on the 1961 Indian invasion. You'd think at least one writer would've thought fit to write a book on the one occasion India defeated a European country in war, wouldn't you? You'd think so, but you'd be wrong.


I walked barefoot on the beach for hours, feeling the wet sand drain away my pain through the soles of my feet. Mornings I went down at sunrise to the sea, lay in the water and let the waves wash over me, bearing me up like a bird on the wind. I sat out on the beach at night with wine, as the ocean crashed on the shore and splattered my toes with brine. Did I mention I love being barefoot on the beach? Well, consider it mentioned.

Pity footsteps on the sands of time are washed away instantly by the tide.

The beaches:

Now, I know what you all want, as soon as you hear "Goa": the beaches. I'm sorry to say I visited only three this time and came close to a fourth - near Vasco Da Gama - but found it unfit to tread on, dirty and desolate. I don't even recall the name: Sada, maybe.

So here are the three, all in North Goa.

1. Baga Beach:

This is the northernmost of the three - north of Calangute - and a "happening" place, lined with beach-shack restaurants and crammed with tourists. I did not like it much. Still, here are photos for you, in which I tried to avoid photographing the tourists as much as possible, and a nice sunset:

2. Sinquerim Beach:

This is quite a small beach, not far from Fort Aguada, just south of Candolim. The beach has a few shacks and some  hotels just above the sands, but the main feature is this old fortification. It's not particularly large, so I have little idea what practical function it might have ever served.

Sinquerim Beach is pretty, certainly. Very pretty in fact:

However, I spent only about twenty minutes on the beach, and in that time I was approached by no less than four representatives of the boat crews in the middle picture above insisting I try their water sports. That was one of the reasons I only spent twenty minutes on that beach.

3. Candolim Beach:

Ah, Candolim Beach, how do I love thee? Let me picture the ways.

That red flag over there in the distance marks a "no-swimming" zone.

Fort Aguada is somewhere on the other side of this headland marking the southern end of Candolim Beach. At night you can see the beam of the lighthouse coming over that hill:

There's that ship again! The non-Flying non-Dutchman.

Goan beaches are full of friendly dogs. This one took a real shine to me.

And the waters wash the shore...

Sunset on Candolim Beach:

So there was I in Goa.

And, little by little, I began to improve. My stress levels reduced, my mind became calmer, and I began to think a little of the future instead of exclusively of the past. I slept naked (and alone) and during those few days had none of the insecurity dreams which normally shred my nights. Not once did I dream I was facing an examination or that I was on a journey with no ending. Nothing tried to drag me into dark threatening shadows where things much worse than death waited, gibbering.

Though it happened again as soon as I came back...

Yes, I paid for it, and I don't mean just financially. I paid for it with a deep wrench at having to leave, and a decision to return as soon as possible. I also paid for it with a terrible sunburn which turned my face, neck and arms boiled sunset red. They hurt terribly for a couple of days and then suddenly began to improve.

I'll be going to Goa again, someday fairly soon, for a longer time. I'll put up more photos then, I hope.

Assuming anyone is interested, that is.