Friday 7 August 2015

The Lion Thing

Psychologically, I found today’s strip extremely difficult to draw. Anyone who knows me knows my love for (non-human) animals – the only creatures I kill are parasites, mosquitoes and houseflies. I procrastinated with this for days, ever since Cecil’s murder, while more crimes against non-human creatures kept piling up, while I tried to think of how to present it. Even when I had the idea clear in my mind, the atrocities visited on these poor animals made me almost helpless with anger, and reading them and looking over the photos for aid in the illustrations was highly traumatic.

Today’s strip is dedicated to Cecil, his brother Jericho, the nameless giraffe murdered by the two-legged beast in Panel Three, and all other non-human creatures who suffer daily at our hands for no fault of their own.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2015   

Things I Learnt From Watching Jurassic World

Hi, everyone. It’s time for another episode of Things I Learnt From Watching (Such and Such) Movie!

I finally watched Jurassic World. No, I didn’t pay to watch it – I downloaded it off the net. Even if it were a movie I’d have normally been eager to watch, the marketing blitz would’ve put me right off.

Here, for instance, are a couple of photos I took in a mall a few months ago, before the movie came out:

So last night, having nothing else I was in the mood to do, I finally downloaded and watched it. Now, I won’t lie to you – back when Jurassic Park first came out, in what was it, 1993, I loved the film. Today, over twenty years later, I’m mildly embarrassed by my initial reaction, but not all that much – for that time it was a good film, and told a fairly taut story without too many plot holes. I also watched the two sequels, which stuck in my mind with such overwhelming effect that all I remember of the second film was that it was King Kong, only with a Tyrannosaurus. About the third film, the less said the better. The whole experience was an exercise in cruelty.

So I wasn’t exactly all that eager to watch this one, but people who did told me it was good – better than the last two, and more like a continuation of the first film of the series. Also, it seemed to have got fairly good ratings, though I would have wanted to see what Roger Ebert – the only reviewer I’ve ever consistently trusted – would have said. Ebert, of course, is no longer with us, so I didn’t bother with the other reviews anyway.

I can tell you one thing; this is one hell of an educational film. Who says you can’t ever learn anything from the movies? Being generous, like you all know I am, I’m going to share all the knowledge I picked up from it with you, at no charge. I’m nice like that.

So, in no particular order, here’s what I learnt:

The more indispensable you are to the plot, the more guaranteed to survive you are, the more you can get away with being an utterly dislikable character. I mean, I thought the kids from Part One and the kid from Part Three were people whose necks I’d cheerfully wring, but, you know what, they were nothing compared to the two in this one. One was older and sullen, and one younger and whiny, and that was the sum of their character development. I couldn’t even have the satisfaction of being able to wonder whether one or the other would be killed off during the film – because from the first thirty seconds you knew they weren’t.

Not that any of the other lot was any better, including the leading lady and the, for want of a better word, hero.

Even though it’s proved to have failed again and again and again – three times ! – allegedly hard-headed capitalist concerns thinking only of profit will once again try the dinosaur theme park route to riches, instead of, I don’t know, using all their fancy genetic technology to solve world hunger or sickness or something.

And though anyone can tell you that people soon tire of seeing the same old thing, they’ll be astonished that attendances drop off unless they keep coming up with fresh monsters every now and then.

If you’re the hero, you can instantly think of the right thing to do – however utterly unlikely the course of action – while everyone else is losing their minds. For example, if a giant predatory dinosaur is knocking over cars with its snout to get at people hiding behind them, and you’re under a car, take a convenient knife and cut a fuel pipe which is as conveniently just above your head, so that you get soaked in fuel and the dino, no longer able to smell you, passes you by. This is true even though you have never encountered this dinosaur before, you have no idea if it hunts by smell, and it has never given any indication of hunting by smell.

Also, if you’re the hero, you can lean your gun against a car and the dinosaur can butt that car around, but the gun will stay exactly where it was, undisturbed.

DNA can be extracted from fossils. In the earlier flicks they needed mosquitoes to drink dino blood and then get stuck in amber, which was bad enough. But now we don’t need them skeeters any longer. Hallelujah!

Now, a fossil, if you don’t know, isn’t an actual bone or a shell or a leaf or anything of the kind. It’s the reproduction, in stone, of a bone or shell or leaf or whatever that once existed. An equivalent would be if I stuck a piece of bone in clay, took it out, and poured concrete mix into the impression. The cast of my bone that would remain is all that a fossil is.

Try and get someone’s DNA from a statue of them if you would like to try.   

Sharing DNA means you’re able to communicate and influence those you share said DNA with, even though they’re from different species altogether, even if you’ve never met them before, and even though you only share a little DNA with them. Going by this logic, since humans and chimps share approximately 98% of their DNA sequences, any human – even an Innuit or a Maori – should be able to speak fluent Chimplish and order them around too. What a pity that if he tried, the chimp would more than likely bite him to ribbons, smash his head into the ground until he was unconscious, and then throw faeces at him.

Chimps should totally watch this film.

When making a reboot of a franchise, with massive marketing and guaranteed hyper-profits, do not take any risks with the plot whatsoever. Just regurgitate the story of the first film, with more violence and action to cover for the similarities, and add a healthy amount of ripped-off material from Avatar. You know, that other blockbuster which is also headed towards becoming a franchise, with sequels in the works.

I mean it – they weren’t kidding when they said this film would carry on the story of the first film. In fact, it’s just a copy-paste of the story, with some things being repeated pretty much frame-by-frame.

You’ve got a sea monster people are waiting to see fed? Give it an endangered, real life predator for dinner, even though that real life predator is obviously dead and could be substituted with a hunk of meat or really any other acceptable food whatsoever. And also, this sea monster, though it’s in a giant aquarium, surrounded by stands filled with people, somehow stays invisible until it bursts forth in a huge leap to grab the Great White Shark dangled over the tank. It stays invisible even though the water is obviously perfectly clear, and it, being an air-breathing mosasaur, has to surface regularly to breathe.

Also, given the amount of water it displaces when it jumps, spraying everyone in the stands, I wonder how their cell phones and cameras keep working. Watching mosasaurs eat sharks makes your camera waterproof, I think. That’s another thing you learn from this movie.

Then again, cell phones only seem to work when plot-convenient in the flick, so perhaps soaking them wasn't such a good idea.

If you’re a huge predatory dinosaur, you can eat two humans in something like sixty seconds, leaving not a scrap of cloth behind, and still be hungry enough to go hunting for more. This is even though, in all your life, you’ve never eaten anything but your own sibling and blocks of meat dumped into your enclosure by crane. You’re highly intelligent, enough to be able to plan an escape involving manipulating your captors’ behaviour, claw out the tracker device implanted inside your body, and execute an ambush from hiding – and yet you don’t apparently pause a moment to check to see if the humans you’re chasing might actually be inedible or poisonous before you swallow them whole.

Also, when being chased by humans with guns, a group of whom you’ve just annihilated by ambushing them inside a forest, your preferred next step is to run to open ground where you can be easily seen, and hunt giant dinosaurs which you kill for fun, thus marking yourself out as the villain of the piece for whom the audience should have no sympathy whatsoever.

While hunting a giant, vicious predator, which has killed several people already and wiped out a group of professional troops sent specifically to track it down, you can stand in its killing ground arguing loudly, and nothing will happen to you. And then, when you find a group of animals it has massacred so recently one of them is still alive, you can sit by its side comforting it in its last moments without the slightest fear that the killer will return in the meantime.

Also, when you discover in the middle of a massed aerial attack by pterosaurs that your new love interest is alive, the correct response is to stand boob-to-chest with them and snog.

If you’ve got a huge predatory carnivore chasing you, a convenient waterfall will be handy for you to jump off. And this will always thwart the predator, which will never simply climb down by the waterfall to finish you off. Or a high wall will do instead of a waterfall, as in Part One.

Note: This will only happen if you’re a Guaranteed Plot Survivor. If you’re a disposable character, don’t even bother running. You’re screwed.

Hey, it worked for Jake Sully running from the Thanator in Avatar. You want to argue with success or something?

If you’re being chased by a huge vicious predator along a path, with forest with thick undergrowth on both sides, the correct response is to keep running down the path instead of hiding in that undergrowth where the predator will find it hard to follow. Just like if you’re a teenage girl in a slasher movie inside a house with a serial killer at large, you’ll run from him upstairs into the attic where he can find you, not down and out by the door.

If you’re a capitalist theme park owner who wanted your geneticists to make an attraction to draw the crowds, and only monsters draw the crowds, and he makes a monster for you, you must be shocked and say you never wanted a monster. You can then atone for your sins by riding off into action, even though you clearly aren’t qualified for it, and dying in a ball of fire.

Before you go, you can also gratuitously compare yourself to a military general, in case nobody got the point already.

Car batteries can stay charged for twenty years, and in perfectly usable condition, even if in a damp garage overrun with weeds and fast being reclaimed by nature. The vehicle this battery will power will also work, with no flat tyres or corroded wires, even though nobody’s touched it in decades.

I’m sure the militaries of the world would love to know about this.

You can spend the film sprinting around in grass and forests, rocks and debris, wearing white stiletto heels. And these stiletto heels, despite being specifically mocked by the hero, will gather not a smudge of dirt all the while!

Hell, a former girlfriend of mine twisted her ankle going down a corridor in stilettos, and once walked home barefoot after breaking a heel in a hole in the pavement. I’m sure she’d want to know about these.

Pterosaurs of many different species, from eras tens of millions of years apart, can live peacefully together in the same enclosure with no conflict. This enclosure, which has no obvious means of feeding its inmates or even of safely viewing them, will be of glass so fragile a running predator can smash through it with no effort or damage.

And then, if these pterosaurs of different species get out, they will always head off in immaculate formation to the nearest human gathering to dive bomb them in massed attacks, rather than scatter in all directions as quickly as they can.

You can always depend on the animal predator star of the movie to turn up at the climax, even though there’s no reason for it to, and nobody knows where it is. Happened with the Tyrannosaur in Part One, and happens now with the “Indominus rex”. Whatever that is.

Dinosaurs/“dinosaurs” of several different species, none of which have ever had any kind of contact with each other, and one of which (being a water dweller) has no obvious way of knowing the others even exist, will band together to eliminate an “unnatural” freak which does, the audience has been led to believe, not belong in this world. This is even though all those other dinosaurs and “dinosaurs” are explicitly called manufactured products that look nothing like what they would in nature.

We can now safely say that if Frankenstein’s Monster was ever created, he wouldn’t have a chance. Knowing he was “unnatural”, everything from fruit bats to star-nosed moles to jackals to killer whales would band together to take him out.

Also, as a bonus:

You can create herbivorous dinosaurs which lived at a time when grasses and other modern plants were unknown on earth, and without any obvious source of feed of the kind they evolved to consume – ferns and cycads, for example – you expect them to thrive. The first film actually had a triceratops fall sick owing to this, but I suppose fossil DNA can solve anything.

This isn’t meant as a review, but if it were one, I’d give this flick minus five stars out of five. If it hadn’t been for the special effects, which were good, I’d have given it minus ten.

So that’s what I’ve learnt from watching this film. Educational, wasn’t it? For me, and now, for you?

You’re welcome.

Thursday 6 August 2015

The Good Days Are Here

Oh, hey, you know, I’ve been remiss in keeping you up with the doings of the Hindunazis now ruling over us by virtue of the 31% of the vote they got last year. Sorry about that. I shall now attempt to correct that mistake.

Well, believe it or not, I have only good things to say about the Hindunazis this time. Yes, that’s right. Only good things. No, I have not gone crazy – I’ve just realised how concerned our rulers are for our welfare, and how obsessively they work to ensure we stay healthy, happy, employed, and with unstained morals.


Yes, I admit that they kept their promises. They promised us “acche din” (good days) – and the good days are here.

So let’s see all that they’ve done for us.

1. They’re super-concerned about our health. That’s why they set up a Ministry of Yoga, Homeopathy, Ayurveda and other “naturalistic” health “sciences”, with a minister and staff paid by taxpayer money, which further utilised said taxpayer money in blitzing us with text messages telling us to perform yoga on something called the World Yoga Day. Because that’s what we needed, a ministry of homeopathy, while actual medicines become unaffordable, because homeopathy totally works, right? Also, because one day of choreographed yoga made us all healthy and fit and happy forevermore. And of course it’s not as though said taxpayer money could be used elsewhere, is it?

That evil Russian dictator, Putin, even had the temerity to laugh openly about the idea of having a ministry of yoga. Eh, who cares about him, as long as Obama didn’t laugh, at least where the Hindunazis could see him.

2. They’re fixing to fix up our morals. India is a horrible mess of evil morality just waiting for a corrective touch. As you know, our people will be utterly corrupted by the sight of an exposed nipple or a bared vulva. No government, with any kind of conscience, can possibly permit this. Therefore, the Hindunazis banned over 850 porn (and “porn”) websites. Naturally, once they did this, rape and domestic violence and child marriage would all magically disappear, along with the population problem.

After all, it’s not as though most Indians aren’t on the web, and it’s not as if porn DVDs and magazines are readily available under the counter at corner shops. Nor do proxy servers or photo sharing sites like Tumblr, which cater to every fetish, actually exist. And India isn’t the home of the Kama Sutra and erotic temple architecture like Khajuraho either.

This definitely does not exist [Source]

Following an outcry, the majority of which was probably from their own supporters – Hindunazi voters have a much larger presence on the net than the rest of the populace, as anyone can find out by wading through the sludge of any Indian news site comment forum – the government then decided to walk this ban back, declaring that only child porn sites would be banned. Now, as far as I’m aware, no site has a big banner under its name saying CHILD PORN HERE. What is to be done?

There is only one answer. The poor Hindunazis, being such dedicated public servants, are going to have to go through every porn site out there, looking at all those naked tits and bits, to make sure none of it is child porn.

Can you imagine what they go through to keep our morals up to scratch?!?

3. They don’t want people to starve to death. Said people are stockbrokers and corporate CEOs, who, as everyone knows, are always on the knife edge of starvation. Since obviously these poor things must be helped, their interests – in the form of corporate profits – must be protected at all costs. Therefore, all barriers to this profit making, silly things like environmental laws, for example – are being swept aside. As we all know, environmentalists are traitors whose only purpose is to keep India down.


More on traitors in a moment.

Who, in any case, gives a damn that runaway global warming is here, in action even as we speak, and India will – owing to its geographical position – be one of the worst affected places on the planet? As a Hindunazi informed me years ago on Orkut, global warming is no threat at all, Muslim terrorism is.

4. They’re very, very eager to save us from terrorists and traitors. This is why they signed a peace pact with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak Muivah), a narcoterrorist mafia group which builds revenues from extortion and drug running, which has a heavily armed and uniformed army of over 5000 with a base called Camp Hebron right in a major Indian city, Dimapur. Now that they have a peace pact with the government, they can carry on with whatever they’re doing, but they’re no longer terrorists, are they? In fact they can be recruited to help the Hindunazis win elections at gunpoint in the states in which they’re active.

Totally no longer terrorist NSCN (IM) men at Camp Hebron [Source]

Meanwhile, a man named Yakub Memon, whose brother Tiger happens to be a wanted mafia baron and terrorist, returned voluntarily to India to clear his own name and help in investigations of his brother’s crimes – whereupon he was arrested, tried, condemned and hanged, and an online troll army unleashed to shout down dissidents and everyone else disturbed at this flagrant miscarriage of justice. But of course he was a Muslim so he deserved it.

More on that troll army in a moment.

So eager are the Hindunazis to save us from terrorists and traitors, in fact, that they’re creating the precise conditions that would give, for example, the Islamic State a golden opportunity to make inroads into the country. This is a major anti-terrorist step, of course, because as we’ve seen elsewhere, the first thing ISIS does is annihilate all competing terrorist factions.

Just see how very concerned the Hindunazis are to save us from terrorists! Who else could have thought of such a brilliant move?

5. They’re very concerned about unemployment. In fact, they’re so concerned about unemployment that they’ve taken a leaf out of the playbook of the Zionazis they so admire, who have their online troll force, the Hasbara. They’ve recruited a similar online army of trolls, the Hindusbara (as I’ve just named them, while writing this very piece), who work busily at blitzing dissenting blogs, comment fora, and posts on sites like Google Plus with Hindunazi wisdom, and shouting down and attempting to bully all contrary opinion into silence. I should know; I delete a minimum of five to eight abusive comments awaiting moderation on this blog every week, and I’m not even a high value Hindunazi target.

They're quite right: who needs traitors who don't believe India is the greatest thing in the history of the universe and invented everything from the wheel to plastic surgery to genetic engineering to intergalactic flight anyway?

Now the Hindusbara is only an online troll army, but there are plenty of real life Hindunazi armies, too, with names like the Shri Ram Sene, the Bajrang Dal and the Durga Vahini, who are ready and prepared to take more physical action against traitorous dissidents and liberals too – alongside such horrible anti-cultural things like unmarried boys and girls going out together.

We really need to thank the Hindunazis for making such a deep dent in the unemployment problem.

6. They’re determined to save the nation from the grip of bureaucrats determined to stifle all endeavour. Remember Sir Humphrey Appleby from Yes Minister, who repeatedly stymied all his superior’s initiatives? Well, our Hindunazis are determined not to let that happen. They won’t let bureaucrats and other officials who stick to piddling little rules block their grand vision. After all, they were voted into power by the people, well, 31% of the voting section of the people, right? So whatever they do is justified by the fact that those people voted for them, isn’t that so? So they’re perfectly justified in removing these pettifogging nitpickers and replacing them with compliant puppets – or, where that isn’t possible, by taking away the independent powers that allow these snivelling little blockers to play spoilsport.

I’m sure that you can totally appreciate their dedication to the nation when they do all this. They’re only thinking of our future.

7. Knowing how wasteful discussion and rule by consensus is, they’ve ditched all that for rule by F├╝hrerprinzip. To this end, Prime Minister Narendrabhai Modi has eliminated or sidelined all in-party opposition to himself, and rules by fiat through a tiny core group of intimates, who are themselves above the law and whose own corruption and misdemeanours are safe from investigation and punishment. Democracy is such a handicap in affairs of state, isn’t it?

And it’s a winning formula, of course; the Hindunazis’ Congress Party predecessors also similarly crushed in-party democracy, ruled via coterie, and ignored corruption – and they ruled India for almost sixty years. Are you going to quarrel with success or something?

8. Also, they, uh... Sorry, can’t think of anything more at the moment, but there must be some more achievements out there. After all, as a libtard (this is a word the Hindusbara has now adopted, replacing its earlier favourite, “sickular”) I can barely be expected to appreciate the glory of their new Golden Age, can I?

No matter. The Good Days are here.

Everyone should immediately pledge to vote for them again.

Wednesday 5 August 2015

Alexandra the (Not So) Great

I’m not one of those people who subscribe to the Great Man theory of history, where everything happens owing to the influence of certain individuals in power, often out of all proportion to their actions, and in ways they never intended.

But there are some events which clearly would not have been set in motion but for the actions of certain people, events which turned the curse of history in unexpected directions. Like, for instance, the invasion of Iraq, which certainly wouldn’t have happened but for George W Bush and his dalliance with the agents of Halliburton and the military-industrial complex.

The Russian Revolution was probably the one most significant event of the last century. It’s difficult to imagine how things might have turned out if it had never happened. This isn’t the place to go into detail over all that, but I’ll just leave you to imagine a world where Hitler attacked a Russian Empire led by an incompetent haemophiliac with ministers selected by “holy men” and an army led by generals chosen on the basis of their sense of humour.

Seems too far fetched to believe? Just read on.

In the annals of recent history, Alexandra Romanova cuts a curious figure. A German Protestant princess who grew up in Britain and considered herself an upper class liberal Englishwoman, she - with some reluctance - married a Russian crown prince, Nicholas II, who was besotted with her, almost literally at his father's deathbed (he quite literally arose from said deathbed to bless their union, climbing into a dress uniform to do so, an effort which likely hastened his demise). 

Then, apparently overnight, this former upper class English-speaking liberal transformed herself into a fanatic Orthodox Church believer and an even more fanatically reactionary believer in the Tsardom. She ruthlessly opposed any signs of liberalism, filled her husband's ears with statements like "the Russian people like to feel the whip", and repeatedly impressed upon him that it was his duty to pass on his autocratic powers to their son Alexis. Nicholas II responded accordingly, crushed the Parliament, the Duma, and among other things appointed an army chief (Sukhomlinov) whose primary qualification for the post was that he could make Alexandra laugh.

I am not making any of this up.

Alexandra was also of a peculiarly susceptible disposition, going by her actions. One particularly malign influence on her was the starets Rasputin (he’s often called a “monk”, but he never was one; starets means something like “wandering holy man” and has nothing to do with membership in any religious or monastic order). Rasputin, who was almost certainly not her lover, still gained an immense hold on her by his apparent ability to heal her son Alexis, who suffered from haemophilia, the disease rampant among European royals of the day due to their fairly incestuous marriages. How much of this ability was genuine is open to question; the historian Bernard Parks, in The Fall Of The Russian Monarchy, implies that the young prince’s doctors attempted some radical treatment on at least one occasion when Alexis’ life was “despaired of”, and that Rasputin, who coincidentally sent a telegram saying the boy would be fine, got the credit. In either case, the starets was among several people – all of a strongly reactionary bent of mind – who gained a hold over Alexandra.

Once the First World War started, Nicholas II decided to play at soldiers and left for military headquarters, and his wife virtually became the power centre in the country. Unsavoury people like Rasputin (but not he alone; among the others was also a highly unscrupulous woman called Anna Vyrubova) used their influence on her to get their own candidates appointed to high office, and as things grew worse she became ever more convinced that she held a holy trust to ensure that her son became Supreme Autocrat of Russia, without any trace of liberalism or democracy. 

Widely despised during her rule - there were demonstrations by 1916, according to Alan Clark in Suicide Of The Empires, demanding that her husband be deposed and she, the "German woman", be locked up in a convent - she was probably more responsible for the fall of the House of Romanov than Rasputin, Lenin, Kerensky and the First World War put together. But for her, the Tsardom might have retained just enough popular support to weather the defeats of the First World War, and carry on into the post war world, where it would more than likely have safely reasserted its power in the global fascist resurgence of the 1930s. And that neo-Tsarist regime would have likely stood up to Hitler with all the power of a wet biscuit.

Instead, she ended up shot in a cellar and her body dumped in a mine shaft.

So it goes.

Summer Vacation

This year Kavita and her family went to Khumukcham on summer vacation.

Khumukcham, as you must know, isn’t far from Meeteinganba, but unlike it, isn’t a grimy factory planet where the air has to be filtered so people can breathe it, and absolutely nobody goes who doesn’t have work there. Kavita’s father had gone to Meeteinganba once, and he said it was the worst place he’d ever seen.

Kavita’s brother Sanchit, who was very interested in machinery of all kinds, said he’d rather go to Meeteinganba than Khumukcham any day, but their father said he could go alone then, because none of the others were coming along. So Sanchit made a face and said he’d go to Meeteinganba someday and nobody could stop him.

Everyone assured him that they wouldn’t try.

On the day of the trip, Kavita and her family just took the commuter train across town to the Gateway Terminal. Kavita’s dad told them while they were waiting for their turn that when he was a child people only used to imagine going to another planet, and when they did, they’d think they would have to ride on spaceships for months or even years, so that by the time they got there, it would already be too late for them ever to come back again. Both Kavita and Sanchit had a good laugh at that.

“Just imagine being so silly as to think it’d take years to go to another planet,” Kavita said, sitting back in the nice soft cloth-covered chair in the Terminal waiting area. The place was full of other travellers, and shops selling everything from bags to clothes to food. She wondered what sort of person would be so silly as to take food along on vacation, and then remembered that not everyone was going on vacation. “People must have been very stupid then.”

“Well,” Dad replied, “they didn’t have the Cosmological Gateway, you see. Nobody imagined such a thing could ever exist. Even the science fiction writers were thinking about all sorts of Light Speed Drives and other super fast engines. It’s only the Cosmological Gateway that allows real space travel and vacations like this one.”

“How does it work?” Sanchit asked.

Both their parents replied together.

“You’ll understand when you’re older,” Dad said.

“Stop bothering your father with endless questions,” Mum said. “How does it matter how it works as long as we get there?”

“I want to know,” Sanchit muttered, “that’s why I’m asking.” But Kavita could see clearly that her Dad didn’t know the answer, and that Mum knew he didn’t know, and was trying to cover up for him. It made her feel deeply embarrassed for them both.

“Come on,” she said to Sanchit. “Let’s go and have a look at those displays.”

“Don’t go too far,” Mum warned. “We’ll be called any minute.” She looked harassed, with strands of hair escaping to fall over her face, her hands twisting nervously in her lap. She always hated travelling, even when the travel was just an instant’s blink between planets across the galaxy. “If we miss our turn...”

“We won’t miss it,” Kavita assured her. “Look, we’ll just be over there.”

Sanchit trailed behind her as she walked over to the display, kicking moodily at a paper cup someone had thrown on the floor. Kavita’s teacher, Mrs Bhattacharya, would call someone like that an “inconsiderate litterbug.” Thinking of that, she tried to imitate Mrs Bhattacharya’s exaggerated mouth movements and began laughing.

“What’s the joke?” Sanchit asked.

“Nothing.” Kavita looked at the displays. One of them was supposed to explain how the Gateway worked, and she pointed it out to Sanchit. It was something about crumpling spacetime between sets of coordinates, and illustrated with yellow and lavender lines on a green lattice on a black screen. She herself understood nothing much, but Sanchit looked much happier immediately, almost pushing his face into the screen.

There were other displays, mostly of vacation spots around the galaxy, and some of them looked quite good. One had lovely purple grass under a violet sky, on a plain that seemed to go on for ever. Little animals with long legs jumped in and out of the grass as though they were on springs. High overhead, something turned in slow circles, borne on four long tapering wings.

Another was Hakidar, which Mrs Bhattacharya had once mentioned that she’d visited on her honeymoon. It didn’t seem the kind of place Kavita would want to go to on her honeymoon – low cottages of wood, just one floor each, covered with vines with pink and blue flowers, set before a high pouring waterfall. It looked like the sort of place Kavita’s best friend Prerna’s elder sister Dipika’s romance novels all rhapsodised about.

“Rhapsodised” was another of the words Mrs Bhattacharya liked to use.

Tiring of the vacation displays, Kavita looked around. Across the big hall, the Gateway employees in their orange and yellow uniforms sat behind counters while long lines of travellers wended their way slowly towards them. Her father had shown them their booking, a zigzag of encoded information on his phone. Her mother had then moaned about how travel was no longer romantic, that once they’d have got a colourful ticket in a booklet, one for each of them.

Kavita was beginning to suspect that there was no pleasing her mother.

“Hey,” Sanchit said, still bent over the screen. “That’s interesting.”

“Well, it’ll have to wait. They’re calling us.”

Their mother was already fussing over her bags as they came up. “Come on quick,” she said. “They already made the announcement.”

“Don’t worry,” their father told her. “There are hundreds of others going, and besides it’s not as though it’s a plane or something. Anyone who misses one transfer can just wait for the next.”

Her mother looked unconvinced and began pulling the luggage along as though she was chasing something.

Absolutely no pleasing her, Kavita decided, and, more slowly, followed.


The Transfer Room was round, and had just the one door.  There were benches set all around the one circular wall, and blue lights in the ceiling. Kavita felt as though she was inside a huge can.

They sat down on one of the benches, which her mother had rushed to occupy as soon as the door had opened, even though her Dad said there would be plenty of room for everybody. In fact they were one of the first in, and many others didn’t even bother to sit. They just dumped their luggage in the middle of the floor and stood next to it.

As the room filled up, Kavita began to feel the first bit of anxiety. She’s never made a Transfer before. How would it feel? The more she thought about it the more worried she got.

“How did we ever invent the Cosmological Gateway,” she asked her father, to take her mind off it. “You said nobody imagined it could exist.”

It was Sanchit who answered. “It was all in the display,” he said scornfully. “If you’d bothered to read it instead of mooning over honeymoon cottages you’d have seen it yourself.”

“So tell me now,” she challenged him. “Since you know it already.”

“We got it from the Ibochoubas in the war, of course,” he replied. “They attacked us and we beat them, didn’t we? So we got the Gateway.”

“If the Ibochoubas had the Cosmological Gateway and attacked us,” Kavita asked logically, “how did we ever beat them?”

“How does it matter how? We wiped them out, and now we’re the only planet that has it, and so we own the universe, and –”

“You’ll know when you read your history books,” their father broke in. “Now shush.”

The Transfer Room had quite filled up by now, and an orange-and-yellow uniformed attendant stuck her head in through the door, looked around, withdrew and closed it. Kavita was expecting something – maybe the room would begin spinning, or at least there would be flashing lights or a siren. But nothing happened at all, and a moment later the door opened again and the attendant stuck her head in again.

Only this wasn’t the same attendant, or in the space of a few seconds she had somehow managed to change her uniform to a green-and-maroon one.  She looked around and smiled.

“Welcome to Khumukcham,” she said.

And that, Kavita realised, was that.


They got a shuttle bus from the Gateway Terminal down to Macha Tumbi, the town where Kavita’s dad had booked their hotel. On the way Sanchit kept blabbering about how he’d noticed the shifting of phases as they’d crossed the gateway, or something, so that in the end their mother snapped at him to hush up and sit still. Kavita hardly heard him. She was staring out of the window at the scenery.

Khumukcham, as you probably know if you’ve seen even a single tourist brochure or advertisement on the place, has pink skies with greenish clouds, and maroon seas the colour of wine. All the way down to Macha Tumbi, the sea stretched towards the horizon, between stands of the tall spiky trees with their round ball-like leaves at the tips of the branches, in greys and blues and yellows. There were some of the waikhoms, too, who stood beside the road and watched the shuttle bus go by.

The first time Kavita saw a waikhom, she was startled for a moment, almost afraid, before she remembered who they were. The waikhom was a male, thick-armed and bowed, his leathery grey skin covered by a mantle of black cloth that hung from his shoulders down to his knees. He turned his head slowly, watching them pass, and then suddenly raised one huge hand. Kavita flinched back instinctively before she realised that the waikhom was waving at the bus. Tentatively, she waved back.

Sanchit laughed when he saw that. “They’re just dumb animals,” he said. “It’s as pointless waving at one as it is waving at a cow.”

“They aren’t dumb animals,” she shot back. “They were here before we came and they...”

“...are still just as they were, living in villages.” He held up the guidebook their father had bought and told them to read. “It says here they never even developed electric power or industries of their own. If we hadn’t come along they’d still have been wearing grass and tree bark like the pictures here.”

Unwilling to spoil her mood by arguing, Kavita went back to looking out of the window. They passed a waikhom family, the mother walking ahead, her litter of children scampering along behind on all sixes. The children made Kavita want to laugh, and she turned in her seat to watch them as long as she could until they were lost to view.

Then the shuttle bus stopped and they got out. Macha Tumbi was like something out of a colouring book, with its bright yellow walls, green and red roofs, and streets made of white stone blocks. Everything seemed very neat and tidy, even the trees, which seemed to have been planted so the colour of their leaves matched the colour of the surroundings. The pavement stalls were crowded with tourists of all kinds, short and tall, fat and thin, black and white.

A drunk red-faced man in a pineapple shirt lurched down the street, waving a bottle half-full of a thick purplish liquid and singing. He saw them and came up, grinning stupidly.

“Welcome,” he said expansively. “Great place, isn’t it? You’ll have a wunnerful time here, especially the kiddies.” Kavita had a hard time understanding him, not just because he was drunk, but because of his accent. “Here,” he continued, thrusting the purple bottle at her mother, who was shrinking back in mingled fear and disgust. “Go ahead, ‘ave a drink on me. It’s lovely stuff, it is.”

“Go away,” Kavita’s dad said slowly and distinctly. “Leave us alone, or I’ll call the police.”

It seemed to Kavita to be an unnecessarily churlish thing to say, and the red-faced man certainly seemed to take it that way. “All right,” he muttered. “If you want to be like that...” Taking a long swig from the bottle, he wandered away.

“Let’s just go to the hotel,” Kavita’s mum said. “But how do we drag all this luggage along?”

“I’ll hire a porter,” Kavita’s dad said, pointing to a stand behind which a number of waikhoms in dark green and gold mantles were waiting. “He’ll know where the hotel is, too.”

The waikhom porter was only about as tall as Kavita’s mum, but broader than all four of them put together. He picked up all their luggage in his four hands without any apparent effort and stalked off, walking surprisingly fast on his short legs. His huge head bobbed at every step.

“He reminds me of that doll you used to have,” Sanchit said. “The monkey one which nodded when you moved it.”

Kavita frowned at him, but secretly she was thinking exactly the same thing. “Does he resent having to carry luggage for us, you think?” she asked.

Sanchit laughed. “Why should he? He’d getting paid for it. Otherwise he’d still be in a grass hut somewhere, remember.”

Kavita looked at the waikhom. He certainly didn’t seem to be resenting anything. He just plodded on, carrying their bags as though they weighed nothing at all.

Her parents were talking about something to do with shopping, and how expensive it might be. She tuned them out and looked around. Several of the stalls they were passing by sold only the purple liquid, some of which was in tiny bottles smaller than her hand, and some in flasks almost as tall as she was. She wondered what it might taste like. Her mother would have a heart attack if she asked to buy one to have a sip, she thought, and smothered a giggle.

They came to the hotel. Its name was Jiteshwari. Isn’t that a nice name for a hotel? It looked nice, too, made of blocks of stone the colour of honey. They had two rooms, side by side, looking out over the sea. The beach started just below Sanchit’s and Kavita’s room. The sand so dark red that it was almost black in colour and from up here looked like a carpet spread out along the sea.

“Look at all those kids swimming,” Sanchit said. “Do you think Mum is going to let us go in the water?”

Kavita snorted. “She’ll be screaming about monsters and tides. We’ll be lucky if she lets us take our shoes off to walk on the sand.”

Later they went down to dinner. Their father said hotel food was always much costlier than and not as good as food elsewhere, so they went to a diner he found in the guide book. It was only a couple of buildings down from the hotel and called itself the Restaurant Robindro. There was a waikhom doorkeeper in a red and gold uniform at the door, complete with epaulettes and lanyard, who looked like a general from an ancient painting. He saluted with one of his hands as he held the door open with one of the other three. Kavita had to restrain herself from saluting back.

The food their father ordered, after checking the menu and referring to the guidebook, was something that came in a tough, leathery shell that looked a bit like a pine cone. The waiter – a human, of course, not a waikhom, a waikhom wouldn’t be allowed inside a human establishment  – cut open the shell with a special knife with a hooked tip, and the inside was all soft, steaming, and the colour of strawberry ice cream. He then scooped it out on to all their plates with a ladle that scraped the inside of the shell so that there was nothing left inside to go to waste.

“It’s called crottled greeps,” Dad said, picking up a spoon. “It’s one of the specialities of Khumukcham.”

“I’m not eating this,” Mum said, looking at the food as though it might eat her instead. “You never know what it’s made from.”

“It’s a sea plant,” Dad told her. “Says so right here in the book. Anyway, it’s one of the only vegetarian items on the menu, so it’s eat it or starve.”

Kavita chewed the crottled greeps meditatively. It tasted a bit like the meat Prerna clandestinely shared with her at lunchtime in school, but with flavours she couldn’t name. On the whole, it wasn’t bad, but she really would have preferred meat, like the sizzling steaks the waiter had just delivered to the black couple at the next table.

The restaurant had dim lighting, soft and amber, but she thought she could recognise the drunk man from this afternoon, sitting a few tables over with a woman. He had changed out of the pineapple shirt and was in something black and purple and green, and had apparently sobered up. At least he was talking and eating like anyone else.  

Sanchit and Dad were talking about going for a walk, but Mum said something about being tired and turning in early. Kavita, listening with half an ear, wondered how she could be tired since they’d done almost nothing all day except walk from the Terminal to the hotel and from there to the restaurant. She was just about to say that she’d like to go for a walk too, when something happened.

The restaurant door burst open and several waikhoms rushed in. In their hands they held weapons, and one in the lead had something that she recognised as a megaphone. With one hand he fired a gun into the ceiling. It made a loud noise, and everybody froze into silence.

“Everyone stay where you are,” he shouted into the megaphone, in English. “We don’t want to hurt anybody.”

“What’s this?” someone asked. “A robbery?”

The waikhom’s heavy head turned towards whoever had spoken. “We aren’t robbers or thieves,” he said slowly. His voice was deep, the words carefully enunciated, as though he was in an elocution class. “We’re just struggling to take back our world, which was stolen from us.”

“Stolen from you?” Kavita couldn’t help repeating. She’d suddenly recognised the waikhom. Though he was no longer wearing the green and gold mantle, it was the porter they’d hired earlier.

“Shush,” Mum hissed. “Keep quiet!”

“No, young lady, there’s no need to keep quiet.” The waikhom slowly advanced between the tables towards them. The black mantle he wore was so hung about with pockets and pouches crammed with things that he seemed almost too big to fit in the aisle. “I remember you from this afternoon,” he said, peering at her from under his immense brow ridges. “You were wondering whether I resent working as a porter. Right?”

Kavita couldn’t make herself reply. Her mouth dropped open with a hiss of breath.

“Well, young lady,” the waikhom continued, “you have your answer here. This is our world – and we couldn’t even come inside this restaurant if we didn’t have weapons on us. We can open the door for you, haul supplies to the back entrance, and take away your trash, but we can’t set a foot inside. How do you think that makes us feel?”

Kavita felt her lips move, but she couldn’t make them utter a word. The waikhom was standing by their table, looking down at them. She could smell him, a smell that reminded her of dry grass on a hot day.

“I see you’re eating crottled greeps,” the waikhom said. “Do you know that the greeps farms use waikhoms as labour? They wade in the sludge from morning to night, planting and weeding and harvesting, but they aren’t allowed to eat a morsel. All greeps are reserved for human consumption. Did you know that?”

“No,” Kavita whispered.

The waikhom’s huge head nodded. “Of course you didn’t know. You humans don’t even acknowledge that we can think, do you? I’m sure all of you are amazed I can even speak English. Right?”

Nobody said anything.

The waikhom turned away and raised the megaphone again. “Listen, everybody. We’re the Khumukcham Liberation Front, and we’re taking you captive. We aren’t planning on hurting anyone, so please keep calm and cooperate. You’ll be let go when our demands are met.”

“You’ll never get away with it.” Kavita recognised the voice. It was the drunk man from earlier. “The government will never give in.”

“We probably won’t,” the waikhom acknowledged. “But it’s just the beginning of the struggle, and it’s going to go on for as long as necessary. You see, unlike you, we have nowhere to go and nothing to lose, and so, no matter how long this goes on, we won’t give up. Sooner or later, we’ll –”

There was a sudden flash of light so bright, and a blast so loud, that Kavita thought she’d gone blind and deaf for a moment. When she could see and hear a little again, the restaurant was full of smoke and shouting figures. The waikhoms were crouched at one door, shooting across the room at men in uniform who were climbing in through the windows and shooting back. And then her father grabbed her by the arm and pulled her down under the table. Sanchit and Mum were already there.

“We’re going home this instant,” her mother moaned. “As soon as this is over, we’re going home.”

After a little while the noise died down, and a human voice called out that it was safe to get up. The restaurant seemed to have been utterly destroyed. Tables were overturned, people were crying, and the air was thick with smoke. There were no waikhoms to be seen.

A man in uniform came around to check if everyone was all right. “They got away for now,” he said, his face grim. “But we’ll track them down, never fear. We won’t allow these hooligans to destroy the relationship between us and the waikhoms and to smash up the tourist industry.”

“We’re so glad you’re here,” Kavita’s father told him.

“Wasn’t that exciting?” Sanchit whispered, nudging Kavita.

Kavita didn’t say anything. She was somehow glad the waikhoms had got away, but she thought it wouldn’t be well received if she said anything about it now.

“There have been a few other attacks,” the man said, “but this is the biggest yet. They’re getting too bold. We’ll need to take more aggressive measures against them.”

“I knew we shouldn’t have come on this vacation,” Kavita’s mother said.


Kavita got the top grade in class for her essay on What I Did On My Summer Vacation, of course. Mrs Bhattacharya had just one criticism to make.

“I wish you’d temper your imagination with a smidgen more verisimilitude, dear,” she said.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2015

Sunday 2 August 2015

I Understand

I understand why you voted for him.
He made you feel good
Expunged the racial guilt of the past.

And he improved the value of the stock market.
I understand
That makes him worthy of support
And respect.

Just like Mussolini made the trains run on time
And Hitler locked up all the troublemakers.

And I understand that he is better than the alternative
That we should be grateful for that.

Just imagine how much worse
It would have been for the people
If it had been a white conservative
Whose drones were firing missiles on their weddings
And whose trained terrorists were beheading them.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2015

Image source

The Great Unescape

Copyright B Purkayastha 2015