Saturday 27 February 2016

From the Baboon Chronicles

Once upon a time, there was a large valley among the mountains in which lived several troops of baboons.

Now, this valley was large and the topography was varied. Some parts of it had abundant water and trees laden with fruit, while others were drier and had nice juicy locusts and beetle grubs, and yet others, high on the slopes overlooking the valley, had herbs growing which could cure most illnesses.

There was also a certain kind of nut which grew in the valley. These nuts weren’t eaten by the baboons most of the time, because they were hard-shelled, difficult to break, and not really very tasty at all. But they kept excellently, and so the baboons stockpiled them for times when the food supply ran low. These nuts grew more in some parts of the valley than in others, and they grew in greatest profusion in those parts of the valley which were most arid, desolate, and isolated – in fact, those that had hardly anything else at all.

“We have nothing else but these nuts,” the troops of baboons which lived in those areas said. “We have no fruit, or beetle grubs, or even locusts here, which keep the other troops so well. But we have the nuts, and they do not.”

“We should trade with the others for their fruit and beetle grubs and locusts,” the baboons then said to each other. “That way, we can have the best of what the others have, and they can have the nuts that can keep them alive during times of trouble.”

And so the baboon troops began trading with each other, and soon the nuts became the currency of exchange.

Now it so happened that among the baboon troops there was one which, while not the largest, was peculiarly vicious and aggressive. This particular troop, in fact, had occupied a prime part of the valley by attacking and driving away the more peaceable troops that originally occupied the spot; and though it had plenty of water and fruit, locusts and beetle larvae, the troop was not satisfied.

“We must take as much of the fruit and water, locusts and larvae, as we can from the other troops in the valley,” the elders of the troop declared. “Our baboons deserve nothing less!”

“We are the greatest troop of all,” the troop said. “Clearly the Great Baboon favoured us above all others, and we are exalted in His eyes.”

“But,” some lesser baboons ventured, “we have hardly any nuts growing here, so we have nothing to trade with.”

“That does not matter,” the elders declared confidently. “We have stones aplenty in our territory. We will force the other troops to accept these stones in lieu of nuts.”

“But what if the other troops do not agree to accept stones instead of nuts?” the lesser baboons demanded.

“Why, we’ll promise to exchange them for nuts at some time in the future,” the elders said. “And they can wait forever and a day for the future to come, as far as we’re concerned.”

“And if they should refuse to accept the promise?” the lesser baboons countered.

“Are we not the strongest, meanest, most vicious troop in the valley?” the elder baboons snapped. “Who dares stand against us? Are you un-Troopian, and therefore you oppose what is best for our troop? Do you oppose the will of the Great Baboon?” And they signalled, so that cohorts of the most aggressive and savage of the baboons closed in around the dissenters. “Well?”

Seeing no alternative but to acquiesce, the lesser baboons gave in, except for a few holdouts, who were accordingly torn to pieces. And the Troop of the Great Baboon went out to the others, and forced them to accept stones in lieu of all their fruits, and larvae, and locusts. Whenever any troop refused, or claimed that they did not have enough for their own use to be able to spare any for themselves, the Troop of the Great Baboon invaded their territory, massacred them, and took everything that it wanted, scattering a few stones as payment. And the other troops shivered in fear when they saw all this, and most of them gave in meekly.

One year it so happened that there was a drought on the land, and the supply of food was growing short. The Troop of the Great Baboon had no nuts growing in their own territory. Moreover, having long since decided that they could go and take by force whatever they could not exchange for stones, they had bothered to save no food at all. And they looked around them and realised that they would have to acquire food from the other troops, if they were not to cut down on the amount they had grown used to consuming.

“It is clearly not intended by the Great Baboon that we should starve,” the elders said. “Therefore it is not just our right but our duty to take from other lesser troops what we need.”
But the other troops themselves had little left over, and they refused to accept payment in the form of stones; so the Troop of the Great Baboon attacked their lands, expecting that they would give up like always before. But the lesser baboons knew that it was a question of their very survival, so they fought like they had never fought before. And the Troop of the Great Baboon was forced to spend more and more blood on fighting, and got nothing at all in return.

Now among the Troop of the Great Baboon there were two cliques, which distinguished themselves from each other by staining their muzzles with the juice of berries; one group stained itself blue, and the other red. Both these cliques squabbled much among themselves, loudly and angrily, as a matter of course, and each claimed to have the special favour and divine sanction of the Great Baboon himself.

Every few years these troops would gather to select from among themselves an Elder of Elders, who would rule over them. Each clique would choose one from among themselves, and all the baboons would throw sticks into a circle, which would then be counted. The clique which managed to throw more sticks into the centre of the circle would get to have its chosen baboon become the Elder of Elders. And then they would go right back to living, and squabbling, as usual, until next time.

Now this time the food situation, owing to the failed battles, was getting serious, so the two cliques began screaming even louder than usual to lay their claims to the position of Elder of Elders.

“If I win,” the candidate from the Blue clique, who was already one of the troop’s most vicious enforcers, declared, “I will send even more baboons to attack even more troops – and all the food they capture, I’ll make sure to distribute among the troop members. Well, of course,” she added hastily, “some will get more than others, but that’s how the world is.”

“I’ll end all the wars,” the other candidate, from the Red clique, declared, “and bring the baboons home. Of course, we’ll have less food that way, so everyone will have to eat a little less. Of course,” he added as hastily, “ that doesn’t apply to the elders, who need all the food they can get to have the energy to lead our Troop.”

“He’s right,” the Red clique yelled. “No, she’s right!” shrieked the Blue clique.

And the baboons gathered to select the Elder of Elders at the circle. They gathered, and as the time of the casting of the sticks grew nearer they began squabbling more and more, and then they began to bite and scratch and wrestle each other.

“Which of them has won?” they demanded, after throwing their sticks into the circle at last. “Ours, who is the Anointed of the Great Baboon...or theirs, who isn’t?”

The baboons whose task it was to count the sticks picked them up, and looked at them, silent.

“Well?” the cliques demanded. “Which is it?”

The baboons just stared at the gathered cliques. “What difference does it make?” one asked at last.

And the gathered baboons looked at each other, at the juice which had rubbed off and mingled during their fighting, so that red and blue were mixed and matched to a uniform purple. They looked at each other, and then at the two candidates.

And already it was impossible to say which was which.

Thursday 25 February 2016

Fidayeen is now on

Click here, and please spread the word! Make me famous!

After Sunshine

It was a summer evening
Professor Caspar’s research done
And from his laboratory window
He looked at the setting sun.
And by him sat his Wilhelmine
Assistant and also concubine.

She saw her lover’s wrinkling
Brow contract as he frowned
And sighed for instead of making love
All night he’d run a thought to ground.
She spoke to ask what idea he’d found
In case he was eager to expound.

Professor Caspar looked down at the girl
And up at the roseate western sky
Then the learned man shook his head
“It’s my wish with wings to fly;
To leave behind the chains of gravity
And sail through the boundless starry sea.

“I look at that swollen sun
As each evening it goes to bed;
And a thought goes round and round
Inside my elegant erudite head.
‘Twould be a great idea,” said he
“To visit that orb, it seems to me.”

“Tell me how you plan to do it,”
Lovely Wilhelmine she cries
As she looks up at her genius lover
With adoring cowlike eyes.
“Tell me how we’d go to the sun
And just what we’re looking for.”

“It is their cowardice,” the Professor cried
“That puts the men of science to rout
For when they think of voyaging there
The heat knocks them all right out.
For iron would run like water,” said he
“By the shores of a solar sea.

“My brain’s too keen for these scientist-men
Round and round theirs go in vain
I got the solution in a moment’s thought
While they sat and argued again.
And while they cower in stupid fright
We’ll go to the sun at night.”

With blood and metal they made a craft
As high as it was wide
And furnished it with food and air
To last them all through the ride.
Caspar took cushions for his captain’s chair
His lover a comb, to mind her hair.

Great was the sight when they rose up
On a column of smoke and fire
And half the bigwigs at the universities
Took to their beds with envious ire.
“They’ll fail though,” the others said
“The sun will toast them like a slice of bread.”

“Now we must find,” Caspar said
“A comet near the sun
On its other side, in its shadow
We’ll make our historic run.
For you know, the sunlight bright
Will make a comet’s shadow, and that’s called night.”

So they found a comet large
Caspar named it after his lady fair
For, he said, its tail was as pretty
As his lover’s well-combed hair.
She, the maiden, smiled and sighed
And hoped they’d get back home unfried.

Then they spun round the swollen sun
And looked into its lambent flame
But the comet’s shadow kept safe and cool
The intrepid professor and his valiant dame.
“I see faces,” the Professor cried
His eyes staring wonder-wide.

Wilhelmine took the telescope
From his unresisting hands
And the lady looked her fill
At the sun’s unknown lands.
She saw flame-men, and women too
As real and live as I or you.

“One of them,” she gasped aloud
In the craft’s cushioned space –
“Looks just like me, and she’s staring back
Right into my own little face.”
“Just like you?” the Professor griped
And then a moment his brow he wiped.

“But they’re shameless,” Wilhelmine said
And frowned and shook her well-combed head;
“They wear no clothes, and do out about
What decent people do in bed.
And of all of them, that woman there
Is most wanton, as well as bare.”

The woman in the sun then smiled
And a kissy-face she made
As though she knew her beauty’s flame
Put the human woman right to shade.
“I could have ten thousand men like that
But they’d fry like bacon fat.”

Caspar sighed and turned from the beauty there
Looked at the lady by his side
And something in her face made him
Ask her right then to be his bride.
For ‘twas better to make her wife
Than feel the edge of her kitchen knife.

“Of course I will,” the maiden said
With a tight-lipped little smile
As though she’d been waiting for this moment
For months and years, all this while.
“Of course I will, but you better turn
Us back homeward, lest we burn.”

The comet sped on past the sun
And in the course of passing time
They came back to near the earth
And celebrated with a gin and lime.
Then they kissed once, and came on down
Landed back in their little town.

Great fame then the Professor won
And of course the Lady Wilhelmine
But the scientists wondered why she kept
A blade with her shining keen,
And why, though his fame was bright
She only let Caspar out at night.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2016

[This is, of course, a parody of Robert Southey’s After Blenheim. But any close passage to the sun will have to be done, as described, at night, that is, in the shadow of some astronomical object.]

[Image Source]


Tuesday 23 February 2016

Update on Fidayeen

As some of you may possibly be aware, a publisher recently saw fit to inflict a novel written by me on the world. This is called Fidayeen, and on 24th January I was in Lucknow for the official release.

Here are a few pictures:

On the 21st February, Fidayeen won the Best Fiction Award at Lit O Fest 2016, Mumbai. I wasn’t there in person, but here’s a picture anyway.   

Maybe the media will finally now take notice of the fact that I exist...but I won’t hold my breath.

Now, I didn’t write this article just to boast. Fidayeen operations – in which a small number of attackers infiltrate a military base or some other installation, and keep fighting till they’re overwhelmed – are, after a hiatus of several years, picking up in number once again in Kashmir. They’re highly effective in that they force the security forces to tie down troops in protecting their own bases, making it more difficult to control the cities and countryside.

This is important because, in today’s Hindunazistan, where majoritarian fascism is the way this government rolls, the people of Kashmir (who spent a decade slowly returning to a semblance of a modus vivendi with India) are once again being made to feel like barely tolerated foreign interlopers. Separatism, which was dying out, is picking up again. 

See, here’s the problem – you can, possibly, keep a people forcibly crushed down and subjugated by military force...for a while. But, unless you can actually convince the people that their best interests lie in accepting your rule in return for whatever quid pro quo you can provide, they’ll never be yours. You’ll always be an outside oppressor, holding them down with main force.

Well, so what? So this – sooner or later, something is going to happen which will make it impossible to hold them down any longer. It may be economic collapse, defeat in a war, famine or internal turmoil, or a combination thereof; but history shows definitely that all nations go through cycles, and, increasingly, as resources run out and global warming disrupts agriculture, these cycles can be expected to become more frequent and violent. Sooner or later, India will be unable to hold down Kashmir by force any longer.

At that point, what happens will depend on the attitude of the Kashmiris towards India. If India is interested in keeping the (part of the) province – for whatever reason – it had better be able to make the Kashmiris feel wanted. Otherwise, its loss is inevitable. And what will India do then? Flatten the mountains of Kashmir with nuclear weapons?

Yeah, right.

Of course, like all other advice, it’ll all fall on deaf ears.

They don’t call ‘em Hindunazis for nothing. 

Note: Fidayeen should be available on (as opposed to, where it already is) within the week.


I don’t know how long I’ve been away, or where I’ve been. I just know that I’m coming back again.

The darkness has been indescribable, darkness greater by far than the pure black of intergalactic space, darkness so intense that it’s as though it’s swallowed the universe; but I’m rising, and the darkness is starting to fade. From nightmare black to grey,  and from grey to a pearly bluish translucence, like, I think, the moon through a thick fog.

It’s been so long since I’ve seen the moon, or fog, that I can’t be really sure, not that it matters. What matters is that I’m able to see and hear, to be, again. In whatever form being means at this time.

I can see outlines now, darker ghosts of shadow in the pearl-light, condensing slowly into trees and streets and buildings. They aren’t familiar, but I can’t expect that. I don’t know how long I’ve been away, and in any case I’ve never seen them under these circumstances.

I’ve never seen anything under these particular circumstances.

The last shreds of the darkness, thick as clutching fingers, fall away reluctantly from my limbs as I step through into the pearl-light, where shadows are merely shadows, not like...not like the place I left. Whatever happens, I am not going back there again.

I drift along the streets, looking at the cars and houses, separated from me just by the pearl-light. I look as I drift, seeking, not knowing if there’s anything to find.

I’m a silent shadow among silent shadows, drifting. I’m in no hurry. I can’t hurry even if I wanted to. I have no idea where I am, where to go. All I know is what I’m looking for: you.

I don’t know if there’s you still left to find. But if you’re there, I’ll find you.  It’s been longer than I can endure since I’ve been with you. Maybe it’s my yearning that set me free.

I look into windows as I pass, seeing lives go on their slow ways. Curtains and blinds are nothing to me.

Here. In this room, there’s a boy, sitting at a desk, looking down at a school book and not seeing a word that’s on the pages. His eyes are full of pain and loneliness, and I know, as he does, that he’s going to kill himself and is just gathering the courage to do it. At that age, life is cheap and it doesn’t need all that much courage. I can see his ghost, hovering over his shoulder, beseeching, gibbering, but I can’t tell whether it’s begging him to do it...or not to.

I know exactly what he’s going through. I’ve been there.

There’s nothing I can do, no way I can help him. I move on.

There’s the family at dinner, father, mother, daughter. Father and mother stiff, glaring across the table at each other; daughter cringing, looking down at her plate, trying to pretend the world around her doesn’t exist; desperately hoping they won’t fight, not tonight. In two years she won’t be able to take it anymore and will run away, to become a model or an actress; and in two more years after that she’ll be selling her body in a town on the other side of the country, spreading her legs to stay alive and telling herself that she’s really doing the same thing as she would in a marriage, no difference, really. Her ghost hunches over her, its hands over its face.

There’s nothing I can do to help her, either. Her, or the ghost.

Up from an upper window, I catch the stench of disease. I could climb up the air, to look in, but I know what I’d see; and there’s nothing I can do there, either, so I pass on by.

Here, the houses give way on side of the street, the angular hulk of a factory rising into the pearl-light. It’s a corpse, this factory, its sheds and machines long since stilled, when the city grew and flowed around it and cut it off from its food and drink, the raw materials that were its sustenance, the company that ran it long since defunct, the workers sent away. And yet even it has its ghosts, and I can see them, still waiting for the noise and smoke and the hum of machinery, that’s gone for good and won’t return.

Then I see them – five of them, standing behind a broken wall, where they think they’re in the deepest shadow, invisible; and they would be, except for the pearl-light. I can see them, the beer bottles lying at their feet, the alcohol in their eyes. They’re waiting, nerving themselves up, their ghosts over their heads, straining forwards eagerly; and as I drift closer, I see what they’re waiting for.

The woman is hurrying along the street on the opposite side, her heels clicking on the pavement. I can’t see what she looks like, how old she is, but it doesn’t matter, all I need to do is look at her ghost, and I know she’s tired, beyond tired; her feet are aching, she wants to go home, kick off her shoes and lie down. That’s all she wants to do.

Perhaps there’s something I can do, in this instant, the here and now. I drift between them, her ghost and theirs. If they could see me now, perhaps they would see a giant, towering shadow, with eyes like the infinite blackness between the stars. They can’t, of course, but their ghosts know I’m there, waver, and shrink back; and they step back further away, uneasy and suddenly near-terrified.

The woman walks on, oblivious, heels clacking, head down and shoulders slumped in exhaustion beyond the bearing. Tonight she will be safe. Not tomorrow, maybe, and not the day after; but tonight she will be safe, and that is all I can give her.

The streets look a little familiar, buildings thinning out, trees replacing some of the press of houses. Perhaps I will find you here, where those three buildings rise, side by side, like identical boxes set on end. I’ll come up the stairs and to your door, the door I used to know well, once, the door you’d opened for me to proudly show me your new home. I’ll pass through the door easily, though it’ll be locked; what good are doors to such as me? And then I’ll find you, maybe sitting on your bed working at your laptop. I’ll come up beside you, and I’ll try to touch you: your hair, through which I once ran my fingers, and which will be shot through with silver now, after all the time that’s gone;  the line of your cheek, which I had once felt on mine, and which time has marked, too, with lines of tiredness, and, perhaps, though I hope not, of suffering.  

You won’t see me, you won’t feel me, but your ghost will; your ghost will know I’m there, and perhaps you’ll look up sharply, turn around to glance about the room. Perhaps you’ll get off the bed and go to the window, standing there for a minute or two in your T shirt with the blobby yellow dinosaur, your grey shorts and rubber sandals, looking out at the night; and then, because there’s nothing there to see, you’ll shake your head and return to your work. I could scream but you wouldn’t hear me; I could try and shake you by the shoulder, and you wouldn’t know. But your ghost will.

And later, when you’re just sliding into sleep, that’s when I’ll come into you, into your dreams. I’ll walk through your home, and stand next to you as you’re working or cooking or watching the telly; and you’ll finally know I’m there, and you’ll be surprised for a moment, because all this time you thought I’d gone.

And I’ll be with you, sitting beside you, and perhaps you’d begin to remember, then, and know that it’s a dream; perhaps you’ll want to wake from it, because every moment is heartbreaking with memory. Or perhaps you’ll try and stay in the dream as long as you can, because as long as you sleep, I’ll be with you.

But, sooner or later, you’ll awake, and you’ll lie in bed staring into the darkness, and though I’ll be there, right beside you, you won’t know it. You’ll lie in bed, and perhaps you’ll take the mobile phone and call a friend, someone whom you can call at this hour, and you’ll talk a while so you can get back to sleep again. And I’ll be banished.

But not forever, not when I’ve found you, when your ghost is merged with me; tomorrow night, or the day after, I’ll be back again. You’ll be walking through the dream-rooms of the night, and then I’ll be there, so naturally, so easily, you’ll hardly notice when I’ve come, and then you’ll beg me not to go away again.

It may be cruel, of me, but it’s all the existence I have now, all the life that’s left to me, in the pearl-light.

Let the darkness wait, it can wait forever, or even till tomorrow.

And tomorrow will never come.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2016