Friday 25 March 2016

Why Catfish Has Whiskers: A Folk Tale From Korangustan

Long, long ago, when the Great Mother created the earth and heavens, she looked at her creation and was dissatisfied.

“It is so empty and silent,” she said. “The only things that move are the clouds in the sky, and the only noise is the wind howling across the wastes. It needs to be filled up with life, with all its noise and bustle.”

So she created the trees and the animals, the fishes and the birds in the skies. And she then called them together to her hut, and when they were gathered before her, she began to give them all what they wanted.

“I want a nice red hat,” said the jungle fowl, “which will shine red like the rising sun. So she gave him a red crest. “I would like sharp eyes, a keen nose, and a bushy tail,” said the fox, so she gave him that. “I want to be big and strong, the queen of the forest,” said the elephant, and the Great Mother made her the biggest, strongest animal in all the lands. And so it went.

In the river next to the Great Mother’s hut, the fishes had all gathered, as well, and they, too, received her blessings. Among them was catfish, who at that time looked nothing at all like he does now. When he swam away from the Great Mother, after thanking her profusely for her gifts, he was slim and fast, coloured blue as the summer sky, and by far the most beautiful of all the fishes in the river.

The other fishes saw him and were jealous, but most jealous of all were two, the climbing perch and the carp.

“I was there at the Great Mother’s before him,” the climbing perch said, “but she only gave me stiff fins with sharp spines.”

“I was there before him,” the carp replied, blowing bubbles from her toothless mouth in anger and vexation. “And she only gave me thick scales.”

“We deserve the gifts he got,” they both said, eyeing each other, and neither of them seeing fit to mention that they had merely got what they’d asked for, and never thought to demand what catfish had. “And yet he swims about proudly, while we can only watch.”

“Helplessly,” the climbing perch added. “We can do nothing about it but watch.”
“Perhaps not so helplessly,” the carp said craftily. “I have a plan to bring him down, but we will need help. Did you say you have friends among the tadpoles? You go to visit them sometimes, do you not?”

“Yes,” the climbing perch said. “What do you want them to do?”

“It is very simple,” the carp said, drawing close. “You will go with them to the Great Mother and...”

So it was that when the Great Mother woke the next day, she heard a chorus of voices from outside her hut. And when she went to see who it was, she found that the river outside her hut was filled with tadpoles, while the climbing perch stick his head out from among them.

“Great Mother,” he said, “you have done so much for us, given us all these gifts, that we would like to invite you to a feast in your honour. It’s all prepared, and you should come with us to where it is all ready, at the river-bend with the water-lilies.”

Pleased and a little amused, the Great Mother accompanied them to the river-bend where the water-lilies grew in profusion. She walked along the bank while the tadpoles and climbing perch swam in the river by her side. “It will be a great and wonderful feast,” the climbing perch assured her over and over again as they went, and the tadpoles echoed in a chorus, “Yes, it will be great!”

Now, while this was going on, the carp, who had been very busy, had plucked some of the water-lilies with her toothless mouth, and mixed them into a ball with roots of certain weeds she’d gathered from under the river. And then she went searching for the catfish. She finally found him swimming around, his bright blue colours glowing with a beauty that made her shiver so hard with jealousy that it made her scales clatter together.

“Brother Catfish,” she said, “I have been looking all over for you. I have long wanted to do something for you, my brother, if you would only give me the opportunity.”

The catfish looked at her with surprise. “What would you want to do for me, my sister?” he asked.

“You are so handsome,” the carp said. “Your colour, of that wonderful blue, is so much like the summer sky that I have often looked from one to the other and not been able to tell which is the more beautiful.” Watching Catfish covertly, she noted with satisfaction that he preened with pleasure at her praise. “But I have always wanted you to be even more beautiful than the sky, your blue even deeper, and more glowing.”

“How could you do that?” the catfish asked, with surprise.

“I’ve prepared a medicine for you,” the carp said, “made out of plants whose secrets are only known to me. Just swallow it, and your blue will outshine the sky as it now outshines the drab scales of such humble denizens of the river as myself.”

“Where is this medicine?” the catfish asked, struck by the idea of being even more beautiful than the sky. “Do you have it here, sister?”

“I could not carry it with me,” the carp told him. “It is where the water lilies grow, at the bend of the river. Come with me, and I will give it to you.”

So the catfish swam along beside the carp, who was happy when she got to the water lilies to see that the Great Mother had not yet arrived. Diving to the river bottom, she fetched the ball of weeds and gave it to the catfish. “Swallow this,” she said, “and soon you will be more beautiful than the sky.”

The catfish, being vain and foolish, swallowed the weeds, and in a moment had lost consciousness and begun to sink to the bottom; for what the carp had mixed in the ball were weeds that bring sleep so deep that it is nearly impossible to break until the effects wear off. As soon as she saw that her medicine had taken effect, the carp swam away a short distance, and waited.

Soon afterwards, the Great Mother appeared on the river bank, walking along while the perch and the tadpoles regaled her with the stories of the feast they had laid out. “Each water-lily pad,” the perch said, “is laden with a separate wonderful, delicate dish, created with all the skill we’re capable of. Even you, Great Mother, will never have tasted the like.”

“That’s right,” the tadpoles agreed enthusiastically.

Then they came in sight of the lilies, and the perch gave a gasp of well-simulated horror. “Look,” he said. “Someone has stolen and eaten the entire feast we’d laid out for you!”

“Someone has stolen all the food,” the tadpoles agreed. “It was some thief!”

“It was the catfish,” Carp called, sticking her head out of the water. “I saw him, reaching up from the water to pull the food off the lily pads and eat it. I asked him not to, said it didn’t belong to him, but he didn’t listen to me.”

“Where is he now?” the Great Mother asked furiously. “Fetch him, so that I can ask what he has to say for himself.”

“He is sleeping off the meal on the river bed,” Carp said. “Perch, tadpoles, help me to pull him up from there.”

Heaving and pushing, the fishes and tadpoles brought up the catfish’ slumbering form to the surface. Carp pointed triumphantly at him with her fin.

“See, Great Mother,” she said, “he’s got pieces of lily sticking to his mouth, from when he was eating the food off the leaves!”

Everyone looked, and the evidence was indisputable. The Great Mother was filled with anger.

“If he loves to eat so much, and sleep on the river bed,” she said, “that was what he will do from now on. He will be a glutton, and he will slink around on the river bottom, for always and ever.” And she stomped off back to her hut, muttering angrily.

Carp and the perch were disappointed that she had not destroyed Catfish, as they had hoped, but they were happy that he would no longer be swimming along and taunting everyone with his grace and beauty. Congratulating themselves on their cleverness, they swam away.

Now little by little the effects of the weeds wore off, and Catfish awoke to find himself lying in the mud on the river bottom. And when he tried to swim up to the surface, where he had so happily spent all his life, he found his body sluggish and slow, and slowly he sank back to the bottom.

“Something is wrong,” he thought. “I must find Carp and ask her about it.” But even as he started out to look for her, he was overcome with extreme hunger – hunger, indeed, so great that instead of looking for her he had to start searching for something to eat.

But he could not find anything, for he could hardly see anything at all in the mud of the river bottom; but everything else could see him clearly, with his sky blue colour. Most of them fled long before he could get anywhere near him; and his small jaws were far too weak to deal with those who couldn’t, like the mussels which drew themselves into their shells and closed them shut. Soon, he was so weak from hunger that he could no longer even swim on, and he began to sink slowly back towards the river bottom.

Meanwhile, the Great Mother had begun to feel some regrets about her outburst of temper, and had begun wondering if she’d been overhasty in condemning the catfish. So, instead of entering her hut, she turned back and began looking for him. Soon enough she found him, listlessly sinking towards the mud and preparing himself to starve to death.

“Catfish,” she asked him, “why did you eat the feast that the perch and the tadpoles had prepared for me?”

“I never did,” the catfish said. “I only ate the medicine Carp gave me, which she promised would make me a colour brighter than the sky, so I would be even more beautiful.”

The Great Mother then realised what had happened. “Poor Catfish,” she said, “you’ve been very vain and foolish, and I’ve been very foolish, too, to have been fooled so easily that I cursed you with a life of gluttony on the river bottom. I can no longer make you as you were before, but I can change you so that you can fit yourself into your new life.”

“Do what you must, Great Mother,” said poor Catfish, “for otherwise all I can do is starve.”

So the Great Mother took away his beautiful, bright blue colour, and made him black, so he could merge into the darkness of the river bottom. She took away his small, shapely head and elegant jaws, and gave him a huge flat skull with jaws filled with needle teeth which could slice through the toughest scales. And because the mud of the river bottom was so thick that he could hardly see anything there, she gave him long whiskers, with which he could feel his way and detect prey.

“I have done all I could, Catfish,” she said then. “Do the best you can, and never be vain again.”

And so Catfish changed from being a blue, graceful, swimmer of the upper waters to a sluggish, gluttonous, ugly dweller of the mud at the bottom. And he was also consumed with vengeance against those who had done him wrong, the perch, the carp, and the tadpoles. But the carp was too large and fast for him to catch, and mockingly swam away whenever she saw him coming; and the perch used his sharp-spined fins to pull himself out of the water to the safety of land whenever he drew too close. As for the tadpoles, they grew up and turned into frogs, and then they hopped away.

However, for all that, the catfish to this day watches for them, and eats them when he can; but as much as he eats, he can never eat enough.

And he never, ever forgets the blue sky whose colour he once shared; so that as he swims along under the water, he’s always looking at it with his upward-gazing eyes.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2016

[Image Source]

Thursday 24 March 2016


It was at dawn on the sixth day alone in the desert that I saw the city.

It lay across the western horizon, its pink and yellow sandstone walls gilded by the rising sun. Above the walls, spires pointed skywards like delicate stone needles, looking as fragile as departing dreams.

It was vast and it was lovely, and it should not have been there. It would have been talked about, in the towns of the borderlands and on the caravan trails. A city of this size, in fact, should have its own caravans coming and going, keeping it fed and clothed and supplied. But I had heard nothing.

For a long time I stood watching, wondering if it was real, or only my mind, worn out with exhaustion, playing tricks on me. But the sun rose, the city came into clearer view, and I could hear, far away though it was, the noises and bustle of any town coming to life.

Slowly, wearily, I trudged through the sand, headed towards the town. I could not have passed it by; my food had given out three days earlier, and I had moistened my mouth with the last drops of water during the night. Beyond, as far as I could see, stretched only further empty desert.

As I came closer, the walls grew higher, as though holding up the sky. They smooth and polished with the wind and desert sand, so that the sun glinted on them like glass. From atop them, pigeons flew in flocks into the air and as swiftly settled again. At the base of the wall there was a deep dry moat, which I only noticed when I was almost at the wall; a moat deep enough that four tall men standing on each other’s shoulders would not have been able to reach the top.

I had followed the curve of the wall round to the north when I saw the gate. It was on the other side of the moat, and spanned by a small drawbridge. Two guards stood on either side of the portal, watching me as I came towards them.

They were alike as twins, I saw; a pair of very tall, well-muscled men, their skins as dark as oiled wood, their leather armour inset with black metal panels. Under the brims of their conical helmets, their eyes were expressionless, and their hands still on the shafts of their heavy spears.

I had a vision of myself, as in a flash, as they must have seen me; small, dusty, stained by the desert, my cloak tattered and my cheeks sunken. I must have looked utterly incapable of harm, but their vigilance did not relax for a moment.

They waited until I was on the drawbridge before they reacted to my presence. “What do you want?”

“I have been travelling through the desert,” I said. “I am lost and wandering, and I need shelter.”

His eyes did not even flicker. “Where have you come from?”

“I was travelling with a caravan across the desert,” I said. “It was attacked by bandits and dispersed. I was separated from the others. For six days now I have been wandering the desert, alone and starving.”

They glanced at each other. “You have come from Outside,” the one who hadn’t yet spoken said. The way he pronounced the word “outside” seemed to give it some additional significance.


“From outside the desert.”

“Yes,” I said. “I’m not from the desert.”

They looked at each other again. “In that case,” the first one said, “you may enter.”


The city’s streets were broad, but after the weeks of travel through the desert, and the days wandering alone with nothing but sand on all sides, they seemed narrow and extremely crowded to me. The people, of both sexes, were as tall and dark and good-looking as the guards at the gate. The women, silver bracelets around their wrists, were dressed in robes of blue or brown or black; the men wore pink, grey and light yellow, the colours of the desert. They all paused to watch as I entered, and it was as though a wind blew alongside me and parted the crowds.

Now that I was inside the city, I suddenly realised that my problems were far from over. I had no money, nor anything else even remotely valuable. I could, at best, throw myself on the charity of these people; but looking at their faces, I saw only blank interest. I might have been dried but picturesque vegetation, blown in on the desert winds.

I need not have worried. “You are from the Outside,” a man said, falling into step beside me.

“Yes,” I nodded. “I’ve been wandering alone through the desert ever since the caravan I was in...”

He raised a hand – not far, just a movement in the corner of my vision, but far enough. “You will need rest and food. Come.”

I walked along with him through a side street, glancing at him covertly. It was hard to tell his age, as with everyone else I’d seen; he might have been forty or sixty or both ages and all in between. His grey robe swirled around him as he walked, just slow enough to allow me to keep up.

“I’m afraid I have no way to pay,” I began. “I lost everything with the caravan.”

He glanced at me from the corner of his eye. “There’s no need to worry,” he said. “In this city, you are our guest, for as long as you should choose to stay.”

“It seems to me that you don’t have many visitors,” I said.

“We have none,” he corrected. “Here, in the heart of the desert, nobody from Outside comes. Except you.”

We passed a market with a crowd at the stalls. People all stopped to watch as we passed, as though at a signal. There was something strange about them, apart from their uniformly handsome appearance, but I couldn’t identify it at first; then I realised that there were no children among them, no babies in arms. And, briefly, I wondered where the produce came from. But it was a huge city, and there must be cultivated areas within the walls.

“I am Seviram,” the man said. “Welcome to my house.”

It was large and built of honey-coloured stone, so smoothly merged into the street that it might almost have been carved out of bedrock. There were, on either side of the door, statues of winged lions, but they seemed as though they belonged there, not as though – as they might have seemed anywhere else – like an affectation. Other statues perched high on the walls, and at the corners, but my exhaustion had begun to creep up on me and my vision had begun to waver.

“You’re staggering,” Seviram said with concern. I felt his hand on my elbow. “Come in quickly, before you fall. You’re...”

When I next grew aware of my surroundings I was lying on a low couch, and someone was passing a cool, wet cloth over my forehead. Opening my eyes, I found that I was looking up at a girl’s concerned face. She glanced over her shoulder. “He’s awake.”

“I trust you’re feeling better.” It was Seviram’s voice. He came up behind the girl. “You gave us quite a scare there.”

I tried to sit up, but the girl pushed me down. “Not yet. Rest.”

“Listen to her,” Seviram laughed. “She’s the authority on questions of health. This is my daughter, Lis.”

“I’m...” my voice came out as the merest whisper, like grains of sand rustling. “My name is...”

“It doesn’t matter, not now.” Lis laid a finger against my lips. “Lie down, rest, and get some of your strength back.”

I lay back and closed my eyes. Lis continued wiping my face and neck with the cool cloth, humming gently under her breath like a lullaby. After some time, I slept.

I must have slept for a considerable period. When I awoke, the sun was a red ball sinking over the desert, its rays slanting across my face through the window. Groggily, I sat up. Lis was sitting at the foot of the couch, watching me.

“Welcome back to the land of the living,” she said with a smile. “I wasn’t quite certain you’d ever come back all the way.”

She was very lovely, I noticed, or maybe it was just that it had been so long since I’d been alone with a pretty woman. She smiled, seeing me looking, and motioned. “It’s time you had something to eat and drink.”

There was a table next to the couch, which hadn’t been there earlier; it was laden with fruit, discs of bread, and tall glasses filled with scented, chilled water. Lis watched me eating, as though each bite I took, each swallow of water, gave her physical satisfaction and pleasure.

“Tell me about the caravan,” she said. “Tell me about what happened after.”

So I told her, as much as I could recall; from the first moments when the bandits appeared, riding past the caravan to cut it off, the scattering of men and animals in a desperate attempt to get away, and how I suddenly discovered that I was alone. I told of how I’d found the bag of dried food and a bottle of water, abandoned by someone else in their flight, which had lasted me since then. But the events of the days of wandering were already beginning to grow hazy in my mind, days and nights flowing into one another.

As I talked, the sun had set and the first stars sprinkled the sky with points of light. Lis got up and lit lamps set on stands at the corners of the room. Their wavering flames on her skin made her look as though she was made of dark fire herself.

“You’re very brave,” she said at last, when I had finished. “To have gone on for so long, through the desert, not knowing which way you were headed – that took real bravery.”

I snorted with laughter. “Brave? All it took was stupidity – to be too stupid to know when to sit down and die.”

“So you say,” she said, smiling faintly, and then her smile faded. “You’re from the Outside.”

“Yes, as your father must have told you.”

“The Outside,” she repeated. “You know, I’ve never been on the Outside.”


“No. And I’ve never met anyone from the Outside before either.” In a rush, she’d slipped off her stool and was kneeling on the floor beside me. “Tell me,” she said, holding my hands in hers and looking up into my face. “Tell me about the Outside. Tell me about the fields, and the mountains, the rivers and the seas and forests. And then,” she leaned her head against my leg. “Then tell me about the rain.”

“The rain?” I repeated.

“The rain,” she whispered, and there was a wealth of yearning in her voice. “I want to hear about the rain.”

“Haven’t you...” I began.

“No, I have never seen rain. Never. I yarn to know about it. I have always wanted to hear about rain, but never got the chance. Tell me all about it.”

And I told her. I told her of spring showers, coming suddenly and falling lightly on the earth, and as suddenly gone. I told her about the smell of wet earth, and the green of growing grass, breaking through the soil. I spoke of dark clouds that blotted out the sky, spitting forked tongues of lightning, and the thunder that raced across the sky, so loud that it could be felt through walls and the air.

I spoke to her of rain. I told her of downpours that made it difficult to see, of how the earth ran with water because it could not drink down any more, until the rivers ran turbid with the flood. I told her of drizzles so thin that the tiny drops of water twirled and spun as they fell to earth, and lay like dew on leaves.

I told her of it all. I told her of the feel of a lover’s kisses as rain fell on our faces and lips, on our closed eyes. I told her of the earth and air washed clean, of beginnings new. I spoke until I could speak no more.

When I had finished, she sat silent, for so long that it seemed as though she were in a trance. Then it was as though she suddenly awoke.

“I need to dance,” she said, rising to her feet. “Would you like to see me dance?”

I must have said something that signified assent, because she moved the table away and stepped to the centre of the floor. Rising on her toes, she raised her hands over her head and began to spin.

Of what I saw next, I can give no clear description. She spun and twirled, and her arms and hands flashed in the lamplight, and her swirling robes caught the light, and plucked the shadows from the air. She spun and danced, and the light and the shadows merged and danced with her. She danced, and the air took her movements and made them music. She danced, and outside the window the air grew thick with moisture, and the stars were blotted out as clouds filled the sky. She danced, and outside the lightning flashed, thunder grumbled, and the first drops of rain spattered on the stone.

She danced, and the room and the air, the desert and the sky, all danced with her, danced with her and through and round me, the clouds and the lightning, the thunder and the rain, dancing. Dancing.


The sun was shining bright in my face when I woke, and I knew at once that something had changed. Under my back was rough stone, and the sunlight was far too bright to be coming through a window which pointed westwards, where the night went to sleep.

My eyes flicked open. I was lying on the stone floor of a roofless hut, with broken walls. Water from the night’s rain had collected in little puddles on the floor.

I got up and stumbled out through a gap which might once have held a door. The mighty city of the day before had gone. All around me were a low sea of crumbled ruins, and, beyond them, the flat desert stretching to the horizon.

I found her sitting on a broken wall, her back to me, staring out over the desert. Her dark blue dress, which had drunk the lamplight when she’d danced and woven it with shadow, looked worn and bleached, as though it had bled away all its colour.

“Go away,” she said, without looking at me. “Just go away.”

“Lady Lis...” I began.

“Didn’t you hear me?” she snapped. “I don’t want you here. Go away.” She threw up an arm and pointed off to the right. “Go that way, and you’ll find one of your precious caravan trails. Just leave.”

“But what happened?” I felt something clutch at my throat, as though with fingers, from the inside. “Where is the city?”

“Don’t you understand?” Her shoulders shook with some emotion I could not name. “This is the city. This is all that’s left.”

“From the rain?” I was honestly befuddled. “But how could a night’s rain do this?”

She said something, so low that I had to strain my ears to hear. “I’d been waiting so long,” she said. “Waiting and waiting, from the dawn of forever, here in the heart of the desert. Anticipating, knowing that someday I would find out, would know what it was like. I’d created...this fulfil my waiting. Knowing that when I knew what it was like, I could bring it forth. And now that it’s here...what’s left? What’s left, when what you lived waiting and hoping for is done?”

I touched her shoulder. “Lady Lis?”

And then she turned round, at last, and the next thing I knew, I was stumbling away through the desert, my eyes squeezed shut, to block out the sight of that face, the face of something that had been waiting from the start of time and now had only despair.

And my hands were tightly clapped over my ears, but I could not keep out the sound of her keening.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2016

Tuesday 22 March 2016


This will be the last cartoon for a while; for the next days, maybe a week or more, I intend to concentrate on writing fiction and nothing else.

I originally intended to post this on Good Friday, but having finished it, why wait? It'll just make me want to tinker with it further.

As usual, to anyone who feels upset with anything I write or draw: you can be assured that I intended to upset you, and that you totally deserve it.

Monday 21 March 2016

Nothing New On Any Front

In the recesses of one of my bookshelves is a slim hardcover in the Bengali language. On its black cover is a design that’s difficult to decipher, but looks rather like part of an anchor in dark ochre yellow. The title above this is easy to read, though: All Quiet On The Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque.

I first read this book as a boy of maybe eight or nine, and I recall being confused right off from the start. I couldn’t make out what the hell was going on, and the more I read the more I felt disquieted and uncertain. Where was the heroism of the Commando comics we used to read? Never in those comics did soldiers visit someone in the hospital who had a leg blown off and died in agony. And who was fighting whom, anyway? I just couldn’t understand it.

Only later, many years later, did I understand what a great book it was.  Of course it didn’t bloody matter who was fighting whom; everyone’s primary urge was to try and stay alive. Of course there weren’t heroics; you aren’t thinking of heroics when you’re stumbling over disembowelled corpses and killing rats to prevent them eating your bread, when you’re crushing lice and stringing along barbed wire while an unseen enemy fires shells at you. And when I read it in English translation, I fell in love with it all over again.

There’s little point, almost a hundred years after it was written, of going over the details of the book; the reader will likely know well enough the story of poor doomed Paul Bäumer  and his tiny, and shrinking, group of friends. If not, he or she can read it here, free of cost. A schoolboy brainwashed by slogans of patriotism and defending the nation, he is pushed into volunteering, straight out of the classroom, for a war he has not the slightest knowledge of. He then spends the rest of the book cowering in bunkers and shell holes, fighting enemy soldiers who are exactly the same as he himself, trying not to get killed while watching his friends get killed and maimed one by one; starving unless the company’s scrounger can find some food somewhere, or unless so many of his fellow soldiers are killed that what’s left is enough to go around. Mud, fear, and the temporary pleasures of a stolen goose and a whore’s thighs – that’s the book, in a nutshell.

It was, as far as I know, the first antiwar book ever written and probably still the finest; and it doesn’t pull punches, not at all. You get everything from raw recruits voiding their bowels at the fist bombardment, and then getting slowly and painfully killed before they can so much as pull a trigger in combat, to the clueless “patriots” at home lecturing the frontline soldiers on how they ought to be winning the war. No wonder the Nazis, before they came to power, tried all they could to stop the book and the film made from it from being read and viewed in Germany. It’s irresistibly reminiscent of the way (a couple of years ago as I write this) when the Bollywood movie Haider, which was critical of Indian military actions in Kashmir, was bitterly criticised by the Hindunazis in India, who also demanded that the film be banned and/or boycotted.

Nazis – and Hindunazis – are worshippers of militarism and war, chiefly because that is all they have by way of policy to offer. If you take away conflict, they have nothing left, nothing constructive, no real ideology whatsoever.

It’s extremely important now to remember All Quiet On The Western Front, not only because it was a seminal piece of literature; it’s vital because now, a hundred years after it was first written, once again, wars are being called glamorous, and young men are being urged to join the military and “defend” countries in wars waged by rich ruling classes who aren’t themselves at risk. It’s vital because the blood shed is the same on all sides, and none of the blood belongs to the people responsible for instigating these wars in which the people die.

In fact, the name of the book, All Quiet On The Western Front, is a mistranslation – in the original German it’s Im Westen Nichts Neues – Nothing New In The West. That’s got its own little bit of irony, because there was nothing new when each day just continued the slaughter of the previous one. I’m reminded of the current imperialist occupation of Afghanistan, which has been going on since 2001 and where the occupiers now try and ignore the existence of the country itself as far as their media at home are concerned.

The First World War was the first major war fought for capitalism and trade dominance; there’s good reason to believe that every single major war fought since then has been on the same issues. Indeed, in the 21st century, I can’t think of one single war that hasn’t got capitalism and profit as the motive. Not one.

Im Westen Nichts Neues has been filmed twice. It’s more than time they made it again, preferably in 3D, with modern technology, and as realistically and as true to the source material as possible. Nothing should be left out – not the boys screaming in collapsed dugouts, not the hand-to-hand fighting in the mud with hand grenades and sharpened spades, not the lice and the rats and the horrors of basic military training.

They should, but they won’t, because these days the film industry seems to exist to make war glamorous and act as recruiting posters; and Remarque’s book was anything but. If they remake it they’re going to “adapt” it out of existence.

Instead of taking an image from what’s available online – it’s all either faux-heroic or mawkish – I decided to paint my own. Here’s Paul Bäumer trapped in the middle of nowhere, smeared in mud and filth, his face smothered in a gas mask. This is the way I see him, the way I’ve always seen him.

He was no hero by conventional reckoning, but in a way, he was one. In his own way, he showed the way for a century of pacifists and anti-militarists.

If that’s not heroism, it will do to be getting on with.

Title: Im Westen Nichts Neues
Material: Acrylic on Paper
Copyright B Purkayastha 2016