Saturday, 9 May 2015

The Parapet

He saw the woman from a distance, leaning against the parapet at the point where the wall of the fort joined the cliff and fell away in a vertical swoop to the valley far below. She didn’t look out of place among the slow flow of tourists, and if she hadn’t been standing so still and looking down over the edge he would probably not have noticed her at all.

For a moment he stood where he was, studying her, trying to decide whether he was right. Perhaps she was just another tourist, among all the others who had come up this long way from the city. But she was too still, for too long, and standing just at that point, where the wall and the cliff were one.

Slowly, casually, he walked along the parapet until he was standing near her – not too close, not close enough to touch, but near. She didn’t look at him at all, didn’t even seem to know he was there. She was younger than he’d first thought, and taller, in her flat sandals almost as tall as he was. Her hair fell over her face and screened her features from view.

He leaned against the parapet, watching her from the corner of his eye. Her blue dress – not fashionable among the usual tourist attire of jeans and Bermudas, T shirts and halter tops – fell like shimmering water over her thin shoulders, catching the sun. Her long fingers played over the rough stone of the parapet, blind things fumbling for something. Perhaps it was hope, or happiness.

“Nice view,” he said at last, because it seemed that she’d stand there forever, hunched over the parapet wall.

Slowly, she turned her head to look at him. She wasn’t beautiful. With her thin, triangular face and wide mouth, she wasn’t even pretty. But her big eyes might have been lovely, if only they’d had any expression in them but dumb misery.

“Yes,” she said without any inflection. “Nice view.”

He moved slightly closer to her, and stood looking down at the valley. Down there, he could just see the sheds where the tourist buses disgorged their occupants, who then hired donkeys or camels for the ride up to the fort. A line of donkeys made a crawling row of dots moving slowly up the trail. He pointed to them.

“Uncomfortable beasts, aren’t they?”

She glanced at them without interest. “Yes.”

“You’d think they’d be more like horses, or ponies, but they aren’t. I never got the hang of riding one. Do you like horses?”

“No, not particularly. Why, do you think all women like horses?”

He grinned. “No, but so many do. You come across all the girls and horses stories.”

She smiled slightly, a slight twitch of her lips. “There are all kinds of pop psychologists claiming it’s a sexual thing. The horse is, you know, between the girl’s legs, so it’s obviously a symbol of...” She gestured in the air. “You know.”

 “Really. I hadn’t thought of it like that.” He gestured at the smudge of haze on the dun horizon. “So, did you come up from the city?”

“Yes, we...” she caught herself. “I, I mean. I’m putting up at a hotel there.”

“Which hotel?”

“Ave Caesar, over on –“ she paused. “That’s not right, is it? It’s Ave Maria, of course, not Ave Caesar. Hotel Ave Maria.”

“Staying long?”

“No.” The monosyllabic word sounded as though it were cut off with a knife. She stirred restlessly, her long fingers crawling across the stone. “If you don’t mind –“


“Nothing.” She leaned down over the parapet again, her hair screening her face. “Forget it.”

He leaned over, beside her. “Steep drop, isn’t it? It’s a lovely defensive position here. No enemy could get up to this part of the fort. So they didn’t really need any cannon emplacements and firing ports here. Pity forts have gone the way of the dodo.”

“You like military architecture?”

“Of course,” he replied. “Don’t you?”

“I don’t like anything military.”

“Fair enough. It’s a great fort though. But I wonder how they managed to build it like that, right flush with the cliff edge. I couldn’t have done it, I’m telling you. I get scared of heights.”

“They probably used workers who are accustomed to that kind of thing. Like the ones who, you know, build skyscrapers and things.” The woman turned to look at him again, and tucked her hair behind one ear with an unconscious gesture. “Have you been here before?”

“No,” he lied. “First time. I read a guide book though.”

“Ah.” She fished in her shoulder bag and brought out a book. “Like this one?”

He took it from her and flipped through it. Her name was on the inside of the front cover. “Mirabelle? I had a cousin named Mirabelle. Once.”

“What happened to her?”

He shrugged and gave the book back. “She died...killed herself, as a matter of fact.”

Her wide mouth opened, closed again. “Oh,” she said at last.

“She jumped from a building,” he said. “I still wish I’d known...what she was going through. I feel guilty that I didn’t know. I’d have tried to save her.”

“It wasn’t your fault.” She touched him, then, her long fingers on his arm. “She chose her own path. It wasn’t your fault.”

“Yeah, but...” He shook his head. “It was a while ago, but I haven’t forgotten it.”

She leaned slightly towards him, her eyes steady on his face. “All right,” she said. “I’m not going to do it. Not today, anyway.”

 “Do what?”

“You know what. That’s what you’ve been trying to stop me from doing, isn’t that so? Is that a regular thing you do, absolve your guilt by stopping women from repeating what your cousin did?”

“Perhaps. No. I don’t think so. I haven’t done this with any other woman but you.”

She peered at him doubtfully, but decided he was speaking the truth. “All right,” she nodded. “I won’t do it. Not today, at least. Some other day, yes, perhaps, but not today, and not here.” She hesitated. “Should I thank you?”

He frowned. “Do you think you should, Mirabelle? I don’t think you should.”

“All right then, I won’t thank you.” She smiled again, for the second time, and this was a wider smile than the last one, and it even touched her eyes. “I’ll go down to the city and be lonely as hell, instead of out of it for good – but I won’t thank you. I mean, why the hell should I?”

“You’ll be fine,” he said to her. “I’m sure of it.”

“Yeah, maybe, Maybe not. We’ll have to see, right?” She hesitated, and touched him again, on the cheek. “Was it true about your cousin?”

“True enough. Her name wasn’t Mirabelle, though.”

“No, I thought not. Well, I’ll be going.”

He nodded. She turned away, walked a few steps, looked back over her shoulder at him, and then turned down towards the steps leading to the lower levels of the fort. He was alone.

Sighing, he turned back to the parapet and put his hands on the wall, leaning over. At last, he thought, he could do what he’d come up here to do. All it would take would be a little boost from his arms, and then it would be all over. But, suddenly, he didn’t want to.

He stood there for what seemed like a long, long time, and then abruptly turned and hurried down the steps. If he was fast enough, he could find her again before she left the fort.

Two sad and lonely people, he thought. There was probably no point to it. Probably he was being stupid, and nothing would come of it, nothing at all.

All the same, by the time he glimpsed her shimmering blue dress in the distance, he was running.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2015

Thanks to Benni Jones for the illustration

Friday, 8 May 2015

The Great Big ISIS Movie Extravaganza Part IX

Copyright B Purkayastha 2015 

Inviting ISIS In

If the current government of India wants to invite ISIS to set up an affiliate in the country, it’s emphatically going about it the right way.

I haven’t been talking about the effects of the Hindunazis on the country in the one year that they’ve been in power, but rest assured that they haven’t been idle.

The Hindufication project in India grows apace. Although it’s not yet possible for the Hindunazis to declare this the official Hindu nation of their dreams, they are working hard at the state level, where the laws permit, to make Hindu “values” the law as far as possible. Thus, for example, even the possession, let alone consumption, of beef is now a crime punished by stiff prison sentences in several states, all ruled by Hindunazi governments. Hindunazi politicians have openly called for Muslims to be disenfranchised, and referred to Christians and Muslims as “bastards” while Hindus are “sons of Rama”. In the state of Rajasthan, Muslim kings like the (extremely liberal) Mughal emperor Akbar have been erased from school history books (along with other “foreigners” like Pythagoras and Newton) in favour of Hindu “heroes”.

Hindu “science”, which last raised its ugly head under the previous – and far more moderate – Hindunazi government in the early 2000s, is back with a vengeance. Even back then, ultra-right rags like the magazine India Today (whose editor was rewarded with a civilian medal) relentlessly plugged the Hindunazi agenda and distinguished between “indigenous religions” and Islam and Christianity. Today, the Prime Minister of the nation can claim at a scientific conference that ancient Hindus knew about plastic surgery and in vitro fertilisation, and not one of the assembled scientists can summon up the gumption to contradict him. And even as I write this, I came across a report that cow urine is now going to be used as a hospital disinfectant in the Hindunazi state of Rajasthan.

And with every day that passes, minorities in India grow more and more insecure.

Normally, this would not – from the Hindunazi point of view – be of much importance. Christians make up something like 2% of the population and are virtually powerless. Muslims are far less defenceless, but they’ve been systematically marginalised and disempowered, pushed into ghettoes, and indigenous Islamic terrorist groups like the Indian Mujahideen and Student’s Islamic Movement of India are remarkably ineffectual. But there’s a new force in the world, one that’s actually catching the eye of a lot of people, and that force is ISIS.

This isn’t the place to discuss whether ISIS is an independent formation or is partly or wholly controlled by the west as a de facto ally and tool, or a combination thereof. Whichever it is, the fact is that for a lot of young Muslim people, the Islamic State is a glamorous, vibrant entity, which has the power and courage to face off against multiple countries and fight them to a standstill, while expanding elsewhere at a blistering rate.

And that the Islamic State has made recruits among Indians – something al Qaeda, with its Arab-centric philosophy, signally failed to do – can’t be denied. The exact number of Indians who have gone to Syria or Iraq to join the takfiri headhunters isn’t that large – the figures vary according to whom you ask, from a couple of dozen to up to three hundred – but they did go. And far more than those who did go must be those who stayed back, but still bought into the jihadist philosophy. There was also a guy in Bangalore who was arrested for running ISIS’ twitter campaign in this country. I suppose he’s been replaced by now.

Here are some of them far in the south of the country:

And some more, in Kashmir in the north:

And after all, why wouldn’t they? If you feel hemmed in by the day, targeted by creeping religious fascism, and someone tells you that the country you live in is a Dar ul Harb, where Muslims are persecuted, wouldn’t you agree that they have a point? And if they then say that ISIS is the answer, that it can defend you, wouldn’t you at least think about it?

I’m betting you would.

Even some Hindunazis, like the anti-Christian polemicist Arun Shourie (Harvesting Our Souls) have noted that all it would take would be a hundred or so disaffected Muslims to get together and decide that ISIS has a point for the organisation to get a toe hold in this country. And with bomb-making instructions available online, even if they couldn’t find automatic rifles, or those spiffy balaclavas and Toyotas, they can do one hell of a lot of damage, both directly and indirectly.

Indirectly? Why, yes, because Hindunazi stormtroopers like the Bajrang Dal are eager and willing to find excuses to launch anti-Muslim pogroms, and an ISIS module in the country would be the perfect excuse to launch said pogroms.

And that brings me back to the starting point. I can’t believe that the government is so stupid that it can’t put together the elementary reasoning ability to conclude the same thing that I did. In fact, the only rational conclusion is that the government wants an ISIS module to start work so that it can use that to distract attention from its failures and advance its agenda.

The past year, you see, hasn’t done anything to enhance the reputation of the Hindunazis or to endear them to new voters. The economy, which was supposed to be in a Golden Age, is faltering. The Great Indian Muddle Class hasn’t suddenly become hyper-rich overnight. Prices are still rising, the crime rate isn’t falling, and there’s only so much you can blame on leftists, Maoists, environmentalists, secularists, and Pakistani spies and sabotage.

Prime Minister Narendrabhai Modi’s big gamble was to amend the law to make it easy for his corporate backers and allies to acquire private land for their projects. This ran into a brick wall in Parliament, where the moribund Opposition was suddenly given a golden opportunity to get its act together. Even the Congress party, which had been in apparently irreversible terminal decline, was resurrected virtually from the dead. Things are stalled all down the line.

At this juncture an ISIS threat would be a positive godsend. Like all fascist groups, the Hindunazis need an enemy, and ISIS is a quite genuinely nasty enemy. The Hindunazis would immediately project themselves as the defenders of the nation, and, obviously, all dissenters could be called the enemies of freedom and allies of the Muslim invaders from abroad.

This isn’t, of course, a sustainable long term strategy, but when did politicians, Hindunazi or otherwise, look at the long term anyway?

I’m waiting for the first suicide bomb blasts, and the immediate taking of credit by the Islamic State.

It shouldn’t be long now.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

And Death Shall Have No Dominion

~ Dylan Thomas


There was once – so long ago that it makes no sense to think about – a young man who resolved not to die.

The name of this young man does not matter, for names are paltry, mutable things, with neither power nor meaning beyond the flickering moments in which they exist, when they are spoken or written or thought about. And names mean less and less as one passes through the mists of time; there will come to pass when even the once-greatest name will mean nothing at all.

This young man was born like anyone else, in a city by the edge of a great desert, a city already old then, and now so long vanished that not even a breath of memory of its existence still endures. But it was a splendid city once, with towering walls and great avenues, and great houses where wise men gathered and debated over knowledge so arcane that none of them could agree on where it all came from.

And as he grew, to manhood, the boy saw that those around him, his grandparents and his parents’ friends and even some of his own playmates, grew old or fell ill, or had accidents and died. And sometimes someone would go out into the desert sands, and never come back again, and perhaps a wandering caravan would find a withered corpse among the shifting dunes. And the boy made a decision, that, whatever happened, he would never die.

Everyone whom he talked to laughed at him, even his own parents. “If you’re born,” they said, “you have to die. To think otherwise is foolishness.”

“I’ll go to the wise men,” he declared. “I’ll go to them, where they sit debating in the great houses, and I will ask them about it, for it must be possible.” And, shutting his ears to their laughter, he went to the great houses where the wise men sat talking over their lore from ages past.

“We cannot let such as you in,” the gatekeepers said, crossing their halberds in his path. “Only the wisest of sages and the most learned can enter these doors.”

“I seek to know the path to evading death,” the young man replied. “If you can tell me the way to gain this knowledge, then do so, or stand aside and let me pass.” And the guards, hearing this, moved aside and lifted their weapons and allowed him to enter.

Then he reached the great rooms where the learned men with their big turbans and long beards sat with their scrolls and tablets, waving their arms and all talking at the same time, and he asked them his question. And they looked at him as if they had not understood a word he’d said.

So he asked them again: “I wish to know the way to achieve immortality, for I do not want to die. And since you, my lords, are the wisest of all men in the great wide world, I charge you to tell me.”

And the learned sages looked at each other with consternation and turned back to the young man. “There is no such thing,” they said. “If you are born, you have to die. That is the eternal truth.”

“Stay with us, and we can teach you of the flow of time and memory, and the secrets of the tides and the stars,” some of them said. “We can tell you of the meaning of the flight of birds, and the way to a woman’s true love, and of the lore of the gods.”

“But you cannot tell me of the way to live forever,” he reminded them.

“No,” they admitted. “That, we cannot do.”

Then the young man turned away from them, for he saw that they knew nothing important. And he went back down to the city.

Then, as he was passing the city gates, he saw an old, old beggar, who looked as ancient as Time itself, and he stopped to ask his question, for it seemed to him that the venerable man might know of the secret.

The aged beggar blinked at him out of rheumy eyes. “Child,” he said, “I am scarcely a century old, and that is nothing even compared to the stones that form the city around us. I cannot tell you the secret.”

“But I must know it,” the young man said. “There must be a way to beat death.”

Then the old man pointed out through the city gate and at the desert. “Even these stones,” he said, “are here for a blink of an eye indeed, compared to the sands of the desert. Yesterday they were not here, and tomorrow they will be gone. But the desert will still be there, and the winds will blow the dunes over this fair city’s bones.”

“Very well then,” the young man said. “I will seek my answer from the desert.” Passing through the gates, he trudged into the desert sands, without a look behind him at all he was leaving behind forever.

And he walked out into the desert, and listened to the wind on the sand, which made voices. And the sand told him stories, many stories, of towns and temples which had once raised their heads above the dunes, and which were now dust. It told of mighty rivers which had long since turned to wisps of vapour in the dun-coloured wastes, and of kings and armies whose feet had trod it, of caravans bearing jewels and silks, gold and spices, which had crossed it in times so long gone by that no book recorded their memories. And it told of even older tales, of times when even the desert was young. But it did not tell him what he wanted to know.

So he asked it then, “What can you tell me about how to evade death? For that is what I wish to know, not the tales of those who have succumbed to it in your bosom.”

And the sands rustled and shifted, and finally an answer came.

“The desert does not know aught of immortality. But if you walk east across the dunes, straight towards the rising sun, you will eventually find a mountain which reaches to the sky. At the foot of that mountain, you will see a hut made of sun dried brick where there had once been an oasis and now there is none. In that hut you will find one who is not fully alive, but is not yet one of the dead. Ask her, and she may be able to give you your answer.”

So, without spending further time listening to the voices of the sands, the young man struck out across the desert in the direction of the rising sun. Days passed, and then more days, and he became thin and sunburnt as the desert itself. Even more days passed around him, until he felt he had become one of the drifting grains of sand. And still he walked on.

And then at last he came to the mountain at whose foot was the dried up oasis, by the side of which a hut of crumbling bricks hunched like a the shell of a long dead tortoise. There he found something so wizened and shrivelled that he could not be certain whether it still lived. But he remembered what the desert had said, and bowed deep before the thing.

“Old Mother,” he said, “I come seeking the secret of immortality. And I am certain that you, who are so old that even the desert defers to you, can tell me of it.”

And the old thing bent her skeletal head. “Although I am old,” she said, in a voice like the memory of a whisper borne away by the wind, “I am only a child compared to the world, and the sun and moon and stars. But go you to the top of that mountain, which was old and the world was young, and you will find, at its very peak, an opening to the depths of the earth. Perhaps there you will find your answer.”

The young man thanked her and was about to leave, when she raised a hand as insubstantial as a dried twig. “Remember this, young man,” she said, “that I have not gone up to the mountain top, for I have no desire to live forever. Even my own life, long as it has been, is intolerable to me.”

“Why is that, Old Mother?” the young man asked.   

“Think of what immortality means,” the ancient woman whispered. “Everything you know, all you ever loved, will fade away. If you hold a woman in your arms, tomorrow she will be a memory, and the children she bears you will be a memory the day after. Even the very nation that you were born into, the mountains and rivers you knew, will ultimately crumble away to dust. And if you get to know and love a new world, it will pass swiftly in its turn, and leave you weary with grief and despair.”

“But all that will happen anyway,” the young man said, “whether one evades death or not, one’s friends and lovers will fade away and die, and the only way one can avoid that is to die before they do. Thank you, Old Mother, but I will go to the mountain.”

“If you are so determined,” she whispered, “then I will not try to turn you from your way.”

So, bowing to her, the young man began climbing the mountain. It was a long and weary climb, and the stones were sharp and jagged enough to rip his skin through his clothes, so that he painted the rocks with his blood, and still he climbed on. The nights were so cold that he felt as though the mountain would be split apart, and he with it, and he cowered in whatever crevice he could find for shelter. But the morning came, as always, and he climbed on.

And it came that he was so high that it seemed to him that he could see the entire desert, even to the city he had left so long ago, but still he climbed. Great birds with beaks of iron flew around him and serpents with fangs dripping poison coiled on the stones at high noon, and they hissed at him when he drew near; but he ignored them all and passed on. He climbed until he felt as though he could touch the moon as she floated by, and pluck the stars out of the sky, and still the mountain would not end.

And then, at last, so long after he had started on his journey that he no longer knew how long he had been climbing, he came to the top of the mountain, and there was a deep tunnel at the peak that led down towards the bowels of the earth. Though it was late evening and he had been climbing all the long weary day, without a moment’s pause to rest he started down it into the darkness.

There were steps cut into the rock, so old that time had worn them smooth as glass to his feet, and the darkness was so complete that he could not see so much as his hand before his face. And as he went he heard a voice, hard as the stone of the mountain itself.

“What do you want here?” the voice asked. “For this way is not for such as you, and nobody has come this way since the world began.”

“I seek the secret to evading death,” the man said.

“You should not seek that secret,” the mountain said. “For death comes to all, eventually, and even the world will one day die.”

“I still am determined to evade death,” he replied, as he walked down through the dark. “I have come too far to even think of turning back now.”

“And after the world dies,” the mountain went on, as though he had not spoken, “even the stars will die one by one, and the universe fall dark and silent forevermore.”

The young man said nothing. He just walked down through the tunnel.

“If you are truly certain of what you want, then,” the mountain said, “keep on to the end of this passage, and you will come to a basin lit by a single candle, which has been burning since the start of time. The basin has a drop of water at the very bottom. Take up the drop on your finger, and put it on your tongue. Then blow out the candle, for it will have served its purpose.”

And so the man walked on down the stairs until he saw a glimmer of light in the distance, and then as he got closer he saw that it was the candle, standing on the rim of the stone basin. And at the very bottom of the basin was a single drop of water. Taking up the drop on his finger, he touched it to his tongue, and began back up the steps. But before leaving, he remembered the words of the mountain and blew the candle out.

All the way back up the passage the mountain did not speak to him, and later, as he climbed down the slope, the birds with iron beaks and the serpents with dripping fangs kept away. And when he finally reached the desert, he went to the dried up oasis, but the withered thing was no longer there, and the hut like the shell of a dead tortoise lay silent and abandoned.

And so he walked back across the desert, which no longer told him tales; and he came at last to the city which he had left. But the great old gates sagged from their supports, and the wide avenues were filled with drifting sand; and he knew that more time had passed in his travels than he could have imagined.

And so he walked through the world, to lands beyond the deserts, and he saw cities great and small. He went among kings and barbarian tribes, and feared neither the royal executioner nor the caprices of the warrior chief. He sailed seas without fear of drowning in shipwreck and fought in wars without the terror of death, so that he grew famed as a soldier and mariner. And once in a while he would stay in a city or a village, or an island in the stream, and stay there for some years or decades, but ultimately it would all crumble to dust, and he would move on.

Once in a while he would meet a woman he liked, and for a brief moment he would seek pleasure in her arms and giver her pleasure in turn. But after a while she would grow old, and their children too, while he aged not – and then, inevitably, while they still lived, he would leave them like a shadow in the night and move on.

Sometimes he would hear fables and tales of a man who, in his youth, had decided not to die, and had drunk of a basin in the heart of a mountain, and still walked the world among men. And people would laugh at the fable, or sigh enviously. He would never say anything, and sometimes he would smile.

The very languages he had grown up knowing fell away into disuse and were heard no more; new speech, strange and uncouth, was on his lips, and he scarcely could learn it well enough to make it his own before it, too, had to be left behind as he went on his way. And so the wheel of the years ground on.

One day, many thousands of years after he had touched a drop of water in a basin to his tongue, he happened to pass where a mountain had once stood, and where there was now only an eroded hill. And looking on it, he seemed to hear a voice, as of ancient stone.

“O man,” this voice asked, “was it worth it, this immortality that you have found?”

And the man smiled. “It has been hard, but worth it,” he said. “I have seen things that I never thought I would see, know things I never could have otherwise known, and in leaving behind death I have wed myself to the Now and the Future.”

“And what of the past?” the stone voice murmured. “Does not the Now forget the past, and do not the scholars lie about things which they know nothing of, but you have seen?”

“What of that?” the man shrugged. “The Past is dead. I have nothing to do with death.”

And the stone voice fell silent, and the man moved on.

And time passed even so great that his body could not bear the wearing away from the grinding of the years, and his flesh dried on his bones, and at last he could hardly move any more. Then he found a home in a dead city of yellow stone high on a mountain plateau, a city already so old that its makers had been forgotten by the world, but a city which had not even been dreamed of when his travels had already been more than half ended. There, in that city, he sat at a window of nights, and watched the slow wheeling of the stars. And the stars in the sky had changed their positions, so that the constellations were no longer the familiar ones he had known.

Then it happened one day that the mountains and plateau shook and rumbled, and the yellow stone came crashing down, and crushed his body to fragments beneath tons of rock. But his body, even then, did not die, and he lay under the immense weight of the stone, alive and knowing.

And then one of the blocks of stone over him whispered, in a faint echo of a voice he had heard but twice before, “O man, now that you lie destroyed and crushed, do you now regret your choice?”

If the man could have moved he would have shrugged, and if he had still had a voice he would have spoken. “This body is merely a vehicle that had worn down,” he thought at the stone, and decided it could hear him. “But I am still here.”

“Buried under a mountain of earth and rock,” the stone said. “What good will that do you? You will lie here in agony until your body rots and falls to dust.”

But the man did not reply, and lay under the mountain of earth and rock, and his body rotted and fell to dust in its turn. And the time passed.

And the time passed, and wind and water wore the mountain away, and the dust that made up the man was again exposed to the air, where he lay in the light of the sun. And the winds blew his dust around, and parts of him soared into the air while others flowed down rivers to the sea. But they were not the seas he had once sailed, for the world had changed. And the men who walked it were not as such as he had ever known.

But time passed, and the sun grew huge and red and hot, and the air and water were burned away by its heat, so that the very dust which had once made up the man was blown away into the voids between the stars. And there, in the inky black, parts of him entwined themselves in gas clouds, and birthed stars anew. Some parts grew into worlds, where sometimes, creatures walked and laughed and talked, and knew, and grew old and died in their turn. But still he lived, and he watched the flood of time pass by.

And then the time came when the stars grew old, and began flickering out, one by one; and in all the universe there was not the slightest dim red glow of a dying sun, and the universe itself was dead.

And then the thing that had once been a man, and then dust, and then stars and planets and life, and was nothing, was the only thing still alive in all the vast, cold, dead universe. And he looked around, and decided that this was not good.

For only in comparison to death can one have life, and only when things are alive can they die.

And the thing looked around it, and thought about what it could do.

And then it declared, Let There Be Light.

And there was light –

Copyright B Purkayastha 2015


What am I today? If you ask, I can't give an answer.

I can only say,

I tried to be me.

Maybe I failed.

But I tried.

Surely, that counts for something.

Or doesn't.

Entropy marches on

After all.

I am an agglomeration of almost totally empty space held in its shape by electron repulsion. When I die, all that will cease to exist is a particular arrangement of almost totally empty space held in a specific shape by electron repulsion. 

That is all we are. That is all our hopes and loves and aspirations are. A matter of electric charges.

Peace and happiness on you all.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Catamaran Catastrophe Catamite Catalogue Caterpillar Cat Cat Cat

Last night I dreamt of cats.

This is not a thing I’d normally expect, since I’m not one of those people overly fond of felines. Besides, they weren’t real cats – they were people dressed as cats, putting on a play. And I was right there on the stage with them.

This play had nothing to do with the musical Cats.

Not this, and the makeup in my dream was much much better.

Said stage was, incidentally, not a real stage. It was the concrete yard which used to (and for all I know still does) stand above the main sports field in my old school, closed off by red and orange curtains to the sides in lieu of wings.

For those of you who might not be aware of this, red and orange are probably my favourite colours. At least they’re the colours I use a lot in my paintings.

Now I don’t recall exactly the circumstances which led to my ending up on stage, but they did form some part of the dream. I have vague memories of a journey far, far away, of walking over footpaths made of wooden planks, and a couple of brief conversations with unknown people in the doorways of half-finished concrete buildings. At least one of these people had a flat cap like bookies were supposed to wear on British racetracks, and had a stub of unlit cigar in his mouth. And neither of these conversations involved me – I had an invisible companion with whom these people talked, and I was a spectator.

And then I was on stage, and the play was on.

It was broad daylight on a warm summer day. I was dressed in a frayed grey woollen cap, a very dirty blue woollen jacket over something on underneath – what this something was I don’t know, since at no point in the dream was my jacket zipper undone – and an olive green tracksuit bottom with a spoilt elastic, held in place by a drawstring. All these three items of clothing, incidentally, are or were in my possession in real life. What I had on my feet I don’t know because as far as I remember I never saw my feet during the dream.

It could have been worse, I suppose – I could have been naked. I have an apparently inexhaustible supply of dreams in which I am wholly or partially naked.

I had no part to play on the stage, but I was onstage anyway. This grew very embarrassing to me, because I didn’t know what the hell I was doing there, and because of the way I was dressed. But everyone else onstage – the actors dressed as cats – was very deferential to me, as though I was someone of importance who had a right to be there, and not some interloper screwing up their play by blundering about. At one point I tried to make myself as inconspicuous as possible by lying down behind one of the red-orange screens at the side, and someone immediately put pillows under my head to keep it away from the concrete. Despite the screen, though, I knew quite well the audience knew exactly where I was and what I was doing. At least, lying down there, I could watch the play.

It was a very avant-garde play. I can’t presume to tell you the plot, in so far as there was one, but there were a lot of scenes as of palaces and fantasy settings, and everyone had cat heads. The cast was huge; there must have been a hundred or more of them. There was a lot of nudity as well, except for the cat heads, which everyone seemed to take totally in stride. And it was all very well done, whatever it was.

And then it was halfway through the play, and there was a lunch break. The stage suddenly transformed itself into a kind of marquee, with lines of dining tables. But this wasn’t for the cast, it was for the audience, who were invited onto the stage. All of them. All thousands of them.

And the audience was full of people I knew at some time or other, including probably the entire faculty of my old college, including the teachers, their spouses, their kids and grandchildren, and people who I knew (as one knows things in a dream) were now students in that college. There was a whole batch of little kids in black leather cat costumes, who looked like they were expecting a part in the play. And there were other people, including at least a couple who may have been older versions of girlfriends of mine from the distant past. And all of them ignored me totally, in my dirty clothes.

Even in the dream I wondered what they thought of the nudity.

Then I realised that I was very hungry, and that the food in the stage turned marquee was not for me. But there was a (far more lavish) buffet lunch set up just outside for the cast, of which I apparently was a honorary member. And I was going outside for it, when I met a young man coming in.

He was thin and dark, with a chin beard and soul patch, and he was dressed as inappropriately as I was, in a leather jacket and a black cap. He greeted me like an old friend, totally ignoring the awful clothes I was wearing, and congratulated me. For what, I don’t know, since I am sure I had nothing to do with the play. Mumbling some words, I got past him and went to the buffet, which was already mostly empty. The cast must have been ravenous. I looked for a plate and napkin, found them, and turned to what was left of the food.

And then I woke up.

I have no analysis to offer. All I can say is that for the last several days I’ve been feeling as though my creativity is a drag on my well-being, because it hasn’t actually got me any kind of material or even psychological reward, but has put me through an awful amount of stress through the years. And the support and encouragement I’ve got from friends has increasingly made me feel as though I’m a fraud who deserves none of it.

I’ve been also reading my way through Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, which occasionally features a topless humaniform cat goddess. That might have something to do with it too.

Meow to everyone.