Saturday, 26 December 2015

From the Baboon Chronicles

Once upon a time, two baboon troops lived in a valley in the mountains.

It was a deep and pleasant valley, verdant and fertile, and covered with trees which bore large and luscious fruit, with long grass with tasty seeds, and juicy insects which burrowed in the ground and scurried among the roots. The streams that ran through the valley were deep and cool, and the water holes fresh and clear.

The two troops of baboons lived on opposite sides of the valley, with their territories separated by a river. The name of one troop was the Blue troop, because of the colour of its members’ faces; the other was the Red troop, because that was the colour of its members’ behinds.

One year it so happened that a great drought came on the land, a drought so severe that the water holes and pools shrank and almost disappeared, and the earth became hard and cracked as sun-dried brick. The grass and leaves withered and turned sere and brown, and the sky, day after day after day, was the colour of burnished brass.

So severe was the drought that the food the baboons ate, the seeds and nuts, became as hard and dry and without nutrition as pieces of gravel; and the insects burrowed deep under the ground, so deep that even the baboons could not dig them out.  So severe was the drought that the fruit on the trees remained the only food to be found.

And as the months passed, the drought became more and more severe; the sun seemed to suck every drop of water from the very land and air, and even the fruit became dry and wrinkled, and hard as stone. The water holes dried to puddles of damp soil, and finally vanished. The river shrank, too, from a broad, crystal clear flood to a narrow thread of liquid mud. And still the drought went on.

Then at last the two Blue leaders called all the members of their troop together. “Clearly,” one said, “there is not enough food and water on our side of the valley for us to survive on. We must, therefore, make up our minds what to do.”

“We can either leave the valley altogether,” another continued, “and look for better pickings on the mountains, where perhaps, among the scrub and the thorn trees, we may find some trickle of water, some nest of insects, to keep us alive. We can leave this valley, which is our birthright, for the uncertainty of life on the mountain. Or...”

Or,” the first leader continued, “we can drive out the Red Troop that occupies half our valley. The Great Baboon gave us this valley for our own, and proved it by providing us all the food, and water that we might need. But we have been sharing His gifts with the Red interlopers, who have no place in this valley, and have no rights to anything of ours.”

“Clearly, that is why the Great Baboon has brought down this drought on us,” the second leader said. “He wants us to drive out the Reds, and occupy the whole valley, which He has given us in His infinite wisdom. There is still enough food and water in the whole valley for our troop, as long as we do not share with anyone.”

The first leader glared around at the baboons. “And if we hesitate,” he said, “if we dally too long in making up our minds, the Reds will attack us, and drive us out, and take over the valley for themselves; for they are evil and bitter, and envy us in all things we do.”

“What should we do then?” the second leader asked the assembled troop. “Should we give up our birthright and become wanderers on the mountain slopes...or should we fight?”

“Fight!” the assembled baboons shouted in unison. “We must fight!”

“See,” the first leader replied, “the Great Baboon has even made it easy for us to invade their land, by drying up the river to a muddy trickle. He has paved the way to our victory!”

“Attack!” the second leader commanded. “Attack at once, and drive out the Red interlopers to the wastes from which they came!”

So the Blue troop rose up at one, and rushed across the river, and threw themselves on the Red troop on the other side. But the Red troop had seen them coming, and fought back with such courage that they broke the Blue advance, and at the end of the day, though there had been a mighty slaughter, neither side had won a victory.

That night the Blue leaders called their troop together again for a council of war. “We have lost many,” the baboons complained, “and gained nothing. Many of us are weary and wounded, bruised and bleeding. We no longer believe that we can win so easily.”

“But no,” the first leader said, “we cannot give up now. Tomorrow, we must attack at first light again, for if we step back now, it will embolden the Reds, and make them think we are weak.”

“Besides,” the second leader added, “if we do not continue the war, if we stop fighting, it would only mean that all the blood we have shed has been shed in vain. So we must keep fighting.”

So the next morning the Blue troop again attacked across the river, and there was more slaughter. But once again the Red troop fought back with mighty courage, and after a day of bitter combat, both sides, as before, were locked in a stalemate.

Once again the Blue leaders called a council of war, and loud were the rebellious muttering from the troop. “If the Great Baboon had wanted us to win the war,” the baboons said, “He should have given us weapons to fight with, which the enemy cannot counter. As things are, we can kill each other, but we can’t win.”

The two Blue leaders looked at each other. “But there are weapons,” the first said, pointing to the branches overhead. “Look, the Great Baboon, in His wisdom, has dried the fruit until they are harder than stones, and easier to throw. What better weapons can there be?”

“But the fruit are the only food we have left,” the baboons argued. “How can we waste them in fighting?”

“When we have driven out the Red troop,” the second leader proclaimed, “and have the whole valley in our hands, there will be fruit enough for everyone.”

“So gather the fruit and keep them to hand,” the first leader ordered. “Tomorrow, we will attack them again and destroy them.”

So the next morning, the Blue troop, for the third time, rushed across the river to the Red side, this time flinging fruit before them with all their might as they went. Though the Red troop was taken by surprise at this tactic, they fought back as bravely as they could. Even so, little by little, they were driven back, until at nightfall the Blue troop held half the Red territory.

Then the Blue leaders called the troop together again. “See,” the first leader said, “Another day will win us victory.”

“But they are still fighting hard,” the baboons said, “and we have both shed so much blood that perhaps it would be better if we shared the valley, and everything would belong to everyone.”

“That would be heresy and sacrilege,” the second leader proclaimed. “The Great Baboon has armed us, shown us our duty, and set our feet on the path of righteousness. We cannot fail Him now.”

“But we have exhausted all the fruit we brought,” the baboons said. “We have none left, and tomorrow we must fight again.”

“There are plenty of fruit here,” the Blue leaders said, pointing at the trees around them. “The Great Baboon has provided us with the fruit here, and blinded our Red enemies to their use as weapons. Clearly, it is our duty to gather them for tomorrow’s fight.”

So the Blue baboons gathered the fruit, and when morning came, they continued the desperate battle. The Red troop, made desperate by the precariousness of their situation, fought back quite as hard, flinging sticks and stones, fighting with teeth and claws. But the fruit prevailed, and, step by step, the Red troop was driven back, until at last, as the last light of the day departed, they, too, quit the valley for the mountain slopes.

Then the Blue leaders gathered their troop together. “All hail the Great Baboon,” the first leader exulted. “He has given us victory, and our valley back again.”

“We shall have a great feast to celebrate,” the second leader said. “Prepare for it at once!”

“What with?” the baboons asked. “What shall we eat at this feast?”

The Blue leaders looked at the troop, suddenly silent; and the troop looked back at them.

And the branches of the trees stood stark and bare in the darkness of the gathering night.

 Copyright B Purkayastha 2015

[Image Source]

Twelve Terrors of Christmas

On the first day of Christmas ISIS sent to me
An issue of Dabiq full of fantasy.

On the second day of Christmas ISIS sent to me
Two orange jumpsuits
And an issue of Dabiq full of fantasy.

On the third day of Christmas ISIS sent to me
Three beheading videos
Two orange jumpsuits
And an issue of Dabiq full of fantasy.

On the fourth day of Christmas ISIS sent to me
Four suicide car bombs
Three beheading videos
Two orange jumpsuits
And an issue of Dabiq full of fantasy.

On the fifth day of Christmas ISIS sent to me
Five Facebook memes
Four suicide car bombs
Three beheading videos
Two orange jumpsuits
And an issue of Dabiq full of fantasy.

On the sixth day of Christmas ISIS sent to me
Six stolen museum statues
Five Facebook memes
Four suicide car bombs
Three beheading videos
Two orange jumpsuits
And an issue of Dabiq full of fantasy.

On the seventh day of Christmas ISIS sent to me
Seven tankers smuggling oil
Six stolen museum statues
Five Facebook memes
Four suicide car bombs
Three beheading videos
Two orange jumpsuits
And an issue of Dabiq full of fantasy.

On the eighth day of Christmas ISIS sent to me
Eight Russian airstrikes
Seven tankers smuggling oil
Six stolen museum statues
Five Facebook memes
Four suicide car bombs
Three beheading videos
Two orange jumpsuits
And an issue of Dabiq full of fantasy.

On the ninth day of Christmas ISIS sent to me
Nine Saudi arms shipments
Eight Russian airstrikes
Seven tankers smuggling oil
Six stolen museum statues
Five Facebook memes
Four suicide car bombs
Three beheading videos
Two orange jumpsuits
And an issue of Dabiq full of fantasy.

On the tenth day of Christmas ISIS sent to me
Ten moderate rebels joining
Nine Saudi arms shipments
Eight Russian airstrikes
Seven tankers smuggling oil
Six stolen museum statues
Five Facebook memes
Four suicide car bombs
Three beheading videos
Two orange jumpsuits
And an issue of Dabiq full of fantasy.

On the eleventh day of Christmas ISIS sent to me
Eleven channels warmongering
Ten moderate rebels joining
Nine Saudi arms shipments
Eight Russian airstrikes
Seven tankers smuggling oil
Six stolen museum statues
Five Facebook memes
Four suicide car bombs
Three beheading videos
Two orange jumpsuits
And an issue of Dabiq full of fantasy.

On the twelfth day of Christmas ISIS sent to me
Twelve NATO leaders lying
Eleven channels warmongering
Ten moderate rebels joining
Nine Saudi arms shipments
Eight Russian airstrikes
Seven tankers smuggling oil
Six stolen museum statues
Five Facebook memes
Four suicide car bombs
Three beheading videos
Two orange jumpsuits
And an issue of Dabiq full of fantasy.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2015

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Serious Allegations Made Against Santa Claus

Hogging the news headlines on Christmas Day today, serious allegations aimed at Santa Claus were brought before the public by two disaffected groups of his former helpers and retainers.

The first accusation was made at a packed press conference by a Mr Rudolf, who happens to be a quadruped with antlers, and claims to be a reindeer capable of flight, although displaying no evidence of wings. Mr Rudolf, whose bright, almost luminous, red nose caused some difficulty for the cameras attempting to photograph the proceedings, furiously denounced Claus in terms that were likely to affect his image worldwide.

“All these decades,” Rudolf said, “my mates and I have been pulling Claus’ sleigh, all over the world. Can you imagine the effort it takes to drag a sleigh like that, loaded down not just with gifts but with a fat tub of lard like Claus himself? The aerodynamic drag is bad enough, without all the deadweight. But would he lose even a gram? I ask you? Of course not! He said it would hurt his image!”

“We still did what was demanded of us though,” added two of the other flying reindeer present, who identified themselves as Mr Donner and Ms Blitzen. “Right from flying over the Australian outback in the midsummer heat to the bloody Canadian wastes – can you imagine what it’s like to fly over Canada in midwinter, huh? Can you? – and taking in all places in between, all in one night. We didn’t like it, but we did it.”

“And now he goes and sacks us all,” Rudolf continued. “Without a moment’s hesitation, or giving any notice. All of a sudden it’s ‘Well, boys and girls, it’s been a good few years, but we’ve got to move with the times, and I don’t require your services any longer. Clear out your stables and be out of here in half an hour, and your severance checks will be in the mail.' ”

“Without a single place to go to or any way to fend for ourselves,” Donner and Blitzen put in. “We’d been agitating for union status for decades, but of course he wouldn’t allow that. And now we don’t even have pension funds either.”

“That’s right,” Rudolf nodded angrily, pawing the table so hard that a few of the microphones fell over. “What does he take us for – chopped venison?”

“We should have tipped over the obese old tyrant when we had the chance,” Ms Dancer, one of the other flying reindeer present, said moodily. “If we’d done it when we were over the ocean, it would’ve been a nice Christmas present for the sharks.”

In New York, a spokesperson for Santa Claus Enterprises, Inc, Ms Jen-Marie Psaki-Harf, who said she had worked formerly in a similar capacity for the US State Department, issued a statement on Claus’ behalf. “As Mr Claus clearly stated,” she said, “we have to move with the times. These are no longer the days when a reindeer-pulled flying sleigh is modern enough to serve our purposes. Mr Claus has invested an enormous amount of money in a fleet of delivery drones, which are much more efficient and get the job done more easily and democratically. It would have been ridiculous not to use them.”

Asked to explain what the drones had to do with democracy, Ms Psaki-Harf smiled. “Mr Claus, when he used the inefficient old reindeer delivery service, could only cover one house at a time. Therefore he inadvertently ended up playing favourites, having to deliver at one house before another. With his drones, though, he can deliver to literally millions of houses simultaneously! If that’s not democratic, what is?

“Also, with the reindeer, there were problems delivering toys to certain areas of the world, you know, where there are wars ongoing and a significant security threat, like refugee camps. Mr Claus would often have to skip them altogether. But now, not only can he deliver the toys to them by drone, if there is a threat to the drones he can just tie the toys to Hellfire missiles and shoot them at the children. Isn’t that great? No matter what happens, the children will get the toys anyway!

“Besides,” she added, “getting rid of these reindeer is also environmentally friendly. Can you imagine the amount of methane released by these beasts as they fly through the air? High up in the atmosphere, it wreaks havoc with the ozone layer, and the carbon dioxide they pump out with their exertions drastically increases global warming. Mr Claus’ efforts to reduce harm to the planet we live on should gather praise, not condemnation. I suspect the present administration’s political opponents are behind it, since their anti-environmental attitudes are well known.”

She also stated that the reindeer had no right to protest. “Since they aren’t union labour,” she said, “they have no right to sue for unfair dismissal. The current economic climate, in any case, is not such that we can burden our employers with expenses and legalities which might come in the way of economic recovery. If these animals had had the foresight to take out unemployment insurance, then they might have had a fallback, but as things are there’s absolutely nothing Mr Claus owes them.”

A Pentagon spokesman, General Bernie Clinton, announced that the reindeer would be recruited into a special trillion dollar ultra secret unit. “These animals, with their unique flying ability and enormous speed, would be perfect in delivering supplies to ISIS positions...uh, I meant dropping bombs on ISIS positions. And if Putin continues his aggression against the civilised freedom-lovin’ Western world, then, by God, they can drop bombs on his head as well!”

What the reindeer thought about this plan is not as yet known.

Meanwhile, in a separate statement, a mob of red and green clad elves who used to work in Claus’ toy factories alleged that they too had been laid off, and made some extremely serious allegations. “Claus,” one said, “has gone too far this time. It’s been years since he’s been sending off business to sweatshops in Vietnam and Laos using slave labour, but we’ve kept our mouths shut, because, you know, what can we do. We’ve got mouths to feed as well and we couldn’t risk our jobs. But now the fat bastard has gone and sacked us. And you know what he’s replacing us by?”

“Syrian refugees!” another elf said. “He’s getting Syrian refugees to work at rock bottom wages to make toys for him so he doesn’t have to keep us on the payroll any longer. This is intolerable!”

Ms Psaki-Harf, however, explained that this was the result of Claus’ humanitarianism, nothing more. “The refugees needed employment,” she said. “Mr Claus was in a position to offer them employment. What else would you suggest he do? It is true, of course, that he is paying the new employees less than he paid the elves, but that, too, is only natural. They aren’t used to the work, so their productivity is lower. Mr Claus does have a duty to his shareholders to maximise profit in any way he can.”

The elves, she said, had probably been put up to their agitation by Russian President Putin. “It’s just another of Putin’s methods of economic aggression against the civilised world,” she said. “Since his country doesn’t even follow the Christian Christmas, but some Orthodox Church heresy, it doesn’t matter to him if Santa Claus’ reputation is soiled and he is forced to defend himself in the media. I’m told that President Obama will consult with his advisors to discuss what additional sanctions can be clamped on Russia in retaliation for this.”

“All isn’t lost for the elves,” General Bernie Clinton of the Pentagon said. “Their small size and quick fingers make them perfect agents to use as spies and saboteurs on behalf of ISIS...I mean, against ISIS. And if Putin continues with his aggression against the freedom-lovin’ world, well, we’ll see what they can do against Russia too!”

Asked to explain how the elves might be simultaneously agitators in the pay of Russia and prospective saboteurs against Russia, General Clinton brushed off the question. “The evidence is all on YouTube,” he said. “After all, what difference does it make anyway?”

Both the elves and the reindeer made another accusation against Claus: that he discriminated in favour of children from rich families, who invariably got better and more expensive gifts than those of poor families, no matter how good or bad they’d been.

“What’s this idea of watching kids twenty four hours a day anyway?” Rudolf said. “They’re kids, they need privacy and a chance to grow, not have some judgemental holier-than-thou hanging over their shoulder watching what they’re doing. It’s emotionally crippling.”

“And even after all the watching,” the elf spokesman agreed, “the best, most well behaved poor kids won’t get given anything a tenth as costly as the rich kids get. We protested against this many times, but we were always told that we’d better pipe down if we valued our jobs. But now,” he shrugged, “our jobs are gone anyway.”

Ms Psaki-Harf replied to these accusations by making two points. “First,” she said, “there’s the question of watching the children. That we of course do, round the clock, and it’s an essential act, especially in these days of terrorism and threats to national security. Children who know they’re being watched will adjust much more easily to the needs of national security, don’t you think?

“Then, there’s the point of discrimination towards children from rich families. We believe that this discrimination has several real advantages. For one thing, it teaches children that to be rich means having better things. Therefore, when they grow up, they’ll try to be rich, and this can only be good for the economy since it’ll stimulate enterprise. Also, kids from rich families will be happy only with more expensive things than kids from poor families. It’s all about keeping the children happy, really.”

In a united statement, President Obama, Prime Minister Cameron, and Democratic Party front runner Killary Klingon strongly urged that Santa Claus be granted the Nobel Peace Prize. “Clearly, the world should show that it stands with him in this difficult moment,” they said. “And what better way can there be but to give him that award? Only terrorists and Putin-supporting right wingers could possibly object.”

“Anything else,” Ms Klingon added, “would be a crime against the children of the world, who look up to Santa Claus as an inspiration. Won’t anyone think of the children?”

It is believed that the Nobel Peace Prize Committee is falling over itself to comply, before it can be made the target of a humanitarian bombing campaign by USAF F 35 strike aeroplanes flying from the new Adolf Hitler air base in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, ISIS claimed to have shot down a drone bearing a load of shoddily made toys. “Inshallah, the world shall see more of this in the coming hours, you kuffars,” a spokesman for the radical group announced. “Fly drones overhead and we’ll take them down, with Allah’s permission.”

While no further information is available on how the drone was brought down, President Obama at once blamed President Assad of Syria. “It is because of Assad that ISIS is in Syria and able to shoot down Santa’s drones,” he said. “Assad must leave office at once! As for Russia, which backs him, we shall impose even more sanctions immediately to teach Putin the error of his ways.”

Neither President Assad nor President Putin of Russia was available for comment.

Major financial analysts, meanwhile, suggest that the controversy has done wonders for Santa Claus Enterprises, Inc.s’ share value on Wall Street. “There’s no such thing as bad publicity,” they said. “And, after all, if Claus suffers any losses, he can demand a bailout. As a corporate person, he is certain to get it.” Santa Claus himself could not be seen to be interviewed, by reporters who had gone to meet him at his secret Arctic headquarters.

But, surrounded by ceiling-high stacks of currency notes and credit cards, they said, they had heard him laughing and laughing.

Christmas Eve

Under the winter night sky, the city was bright and glittering and glowed with happiness and good cheer. The shops and restaurants were warm and welcoming, the main streets filled with traffic, and the public buildings decorated with chains of red and green blinking lights.

Down in the dark alley behind the old movie theatre, however, there was neither light nor glitter, neither happiness nor good cheer. There was only the wet and the cold.

The boy and the girl were both wet and shivering. They were very young, probably still in their mid teens, and very thin, their eyes looking enormous in their emaciated faces. The boy, who had put his jacket over the girl’s shoulders, shivered uncontrollably in a thin T shirt. The girl, who was obviously very heavily pregnant, wore a tattered skirt and no shoes.

The boy peeked round the corner of the old theatre, ready to duck back in an instant.

“Can you see anything?” the girl whispered behind him. “Is it safe?”

The boy cocked his head and raised a hand. “Wait.”

There was a sound overhead. Low over the roofs, a santaclaus whirred by, pulled by its chain of flying slaves. The boy caught a momentary glimpse of the creature itself, the white of snow and the red of blood, glaring down from its vehicle, searching. Behind its seat, a huge bundle squirmed and whimpered and begged for mercy.

 The boy felt his heart thudding in his chest even after the santaclaus had flown by, and clenched his fists to stop himself from shuddering. It did no good. The girl, touching his shoulder, felt it at once.

“You’re freezing,” she said. “Take the jacket.”

“No, you keep it on,” he told her. “It’s all right, really. We’re almost there.”

There was no sign of the santaclaus returning, so after waiting a minute or two longer the two crept out past the old movie theatre and across the street. A couple of more alleys, and they were at the witch’s house.

The witch lived on the top floor of a building which was crumbling slowly away, a little every year. The ground floor had wholesale shops which were, of course, closed on this night. In between was a floor occupied by tenants whom nobody ever saw. And the witch had the uppermost floor.

She opened the door as though she’d been waiting for them, and clicked her tongue when she saw them. “Well,” she said, “come on it, or you’ll die of cold there on the landing. From the looks of you it won’t take long.”

The girl and the boy looked back at the witch. She was middle aged and plump, with a round brown face and deep set eyes. Only a single band of white, like a frozen river, in her loose black hair marked her for a witch.

“Come in,” the witch repeated impatiently.

They entered. The witch’s house was smoky, lit only by candles, and cluttered with things, most of which only the witch knew the names of. The skulls of three magi were lined up side by side on a shelf across the room. The creatures’ empty eye sockets, pools of darkness, seemed to drink up all the light there was.

“She’s about to go into labour,” the boy said apologetically. “That’s why we came.”

The witch snorted. “Do you think I can’t see that? You’ve taken a hell of a chance, though, haven’t you, leaving it till the last moment? Did anyone see you coming here?”

“No,” the boy said.

“A santaclaus flew over,” the girl added. “But it didn’t come after us, so it can’t have seen us,” she added quickly.

“So you were lucky.” The witch led them to a low couch against the wall. “Take your skirt off and lie down,” she said to the girl, “and I’ll get something ready to warm you up.”

By the time she returned with two steaming mugs, the girl was moaning and clutching her midsection, and between her thighs the couch had become wet with fluid. “Drink up,” the witch said, when the contraction had subsided, and threw a light blanket over the girl. “It’ll still take a while.”

“We didn’t know where else to go,” the boy explained, sipping at the bitter steaming liquid. “Nowhere else was safe.”

“We couldn’t go to a hospital, of course,” the girl said. She sounded by far the more mature of the two. “You know what they’d do to us in there as soon as they saw us.”

“That’s right,” the boy agreed. “And we didn’t...” he hesitated.

“He means,” the girl smiled wanly, her thin fingers wrapped round her mug for warmth, “that we didn’t have any way to pay you. We still don’t.”

The witch nodded. “That’s all right,” she said. “You’ll pay later. Don’t worry.”

The girl shivered and put down the mug. “I didn’t...we didn’t...want it to happen now, so soon. It just. You know.”

“Yes.” The witch thought for a moment and went to fetch one of the skulls on the shelf. She held it over the girl’s splayed thighs and looked into one of the sockets. In the bottomless dark of the socket, there was a single spark of light, as though in the infinite far distance.

“Yes,” the witch repeated unemotionally, and put the skull back on the shelf. “I see.”

“If they find us...” the boy began. “The santaclaus had a sack, like they do, and –” he stopped abruptly.

“We heard the stories,” the girl said. “Last year they broke into a house and dragged them all away, the mother and the father and the baby too. It hadn’t even been fully born yet.”

There was a brief silence.

“So they mustn’t find you.” The witch looked at the girl and back at the boy. “What are your names anyway?”

They told her their names. The witch smiled. “Appropriate, don’t you think?”

“I think it’s starting again,” the girl said, her hands tightening on the blanket. Her face was very pale.   

There were sounds in the lane, as of singing. The witch walked quickly over to the window and flicked back the curtain a moment. “A carol pack,” she said.

“A carol pack!” the boy repeated. His face was as pale as the girl’s.

“Don’t worry,” the witch said. “It hasn’t got your scent.” As though in confirmation, the singing slowly died away in the distance.

“I don’t know how much more of this I can take,” the girl said, gasping.

The witch looked up at the big old clock on one wall. “It’s only nine,” she said. “There’s still a long time to go.”

The clock’s hands were precisely at three minutes to midnight when the girl gave a despairing cry. “I’m being torn apart,” she whimpered. “It’s ripping me from inside.”

“”Not at all,” the witch said. “It’s coming.” She got the skull again. In the socket the spark was now a great blazing star, its light blinding bright.

“I think I can see the head,” the boy said. He sounded very scared.

“It’s all right,” the witch said. “It’s all right.”

Carefully, making sure of its exact place, she put back the skull on the shelf, and came back to help the latest saviour of humanity into the cold, hard, dazzling bright, cruel world.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2015

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

The Book

It was a thick, heavy book, a big book, with a dust jacket of creamy white and gold...

The path from the library up to the road was paved with attractive but uneven slabs of stone, over which one could easily stumble. I’d done it myself more than once, and in order to look where I was going I shifted the book under my arm. It was a heavy, comforting weight by my side. I’d been looking for a copy for years and I’d hardly believed my eyes when I’d finally found one on the library shelf.

I could almost feel the pleasure with which I’d open up the book when I got home, and make notes and diagrams for tomorrow’s class. I could almost feel already the atmosphere in the classroom, the avid attention with which the students would drink in the lesson, as I drew the diagrams on the board, tracing out bones and muscles and nerves as I explained to them exactly how the machine that is a body works. I loved teaching, loved seeing the spark of interest take hold in the eyes of the children sitting before me, and now I at last had material from which I could properly teach.

The afternoon sunshine was warm and golden as honey, slanting across the buildings and through the branches of the trees. I took a deep breath. The air, washed by three days of rain, was bright and clear, and it felt great to be alive.

The good feeling lasted until I turned the corner on to the main road. The traffic, I’d vaguely noticed, seemed unusually light, and merely taken it as another of the good things of the day – I’d be able to walk home without breathing in exhaust fumes all the way and having my ears assaulted by the noise.

But there, right in front of me, was an army lorry parked by the roadside, and soldiers in their green uniforms standing around a table put on the pavement. People were lined up before the table, and the troopers were asking questions and checking their identity. A smaller line stood to one side, looking uneasy and guarded by a couple of soldiers.

A soldier motioned to me with the barrel of his gun. “Get in line!”

“Me?” I was astonished. “But I’m just going home and –”

“No talk!” he screamed, spittle flying from his lips. “Get in line, you!”

I looked at him. He was very thin and very young, probably only a couple of years older than the children in my class. The rifle in his arms looked far too big for him, and the helmet on his head was so large it seemed about to fall off. He almost looked like a child dressed up as a soldier, except that there was nothing the slightest bit funny about him.

I got in line. “What’s going on?” I murmured to the man in front of me.

“No idea, man,” he mumbled over his shoulder. “I asked, but they hit me.” He pointed to his cheek to illustrate, and I saw it was swollen. “Better not say anything.”

The line moved slowly. An officer sitting at the table was checking everyone’s ID and asking questions. He barely glanced at the man in front of me when his turn came. “Go!”

Then I was standing in front of the table. The officer looked up at me. He had a red beret and a beard, and yellow and white stripes on his epaulettes. “Who are you?”

I gave him my name. He grunted. “And what do you do?”

“I’m a teacher,” I said.

He sat back very slowly in his chair and stared up at me. “Is that so?” he asked softly. “A teacher. What do you teach, then?”

I swallowed. “Zoology.”

He slapped his hand so hard down on the table that the papers on it jumped. “Don’t give me that. What do you really teach? Communist subversion? You’re poisoning the children’s minds!”

“What?” I was too flabbergasted to protest. “What are you saying?”

“An enemy of the people,” one of the other soldiers said. He was a very large, fat man with a cloth tied round his neck. It was wet with the sweat rolling off his face. “One of the communists, sir.”

“This is ridiculous.” I held up the book. “Take a look here. You’ll see it’s a zoology textbook. I just got it from the library.”

“And you think we’ll just believe that?” the fat soldier snorted. “Carry along something as camouflage. It’s as old as the hills, that trick is.”

“But –” I began. “You can just contact my school and ask.”

“All teachers are commies,” the fat soldier said. His eyes glittered. “Now we’ve got the power, we can take care of all of you, and we will.”

“Get in line there,” the officer said, pointing. “You’ll get a chance to have your say later.”

Something struck me across the shoulder blades, a blow hard enough to send me staggering several paces. It was the thin young soldier with the helmet that was too big. “Teacher, hey?” he yelled. “Get in there and shut up.”

I got in the line with the guards. There were about fifteen or twenty of us. Nobody spoke. I found myself fingering the book, over and over, as though it was a lucky charm. As long as the book was there, under my arm, its pristine white and gold dust jacket unblemished, it was as though nothing could happen to me.

After a while there was nobody coming along the street any longer, and the soldiers packed up the furniture and loaded it on to the lorry. Then they turned to us and pointed up at the vehicle. “Get on.”

We climbed on. There were so many people in the lorry, both the soldiers and us, that we could hardly move. I was very aware of the hard edge of a rifle pressed up against my side, and each time the vehicle swayed the edge of the young soldier’s oversized helmet banged against my neck and ear.

They put us in a room that already had so many people in it that the walls were wet with condensed breath. The only light came from a tiny square opening high up near the roof, just enough to see a little by. My back, after the jolting lorry ride and the press of bodies around, was sending shafts of pain through me. A soldier leant casually against the door, staring at us. Beyond him, the concrete of the veranda was cracked and filthy with refuse.

“What did they get you for?” someone asked. In the half-darkness I couldn’t see his face.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m a teacher, that’s all.”

“Teacher,” he repeated. “That’s very bad. They hate teachers.”

I didn’t know what to answer to that. “What about you?” I asked eventually.

We were standing so close together I felt rather than saw him shrug. “I’m just from the wrong ethnic group,” he said. “They’ll let me go eventually. They will let me go, won’t they?”

“Yes, of course,” I told him. “Of course they will.”

The press of bodies around me thinned a little, as the soldiers took some people away. I worked my way towards the wall, thinking I might be able to rest my back against it. I might also, I hoped, be able to open the book and look at a few of the diagrams in what little light was leaking into the room. Somehow, the book had become very important to me, more important than anything else. It was like my anchor to reality, the only thing holding me to the world as it had been when I’d run down the library steps earlier that afternoon.

I got to the wall, I reached for my book...and I didn’t find it. It had vanished from under my arm.

The shock that went through me at that moment was so great that I might have fallen but for the wall. I looked around frantically, peering at the floor, but I could see nothing.

“Has anyone seen my book?” I called out. “My book!”

Someone whose grizzled, bearded face was lit up momentarily by a stray ray of light turned to me. “It’s over there,” he said, pointing at the corner. “I can see it. Books!”

I turned to look. It was almost totally dark, but there seemed to be a stack of oblong objects, about waist high. I pushed my way towards the stack and reached out. My hand came down on wet, slippery stone, and on something furry which wriggled and squirmed away.

Not books after all.

Soldiers came into the room and led more people away. There were many fewer people now, but I still couldn’t see any trace of the book.

The soldier at the door had a triangular face and dead eyes. He turned blankly towards me as I went up to him. “Yeah?”

“I lost my book,” I said. “Have you seen my book?”

He looked me up and down. “Is it white?” he asked. “Big and white and yellow?”

“Yes,” I told him eagerly. “Yes.”

He considered, his head tilted on one side. “No,” he said at last. “I haven’t seen it.”


The last sunlight of the day was still in the sky when they led me out, along with a few others. On the other side of the veranda was a disused basketball court, grass poking through the cracked concrete. Beyond that was a low wall, about shoulder high, with a railing at the top.

The officer with the red beret appeared. “Line up with your backs to the wall,” he shouted. Put your hands back and over your shoulders. Do it!”

I complied. Someone took hold of my wrists and pulled them backward. I felt rope bite into my wrists.

The officer was saying something as a squad of soldiers appeared and lined up opposite us. Other soldiers were standing on the veranda, watching.

“ be shot as enemies of the people,” the officer said. I barely heard him.

I was looking at the veranda, and at one of the soldiers standing there. It was the thin boy from earlier, and he had something in his hands. He was clutching it to his chest with both arms while watching us with wide eyes.

It was a thick, heavy book, a big book, with a dust jacket of creamy white and gold...

Copyright B Purkayastha 2015

Note to reader: Once again, a story based on last night’s dream.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

The Beginning At The End Of Things

Lashynna sits in the exact centre of the room, cross-legged on the floor, alone. She keeps her eyes fixed on her hands, which are loosely clasped in her lap. She hasn’t moved in hours.

Lashynna doesn’t want to look up when the door opens. She knows what she’ll see. There will be the two big men, their muscles bulging under their green overalls – the one with the beard and the one without. They’ll look at her with flat-eyed disinterest and turn over the room, as usual, taking everything apart and putting it together again. They never tell her what they’re looking for. They never speak to her. Then they’ll leave food and water for the day and go away. She knows all their movements by rote, can anticipate them, and has no need to look up.

Each day, ever since she first woke up in this room, it’s been this way.

At least that was how it’s been till today.

There’s something strange today, something different. She doesn’t realise what it is for a while. There’s a new feeling in the air, which she can’t quite put a name to. It’s almost as though the room has suddenly got smaller. Slowly, reluctantly, she raises her eyes a little from her hands.

There’s someone standing in front of her. Someone with dark trousers and polished brown shoes.

Fixated, suddenly terrified to look up, she continues staring at the shoes. The laces are perfectly tied, and the leather so highly polished that she can see a faint, distorted image of her own face, the eyes staring black holes in the pale oval of her features.

“Lashynna,” a voice says. It’s a calm, gentle voice, and utterly terrifying. “Lashynna, get up.”

She doesn’t make a move to obey. She can’t. Instead, she stares at the reflection of her own eyes, unable even to blink.

“Lashynna,” the voice repeats. “I told you something. Did you understand?”

Almost against her own volition, she feels herself nod, once. Her head feels heavy on her neck, difficult to move. Her lips form words, but make no sound.

“Is it difficult for you to talk?” the person in the brown shoes asks. “Is that it?”

Lashynna tries again, and this time manages a whisper. “No. I can speak.” It’s the first time she’s actually talked since she’s been in this room, though, and her mouth feels strange, forming the words. She wonders how long it’s been since she’s last spoken.

“It’s been a while, hasn’t it, Lashynna?” the man in the brown shoes asks, as though he’s read her mind. His voice is still calm, kind and terrifying. “I don’t wonder that you’re distressed. But you really ought to get up, you know. Get up and look at me, Lashynna.”

There’s some force in his voice that she can’t deny. Slowly, she unfolds herself and stands, still looking down at his shoes. For a moment, she sways, as though her own narrow feet are too small to bear her height. She doesn’t know how long it’s been since she last stood. Maybe not for days.

He makes no attempt to steady her. “Look at me, Lashynna,” he repeats.

As though drawn by strings, her head rises. He’s quite a small man, actually, shorter than her, with a narrow face under thinning grey hair. He’s got on round spectacles, which reflect the light so that he looks as though he’s wearing silvery coins over his eyes.

“Good,” he says. “How are you feeling, Lashynna?”

She doesn’t know how she’s feeling, except scared. She’s very frightened now, and the worst of it is that she doesn’t know why.

“Come on,” the man says, and his round spectacles flash. “I haven’t got all day.”

Just then she glimpses one of the other men, the one with the beard, walking past. He doesn’t look at her or at her visitor, but the sight of him is oddly reassuring. He’s part of what she’s grown to think if as normal in the room; he’s better than the man in the dark suit with shining discs for eyes.

“I’m all right,” she says.

“Really?” He smiles, acknowledging that she’s lying and that they both know she’s lying. “Well, that’s good, isn’t it? So next time I visit you, you won’t have to be told to get up and look and me while we talk, right?”

She tries to look away from his blank silvery gaze, finds she can’t. “I won’t be able to tell,” she says, “till next time.”

“That’s right,” he agrees readily. “But I think we’ll be finding out, won’t we?” He pauses, and adds sharply, “won’t we?”

She nods, miserably. He smiles again, his thin lips rising and falling.

“I’ll be looking forward to our next meeting, Lashynna,” he says.


Once they’ve gone, she looks at the room, as though for the first time. It’s small, windowless, cubical and white – like the clothes she wears, like the ceiling, it’s all white, even the furniture and the floor beneath her feet. Not that there’s much furniture anyway, and it’s all featureless and blocky like cubes carved out of plastic.

There’s a mirror in the wall – not on, in case she might take it off and break it, and use the glass as weapons – but set into it, the edges flush with the surface. Normally she avoids looking into it. Now, though, obeying an obscure impulse, she goes over and stares at her reflection in the glass. It’s the same old face, thin and long-jawed, with the big dark eyes staring out as though waiting for the world to strike them blind. She runs her fingers over the contours of her face, the skin stretched tight over the bones. She feels brittle all over, from her face to the ribs she can feel if she hugs herself, down to her thin, twiglike toes.

She wonders why she’s been brought here, and how long she’ll have to remain. She wonders if they’ll ever let her go.

She hears the door opening behind her, and turns. It can’t be time already for another cleaning – they’ve just gone, after all, she hasn’t even touched the food and drink they’ve left. But it’s the man in brown, again, and he’s not alone. With him is a woman in a white coat. She’s tall and square-faced and stares at Lashynna with a complete lack of expression.

“Well, Lashynna,” the man asks. “And how are you?”

“You only just left,” she replies. “I’m exactly the same as I was then.”

The two of them, the man and the woman, glance quickly at each other. Has it been longer than she’d thought? The woman stares at her speculatively. “You don’t look particularly happy here,” she says.

“I’m happy,” Lashynna replies. “Quite happy.”

The woman nods. “I see. So you don’t want to go back to your other life?”

“Other life?”

“The one outside,” the man says. “You do remember it, don’t you?”

“The one before you came here,” the woman clarifies.

“Of course,” Lashynna says, and then bites her lip. She’s not going to tell them of the sudden rush of emotions, of memories. She doesn’t want to think of lying on her back in the park, watching the sky through a screen of leaves, listening to the chirping of birds and rubbing her fingers in the grass. She’s not going to talk about watching a child and a dog chase each other and tumbling over and over, barking and laughing.

And she’s not going to utter a word of the other memories either. No, she’s not going to think of the draughty old house she’d loved, and the man who had shared it with her. She’s not going to even think of it, she tells herself, and finds the tears starting in her eyes.

“So you don’t mind it at all,” the woman says. “It’s better in here than outside, isn’t it?”

She stares at the woman with pure hate, not trying in any way to disguise it. “Why have you brought me here?”

The woman looks a little amused. “But nobody brought you here,” she says. “You came by yourself.”

“Just think back,” the man puts in. “Do you remember anyone bringing you here?”

“Yes, of course –“ she begins, and stops short. She can’t remember anything about that. All she remembers is falling asleep one night, arms wrapped around him, the moonlight through the window. They’d been talking, discussing something she can’t quite remember. Then they’d made love and she’d fallen asleep, filled with joy and planning for something she was to do the next day. Something very important, only she can’t remember what it was.

And instead she’d woken up here, and she’d been here ever since.

The rage builds in her like a red tide, the anger she’s stored up in all the endless time she’s been in this little room. She feels it rising until she’s literally shaking with it. “I’m going to get you,” she tells them then. “If it’s the last thing I’ll ever do, I’ll get you.”

They look at each other again, and she gets a distinct impression that they’re pleased. It’s almost as though they’re sharing a look of triumph. Why should they be pleased by her anger? It doesn’t make sense.

“Of course you will,” the woman murmurs in a soothing voice, and Lashynna can hear the laughter behind her words. “But things are better here than outside, would you agree?”

Lashynna doesn’t say anything. The man and woman look at each other. “We’ll leave you to think about it,” the one with the disc-eyes says.


The strange things begin happening shortly afterwards. Lashynna doesn’t even recognise the first of them till it’s almost over. It’s nothing much, just a greyish drifting coil of smoke that floats through the room just below the white ceiling, makes a circuit of the room and disappears little by little. If there had been an obvious point of entry for it, or a draught to carry it along, she wouldn’t even have noticed it.

The next thing is nothing like that subtle. She’s sitting on the block which serves as her bed when something huge comes crawling along the floor. It’s at least as long as a human leg and thick as a thigh, and it’s lined with claw-tipped legs that sink into the floor with every step. It scuttles around the far side of the bed, squeezes between it and the wall, and disappears. Before trusting her feet to the floor, she bends over the edge of the bed to look for it. It’s nowhere to be seen.

After that the things start happening at random. Sometimes two or three cleaning visits got by with nothing happening. Sometimes there are things happening all over the room, everywhere she looks. Once she wakes up to find a child sitting on her chest, staring down into her eyes with deep interest. When she goes to touch it, though, it laughs and dances away.

Then one day the man with the discs over his eyes comes again. He stands by the door, looking at her. “Well, Lashynna?”

She doesn’t rise from her place. “What?”

“Everything going well with you?”

“Why shouldn’t it be?” There’s a oozing purple slime sliding down the wall beside the man’s shoulder. He doesn’t mention it, so she doesn’t, either.

“It’s not polite to answer a question with another,” he replies. “So everything is as usual, is it?”

She doesn’t answer.

“Lashynna,” he says. “Do you remember what I told you before? Taking this attitude is useless. I could, you know...”


“Make you do things if I wanted to. What you thought about doing them wouldn’t matter. But you know, that wouldn’t be any good, would it? You have to want to do them.”


“Why? That’s a good question. You’ll realise the answer.” He stands aside and opens the door. For a moment she thinks he’s going to leave, and then realises he’s holding it open – for her. “Would you like to take a walk outside?”

She comes off the bed like quicksilver, without pausing for a word.


It’s the first time she’s been outside the room since she’s come here. There’s a corridor, and she’s not even surprised that its walls are slippery with blood, which pools on the floor and coats her feet with sticky, clotting red. The man with the discs over his eyes doesn’t seem to notice it, and it doesn’t seem to mar the shine on his brown shoes.

“Lashynna?” he asks over his shoulder, without looking at her.


“Once we go through that door...” It’s not a door, not really, it’s a snake’s head, mouth yawning open, long fangs reaching down, dripping what she can only assume is poison. “Once we go through that door,” he says, “you’re going to understand.”

“Understand what?”

“Whatever there is to understand.” It’s a ridiculous answer, and she doesn’t press it. The floor below the snake’s mouth is set with teeth, too, and she lifts her feet high so as not to touch them. The man doesn’t even pause in his stride, and somehow the teeth don’t touch him. “Come.”

She’s already made up her mind that whatever she sees outside, she won’t show any reaction, but it gets hard when she sees it. The trees are there, the path, the old house at the end, everything that she remembers with all her heart, it’s all there, right outside...except.

Except that the trees have leaves of fire, and the grass is black and smouldering, and on the other side of the lawn the house is lined with flames, flames which climb up to the sky and merge and pulse like a beating heart, throbbing in rhythm to her pulse. And despite the cinders which glow and the smoke that rises from the charred grass, the man with the discs over his eyes walks right out and turns impatiently to look at her over his shoulder. “Are you coming?”

She looks down a moment at the grass, at her bare feet, from which the blood has vanished, and takes a deep breath. “It’s not going to burn, is it?”

“Are you coming or aren’t you?”

“I’m coming.” She keeps her head up, resolutely. The cinders don’t burn her feet; she can’t even feel them. The sky is growing dark, the fires sinking, to be replaced by thick clotted smoke. Something flutters and chitters overhead, spiralling down trailing fire. She refuses to believe it’s a bird, and when she blinks, it’s gone.

“Lashynna,” the man says. “Do you remember what I said before you came through this door?”

“That I would understand,” she replies. “I think I do, now.”

“Yes? What do you understand?”

“All this isn’t really here, is it? It’s just something I’m being made to imagine.”

“Made to imagine,” he repeats thoughtfully. “That’s interesting. Come along here.” She follows him up what remains of the lawn and the side of the old house. Through the nearest window, she can see the bedroom. The bed is a lake of simmering orange flame. “Are you imagining that now?”

“I must be, mustn’t I?” She touches the glass; it’s cool to her fingertips, but it’s there, real glass. She can feel it. She presses her fingers against it, and the palm of her hand.

“So you’re still sure you’re imagining it?”

“You’re doing it,” she replies. “You’re making me think all this, destroying the things I remember. But you can’t destroy them all.”

“No?” He shakes his head, like an adult with a recalcitrant child, and suddenly the glass is hot, more than hot, and she snatches her hand away before she burns her palm to the bone. “Did I do that too?” he asks.

She looks at him, angry, beyond angry, furious enough to kill, angrier even than the time she’d told him and the woman that she’d get them. “You can’t take it away,” she says. “You can’t take him away.”


She opens her mouth to tell him the name, but nothing comes out, and she can’t remember his name. She tries hard, squeezes her eyes shut, tries to think up his face, but there’s nothing. All she has is a fast fading mental image, like a shadow disappearing down a tunnel, merging into the darkness and distance. And then it’s gone.

“Who can’t we take away?” the man asks.

She looks at him, and the sky, which is black with clouds, and down at her hand, which is blistering, huge bubbles growing on her palm. She tells herself her hand isn’t burnt at all, and the bubbles shrink and vanish.

“Shall we go back in, Lashynna?” he asks.

“Yes,” she whispers, and would have bitten back the tears if only she’d thought there were any she could shed anyway.


The room has been changed while she was out, or maybe it’s another room. There’s no bed now, just a mattress on the floor, and the walls are full of figures, images of people and things and trees and animals. Whenever she looks at the walls, the corners of her vision writhe and crawl with movement. As soon as she looks at the movement, it stops, and starts somewhere else.

The walls are part of it, she realises. The walls are in it against her. She gets to where she doesn’t even look at the walls any longer. All she can do is lie on her back then, and stare up at the ceiling. At least there aren’t any faces on the ceiling. Yet.

“Please,” she tells the woman. “Let me go.”

“Let you go where?” the woman asks. “Nobody’s holding you here, are they?”

“Aren’t they? I can’t do anything I want, can I? What if I want to leave – I can’t leave, can I?”

“Of course you can.” The woman stands aside and gestures at the door. “There’s the door. Go ahead.”

Lashynna blinks. From the mattress the woman looks very tall and the door an infinite distance away, but when she gets to her feet suddenly it’s just a small woman and an ordinary door. She expects the two men who come to give her food and to turn over the room to stop her, but there’s no sign of them. The passage outside is bare. Even the blood on the walls is gone, and there’s just an ordinary door at the end.

She opens the door, expecting what, she can’t say. Perhaps a howling blizzard or a desert waste, a desolate rocky shore or a steaming volcano. Perhaps there won’t be anything at all.

But when she opens the door, outside there’s a city. People coming and going, cars and buses, a policeman on the far side of the street frowning up at the sky. She glances behind her.

The man and the woman are there, watching. “Do you want to go?” the man asks.

She swallows, dry mouthed, remembering what he’d said. “Yes.”

“Go then.” He seems amused.

She runs. She runs down to the street and down the pavement, pushing through the people – or she would have pushed through the people, throwing herself against them, feeling the buffeting of them on her hands and the hard roughness of the pavement under her feet. She keeps running, and it doesn’t occur to her to think until she’s run so long that she’s lost all idea of time to wonder why nobody’s caught her yet, knocked her down, or even shouted at her or yelled for a policeman. Finally, she slows to a stop.

And then, with total lack of surprise, she finds herself outside the old house, and the fire is gone and the lawn is healed, and all she has to do is walk up the path and to the door, the door she knows so well. She walks up the path, knowing already that the door will open before she reaches it, and that he will be there, waiting.

The door opens. The man with the discs over his eyes stands there, smiling quietly. He steps aside, and courteously ushers her in.

Head high, refusing to look left or right, she steps past him like a queen, back into the old house, back into her prison, which she’d left but never left, which she can never leave, she knows now, ever again.

Inside her head, it is just like coming home.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2015

The Delhi Rape and the Great Indian Muddle Class: Hypocrisy Hundredfold




The hypocrisy of the Great Indian Muddle Class is a thing to behold.

Each time I come across it, each time I think that surely the Muddle Class can’t exceed this next time round, it does so routinely. Each time, without fail, the Muddle Class shows itself to be even more contemptible than one might imagine.

Three years ago I’d written about a particularly gruesome gang-rape in Delhi, which had inflicted such horrific injuries on the victim that she’d died in hospital several days later. That had set off a wave of “protests” across the country – “protests” which I’d characterised as not being directed at the rape itself, but at the simple fact that the perpetrators had been working-class village migrants and the victim had been of the Muddle Class. The victim – named “Nirbhaya” by the media, though her real name, Jyoti Singh Pandey, was an open secret anyone could have discovered with a ten second Google search – was turned into a kind of celebrity. And even though the law did not permit the death sentence to be applied to rape, the demand (this was before the victim died and the charge upgraded to murder) was for the rapists to be executed anyway.

As I’d said then:

It’s an absolute certainty that if the victim of the rape had been of the labourer set, there would have been as little reaction from the Muddle Class as there is when (as happens routinely) rich kids driving SUVs get drunk and crush homeless people to death. The Muddle Class doesn’t care about anyone but itself.

Accordingly, whatever the “protests” appear to be, they are not actually against the rapes – they are protests against the Muddle Class being made to feel vulnerable. No more, no less.

Sure enough, a year and a half later when two village girls, from the bottom layer of society, were gang raped and hanged to death – and the Great Indian Muddle Class scarcely turned a hair. The same people who had demanded the death penalty for the Delhi rapists didn’t stir a finger to even put up Fakebook status messages of sympathy. As I'd pointed out at the time, it was foreigners who were more disturbed than Indians.

Now, one of the perpetrators of the rape in Delhi in December 2012 was, at the time, a juvenile – 17 years old. Under Indian law as it now stands, offenders below the age of 18 are treated as juveniles, and, of course (like elsewhere in the world) are not subject to the same standards of punishment as adults. The media alleged – there is no independent confirmation of this whatsoever and therefore no reason to believe it – he was also the “most sadistic” of them all. Whether that is true or not – and, let me repeat, there is no reason to believe it is and plenty of reason to believe it is not – he was most certainly a juvenile at the time the crime was committed, and after detention of three years, his time of release came around at last.

Before I go any further, let me explain something clearly, in case someone thinks I’m condoning rape or excusing the criminal in this or any other case: I am not, actually, one of those who think that a criminal should get off lightly only on account of his age. It’s not as though at the age of 17 years 364 days, 23 hours and 59 minutes a person is a child, and, voila, 60 seconds later some kind of switch turns on in his head and he’s suddenly an adult. And it wouldn’t make any difference if the age at which one is to be considered a “juvenile” is reduced to, say, 16 years. There’s no switch that goes click.

(Incidentally, that’s a problem I have with voting as well; how does one seriously claim that a 17 year old is too young to understand the nuances of democratic choice, but just a year later magically does? I was politically aware at 14, and I know people in their sixties with the political knowledge of a chunk of rock.)

But the law is the law, and, besides, is a very well known law. It’s never been the case that people didn’t know that the age of being a juvenile is 18 or that juveniles are treated differently. And there’s never been any secret about the fact that once the three years of detention were up, the juvenile in this case would be released, or, to be more exact, would be placed in a programme with an NGO where his final status would be determined. No secret at all.

This is why what happened when the release date came around can only be described as a circus performance. The first was the decision by Jyoti Singh Pandey’s parents to declare her name to the world, saying that they had nothing to be ashamed of. This is of course true. They had nothing at all to be ashamed of. It wasn’t a stain on the girl’s morals that she was accosted on a bus, raped, brutalised, and ultimately murdered. But a simple question then arises: what exactly was holding the parents back from declaring the girl’s name to the world for the last three years, when she was being referred to in the media by such monikers as “Damini” or, much more frequently, “Nirbhaya”? As I said, her real name was no secret; it was known to the world from the start, and only those who actively didn’t want to know it could have avoided the knowledge. So why hold off for so long?

Perhaps because they wanted to catch the attention of the media and were waiting for the right time to come around?

That was just the start of the circus. As the release date grew closer, the “protestors” suddenly found their voice, brushed the dust off their placards, and demanded that the release be cancelled. On what legal basis this might happen, of course, they could not point out. All these years, they’d made no attempt to get the law changed to either lower the age of juvenility to 16, as they said they wanted, or to make certain crimes not applicable to the law. Even if they had done so, they could not have, as the Communist parliamentarian Brinda Karat pointed out, make it retrospective. You can’t punish a person for a crime he committed under a law which did not exist when said crime was committed. But of course the “protestors” ignored this.

In fact, what they really wanted is simple. They didn’t want a change in the law; that might have created problems for their own rich kids, who so frequently get roaring drunk at late night parties and run over, say, poor homeless people sleeping on the pavements. When that happens, or, similarly, when these kids rape poor women, then these same Muddle Class specimens are their first line of defence: they were “kids” who “didn’t know what they were doing” and the like. In this case, they certainly wanted no change in the law, which anyway wouldn’t have served their purpose; what they wanted in this instance was an exception to the law.

Can one say “hypocrisy”?

Three full days after the High Court passed down its verdict clearing the release of the juvenile (his name may or may not be Mohammad Afroz; I’ve not been able to confirm it), the “protestors” moved the Supreme Court, at midnight, to stop the release. There is, can be, absolutely no justification for this last moment, midnight appeal but theatricality. As even a Congress Party politician said, and this is one of the few instances when I find myself agreeing with a Congress politician on anything, it’s just “doing politics”. The Supreme Court, to its credit, did not stop the release, and the juvenile is no longer in custody now. It would have been a ludicrous pandering to the Muddle Class if an exception had been made to the law to suit its demands.

Even more ridiculously, a law is now supposed to be passed to bring down the age of juvenility to 16, but only for “heinous crimes”. What decides when a crime is “heinous”, I can’t tell you. From my own examination of death penalties in India, which are supposed to be restricted to the “rarest of the rare” cases, the only thing I could conclude is that one’s chances of being sentenced to death are dependent on one’s being (a) poor or (b) lower caste or Muslim. If one happens to be both poor and lower caste/Muslim, it’s just about a certainty, while the mega rich might not even be jailed for the same kind of offence.

Can one doubt that this will also be exactly what happens with the new law, assuming it is passed and the courts allow it to stand?

Let me make a prediction: Jyoti Singh Pandey’s parents are going to use her corpse as a stepping stone into politics. I won’t say that they have made any plans to do so yet, or that the idea has even entered their heads. But the idea has certainly entered someone’s head. Somebody is arranging and directing this circus, these so-called “protests”, with the full knowledge that they will be useless in their stated “aim” – to stop Afroz, or whatever his name is, from being released. Nothing of this kind happens by chance, and someone is determined to use it for gain. And the only kind of gain I can think of is political.

All we have to do is wait and see which political party turns this into a crusade, and snaps up the Pandeys as members. Then we’ll know. I'll bet you one of them will.

Readers might think I’m being too cynical. To which my response would be:

If you think I’m cynical, you don’t have much of a nodding acquaintance with reality, do you?


[Note: I am leaving this article without any photographic illustration. I can't seem to find any which adequately conveys my disgust towards the Great Indian Muddle Class, which, of course, is my primary target here.]