Saturday, 28 May 2016

A Start In Life

From the edge of the water, the Director could see clear across the bay. The sky was like blue porcelain, the water clear as glass, and the city on the far side was a white, silver and gold-glittering sprawl in the afternoon sun.

The Director, however, wasn’t looking at the beauty of the sky or sea or the city. Her brow was furrowed in a little frown, and her attention focussed on the boat that was approaching the pier on which she stood.

Behind the Director, the Station nestled as though for protection against the cliffs that rose in a near-vertical wall. Once it had been fairly small, but now it sprawled all along the curve of the shoreline, office buildings and research laboratories, storage sheds and living quarters, stretching in clumps and clusters here and there from the foot of the cliff line to the edge of the sea.

It was a large institute, a busy one, and the Director had been in charge for almost six years now. She was used to dealing with problems, often several at once. But this particular problem was one she could have done without.

As the boat drew closer, the Director could make out the two hunched figures sitting in the middle, between the helmsman at the stern and the crewman at the bow. They were obviously uncomfortable on the sea, despite the calm water, and would probably have preferred to come by land. But of course the cliffs isolated the station and made land access less than easy.

Often, the Director had wished that access by land had been easier, that almost everything hadn’t had to be ferried by boat across the bay, and that the station hadn’t been almost completely cut off in bad weather. But not today; watching the boat approach gave her a chance to collect her thoughts.

The boat drew up to the pier, the rubber tyre fenders bumping on concrete, and the crewman at the bow jumped out and tired up. The Director took a deep breath and watched the two passengers hesitantly climb out. The man, dressed in a grey safari suit, was of slightly above medium height and had a paunch bulging out over stick-thin legs. The woman was dumpy, her neck was weighed down with beads and necklaces, and she clutched a large square polythene packet in one hand as though it was a lifeline. They even looked like trouble.

“Mr and Mrs Sahni?” she said, essaying a smile. “Welcome to the Station.”

The couple looked at her with surprise unmixed with pleasure. “We were expecting the Director to meet us,” the woman said.

“That’s right.” So it was going to be one of those times again. “I’m the Director.”

She expected to hear something about her being a woman and too young to boot, but the man put a hand on his wife’s arm. “Well, as long as you’re here, that’s what matters. We’re here to...” He hesitated, searching for words.

“Yes, of course I know why you’re here,” the Director said. She waved to the electric car parked behind her. “Shall we go? It’s a few minutes away, and we can talk as we drive.”

Reluctantly, they got into the car. The boat was still tied up at the pier. “We’ve asked them to wait for us,” the woman said, sounding defensive. “We don’t expect to be here long.”

The Director eased the car away from the pier and along the narrow road that followed the curve of the bay. The engine hummed almost soundlessly and the view was spectacular, but the two people in the back seat ignored it. “We don’t want to stay here a moment longer than necessary,” the man said.

“You realise,” the Director told them, her eyes fixed on the road, “that, strictly speaking, this is a courtesy visit. We don’t actually have any legal obligation to allow you here. The Station isn’t open to the general public.”

“We’re not general public,” Mr Sahni said, waving a hand indignantly. “Akshay is our son. So we’re entitled to be here.”

“Akshay is over eighteen,” the Director said, mildly. The road began climbing, the sea falling away to their left, and as always she looked out to sea, where the island bulged like the back of a gigantic turtle. This was supposed to be her day off, and she’d wanted to visit the island again, wade in the water, lie on the sand and relax a little. Instead... “He’s legally an adult,” she said, “and can do as he wishes.”

“He’s still a boy,” the mother replied aggressively. “We’ve a moral obligation to him, as his parents.”

“That’s quite apart from the horrible experiments this place does,” the father added, no less aggressively. “We’ve been reading the media reports.”

“I’m sure you have,” the Director murmured. “I can assure you that they’re no more accurate and unbiased than media reports about anything else.” The road turned and descended steeply to where a large building shaped like a horseshoe curved along the waterline, concrete walls extending from it like fingers into the sea. “This is the section of the Station where we’re going.”

“You’re the Director of this section as well?” the woman asked.

“No, of the whole Station, but apart from being an administrator I’m also a scientist, and this happens to be my own field of expertise.” The Director slowed down, stretching her hand out of the near window holding her plastic identity card. An electronic eye recognised it and slid a gate open.

It was actually a very pretty building, with green lawns set with flower beds outside and roofed with glittering solar panels, but the Director didn’t think her self-imposed guests would appreciate the architecture. She eased the car into its place and opened the door for them. “Would you like a tour?”

“No,” the woman said. “Just take us to Akshay, right away.”

“Fine,” the Director said. “Follow me, please.” She led them past the main entrance to a smaller, recessed doorway in the slender shadow of a tall palm. “Do you have some idea of how we do things here – what the procedure involves?”

The two of them glanced at each other. The woman’s mouth twisted bitterly. “You saw some poor animal’s head open and put a human brain inside,” she said.

“No, ma’am.” The Director led them down the long sloping passage with the rubber mats on the floor, which always reminded her of an airport’s boarding tunnel. “We do nothing of the sort. What we do is grow an organism from stem cells and...” She opened a locker, pulled on a lab coat, and then paused at the console, punching the code to open the door. “And you’ll see for yourself,” she said.

The chamber beyond was lit by shaded yellow lights in the ceiling, which gave it a glow like a partly overcast day. The lights reflected off the surface of the water in the tank that took up most of the centre of the room. The walls were lined with lockers, cylinders, hosepipes and a maze of other equipment, and the space between them and the pool was tiled and fitted with a railing. The Director beckoned her visitors to the railing and pointed. “There.”

The man and woman stood next to her and looked down into the pool. The surface of the water was about a metre and a half below the poolside, and the bottom was painted a dark brownish-grey; the lights reflected off the ripples and waves on the surface, shifting, glittering. The thing under the water was lost in the shifting of light and shadow.

“Where...?” Mr Sahni began.

It broke through the water then, almost directly below. The huge bullet head lunged upwards, the sickle-curved fanged beak pushing the air before it like an obstacle. The flippers, held close to the sides as the bulk of the torpedo-body flung itself into the air, the small eye on the side of the head swivelling. For a moment it hung, balanced on its tail, watching them. Then the blowhole atop the head opened, gusted moist air, and the creature fell back into the water with a crash and a spout of spray.

“Is that...him?” Mrs Sahni whispered finally.

The Director nodded. “Akshay, yes. As you can see, he’s fitted himself into his new environment.”

“What is he?” the father asked. “A dolphin?”

The Director shook her head. “He’s a beaked whale. He wanted something a larger than a dolphin, something that fitted his personality better. We gave him the choices, and he picked this.”

“Why a beaked whale?”

“We can’t make very large bodies, like one of the giant whales. That’s both unfeasible and prohibitive in terms of cost. Nor can we make a baby, implant the memories in it, and let it grow; it would never survive outside without spending years in the care of others of its species. A beaked whale is ideal, a happy medium. The commonest species is the Blainville’s, which is what we used for obvious reasons. I mean, once he leaves for good, we'd like him to be able to find a new home among his own kind.” She shrugged. “I’m sure you know that others elsewhere have chosen to be turned into elephants, horses, even eagles. Your son wanted to be a cetacean.”

“And now he’s trapped inside this pool,” the man said bitterly. “You barbarians.”

“Oh, no, sir,” the Director said. “He’s not trapped at all. In fact, we have no intention of keeping him here any longer than we have to.” She pointed at the far side of the tank. “Look at the far side of the pool. Can you see those doors at the water level? They lead directly to the ocean. Each day, he’s spending more and more time out there, getting used to living free. When he’s ready, we’ll let him go.”

“You have no right,” the woman whispered. “My son did nothing to deserve being turned into that...thing.”

“It was his choice, ma’am.” The Director was proud of her self-control. “The law allows any adult who feels he or she is trans-species to apply for reassignment. You’re welcome to check it for yourself.”

“It’s cruel,” the mother persisted. “And anyway they can’t do it without the parents’ agreement.”

“Not at all. In fact, it would be cruel to force someone to remain in a physical form which is repellent to him. It’s the same principle as sex change operations, just taken one step further. Would you ban sex change operations as well?”

Neither of her visitors replied, so the Director went on. “Your son, as you know, applied on his own behalf, on his eighteenth birthday. He didn’t need your permission to apply.” She paused momentarily as the dark torpedo-shape broke water on the far side of the pool and breathed again. “We did all the tests, and he was found completely suitable.”

“And what did you do then?” the woman asked.

“Then we grew his new body from stem cells, scanned his memories and personality from his old brain, recorded them, and implanted them into the new one. The whole thing was absolutely without the slightest pain and discomfort. Nor was there any sawing of heads involved. As I said, please don’t look for information from the media.” The Director pointed. “That, there, is a completely new Akshay. He’s just got the same memories and feelings as the old one, that’s all.”

The father glared at the surface of the pool as though blaming it, personally. “What happened to him?”

“To whom?”

“To our Akshay, the original one. You scanned his memories and uploaded them into that...that creature. So what did you do with Akshay?”

The Director tilted her head, studying him. “You really don’t know?” She sighed. “I suppose you don’t. The entire idea is to give the person involved a new life as a creature of another species. As such, the old body is not just redundant, it actually defeats the purpose of the species transfer. If we just create a new creature, but let the old body continue with its thoughts and memories, the human body, I mean, it keeps suffering, don’t you see? Its problems aren’t solved at all by the creation of a new body with the same personality.”

“What are you saying?” Mr Sahni demanded. “You destroyed Akshay’s body?”

“No.” The Director glanced at the large clock on one wall. “Should we perhaps continue this discussion in my office?”

“No,” the man said. “We’ll talk right here.”

“Suit yourself.” The Director moved to a console mounted on the wall and pressed a few buttons. “It’s getting time for his outing in the ocean. As I said, he has to spend time in the open water, learning to be independent.” In silence they watched the doors at the far end of the pool slide open. Faint greenish light showed through.

“Do you force him to go out?” the woman asked. “You push him out into the ocean?”

The Director glanced at her. “Not at all. He looks forward to it, and comes back when he wants to.” She pointed at a shadow and a flicker of horizontal tail. “When he’s fully ready for a life in the wild he won’t come back at all. There he goes now.”

“Where is Akshay’s body now?” the man demanded. “Since you didn’t destroy it, what have you done with it?”

“He gave it to science,” the Director said briefly. “He said we could do anything with it that we wanted.”

“So you’ve taken it apart,” the woman replied flatly. “You’ve killed it.”

“No.” The Director pressed a couple of switches. Pumps began working, circulating the water from the sea into the pool, washing it out. “Your son’s body was exceptionally healthy and in excellent shape.” She remembered the boy as he had been, with his long, slim limbs, the muscles of his neck and shoulders, his handsome face, and how she’d wondered just why he’d wanted to give it all up for a life as another species. And then she’d seen the expression in his eyes. “We’re preserving it for when we need to use it.”

“Frozen?”

“That wouldn’t be of any use. No, his body is functional. It just doesn’t have a mind anymore. All the vitals are working.”

“But that means...” The Director winced as the woman’s fingers dug into her arm, right through the sleeve of her lab coat. “That means you can put him back for us as he was!”

The Director tried unsuccessfully to pull her arm free. “I’m sorry, ma’am, I don’t get you.”

“I’ll explain what she means,” Mr Sahni said. “You said you recorded the memories and feelings from Akshay and implanted them into that...that whale. So that means you must have the recording. All you have to do is implant them again in our son’s body and...”

The Director had already held up her hand. “No. Don’t even think about it. Your son gave his body to science. It belongs to science.”

“It belongs to us,” the man snapped. “We created him, gave him food and shelter and an education, and brought him up. No matter what you say, his body belongs to us, and we’ll go to court if necessary to get him back.”

“The courts won’t rule in your favour. He gave his body to science, and in this case it belongs to this Station.”

“Maybe they won’t. Maybe they will. We’ll see.” The father’s eyes glittered, black orbs of hate. “But you can be certain that the media will back us to the hilt. You’ll find what happens to your public image then.”

The Director knew. She could see the talking heads on the television, the headlines in the papers. They’d call her and the Station heartless, cruel monsters, pleasuring in the sorrow of two abandoned parents. And with the right kind of media attention, they might even be able to influence the judges to grant an injunction indefinitely prohibiting them from using the boy’s body.

“We can’t do it, though, even if we wanted to,” she said, with as much equanimity as she could muster, and quietly pressed another button on the panel, an unmarked one that she’d hoped never to have to use. “In accordance with standard procedures – and you can check on them, sir – we deleted the recording after transferring it to the new body. It’s actually a legal requirement that we do so.”

There was a silence that stretched and stretched like a rubber band. The yellow lights glittered on the water in the pool.

At last the man spoke. “In that case,” he said, “there’s only one thing left for us to demand.” He stared at her. “You know what that is.”

“Yes,” she said, profoundly glad she’d pressed the button. “I’m afraid I do.”

***************************************************

The beaked whale had been out to sea, well past the island, and he had swung in a curve back towards land when he heard the sound.

He’d been desperate to leave the pool today, much more so than any time before. Usually he liked swimming out to sea, which he did several times each day, and would only go back to the pool after he’d had enough. It was a resting place, a kind of refuge, where he could float, surfacing only to breathe and sometimes to play with the Director, who was his friend.

He no longer considered himself to be the human who had been Akshay Sahni. Oh, he had the memories and the thoughts of that body, but it was another life, now, on the other side of a transparent curtain. As far as possible he tried never to look back past that curtain.

Until today, when the curtain had been forcefully ripped aside. He’d heard the Director’s voice, and without listening to what she was saying he’d come rushing to the surface, because she was his friend. But she’d not been alone, and she’d not been in the company of the other scientists. The memory of the two people she’d been with had been seared into his mind, even his new mind, as with a brand.

A voice in his ears, shouting above his head, while he buried his face between his hands and stared down at a book covered with maths problems that made no sense, that never had made any sense. “Why can’t you study? Look at Rinu next door. She comes first in class every time. And you? How can we even show our faces, with the kind of marks you get?”

He’d muttered something that only made half-sense even to him, and been rewarded by a blow across the back of his head hard enough to bring the tears brimming over his eyelids. “Don’t you dare talk back. You’ll do as you’re told. Now get back to that book and don’t let me see you even looking up till half past nine.”

And then, lying awake, biting his pillow stifling sobs while listening to them fight in the next room, over why they’d had him at all and who was to blame for the way he was turning out.  At eleven, he’d swallowed a bottle of ink, because he’d heard somebody say it was poisonous. All it had done was make his mouth turn blue, and then he’d vomited and made everything blue. At thirteen, he’d tried to cut his wrists, but given up from the pain. The next year he’d tried to run away, but never having been given any money of any kind, not even to buy sweets, he’d had to walk. He had not even managed to reach the outskirts before he’d been caught.

And six months after that, he’d been beaten black and blue after Rinu’s mother had reported gleefully that she’d seen him talking to a girl. He’d tried to explain that she was just asking him for directions, but that had made no difference. How dare he talk to some hussy instead of thinking of his books and his duty towards them, his parents?

How could he even explain to them that absolutely nothing of this made any sense to him, that he wanted no part of this, that he didn’t feel he owed them anything merely because, without asking him, they’d seen fit to give him birth? How could he tell them that their bank accounts and their social status meant as little to him as their movies and restaurants, their ambitions for themselves and for him? Would they understand a word? He knew the answer.

He’d been nerving himself up for another and more definitive suicide attempt when, just after his sixteenth birthday, he’d read of the new techniques for trans-specific transfer. And at once he’d known exactly what he’d wanted to do.

Even now, even in his whale-brain, buried behind the bulging melon of his forehead, he remembered the words. No longer must we be parted by the tyranny of genetics, the article had said. Extinction will be extinct. The withered branches of the tree of life will sprout leaves anew, rainbows arch over desert, and unhappiness be banished to the shadows where it belongs. Once the technique is perfected, there’s nothing we cannot do.

Once the technique is perfected, it’d said. Of course, the technique was not yet perfected, and he’d gambled that they needed volunteers. He’d gambled, and he’d won.

For the first time in his life, he’d won.

And in the pool, rejoicing in his new body, he’d grown more and more certain that this was victory. He’d felt real for the first time, things finally had begun making sense. And he’d liked the ocean, too, though he’d known quite well it would take many months more until he felt able to leave for good.

Even then, he’d decided, he’d return every once in a while, to let them know he was all right.

Today, though, he’d not wanted to go back; not until the two people from behind the curtain had disappeared, back in the past where they belonged. He’d dawdled as long as he could, but the sun was going down and he didn’t yet trust his abilities in the ocean at night, so he finally began to curve back towards the shore.

As he went, he scanned the ocean before him, clicks and tweets radiating in a cone from his melon, bouncing off things in his way, the echoes telling him about them. At first, he’d found it hard to get used to forming images by sound echoes, but now it came easily to him. Though the water was darkening and murky, he knew where the rocks were; he saw a school of fish, which heard him and went rushing away. The sound images showed him the wrecked trawler on the bottom, an angular shape he knew well, having investigated it on his first few swims outside the pool before deciding it had nothing interesting at all. And beyond it, the muttering line of echoes that was the shore, with the familiar cubical block which marked the entrance to the pool, his temporary home.

And then it was that the noise had come, hammering at his ears, and pushing him back like a blow with each pulse of sound.

He’d never heard it before except once, in the pool, when it was being demonstrated to him by the Director and the others; and then it had only been for a moment, a moment that had made him scream. He knew the other signals, those that called him back when he’d been out too long, or warned him to return because of something unexpected, like a sudden storm. But they had been used less and less in recent days, as he’d grown more accustomed to the outside ocean; and he’d been assured this was for the direst emergency, that it wouldn’t be used at all. And now there it was.

“Go away,” the signal shouted, in pulses of ugly noise which jarred him, echoed inside his skull, made pain shiver up his nerves. “Go away, go away, go away.”

And underneath, unstated but clearly understood, it said, too, “...and never come back again. Never, for anything, ever come back again.”

Flinching, crying out in distress, he banked in a swooping curve, rose once to breathe, and set course for out towards the night-black sea.

***************************************************

For hours after her visitors had finally left, still shouting threats and promising to be back in the morning, with lawyers, the Director leaned on the railing by the side of the pool, looking down at the water. Her assistant came and spoke to her. She only shook her head, not looking up, and at last he went away again.

There would be time to talk later. Time for unofficial, off the record, explanations. Not now, though. Not now.

“You’ll record the memories from that whale when he comes back,” the visitors had said. “And then you’ll put them back in our son’s head.” But of course the whale hadn’t come back.

“I did tell you that he’d leave permanently when he was ready,” the Director had said finally. “He must have decided he was ready now.”

They hadn’t believed her, of course, and said so. “We’ll keep coming back,” the mother had said. “We’ll keep coming to check, and we’ll find him here. And then just see what we’ll do to you – this place, and you, personally.”

She was sure they’d be back, too; but they wouldn’t find the whale. They would never find him.

“The problem is,” the Director whispered, “that I won’t find you either. I’ll never know what happened to you, as long as I live. I just hope you’ll be happy. I wanted to give you a start in life, but that’s all I can give you now, that little hope. I’m sorry.”

Her words fell on the water, on to the yellow lights reflected on the waves in the pool as they moved to and fro, and were washed by the pumps out into the evening tide.

***************************************************

The sea was vaster than the whale had imagined, and deep and black, and he was all alone.

His echoes traced a cone of sound into the water, and it brought him news of what lay before him; emptiness to the far reaches of hearing, except for flickering shapes that spun away into silence at his coming. He was alone, and suddenly he was frightened, more than he’d ever been in this new life; more than he’d ever expected to be frightened again. And then he was floundering at the surface, spouting in harsh breaths; and he cried out into the dark sea, screaming his loneliness and his fear and his pain.

She came to him, then, coming up beside him and matching his swimming stroke for stroke, so exactly that it was only when he felt the touch of her flippers on his flank, like the ghost of a memory of the time before, that he knew she was there. Her beaked head nuzzled him, gently, her teeth nibbling him, until his breathing quietened, and his heart settled back into its rhythm.

Don’t be afraid, she told him, in wordless words, a new language he already understood. Don’t be afraid, I’m there, I’m there for you. I’ll be with you from now on.

The two whales broke the surface, breathed in unison, and then dived together, down into the ink-black depths of the heaving, endless sea.


Copyright B Purkayastha 2016




Thursday, 26 May 2016

South Asian Problem Solving In Five Easy Steps

You know how magazines keep pushing articles at you teaching you how to solve problems? Evidently, articles teaching you how to solve problems sell. And people are always eager to find out what others do to solve problems, aren’t they? Especially really difficult problems that seem to have no easy solution?

So here, in five easy steps, is the tried-and-true South Asian method of solving problems.

Step One: Ignore the problem.

Suppose there’s a messianic religious terrorist movement sweeping parts of the world, and there are good reasons to believe that your own country might fall prey to it; in fact, there are good reasons to believe that this terrorist movement has already set up cells in your country. What should you do?

Deny the problem exists. If anyone is crass enough to point it out, declare that he is stupid and ignorant, and/or that he’s an anti-national traitor and agent provocateur. If you ignore the problem, it might just go away.

This doesn’t only refer to terrorist movements, of course. A drought or massive pollution, or thousands of farmer suicides caused by disastrous crony capitalist financial policies – all these should be treated in the exact same way.

Step Two:  Call the problem a conspiracy by your political opponents.

Suppose these terrorists, who you have successfully ignored so far, begin making small scale hit and run attacks, killing one or two people each time? Now you can no longer actually pretend there isn’t something going on. But don’t let that mean you have to actually do something about it! In fact, there’s a perfectly simple way of actually taking advantage of it. Just blame your political opponents! You do have political opponents, don’t you? Blame them! Say they’re doing it! Even if it’s a drought or an earthquake, it’s all their fault!

Step Three: Covertly promote the problem to use it against your political opponents.

Let’s say the terrorist group we’re talking about has its main base in a state where your political opponents are strong. These opponents may belong to another party or even to another faction within your own party. No matter, an enemy is an enemy, and this is a golden opportunity to weaken them.

Start covertly arming and training the terrorists. Give yourself wryneck looking the other way as they get arms and ammunition in huge amounts, gather explosives, and set up zones where only their writ runs; a classic guerrilla war strategy. Then blame this on the incompetence of your political opponents, who let this happen right under their watch. Or make sure relief materials for the drought do not arrive, or are stolen by crooked bureaucrats and other middlemen. Again, you don’t have to do anything but look the other way. Easy!

What – you ask – of the fact that just in the previous step you were saying that this was a conspiracy by your political opponents, and now you’re saying it’s their fault because they’re so incompetent? You’re worried about people catching you contradicting yourself? Listen, these are people who are hard put to it to recall anything more than the movie they watched last weekend. You could say aliens from Aldebaran came down to bless you and get away with it.

What happens when the problem grows so severe that your political opponents can no longer control it? Simple: use it to push them aside. Call for elections, saying you’re the only one who can save the nation. Or if the law allows, do it without calling for elections. Why even bother with such superficialities?

Step Four: Now that you’re in charge, make the problem much, much worse.

Now that you’re in charge, let’s say there are ten different ways you can go about tackling this problem. Of these, nine may or may not succeed, but at least won’t make the situation materially worse. These might include peace talks, besieging the terrorist controlled areas to stop them from breaking out and to cut off their arms supply, a propaganda offensive to make the people withdraw their support to the terror movement, correction of national policies which created said support in the first place, or a combination of them. The tenth, however, will be absolutely, totally, guaranteed to make things infinitely worse. Let’s say, for instance, that the terrorists which you’ve been encouraging have now taken over a major religious structure, such as a grand temple or a major mosque, sacred to millions. What you must do is attack this mosque or temple with tanks, artillery, and commandos, and commit a bloody massacre. Whatever happens to the terrorists inside, and even if they’re all killed, what will happen is an immediate massive increase and solidification of their support.

Similarly, if there’s a drought, make highly visible tours of the area to “see for yourself” how things are. Perhaps people are starving to death because there’s no food, but your convoy of vehicles including your huge security entourage, must hog the highways and close them off to the lorries bringing relief supplies. Perhaps people don’t even have drinking water? Make sure tankers drive along in front of your convoy, spraying the road with water to lay the dust so it doesn’t disturb you or obscure your view of the fields cracked and fissured by the sun’s rays. If you visit a refugee camp, make sure the local politicians have cleared space for a stage for you and arranged personable-looking refugees for you to talk to for benefit of the cameras. And so on.

Step Five: Declare a victory and use it to win the next election.

So you’ve destroyed the temple or mosque and killed some terrorists, or made your “tour” of the drought hit area. Announce victory! Do not make the mistake of waiting until people discover that the terrorist menace has increased, or that there’s now an actual famine in the area you just “toured”. Announce victory, make sure the tame media repeat the claim, and use it to win the next election.

Ah, but what about when the trouble starts again?

Have you not been paying attention? Go right back to Step Two and blame your political opponents, dummy.

This has been your Public Service Article on Problem Solving in South Asia. You’re welcome.


[Image Source]

Bloody Brothers


Tuesday, 24 May 2016

The Good Night: Thoughts On My Death

Warning: This article will contain references to death, and my thoughts about my own. If this distresses you, please do not read further.

*************************************

Last night, I wrote a poem on my mobile phone while lying awake at approximately two in the morning. In this poem, I included a line about thinking of death not doing the trick (of making me fall asleep).

I believe I should explain.

Understand: I was not joking. In fact, I think about death rather a lot, and almost always at night, when I am lying in the dark looking up at the ceiling. This is not something I am frightened by. One thing I can say with total honesty; I am absolutely not afraid to die. Death holds no terrors for me.

Substantially, this is because I have been living for decades on borrowed time. I am now 45 years old. At the age of 17, I attempted suicide thrice in the space of five days, finally putting myself into a three-day-long coma. When I woke from it, I was terribly disappointed to find I’d survived. The conventional tale is that suicide survivors are grateful to have lived through the experience. The conventional tale is a myth.

I invited death though it did not take me. You aren’t, usually, frightened of something you invite of your own free will. I assume that is easy to comprehend.

The only disturbing thing about death, where I’m concerned, is when it takes someone else – someone dear to me, whether human or canine. I am totally undisturbed about my own.

Many years ago, I recall reading a story about a man who’d died, and who found himself as a disembodied spirit, chased through the town by an energy being called the Corpsegrinder. The world of that story had the essence of the dead – “souls” wasn’t a term it used – only being able to stay earth-bound when held down by a physical barrier. Once away from such a barrier, they dissipated into space, essentially merging into the background energy of the Universe.

It wasn’t a bad story by any means; I’ve read far worse.

Though entertaining, that has never been my own idea of death. I have, of course, no religious belief, and no Allah or YHWH or Yama or other godling is waiting to reward me any more than a devil is stewing a pit in the deepest fires of hell just as my eternal punishment. As for the spiritualist lot, I have even greater disdain for them than I have for the religious believers. At least religions tend to have a fixed structure of belief; the spiritualist essentially seems to invent whatever he or she wishes were true and proceeds accordingly, just as though it were proven fact.

Spoiler alert: the universe does not work like that.

My view of death is rather complex and multi-layered, and not necessarily about my depression; but essentially it comes down to this: it’s going to happen. You can’t stop it. You could, maybe, delay it and prolong your life, even quasi-indefinitely, but that’s far from beating it. Even the universe is going to die someday, when the last brown dwarf winks out, leaving a cold, lightless void speckled by the corpses of burnt-out stars.

Death, therefore, is going to happen. Since it’s going to happen, it’s pointless being afraid of it. It’s silly, whatever Dylan Thomas said, to not

...go gentle into that good night
...Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.

There’s a simple choice: one can be dragged, unwilling, kicking and screaming, towards one’s last heartbeat, one’s last breath; or one can accept it’s going to happen, and look to it with equanimity.

I go a step beyond equanimity. I think of death as an adventure, the one absolutely inevitable adventure that can happen. You could dream of a trip abroad, fantasise about it for years, and it might or might not come about. You could sigh for a lover, and she will almost certainly never appear in your life. But death? That is, absolutely, totally, certain to happen.

I did not choose to be born, and one of the many, many things I’ve never forgiven my parents for is creating me. I do not remember being born, of course; it’s not something I could enjoy. But, as far as one can do so, I fully intend to enjoy my death.

I realise that this is not what is conventionally considered normal psychology. That’s fine. I never pretended to be normal; no suicide survivor ever is.

Not that I’m necessarily indifferent to the process of dying, you understand. I don’t, for instance, want to burn to death or have my head sawed off by some ISIStani with a blunt knife. But nor do I want to wither away slowly from cancer or something similar. The absolute, total, last thing I want to do is end my life in a hospital bed with people around, waiting and hoping that I’ll either die and set them free from the dread of waiting, or hang on for just one more day. At that stage it’s difficult to tell. No, if I ever fall terminally ill, I’ll know what to do.

The thing is, I will more than likely do it anyway. I am, as I said, living on borrowed time, and what one borrows, one has to return, someday.

But that isn’t what I think about when I lie abed staring up into the darkness, thinking about death. Sometimes, I try to leave my imagination run free about it, and that has given me ideas for more than one story. At other times, I attempt to imagine I’m already dead. It’s an amazingly difficult mental exercise, to imagine yourself literally not being. Despite my best efforts, I have never managed to hold it more than a few seconds at a stretch. At other times, I look forward to it with pleasurable excitement, as one might for a lover who will one day, most certainly, come.

But I’m never frightened. That, as I said, is one thing I’m not.

What do I think about? The most common thing is what it will feel like; the actual moment of dying, when I have, hopefully, enough consciousness remaining to know what’s happening. That is the moment I want to savour, and my only regret is I can’t exactly come back just long enough to write about it. 

Will there be darkness and a tunnel of light? Will there be a sensation of falling, or rising, or something else altogether? Will I just wink out, or will my consciousness linger for a little while? I don't know. I can't answer these questions until the time comes. I’m sure it will be interesting, though.

More interesting than my life, at any rate. I suppose it’s not a secret to those who have been reading me that I’m a loner. More than that, I suddenly had an epiphany last night. I realised that I’ve become a genuine recluse. Not only do I not talk to anyone outside work, I don’t even want to talk to people. If I could put whatever I say to specimens on a recording and play it in the clinic, I would. People have become exhausting, far too much for me to bear. The only thing I really have left is my writing and my art, my cartoons and my reading. That’s all the reason I have to stay alive.

My brain buzzes with thoughts that will not let me rest; my fingers crawl with words that beg to be shed. Unless I can exorcise the first by expressing them in the second, I cannot go on. Sleepless nights are one thing; risking total mental breakdown is another.

So this is what I want to say. As long as I can carry on, as long as I see a point in remaining alive, I’ll continue expressing myself in writing, cartoons, and art. And when I’m gone, at least you can depend on it that I won’t have died unwillingly. There should be no tears shed for me.


I wouldn’t, after all, shed any for myself, unless they might be tears of joy.


[Image Source]

The Dark Of The Night

Lying awake at two in the morning
Unable to sleep
Even thinking about death
Doesn't do the trick.
Not being afraid
Of the endless dark
Beyond the edge of forever
No longer seems enough.
A universe made of electric charges
Quarks and empty space
Seems a stage that trivialises
The mere spark of a moment
That is this life, these dreams, this face.
Hold out your hand, touch me, do -
At this moment I need a moment with you.



Copyright B Purkayastha 2016



Monday, 23 May 2016

Crottled Greeps

Through the thick green-tinted glass of this tank, the room is dark and wavers as the light shifts, so it’s hard for me to see you; but I can safely assume you can see me.

After all, if you couldn’t see us in the tank, how would you know which of us to pick? The light must be good enough for that, mustn’t it?

Allow me to introduce myself. I’m sorry, but I don’t have a name to give you. That’s because I’m a greep, of course, as you must know, since you’re in this place. After all, doesn’t the sign outside say, in huge flickering words of red and yellow light, HOUSE OF GREEPS? It does.

Oh. I’m sorry – I realise that you’re surprised that I know what the sign says. You’re surprised that I can read. That’s no problem; you don’t have to be embarrassed. Just about everyone makes that mistake. After all, I’m only a greep, and we aren’t supposed to be able to do anything more than crawl around a bit.

I know what you’re thinking when you look at me. You see this dome-shaped ovoid of flexing grey-green shell-plates, the triangular black eyes, the short questing antennae, and your immediate reaction is likely mild disgust. That’s all right too; I don’t mind at all. I can live with that.

I mean, I can live with that until I go to the crottling oven. Yes, I know what the crottling oven is; it’s just opposite this tank. Don’t you know that we can all see it quite well? The glowing red mouth of it has already consumed five of my tank-mates today, and if you choose me, it’ll take me, too.

If you don’t choose me, someone else will, today or at the most, tomorrow. HOUSE OF GREEPS does good business.

What? No, I don’t mind. Not really. After all, millions of greeps are spawned in the farms each year, and only the very best are chosen to stay back and survive to breed. I wasn’t good enough to make that grade, which meant I was only fit for the crottling oven. So there’s no point in my fretting. If you were in my place, I’m sure you’d feel the same way.

No, no, please don’t hesitate to choose me. If you want me, go right ahead. Don’t let my talking to you, telling you my story, put you off in the least.

But, as long as you’re still choosing, let me go on with my tale.

I was, as I said, spawned in a greep farm. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a greep farm, but I assume you haven’t. It’s basically a huge, shallow pool, divided into multiple sections by concrete barriers. Water flows continuously over the top, from one end to the other, bringing in nutrients which feed the algae growing on the bottom of the pool. We greeps, of course, then eat the algae. The sections are of different sizes. The spawning pens are the smallest, because each contains just a pregnant greep, or a new mother with her eggs and young brood. Greep mothers take care of their young, even though they know exactly what’s going to happen to most of them. And they don’t hide the truth from their babies, either.

I think I was one of my mother’s favourites; she was a first time breeder, she told me, and so she still had the foolish sentiment to grow fond of her spawn. At any rate, when night fell and the shallow water of the spawning pen cooled, she’d ask me to snuggle up to her side, and tell me the things she knew. Some of it she’d seen for herself, and some she’d heard from her own mother, and some things she’d picked up elsewhere. She taught me how to read, what your letters said. It isn’t difficult. I think if I had the chance I could make a written language for us greeps that would be at least as easy to use, maybe easier. Oh well.

And while I was with her I learnt some things for myself.

I remember listening to the greep farmer talking, once, to a visiting scientist. They were standing by the side of my spawning pen, and their voices were loud enough to carry through the water and the noise of all my hundreds of spawn-mates busily chewing their algae. This was not a surprise; the farmer was a small man with a voice big enough to make up for his lack of size. I heard him complaining that it was inefficient to let greep mothers remain by their spawn for so long – the mothers should be bred and spawned again as soon as one load of eggs was delivered. The scientist told him she and her colleagues were working on it, and that they were hopeful they’d succeed.

They’ve certainly succeeded in other things. You see what I look like; don’t think I’ve missed your involuntary flinch of disgust when you laid eyes on me first. But, my mother says, we greeps weren’t always like this. Once, we were much smaller, long-legged and slender, and our armour plates were translucent and caught the light like rainbows. My mother said we were almost beautiful.

But slender greeps contain too little flesh to be economically viable to raise, and the thin, translucent armour plates burst open in the crottling ovens. Besides, our long legs made us far too active, and prone to escape from the spawning pens. So we were bred to be heavy and slow-moving, with short claws that can barely drag our bulks along, and thick shells which serve as our own serving-platters. That’s the kind of magic they’ve managed; so why shouldn’t they be able to change motherly behaviour too?

I don’t know if you have faith in yourself, but rest assured, I’ve full faith in you.

Then one day they came to shift us out of the spawning pens to the growing section. My mother had already told me it was going to happen, because she’d seen for herself that we were big enough. And the previous evening, the farmer had come to look us over, to see if any were fit to be kept back for breeding. None were, which isn’t a surprise; as I said, most of us are only good for the crottling oven.

So the next morning the farmer’s workers came with their nets, wading in the breeding pen, while he himself stood on the platform by the side, telling them he wanted faster work and greater productivity. I clung to my mother’s shell, unwilling to be taken away from her, but it was no use. A worker inserted a narrow strip of metal between her and me and pried us apart, dropping us into two different nets. I was taken with the rest of my spawn-mates to the growing pens. And she? I suppose she was taken to the breeding pools, which I’ve never seen and know nothing about. I never asked her about them; I’m sure you understand that it’s awkward and indelicate to demand of your parent details of the procedure by which you were brought into the world. It would have been pointless, since I was never going to get to take part in that anyway.

Of course I never saw her again.

The time in the growing pens passed quickly. It wasn’t a part of my life that gave me anything to talk about. In the growing pens, we’re just exposed to other greeps of our own age, who know nothing more than we do, and the farmer and his men hardly even come by except once every few days to see how we’re doing. There’s nothing to do but eat and rest, so that’s what we all did.

Once we were big enough, we were, of course, shifted to the fattening pens. And there we were no longer allowed to graze on algae as we chose. That’s inefficient and takes too long, and the fattening is uneven. So they put us in water that was so saturated with chopped algae that we had no option but to eat constantly, merely to clear enough space to be able to breathe. It’s really a wonderful example of ingenuity on your species’ part; really, I congratulate you.

Twice each day the farmer would come with his men, and scoop up several of us one by one in his net to weigh on a scale, to check how quickly we were gaining weight. The first time this happened, I was frightened, because the scale’s pan was cold and metallic and the man holding me squeezed rather too hard with his heavy glove. But that was the first time. Later I grew used to it, and we gained weight so fast that we were in the fattening pen for a couple of weeks only.

And so the day came when I was scooped out of the fattening pen by a net, along with nine of my spawn-mates. There was a big blue container beside the pen on which was written, in pale yellow letters, GREEPMASTER FARMS. I just had time to read this before they put us all inside and clamped down the lid. It was so constricted inside that we couldn’t even move around, and could barely breathe. I don’t know how long we were inside, but I thought they intended to suffocate us to death. But of course they weren’t; they were only bringing us here, to THE HOUSE OF GREEPS.

So, have you made your choice? If you want me, don’t hesitate, just point. You see that waiter there? Tell him you want me, and he’ll scoop me out of the tank and take me to the table there by the crottling oven. He’ll turn me over, and with a knife neatly cut away my soft lower plates and my legs, before popping me inside the oven. Five minutes later, and I’ll be on your table, still half alive, but succulent and tasty, a dish fit for a king. 

No, don’t worry, I’m not blaming you in the least. It’s going to happen anyway, so it’s better to be unsentimental about these things.

Oh yes; about that waiter. I’ve heard him talking on the phone today. He’s worried about his sick wife and the money he owes for her treatment, and the fact that he’s hardly making enough to cover his basic living expenses. Please leave him a good tip. He deserves it.

What’s that? You’ve changed your mind? You don’t want to eat any one of us? But you want to take us away, to set us free? Are you crazy? How on earth do you imagine we’ll ever survive in the wild? We’ve lost that ability long ago.

Oh. You want to keep us in a pool in your own garden. You’re going to make a little greep refuge, so we can live out our lives in peace and comfort. And you’re going to campaign to stop greep eating. Really. You mean to do that. Do you imagine you’ll succeed? The whole economy of greep farming, and you’re going to overthrow it all by yourself?

If I could laugh, I would.

What do I think about that, you ask. You’re insane, that’s what I think.

I mean, just imagine what the neighbours will say.



Copyright B Purkayastha 2016



Sunday, 22 May 2016

Warming Up To War Crime: India and the Invasion of Iraq

I remember 2003.

I remember the build up to the war crime that was the Iraq invasion very, very well. Back then, I was just starting to use the internet on a regular basis, and was yet to purchase my first computer. It’s hard to believe, but I was virtually computer-illiterate till early 2001; even so, by 2002 it was already more than clear to me that Amerikastan would invade Iraq.

Before I go on, let me say something clearly: unlike the popular fiction these days, I do not imagine that Bush’s invasion of Iraq was the Ultimate Evil committed against that unhappy country. By 2003, after all, Iraq had been under constant and starvation-level sanctions since 1990, and the blood soaked war criminal William Jefferson Clinton had been bombing it virtually round the clock since 1995. Half a million or more Iraqi children had been starved to death by the sanctions by the late 1990s, and yet the Amerikastani war criminal and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright got away with saying that it was an acceptable price to pay to “keep Saddam in his box”.  

This same Albright now endorses the blood soaked war criminal Killary Klingon, which is absolutely no surprise to anyone with two brain cells to rub together.

So, no, the Iraq invasion wasn’t something that suddenly happened out of nowhere – the basis was laid very carefully by one blood soaked mass murdering Warmonger in Warshington, and another Warmonger in Warshington took it forward. That the two war criminals belonged to separate criminal gangs “political parties” made no difference; a two party system is always and inevitably one single party with two faces, something any politically aware person should know.

Despite all the mass antiwar protests around the planet, then, no sane person could have any doubt that the Imperialist States of Amerikastan would invade Iraq. By late 2002, the marketing campaign for the invasion was in full swing. This was far from unknown even in the boondocks of the planet like India, and this was something that got a lot of people concerned.

I myself had no illusions that the invasion was anything but coming, and on the two or three occasions per week I managed to get online from an internet cafe – as I said, I didn’t own a computer then – I did my best to oppose it on all the online fora that were open to me. Among the things that I did was write a series of skits lampooning Bush, whom I treated as stupid and evil beyond belief. Some of those pieces actually got published in a local magazine, the Eastern Panorama.

Today, I would apologise to Bush for those pieces. I didn’t then know how much less bad he would turn out to be than his blood soaked mass murdering successor, the child-droning Nazi-funding jihadi-supporting war criminal Barack Hussein Obama. I was naive then. I’m sorry.

But this isn’t about me; it’s about the Indian attitude towards the Amerikastani invasion of Iraq.

I believe I’ve spoken enough in the past about the utter hypocrisy of the Great Indian Muddle Class and its looking out only for its own interests. In 2001, the Great Indian Muddle Class had been mindlessly stupid enough to support Bush’ invasion of Afghanistan. The yellow rag India Today (an exemplar of ultra right wing gutter journalism, if there ever was one) had taken up Amerikastan’s cause as its own. When the 11/9 attacks happened, its cover story had been, I remember well, WAR AGAINST THE WORLD. That was the first time I heard that Amerikastan was the world; I’d yet to meet Amerikastanis online and discover that this was actually what the majority of them believe. When Bush’s Northern Alliance warlords took Kabul, India Today – and even the rival Outlook, a better magazine – had splashed the same photo across their covers, and declared that liberation was at hand. The caution showed by left wing media outlets like Frontline magazine was treated almost as traitorous. Bush was god.

This was over Afghanistan, which, actually, had some effect on India. Kashmiri and other insurgents – even Hindu ULFA militants from Assam in east India – found training and sanctuary in the badlands of Southern Afghanistan. The arms markets of the Afghan Pakistan border fuelled separatist movements across the Indian subcontinent. So one might excuse these morons for being deluded enough to imagine Bush’s Afghan adventure might have some positive effects on India.

Not one of these things applied to Iraq.

Saddam Hussein was, by most indicators, not a particularly nice man. But he was the best friend India has ever had in the Arab, and indeed in the Muslim, world. He had, over and over again, blocked anti-Indian resolutions in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. On one famous occasion, when India had faced a fuel supply crisis, he’d ordered all Iraqi-owned oil on ships in the Indian Ocean diverted to Indian ports. Indian citizens living and working in Iraq had never faced the slightest discrimination, unlike their treatment in other Arab nations of the region. He was resolutely anti-jihadi, totally opposed to the people who had (allegedly) committed the WAR AGAINST THE WORLD attack of 2001. And this was not something that even the media could ignore.

By end 2002, therefore, there was a lot of disquiet in the country over the coming invasion. Even the media which had been formerly blindly supportive of Amerikastan’s jihad against Afghanistan became somewhat wary, and one finally began reading articles expressing caution about Bush’s future plans. Then something interesting happened.

I can’t prove this, but I am almost certain that money changed hands to “manage” public opinion, for reasons I’ll talk about in just a moment. The source of the money was obvious: the Amerikastani Embassy in Delhi, later to morph into the virtual control centre of Indian foreign policy for the next decade. And it was spent on getting favourable mentions in the media.

Thus it was that Anita Pratap, once an anti-war centre-left columnist, wrote (in Outlook in 2003, just before the invasion) that Bush had done all he could to avert the invasion and the ball was now in Saddam Hussein’s court. (I emailed her repeatedly about this but quite predictably never got a response.)  Writing in Week – another magazine, which I almost never read – one Manjula Padmanabhan, a particularly self-important woman whom I detest, said that the Amerikastani troops going to Kuwait to help invade Iraq were so handsome that they were “obviously on the side of good and morality” and she could only pray for their speedy and successful return. Yellow rags like India Today and The Telegraph of Calcutta (even more right wing than the British Telegraph) started reporting on the build up to the invasion as though it was a sports tournament, with breathless excitement.

The media offensive, of course, wasn’t necessary to sway much of the Great Indian Muddle Class. Some kind of cricket tournament, maybe a so-called World Cup, was about to start. I remember one unnamed Muddler being quoted as saying that he hoped Bush would hold off “starting the show” until the tournament was over, so he could enjoy them both. Some idiot I recall wrote a letter published in The Telegraph saying Saddam Hussein was a “raving bigot” and needed to be overthrown. I wrote a response, which was of course not published.

Then there was a Hindunazi hero, one Pravin Togadia, who was both a surgeon and the leader of a gang of Hindunazi goons. Togadia – who is so toxic that even the current Modi regime will have nothing to do with him – supported the invasion on the grounds that “Muslims would get killed”. When it was pointed out that Iraq had been a friend of India, he said that he would “look into that.” I suppose he is still looking into it, because I’ve not heard him say a word about it since then.

Back then, the government of India was under the Hindunazi Atal Behari Vajpayee. Unlike the current lot in power, though, Vajpayee was no dictator ruling by F├╝hrerprinzip; he led a coalition of disparate parties, and by nature was also a genial old codger more given to compromise than confrontation. This is important to remember, because otherwise things would have turned out rather differently.

Fast forward to the immediate aftermath of the invasion, when the Amerikastanis and their Coalition of the Billing had just occupied Iraq. If you recall, the then government of France, under Jacques Chirac, had taken the incredibly intelligent and courageous course of refusing to join the invasion, to the fury of the Amerikastanis. There was some airy talk of “punishing” France, kicking it out of the Security Council, and so on. And right after the invasion, Amerikastan started demanding other countries send troops to help in the occupation. “You’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists,” as the blood soaked war criminal Bush said.

Wouldn’t you believe it? India Today and The Telegraph at once took up the line, urging India to send troops. The Telegraph kindly suggested that if a “fig leaf’ was necessary, a UN resolution calling for restoring peace in Iraq would do the job, and also that any Indian troops that might be sent would go to Mosul. Mosul was peaceful, and there would be no fighting there at all.

Mosul? Does that word sound familiar? Yes, that’s the same Mosul which is the Iraqi capital of ISIS. The Mosul that even back then was a bone of contention between Arabs, Kurds, and Turkmen. That Mosul.

India Today went much further. It was India’s chance to “sit at the high table”, it declared. France would inevitably be thrown out of the Security Council, and India should seize the chance to replace it. Bush, it averred, was going to “make India a superpower”, and only leftist traitors would object. So, it said, “send the troops”.

Now this is what happened. Even as the government officially denied that there was any plan to send troops, as it turned out later, several divisions had actually been earmarked for the purpose and were merely waiting for the go-ahead. The Hindunazi Home Minister at the time, Lal Krishna Advani, actually promised the Amerikastanis that India would send troops, and told them that this did not require ratification by the Indian parliament. Where he got this idea I can’t tell you; maybe, like the Bush regime, he was “creating his own reality”.

I said that the then prime minister, Vajpayee, was someone who preferred consensus. Instead of merely signing off on Advani’s promise, he asked the other political parties for their opinions. The Congress party, then in opposition – as we shall see, it became fanatically pro-Amerikastani when in power – refused to go along. The Left, too, was opposed. And Vajpayee at once scotched the deal. The troops would not be sent.

As it turned out, there was another dimension to it. The idea was somehow that Amerikastan would pay for India to send and maintain the soldiers in Iraq, pay their salaries and so on. Of course this did not happen. And only the utterly deluded could have imagined this was even possible.

One can only guess at what would have happened if India had sent those soldiers. India’s experience of interventions in other people’s wars has been dismal. It occupied northern and eastern Sri Lanka in 1987-89 and lost a brutal guerrilla war there. The troops it sent as “peacekeepers” to various African countries were withdrawn after repeated accusations of sexual abuse and corruption. In Iraq, as the resistance grew increasingly more overt, with bases routinely hit by mortars and patrols by IEDs and snipers, the casualties would have correspondingly grown in number. Especially with the Indian Army’s fairly primitive equipment, which to this day doesn’t even extend to a reliable rifle or Kevlar helmets or body armour, the casualty count would have been fairly horrendous.

And who would have been blamed when these dead and wounded troops came back home? Muslims and leftists, that’s who. One, because their co-religionists were fighting these troops and inflicting those casualties, and never mind that they were only defending their country; the other, because leftists had opposed the sending of the soldiers in the first place, and therefore must be “celebrating” the bloodshed and be to blame.

Muslims and leftists are already hated enough in India without giving the Great Indian Muddle Class even more of an excuse to hate us all.

There was an interesting sidelight to the whole affair, which shows the mindset of the Muddle Class. The Telegraph ran an SMS poll just after the invasion asking whether it was justified. About 84% of the respondents said no. The very next day the same paper ran a poll asking whether India should send troops to help in the occupation.

Some 80% said yes.

In 2004, the Vajpayee regime lost the elections and the Congress took over. By that time, the Iraqi resistance had already grown so strong and increasingly effective, inflicting every more casualties on the occupiers, that nobody could talk any longer about sending soldiers. But the Congress, which overnight changed its policies once in power, at once allowed ex-soldiers to sign up with mercenary outfits and rush off to serve in Iraq. Former military officers even set up recruitment agencies for mercenaries in Delhi. I can only speculate how much money they made, and what happened to those mercs.

Nothing good, I sincerely hope.

The Vajpayee regime had also banned Indian nationals from going to Iraq; the Congress lifted this ban, and Indian lorry drivers and cooks, mechanics and labourers, at once rushed off to serve the Amerikastani occupiers. This finally and inevitably led to a group of them being taken captive by an insurgent outfit called the Order Of The Black Banner. I recall much palaver at the time, in such newspapers as the tabloid The Times Of India, about how “Entebbe-style” raids should be conducted to free them. As far as I recall the government washed its hands of the whole matter, and it was the lorry company owners who ransomed the captives – who then complained that they had spent their savings to get to Iraq and these jobs, and now had lost them both.

At this same time, there was another way by which Indians were going to Iraq. These were Indians who signed up with the official occupation forces for a stint as a war criminal in return for Amerikastani citizenship. I am glad to say that several of them were exterminated by the Iraqi resistance. An Amerikastani general attended the funeral of one of these worthies and made a speech about how he’d gone to “fight for freedom”. An Indian “activist’ called Subhash Chandra Agarwal, who seems to spend all his spare time writing letters to newspapers, at once wrote a letter to the editor calling this general the “army chief” and saying that Indians should start supporting the American occupation since then Americans would buy Indian goods. I responded saying that Agarwal was entitled to his freedom of speech, but not to his own fantasies; and that whether Americans bought Indian goods would depend on their cost and quality, and not on what India did or didn’t do in Iraq. That was a letter that the local paper here published, albeit in heavily edited form; I was effectively blacklisted soon after.

Then there was when Saddam Hussein was captured. The Telegraph ran a full front page article celebrating this; GOT HIM! or something similar was the headline. When he was hanged, the same rag celebrated it with another full front page with noose shaped headlines. By that time it was openly campaigning for English to be replaced by Americanish in India, and for India to dump neutrality for an alliance with Amerikastan. This was of course not on its own volition; it was also a fanatic supporter of the Congress regime, and especially of the rubber stamp “prime minister”, the spectacularly incompetent Manmohan Singh, who rewarded it with special access to him on his trips.

What was Singh like? I’ll just say this: this man, who has never, in his life, even won a municipal level election, hugged George W Bush and assured him that the “people of India love you”. These would be the people of India who had never voted for him in the first place. As a leftist politician snarked, everyone knew that Singh loved Bush, but why did he have to drag the people of India into it?

There was one more attempt to manufacture consent around this time, and this was for weapons sales. Amerikastan was trying to get India to buy its Patriot missiles. I recall reading a story planted in The Times Of India about how good the new Patriots were. In 1990, they had, the paper admitted, failed to intercept many Iraqi SCUDS (actually, they hadn’t successfully intercepted a single one); but in 2003, not a single Iraqi missile had got through successfully!

Well, of course no Iraqi missile had got through successfully; there were none in the first place. If Iraq had had any missiles then Bush’s WMD tales would have been true, wouldn’t they? I did point this out to the paper; they never published my response. What a surprise.

By the time Bush was replaced by Barack Hussein Obama, a certain wariness had entered into Indian attitudes towards Amerikastan. The fantasies about France being kicked out of the Security Council, of Bush making India a superpower, and so on had of course been long since abandoned. The former cheerleaders for sending soldiers to Iraq were trying hard to pretend that had never happened. When Obama attacked Libya in 2011, there was not a single whimper of support, just frantic attempts to get Indian citizens away. And today, as far as possible, Indian news doesn’t mention Iraq at all. Even Indian workers captured by ISIS are now never talked about; it’s as though they vanished into thin air.


It’s almost as though, you know, the country doesn’t exist anymore.

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