Saturday, 9 December 2017

The Battle Of Pluto

This summer Timur’s parents took him to Pluto on holiday.

Timur was very excited to go to Pluto. They travelled on a spaceship that was golden in colour and looked like a bottle, which Timur thought was quite funny. The spaceship was called Crossbow. A nice name, wasn’t it? They had a good room to themselves, though it wasn’t large, and when the ship took off after the compulsory hymn of praise to the President-Emperor, it was so smooth that none of them felt it at all. The spaceship was fast, too, so that before Timur got too bored with the confines of life on board, they arrived on Pluto.

The hotels on Pluto were filled with young couples, who spent their time looking soppily at each other in the restaurants and kissing over their drinks. Timur’s mum told him not to stare, and explained that they were all people who had come to Pluto because the heart-shaped mark on its surface was so romantic.

“It’s just marketing,” Timur’s father said grumpily, but Timur’s father was grumpy about everything. “They market it as the dwarf planet of love, and the silly fools come all the way out here to spend their money.” Even Timur knew that this didn’t make much sense, because hadn’t his father brought him and his mum here? But his mum merely grinned and said they should go have an ice cream, so that was all right.

The ice cream parlour they went to had a ceiling in the shape of a dome, on which the image of the sky was projected. Timur couldn’t see Earth, of course, but he could see the stars, and the sun, too, a tiny, bright white dot. And then the moons went by, one by one, Charon among them, so large and low overhead that it seemed as though it would come rolling down on them.

“Mum,” Timur said, “when are we going to the War Museum?”

The War Museum, of course, was on Charon, and that was the place that Timur had been excited about, ever since his parents had told him about the holiday. They had studied the War against the aliens in school, in history class just this year, and all about the tremendous victory at the Battle of Pluto that had won the war once and for all.

“Why do you want to go there?” his father said, irritated. “You’ve already seen all the pictures, in school.”

“But those are just pictures,” Timur said. “We’ve come all this way, and it’s just on Charon. Besides, there isn’t anything to do here.”

This was not quite true, but only as far as children were concerned. There was plenty of entertainment for adults on Pluto, but most of them were out of bounds to children. Timur didn’t miss the quick glance that passed between his parents, and pressed the advantage.

“You don’t have to go,” he said. “I can manage quite well by myself.”

“How do they go to this museum?” his father asked. “I don’t know. Do you?”

“Of course I do,” Timur snorted. “They’ve got daily guided tours, from the hotel,” he said. “I checked their website. They go up by shuttle and come back the same evening.”

His father tried one more time. “I’m sure they won’t let a child go alone,” he said, “and neither your mother nor I are interested in this war museum of yours.”

“They do,” Timur said triumphantly. “I checked. They have tours only for children, and the hotel arranges them.”

“Wait,” Timur’s mother said, and began whispering something to his father. Timur only caught a few stray words, like “big party today” and “won’t be underfoot as usual.” Finally, his father nodded reluctantly.

“All right,” he said. “We’ll go back to the hotel and see.”

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

The shuttle wasn’t what Timur had expected. It was shaped like an overturned funnel, and everyone sat on padded benches round the inside of a round chamber, with straps around their shoulders to stop them falling on their faces. In the centre of the chamber was a little grey box about the size of a loaf of bread, and this was the pilot of the shuttle.

There were about ten children in the group, all about the same age as Timur, and a lady in charge. Her name, according to the badge she wore on her dress, was Sara. She was pretty and young, and all the other boys in the group were already in love with her, but Timur wasn’t, because he was more excited about the War Museum.

There were no windows in the shuttle, and it only shook a little when it took off from Pluto, and after a little while shook again when it landed on Charon. All the while Miss Sara was talking about the history of the War.

“It was when the human race was divided into all kinds of different nations, which were mostly fighting against each other. The Enemy thought they could take advantage of our quarrels to defeat us, and that was why they attacked us.”

Timur had heard all this in his history class, of course, but he still listened avidly, because he was passionately interested in the War. He had long ago decided that when he grew up he would write a book on it.

“The Enemy – the aliens – were horrible,” Miss Sara said. “They sent their huge battle fleet against us, and in the lead was their strongest battleship, which was called the Azag. They thought they could break past our defences around Pluto, and once in the inner solar system they would have had us at their mercy. But it didn’t happen like that, because of Captain Erdogyahu.”

Everyone’s eyes turned automatically to the portrait of Captain Erdogyahu, which was painted on the wall of the shuttle. It showed him in his full dress uniform as Grand Admiral, which he’d become after the battle, and before he’d been elected the first President-Emperor of Earth. Timur was fascinated with all the pale gold braid and the stripes on his uniform. His chest was so covered with medals that there didn’t seem room for any more.

“Captain Erdogyahu,” Miss Sara said, “was in charge of the defence outpost on Charon. It was only a small place, with a few launchers, a couple of short range gunboats, and a handful of missiles. The Enemy must have thought that it could be ignored, because certainly such a puny station could not dare to defy them. But they hadn’t reckoned with Captain Erdogyahu.

“Captain Erdogyahu knew that if he merely sent word to Earth about the Enemy invasion, by the time the Earth battle fleet was dispatched, the Enemy would already have captured the outer solar system and would have been threatening Mars and perhaps Earth itself. So, in an act of tremendous bravery, he decided to fight the alien invasion with his two gunboats and his handful of missiles, even if it meant certain death. And that was what he did.”

Miss Sara’s eyes grew misty as she looked up at the portrait with adoration. “The Enemy was taken totally by surprise, and annihilated,” she said. “Most of their ships were turned into slag before they could fire a single shot in return. Only the Azag survived the initial attack, and tried to flee.

“Captain Erdogyahu, however, was determined not to let a single Enemy ship get away. Despite the immense danger, he led his two gunboats in pursuit of the Enemy battleship. It was already so badly damaged that it could not make great speed, so the gunboats caught up with it before it could reach the Oort cloud. And there, on the outer fringes of the solar system, the two little gunboats fought the mighty Enemy battleship in one of the most terrific battles in history.

“The two gunboats,” Miss Sara continued, “closed with the fleeing Azag until they could see the gaping holes torn in the battleship’s hull from the missiles earlier. They then kept pumping missile after missile into the Enemy ship, from such close range that debris from the explosions almost struck them. Finally, there was a tremendous flash from the stricken battleship, and it stopped trying to manoeuvre in an attempt to escape.

“The victory was complete, but it was not enough for Captain Erdogyahu. Ordering his gunboats to close in on the wrecked battleship, he attached lines to it, and then he towed it all the way back. He brought the wreckage all the way back to Charon, and it is there now, the centrepiece of the War Museum.”

“Will we be seeing it, Miss Sara?” someone asked.

“Indeed we shall,” Miss Sara said, smiling. “Now, we’ve just arrived, so please get up and line up behind me, and we’ll start the tour, shall we?”

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

The War Museum was vast. It was so huge that Miss Sara said that a full tour would take days, but they would get the children’s special, which was designed to be over early enough so they could get back to their parents by dinnertime. So they bypassed the section which had the old station and offices in which Captain Erdogyahu and his men had lived, and the buildings that chronicled the history of the Space Navy, and went directly to the section reserved for the Battle of Pluto.

The Battle of Pluto had its own segment in the War Museum, a dome that towered over the other buildings, and larger than the rest of the Museum put together. Miss Sara showed their passes to a guard at the entrance, and turned to the children.

“Before we go in,” she said, “remember to stay with me. There’s a lot of machinery in there, and you don’t want to get lost or hurt.”

Timur began to nod, and stopped in mid-nod as they passed through the door. His mouth dropped open.

Before them lay an immense space, so gigantic that he felt for a moment as though he was outside, under the open sky of Earth. Far above, the blue-tinted metal of the dome soared upwards, and huge white lamps set into it threw down light so bright it left no space for shadow. Set around the walls were the weapons that had won the Battle – the batteries of missile launchers, the noses of missiles still poking out of the tubes, and on each side, like two hump-backed beetles, squatted the black shapes of the two gunboats, the Millennium Enterprise and the Star Falcon, which Captain Erdogyahu had had under his command. But Timur’s eyes went right to the thing that rose between the gunboats, huge and angular, towards the dome above.

It was the Enemy ship itself. It was the Azag, dragged down as a prize of war and made secure.

It was flat planes and round bulges, sharp angles and smooth lines. It was huge and so ugly that it was beautiful. Timur had seen pictures of it, many times, but he had never thought it would be like this. He had never expected the lights to shimmer and glide off the metal, as though they were oil on water.

It called to him, and he wanted to go to it.

“This is what they were like,” Miss Sara said, and Timur turned reluctantly back to her. She was pointing at a sculpture of one of the Enemy. “This statue is life size, and was modelled on the Enemy corpses taken from the battleship. You can see how horrible they were.”

The children stared, fascinated. The alien was white and yellow, and all limbs and spikes and pincers like hooks and scissor blades. High above, poking out of the oval shield that covered the head, were two round brown eyes on stalks as long as your arm. It looked as though it was about to jump off the pedestal on which it was mounted and bite you in half.

“Where were they from?” someone asked. It was a small girl with brown hair and a sharp voice. “Miss Sara, where were they from?”

“Who knows?” Miss Sara shrugged. “Nobody ever found that out. Not that it matters. They were our Enemy, and they were destroyed. That’s all we need to know.” She turned away from the sculpture and gestured. “Now follow me to the next exhibit here...”

Timur barely heard her. The next exhibit was one of the missile batteries, and he wasn’t interested in them. They looked a little like wooden packing cases stacked on each other and mounted on a tractor. He was much more interested in the Azag

“Miss Sara,” he called out, when the young woman had paused briefly in her lecture. “Are we going to go into the ship?”

“Into the ship?” Miss Sara blinked at him. “Inside the Azag, you mean? Oh, no, that’s far too dangerous for children. Only special tours of historians are allowed to do that.”

“But I want to look inside,” Timur protested.

“You’ll see the photos later,” Miss Sara told him. “There’s a video show as well. And we do show you the outside of the ship, from quite close. We will go inside the gunboats, though.”

“Couldn’t we take a look inside, just for a little bit?”

“What an idea!” Miss Sara snapped. “Only historians with special permission, and some scientists, are allowed inside. Why, even I have never been inside that ship.” Turning away, she returned to her lecture.

Timur had stopped listening. He stared longingly at the Azag. There it was, only a short distance away across the concrete floor, and there was nobody else to be seen. Except for their own group, the whole immense space under the dome was empty.

“Now here we have the very radio with which Captain Erdogyahu sent the news of the great victory to Earth,” Miss Sara said. “You see here the chair he sat on while composing the message, and...”

Timur slipped quietly away. He didn’t really know he was about to do it until he had already walked halfway towards the Azag, and then when he looked back over his shoulder nobody had seen him. They were all looking at Miss Sara, and she was looking at the radio. So Timur just kept walking.

The Azag grew as he came closer, and grew. Now it was a wall, a cliff, a mountain reaching up towards the metal sky. The planes and facets on its surface glittered like crystal, the edges lines of liquid fire.

And now he could see the holes the missiles had gouged out of its metal skin, the rents like frozen tattered cloth. Each was almost as big around as he was tall. Rising on his toes, he peered through one of the nearest. He saw torn wires and twisted, broken metal struts, scorched the colour of half-burnt coal.

There was an entrance, a door with a short stretch of red carpet leading up to it, blocked by a length of cream-coloured rope propped on stands. With a last quick glance over his shoulder to make sure nobody had noticed him, he ducked under the rope and in through the door.

After the brilliant white light outside, the light inside the ship seemed so dim that he had to pause a few moments to allow his eyes to adjust. He was in a grey metal passage that curved to both sides, the walls of which were carved with symbols he could not understand. Even the ceiling high overhead was carved, and when he looked down at his feet, he saw that the floor was etched and marked with carvings as well.

The light was soft and bluish, and was coming from the left, so that was the way he went. The further down the passage he walked, the wider it became, and the more elaborate the carvings on the walls. All of a sudden – Timur, who had been looking at the carvings, almost stumbled – it opened into a room that was as round as a ball.

Timur stopped, looking around. The passage he was in had come out near the bottom of the ball. All around, in the walls, there were other passages, some at the same level, some far higher. In the middle of the ball, held up by struts, was a glowing sphere from which the bluish light was coming.

For a moment Timur was tempted to go back. He could still easily find his way back to the entrance, but once he was inside one of those many other passages it would be easy to lose his way. Then he remembered that he was the only one of them who had been inside the ship – not even Miss Sara had – and that he had to make the most of the opportunity, if he was ever to write that book on the War. So he climbed down to the round floor of the room – it felt strange to walk on a round surface – and entered another of the passages that was at the same level as his own.

It twisted and turned like a snake, rising and falling, and splitting again and again. By the time he had gone a hundred paces, Timur was already lost.

Thrusting his head forward between hunched shoulders, Timur plunged on.

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

For what seemed like hours Timur wandered through the ship.

Sometimes he came on vast rooms, so large that in the ever present soft bluish light he could not see the far side. Sometimes he found himself passing between slab-sided stacks of machinery or ducking under rods and spheres and cubes that stuck out haphazardly. Once he turned a corner and walked into a room set with perches like in a bird cage all along the walls and ceiling, and another time into a chamber with round blank sheets of something that looked like glass on all sides. Though there were no seats, there were more perches on the walls, the floor, and even the ceiling, and he thought that this might have been the control room where the Enemy, with their many legs, had squatted and run the ship. One of the walls of this room was crumpled like a sheet of wadded paper, and there were gashes in the wall as though gigantic claws had torn into it. A missile must have burst through the wall right here, Timur thought, and he felt a fierce satisfaction at the idea of the Enemy commander and his – her? – officers crumpling and dying in the blast. That had showed them!

After a while he wandered away from the control room. He wanted a look at the battleship’s weapons, but he hadn’t found them yet. Perhaps the gun turrets and missile launchers were in the upper parts of the ship, where he’d not yet ventured. He was looking for a way leading upwards, but each upwards passage he reached only dipped down or sideways again, and led to yet more machinery spaces or perching chambers.

It was intensely frustrating, and he was just about to start kicking at the walls when he heard voices. At first he thought it was just his imagination, because he’d been thinking about the battleship as it had been during its last moments, the scuttling, terrified Enemies all around, shrieking as they ran fruitlessly from Captain Erdogyahu’s missiles. But then he realised that the voices were real, and, what was more, they were human.

Then he thought they belonged to Miss Sara and the others, who had come into the ship. But it was not Miss Sara’s voice – there were at least two voices, and they were both adult and male. And Miss Sara had said that she wasn’t allowed inside the ship.

But the voices meant that there were people on the ship, and that meant they could at least perhaps tell him the way out. He felt suddenly hungry and thirsty and tired, and he wanted to get out. He’d already seen enough of the ship to write about in his book. Anything else he’d find out from the pictures and video.

Moving slowly – he was in a passage which was not well lit, and whose floor, moreover, was broken in places, the plates buckled and twisted from a blast underneath – he came closer to the voices. Now he could hear them clearly, from a chamber round the next corner. He paused a moment, listening.

“But this isn’t what they say in the history books, Professor,” one voice said.

“The real story is suppressed, of course,” another voice replied. This one was older and heavier. “It’s a convenient fiction, and it makes everybody happy. The truth is only known to a small circle, and you’ve been included in it.”

“But why?” the first voice asked. “I don’t understand.”

“No, of course you don’t,” the first voice sighed. “The world needs to believe that there was a great battle here, and that...” The voices faded, and Timur slipped around the corner, just in time to pick them up again, coming from another passage on the far side of the chamber.

“It’s not just a convenient fiction,” the older voice was saying. “It’s a necessary fiction. It’s what justifies the World Government that keeps the peace now, and the position of the President-Emperor. If it was known that – ”

“But Erdogyahu fought the battle, didn’t he, Professor?” a third voice broke in. “Didn’t he destroy the enemy fleet in a battle?”

The older voice, the Professor, laughed harshly. “He certainly claimed to have,” he said. “But ask yourself why not a single weapons system has ever been found on this so-called battleship. Either the aliens had weapons that were so outside human experience that we can’t recognise them for what they are – weapons that, moreover, were so far outside our experience that they couldn’t do us the slightest harm – or they had no weapons at all.”

Timur crept after them into the passage. He could see them now, three men at the far end, looking at a huge missile hole in one of the walls. “So what was it, Professor?” the first voice asked.

“Who knows?” The Professor moved on past the missile hole, and the other two followed. Timur crept after them, as silently as he could. “Most likely an embassy ship, coming to contact us. Maybe it was a trader. Maybe it was just lost.”

“And the others?” the second of the younger men, who must be students, asked. “The other ships destroyed?”

“What others? Apart from Erdogyahu’s own claim, what proof is there that there were any others?” The Professor chuckled. “He did do a great job of manufacturing a heroic victory for himself, didn’t he?”

Timur was just opposite the missile hole when one of the students began to turn around. Without thinking, quite instinctively, he ducked into the hole. From within it he heard the Professor.

“What is it,  Xi?”

“I saw something out of the corner of my eye,” Xi said. “You did say the ship was reserved for our use today, Professor?”

“That’s right. There shouldn’t be anyone else here. By the terms of opening the ship to historians they aren’t even permitted to monitor us remotely.” The Professor snorted. “So you must have imagined it.”

“I’m sure I didn’t,” Xi said. “I’ll just walk back a little and check.”

“Suit yourself,” the Professor said. “It’s just a waste of time, though.”

“Even so.” Xi’s voice was growing louder and closer, and Timur began to panic. He squeezed further into the missile hole, past a twisted piece of metal, and suddenly found himself in bright white light. Blinking, he saw that he was standing just above the War Museum floor.

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

Timur found Miss Sara and the others not far away, beside the door through which he’d entered the ship. None of them noticed as he quietly joined the group.

“This door was actually a hole blown into the hull by a missile,” Miss Sara said, pointing. “You see how Captain Erdogyahu won the war, and saved humanity, without losing a single man. It was the greatest and most precious victory in human history.” She turned, smiling. “Now let’s take a break for lunch, and then we’ll all go back to Pluto.”

They had lunch in a small restaurant in another part of the War Museum. Timur had wanted to sit alone, but the sharp-voiced girl with brown hair joined him. “Where were you?” she asked, through a mouthful of food. “You missed seeing the gunboats.”

“Just around,” Timur shrugged. “Did anyone say anything?”

“I don’t think anybody noticed,” the brown haired girl said. “Except me, I mean. I notice everything.”

“Well, I’m glad,” Timur said, and turned to his food. “I’m glad you had a fun time.”

“I’ll bet it was more fun than what you did,” the girl said challengingly.

“I’m sure it was,” Timur said. “I have no doubt about that at all.”

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

When Timur got back to school after the summer holidays, his teacher asked the class to write an essay on what they’d done during the vacation. Timur refused.

“Why?” the teacher stared at him. “I heard you went to Pluto. You must have seen a lot and have a lot to write about.”

Timur shook his head and stared down at his desk.

“I didn’t see a thing,” he muttered. “Nothing at all.”


Copyright B Purkayastha 2017


Monday, 4 December 2017

Word Of The Day




Russian bot , n.

Definition : Anyone who wins an argument against a liberal. Anyone who uses facts instead of hysterical accusations. Anyone who opposes imperialist wars on the excuse of "humanitarian intervention."

Etymology: From Russia, an unknown and vague land of Absolute Evil which exists in a parallel dimension and sends liberals stomach upsets, head colds, and bad dreams

and bot, a catchall phrase for anything online that makes a liberal uncomfortable.

Synonyms : Putinist, Putin-bot, Russian agent, Russian troll, Comrade, fascist, communist.

Example : "I can't believe how brazenly the Russian bots claim Hillary Clinton bombed Libya and made slave markets possible!"

Friday, 24 November 2017

The Blame For Libya

I have finally worked out who is to blame for the criminal mess in Libya.


[Source]
As you perhaps may remember, back in 2011 the UN Security Council passed a resolution imposing a “no fly zone” in Libya in order, allegedly, to prevent a “genocide” in the “rebel”-controlled city of Benghazi.

[Source]


This resolution was used as a pretext by America and its vassals France and Britain to start an all out regime change bombing campaign against the Gaddafi government, which culminated in Gaddafi himself being murdered after being sodomised with a knife by a brave glorious freedom fighter, insultingly referred to on fake news sites as a “rebel psychopath”.


[Source]

This brave, glorious, freedom-loving "rebel", in  what those fake news sites would call one of the few instances of karmic justice the world has ever seen, later died in lingering agony in a French hospital.

[Source]

Subsequently, Libya disintegrated into a collection of competing “governments” and fiefs controlled by disparate terrorist gangs, including ISIS, none of which were active in Libya before. In October 2012, just a year after Gaddafi was killed, jihadis actually dared to invade the American “consulate” (actually a CIA station) in Benghazi, that same Benghazi that the regime change operation had been launched to “save”, and massacred four people! Ingrates!

[Source]

Never mind that the British parliament subsequently admitted that there was never any threat of a genocide in Benghazi, and that the war was launched on false pretences. Still, ingrates!

And now, as even the Western media finally admitted, black people are being sold as slaves at auction in the country, for the princely sum of $400 each.

[Source]

Obviously, this was a colossal failure of (the always well meant and liberal) Western intervention, and someone has to be responsible for this failure. Who can this possibly be?

Who is the Enemy of Freedom, working day and night to undermine liberty, democracy, the rule of law and decency in the world? Who?

Russia! That’s who!

Once you realize that, everything falls into place!

Remember that UN Security Council Resolution I mentioned, the one that allowed the destruction of Libya in the first place? Why did it ever get passed?

Because Russia, that enemy of freedom, refused to veto it, choosing to abstain instead.

Can you imagine how evil an act this was? Listen, and I will explain.

The Russians are evil enough to study history, and must have known that a country like Libya, a conglomeration of tribes artificially yoked together, would fall apart into violence and chaos if the government was destroyed.  This is why it allowed the resolution to pass, knowing that America and the European vassals would use it as a pretext to destroy the government, which they have hated for decades!


[Source: The Sun, obviously]

And why did it want that, apart from the fact that it is evil and does things only because it is evil?

Here’s why:

Russia was perfectly well aware that Hillary Clinton would giggle and laugh on camera when Gaddafi was murdered, and that this would make her look callous! It was further aware that Hillary Clinton’s State Department would, after overthrowing the government, set up a CIA station disguised as a consulate in Benghazi, and use it as a conduit for arms to Syrian terrorists. It furthermore knew that jihadis would sooner or later attack the station, massacring Americans and putting an end to the arms flow, and that this also would damage Hillary Clinton’s attempt to run for president! It was all part of a long term plan to sabotage Hillary Clinton.

[Source]

And if that wasn’t evil enough, there’s more!

What does the devastation in Libya and the auction of slaves, now admitted in the Western media, portend for the spread of freedom and democracy worldwide? Well?

Why, it means that the proud tradition of Western humanitarian interventions, which produced such glorious successes as Kosovo (where narcotics and human organs are now traded for profit, in the best traditions of the free market), or Afghanistan (which is the world’s capital of opium cultivation and where child sex slaves are kept chained to beds by generals and government ministers) is now contaminated by failure and calumny!

It means that each time the West wants to overthrow another evil regime which practices an independent foreign policy, and controls its own economy, its planned humanitarian intervention war will come up against the huge, insurmountable hurdle of Libya! We have already seen this in Syria, where Assad now reigns supreme, and Western corporations will not make a single shekel or dollar or Euro from reconstruction and privatisation! That is what it means!

And who is responsible for all this? Who achieved all this by simply refusing to veto a UN Security Council resolution?

Russia, that’s who. Like everything else, this is Russia’s fault.


[Source]

Ahhhh, it’s Russia who is to blame, as always. The freedom-loving, democracy-desiring, liberal West has not the slightest stain on its character.


You can all breathe easy now.

[Source]

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

The Ghosts Of Bunglistan



Once upon a time, in a village in a distant corner of Bunglistan, were a shakchunni called Roshobolla, and her husband, a bhoot named Kalajam.

For many hundreds of years the ghost community had never had a couple quite as much in love with each other as these two. They never quarrelled, never even had a cross word with each other, and most of the time didn’t even want to be out of sight of each other.

“Why can’t you be with me like Kalajam is with Roshobolla?” many a petni or shakchunni would ask her husband.

“Why can’t you be with me like Roshobolla is to Kalajam?” her husband would snap back. “All you do is whine and bicker. I’m sick of it!”

Inevitably, the ghosts of the village began to seethe with resentment at Kalajam and Roshobolla. “That fool Kalajam,” a pret would mutter to a brohmodottyi, as they hung upside down in a tamarind tree to while away the hot hours of daylight. “My wife keeps praising that idiot all the time. If I didn’t know he was besotted with that wife of his I’d have thought she was having an affair with him.”

“Someone has to do something about that Roshobolla,” a shakchunni would whine to her neighbour, a petni, as they sat haunting the spire of the ruined temple behind the village. “I swear, if my husband wasn’t a ghost I’d strangle him to death next time he tries comparing me to her.”

“Yes,” they all agreed, “things can’t be allowed to go on like this. Something has to be done about them.”

But what?

Roshobolla and Kalajam didn’t even live near the other ghosts, or mix with them much. They inhabited the thatched roof of a fisherman’s hut on the other side of the village from the ruined temple, near the river. They lived there so quietly, in fact, that the fisherman and his family weren’t even aware of their existence.

“We’ll just have to wait for an opportunity to take revenge on them,” the bhoots and the prets, and the petnis and the shakchunnis, separately told each other. “Someday the chance will come, and then we will have no mercy.”

Now it so happened that the fisherman and his wife had a daughter, whom they loved very dearly. This daughter was growing up to be a fine young woman, gentle and kind to all things, and Kalajam and Roshobolla both had a lot of affection for her, though of course they took care not to frighten her by letting her know of their existence. Her name was Fuljhuri.

One evening, Kalajam and Roshobolla had gone, as was their wont, to sit by the river and watch the stars shining on the water. When they came back home, to their astonishment, they saw Fuljhuri, alone at home, crying as though her heart would break.

“Whatever is wrong with her?” Roshobolla asked. “I’ve never known her to weep before.”

“Something must have happened,” Kalajam replied. “Hopefully she’ll calm down soon.  She’s so naturally cheerful that it’s just a matter of time.”

But Fuljhuri kept sobbing bitterly, and Roshobolla couldn’t take it anymore. “If we don’t find out what’s troubling her,” she said, “and put it right, we have no right to live in this house. I’ll go now and talk to her.”

“At least disguise yourself, so she won’t be frightened,” Kalajam urged.

Snatching up an old sari, Roshobolla covered herself with it, pulling the hood low over her features, and, climbing quietly down from the roof, entered by the door.

“I was just passing by,” she said, in her most kindly voice, gently laying her hand on the weeping girl’s shoulder, “when I heard you crying. Why are you weeping so bitterly?”

Fuljhuri looked up, and, through her tears, saw only the blurred shape of someone who seemed to at least be willing to listen to her. “It’s the moneylender,” she said. “Many years ago, my father took a small loan from him to buy his fishing boat and a few nets. And though he’s paid the money back many times over, the moneylender still says we owe him.”

The infamy of this moneylender was so great that even Roshobolla had heard of him. “And why do you cry for that now?” she asked.

“He says we have to give him all the money he says we owe him, right away, or he’ll take our nets and boat and this cottage, and then we’ll starve. Or else...or else, he says, my parents have to give me in marriage to his son.”

“Have your parents agreed to this?”

“They don’t want to,” Fuljhuri said, still crying, “and they’re still pleading with the moneylender. But if they don’t, we’ll all be thrown out, and have no option but to starve to death. So whatever they decide, I’ll have to say yes. I can’t see my parents suffer because of me.”

“So the moneylender wants this wonderful girl to be his son’s wife, does he?” Roshobolla thought grimly to herself. “Well, we’ll see about that.”

“Don’t cry,” she said aloud. “I’ll make sure you don’t have to marry the moneylender’s son. Just stop crying. Please.”

“You will?” Fuljhuri asked wonderingly. “How can you do that? Just who are you?”

“Perhaps someday I’ll tell you,” Roshobolla replied. “Now, wipe away those tears and wash your face. Nothing is going to happen to you.”

With hope trembling in her heart, Fuljhuri went to the big earthen pot in the corner of the hut, rinsed out her eyes, and wiped her face on a thin cotton towel. “Now tell me...” she began, turning.

But the hut was empty. Her visitor was gone.

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

You’re crazy,” Kalajam said. “Quite crazy, making promises like that.”

“But I couldn’t let her heart be broken like that,” Roshobolla protested. “She said the moneylender...”

“Yes, I heard her.” Kalajam sat on the thatched roof, his face twisted in concentration. Even the bats that flitted through the evening air gave the hut a wide berth, such was the effect of that scowl. “And you’re perfectly right, of course. Even if Fuljhuri hadn’t been such a wonderful girl, we couldn’t let the moneylender get away with this. But what can we do to keep your promise?”

“Well...shouldn’t we go to the moneylender’s house and see what’s going on there?”

“You’re probably right,” Kalajam conceded. “Do you know where it is?”

“No, but it shouldn’t be hard to find,” Roshobolla told him. “All we have to do is follow the trail of sorrow and weeping.”

The moneylender’s name was Kuberchondro Chottopadhayay, so of course everyone called him Nitai. He lived in a house that was almost as magnificent as that of the regional zamindar, and in fact was only not more magnificent because he didn’t want to arouse the zamindar’s considerable jealousy. When Kalajam and Roshobolla arrived at his window, he was lounging on a bed, reclining on bolsters, and listening to Fuljhuri’s parents with some enjoyment while sucking on a hookah.

“We’ll pay the remaining amount next year, by all means,” Fuljhuri’s father was saying, as the ghosts arrived. “We promise you that we will. Just please give us one more year.”

“So you say,” Nitai laughed. Furruth, went the hookah. “Yet you haven’t paid this loan off in fifteen years. And you want me to believe that you’ll pay it in one?

“We’ve already paid ten times the amount, and more,” Fuljhuri’s mother burst out. “How can you say we haven’t paid it?”

“You know the interest,” Nitai said indifferently. “You knew it when you took the loan. And you know as well as I do that you’ll never pay it off, not in one year, not in a century.”

“You said our daughter – ”

“Yes, your daughter. A most delectable morsel, as I thought when I saw her yesterday, making garlands by the river. Pity if such a pretty little thing has to starve because of her parents’ foolishness, don’t you think?”

“But...”

 “But, you old fool, I’m giving you a way out.” Furruth. “You’ll never be able to pay off your debt. And though I don’t have any use for your rotting old boat and tattered fishing net, I am not going to be cheated out of what belongs to me. So marry your daughter to my son, and not only does she not starve, you get to keep your hearth and home, and your boat and net too. Well?”

“Isn’t there anything else we can get for you?” the old fisherman said. “Anything at all?”

“What will you get for me?” the moneylender said contemptuously. “I could buy ten of anything you could get for me, with a snap of my fingers.”

“Can we at least have some time to think about it – a few days?” Fuljhuri’s mother asked.

“A few days?” Nitai arched his eyebrows in mock astonishment. “Do you imagine I have days to waste on you? But, just because I’m feeling generous, I’ll give you till this time tomorrow.” Furruth. “Now get out of here, I have work to do even though you obviously don’t.”

As the old people left, holding on to each other in their distress, Roshobolla, normally so peaceable, was roused to fury by all she’d heard. “Let’s go in and wring his neck,” she whispered. “We should do it right now.”

“How do you think that will help?” Kalajam laid a restraining hand on her arm. “He’s certainly going to have records of their debt in his account books, and if his son is anything like him at all...”

As though on cue, Nitai’s son entered the room. He was fat as a pumpkin and oily as a hilsa fish dipped in mustard, and his eyes strayed in different directions when he looked at anything. He belched loudly and scratched his hirsute belly where it bulged over his dhoti. “Where is that beautiful girl you were talking about?”

Nitai looked at him with love in his eyes. “She’ll be here by tomorrow.” Furruth! “You probably should go and get some sleep so you’re nice and fresh for your wedding.”

“You see?” Kalajam whispered, drawing Roshobolla away. “If this son gets hold of the accounts, he’ll be no better than his father in any way. Maybe worse.”

“Then what should we do?” Roshobolla asked. “How can we save Fuljhuri?”

“The only way we can do that is to make the moneylender forgive the debt,” Kalajam said. “Let’s try and think of how we can do that.”

Now, of course, every place in Bunglistan has a resident ghost or two, and therefore the moneylender’s mansion had one as well. This was a petni called Khoimoa, and of all the ghosts in the village, she was the one who hated Kalajam and Roshobolla with the deepest hatred. Khoimoa thought herself the prettiest ghost of any description in all of Bunglistan, and it always rankled her that while even a shakchunni of ordinary looks like Roshobolla should have a devoted and loving husband like Kalajam, she should never have found a mate at all. Over the years this had made her so bitter that even the thought of Roshobolla would send her into a frothing-mouthed fury.

It so happened that Khoimoa was at this moment sitting on the roof of the mansion, and from there she saw Roshobolla and Kalajam talking to each other. She was, of course, seized with her usual jealous fury. But, furthermore, seeing them so far from their usual haunts, she was instantly seized with a suspicion that they had come here for some particular reason.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to take revenge on them,” Khoimoa thought. “Here they are on my territory, and I’m sure I can ruin whatever plans they’re hatching.” Unfortunately, she was too far away to eavesdrop on them, and, being ghosts, they would have seen her if she tried to sneak close enough to listen in on their plotting. So she settled for watching them as closely as she could.

Meanwhile, Kalajam and Roshobolla were busily trying to think of what to do. “Maybe we can find and destroy the records of Fuljhuri’s parents’ debt,” Kalajam suggested.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” his wife scoffed. “Do you have any idea of accounts? Can you go through ledgers and documents looking for a specific one, and even recognise it if you should find it? I assure you that I can’t.”

Kalajam had to admit that this was impossible. “I suppose we will have no option but to let the girl marry that slob,” he concluded mournfully.

“Yes, but...” Roshobolla frowned, as a new idea struck her. “Come to think of it, why shouldn’t she?”

“I don’t understand,” Kalajam said. “Don’t you want to save her from this marriage?”

“Yes, of course, but I’ve got an idea.” Roshobolla drew Kalajam away by the arm. “We need to talk to Fuljhuri about it, though.”

Sitting on the roof, Khoimoa watched them go.

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

Let me get this clear,” Fuljhuri said. “You want me to agree to marry the moneylender’s son?”

Roshobolla, who with Kalajam had rushed back to the hut at the speed of the Kalboishakhi wind, pulled down the sari hood, which had threatened to slip back and reveal her features. “You just have to pretend to agree,” she said. “And then, when you’re taken to the moneylender’s house for the marriage, this is what you must do...”

“But are you sure?” Fuljhuri asked, when she had finished. “How do you know that I’ll be able to avoid the marriage afterwards?”

“Well, you can leave that to me,” Roshobolla said firmly. “My husband and I will make sure that you aren’t forced to go through with the marriage.”

“Your husband?” Fuljhuri peered at Roshobolla. “Just who are you, anyway? I’ve never seen you before tonight.”

“We’re...well, we don’t live far away. We’re your well wishers.” From the corner of her eye, Roshobolla saw Kalajam, sitting on the cross-pole supporting the roof of the hut, signalling frantically. “I have to go now,” she said quickly, “but I won’t be far away. Remember what I told you to do.” Turning away before Fuljhuri could say anything more, she left the hut and ducked around the far side, only moments before Fuljhuri’s parents finally arrived after their slow and lamenting walk back from the moneylender’s house.

“Daughter,” Fuljhuri’s mother said, “I’m afraid we couldn’t change the old skinflint’s mind, or warm his stone-cold heart. He’s given us till tomorrow night to agree to marry his son to you.”

“There’s just one thing to do,” Fuljhuri’s father declared. “We must take everything we have, load it into my boat, and sail away down the river, now, tonight. We’ll go somewhere far away and start over again.”

“The boat’s too small to carry the three of us and still have space left over for anything,” Fuljhuri pointed out. “We couldn’t even take the large cooking pot. Even if we did try to flee, we wouldn’t have anything to start over again with.” She snorted. “The moneylender undoubtedly knows that, which is why he gave you till tomorrow night. He knew that we can’t run away.”

“What else can we do then?” Fuljhuri’s mother took a deep breath. “There is nothing left but to drown ourselves in the river, then.”

“Please don’t think of that!” Fuljhuri said hastily. “I’ll marry the moneylender’s son.”

“But why?” her mother wailed. “You know as well as we do that he’ll lead you a hellish life.”

“Something tells me that things won’t turn out to be the way the moneylender imagines.” Fuljhuri took a deep breath. “But before the marriage actually happens, there’s something you must make certain to do...”

Meanwhile, Roshobolla and Kalajam were back on the roof. “That was a near thing,” the shakchunni said. “Another moment and the parents would have seen me, and then the game would have been up.”

“The game will be up anyway,” Kalajam said. “How are we going to get her away without her realising that we’re ghosts?”

Roshobolla shrugged. “To tell you the truth, I hadn’t thought of that. I suppose there’s no way we can stop her from realising. But by then she’ll be safe, which is the main thing.”

“And we’ll have to go away from here,” Kalajam pointed out. “Once she knows we’re ghosts, she’ll be terrified of us, so we’ll have to leave.”

“Yes, that is a sacrifice we’re going to have to make.” Roshobolla sighed heavily. “Still, there’s no other way out. Now let’s go over the plan again...”

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

Early the next evening, the old fisherman appeared at the moneylender’s house. “My daughter agreed to the wedding,” he announced, with a heavy sigh.

“Good, good.” Nitai drew on his hookah. Furruth! “Bring her over here right away. I’ll call the priest and have the wedding done and over with tonight.”

“Tonight?” the fisherman asked, astonished. “So soon?”

“My son is impatient,” Nitai said. “And it’s not as though your daughter will get any younger or more beautiful if you wait till tomorrow.”

“All right,” Fuljhuri’s father agreed reluctantly. “She will be here in a couple of hours.” Turning away, he left for home to tell his wife and daughter to get ready.

Meanwhile, Kalajam and Roshobolla had spent an anxious day huddled under the thatch of the roof. When they heard what the fisherman had to say to his wife and daughter, they oozed out through a crack and perched on top of the hut, cloaked by the early evening shadows. “We’ll have to move fast,” Kalajam said.

“Yes,” Roshobolla replied. “Have you done anything like this before?”

“Of course not. I wish we had some time to practice, but there’s nothing for it.”

Meanwhile, Fuljhuri had been dressed in the best sari the fisherman’s wife owned, and she pulled the hood of it low over the girl’s face. “It’s not right for you to look at your husband’s face until you’re married,” she said. “Don’t raise your eyes to him.”

“I’m not going to get married,” the girl replied, though her voice sounded increasingly uncertain. “Don’t forget what you’re supposed to do, will you?”

“We won’t,” her father replied, wiping away a tear. “Let us go, then.”

So, accompanied by her parents, the girl set out for the moneylender’s house, unaware that they were being quietly followed by the two ghosts. Once near Nitai’s mansion, the older couple turned to the girl.

“You wait here,” Fuljhuri’s mother said. “We’ll go and talk to the moneylender and make sure everything’s all right.”

“I don’t trust that moneylender,” Kalajam whispered to Roshobolla.

“I don’t either,” his wife replied. “Let’s follow the fisherman and his wife and see what Nitai is up to.” 

The fisherman and his wife went to where Nitai was sucking on his hookah while watching the preparations. “My daughter is outside,” Fuljhuri’s father said. “There is just one condition, though, that she insists on.” He drew a deep breath. “Before the marriage is actually solemnised – before, not after – she insists on you formally cancelling our debt and destroying the records.”

“Is that all?” Nitai grinned. “I’ll do that.” Furruth! “Just be sure that she doesn’t imagine she can get away with refusing the marriage afterwards. I’ll have men around to make sure she can’t do anything like that.”

“She’s not going to do anything like that,” Fuljhuri’s mother assured him. “But she insists on the records being destroyed.”

“Very well. Come with me and I’ll find your accounts.” With a final furruth, Nitai waddled towards his pile of ledgers, the fisherman and his wife following timidly. And, crawling along the shadows that lay in the corners of the room, Kalajam and Roshobolla came, too, intent on making certain that the moneylender did what he had promised.

Meanwhile!

The petni Khoimoa had been watching the wedding preparations with increasing bewilderment. Now, from her perch on the roof, she glimpsed Fuljhuri and her parents coming. She saw them talk briefly, and Fuljhuri waiting under a tree while her parents went inside. Her curiosity aroused, she was about to come down from the roof for a closer look when she saw Kalajam and Roshobolla quietly following the old couple.

“Oho,” Khoimoa said to herself. “So that is their plan, is it? That girl is dressed as a bride, the house is being prepared for a wedding, and they’re hanging around. Obviously, they plan to get the girl married to the moneylender’s son, for whatever reason. Well, we’ll see about that!”

With a final glower in the direction of the house, she jumped from the roof and landed in the tree under which the girl was standing. Startled, Fuljhuri looked up, only to hear a voice snarling down at her from the darkness.

“How dare you come to my territory?” Khoimoa snarled. “Get out of here this instant, or I’ll break your neck!”

Instead of getting out of there, Fuljhuri fainted. On top of the emotional strain of the last couple of days, this was far too much to bear.

Up in the tree, Khoimoa was nonplussed. Instead of running away and wrecking the wedding as expected, the girl had fainted. What was to be done?

The idea came to her in a moment. Quickly swooping down from the tree, she undressed Fuljhuri, putting on her bridal sari. “They want a bride, do they?” she grinned to herself, pulling the sari’s hood down to conceal her features. “They’ll get a bride they won’t expect!”

Hiding the girl’s unconscious body in the shadows behind the tree, she walked a few steps away, just in time to meet Fuljhuri’s mother coming to fetch her.

“There you are,” the old lady said. “Come quickly, they’re ready for you. And,” she said in a low voice, “don’t worry, they’ve agreed to do what you said.”

Khoimoa, of course, had no idea what she was talking about, but followed her without a word. They went into the house, where the priests were getting the final preparations ready.

“So there you are,” Nitai said with satisfaction. “Sit down here. My son will be coming in a minute.” And in a moment Nitai’s son, with a conical white hat perched on his head, waddled into their presence, belching all the way.

“Let’s begin,” the head priest urged. “It’s the auspicious time.”

“The accounts,” Fuljhuri’s father, who had been standing all this while by Nitai’s side, urged. “You remember.”

“Oh, yes, this.” Nitai held up the piece of paper. “It’s a paltry enough sum, of course, but it got me good returns, didn’t it?” With a laugh, he threw the paper in the sacrificial fire. It flared up and withered away in a curl of ash and a puff of smoke.

And it was at that moment that Kalajam and Roshobolla discovered just how their inability to rehearse had crippled them. Their plan had been to swoop in as soon as the accounts were burnt, snatch up Fuljhuri, and rush her off to safety. But there was a problem.

One of the people who had been engaged in preparing the wedding feast had put a pot of mustard oil down just inside the threshold of the entrance of the building. It now stood, silent and malevolent, barring their way inside as surely as a barred door of iron would have to a mere human.

“Kalajam!” Roshobolla whispered. “Whatever shall we do?”

“There must be some other way in,” Kalajam said. “We’ve got to look for the back door.”

Because the mansion, built out of the interest of so many loans, was so huge, this was easier said than done. The two ghosts set off around the side of the building, around irregular corners, squeezing past a scum-encrusted pond, looking for a way in, and getting increasingly frustrated with every passing moment. Finally, at long last, they found one door that was ajar...and, looking in, saw that it led into the kitchen.

With mustard oil, of course, everywhere.

Meanwhile, as soon as the debt had been burnt, the priests had begun with the marriage. They were greedy, the smell of cooking was enticing, and Nitai’s son, who was too fat to sit in one position for long, had bribed them in advance to hurry things along, they quickly went through their repertoire of prayers, all talking together so their voices merged into a babble.

“Now,” the head priest declared, throwing some ghee into the fire, “garland each other, and there you are.”

And so, moments before Kalajam and Roshobolla, having finally found a way in and then having wandered, lost, through the maze of rooms and corridors, finally arrived, Nitai’s son and his blushing bride finished garlanding each other. And, before the two ghosts could do a thing, Nitai’s son pulled back the hood of his new wife’s sari, so that he could see the promised beauty of her face.

Khoimoa thought she was a great beauty. It was not an opinion shared by anyone else in the world of ghosts.

Nitai’s son was dissolute and overweight, with a heart weakened by loads of ghee soaked-food and lack of exercise.

The inevitable happened. Nitai’s son had a fatal heart attack.

In the course of the shouting and confusion that followed, Kalajam and Roshobolla did the first thing they could think of. Grabbing hold of Fuljhuri’s parents, they hustled them out through the mansion and out of the back door they’d found. Before the stunned old couple could react, they found themselves being pushed along homewards as quickly as they could go.

And there, in their path, was Fuljhuri, without her sari, rubbing her face and looking around in confusion. “What happened?” she asked. “What’s going on?”

Roshobolla and Kalajam glanced quickly at each other. Whatever the mystery was, they’d try and solve it later. Leaving the old couple to go to their daughter, they stepped quietly away and melted into the darkness.

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

You’re a worthless husband,” Khoimoa said. “Utterly worthless. Nobody deserves a husband as worthless as you.”

Nitai’s son cringed. Ever since he’d become a ghost, he’d been losing weight, until by now he was almost skeletal. But that was no surprise, since his wife didn’t give him a moment’s peace.

“I do the best I can, dear,” he said miserably.

“The best you can!” Khoimoa brimmed over with angry joy. This was so much better than sitting alone on the roof with nothing to do except feel sorry for herself!

“The best you can!” she repeated. “Well, let me tell you...”

Hands comfortably settled on her hips, she started happily on her nagging for the night.



Copyright B Purkayastha 2017   

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

A Christmas Story


Santa Claus was feeling sorry, oh Santa Claus was sad
For Jesus Christ had come again and my word was he mad.
He said "My father's house will not be a marketplace
But you not just make it one you do it in my face.
Christians you call yourselves - Christ-ians you are not
My name you put on your lips and my teachings you forgot.
There is a place for you, yes, there is a place beneath
Full of wailing and darkness and gnashing of the teeth."
Santa called his business partners, yes he called them all
They held a meeting in a great big conference hall.
"Jesus is a saboteur, an economic terrorist too
He'd sabotage my bank account and do the same to you.
If he gets away with this, for we'll all be done
We have to stick together,  each for every one." 
They made their decisions, yes they all had their say
They wouldn't let a hurdle like Jesus stand in their profit's way.
They crucified Jesus Christ, yes they hung him on a cross
And put it up on television to show all who was boss.
This year Christmas sales are more than ever, yes, the profits are going up
Overflowing with happiness, Santa's brimming cup.
So listen to my story kiddies, draw near and hear me tell
That Santa's in his heaven, and on earth all is well.