Monday, October 02, 2006

A Touch of Sunset, A Book, and You

A lot of people have been very angry with me, for committing the blogger's primal sin: not blogging regularly. To those of you who still stubbornly continue visiting my blog, I offer my apologies. In all fairness, there's been a lot on my mind lately. This post might seem a bit depressing, but, honestly speaking, I'm not exactly bubbly right now.

At the tender age of 7, I became Napoleon.
My dad (always the farsighted one in the family) bought me a book detailing the lives of some famous historical personalities as a ploy to keep me quiet (I was a pretty restless kid). As for me, I promptly fell in love with the idea of conquering Italy, marrying Josephine and coronating myself.
Whee. You marry the girl and you get to conquer the world. What could be better than that? So I practised tucking my right hand inside my shirt and convinced myself that I looked suitably imperial.
For I was 7 years old, and I knew I was going to conquer the world one day.

In due course of time, I grew up (regrettably), acquired the external trappings of rote learning that pass for education in our country, struggled through school, struggled through college, until I finally found myself sitting in front of a computer, hammering out code for a software giant.

What happened to Napoleon?

We think about this for a moment, and then forget it all and stare at a beautiful sunset, Nature's beauty overwhelming our puny senses. We settle down, read a book, and feel at peace with the world.
And, as Scarlett put it so nicely, "tomorrow's another day".
And tomorrow passes its torch on to the day after, and year follows year, until we look back at a lifetime of regret and missed opportunities, and we sigh, knowing that though we've had a good life, it will be over soon, and nobody will ever know that we had ever existed.
This is the nirvana that most of us seem to crave, in thought and deed.

When do we accept the chains that bind us to mediocrity? At what age do we make a Faustian pact with the Devil, selling our conquering egos for 30 pieces of silver?
A few of us will become great programmers, some of us will become brilliant academicians, an insignificant minority among us will become the future business czars of tomorrow.
What about the rest?
What about the artists? The creators? The thinkers?
Will we ever produce the likes of Gandhi? Or will it be just another run-of-the-mill politician out to steal money from the rest of the country?
Will we ever produce another Tagore? Or will our proto-Tagore be buried under the avalanche of Chetan Bhagats being churned out of the Indo-Anglian assembly line?
What about Ghalib? Mozart? Michelangelo?
Or will the silent majority of us be content whiling away our mediocre lives, sacrificing our ambitions to the twin pressures of family and society?

History shall judge our generation by the casual manner in which we tossed out immortality and settled for the tiny things in life.
A beautiful sunset, a book, a bottle of wine.
A lovely house, a lovely wife, lovely children.
Lovely pieces of code being banged out everyday.
Beautiful theories being spun out of thin air, at major academic conferences.
Blow at them, all of them, and they scatter away like the angel-hair they've always been. And Dr. Faustus comes to mind.

Our generation has been the closest to Utopia on Earth. It's a pity we choose to give it all away.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

No bread? Let them have cake!

An example often being bandied about on TV nowadays is that of the humble municipality sweeper, working away at his job through the day, a job that was his father's before him, and his father's father as well. (Strangely enough, a strict patrilinear relationship is often assumed in these examples.) Don't you want such a person to ever grow beyond his present economic status, to ever aspire to reach a greater control over his life? Or do you want his son also to join the family profession, so that you, and the remaining urbanized elitist 10% of India's population, can bask in the glory of "India Shining", you selfish casteist bourgeois titch you. Ah the shame, the shame.
Unfortunately, the above example of the sweeper is at best erroneous and in the worst case deliberately misleading.
This is because you will have made the mistake of confusing "economic" backwardness with "social" backwardness. This is exactly what the pseudo-liberal bleeding-heart armchair social-empowerment activists want, in an India dominated by instant SMS barometers of public opinions.

In a country like India, there is admittedly a significant overlap between these two indicators. However, the issue at hand is whether or not to extend quotas to OBCs, and, unfortunately for India, the UPA administration has decided to base its reservation policy on social indicators.

So why is this a problem? Let me explain. I'm from IIT Kharagpur. In the IIT system there are roughly 4000 seats available in the general category, and roughly 1000 seats available in the reserved categories. We can ascribe a ballpark figure of about 50,000 students applying for the reserved category seats. However, in 9 out of 10 cases, the ones who get in are those who, by the magic of targetted birth and blessed breeding, will:
a. Have studied in the top schools of the country, and
b. Have parents working in the Civil Service, or
c. Have parents working in a very high-paying corporate job or educational institution, and
d. Have access to the best preparatory educational material from the best purveyors of such condensed knowledge nuggets.

On the other hand, the student whose problems the earlier Mandal I reservation scheme was meant to address is barely affected by it. Why?
a. He stays in a village with little or no access to information regarding the IITs and their brand of technical education.
b. His academic preparation is of such a poor quality (courtesy government schools) that even with hard work he will not be able to clear the JEE.

By simple extrapolation, implementation of Mandal II will mean, for us IITians, allowing rich Jats who have studied in posh Delhi schools rushing to Rajasthan to buy fake OBC certificates for 500 rupees and walking in to IIT, with a nearly simultaneous decrease in peer-reviewed academic standards.
Are academic standards necessary? Our dear self-righteous intellectually-challenged JNU breed of social scientists would have you believe that such is not the case, that academic standards are subservient to the cause of social justice, and that in any case, the IITs were set up to provide quality education to the nation, not to some portion of the populace who have been chosen on some arbitrary basis called "Merit" .
Another barb that is directed to the casual thinking bystander in such a situation is: "Why do you resent the fact that some previously disadvantaged person now has equal access to what you were hoarding for yourself?"
Short Answer: Because, as the numbers will show, the previously disadvantaged person in reality is not very disadvantaged at all, unless you count studying at DPS RKPuram grounds for disadvantage. ("You poor little rich kid, you. Awwww.") A strictly caste-based numerical quota is open to so much misuse one shudders to think of them. In fact, I foresee a rich secondary market in caste certificates rivalling the BSE in a few years.
Long Answer: If the JNU jholawallahs would have paid the same attention to academics that they paid to the speeches of Sitaram Yechuri and Brinda Karat, they would have realised that the nature of the problem is that of product differentiation.
Let us step back a bit now and analyze exactly why the quota demand is being raised.
One primary motivation behind the imposition of secondary quotas is that hitherto non-productive sections of society have noticed that the benefits of the New Economy are passing them by, and are going to those who have worked hard to achieve what they have achieved, be they software engineers and enterpreneurs or ordinary BPO workers. Witness the cries of "everyone should have a right to portions of the cake" and "why should the cake be given only to some people; that's not just". Justice somehow magically appears during the cutting of the cake, but was conspicuously absent during its creation.
Let me repeat, the demand raised is this: the cake does not have to be created equally with everyone's contribution; however, once created, it should be split evenly, because, after all, it's not poor Meira Kumar's fault that she was born a Dalit (albeit Jagjivan Ram's daughter, but alas, even that cannot be helped), and would you deny her a piece simply because of her ancestry?
No, but I would deny it to her if she did not work for it. Ancestry has nothing to do with it, and does not need to rear its ugly head in this equation. That's a simple answer, folks, and sums up all the social justice in the world that deserves to exist.

Let us tear away the veils that distort the present conflict, for it is not a fight between the upper classes and the lower classes that we are witnessing, but a deeper fight between that small class of productive humanity which has existed precariously since the dawn of man, and is responsible for every episode of human progress, and that much larger class of bloodsucking parasitic non-productive second-handers, who have reached the positions of power that they hold by leveraging their identities and their grasp over everybody else's conscience.
For those yet not convinced, I ask a few simple questions:
a. Would Meira Kumar be in the position she is in right now if she weren't Jagjivan Ram's daughter?
b. Would Sonia Gandhi be in the position she is in right now, controlling the destiny of one-sixth of humanity, if she were not Rajiv Gandhi's widow? What about the entire Gandhi family?
c. What about Rahul Mahajan? Varun Feroze Gandhi? Sachin Pilot? Akhilesh Singh Yadav? Pappu Yadav? Ajay Kumar Chautala? Naveen Patnaik? What about Dayanidhi Maran? M. K. Stalin? H.D. Kumaraswamy?
Also included in this class are those social workers, media personalities, and intellectuals-at-large who have a deeper need for an underprivileged section of society to exist, since that is what gives their lives some semblance of meaning and direction. I include, with utmost prejudice, all jholawallahs of JNU in this category.

These are the people you need to fight against. For it is they who, by dint of sheer cunning and naked thirst for power, climbed up to the nation's top posts while the productive classes were busy working for their livelihoods and couldn't be bothered.
There are those of us who believe that the quota system is a just punishment for the middle classes who believed they had no stakes in the governance of India. If so, the punishment greatly exceeds the crime, because in the process of punishing the errant class, we are sacrificing the future of India.

Let me get back now to the point that I was trying to make earlier, i.e. why academic standards are important.
1. The reason major corporates flock to the IITs is because the latter produce batches of readily-deployable academically well-qualified engineers who are eager to work and generate out-of-the-box solutions for various problems. This perceived premium over the products of other engineering colleges is what creates this product differentiation, and is the main factor behind engineering majors paying large salaries to IITians. When companies realise that there is no longer adequate differentiation between the IITs and the rest of the colleges, the following will happen:
  • the pay difference will narrow down to nothing
  • the reason for the imposition of quotas on the IITs (share of cake which IITians have been eating 'alone') will have vanished
  • the backbones of institutes of which an entire nation was proud will be broken
2. The main reason why the IITs nurture a sense of success and enterpreneural drive lies in the way social life in their campuses are organized. Now, in all but a handful of the cases, and in fact precisely because of the ease with which they entered IIT, students belonging to the reserved category are prone to decreasing their levels of ambition, knowing fully well that their tag will take them through to any other institution in India. This serves to stamp out any latent feeling of success that they had engendered.
Barely 15% of IIT students enter by means of the quota system. When this percentage will be increased to 49.5%, when 1 out of 2 will have made it into the IIT thanks to the quota system, the corresponding drive for achievement will be severely dampened, and the number of IITians indulging in enterpreneural activities will steadily decay.
Why is this a problem? Because it was precisely due to the efforts of those IITians who aimed to achieve something on their own, such as Vinod Khosla (Sun Microsystems), Arjun Malhotra (HCL, Techspan), Nandan Nilekani (Infosys), and innumerable others that India faced an IT revolution. The ripple effect of this round of quota imposition will be felt 20 years down the line, when the current and future batches of standard-issue IITians would have started making their mark in the world of business, but who will not be present courtesy Arjun Singh.
This scenario will be fine as the IITs will still be serving the nation in the manner defined by Nehru, but that is not what we ordinary Indians had been hoping for. Though there will be greater diversity among the working population of the country, the next IT revolution will be short-circuited, and India relegated to the backwaters of the world economy. For an example of the future of India, one does not need to look far: The sweatshops of dollar-slaves producing Nike shoes are right here in the neighbourhood, inside the borders of Thailand and Cambodia.

I hope this scenario bothers you. What can you do about it? Here's a tip: Go to www.AntiReservation.Org and sign up for any rally in your city. Prepare opinions including the above points in all discussions that you have with members of your local community. Make it a point to write cogent and coherent letters/e-mails to all politicians and media personalities that you know of and can get an email address of. Network. Network. Network.
Work at it. This is the one chance we have, to save the future of the nation and offer our politicians the same choice that was once offered to Marie Antoinette. She, and her husband, chose wrongly. For, against stupidity, the gods themselves contend in vain.


Tuesday, April 25, 2006

A Breakup Dissected

Catharsis has never been my motivation for writing. Though, as a few of you know, my life changed this year in ways too weird to foretell, I suspect a lot of changes are yet to appear, and there are still a few choppy currents to cross before I'm able to anchor my little dinghy. However, after some guys came up to me to talk about my breakup (and their impending breakups), I decided to write out what I went through.
This was a very difficult undertaking for me, especially considering the fact that I had already gone through the phases described below and would have to relive them in order to map out my post completely.
The background: I broke up with my girlfriend in the month of February this year. It was a milestone in my life which changed my character in a lot of ways, and left a very deep impact on my psyche. It hasn't, however, destroyed my faith in the all-conquering nature of love and all the resident emotions that such faith implies.

There are people you meet in life who love you and in turn are loved by you, whose delicate strands of existence are seemingly irrevocably intertwined with yours, and then one fine day all that is left of them is a rapidly shrinking image on the rearview mirror of the soul.
But you still hear the voices and feel them tugging away gently, sadly, at your heart. And you cry softly to yourself, knowing fully well that all that is left of you with them is a faint memory of a dream that was never to be.
You move away from sorrow and jump into a maelstorm of relationships, negotiating your way from sanctuary to sanctuary, hoping against hope that the love you find will trump the one you lost. You mingle with the Beautiful Ones glittering away in the firmament of the heavens, and hope that their green-tinged shadows shall cross the chasms of space and time that lie between you and Her. Your birthday appears and disappears without a call. You gasp at the systematic way in which she deletes you from her life.
And then you cry some more.
And you curse and you rant, and you forge for yourself a heart of iron, never to be broken again.
But iron rusts, and the poison of hatred flows through your veins, and you stop wondering whether she remembers you at all.
And you declare yourself a master of your own destiny, and you concentrate on conquering the world, having failed to conquer your own heart. You bury yourself in work and carve your name on mountaintops.
And yet, in the dead of the night, you hear Her voice, and you wake up in a cold sweat.

And you remember touch and smell, hot breath and hot kiss, smile on face and cascade of wet hair, soft hands and teddy bears.
You think of teddy bears, and you cry.
You cry, thinking of the first time you talked, lying down on soft grass and looking up at the stars above, holding hands and promising to be together for ever.
You cry, thinking of the last time you saw her, looking out of a train and shouting out to the whole world that she loves you.
You cry because you miss the way she hugged you, the way she sat on your lap, the way her nose turned red when she got angry, the way she'd stand on tiptoes to kiss your forehead, the way she'd curl up whenever she got tickled, the way she sneezed, the way she laughed.
You miss the way she talked, miss the way she held your hand while crossing a road.
You miss her like hell, and you cry your guts out. You weep and you curse your own life.

And then, all of a sudden, there are no more tears to be shed, and no more knives to wound your heart.
You look back to the love you had, the dreams that were dreamt, the chronicles that shall remain unwritten, the songs that shall forever remain unsung.
You look back, and you smile.
And you wave, and you mouth out the words: Thanks for everything.

Monday, April 10, 2006

How Affirmative Is Your Action Today?

The first reaction was: Rage.
Rage against the crooked political system for getting us into this sad state of affairs, rage against the vote-grabbing politicians who would sell their mothers (that too at a steep discount of 50%) just to get that extra 10 votes, rage against the apathy of the intelligentsia who've scarcely mumbled a word or two since Arjun Singh's announcement.

The second reaction was to ask: Why?
Politics is about numbers. Pure unadulterated decimals which decide the fate of a nation. Our political system is organized in such a way that theoretically the three arms of Government, i.e. the Legislature, the Executive, and the Judiciary, balance each other perfectly so as to maintain social harmony while performing the onerous duty of governance.
Or so they say.
The truth is plain and simple, Tonto. But, to get at it, we need to know the root need of all political animals.
The thirst for power is what drives canis politicianis to unprecedented levels of investment in terms of time and money. The power to decide, as mentioned earlier, the fate of a nation.
Power, in our system, comes through the ballot box.
Now any human with the brain cell of a flea can recognise the inherent flaws of such a system. The burgeoning middle and upper classes have no stakes in the democratic process. Our lives are scarcely affected by the sounds of thunder emanating from Parliament (and the State Legislatures). We live, like we always have, on the surety that "their" decisions will not affect us.
Like this decision, which will not affect us to the least bit.
Me speak truth, Tonto. At most, the (unreserved) middle classes will simply send their children abroad for higher education at the undergraduate level, just like the upper classes. Just like the politicians' children. The entire matrix for higher education leaves one component out of the picture: the lower classes.
Class matrices are always interesting in that issue analyses leads one to amazing conclusions, i.e. the lower classes are going to send their children to IIT.
If only things were that simple.
Because whenever a system exists, there is always some fatal flaw which can be exploited to gain admission. The system can be electronic or social, but the rules of the system are what matter in the end, and the loopholes through which one can push oneself into the system.
The loophole in this system is this, Tonto: The lower classes will not have a say, because the reservation is caste-based, not need-based.
I hope that's spelt out perfectly. Tonto knows I can't spell for nuts. Let me repeat it for the sake of dear-buddy-Emphasis: The reservation is caste-based, not need-based.
It's not tough to extrapolate from this point on. After all, we Indians have always had a natural flair for extrapolation. ("Tendulkar's sniffing today. He's gonna score a century.") Here's my two cents' worth of what's going to happen:
  1. The new Constitutional Amendment Bill will be passed by Parliament. No political party (or politician for that matter, and while we're at it, let's refrain from calling senior politicians statesmen, because they're not. The last statesman was Indira Gandhi, which says a lot about the state of Indian politics, as well as male machismo) will have the balls to vote against the bill, for the OBC vote is crucial to gaining or retaining power.
  2. There will be tiny disorganised protests across the IITs, because the majority of people will not care/be afraid to voice their opinion. These protests will be ruthlessly suppressed by the authorities, who will as a result get a biscuit or two free from the tables of their political masters.
  3. The batches that enter the IITs and the IIMs will be full of rich landed Thakurs and Jats from North India, who will have finally managed to gain a foothold and can arm their newer generations with the latest brands to ensure success in life. If nothing else, a rich dowry is always waiting in them badlands.
  4. The first new batch that comes up according to the newly-sanctioned reservation Act will be ragged mercilessly in all IITs, poisoning relations between batches and ensuring that new batches never feel a sense of co-ownership of the institutes.
  5. Companies will howl in protest and will request that, during placement season, job applicants specify their castes, effectively pruning out "undesirables".
  6. Arjun Singh will have ensured a permanent votebank for his political party - his legacy to the nation will be enshrined in the Halls of Social Justice and Empowerment (if ever there was such a place).
  7. Five years down the line (for the IITs, for the IIMs it's two years down the line), salary offers across these "premier institutes" will plummet, as companies realise that talent and "brains" went out for a toss circa 2006 along with merit and will be returning to Planet India along with Halley's Comet.
  8. Once the juggernaut of India's liberalisation has been successfully halted and chained to a ruminating cow in the fields, elections will vote the NDA into power which will then proceed to bomb Pakistan. Who cares about the damn Economy anyway?
Think, Tonto, think. I urge you. Why are the politicians going forward with this step? Again, I offer a couple of reasons:
  1. It makes good press. As an election sop, reservation policies are always a goldmine waiting to be harvested. (Take that you mixed metaphor you.) Of course, the next step in such a situation is to reserve seats according to communal lines. Competitive reservations have never been so good! While we're at it, we can also provide citizenship to Bangladesh (anyway, half the nation's people stay in Kolkata); I've been assured by certain sources that it's a legitimate political strategy thought of by the Left Front administration in Bengal.
  2. OBC reservation allows significant portions of the populace to gain the two highly-prized brandnames of Indian higher education, at a very low cost. Junior will not have to work hard to get in, because that slimy bastard Merit has been taken to the backyard and shot. Accordingly, the levels of hard work that are required to sustain oneself through a rigorous undergraduate education will be absent. Junior will flunk out in two years, unless Senior calls the Director and applies pressure.
  3. It allows the rest of India to pull down the IITs and the IIMs to their own levels of mediocrity. Gasp. There. I said that. Ms. Dam Buster and her legions of fans will not speak out because to identify with a meritocracy is to commit suicide in Socialist Land. Also, need I say it, there's a faint glow of satisfaction among vast swathes of the Indian population, thinking: "Those guys were flying too high. I'm so glad someone's banned the sky."
The third reaction was to ask: What can we do about it?
This is where the mind falters. I've seen scores of my fellow students here at Kharagpur stop at this stage, muttering that it's not their business and that they will not be able to do anything about it anyway.
Well, for those of you who are thinking along these lines, I have good news and bad news.

The bad news first: You're right. There's not much you can do about it. And I guess you know why. It's simple, Tonto. We, the middle class of India, have sacrificed our voices and our opinions, our ethics and morals, at the expedient altar of Goddess Liberty of America. When was the last time any of us went out to vote (myself included)? Voting is a fundamental duty of every citizen of this nation, one that we have failed miserably to perform. And we plonk ourselves in front of the computer screen and wax eloquently on the Internet. We balk, however, at undertaking any step bigger than this, afraid that the Evil Eye will cast a spell on our glorious shining future.
The good news next: We can still do lots of things. Here's a few things that any of us can do:
  1. Talk to your parents. Generate opinions by inflaming passions. It's the easiest way out there. Once sufficiently roused, ask them to vote with their minds in the coming elections.
  2. Use the Internet to find out the exact procedures on obtaining a voter identification card, and getting your names into the electoral rolls. I'll give a tip here; check out
  3. Find out details of your elected representative in the Lok Sabha as well as the Vidhan Sabha. These details can be obtained from the Election Commission website as well. Contact them, meet them along with your parents, and ask what they are planning to do about it, and try and convince them to raise this issue in their respective chambers. One can also try to contact the Young Parliamentarians' Association, but I doubt they'll be of much help, having entered the said august institution by holding on to Daddy's dhoti.
  4. Once the third step fails (:)), you can go two ways. The easier way is to give up all hopes of this country rising to meet its destiny, immigrate to America, and laugh at the poor sods who are still stuck in the Land of the Qrazy Fuques that we call India. The harder way is to stay back, and work at the problem. Work on raising this issue at public fora. Work on pissing off the symbols of authority that are waved in our faces to halt all protests. Work on teaching canis politicianis that there is a significant constituency that it has ignored since Independence, and that when this constituency raises its voice, it's time to start listening, or he can wave the next election bye-bye.
I have the same feelings as all of you, namely, disgust, anger, helplessness. All we can do about it right now is speak out, opine, and raise our voices. Just before writing this post, I was looking at some petitions on PetitionOnline!, and was saddened by the response. 20000 votes is not enough to change the outcome of even a single Assembly seat, and we talk of changing the face of this nation.
One can only hope and pray, Tonto. Hope and pray.

And yes, Mr. Arjun Singh, I forgot to ask, how much did you say your mother was worth?

Friday, March 31, 2006

The Mason-Dixon Line

...Which separated the southern slave-owning states of America from the northern industrial "free" states.
...Which burnt its fiery shade upon the hearts and minds of millions of Americans during the Civil War.
...Which became a symbol of the imaginary boundary between oppression and emancipation.

A lot of my blog-consumers have been complaining, and rightly so, that I have stopped penning down my thoughts concerning each book that I have read. Quite a few of the newer ones do not realize, not having explored the cavernous reaches of my archived posts, that there was a day, not so long ago, when I used to engage myself in writing book reviews.

So why did I stop? The answer is simple, my friends.
Book reviews are boring. Their appeal is limited to a very rare kind of blog-reader, one whose leitmotif of existence is simply to garner knowledge and opine about the world around himself (herself). To such a reader, it is imperative that the reviews be idiosyncratic enough to appeal to the former's tastes of eccentricity and trivia. However, this readership forms a very small core of the overall blog-reading population.
Book reviews on my site were deemed unnecessary and boring by quite a few persons whose opinions I value. Which is why I stopped writing them.

So why am I starting again? Again, it does not take Einstein to figure out that a budding "person who has something to say to the world" (I'm still hesitant to use the word "writer" to describe myself) will die to grasp the opportunity of tubthumping his opinions in the major e-pubs of the world.

The solution I have wrought is simple enough. I have separated my blog into two: one for posting my book reviews, and the other for just about everything else. I believe this is a nice system in that whenever something becomes big enough, I'm sure I'll be flaking it off into a separate blog.
The Mason-Dixon line marks my boundary between popularity and self-satisfied navel-gazing.
So, check out my new blog: I'm sure you'll enjoy it. If not, now you have two locations at which to post your hate-mail.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Joys of the Herd

There was a discussion on our departmental group mail yesterday and today, kickstarted by Siddharth Brahma. Concerning Iraq. I read all the posts and got angrier and angrier. Angry because of the ad hominem attacks on Brahma. Because of the "we-are-so-pragmatic" responses showered by everyone.
Yup. It touched a raw nerve. Especially because everyone knew, in their heart of hearts, that Brahma was right. I am sure Brahma did not need me picking up cudgels on his behalf, but, well, solidarity isn't only for Lech Walesa.

I have often been accused of being a passive bystander, an armchair critic who laughs at people's follies and foibles while peacefully reclining away on soft leather. I guess I needed a guy like Brahma to arouse me from my slumber. To be fair, I have had my own reasons for my lack of participation in such debates, primary among them being my belief that every one should be able to find their own guiding lights, evolve their own personal philosophies of life; there's nothing more insulting to one's native intelligence, and more irritating, than a preacher at a pulpit hammering away at your brain.
But there comes a time when you need to intervene, because the steps you take could have an impact on other countless lives.

We are IITians. We pride ourselves on being called the 'cream of the nation' (come on, I'm sure all of you have had the familiar chest-swell when that phrase is uttered). But how many of us have stopped to think beyond our monthly paypackets, or even beyond the Caribbean paradise island that a few of us would like to buy when we get rich and/or lucky?

"Iraq is far away and doesn't affect us. America will never do this to India anyway. "
Wake up and smell the coffee, people. The Neo-cons are in power right now in Washington. And they have a single agenda - to keep reworking their geopolitical strategy so as to continue harvesting benefits out of conflict.
No. They do not want a new American Century, like the one we left behind, pre-Y2K. Neither do They (the inevitable capitalisation!) want peace and democracy to descend to each and every god-forsaken trigger-happy nation in the world.
Profits. Each cleaning-up contract handed out to Haliburton in the glorious "democratic" nation that is Iraq is worth billions of dollars. This is how the contracting occurs:
1. Haliburton gets a transport contract from the Pentagon, worth $30-40 an hour, to transport resources from one place to another.
2. Haliburton sub-contracts off to tiny leech companies who'll arrange the actual transportation.
3. Leech companies sub-sub-contract to "slave-owning" companies (generally from the Gulf or Malaysia), who employ Indian/Pakistani workers in sub-human conditions to do the actual driving. Costs: $3-4 an hour.
4. American GIs are employed to perform guard duties, and to GUARD THE RESOURCES, not the driver.

Of course, we can all guess what the RESOURCES (TM) in Them Amrikan "magic box" convoys are.

Cronyism. Political corruption of the highest order. A massive collusion between the military-industrial complex and the politicians who will give them the war they want oh so eagerly. Life sure is peachy, isn't it?

Costs: minimal. Yes, some 100,000 eye-raqis have died. But those ragtops deserved what they got. We decent cubicle-stuck Hanuman-worshipping gentle geeks will not have bombs on our tails any time soon. Because, of course, we are decent and are permanently stuck to cubicles. And oh yes, could you nuke Pakistan out of existence while you're at it, please pretty please, because those bastards on the other side so need to be slaughtered.

We as a nation are entering a new phase in our relations with the rest of the world - a major policy shift which needs to be evaluated and re-evaluated at each step. As a nation which will soon have the greatest value on Earth in terms of human capital, we need to honestly step back for a minute and ponder the following questions:
1. Do we really need to support a group of people (not the entire American nation) who are hell-bent on destroying entire countries purely on the basis of adding zeroes to their figures of wealth?
2. Is the hatred that we feel for the Other ---- (insert appropriate other here) so deep that we would not think twice before slashing their throats?
3. Are we really no different from animals?

I offer no solutions, no opinions. Life isn't that easy, friends. Sit back and think. Analyze as you will - pragmatically (Bhadra, et al), or with a hopeful dose of idealism (Brahma). The resulting opinion is not what matters. What will matter, and you will realise this later, is that, for maybe the first time in your life, you will have thought rationally about an issue larger than the 70 kilos of protoplasm that constitute you.
Think. And let the horrors of war hit you. Do not be misled by the sight of the almighty greenback. Because if the latter is the Pied Piper of Hamelin, realise what that will make you.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Run The River

This is a short-short story I wrote as part of the Inter-Hall Creative Writing event here at Kharagpur. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.

Memory is a capricious mistress. Serving no one's cause but her own, she skillfully intertwines the affairs of men and gods. Of all the Olympian muses, she is the one to fear.
And yet, tragically, it is to her wiles and wicked mazes of the mind that I must submit. For, without the crutches of memory, a man must remain helpless.
I used to run the river those days. Times have changed; giants no longer roam on Earth, and the chimerae and unicorns have been relegated to the dusty decaying realms of myth. We live in a world where a miracle is butchered every day, where the wonders of science wound our highest flights of fancy.
I could tell you of the giants of industry I met, I could pour forth stories about Prometheus stealing the iron forges of the gods, I could whisper into your ear the infinite patience of Atlas. I could tell you of Rockefeller and Ford, of Gandhi and Lenin.
But I won't do that.
I could, but I won't.
For memory, that very infinitely capricious muse, gently nudges me towards a tale often told, a tale of heroism and love, sung aloud in campfire-induced drunkenness.
A tale which has never been told like this.

Running the river was a job which took away all your time, leaving you exhausted and spent. At the end of the day, all you could ever want was meat, bread, and a jug of ale. At least I did.
I used to frequent this restaurant, tucked away discreetly in Hell's Kitchen. A quiet place, kept that way by sensible management who knew exactly what a river-runner wanted. Peace, food and a bit of entertainment on the side. It was a perfect place to relax after a hard day's work. I knew the owner, a short chubby Greek going by the improbable name of Atlas Stephanopoulos, for the only thing I saw him lift was his finger, imperiously directing his workers.
Atlas was a smuggler.
He was many other things as well, but his reputation as a trustworthy human trafficker was firmly established eons before I knew him. If you wanted someone to come to America, Atlas was your man. Of course, it was always easier when the person in question himself wanted to come. In such cases, matters were generally handled with a ruthless efficiency that surprised nobody who knew Atlas.

It was a fine June afternoon. I had taken a day off, my first in years of service, and had decided to spend my time at Atlas's restaurant, drinking myself into a silly stupor.
I was halfway into my sixth cup of ale, and was desperately trying to convince my co-worker that the jug was the root of all evil, and should be smashed to the ground as a favour to society.
Someone snatched the jug away from me. I turned around, ready to square off for a bar-room brawl.
It was Atlas, and with him was a young man fresh out of tears, grim determination blazing through his still-damp eyes. I looked at Atlas, raised my eyebrows.
"He's my nephew, fresh from Crete."
The joys of a familial existence having always eluded me, I nodded out a lukewarm welcome and turned around to continue my intellectual banter.
Atlas sat down in front of me, with a soft satisfying plonk.
"I need a favour. And you will help me."
It was enough to make me laugh.
"I'm just a poor old river runner," I said, wiping tears of laughter from my eyes. "How could I possibly help the great Atlas? And why would I?"
Atlas stared at me, the way we stare at people talking loudly in restaurants. And then, glanced softly at his nephew.
"Sing," said Atlas.
And he sang.

And he sang then, oh yes he did, of longing and lament, a song which pierced the heart and cleared the mind. A song of love and innocence, of olives and plums and the smell of fresh Greek soil, of the hunt of the boar. He sang of sunshine and death, and the slices of life stolen away by Chronos.
He sang, and the afternoon melted away into the growing darkness of the night.
After a while, I sensed that he had come to a stop. I stared at Atlas.
"What do you want from me?"
"I want to meet the Boss," he said, and smiled, a slow secret smile.

Those days, I used to meet the Boss very infrequently. My sole job being running the river, my only meetings with him were during times of crises and flooding, when ferrying became the most important job in the world.
I met him in his lair, a high-rise Manhattan apartment. I told him of Atlas, told him about his nephew, told him everything.
His wife was intrigued (and, after all, who wouldn't be, at the thought of a soulful Greek singer).
They agreed to meet Atlas at his restaurant.

I shall never forget the day as long as I live.
For it was at Atlas's restaurant that I saw his nephew sing again.
I saw the effect on the Boss.
I saw his worries melt away.
I saw his wife crying openly, when he sang of unkept promises, and stare at her husband.

And when it was all over, and the Boss was pleased, he looked at the nephew of Atlas, and he asked unto him what he might desire.
And the lad replied.
"Hear me," he said. "I have just one favour to ask."
"And what, pray, is that, soulful Cretan?"
"I ask but this, mighty Hades, that Eurydice, my wife, be returned to my side. For I am Orpheus, son of the Lord of Dreams, and in this manner do I beg a favour of kin."

Hades smiled, looked at Persephone. I felt with naked fear the stab of pure evil in his glance.
"There will be some conditions," he said.

The rest is a tale oft told, by bards and sages.
But this was exactly how it happened, that fateful sultry June night.

And though the chasms of reality swallow my world day by day, though memory, Calliope, and the rest of the muses faintly shudder when Olympus slowly turns to sand, though Zeus and Poseidon still grieve over the fate of humanity, this story shall remain with me.
For the world has changed beyond recognition, and appearance imperceptibly blends into the shadows of thought.
I shall remember Hades, remember Persephone for ever.
I used to work for him once after all.
The Styx might have dried away and turned to vapour, but I shall always remain Charon.

And forever in my memories shall the Song of Orpheus and the roar of the river, the barking of Cerebrus and the deadly orders of Hades be preserved.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

My Blog, China, and the Rest of my Life

It's been a while since my last post. A dark wind has blown across my life over the last few weeks, and punched holes in the picture I had painted of the world and its future and a tiny little me in it.

Certainties have been made uncertain.
Trust systems have broken down.
Faith and religion have been shattered.
For what I have always held dear is lost, maybe forever.
But the rest of my life awaits. I just hope it's worth the effort of living it.

So, on to the future! The perceptive reader must have noted the fact that I have added many shiny new features (SNFs) to my blog. Notice, for your utmost amusement and pleasure:
  • A Shout Box!
  • A Hit Counter!
  • A Blog Roll!
  • A Subscription Service!
The last SNF being solely for those unfortunate enough not to have discovered the wonders of Bloglines. Explore, and gain nirvana.

I have recently had the marvellous fortune of having a set of delightfully lovely ladies praising, and thus publicising, my blog on various fora. To all such damsels (and you know who you are), I doff my hat in gratitude, and make a promise to kneel in prayer a.s.a.p.

So what about China?
Hehh. Hehh. Hehh.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Running Code!

Have you ever felt the indescribable joy of creating hundreds of Java classes, all of the form of tiny gems of code? The delight that courses through the body when various objects come together and work in concert to create pre-planned emergent behavior? The feeling of being in the 'zone', of being one with the machine, of creating a new form of poetry/art/music?
Sigh. To program is to drown in beauty, to be caught between the lofty peaks of abstraction and concreteness, to derive joy from complexity as well as simplicity.
And, sometimes, just sometimes, to live is to rejoice in the mercy of the Big Mainframe out there.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Gothic Psychedelia: The House on the Borderland

I finished the second book on my handpicked list about a week ago. This was William Hope Hodgson's The House on the Borderland. And I realised why, in spite of the travesty that was The Night Land, Hodgson was consistently ranked one of the best Golden Age science fiction writers.

The tale begins quite slowly, with the engaging account of two Englishmen visiting Ireland, with the sole intention of occupying themselves with fishing and camping. In their quest to find the perfect place to set up camp, they come across a village whose inhabitants do not speak English. Camping next to the village, they find a strange castle-like building in ruins. And thus the scene is set, for a classic Gothic tale.

Pure Gothic horror has always had its steadfast adherents and worshippers; I count myself among them. The macabre goosebumpy feeling that one gets upon mentally picturing an abandoned house, with furniture creaking softly in the light, and a gibbous moon hanging across the striated cloud-filled sky, is one which is unparalleled. Wuthering Heights, Kidnapped, Frankenstein - the monopoly for Gothic tales has always been tightly clasped by the classics. This book surely deserves to be ranked along with the best of this genre.

STYLE: The book, thankfully enough, is written in a style reminiscent of the masters of literature, without any specific harnessing of form peculiar to read and impossible to digest. It was an easy read throughout.

DEVICES: Present in this book are the classic elements of Gothic horror. To begin with, we have the recently discovered manuscript, written by some recluse/initiate with access to deep secrets of the cosmos. The recluse (for such is the term employed by Hodgson) writes calmly and clinically, though the subject matter of his journal is anything but, as the reader discovers soon enough.
We find next the abandoned house, in the middle of dense foliage and overgrown gardens. A sense of dull fear shimmers through the pages which describe the house and its surroundings, and one can almost hear the quite-close sniff of a hidden pursuing 'beast'. The abandoned house is one of the stock images of Gothic horror, one found in nearly every book belonging to this genre, and the diligent reader would discover a wry reference to this fact by the author himself, as is shown in the following passage:

Reaching the ruin, we clambered 'round it cautiously, and, on the further side, came upon a mass of fallen stones and rubble. The ruin itself seemed to me, as I proceeded now to examine it minutely, to be a portion of the outer wall of some prodigious structure, it was so thick and substantially built; yet what it was doing in such a position I could by no means conjecture. Where was the rest of the house, or castle, or whatever there had been?

I went back to the outer side of the wall, and thence to the edge of the chasm, leaving Tonnison rooting systematically among the heap of stones and rubbish on the outer side. Then I commenced to examine the surface of the ground, near the edge of the abyss, to see whether there were not left other remnants of the building to which the fragment of ruin evidently belonged. But though I scrutinized the earth with the greatest care, I could see no signs of anything to show that there had ever been a building erected on the spot, and I grew more puzzled than ever.

One can almost imagine Hodgson chuckling to himself as he places the house in his fictional Ireland, at a place where no building had ever been erected before.

The other piece of the Gothic puzzle that falls into place with ease is the appearance of the Other; in the case of this book, this is in the form of alien gods, mysterious spirits and implacable pit-demons. The abyss which forms the central theme of the book keeps reminding us of the limitless depths of darkness to which the human form and psyche can descend.

NARRATIVE: Psychedelia. There is no other word to describe the book. Hodgson was, if nothing else, one of the greatest hippies never to have been a part of the Swingin' Sixties. The loss is keenly felt, for, as one goes through the book, the feeling invariably arises as to how close the visual metaphors are to the mind-expanding reality-de(re)constructing pharmaceutical-induced visions that PKD and members of his ilk explained to us so breathlessly. For, in major portions of this book, the author describes journeys of the recluse into distant realms of space and time, of the death of stars and the whirling away of the Earth into infinity, of magically towering images of ancient pagan Gods and buildings of quartz. Read this book for its mystic descriptions of the passage of time alone; it's worth the effort.

PLUS POINTS: Plenty. In fact, but for the decisive but unsatisfying ending which left a slightly disappointed feel for the text, the rest of the book was a study in rigorous construction of classic horror, while also being the very picture of modern fantasy.

BOTTOMLINE: A beautiful book, one worth treasuring for a long time. It surely deserves an easily accessible place in the huge canon of the world's classic works of literature.

I have started reading, and am mid-way into, the next book on the list.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

The "Cadaeic Cadenza": A Work of Genius

I was browsing through Wikipedia, trying to teach myself something new, and came across an article on "Constrained Writing". Basically, in this form of writing, the writer constrains himself (herself) by various means and rules, such as:

  • the usage of acrostics
  • the prohibition of certain letters (such as e), known, engagingly enough, as lipograms
  • the usage of certain letters in every word (reverse lipograms)
There are various such rules; however, the one work of sheer genius that I came across is the Cadaeic Cadenza, by Mike Keith. It's available online right here: The Cadaeic Cadenza. For a hint as to what it contains, look at the first word "Cadaeic", and try and get the pattern.

Moments such as this are what life is for!

The Night Land: A Partial Review

Imagine, if you will, a future so distant that the very existence of the Sun is but a legend of ancient times, where the last dregs of humanity live in cowering fear inside a single Pyramid reaching 7 miles into the heavens, surrounded by monsters and half-breed mutants.
Imagine a million years of silence emanating from the Last Redoubt (for that is what the Pyramid is known as), and the host of silent Watchers of stone waiting for the last defences to collapse so that the faint spark of humanity that lies within can be finally extinguished.

Thus lies the basic premise of William Hope Hodgson's "The Night Land", a novel which I've just finished reading. And more than anything else, I have found it to be pretty disappointing. Let me start at the very beginning.

STYLE: Hodgson uses stilted prose like a crazed dwarf swinging a greataxe. He literally bludgeons one to death with his over-use of the literary styles of the late 17th century.

DEVICES: Considering that this was one of the first science-fiction novels ever written (1912), belonging to the Dawn Age of Imperial SF, one can sympathize with his choice of subject - the last citadel of Noble Humanity being battered down by the savage Hordes of sub-humans, a theme which has been tackled in various subtle as well as non-subtle ways by writers such as H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, the recurrent theme of the Others. Hodgson, however, cannot be forgiven for his misuse of the tacky literary device of being "warp-zoned" to the future in a dream. Yes, matey, the hero simply dreams of the far future, in such utter vividness that the mind boggles. Literary devices and constructions such as this should be tackled, nailed to the ground, and shot in the head with extremely fine-caliber rifles.

NARRATIVE: Or the lack of it. Hodgson describes, in excruciating detail, how the Hero (whose name we fail to discover) walks from one place to another, over a matter of fifty pages. Fifty pages of descriptive prose concerning how scared he felt, how tired he was, how the grass was long and the night was dark, until one wishes that the Hero would simply get discovered by one of the ScaryMonsters(TM) and get eaten. A fitting end to one of the most boring characters to have ever graced the pages of a novel.

POSITIVE POINTS: A lot. Which is why the disappointment, simply because I had expected much more from someone considered to be one of the greatest writers of science fiction. One catches glimpses of sheer genius in some parts of his prose, for example in the extract below:

Before me ran the Road Where The Silent Ones Walk; and I searched it, as many a time in my earlier youth had I, with the spy-glass; for my heart was always stirred mightily by the sight of those Silent Ones.
And, presently, alone in all the miles of that night-grey road, I saw one in the field of my glass--a quiet, cloaked figure, moving along, shrouded, and looking neither to right nor left. And thus was it with these beings ever. It was told about in the Redoubt that they would harm no human, if but the human did keep a fair distance from them; but that it were wise never to come close upon one. And this I can well believe.
And so, searching the road with my gaze, I passed beyond this Silent One, and past the place where the road, sweeping vastly to the South-East, was lit a space, strangely, by the light from the Silver-fire Holes. And thus at last to where it swayed to the South of the Dark Palace, and thence Southward still, until it passed round to the Westward, beyond the mountain bulk of the Watching Thing in the South--the hugest monster in all the visible Night Lands. My spy-glass showed it to me with clearness--a living hill of watchfulness, known to us as The Watcher Of The South. It brooded there, squat and tremendous, hunched over the pale radiance of the Glowing Dome.
Much, I know, had been writ concerning this Odd, Vast Watcher; for it had grown out of the blackness of the South Unknown Lands a million years gone; and the steady growing nearness of it had been noted and set out at length by the men they called Monstruwacans; so that it was possible to search in our libraries, and learn of the very coming of this Beast in the olden-time.

The passage extracted above reminds me, somehow, of H. G. Wells at the peak of his writing.

BOTTOMLINE: How I wish that Hodgson had been gifted with the power of story-telling to match his visionary imagination. How enriched literature would have been!

As for me, I'm on to the next novel. Will get back to you as soon as possible.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A Semester-Long Spree

I just finished reading A Trillion Year Spree, by Brian Aldiss, a work which outlines the history of science fiction as well as the books which led to its current state of development.
I'm impressed.
And, as a young orphan once so pitifully queried of an eviller, crueller generation: "Please, Sir, can I have some more?"
So, I made a list of the books that I need to read during the course of this semester. The entire list consists of over 50 books, which is why I've broken it into more digestible list-chunks of about 6-7 books each. Sadly enough, most of the books that I plan to peruse are not available in India. The only solution thus left to a penniless semi-literate subcontinental geek is to download 'em tomes off IRC.
In any case, here's the first list-chunk of books that I intend reading. Let's see how quickly I'm able to finish them. After I finish one list, I plan on posting reviews of each book, most of which I guess will be painfully personal.
But then, such is life.

Without further ado, here are the books:
  1. The House on the Borderland, by William Hope Hodgson
  2. The Night Land, by William Hope Hodgson
  3. The Trial, by Franz Kafka
  4. The Castle, by Franz Kafka
  5. Star Maker, by Olaf Stapledon
  6. The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers
  7. The Inverted World, by Christopher Priest

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


Urban legends portray the surrealist painter Dali as one possessed by inner demons who haunted him with their nightmarish visions. Dali, they say, employed one particular method of capturing his dreamscapes - before a painting session, he apparently used to go to sleep in a particularly uncomfortable position, with a plate in his hand. Soon, he would be dreaming, his muscles would relax, and the plate would clatter down to the floor. Dali would then wake up hearing the noise, and with the dream fresh in his mind, would start painting.
Inspired by this example, I tried setting an alarm clock to wake me up at 3 a.m. in the night, a calculated four hours of sleep guaranteed to give me inspiring visions upon which to base a story. I woke up to a fleeting impression of blinding snow and skeletons. I got up, wrote the story which follows, and then kept myself awake, because I was too scared to fall asleep again.

We sit facing each other, Timmy and I. I stare at Timmy. Timmy stares right back, eyes bright, gleaming, the smell of tobacco and nervousness mingling. I make the first move.
"That was a nice one, Timmy!" He gives a faint smile, stares right into my eyes.
"Thanks", he says. Turns back, looks at the window.

Snow, falling gently, without a care in the world, regardless of sun and shadow, of the change of seasons, of happiness and sorrow.
Regardless of man itself.
Dr. Zhivago, anyone?
I laugh, a hollow sound echoing through our room. Eyes whip back; Timmy stares at me, uneasy, very uneasy.
"Where is Jakobssen?" I ask.
Yes, Jakobssen, the famous explorer, the first to stay alone in an Antarctic cabin for a year and still emerge unscathed, intact.

Timmy laughs, a bitter laugh. Makes my hackles rise, that kind of a laugh. Sick.
"I don't know."
And Timmy walks out of the room.
Something's wrong.


Still no sign of Jakobssen. Could he be in danger? I look out the window.

Snow, whipping the ground outside into a raging sea of white, clouds of crystal forming all along the cabin.

And then Timmy walks in, a food packet in each hand. "Here's your lunch," he says. Perfect day for a hot lunch. I sit down to eat, measuring carefully each word that I am going to say.
"What's wrong with you, Timmy? Are you feeling all right?" I gently touch his shoulder with my left hand.
Up he goes, like a rocket, yes, jumps up and away. Eyes popping out of his sockets, tongue hanging out, panting. "Don't you ever touch me like that!"
I stare at him. Heck. It's his problem. I continue eating my lunch.

Timmy sits down again, far away from me. I feel eyes boring into me, that odd sort of feeling you get when you walk down a deserted corridor at midnight. Eyes, some hostile, some friendly, most cold, very cold, hating the warmth of your soul, yet seeking it like a moth seeks a flame.
I shudder, continue eating.


It's my turn to check the barbwires. Outside.
I walk all around the compound, checking for holes.
Polar bears can be very dangerous, especially when cornered.

Three days have passed by. Still no sign of Jakobssen. Nervousness grips me like a vise. Timmy's still acting strangely. Yesterday, he refused to sleep in the same room with me. He says I scare him to death sometimes. Hah!

The snow storm outside has decreased considerably. I come inside, sit back, take a deep breath, and think. Why has Jakobssen not returned yet? What could have happened to him?
And why is Timmy behaving so strangely?

I stare out of the window at the snow.
Snow, pure as winter's heart, sublime, melts-when-you-touch-it. Tasteless, odourless, harmless. God's infinite mercy tickling our fur-caps.
And everything clicks into place.

Jakobssen must have got into some danger. Something life-threatening.
And Timmy suspects me.


It happens quite suddenly.
Here I am, lying on my bunk, sleeping, dreaming of a land far away where there is no snow, no darkness.
I get up with a start. And a shadow passes, right behind my ears. Sweep.
Quo vadis?

I lift myself off the bunk. Quietly put on my socks, tread gently towards the door of my room. Still swinging.
Something just went out of my room.
Or went inside.

I turn quickly, pick up the seal-skin lamp, watch carefully. No one inside.

I walk out of the room, into the corridor. Quietly open Timmy's room. It's pitch-dark, not a single sound from anywhere. I hear the soft snore of a tired soul sleeping soundly. I light the lamp.
The snoring stops.
There's no one inside.


Snow, softly getting crunched under my snowboots. Human beings, turning pure snow into puddles of dirty slime. I give a grim chuckle, walk on further.
I finally see it.
A big hole in the barbwire, cut cleanly, about the size of a man. I stumble back.
Stumble back and fall.

A grave. Somebody's grave. Somebody's empty grave.
I climb out, wheezing and panting.
Look at a piece of wood stuck to the ground.
"Armaund Jakobssen, 1878-19__."

The truth dawns upon me.


Rush back into the cabin, panting.
Timmy's sitting on the table. Eyes big as saucers, full of terror.

I give him a big grin.

"Thought you could hide it from me, Timmy?"
"What are you talking about?"
"You killed him, didn't you? You killed Jakobssen, didn't you?"
"Are you feeling all right?"

I see the lie written on his face. So, pull down my snowpack, take out a rope, and look at him.


We sit facing each other, Timmy and I. I stare at Timmy. Timmy stares right back, eyes full of terror. Staring at me, staring at my hand.
Staring at the Peacemaker I'm pointing at him.

"Why did you do it, Timmy?"
Probably the hundredth time I've asked him this question.

And finally he answers, with a smile, sad, mysterious, a smile of death.

"Because I was always jealous of you, Armaund."

Why is the Peacemaker in my hand shaking?

I stare at my right hand. Bits of skin, still clinging on to gleaming white bone, skeletal fingers snaking around the trigger..

I look outside. Snow. Always.
Snow. The pi and iota of my life. The biggest fundamental constant..

I look back at myself. Six months inside the ground can get anyone out of shape. Hmm. But I have a job to do.

A Peacemaker's a very good gun. Very effective. Very silent.


We sit facing each other, Timmy and I. I stare at Timmy. Timmy stares right back, eyeless sockets mirroring mine, lack of nose coupled with mine, earless skull just like mine.

I look out of the window.

Snow, falling, gently, beyond the puny hopes of humanity, colourless, odourless, noiseless, tasteless. Pure. Nature shall win. Eventually.

Dr. Zhivago, anyone?



Here's a short-short story I once wrote, imagining how it would have been, in a perfectly fantastical world, to woo Her like in the good ol' days, when men were men and did their own wooing with a rose.
Of course, like the mystic yarn spinners and campfire story-tellers of yore, let me assure you of one thing: this is exactly how it happened, give or take a few details.
The story starts, like many others of its ilk, in a House.

I walked out of the House, hoping against hope that this would be the day. Looked up at the sky, and stared in disbelief. Clouds. Ponderous, heavy, gray.
I chuckled. Broke into a grin.
For every cloud has a silver lining.

I walked along the Street, staring at people going by. Cycles, buses, motorcars - the finished magic wonders of our post-modern Age.
Finished is right. Our lives, devoid of meaning. The little joy that we feel, like dew before a roaring sun. And still the merciless Road goes on and on.
Save me Bilbo, my heart cried that day.
Oh yes it wept.
The Road led me on and on, through shanties and skyscrapers, through sparkling boulevards and stinking garbage dumps, through playgrounds and graveyards. Busy people with busy lives.
My City had it all.
It set me wondering then, as I traipsed along a path set in stone. Set me thinking of the choices taken by the Road as it worked its winding way through my City, of its blatant eagerness to see the latest movie. Of the inherent taste of necrophilia exhibited by its burrowing through, nay bisecting, every cemetery.
Do roads remember people? After we have trod across them, worker ants without a moment to spare?
I'm sure this Road did.

And so I walked that day, driven by a desperate desire, peering at every face that zipped past. Searching, searching.
Ask and it shall be given unto you. Seek and you shall find.
I saw Her finally. Standing under a pink umbrella (of course).
Thank you Road, I cried out. Gave a whoop of joy.
Went up to Her, out of breath, panting.
"Excuse me ma'am," I said, gasping for air.
She turned around, looked at me, calm, considering.
I went down on my knees.
Eyebrows arched up. Almost instantly.
My face was out of control, emotions breaking through and bubbling out into the open.
"Will you marry me?"
A crack of lightning.
A raindrop fell on my cheek.

Road. Pointed out my goal, took me so-close and yet-so-far. I started walking back to the House.
Dejection does not come naturally. You have to work at it, pick away at your heart.
Slush. Downpour. More slush.
Somehow reminded me, so weirdly, of rich dark brown filledwithcreamygoodness...
It was a regular thunderstorm, thumping the Beaufort scale into a wriggly earthworm of figures. The pitter-patter of tiny raindrops turning into a roar, a fusillade of tiny droplets hitting the ground with vengeance. A million Cains hitting out blindly.
It was a regular war. And Earth was getting ready to surrender.
I reached the House. Shut myself up. Opened the refrigerator. And grabbed -
It was the first day, you see.

A pattern was forming. I could feel it.
An Oracle I became, mysticism and hope mingled with a Cassandra-sense-of-foreboding.
The priestesses of Apollo would have approved.
Life became obvious. Against the laws of nature, against the laws of Earth and Man, against entropy itself, the jigsaw puzzle of my life was aligning itself rapidly, forming a statement which I refused to read.
And so it went.
Walk. Road.
Road. Walk. Slush. House.
And the gentle draughts of Morpheus.
On and on and on and on. Just like the Road.
Was Bilbo trying to help me out there?

I walked out of the House, hoping against hope that this would be the day. Looked up at the sky. And stared in disbelief.
White, flying in the rain. (How how how?)
It was a dove.
Dropped something into my hands and flew away. (Where where?)
I looked at my hands.
Chuckled. Broke into a grin.
And shook a fist at the sky.

There She was. The same pink umbrealla. The same intrigued look on Her face.
And yet, there was something different.
"Excuse me, ma'am," I said, confidently.
She turned around, looked at me, a slight smile on Her lips.
I went down on my knees.
A sigh escaped from Her lips, almost involuntarily.
I looked up at Her.
Pulled out my hand from behind by back.
"Will you marry me?"
And I gave her the Rose; the petals so perfect, raindrops glistening shyly.
She smiled.
"What's your name?" she asked. (Oh, couldn't you guess it?)
"Noah," I said.
"How long has it been, since you started?" (Oh, she knew it, she knew it all along.)
"Forty days and forty nights."

Measure for measure. I looked up at Her.
"You haven't answered my question."
She looked at me, held my hand.
And the rain stopped.

I walked onto the Road with Her.
"Where's everybody gone?" she asked, surprised. Staring at the empty City.
I glanced up at the sky, smiled at -
It was a pact. A covenant.
Between me, Her, God and Bilbo.
And the Road of course.

Of course, caveat emptor and all that... a vast chasm of space and time separates us from each other; we still haven't had a chance to re-populate Earth.
As for me, I'll try beating Methushelah's record.