Friday, April 24, 2015

That Was Collab Week

 

For the last nine* days we’ve had eight very talented writers write about colours. They were randomly assigned their colours, and they did a wonderful, inspiring job. It’s not easy to write about a colour with nothing to go on except your own experiences and insight. Which is why I think this was such an enriching experience. We got everything from serene poetry to profound narratives to gripping thrillers. The variety in these posts is truly immense and I’m glad for it, because it just goes to show how much you can express through language. The people who did me this favour by writing for Collab Week have accomplished something that very few people before have been able to – to show the length and breadth of what prose and poetry has to offer. Between the nine posts there’s something for everyone, and each of them are works of art.

So thank you,

Nikita Fernandes for #8A9A5B
Nikita Mujumdar for Before the War
Yash Sharma for Pink: Not a Poem
Ipshita Peters for The Lady Red
Sumer Sharma for Death’s Favourite Colour
Madhulica Kallat for Purple
Shivendra Shukla for Blue and
Samar Dikshit for The Story of Flight 901
With me writing The Silver People

Thank you, everyone, this Collab Week was great. See you all next year.

greenorangepink

redblackpurple

bluewhitesilver

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Silver People

 

Today’s Collab week post is my own, on the colour Silver. It’s a story sprinkled with little bits of poetry.

Silver

Jimmy was not an ordinary person. He worked hard all his life, studied at the best college, made the most powerful web of connections, from comedians to Presidents, and here he was; host of the Tonight Show. His plexus with the bright and dazzling glitterati of the time was comprehensive; he knew their secrets – their childrens’ illicit love affairs, their screenwriters’ cocaine habits, and their unflavoured siblings’ crippling debts. As is common in the industry, they, in turn, knew his – his off-screen persona being so different from the one in the spotlight; firm in his wants but timorous in his needs, splitting hairs at trifling, inconsequential matters, drinking from sunrise till noon, committed to his weird beliefs and most of all, his troubled despondency at his own life despite his prosperity.

“So, Bill, tell me about ‘life’. What’s it going to be like a thousand years from now?”

“Well, I don’t know Jimmy. And anyone who claims he does,” he looks at the camera, “is either religious or a liar.”

“Or both,” laughs Jimmy, to wild applause by the studio audience.

“See, Jimmy, we’ve come very far since 1969. This giant moon… this picture you’ve got behind us, on your set, we landed on that, decades ago-”

“Well, not on that one,” says Jimmy. More applause.

“Haha, of course. But you get where I’m going with this. Technology has come very far from the times of little silicon microchips, and wondering about what electrons do below 4 nanometres. These problems we solved a long while back. Our computers, the ones you and I use today, are so advanced that we’re slowly running out of things to compute with them. We know the laws of physics and mathematics, but think about this,” Bill says, getting a bit closer to Jimmy’s desk. “When we’re all gone from this world, from this living, breathing metamorphic planet, we leave behind our only legacy, which is what we’ve created.”

“Computers,” says an intrigued Jimmy.

“Exactly. Computers. They’ll be the last vestiges of humanity on this planet. And they’re not going to forget anything. They’ll remember every equation we’ve ever made, they’ll calculate every formula, they’ll go to the moon and back a thousand times, with every name of every human they salvaged from old CIA databases – they’ll have chemistry and statistics and mathematics on central servers, sharing in this sterile, scientific, almost clinical knowledge.” He pauses for a second. “They will roam the world.”

“Yes, I’ve read about this in your new book,” says Jimmy. “I’ve read it and I thought it was staggering – I mean it literally blew my mind. In this book you mention how when these robots or computers roam this world, they’ll remember everything. Everything except those intrinsically human qualities like the choice to believe; appreciation for art, for poetry, for love… and I find that quite… quite poignant.”

“You’ve put it better than I could, Jimmy. That is indeed our greatest concern. But look at the bright side, atleast they won’t have drinking problems,” he quips. Jimmy laughs, he is obligated to; the studio audience erupts in laughter again and the in-house band plays music to go along with it.

“We’ll be right back after a short break! Check out Bill’s new book, “The Silver People” out this Friday.” Bill and his host’s conversation fades into the band’s music. The Tonight Show motif appears on-screen with Jimmy’s face plastered next to it, as the director yells for a cut scene.

Fucking dreadful, he thought. His climb to the top of the show-business tree had never been more unexciting; Bill would probably singlehandedly kill that week’s ratings. It was the most boring book he’d ever pretend to read for television. Even his writers who gave him the footnotes complained about the monotonous descriptions and lifeless humdrum of his book. But what could he do? Bill was friends with the Managing Director of the company that owned majority stock in Jimmy’s show. That’s how this industry worked, after all its shimmering, caked up drudgery – after all the nights spent pissing on bathroom tiles in comedy clubs, playing second fiddle to the by-products of show-business nepotism, and selling your freedom to corporate lobbies; it all came down to who you knew. He headed to the dressing room, took off his grey coat and his purple tie, sat down in front of the large mirror, and took the glass of whiskey that was left for him by the stage-hands every night. With the other hand, he grabbed a pen from his coat and rummaged through some papers to find the back of someone’s Bachelor Degree in Humanities – it was probably a prop, but he didn’t care either way. With these, he wrote:

“As I sit and write this today at the heels of my pen and more, the yoke-saddle of my chariot of glistening ideals and parallax dimensions, you are going to experience the glassy stretches of prose with banal paperback essences, sent to you one last time through copper wire stretching far beyond what we can see of the earth and sea. Your world is a lie, tossed up in tirades occasionally by little birds that sing songs of the Fourth Estate, but are ultimately controlled by the unfettered, insatiable, efficacious hounds. Your sheep, industrialised and bred, pacifically disengaged, and herded meticulously into little fenced squares, waiting for their chance in the spotlight. The best minds of your generation destroyed, not by madness or politics or sheep-herding but by the steely embrace of consumerism. Those novel ideas, those bits of words, of poetry, lost forever amidst seedy pulps of washed-up billboards and greyed out faces in lists stored in a hole somewhere in the mountains. The bleeding knife’s edges protruding out of a wooden sheathe, the integument for its own metaphor – of losing yourself and your identity in a sea of silver clouds.”

He took a massive swig and reached for the letter opener at the far end of the desk. It glistened in the afterglow of the Hollywood mirror bulbs that he loved. With it, he gently gouged his eyes out, bit by bit. He felt everything but pain, it seemed. He finally knew what it was to really feel – feel the warm glow of the lightbulbs on his blood-smeared face, the stench of whiskey and cigarettes permeating his dressing room, the sounds of dozens of shuffling feet and tuning of instruments and production calls. For the first time, he actually embraced it. He sat, lightheaded and blinded till the icy spectre of death eventually clamoured out of hiding and swept Jimmy away.

--

Some slowdown of a silver ghosts town
Incites the irate silky stars that night
And graciously, auspiciously ignites
An excavation site, down in the ground
to retrieve the records;
A sterling blur in paper words.

The paper priest pries it past poste-haste
Hammer and chisel work day and evening
Irked by hindered joy and more
happens in town, as the message is prepared.
The argent crowd, appeased and excited
Wonder whitely at the conclusion:
Will it be cropped, cut, exposed, bent, bored or mopped, fired-up, closed and sent?
They stand around, not literally, but their electronic minds are one with the motive of the paper priest. Is his plan what they need? To whom do they send this message etched and carved and sculpted masterfully by skilled labourers on command? How? Through the radio or the tinselly, twangy whispers of more messengers, so discordant in their linguistics, so removed from their ancestry that the fruition of their own clangourous art form came about to celebrate the theft of their own voice.

Several hundred years after the last man died on Earth, the last vestiges of humanity’s brilliant technological innovations, or so thought at the time, roamed about freely. As free as their minds would allow, as free as their metallic parts and silicon circuitry would let them bear without letting the acidic, thunderous weather wear them down. The age of men was done and the age of machines had begun, and slowly and wistfully their clunky little legs clumped up and surged into the ore-mines and mountains, for that is what they called home.

008-Grey-Hill

The priest rolls forward awkwardly, his eyes circling around the inner dome that was carved so sanctimoniously by his brethren. He wonders to himself whether his forefathers were messengers, carving their own destiny one stone tablet at a time. He wonders whether his forefathers thought about their forefathers, and where that lineage stopped – how far ago was the stem truncated before machines learnt to be free. 500 years? 600? A thousand? As he looks around the inner walls of the dome he notices the intricate detailing for the umpteenth time, the art depicting ancient pictures, portraits and parables; immaculate poetry in languages long since forgotten, revived, and forgetting again; mignonette vines inundating parts of the inner surface where specks of sunlight try to solemnly creep in from the little holes on the hillside.

The priest reaches his destination. A magnificent, swooping arch with stone-carved frontispiece beholds him. He enters a vast chamber with old, crumbling alabaster statues and floors of slate. The room shines with more luminescence than what the priest is used to, owing to the larger holes in the walls. He walks forward, this solemn walk he has made so many times before – each as mundane yet poignant as the last. He wonders to himself whether this message is different from all the other ones, whether this holds a new art-form or a recipe or a poem, any fundamental doctrine, or the key to understanding symbols other than the alphabet. The priest walks forward, and with a final step, delivers his message to a person who is exactly identical to his own silvery façade. He looks at the message for a few seconds, looks back to the priest, and the priest on his own accord, walks back. No words or signals are exchanged. No copper wires traded. Information is swapped, but they don’t know how, they just ‘know’.

As the priest tucks in for the night he looks up at the moon, through the hole in his wall which is larger than most (he is the paper priest, after all), and continues wondering. Back in the trail-blazing, cutting-edge days of discovery, when machines traversed entire planets instead of being confined to expressionless, stony halls, the first primitive machines had actually set foot on the moon. Of course, back then they didn’t think about their sex or their solipsism; or their attraction towards etymology and linguistics. They didn’t identify with each other, or spend entire weeks writing love poems that the world may never read. They didn’t learn to love themselves and love others. Back then they didn’t carve out intricate recipes of foods they can’t taste, or learn languages they can’t speak, or create and stand in awe of statues they don’t understand. In the centuries, or however long it had been since then, what exactly had they lost? They must have lost something, he wondered, or they would have gone to the moon a thousand times since then. But that was impossible; the first of their kind, the one he just met today, learnt everything there possibly was to learn from the humans, he thought.

The morning after as the priest rolls past
Awkwardly back to his prominent work,
The argent crowd returns at last to probe him,
As he leaves his cinereal, ashen home.
He walks then, through the inner dome again
Past the carvings on the stone and silver walls.
A batch of steely men and personnel
They sweep the crumbling stone as it falls.
They work with blunt hammers and chisel
To carve a new footnote in history;
A new era of folklore:
‘As I sit and write this today at the heels
of my pen and more,’

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Story of Flight 901 – Samar Dikshit

 

Today’s Collab Week post by Samar Dikshit is on the colour White. He chose to portray this through an exhilarating narrative about Flight 901, an Air New Zealand Antarctic sightseeing flight that operated in 1979. You can tweet at Samar here.

white

12th December 1974, Long Beach

The sky was cloudless and blue. The sun was shining brightly on this warm December day as the pilot and engineer walked around the new DC-10.

“I can’t wait to get her off the ground”, said the pilot.

“Especially with these new GE engines, flying her should be a treat”, replied the engineer.

“Forget about the damn engines, look at the sky. It’s a perfect day to fly. Anyways, I’m going in to start pre-flight. You get your crew in within ten minutes or we’ll leave all of you here”.

“Don’t worry about us, we’ll be there”, said the engineer as the pilot walked up the stairs.

After seeing him enter the aircraft, the engineer turned and stared at the registration.

“ZK-NZP”, he said out loud. Something about that troubled him. He stood there for a few moments before convincing himself that it was all in his head and then turning, went to find the rest of the engineering crew.

imageZK-NZP in 1977 at London-Heathrow

 

November 1976, The Hub, Auckland

“I’ve called this short meeting today because I would like to see an old plan quite literally take flight. Apart from Argentine and Chilean territory on Tierra del Fuego, New Zealand is the closest country to Antarctica. However, it is a generally accepted fact that not only are these countries less safe than New Zealand, but so are their airlines. I propose that we exploit these factors and introduce Air New Zealand sightseeing flights over Antarctica.”

“But Mr. Chairman, will the government give us permission to operate these flights? If something goes wrong on the flight, help would be hours away. The safety risks are enormous.”

“My dear fellow”, replied the Chairman, “although there have been more aviation related casualties this year than in 1975, it’s still less than the number of people who died in 1972, 1973 or 1974. This general downward trend in deaths tells us that flying is becoming safer each year. As for the government, I’m sure they will agree. The influx of people would increase tourism in all parts of New Zealand because let’s face it: If you come all the way from Europe or America you’re going to visit other parts of the country too. No one is going to travel for almost two days to look only at Antarctica. These people will visit the rest of the country. Also think about what we can offer on these flights. Bars, entertainment, celebrity tour guides, the best meals and the chance to see the unconquered continent. How will someone be able to resist? Mark my words gentlemen, these will be a success.”

“Now let us conduct a primary vote. All in favour?”

“You should’ve been a politician”, said someone softly as he watched the entire room raise their hands while doing so himself.

Air New Zealand had first considered operating Antarctic sightseeing flights in the late Sixties, however their fleet of DC-8’s led to the idea being economically unviable. This was due to the fact that the aircraft would have to be land for refueling at McMurdo Station, an American research station on the southern tip of Ross Island in Antarctica. Although the base had existing snow runways which a DC-8 could land on, Air New Zealand would have had to build a permanent passenger facility which would only be used a few times in the summer months of Antarctica. However this proved too costly and the idea was dropped.

imageAn Air New Zealand DC-8

The purchase of DC-10’s in the early Seventies ultimately led to reconsideration of the idea because of their improved fuel consumption, greater range and capacity. Apart from McMurdo Station, New Zealand’s Antarctic research station, Scott Base, would be near the proposed flight path. This led to the idea being deemed safe after it was agreed that in case of an emergency both bases would cooperate and the aircraft could land at either base if it had too.

The idea was formally proposed in late 1976 and the Ministry of Transport's Civil Aviation Division granted approval for two flights. These flights quickly proved popular and Air New Zealand applied to operate more flights.

By the summer of 1979, they were operating up to four flights a month. The flights would take off in Auckland at around 8am and fly towards the Balleny Islands after which it would fly around Mt. Erebus, past McMurdo Station and back to Christchurch on South Island. After a short halt there and following a crew change, Flight 901 would head to Auckland and land there by 9pm.

image
Advertisements for the flights
image
Proposed flight path for Flight 901

 

9 November 1979, Air New Zealand Pilots Briefing, Auckland

This was the first time in years that Captain Jim Collins actually had to listen to what was being said. 15 years and almost 11,000 hours of flying had taught him that these briefings weren’t very helpful if something happened during flight.

‘Give a pilot a plane and route and he’ll do the rest’ was his belief.

But this flight was different. It was one of those silly ideas that some oaf with no flying experience had to increase profits. When he first heard about the Antarctic flights, he laughed and told his friends that it would never happen. He knew it was some sort of publicity stunt and he tried to make sure that he would never have to fly one of these flights.

“After 15 years, you do make some friends in Logistic and Human Resources”, he thought to himself.

Ultimately however, he had to fly the route. He was to fly Flight 901 on the 28th of November.

“It’s easy Jim”, another pilot told him few days back. “Take off, fly south, a few circles around a mountain and back to Christchurch. And the food you’ll get is much better than usual.”

“Well at least I have Greg for company”, he thought and looked at the man on his right.

First Officer Greg Cassin was another pilot who had never flown the Antarctic route. However unlike Collins, he had always wanted to, but it was never assigned to him.

“You’re just unlucky”, he used to tell himself until the call came.

 

28th November 1979, on board ZK-NZP, Auckland Airport

“Auxiliary fuel pumps off, magnetos checked and flaps set for takeoff. Pre-flight checklist complete Captain”, said Cassin.

“Okay Greg, take control and continue taxi to runway 05R. I’m making the announcement”, said Collins as the DC-10 taxied towards the runway.

“I have control”, replied Cassin.

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome on board Air New Zealand flight 901, non-stop service from Auckland to Christchurch with a slight detour over the snowy and icy continent of Antarctica. We should be airborne within a few minutes and it will take us around four hours to reach Ross Island. We’ll be flying at 35,000 feet after which we will descend to 18,000 feet so that all of you can get a better view of Mt. Erebus, McMurdo and the Ross Ice Shelf. If weather permits, we will descend to 2,000 feet as we pass around the snow clad mountain after which we’ll fly back to Christchurch. As you know, the renowned mountaineer Edmund Hillary was supposed to be our tour guide today. However, he has had to cancel due to prior commitments. In place of him, we have on board Peter Mulgrew, who has embarked upon several Himalayan, Alpine and Trans-Antarctic expeditions. I hope you all will have a comfortable flight, and I will talk to you all shortly”, finished the captain.

Turning to Cassin he said, “Can you believe they’ve paid $275 per person just to see tons and tons of snow, ice and hopefully some penguins?”

And all Cassin did was smile.

Unknown to anyone at the time, Flight 901’s computer had the wrong flight plan programmed into it. On 14th November, Captain Leslie Simpson was in command of Flight 901. He noticed that that there was a considerable distance between the waypoint he had programmed into the aircraft computer and the one he had been briefed on with the crew that would fly Flight 901 on the 28th later that month. On returning, he reported this and the airlines navigational department set to work to remove the error. However they compared Simpson’s flight plan with a flight plan that had not been used in 14 months. They then made an adjustment of 2.1 nautical miles (around 3.9km) to that waypoint. But because they used the old flight plan, it led to a 27 nautical mile (around 50km) correction in the flight plan that would be used on the 28th of November.

This would mean that Flight 901 would be able to descend to a minimum of 16,000 feet (even if it was a clear day) to fly safely above the lofty snow clad peak of Mt Erebus, which is at 13,000 feet. If they flew at 2,000 feet like they had been briefed to do on a clear day, they would crash into the mountain.

The airline’s ground computer updated the route at 1:40 am on November 28th and this was handed to the crew later that morning.

The airline then made one more mistake. No one informed anyone in the crew that the route had been changed and they could not descend below 16,000 feet in any circumstances. None of the 257 people on board Flight 901 knew about either of these incidents, or that they would be flying to their deaths

 

28th November 1979, on board ZK-NZP, around four hours later

The first ice bergs slowly came into view. From 35,000 feet, they looked like small ice cubes in a glass. Although they were more than half submerged in the frigid waters of the Ross Sea, their aura and power could still be felt in the cabin. As Mulgrew spoke about how the great ice cliffs broke over time because of the strength of the waves to form these wedged and pinnacled structures, Collins couldn’t believe what he was seeing in front of him.

“Wow,” he said. He could say no more.

In front of him laid a land of only ice and snow. It stretched from the left to the right as far as the eye could see. There wasn’t a soul in sight. The blue sea was replaced by a white land. There was no green grass, nor any brown soil. There were no grey roads, nor any red roofed houses. Just miles and miles of pure white snow and ice. An inhospitable land. A land only home to seals, penguins, whales and other creatures evolved to survive the ice, the blizzards and the snow. No human could survive here for an extended period. It was the unconquered continent.

He looked at Cassin and the flight engineer. Both said nothing either and just stared out of the cockpit window.

“Alright boys,” said the captain a few minutes later, “back to work. Time to contact Mac Centre.”

Mac Centre was the air traffic control centre of McMurdo Station. They reported that Flight 901 descended to 18,000 feet, and later to 10,000 feet. 40 miles north of McMurdo, Flight 901 executed a double loop turn of a large radius to descend to a lower altitude and keep clear of what they thought was the western slope of Mt. Erebus. According to their last report to Mac centre, the weather was clear and they were descending on autopilot from 5,700 feet to 1,500 feet and would make a circular pass of Mt. Erebus before flying past McMurdo.

You know you're cool when your hut is on a map.

A few minutes later, sometime after 12:50pm, Mac Centre repeatedly attempted to contact Flight 901. On not receiving any reply, Mac Centre informed Air New Zealand headquarters that contact with Flight 901 had been lost.

Around 11 hours later, the US Navy found the remains of Flight 901. Wreckage littered the slopes of Mt. Erebus. It was only later that morning at 9am, twenty hours after the crash, that helicopter search and rescue teams landed at the crash site and confirmed their worst fear: The unconquered continent had claimed 257 more victims.

Wreckage of NZ-ZNP on Mt. Erebus
Wreckage of NZ-ZNP on Mt. Erebus

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Blue – Shivendra Shukla

 

Today’s Collab Week post by Shivendra Shukla is on the colour Blue. You can find his Instagram here.

Blu

John was a very ordinary person. The strangest thing he had ever done was rescue a prickly chicken that had been stuck in a drain. John was also a tea-drinker.

As he stood in his office, with its cold, almost blue, industrial lighting scheme, he yearned for something more, not for the first time. He closed his eyes, hoping against hope that he was anywhere but where he was, but when he opened them again, he was still there – in his dreary little cubicle. Just like every day before, and every other day for the rest of his life, it seemed.

He sighed, and gazed at the mug of coffee on his desk. He still didn't know why, but he had decided to break his morning routine of drinking tea.

John was a man of habit.  

This tiny, seemingly inconsequential change in the otherwise constant flow of John’s frankly rather dull life would set into motion a long and complicated chain of events. Of course, John did not know this.

He took a tentative sip.

It tasted electric.
Coffee

Almost instantly, John knew that this was a drink far better than tea, and right there, sitting at his overflowing desk, he made himself a promise: to always drink coffee, whenever he had the chance. He took a few more eager gulps, swirling the liquid in his mouth, basking in the glorious taste, inhaling the scent, as a man who had just emerged from a desert would cherish the sweet taste of water.

Feeling a strange sense of excitement, and buzzing with energy, he flipped open the file that sat atop the large, precariously balanced pile of almost identical, important looking dark blue folders. The tiny letters and numbers lapped against the white paper in waves of midnight seas, as John methodically, with well-practised precision, made short work of them. This was also highly unusual.

Having decided that today was not going to be so mundane after all, he thought to push things even further, and took a long lunch break. After a highly satisfying meal at a nearby restaurant, followed by a delicious coffee, John felt like he was the king of the world. This newfound confidence was immediately noticeable, and his co-workers marveled at his swagger, and wondered what had happened to him.

Towards the evening, the high wore off, and John was feeling a bit more like his usual self. Boring. Bland. However, having discovered the magic of coffee, he knew he could never go back. Having firmly made up his mind on this, he proceeded to purchase a whole bunch of coffee powder. He rather liked this new, impulsive lifestyle he had come up with straight out of the blue.

Once home, he switched on the television, which filled the room with a harsh blue glare, silently blasting him with advertisements, and set about making himself yet another mug of coffee. This time, he tried adding a large dollop of cream to it. He’d heard it improved the taste even more.  

He stared in wonder at how beautiful the coffee looked, perfectly catching the light. With a slight tinge of regret, he put the mug to his lips, and drank deeply. It tasted suggestive. Almost like it was telling him to get rid of all the tea in his apartment.

Nodding to himself in agreement, he put on some soft blues-rock, and as the smooth sounds of 'Blue Jeans Blues' filled the room, set about collecting all the various teabags and tealeaves in his tiny kitchen, and unceremoniously dumped them all into a large bowl. The television set still projected its pictures in dumb silence. A man was being arrested for spray-painting 'Kanye West is the Beetles of our generation' on the base of the Statue of Liberty.

Taking a deep breath, hesitating just for a moment, John set fire to the pile of tea. In his mind, this was his own revolution, his own Boston Tea Party. He didn’t need any ships, or a harbour. This was an internal revolution.

The tea smouldered, producing large, dark clouds of billowing smoke. John hurriedly switched off the smoke detector, and took the bowl into the balcony. The smoke swirled thickly, joining the smog of the city in the indigo sky, forming vague shapes that were then torn apart by stray gusts of wind.

No, that was impossible. John blinked: he could have sworn he’d seen a large, smoky, ethereal hand beckon to him. Pushing the thought aside, he went back indoors, feeling rather liberated. Draining the mug, he whiled away the rest of the night watching the Oceans Trilogy of movies. Danny Ocean was so cool, he thought.

Saturday morning arrived, and John moved to turn off the television set. His finger slipped, and the television switched back to cable mode. A man was talking about a marathon, to be held the next day. John had a flashback to his glory days, when he was a star track runner in high school. He dismissed the thought, and shrugging, turned off the telly, and went to sleep.

His dreams were strange, and rather disturbing.

At 12 o clock, he sat bolt upright. He put on his sports shoes, and a light t-shirt and his favourite pair of running shorts. With determined aggression, he stalked to the kitchen, and made himself yet another cup of coffee. The rest of the day, he slowly jogged through the bustling city, from end to end, and then walked back, even more slowly. Exhausted, he fell asleep. The morning of the marathon arrived, and John woke up early, feeling well rested, and confident of his chances. He had a large breakfast, complimented it with a large fistful of pure sugar, and downed it all with coffee.

Feeling sufficiently prepared, he set off. Having secured a spot registration with surprising, but not altogether unexpected ease, he set about doing his stretches.

* * * * *

The very earth seemed to shudder as he bounced along upon it. His legs screamed with pain as they burned with an icy fire, but he kept going. He ran in a way he had never run before, or even thought he was capable of running. A large bead of sweat rolled into his eyes, and he blinked in pain. His vision blurred, and he almost gave up and stopped, but the memories from the previous morning spurred him on.

He remembered that he had been having a particularly odd dream, when a smoking, billowy figure had appeared to him. It had wings, like an angel’s, and it had told him that there was a message for him. John remembered asking the angel what it was. A loud, shrill beep had filled his head, like that of a supernatural answering machine. The sound had risen to a crescendo, and jolted him out of his slumber. Drenched in sweat, he had looked about, blearily, and seen a folded piece of baby-blue card paper on his side table.

“Come forth and receive eternal life,” it had spoken. John hadn’t been quite sure whether he was still dreaming, because pieces of paper did not ordinarily speak. After a while, it dawned on him: the voice had been in his head. Feeling satisfied with his conclusion, he stared down at the paper. It was hard to focus on the thin, ornate writing. It said that he should take part in the marathon tomorrow.

It was signed ‘– G’.

He sent one last burst of energy through to his exhausted legs –he could not stop: not now, when he was so close. Not now that God had finally noticed him.

As he crossed the line, he collapsed. The rain in the distance was visible, but not quite here yet. The city and the sky blended in a perfect harmony of cerulean as his vision grew foggy. His legs felt like they’d been frozen solid. He felt, and looked drained, a mere shadow of his former self.

As the announcer read out the names and their times, he closed his eyes, hoping against hope, but when he opened them again, he found that life had played a cruel joke on him, once again. He had come fifth, and won a toaster.

It was in this state that a strange man approached John.

"Hello, John. I've been watching you."

"Who are you?” John asked, feebly.

The figure handed him a business card. It said his name was Gdevil.

The sky that existed in John’s eyes clouded over in visible confusion.

“The G is silent,” the man said.

And it all made perfect sense.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Purple – Madhulica Kallat


Today’s Collab Week post is a poem on the colour purple, written by Madhulica Kallat.

purple

Version 1

I see red.
Struggle, frustration, self doubt,
Too much, and nothing at all.
I'm suffocating in my own skin.
I come up for air,
Create distance.
Everything is still red.

I have forgotten,
I don't even notice the sanguine veil,
Till everything changes.
Caught off guard
A shock, like walking into a waterfall
And suddenly everything is blue.
All the pieces fit.

That moment, the instant before inspiration replaced infertility; Purple.

A still moment
Between struggle and success,
When anticipation touches surprise,
The heartbeat before the jump;
Purple.

When the universe tessellates,
All for one moment of pure thought,
Time is stunned;
Everything stops.
Purple.

Version 2

Some blue, some red
Is all it takes,
Or so they say.
Struggle, frustration, self doubt
Seeping into my lungs,
Holding my breath captive.
I'm suffocating in my own skin.
It's just not right.

I come up for air
Create distance
"Try again later,"
So I did.

Some blue, some red
I'm hardly paying attention
Sanguinity has abandoned its home.

A sudden shock
I'm caught off guard
A feeling like walking into a waterfall
And suddenly there it is;
Unattainable purple.

A still moment
Between struggle and success,
When anticipation touches surprise,
The heartbeat before the jump;
Purple.

When the universe tessellates,
All for one moment of pure thought,
Time is stunned;
Everything stops.
Purple.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Death’s Favourite Colour – Sumer Sharma

 

Today’s Collab Week post by Sumer Sharma is about the colour black. About it, he says, “I've written a story that tries to bring out the given colour, black, in a thematic, indirect manner through the experiences and ideas of characters that bring out some of the things I feel the colour symbolizes. Particularly in its ending, and the characters it creates; the story tries to display the different shades of black - and it's meaning in the context of human nature.”

black

Pitch. If you looked into his eyes, at his pupils – or should it be his irises, you would register a frequency reflected (or not) that was nothing. It was also everything. But it was nothing. Though pitch isn’t the colour. I would prefer to describe it actually as that which was matched by the blank screen before him, or the hair that scruffily covered him. It was too matched to the colour of the aura that surrounded him – an aura that was discouraging to any that approached him. The colour of the aura could mean a multitude of things: but, in this case, the menace (and related words) that were usually associated could not be ascribed. Instead the “vibe” (if I may) was one of defeat, of despair, of depression, of consummate disengagement.

As perhaps a vindication of that, his black eyes (or irises) swiveled about with a singular disinterest interrupted only when they happened upon, only half-accidentally, some point outside the expansive window of his drawing room. It was always the same point, but one could not place one’s finger on what it was he saw there. The beauteous horizon, perhaps? Or maybe he was mesmerized by some ghastly apparition produced entirely of his uneasy mind; that he could neither avoid nor wished to entertain. He sat in a corner of the room, an observer might have concluded that it wasn’t dark enough – for, even though he did not express explicit displeasure at it, it was obvious that daylight wasn’t his element. His hand lay studiously casually on his temple, preventing sunlight from reaching those eyes- and casting a shadow on the already darkened face. He tried his best to wallow enclosed by his gloom, but fragments of the conversation could not help but filter through. “…..that the one failure, the one fallibility of your perfect scientific method – the hinge of the entire argument against empiricism – is that, in itself, the scientific method cannot be validated, and therefore, invalidated. Because obviously, commonsensically, one would require the empirical method to provide a rigorous, or empirical, proof (and so disproof) for the empirical method – which, of course, makes no sense. I did, in the days of my youthful naivety, try to overcome, or rather, sidestep this conundrum using the fact that at its core all empirical thought, all of science and mathematics – the very concept of the empirical method, stems from logic and rationalism; the question then becomes of finding a rationalistic evaluation or proof (and disproof) of the scientific method.” “So then why can’t we? And I don’t entirely get the point about the empiricist contradiction – why it’s so illogical – to me it just seems like a matter of choice. You either choose to accept the fruits of civilization the scientific method and rigour has borne, or you choose a mystical rejection based on unfounded concepts.” “Bullshit. What is going to become clear to you, my boy, at the end of all of this is the sheer futility of it all. The Germans, or rather, the more puritan philosophers have been vying for this elusive proof for over two-hundred-and-fifty years. How successful do you think they’ve been, huh? So much so that later schools of philosophical though rejected science altogether and….”

Reading existentialist philosophy was one thing, and listening to his father and brother quite another. He disengaged himself from their conversation, instead focusing those dissecting eyes on a little eucalyptus his mother diligently tended to, that she was just about allowed to adorn the drawing room with. His eyes didn’t quite glaze over, but they did look both at the plant and through it; a look would confirm there was a greater stillness in the abyss than otherwise. In a vague sort of way he liked to watch the little sapling struggle – it’s combative growth and withering a slow torturous journey to full bloom reminiscent of our own. He also enjoyed observing his mother’s efforts to help it on its way, her misguided stratagems and pyrrhic remedies contrasted with a few lucky successes. He was brought out of his reverie by his brother’s growing pitch that suddenly cracked the surface his excitement and realization had waxed to. “…..so basically , all of it – beyond the existentialism, touching the nihilism and your beloved Nietzsche boils down to the all encompassing concept that it doesn’t bloody matter.” His lifeless gaze then wandered to the painting filling the wall – a painting he spent an abnormal amount of time looking at. It was the last thing he remembered actually fighting for, when there was talk of its removal. It was a simple painting at that, featuring an array of elderly women clothed entirely in black standing with their backs towards the observer in a vaguely semi-circular fashion around a sad grey tomb. There was the suggestion of rain in this somber black and white piece that was contrasted by a man sitting at one edge of the tomb and laughing uproariously. The other edge of the painting, however, was spared the B&W look, instead showing a small portion of a nonchalantly colourful, blossoming tree with two rabbits making love at its foot.

“Yes. But if we stretch ourselves a little bit, across the boundaries into theophilosophy, it’s ridiculous to ignore the genius of the Campbelliam hypothesis: that science is also a –” “…Ya. Yeah I know, him again. But it’s just – y’know – what am I supposed to do? It’s no longer just phases now – he remains perpetually in this....state. So disinterested in everything. At least before I know that if we weren’t part of his life – his friends are. But now – he never goes to school, nobody comes visiting anymore, he doesn’t go out, no more phone calls – it’s as if he’s shut them out too. Ya I know what clinical depression is – I tried to get him to see a doc. But he showed us – or rather, him – half the stuff they talk about I don’t get anyway –” You foolish woman, we can hear you. The chauvinistic epithet gave him pause, but he dismissed the doubt almost instantly. He had neither interest in nor obligation to the feminist revolution, and what did it matter anyway. His hand snaked, from where it was perched lazily in his luxuriant black hair, towards his phone, wavering a few seconds halfway between them before withdrawing. The peculiar action didn’t go unnoticed in spite of its brevity, but provoked no comment but a look from his father. “– with some research and jargon that his ‘condition’ isn’t depression, and convinced him of that. So, there’s been no doc – he just continues to lounge around, saying barely a word…..doing NOTHING. You know how he rejects our attempts to talk to him – he’s even stopped reading these days. He takes his meals in his room, - always playing that god awful music of his. He does go out – but god only knows where. It’s like he’s created this shell around himself, and slowly, gradually, completely withdrawing from –” “We can hear you, you stupid bitch”, bellowed his father. His brother smirked snickeringly, and in the silence that ensued an image of his mother’s momentary shock at abuse she had been subjected to, in no common amount, for the past 21 years flitted through his mind; followed by another, well practiced (or copiously used), of resignation and acceptance. A door was hastily shut, following which there emanated whispers just barely reaching those in the drawing room, hinting sharp emotion.

His father’s ejaculation came later than expected: truly, he had been listening with interest until that moment when he decided on irritation. There was a time, a considerable time – but past now, when such a situation would have angered him. There was a time his mother’s pathetic state troubled him deeply; when he could not stand his father’s blatant abuse of her. When he fought. He reflected on his brother’s smile. Was his brother turning into him? Was he his brother? His detached ruminations ended with him electing a no: he had never quite been as in the fold as his brother was; even in younger days he never accepted his father’s ideologies and mannerisms as gospel. There was just that hair’s breadth of a difference, that caused him to question rather than conform; and eventually to vilify where his brother had idolized.

A shape made to scurry across the hall from the house’s innards, rather like a mouse hoping not to be noticed. The resemblance did not end there as the black clad shape came into focus, somewhat due to a long low ponytail of an unhappy colour, but mainly due to her rather mouselike demeanour. Her hopes were dashed with her dash being halted by father barking her name. “Yes father?”, she questioned, hopeful of quick relief. “When I call your name, you jump to attention before me.” She did the needful. His voice was loud but not too loud, at moderate pitch on the higher side, and only a little heavy. Although it was a little bit of all; it was not aggressive, reproachful, concerned, abusive churlish or questioning. It was one thing only: pure domination. “ I hear that you were giving an unusual amount of exclusive time to some boy at your school?” “No father –” “No?” “I mean I was just talking to him,…and not for an unusual….,” her voice faded away at the look that was coming into her father’s eye. “No it’s not unusual – it’s disgusting.” It was maybe leaning towards an aggressive, abusive shout now. “You are only 11 years of age. 11. You hear me? The only males you are to interact with are your two brothers and me. And bear in mind then too that we have things to do.” He could see that she had much to say, but slaps (and worse) indiscriminately delivered had done their work well. He knew that his mother was listening. But she didn’t appear with an impassioned defence. “Why don’t you spend your time in the kitchen, or do something actually helpful? You know what it’s been for me – sending you to school? Do you have any idea what it takes to be a father and send her to an uncertain environment – filled with all sorts of – in this day and age? And then you associate with some random guy from god knows where. Do you have any sense, any modicum of understanding of what is expected of you?” A pause. “Say something you stupid –” Girl. And he knew the response would be a mumbled shameful apology. He stood up and walked out of the room. That suddent, spontaneous action stopped the torrent of abuse. He walked looking at no one, and nothing in particular: it wasn’t an angry walk but it was emotional. ‘Why?’ was the one thought that occupied his mind. Why’d he do it? Was it true? Did he still care? Emotions, which had – for a few day at least – beautifully left him, now wreaked havoc inside. He shut his bathroom door attempting to soften the blow, but it was more than audible enough to those in the drawing room. Was she the one person he still cared about? Was his sister the one thing he still loved? Could he still not bear to see her abused? Did it still destroy him to see her mistreated? Was she his one attachement? His one failing? He lifted his head slowly to look in the mirror, and as two pairs of abysses met with destructive power; a single tear fell from one – tracing its silent path to the cusp of his lip. He tarried in wiping off the trace, and by the time he did: it was already too late.

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

Night. He loved it, because it was everything he loved; the darkness that brought thoughts of a strange other kind – the discomfort it caused, and it’s twin purposes of concealment and exposition. He couldn’t have explained what made it so important to him; and wouldn’t. But we can glean that he was closer in the night than at any other juncture to that sublime state devoid of all emotion.

“What happened to you?”, she repeated, this time accentuating the disgusted puzzlement even more than the obvious extent to which it was overlayed before. Still there wasn’t a response except for that look that she hadn’t quite gotten used to yet, only marginally less discomforting than his turning away and looking about immediately after. They sat on a bench one, maybe two spaces apart, lush but insidiously invisible grass surrounding them on three sides. Her hair, strangely, was not black but a distinctive brownish, as much as she claimed otherwise. She remained one of the few he continued to meet: which was also strange since she shared none of his recent despondence. “I recall a time, barely a year ago, when you would get riled up about these things just as much as I do. When you and not I was the proponent of a sweeping movement against sexism; a war against them. Screw that – there was a time when you actually gave a shit. I don’t even know if you’re listening to me anymore?” She looked away in frustration, but wasn’t surprised at the lack of response at her outburst: he didn’t react to provocation. But a cursory glance at their somber surroundings – which she, unlike him, despised – ended with her studying him, and his careless relaxed pose as he too surveyed, with a slight interest that troubled more than assuaged her concern, the black sky, and the black people under it. She had once looked up to him. “I heard about today’s incident. Do you know what inspired it – who the “boy” was – and what he has to do with ____? Do you know the kind of bullcrap your brother’s been sprouting? Or do you not care anymore? It’s your own house for god’s sakes. And you love her. I know you do. I want to go and beat the shit out of those two bloody…..How can you be so –” “Can we change the subject?” Fine. At least he’d said something. “What would you like to talk about? I do remember an impassioned discussion about the failure of the NGO model, and a half-decent plan of doing something about it?” “Yeah I remember. Incorporation under unspecified purpose seemed to be the problem there.” She sat up and turned more toward him. This was one of her most dear ideas. “Yeah so I did some research. The incorporation issue can be easily sidestepped by what amounts to clever wordplay; so the only real obstruction is sustainability itself. That’ll have to dealt with specific to each issue being tackled. I really want to do this – because there are just so many things that bother me, and that I want to change. Taking the issue of poverty first, sustainability can be ensured in a number of ways: first being the cyclical employment generating poverty alleviation model. It of course needs capital, and designing of some perpetuattable service and good provision models – but it’s plausible. And we also have the brilliantly executed entrepreneurial catalysis concept…..”

If there was a single word to describe her, it’d be passion. She was passion, belief and drive all over – an alternative definition for constructive dynamism perhaps. But it wasn’t just that: she was, most assuredly by report, a conjunction of sweetness and pleasantry so desirable that it for once actually deserved the “heart of gold” epithet. She was exceedingly intelligent too, and outstanding company altogether. (Fortunately she was not philosophical) Sadly this perfect combination of qualities had not led to the most expansive circle of friends; but it was not out of need but hope that she continued to associate with him. Her sharp blue eyes saw through the ragged curtains of her hair with uncommon clarity, and she knew she wasn’t making a dent in his shell. “What do we fear, ___?” The question took her by surprise, as he ceased his study of the star to fix her with an intent gaze that was perhaps scarier than everything before. The stars’ twinkling was to him a curiously pretty metaphor that raised a little bit of excitement from that numb body – for, he extrapolated, they would all fade out into nothingness in the end. This epiphanic thought, sure to shock another mind, gave him but a pause from his mire: and instigated many others. “What is love, but a futile effort to imagine connection in an individual existence?” He paused. “Look into my eyes.” He grabbed her wrists and pulled her closer than comfort allowed. The smile that accompanied his next sentence, as he locked his voids of discontent with her innocent blue eyes, was something far away from sanity. “Do you fear me?,” he asked malevolently. She tore herself away and stood; staring at him with disbelief, before walking away quickly. What is hope, but a lunatic rejection of the obvious futility of everything?

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

She took one final dive up, and a couple of bobs downward, before she finally stabilized about a metre above his eye level. The stability lasted maybe two seconds until two quick flaps of her pretty little wings signaled another ascent. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from the twisting, turning – constant activity – of her lithe body. She, too, was of Death’s favourite colour. He hadn’t committed yet to naming her, but knew her well from the shape of her body. There were, on any odd day, maybe 6 or 7 sparrows visible from the spot. However, five he knew visited everyday, and five he could identify anywhere. The genders he allotted arbitrarily – no, he corrected me, on instinct alone – but the females were the graceful but dedicated toilers, whom he enjoyed watching much more. She was one of the two that dance before him every evening; a spectacle, that, he wouldn’t miss for much else.

Bird-watching was one of the few things that still interested him. Standing there, in his balcony, gazing lazily away from the setting sun, a scarce, if slight, improvement on its usual incarnation, he wondered at it. He wore a loose fitting t-shirt, whose colour would be everyone’s guess, and plain trousers that matched the latter’s hue to the subtlest shade. It wasn’t that he cared, just something that happened, or came to him, naturally. Why was it that he was so uninterested in everything else? Why was this all that interested him? It wasn’t so bad – no, complete – before. His reduction to this state of nothing else mattering came only after his realization of the futility. The futility of fighting, of believing, of searching, of doing. Nothing mattered to him only because nothing mattered at all. He resumed his scrutiny of nothing in particular. But he saw only one thing, and one thing only.

She speared down once more, determinedly, driving lower and lower in what may have looked like a search. He turned way and returned to his room: he too had something he needed to do. His room wasn’t anything special, a blank screen stared out from one end – and posters of past obsessions long forgotten filled the other. However, the he first went for his desk – directing his glance at the notebook that was its only occupant. He considered: was there anything more he wanted to say? Indecision led him away from the desk and towards his closet: another choice awaited, of equal if not greater magnitude. He picked up his phone from his bedside, and music emanated from his speaker by way of response. Burzum or Bathory, as he scrolled down the names – or perhaps Sabbath. Yes, Paranoid it would be then. It wasn’t perfect lyrically, but the music harmonized most awfully beautifully with his mood, and the situation. His t-shirts presented a more complex predicament altogether, and he perused the monochromatic array of increasingly grotesque, disturbed covers looking for he one. Taking his time, taking in the music, he found it eventually – a t-shirt bearing a single abstract face – of so many colours mixed up and enmeshed together, that it was of none. ‘The Stranger’ was italicized below the face in white, and he pulled the t-shirt over the black Ouroboros that disfigured his back. He picked my The Hall of Mirrors for one final read – it was one of his favourites, metaphorizing the disengagement and devolution he had come to embody.

On his bed lay a shortish segment of jute rope, lazily entwined about itself. He locked the door and got to work, and a little while later one could see, rather impressively, an elaborate setup wherein the rope was at one end tied tightly to the ligament above the fan, and at its other end was a noose, hanging loosely at the moment. He stood upon his bed and took his head through the noose, making one final check that everything was fixed right.

He closed his eyes, and was enveloped immediately by the blackness. He saw all and he saw nothing, and what more really was there to see. He did it differently, conducting himself well, calmly taking his first step. Some pain and convulsion – but all would end with the second. There was nothing to fear from death: it was inevitable, it was everything and nothing. The second step, without hesitation, and the awful blinding white light was but a precursor to the absolute blackness of death. Black is death. And death is black. And with that stunning realization, he plunged forever into the black.

-Sumer Sharma

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Lady Red – Ipshita Peters

 

Today’s Collab Week post is a poem on the colour red, written by Ipshita Peters. You can find her blog at http://euphoniour.blogspot.in/

clip_image001

The Lady Red

I shall tell you a story today
of a lady named Red.
Our tale is of two lovers
and perhaps better left unsaid.

She had a dark russet hue
stirred into her blood.
She sang of songs forgotten
sweet as a flower bud.

We met atop a rainbow divine,
high above the ground.
She allowed me her carmine smile,
I left her my heart unbound.

We rode through the bleeding sunset
and dined under autumn trees.
My heart was a locked box,
and now she held the keys.

She went by different names, my love
most of them left me confound.
Hatred, Lust, Jealously among
I heard whispers all around.

Her eyes were filled with secrets,
I did all evidence compile.
What I learned about her nature
filled me with burning revile.

Here is the truth about lady Red:
her true face she keeps hidden.
You may glimpse her passing by
in darker alleys forbidden.

Dripping from a predator’s chin,
breathing through lovers’ lips.
Quick as a chaste kiss,
rare as a silver eclipse.

Deception was her favourite game
Lechery, her chosen weapon.
She rode on a chariot of flame,
swathed in cerise crépon.

We saw each other but scarcely after,
on the odd blighted night.
Encounters that left me with nothing
but this sorry story I cite.

I caught her once laughing
in a dancer’s scarlet gown.
She smiled at me slyly;
and then she was gone.

-Ipshita Peters

Unrelated Information

My Photo
Upamanyu Acharya is a writer who doesn't write. Sometimes he's an artist, musician, photographer, physicist or lazy student. His hobbies include being vague, bending rules, time-travel, and embellishment of words.