Tuesday, 12 September 2017

The Reality Of Our Tortured Existence

While I've always had a thing for pretentious titles, this post has little to do with existential angst. Well, not directly anyway, so wipe that sad look off your face, you wannabe Sartre!

Have you ever noticed that the most mundane of things in everyday life seem to hold deep, dark secrets, hidden away in plain sight?

For example, consider the humble coffee machine foamer at work.
Poked, prodded, punched, and maybe occasionally gently pressed innumerable times in any given day, this inobtrusive gadget is a life safer for millions of sleepwalking desk jockeys. Typically packaged as an innocuous little button tucked away in one corner of the gleamy coffee machine, the Foamer watches processions of zombies struggling to coordinate their hands, legs and eyes while infusing shots of cocaine caffeine into their system, and sniggers.

Malevolently.

Have you ever heard the sound the coffee foamer makes?
Think Dante's vision of hell, with fire and brimstone and torture racks and endless suffering. Now imagine that you were one such unfortunate resident of purgatory, and to add insult to injury you - and your eternal companions, the torture racks and guillotines and coals and fire swords - have all been shrunk into a room the size of a matchbox, and put into a coffee foamer. Your wretched screams are miniaturized into the still horrific sounding riving groans that you hear when you press the harmless looking foamer switch.

Every time you're pressing that button, you're torturing someone! Now if that doesn't ruffle your feathers at all, hey, I'm a moral relativist for today, so you do you man. If that guy is in hell, even if a matchbox sized foamer version of hell, he must have done something to deserve it, so screw him? But the sound!

Now you know why I avoid foamers like hell itself. But that isn't the only thing I avoid. At my office, in certain corners of certain floors, under certain weather conditions, a certain sound emerges from everywhere at once and sinks into your very bones.

The desperate wail of a thousand souls as they're dragged, kicking and screaming, into the netherworld, is what it is.

You only seem to hear it in the corners of floors near the big glass windows when it's somewhat windy outside, but don't let that fool you! The Devil was always a clever devil, so it's as easy as pie for him to inject a little faux plausibility to cloak his devious machinations.  If somebody tells you that that heart-rending screech you hear is 'just the sound of wind rushing through gaps in the walls or the plumbing', you smile politely, because you know the truth, and make a mental note to live the good life because you don't want to be one of those faceless people sucked into hell and remembered only as a curious whistle through the pipes.

That's not all. Signs, signs, they're everywhere. The other world impinges upon this realm with urgency, and we don't see what's right in front of our eyes! Exhibit #3: the ubiquitous bum jet in toilets. As you count the seconds away on the toilet seat willing those last bits of erm.. intestinal ejecta to make their way out, an unexpected susurration tickles your unwilling ears. Unwilling, because you're in a restroom and you don't expect to hear anything other than flushing and bodily sounds.

What you hear sounds like a creaky, croaky whisper coming out of the.. bum jet. In your peripheral vision, you sense that the segmented snake that is the bum jet move just a little. You try to catch it out by swivelling towards it sharply, but there it lies, motionless as ever. You gingerly heft it, feeling a bit foolish, and get back to negotiating with your intestine to finish its job. And then you hear the sound again.

It is exactly what it sounds like. Like the voices of entities from the darkest recesses of hell that have crawled their way to the boundary that separates the living world from theirs, where the boundary is thin. All they need is a nudge and they can finally break free of the shackles of eternal torture, and they want you to do the nudging! Do not - DO NOT - consciously listen to the whispers, because you will be lost. Hum loudly to the latest Taylor Swift song, if you must, to block out the sound. If somebody ever tells you that the bum jet's eerie actions are only due to water pressure settling it down, chalk it down to oblivious naivete. You know the truth.

These aren't all the examples there are. Open your eyes and the world that you think you know will begin to yield its macabre secrets. But the question is: do you really want to know? And the other question is: can you really blame me for skipping work every other day?

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Guns

This anecdote is a political allegory. To be a little more precise, this story is political and it’s an allegory. To be even more perfectly precise, an allegory is a representation of abstract principles by characters or figures. And the political bit is.. Well, you’ll see.

Anyway, this little tale is set in a parallel world where there are many, many people - way too many people - like in our world, but we’re only interested in four. (Why not seven billion, you ask? Because I’m the author and I like these four guys.)

The first is a man that is a fox. This manfoxthing is, at the commencement of this tale, engaged. He is in what appears to be a kitchen, and he is busy looking for something. His fox-sly face twists in a brief moment of befuddlement before it clears up in delight. A-ha! He pulls out a gun and proceeds to light the stove by shooting a bullet into it. This fox thing has a name: Mr. Metaphor.

In a different place, in a different time, but still in a kitchen, there’s another man. This two-legs is a non-descript looking workhand. He’s presumably hassled at the moment as an enormous frown creases his face. A naked side of toast is perched on one outstretched palm, while the owner of the palm is occupied looking for something. Like his sly friend from one scene past, he too finds what’s he’s looking for, and what he’s looking for is a gun, more specifically a Colt. He proceeds to use the muzzle of the Colt to scoop out a healthy chunk of butter from an open glass jar, and slowly and carefully apply it to the side of toast. This man is of Greek extraction presumably, because his name is Synecdoche.

I guess you’d say that this anecdote has a running motif - that of a kitchen - and you’d be right, because the third protagonist in this political allegory (never forget!) is also standing around in a kitchen. This person though is a woman, and before the traditionalists among you exult seeing a woman in a kitchen making a sandwich, this woman is somewhat incongruous as she’s a suit, and she’s most certainly not making a sandwich. What she seems to be trying to do is reduce a perfectly whole fruit into juice. She smiles and whips out a gun from a drawer. Placing a luscious red tomato in the sink, the suit takes careful aim at it and bullets it into healthy, if somewhat gunpowdery ,juice. This woman has a name too and her name is the seductive sounding Miss. Metonymy.

That about wraps up the tale. I say just about because it’s only the fourth protagonist that hasn’t been introduced yet, and he’s a smug bastard that only smarm-talks, but he’s a crucial piece of the puzzle here. The puzzle being of course that I haven’t made a lick of sense with the three kitchen scenes so far. Right, so the fourth man is called Mr. Irony and he’s actually a woman in a man’s clothing but that’s somewhat irrelevant to a surface reading.

Mr. Irony is a visitor from an alternate universe, where many things differ from the one that Mr. Metaphor et. al. live in, but only one that is of importance to this tale. In Mr. Irony’s strange little world, guns are apparently only used as weapons. There doesn’t exist a doppelganger for Mr. Metaphor in this incredibly perverse world that would use a gun to light a stove; nor is there an alter ego for Mr. Synecdoche that’d Colt his daily bread and butter. Needless to say, there isn’t a Miss. Metonymy-like that explosive-projectiles their morning smoothies.

Mr. Irony ponders the absurdity of using guns to do what our heroes do. Aren’t they designed to be weapons to kill? You have knives that chop vegetables and blenders that squish tomatoes into mushy pulp. Who would even compare guns to knives? Every time you see a gun you’re seeing a finely tuned life-taker. Every time you see a knife, you’re seeing something that’s an everyday kitchen tool. He smirks to himself and smugly makes a mental note to chalk off this universe as yet another universe that’s immeasurably more foolish than this own.

Now back home, Mr. Irony settles down in his couch after a long day of travel and proceeds to write a long and verbose letter to the Editor calling out the absurdity of banning guns in homes without also banning knives and blenders, that are, in his considered opinion, just as lethal.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

The Great Equalizer

I occasionally have epiphanies. Maybe these aren't of the world changing variety, but hey, let's not start ranking everything by how world changing it is, mmk?


Tuesday, 4 July 2017

The Word That Means Everything And So.. Nothing At All

I'm sure most of you have had the exquisite pleasure of being accused of being immature at some point in your lives. I'm also sure that you've been left utterly baffled by the gallons of vitriol tucked away within that one innocuous little word. ('What?' you may have mentally ejaculated, puffing with indignation.)

My goal here, readers, is to convince you that your bafflement at being accused of immaturity isn't an unwarranted knee-jerk reaction to an unexpected affront. And I'm going to attempt to do that by arguing semantics - what is commonly known as the first refuge of the intellectually towering.

On the face of it, the word isn't complicated, meaning wise. Unlike the likes of that abhorrent word 'set' with its ~100 contextual meanings, Wiktionary has only one concise definition to offer for this word.

"Childish in behavior, not mature."

The rub, as that sixteenth century bard would have it, lies in the definition of the word childish. At least that's one of the rubs - maybe the first, but not the last, and I'll have to park this idiom in case it's getting a little too dirty. Anyway, here's an example to start you off.

"Someone who's liable to throwing tantrums is immature."

Fair? Simple? Where's all that semantic complexity you oversold, you ask. Hold your horses. Here's another definition of immaturity. (You'll have to take my word for this, but every definition that I'm going to come up with here has been paraphrased from real, true examples from the bottomless fount of human excellence that are Facebook comments. I don't lie by the way.)

"Someone who doesn't express their emotions fully is immature."

Again, it might strike you that this definition is not really at odds with the first definition. DON'T BE FOOLED! It really, really is. When someone is talking about expressing their emotions fully, they really are asking for the hallowed right to tantrums. So what does immaturity really mean then?

How about - 

"Someone who still plays video games at the age of thirty."

I see you raise video games, and I offer you:

"Books. Someone who still reads books that aren't verbatim histories are immature." 

Because the real world is complex and wonderful, and no mature members of homo sapiens would have the time for childish fantasies. Right?

The contrarian in the corner pipes up - 

"Someone who has hobbies in middle age is really immature." 

Because you see, hobbies are for children and ergo, childish. Adults sex around, and end up producing babies, and are in most cases forced into tending to their output, leaving them no time for childish dallying. (This definition nicely dovetails into the biological definition of maturity, so that's a plus!) The implication of this of course is that all those bibliophiles who accuse gamers of immaturity, and all those gamers who accuse television show watchers of immaturity, and pretty much everyone who accuses anyone else of being immature based on their preferred choice of leisure activity, is really immature.

That's that right? We finally have hit upon the perfect definition of immaturity right? You naive fool, you. Because -

"People who hold strong opinions about things - like hobbies in middle age - are immature." 

Human beings - and their personalities, quirks and temperaments - aren't really classifiable into easy buckets. All human ideology is fundamentally on a spectrum, so if you call superstitious people immature - because only pigeons, infants and fish are superstitious - YOU'RE immature, because you know, human ideology lies on a spectrum. If you call people who're deliberately vapid immature, because they, as you see things, refuse to use their adult-sized brain for anything useful, YOU'RE immature, because you know, human ideology lies on a spectrum.

The maturity of the aforementioned middle-ground is also immaturity because it's a sign of intellectual laziness. Because what kind of mature person chooses a fallacious middle ground over a reasoned out stance?

Perhaps, the inevitable smart Alec will respond, the true immaturity is arguing the semantics of immaturity itself. He smirks away, but I concede defeat because he's right. The meaning of the word immature has expanded to include any behaviour that's repulsive to the accuser, and since every behaviour is repulsive to some accuser (famously chronicled as LoneRanger's third law of meat and poison), every behaviour is immature.

Therefore, readers, exult. Exult, because when somebody is accusing you of being immature, THEY'RE being immature. Ha.

If blog posts had glossaries, this post has one, made up of a not-comprehensive list of definitions of immaturity that you can use for any situation in life! Forge on, O intrepid insulter.

"Only immature people play around with money!"
"You let money rot in the bank. You're immature, man!"

"Oh, you'll only date fit women? That's immature."
"Denying that humans have sexual preferences is immature."

"Arguing over politics is immaturity."
"Only kids and the mentally deficient don't care about politics."

"You still watch sitcoms after work. Grow up!"
"Not acknowledging the human need for unwinding is really immature. You aren't in class X anymore!"

"You think being an atheist is cool? It's just immature."
"If believing in a wish-granting sin-forgiving sky-fairy isn't immaturity, I don't know what is."

"Justin Bieber? Really? So immature."
"Signalling superiority by listening only to elitist classical music from two hundred years ago is immaturity itself."

"Arguing the semantics of immaturity is soooo immature."
"Ignoring the philosophical implications of ontology is dull-headed, but I'll tone that to just calling you immature."



Monday, 26 June 2017

Meet-A-Murderer

The room had a strange frozen quality to it. Set conspicuously in the centre was a desk, with two chairs, one on each side. The desk was both organized and cluttered at once, with a neat pile of papers in one corner, and a bobbing doll of a man in another. The chair behind the desk was tall and strong, while the one in front was simple and unadorned, of the comfortable variety you would find at a middle class home. There were three bookshelves on three sides of the room, with a plain wooden door set into the fourth wall. Rows and rows of books climbed at least fifteen feet into the air in each of the shelves and disappeared into the barely illuminated gloom.

None of these things by themselves gave the room its singular quality of stillness. Perhaps it was the fact that everything looked washed out that did so: the books in the shelves were fabulously diverse, ranging from philosophy to religion to African languages - curiously all non-fiction though - but their colours seemed faded, like they were replicas made from a vintage photograph. Even the occasional reds looked muted, the yellows dull and the pinks grey. Perhaps it was the fact that through the half-hearted bars of light that criss-crossed the greys of the room, particles of dust seemed to hang still, as if suspended in place by an invisible hand. Perhaps it was the fact the pile of papers on the desk lay preternaturally still, and not the slightest breeze stirred the air.

It was as if the room was a snapshot, paused in time.

The illusion was only partially broken when the door creaked open and a man walked in. He was of the sort you would uncharitably call average; he was not too tall, not too fat, not too handsome. His mannerisms were of a man used to being inconspicuous. An easy and understated gait, not so stiff and upright as to draw admiration, not so slouched and sneaky as to draw suspicion, brought him to the chair in front of the desk. Even his breathing seemed to be tuned to the height of docility, a gentle, barely visible rise and fall. A pair of spectacles lay perched on his nose. His hair was neatly and carefully parted to one side and set with water.

The man seemed confused. He alternated between eagle eyed restlessness and glassy eyed languor. He slumped in the chair hopelessly, but only for a brief while. Then he got up and paced between the two bookshelves that lay perpendicular to the desk. Sepia beams of light carved mesmerizing patterns across his shirt and trousers as he oscillated from one side to the other. He sat down again; and then he stood up again. Walking over to one of the bookshelves he made as if to pick up one of the colourless tomes, but before he did so, his eyes glazed over as if he had forgotten what he had set out to do, and he went back to slump in the chair.

Something seemed to strike him while sitting in the chair; his body quieted its restless stirrings. The trembling foot stilled; the tapping fingers froze and he didn’t blink. He seemed to be mumbling something.

“Wasn’t there a cat?”

But the respite was only temporary, as the fidgeting renewed once more. He stood, he paced, he slumped, he straightened, he scanned the bookshelves, and repeated everything ad nauseum until the man and his clockwork tics were one with the timeless quality of the room.

An unknown period of time passed.

The door once more creaked open, and another man walked in. Perhaps it was the contrast with the man already in the room that accentuated it, but this was a man who oozed masculinity. Broad shoulders and barrel chest strained against the seams of his sharp business suit. Angular features were brought into severe relief by the uneven lighting in the room. He was tall, his hair was fashionably clipped yet roguishly long, and he smelled like musk. His eyes though were gentle, and he face stretched into a beatific smile when the first man turned around to take in the second.

“Welcome!”, said the second man as he walked towards the other chair, with brisk, powerful strides.

The first man didn’t react. If the second man’s appearance had startled him, his cheerful greeting seemed to have struck him senseless.

The second man continued smiling for so long that it began to look strained. The first man continued to look bewildered.

“How do you feel today?”, the second man murmured gently.

“I.. I don’t seem to remember how I got here.” the first man stuttered as if surprised to discover he had a voice. The sentence rose and fell in sync with the man’s wavering confusion.

“That’s perfectly normal. Most of our patients tend to feel disconcerted in the initial stages of the treatment.” The second man paused, leaned forward and asked. “You do remember I’m your Doctor right?”

A faint glimmer of recognition lit the Patient’s eyes like a bolt of lightning, but disappeared just as quick.

“Doctor… Patient.. “ the Patient murmured incoherently.

The Doctor said nothing. His whole demeanour seemed to ooze consideration and patience.

Images flashed in the Patient’s head. No. Calling them images suggested a solidity that the apparitions lacked. They were like smoky sensations that flitted in and out, now solidifying into almost images, but then fading into fantastic impossibilities. Death. Despite their apparent randomness, an undercurrent could be discerned at a level far beyond and below active reasoning. Death. They seemed to speak of death. Illness. He had been critically ill. (Had been?) Death. Illness.

“How did I get here?”, the Patient repeated.

“Never mind that. We’re here for the treatment now and that’s all that matters.” The Doctor’s voice modulated itself into tones that demanded trust, while his face was authority itself.

The Doctor paused for a moment, and as if satisfied with his patient’s response, pulled out a sachet from his breast pocket. Something buzzed and moved inside. An insect? The Doctor meticulously bored the tiniest hole in one corner of the sealed packet, placed it in front of him on the desk, and waited. The buzzing and hovering intensified for a moment, before it stopped altogether. The antenna of an insect poked through tentatively, followed by bulbous compound eyes. The Doctor sat like a benevolent statue in the background.

The insect pushed and prodded through the too-small hole. It buzzed and whined into higher and higher frequencies like a car trying to accelerate out of a swamp, until finally it was through. In a flash, the Doctor came to life, and almost quicker than the eye could see, he had grabbed the insect and held it between his thumb and forefinger. He jutted his hand out as if to show his kill to the Patient who watched in horrified fascination but said nothing.

The little insect struggled every which way but the Doctor’s grip was secure. He did nothing for what seemed like minutes, but in a startling burst of action, ripped out one of the insect’s four wings. The whining and buzzing seemed to reach a crescendo. The Doctor smiled and looked up at the Patient again. Then the second wing was plucked out, almost with surgical delicacy, and placed gently on the desk alongside the first. Then the third, and then the fourth, and the helpless insect was placed on its back gently on the desk. Its buzzing was stilled but a rasping sound seemed to emit faintly from the dying critter. The Doctor wasn’t done yet. He picked up an upturned glass and placed it over the stricken bug.

Until this point it was as if the Patient was shocked into inaction by the sudden violence but now he pushed back his chair as if to get up and stop the madman. Suddenly, the Doctor’s eyes jerked towards him and stopped him dead in his tracks. There was an unspeakable malevolence in them that sent chills down the Patient’s spine. The Patient sat back down and looked away, but he could feel the Doctor’s eyes boring holes into him, so eventually looked back up. The angelic smile was back in place. Was he mistaken? The neatly arranged insect wings and the slowly suffocating insect still lay there on the desk. Both the Doctor and the Patient continued watching the thrashing insect.

An unknown period of time passed.

“The treatment is going well.” The Doctor murmured.
“Don’t you feel better? At this rate, you’ll be cured in no time at all.”

The Patient just looked at him. His thoughts were an incoherent jumble, and any attempt at organizing them into a semblance of meaning was constantly interrupted by those flashes of dark somethings in his mind.

The Doctor pulled out a suitcase from under the desk. He opened it slowly, all the while not taking his eyes off the Patient. From inside the suitcase, he extracted a bird’s cage, with a bird in it. It was a blue-gold robin, a beautiful, elegant bird that only seemed to shine bright for a moment, before the room sucked its colourful soul away. Its cheeping quietened almost immediately. Despite himself, the Patient leaned forward in gruesome anticipation.

Never for a moment taking his eyes off the Patient, the Doctor gently picked up the robin. As if it show how much the bird trusted him, he loosened his grip. The bird tentatively began to flap a wing but stayed where it was. In the blink of an eye, the Doctor wrung its neck and tossed it on the desk. His eyes burned with black fire challenging the Patient to do something, to say something, to even move a muscle. The Patient sat where he was, pinned by the force of that baleful gaze. He felt tears stream down his cheeks. He made no move to wipe them away.

The Doctor walked into the room and sat down at the desk. No, he was always there. The Patient blinked at him. The Doctor smiled at him kindly.

“You’re almost there. You must feel like a million bucks already, but it’ll get better once you’re fully cured.”
“Are you ready?”

It was only a rhetorical question because the Doctor didn’t wait for an answer and snapped a largish suitcase that he’d lugged onto the desk open. Carefully picking up something from inside with one hand, he slapped the case shut with the other and tossed it away into an invisible corner with easy strength. He held a tiny, grey cat in his hand.

The cat mewled gently. The Doctor reached out to scratch the cat behind its neck, and it purred with undisguised pleasure. He smiled. The Patient stared in helpless discomfort and began to shiver uncontrollably. The Doctor noticed this, but only paused to nod understandingly, as if telling the other man with the slightest glance that it was almost over, and proceeded to pull out a ball of twine from a suit pocket. The little cat looked up in delight, wondering if it was play time. Like a bolt of lightning in a cloudless sky, the movement was sudden and violent, and the twine was around the cat’s neck. The Doctor squeezed and squeezed.

The Patient leapt up off the chair. Just when he was about to reach the Doctor’s side of the desk, the Doctor stopped strangling the helpless little cat and sat back in his chair. He straightened his tie, and pushed back hair that had tumbled down over his forehead. Rubbing his palm over the sheen of sweat that had covered his face, he gathered it at the tip of his forefinger and flicked it into a handkerchief. Sitting back easily in the throne-like chair, he looked steadily at the Patient’s outstretched hand and said nothing.

To his utter puzzlement, the Patient found that he was holding a large carving knife in his hand and it was pointed at the Doctor. He dropped it and it clattered away into the gloom. Shaken, he sat back in his chair.

Something about the Doctor seemed different. He seemed as handsome and imposing as ever, but there was something broken about him. Were his eyes moist? Despite himself, the Patient said:

“Are you OK?”

The Doctor said nothing, but looked away and continued to gaze steadily off into the distance.

“It is well known that cruelty to animals is the first sign of er.. becoming a psychopath.” The other man didn’t react, but the Patient seemed to blanch at his own words. “I’m er.. not calling you one. Even if I were calling you one, I wouldn’t be using that as an insult to put you down. I never would. I consider it as a form of mental illness that you can do little about. It can be triggered due to traumatic experiences in your childhood.”

The Doctor continued to look away.

“Was it your parents? It’s alright. I understand if you don’t want to talk about it. I don’t blame them either if they abused you; they could have had problems of their own. Maybe financial. Maybe they weren’t compatible. Maybe they were guilt ridden because they couldn’t give each other and you the life or love you deserved. I say these things to humanize them.” The Patient’s voice grew more and more assured and seemed to ring even off the deadened walls in the room.

“It’s easy to dehumanize people, but humanizing? That’s much harder. And I point out these causes for their actions because these are things that affect everyone, even the saints.”

“And this applies to you as well. I know you think there’s something wrong with you. And maybe there is, but that doesn’t make you inhuman.”

“I empathize.”

With those two words, a thunderclap boomed in the Patient’s mind. Images, and yes these were solid, tangible images and not the faint after-shadows that had tantalized him earlier, flooded into his brain. Memories. They were memories. Were they? They almost seemed too real. But they were though, and he perceived this with axiomatic conviction.

He hadn’t been ill after all. Murder. It had been murder. The image of a handsome man, slightly out of focus, except for his mouth that spread in a rictus of animal pleasure. That man had been in his house. And that man had killed him. Smiling. Pain, searing, burning, intense pain in his neck. He had been choked to death.

Suddenly his eyes snapped back into focus, and he was back in the room. The Doctor was now looking at him. There was something familiar about the half-smile on his face. It seemed outwardly friendly, but it gleamed metal. There was no trace of the trembling self-pity that had seemed possess him only a moment ago.

“You never learn, do you?” Tightly coiled anticipation, but with the unmistakable tinge of sadness, suffused his voice.

In the fraction of a second, the Doctor had got up off his chair, spanned the distance between their chairs and hovered over him like a shadow of evil, cutting off all light. The twine was around his neck, squeezing. Squeezing. A burning sensation began at his neck and seemed to sink into his lungs as he began to choke. At the same time, the memory of a similar burning sensation from a distant scene in the past, but still vivid as daylight, grew in lockstep with the pain of now. His mind knew what was going to happen, and even though the Doctor now stood behind him, he could see his face clearly as if it were in front of him. The fashionably longish hair that tumbled over his forehead, the teeth gritted and bared as if in the throes of unbearable passion, the sounds of gasping and moaning filled his mind. A red mist began to eat away at his field of vision with implacable voracity, until all he could see was a tiny circle of light, like the infinitely deep but narrow tunnel of a telescope’s lens. In that circle of light, a cat lay, looking at him expressionlessly and mewling.


In that room of timeless stillness, a room creaked open. A man walked in. He was of the sort you would uncharitably call average; he was not too tall, not too fat, not too handsome. His mannerisms were of a man used to being inconspicuous.


Thursday, 22 June 2017

The Five Stages To Spirituality

Would you believe me if I told you that the day I found spiritual bliss was the day I almost ended up murdered? Almost hacked into little bits, and by a would be murderer who didn’t know or care what he had done?

Probably not, but that’s because I haven’t told you the equally improbable tale of what led up to it. Like most days, well, most weekend days at any rate, this one started with a highly excitable Madan showing up at my tiny apartment door in the morning.

“Dude!” he burst out, but I can’t really tell you much of what happened next because I had checked out of the conversation. Until he punched me viciously in the shoulder and blurted out that he had found a cool new trek for us to do.

So trekking was this thing we occasionally did, not because Madan and I enjoyed sweating bucketsful while climbing leech-covered, moss-strewn rocks to get a view of a whole lot of nothing, but because we enjoyed the social status that being known as climbers gave us. I mean, apparently, putting up pictures of rolling hills, lush meadows, sparkling streams and all that jazz that was dime a dozen on the Internet was the ticket to social media stardom.

Even so, I hesitated. I had learnt to inversely correlate Madan’s excitement with the actual appeal of the hike.

“I.. have stuff to do.”

“Like washing dirty underwear?”

“Hmm,” I said smugly.

Madan was briefly dumbstruck that his witty jab actually landed, and like all witty jabs that don’t encounter witty repartees, he practically fell over trying to come up with something to say.

“Er. Isn’t that like the best reason ever to actually come on the hike? I mean who actually wants to wash dirty underwear? I for one, pretend that airing dirty laundry in the sun for a few days actually works just as well as throwing it into a washing machine. Chemicals, man. We think they’re doing the cleaning but it’s actually the sun, you know. So yeah. I have scientific reasons for not washing dirty underwear, but you need something you believe in. Ergo, trek.”

If you haven’t figured this out already, Madan talks a lot. I just said:

“Sure.”

And so it transpired that a few hours after the aforementioned cosmically significant mostly-monologue, we found ourselves in a really swampy section of a lightly wooded area, faced with a man who looked suspiciously happy.

“Good morning!” said this weirdly ecstatic man.
“Good morning,” we mumbled unenthusiastically. We couldn’t really push past him though because this guy was standing smack in the middle of a one-person wide stretch of hiking trail.

“Isn’t it simply a wonderful day? I’m blessed to be here experiencing the gift of this lovely day!” he beamed. I looked at his mud spattered shorts, moss-stained tee shirt, jiggling belly, thinning hair with what looked like fresh guano cooling the scalp, yellow teeth with bits of black something sticking out (naturally we could see it all because he beamed with all of his teeth sticking out for our perusal); I looked around just to make sure that it wasn’t my cynical eye that was blinding me to a day of astonishing beauty, and I saw rotting tree trunks, unidentifiable animal scat, shrieking birds, clucking insects, a smell that was a cross between cockroach pheromone stew and two year old bottled water, and I told myself that I’d like to have what he was having.

“I’d like to have what you’re having!” Madan naturally piped up.

I’m famous for my inscrutable face but even I cringed at Madan being Madan, but this strange stranger beamed even more if that was possible.

“You’re on the right track!” he pronounced, as if he were handing us the cure to cancer, and bounced off gaily.
There was about thirty seconds of respite before Madan found his voice and exclaimed, with his eyes apparently fixed in rapt attention at an ugly tree trunk that lay in our path.

“Wow.”

We walked on a little while longer and suddenly the narrow tree lined path opened up into a grassy valley that seemed to stretch on forever.

It really was a scene out of a dream. Or at least a dream of someone with high production values. Like if somebody from the Game of Thrones crew dreamed of the savannah. Yellow-green stalks of grass that stood twice as tall as I did swayed sensuously to nearly-not-there zephyrs. Their movement was seductively hypnotic, inviting us to detect sinuous patterns that weren’t really there. The very woodsy aroma of grass flowers invaded our nostrils, and two year old bottled water now smelled and sounded like running water from a sparkling stream just off in the distance.

My inscrutable face twitched half a millimetre by way of a smile, but stopped as my mind inevitably flitted over images of Children of the Corn.

Madan though hopped and skipped and flapped his arms and shadow boxed the grass stalks, laughing, shouting, and talking to me about everything from the political situation in North Korea to tales from the workplace.

“Did you know that my boss invited me for a coffee? I would have gone except he was an old, bald guy. And it turned out it was to discuss my promotion.” he laugh-cried as he swatted at a particularly evasive stalk, overbalanced, stumbled, fell and lay there as if it was what he wanted to do all along. I hemmed and hawed most impressively.

“It would be super cool to visit North Korea man. Imagine trying to find a vegan burger and ending up at a nuclear missile silo. Some fool is going to ask you to type in the launch codes, and you end up typing in the amount you’re to pay for that burger. In North Korean dollars. Or whatever their damn currency is. And then you end up blowing up China. And you’re upset you didn’t get your vegan burger.”

“Hmm,” I said impassively.

And so dragged on a couple of hours this way as we walked through the surreal savannah, waving unruly grass stalks out of our faces, until presently a faint keening reached our ears.
Intrigued, we broke off the path. Only a few steps into our new direction, it became clear to us that it was the sound of somebody crying. And judging by the voice - and here I am, the world’s foremost authority in detecting young, nubile women’s crying voices - it was a beautiful young woman, waiting for us white knights to charge in to save her.

“Let’s go! It sounds like a hot chick crying, dude.” said Madan, who I grudgingly concede was probably the second most well-versed man in the art of cry-onomics.

And it was. A beautiful young woman lay crumpled in the fragrant dirt, cocooned in yellow stalks. With her flowery summer dress and tanned complexion, she was almost a part of the landscape. Her long, loose black hair tumbled in waves over her face, and somewhere within that beautiful foliage was the source of the pathetic wail that drew us in. At this point, naturally, images from numerous horror movies and games that hinged on reckless idiots approaching just such a crying woman figure only to have their blood sucked out or something, flashed in my mind. I said nothing, of course.

She looked up. We didn’t die.

“I’m utterly useless,” she wailed.
“I’m ugly,” she blubbered. If we used a micrometre to measure her imperfections, we would fail and need a microscope.

“You’re not!” insisted Madan, in a familiar way, like the girl and he had been soulmates over seven rebirths. My impassive face twitched but internally I told myself that I was taller, fitter and cooler than the chronically sanguine Madan, so ha!

She couldn’t - or didn’t hear him. “I’m fat, “ she sobbed. If we scraped off every bit of fat off her body, we wouldn’t have enough to feed a baby housefly.


“You’re not,” Madan whispered in his best soothing voice, modulating his tone to ooze gentle compassion. I stared stonily. She continued to gibber and sigh, moan and keen about how she had done nothing with her life, and how she was a loser, and how she was responsible for the suffering of so many creatures, and how life was not worth living, and how death was too easy a way out, and how she was immoral, and how she was too uptight, and how she was too thin and how beauty was a curse, and how it was all completely hopeless.

Even Madan gave up on her an hour into it and we walked on leaving her there, slightly bemused.

I guess by now you know where this is going. Even if you don’t, I’ll assume you do and gloss over a bit of what happened next and skip ahead to the part where we found ourselves chased by axe wielding madmen. Right. So before we got to that bit, the savannah ended, and we found ourselves in what appeared to be a desert sandstorm. I couldn’t tell you for sure because I could barely see to the end of my hand. Madan naturally got really excited about a sandstorm in the middle of nowhere and began talking about his boss and politics. I too got excited for a second before thoughts of The Mist snuck in unbidden. Anyway, we made slow progress through the haze, aided by the still visible trail markers, but we kept running into these really insecure men who kept posing us the most inexplicable questions. Short guys would ask us if we thought they weren’t too short. We’d hem and haw and they’d go away as if satisfied by our non-answers. Rich guys with expensive watches would ask us if their watches looked tacky and would again go away satisfied. Even Madan learnt to not respond to this endless procession of questions. Eventually, the sandy fuzz cleared out of the air and we found ourselves at the entrance of a cave. A black vortex loomed like the maws of some dreadful Satanic creature. I hate to sound cliched, but the inevitable gooey monster shots from The Cave popped up in my head.

Madan’s enforced reticence evaporated like the morning dew in the Sahara sun, and he exulted.
“This is it, man. This is it!”

“What is it?”

“Whatever this trek is all about. I’d heard that there is something really unbelievably amazing at the end of the trek and the trail leads to this cave so that amazing thing must be in the cave right?”

“OK.”

“Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!” and he sprinted into the abyss. I crept after, cautiously.

A faint light glimmered off metallic veins in the cave walls, barely illuminating the path. We had gone in far enough that the mouth of the tunnel was a thumbnail sized square of light at our backs, when a bloodcurdling yell rent the air, and there was a loud clink as something big and heavy crashed into the cave wall near my head. I screeched inside thinking of rock falls and death by starvation, but my impassive face stayed impressively stoic. Madan though had apparently fumbled around in the dark for the offending object and found it. A strange tone entered his voice.

“I think it’s a bloody axe.” I had never heard Madan speak softer than this ever before. In fact it was nearly a whispering voice and Madan never whispered, as sure as girls like me better than him.

There was a split second of Roadrunner-like time freeze, before our legs clicked into gear and we ran, ran for our lives. It was one of those things: while clearly the facts were telling us that we were in mortal danger, the dimness of the cave, the isolation, and the whole feeling that we were in communion with serene, inviolable Nature meant that it was hard to muster up the flight response. But another bloodcurdling yell three inches away from my face put paid to that. The form of a tuxedoed man resolved itself in the dimness. We scarpered.

I lost track of time. I sprinted, jogged, ran, walked, crawled and even possibly fell into and half-swam through an underground lake of some sort for what felt like hours. It was only when the stitch in my side burned painfully enough that my fear of being cleaved in two by a flying axe was overcome and I slumped against the cave wall. That was when I realized that Madan was nowhere to be seen. I didn’t want to shout, so I emitted that shout-whisper hybrid that sounds like a hoarse croak. No response. As my eyes adjusted a little better to the dimness, I forgot all about Madan possibly having been murdered by a psychotic killer, as it slowly became clear that I was no longer in a narrow cave path. There was a vague sense of immensity in the direction away from the wall I was resting against, a sense of infinity that was disconcerting. That was when he spoke.

“Hello.”

I didn’t say anything but my phlegmatic facade broke and my face transformed itself into a gargoyle-like mask of sheer terror. If you could jump a foot while slumped on the floor, I did that.

“So you’ve come to see me.” the disembodied voice boomed, all bass and honey.

“No.” I told myself in my head, or so I thought.

“That’s what they all say. No!” the voice chuckled. If God had a voice, it would sound like this, I thought completely incongruously.

“I’m flattered that you think of me as God.” At this point, the voice changed. It was like a TV with someone flicking a switch to change the channel, so drastic was the mutation. The voice was bass and acid now.

“I’m not God. But I know that you’re a worm.”

I’m not one to get easily offended but I flinched.

“You’re a worm that thinks it’s a peacock. Tell me. How many times have you compared yourself to Madan and felt that all was well in your world because you were better off than him? Ten? Twenty. No.”

“EIGHT THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED AND THIRTY ONE!”, the voice roared.

“Let me tell you the truth. You’re not as tall as you think. You’re not as clever as you think. Your face isn’t as angular as you think. Your muscles are not as well defined as you think. Your teeth are not as well-formed as you think. Your hair is not as thick as you think. Your belly sticks out when you walk. Your hands are tiny and wiggly. Your nose is too large. Your ears stick out. Your elbows are dirty. Your breath smells like your feet. Your feet smell like durian. You’re slightly hunch-backed.”

At the same time as this barrage of insults, something else happened to me. A montage of images and sensations and feelings tumbled end over end in my mind, as if injected from elsewhere. They swirled and pinged in Brownian motion, but eventually knotted within themselves intricately to do one just one thing.
Show me how the world saw me. All the faults that the Voice pointed out in High Definition video. Only one word escaped my lips.

“No.”

“That’s what they all say. No!” the Voice chuckled. Malice punctuated each syllable.

“And you know what. Your fake stoicism is a sham. Everyone sees through it and laughs at you. They think you’re affected and that you’re a buffoon for it and that’s why they keep you around. For laughs. And when you try to keep your face impassive in the face of overwhelming emotion, it gets all pinched up like you’re constipated. More laughs. Your cool nature shots from your treks? Muscle memory likes are what you get on social media. No one cares.”

“And that thing you do in your head. Seeing horror movies in every little mundane scene in your life, that’s the most pathetic thing. Even a three year old child would be embarrassed to fantasize the way you do. Madan laughs at you.”

“Girls laugh at you. Girls laugh behind your back. Your mom laughs at you. Your dad smiles sympathetically like a baboon family smiles at demented offspring before eating it for lunch. You’ll die alone. You’ll never amount to anything. You’re worthless.”

Again that fast scrolling sequence of images, sensations and emotions showed me exactly how the world saw me. Girls thought I was a worm. I am a worm.

The Voice tittered. If a basso profundo titters, it sounds like Hell’s door creaking open. Just FYI.

“If you disappeared today, the world would be better off. Madan is already cheering your absence you know. After a token microsecond of concern. What is the point of you?”

“WHAT IS THE POINT OF YOU?”

Something snapped. Like a child’s hand sweeping a slate clear, the noxious montages were wiped clean, and I said a little more forcefully:

“NO.”

The Voice faded and wasn’t heard again. I sat around for a bit, waiting for it to come back, and in its absence I grew braver and braver, so much so that I was ready to strike down the owner of the Voice in one fell swoop when it reappeared. For emotional trauma. I was judge, jury and executioner.

Presently though, I picked myself up and walked back through the cave system in a daze. The glowing metallic veins returned at some point but I barely noticed. All I could perceive was the bubbling cauldron of righteous indignation that seethed underneath the surface. I noticed that my fists were balled up, and the hair on my arms stood on end. Inconsolable rage sent shivers up and down my body like waves. Something had to give.

A sound wafted through the dimness and resolved itself into a laugh. I reached down and picked up a large rock that lay at my feet and threw it in the direction of the sound. I heard a wet plop and bared my teeth in barbaric satisfaction. How dare they laugh at me? I’ll show them. The tumult that my body held was not easily restrained. I seethed and boiled, but there were no more outlets.

The mouth of the tunnel appeared in the distance, and grew larger and larger until I found myself in a sandstorm. All my rage disappeared in an instant, leaving behind a gnawing void. I was missing something, but I didn’t know what it was. I trudged on wearily through the sandstorm for hours and hours and hours. It felt like I wasn’t moving at all. Despite its constant motion, the sandstorm had a static quality to it, and I was like a hamster on a wheel, marching forward but staying in the same place.

A face appeared in the distance. It was a man. He was in his mid-thirties and dressed for a party by the look of things. The shirt was midnight black and covered with shiny sparkly stars, and the trousers hugged his legs like they were afraid they would float away if they didn’t. His hair was once smoothly slicked into a fashionable Pompadour but the coating of sand particles somewhat ruined the effect. I ran at him and grabbed his arm. He started, nudged his pointless shades to the tip of his nose, looked down at me, and roughly pushed me away.

“Wait!” I croaked.

He paused mid-stride.

“Do you think that my hair is thinning at the crown?”

This was a man who was obviously used to a gregarious lifestyle of small talk, flirting and sweet nothings. But he couldn’t make a sound beyond a noncommittal ‘Hmm’.

I trudged on. Meanwhile, my brain was feverishly replaying every single event from my life. That time when my first girlfriend called me handsome? She was only being polite. Now that I think about it, there was a vague tone of irony in her voice when she said that. And Madan. Madan was better at everything than I was. He was funny, sociable and emotional. I was a colourless stone. And my work? I thought I was helping the world working in customer care. Who was I fooling? Melancholy washed over like a tidal flood. I was exhausted and not just physically. Tears streamed down my cheeks, dribbled down my chin, and dripped down onto my chest. I was in the dreamy savannah again.

I really don’t like sad stories so I’m hitting the fast forward button again. So what happened then was that I somehow ran into Madan. He was bawling like a baby. We hugged, told each other that we were never doing this again and walked through the slimy part-woods together. At that time I thought it was each other’s company that brought us relief, but it was deeper. Spiritual bliss I had called it right? I always had a way with words because that’s just what it was. I had somehow realized that everything that I thought was good about myself was an affectation. To truly be happy, I had to be myself. Whatever that was. Crazy dude who saw horror movies in every mundane scene maybe? I think Madan too found his version of Nirvana, but he still blabbed like it was his last day on Earth, so I suppose that part of him wasn’t an affectation. We smiled and egged a young Chinese couple on that we met on the way.

Just as we stepped off the trail’s entrance, and before we went on live long, successful, authentic lives, we passed a signboard that we didn’t see. It said:


“The Kubler-Ross trail.”