On Humans

Our common sense and intuition can be mistaken. Our preferences don’t count. We do not live in a privileged reference frame. If we crave some cosmic purpose, then let us find ourselves a worthy goal.
– ‘Man In His Arrogance’, Carl Sagan

The child stared out the spaceship’s window, visibly moved. He strained against the glass, unable to rein his wonder in. His little tentacles wiggled with emotion and his antennas stood erect. Out the window, distant in the blackness, floated a planet. It was the oddest he had encountered so far. A perfect ball of worn-out blue with a smattering of wispy whites and dull browns.

Onbe, isn’t that Earth?’ the child asked.

Veta, Vak-Pak, it is’, replied his older and greener mother. Onbe had many more tentacles than him- thicker and longer. She lay on her side on a bed of neatly tucked white linen, watching her son through large black eyes. Dressed in a blue corset that glimmered in the spaceship’s dim lighting, she possessed all the grace of the galactic elite.

Vak-Pak turned around, leaving smudges where his face had been pressed against the glass. ‘Why are’t we stopping, then? Ante always told me it was a very good planet.’ He hoisted himself onto the bed and snuggled up to Onbe. 

Veta, Vakkoit is. One of the universe’s best’, said Onbe. She softly caressed his green arms as she spoke. ‘But we will not stop here, Vakko. It is dangerous.’

‘Why?’ came the question, immediately. Vak-Pak still stared out the window, his face lit by the faint glow of the lonely planet.

Onbe smiled at the suddenness of the question- the brisk curiosity of a child.

‘It is because of the aliens that live on that planet. They have two hands like us but no tentacles. Instead, they have two legs, much like our monkeys. These things, Vakko, they are really, really bad. They will’- she broke into a whisper- ‘kill us. First chance they get.’

‘Why?’ the question came again, more urgent this time.

‘They just can’t bear anything that looks different. You know, Vakko, these things kill each other just because they can’t bear the difference!’

Vak-Pak sucked his thumb as he listened. He still gazed at Earth, though it somehow looked duller now.

‘Why?’ a third time- more subdued, more deep.

‘They are a bunch of fools Vakko, even worse than our monkeys. They fight over everything. You know, they all believe that there is a Bigger Alien above their planet that can hear them talk and’- she broke into a soft giggle here- ‘that It actually created Earth. These things think that this Bigger Alien made them, too!’

Vak-Pak shifted position and chuckled, eyes twinkling in amusement. ‘But Onbe, that is just silly. Onbe, it is silly because nobody can make an entire planet! If you can, then you can do anything, Onbe! Anything!’ he stretched his arms out as wide as he could to emphasize his point.

Veta, Vakko, I know. But these aliens think the Bigger Alien is real. They keep talking to It and nowadays, your Ante told me, they say even the Bigger Alien talks back to them!’ said Onbe. The spaceship had moved along considerably; Earth now a tiny, blue dot.

Vak-Pak sat up, thumb out and back straight. ‘Talks to them?’ he said, dragging each word out to convey his astonishment.

Veta, Vakko. Some of these things say the Bigger Alien asks them to kill and hurt each other. A few of these aliens say the Bigger Alien asked them to build a city, some- a country. Some even say It asked them to write songs and win at games!’ said Onbe, fully lying down on the pure white bed.

Vak-Pak lay down by her side, antennas still erect and twitchy. ‘Onbe’, he whispered. ‘Onbe, how does this Bigger Alien look? Does It also have two legs and hands? Is It bigger than the other aliens on Earth, like a giant?’

Yella, Vakko, they don’t know what it looks like.’

‘Where does this Bigger Alien live? It looked empty above Earth!’

‘Nobody knows where it lives, Vakko.’

Vak-Pak looked into his mother’s face- one final question burning within.

Onbe, why does this Bigger Alien even help them? What is so special about these aliens on Earth? They sound like really bad things.’

A ghost of a smile played on Onbe’s lips as she drew her son closer to keep him warm.

‘That’s the crazy thing, Vakko. There is nothing special about them. Nothing.’

The spaceship had by now left Earth behind- indifferent to the joys, worries and prayers on that distant pale blue dot.

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A Mirage Called Ego.

Recently, my cousin and I decided to assign each other a writing exercise wherein we’d pick a common topic and write whatever story germinates from the idea of it.

The topic we had picked was a grandfather clock and below is the story that struck me when I contemplated on it:

 

Sleep. In the eight years that she had lived, sleep was the one thing she had never experienced, or rather, had never remembered experiencing.
Insomnia, the doctors claimed. Fancy excuses for staying awake, her weary old governess dismissed.

But from what she had heard and read and seen of sleep, she found the lack of it not as perturbing as she thought it would be. For sleep was nothing but a transcendental state of existence where you could walk in your dreams. Sleep, as her governess had once wisely educated her, was when all the information swirling around inside the head came to rest down on the nerves and from there, be absorbed into them and flow straight into the brain which consequently ensured that this information stays remembered.

But all of this was too scientific for the girl. Too technical.

Every night while her governess slept, the girl awoke from her feigned sleep. She used to hastily stuff the blankets with pillows which vaguely resembled her lithe eight year old figure and slipped out of the room into the Mansion.It was a busier night than usual at the Mansion, she observed as she skipped around. She patted the armchair on his arms and waved at the lamp. She greeted the wall by trying to hug him and the couch by jumping onto him from behind. The closet groaned in discomfort when her door creaked open in the wind. The girl got up and shut the door for her firmly, all the while growing increasingly curious about the excited buzz all around the house.

“Mrs. Closet, do you know what is up with everybody? Why are they all so excited and loud tonight?”
“Oh little one, it is a matter that is best left unexplored. Thank you for your help anyway, but it is now time for me to sleep!”
But just as the girl had spun around to walk back, the closet said in a hushed voice, “Little one, whatever you do, just don’t go to the corridor on the second floor.”

“Why not?”

But the closet was already fast asleep or pretending to be fast asleep.

“Stop, quick one, stop!” cried the steps as she ran up them.
“Oh, hello there Mr. Steps! What can I do for you?”
“Just don’t climb any further, o quick one, for on the floor above, The Lord of Us All stands tall and awake.”
The girl grew wide-eyed in wonder. Her pudgy stub of a chin quivered in excitement as she contemplated on what Mr. Steps had just said.

“Don’t fret, Step! I would do just about anything to meet the Lord of You All.”

And saying so, she scampered up the steps, turned a right, ran straight and turned  a left and lo! Before her lay the now infamous second floor corridor. It was a peculiar inclusion to the mansion, for it led nowhere and had no rooms alongside. Its far end was always shrouded in darkness and there was just one window.

Although she had never visited the corridor before, she was familiar with its door. The door was an old and bitter fellow. Broken and cracked in many places with rot all over his wood and rust over his knobs.

His only claim to significance was being the door at the entrance of the study but now, he had not even that for he was replaced with a fresher and sturdier one, rendering him purposeless and bitter.
He was placed instead at the entrance of the second floor corridor, which had once been an impromptu smoking chamber. He was always muttering to himself and cursing at all that walked past. On many an occasion, he refused to let stray smokers or kids playing hide-and-seek out of the corridor just for the sadistic pleasure of it.
He reveled in the discomfort his creakiness caused everybody and made it a point to be as creaky and creepy as possible.

But the girl was familiar with all tricks, and greeted him by roughly twisting his rusty knob and pushing him wide open.
The door let loose a roar of displeasure and screamed in his rickety voice, “You insolent little rodent! You brat! You will pay dearly for your insolence, you will pay so badly, so heavily. Mark my words!”

But the girl was already inside the corridor, ignoring Grandpa Door (who had fast shut himself) and walking briskly towards the moonlit dead-end.
As she neared the pale moonlight, she could feel a presence and something else about it that she couldn’t quite grasp.She could make out a vague physical shape and what struck her immediately was the imposing height of this figure. Whoever he/she was, the girl knew within that they had to be old and very tall.

DING DONG. DING DONG.

The midnight chimes resonated through the corridor, giving the girl a start.

It’s just a clock. An old grandfather clock.

The girl couldn’t contain herself any longer. It was this ancient and weary timepiece that had had all her friends on tenterhooks. She swelled up in anger, balled her fists and stomped right up to the clock.

“Look Mister, I don’t know who you..”

“Aaaaahhhhhhhhhh!” yawned the grandfather clock.

He was tall and very old, built of sturdy wood. His wood was dark and very plainly designed. The golden pendulum kept moving steadily, hypnotically.
He spoke in a raspy and gravelly voice, “What brings you here, child?”

“I’m here to find out who you are and why my friends are scared of you. You shouldn’t scare people, it’s a mean thing to do!”

The clock stood silent, scrutinizing the girl. He wasn’t used to being spoken to in this manner.

“Why don’t you respond, Mr. Clock? Who are you? Why are you the Lord of Them All? What’s so special about you?”

There was a soft creak as the rotten door stood himself up straight, “He not only is the Lord of Us All, but the Lord of Everything. Including you, o insolent one.”

The girl’s teeth were clenched and her tiny stub of a chin was quivering as she turned around to face the door. Her body was stiff and her chest was puffed up in rage as she boldly announced, “This old clock is not my lord. He’s just another person living in this house, but he most certainly isn’t some big Lord!” Her mouth was an angry pout as she gazed daggers at the door.

The floorboards creaked as they spoke, “Young one! Such courage is admirable but alas, youth lacks the wisdom to recognize without fault where it must be employed!”

“Youth lacks the wisdom and depth to reconcile itself with reality”, continued the Clock. “In a world far removed, isolated from all that is ordinary, sits your age- choosing to imagine the extraordinary and bemoan its absence rather than experience the ordinary and live with it.”

“But behind everything ordinary, there is always something extraordinary, Mr. Clock. Behind the honey we cherish is the extraordinary story of the honey bee’s travels and travails. Behind the water we drink is the extraordinary fact of minuscule orbs fusing in multitudes to bring to life the very source of life.

Ordinary is but a direct consequence of the Extraordinary, for without the latter, the former ceases to exist, to operate”, said the girl. She had sat herself down and on her crossed legs lay her loosely clasped hands. Her black hair hung behind her face as she gazed at the clock, relaxed and confident, polite but irreverent.

The steady tick-tock of the clock punched through the silence that curtained the room after the girl spoke. The floorboards and the door were paralyzed with wonder as the clock stood tall, contemplating and understanding.

At long last, he spoke, “It pleases me that someone as young as you is capable enough to recognize the process behind the ordinary world and all that is worldly and ordinary. But tell me, little one, have you understood what the Extraordinary is?”

“No. I have been searching for it, trying to isolate it, but to no avail.”

The clock coughed- dry and gravelly, before he spoke again, “Before you, right now, stands the Extraordinary. I am it. I am the Extraordinary!” exclaimed the clock suddenly, possessed by a sudden fervor.

She still sat unabashed but gazed at the clock with more curiosity and puzzlement. “I’m sorry”, she said. “I still don’t see the Extraordinary.”

The clock drew himself up with a huge breath and exploded into explanation, “Don’t you see, little one, don’t you see the evident? I am Time! I measure all, control all and kill all! I am the Master the universe itself hurries to answer! I am the beginning and the end of all, the very fabric of existence! I lend definition to all just as I erase all, I protect all just as I expose all and I create all just as I kill all! Nothing escapes my gaze as age is common to all and all that exists must age! And therefore, I stand here- the Perpetual Counter, the Eternal Overseer. I am Time. I am all. I am the beyond. I am the Extraordinary- the cause behind all that is ordinary.”

The girl slowly turned her head away from the clock, her eyes lingering on him for a moment thoughtfully before they followed suit. She stared outside the window, elbow on her thigh and head perched on her fist. Her stubby chin was even stubbier now that it was pushed upward by her fist, making her face look all the more intense and at the same time, child-like.

“But Mr. Clock”, she said, still staring out the window, “You are just that. A clock. You have been built by the hands of men and designed for the eyes of men. Your purpose is to display time, in all its accuracy and continuity. But you are not time itself. For if I bring my fork and fork those clock hands off of your dial, you will not be able to display time, but time will not for a moment cease flowing. Its perpetual nature will not for a moment change nor will its ubiquity for a moment stand masked.” She turned to face the clock, eyes burning with the fire of discovery. She stood up, head cocked to one side, hair thrown over her back and hands balled into fists. She stood with her legs slightly spread apart, staring back at the clock with a sneer. “You are nothing but a mere display, a common tool, with millions like you over the world. Your capability is and will always be the display of time and never will it be possible for you or anyone like you to transcend this limitation.”

The clock seemed to grow smaller as she spoke, with her voice hitting stronger and stronger notes as she continued. “In this house, perhaps you are the only one of your kind- old, wise and strong for which, I respect you and encourage others to do too. But this house is but an insignificant dot in this world, for the world is vast. And because all the residents in this house recognize the universal importance of time and its subsequent realities, they were beguiled into respecting you, you who happen to be a mere
representation of time. I ask you, Mr. Clock, are you too not affected by the passage of time? For I refuse to believe when you were built anew, the designer saw fit to use chipped and cracked wood in your construction. Therefore, it stands to reason that the Mills of Time have ground you down too, over the years, just as they have ground all that exists and existed.”

She tapped the floorboards with her foot and patted the wall with her hand. She walked towards the door, which swung open without a word. She walked to the far end of the passage and turned to look at the clock. Illuminated by the pale moonlight, he stood tall once more and ticked steadily, as he had been all his life. However, his ticking seemed to have new energy and his countenance seemed in possession of new strength- a new awareness had crept through him.As the girl skipped down the stairs, not a word was spoken. The silence prevailed as she walked across the hallway back to her bedroom. As she opened the door to the bedroom, she encountered some resistance from the door.

“Little one, you have been awake all your life, while we slept through ours. Now that you have awakened us, it is time you slept.”

“Door my dearest, we are all awake, at all times. It all just boils down to what extent we are awake and more importantly, to what it is that awakens us.”

She kissed the door goodnight and crawled back into her bed and lay under her blankets, feeling warm and snug.

It was perhaps the soundest sleep she had feigned in a long time.

CHAPTER II: THE CONTINUING TRAVAILS OF A PAPER

//(https://foreverunderthegun.wordpress.com/2014/11/20/the-travails-of-a-paper-2/) THIS BEING THE LINK TO THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER. \\

Brilliantly bound. Finely polished.

I was a notebook you had to earn.

I missed out on becoming a novel. Big deal.
In fact, it all seemed so funny now- less than a week ago I considered becoming a novel the best possible thing. “The Keeper of Ideas”, that’s what I wanted to become. Ideas and thoughts poured out onto me and I, charged with the task of keeping them safe, for as long as I can and as well as I can. What a noble task that wa-shush!

I am a notebook now. And that’s all I am, and that’s all I will be. Nothing more, probably less.
I had to accept the fact. But still, it wasn’t cause for great disappointment.

The dimwits all around me didn’t want to be notebooks. They said it was a scary prospect. Indeed, if you think about it, it is quite scary- leaving yourself at the mercy of a human being to do what he pleases with your body.
But none of these dimwits, not a single goddamned one of these half-baked, good for nothing dunces knew that a Notebook is what helps create ideas in the first place. Without a Notebook, how can a person possibly pen down his ideas? What will he write on? His toilet paper? His blotting paper, perhaps?
Even if novels provide a person with ideas, he cannot pen them down or do anything with them unless and until he is armed with the humble, yet hugely important notebook!

Armed with this confidence, I made sure I sat quite away from the other fellows. We were all in a truck, being transported to the warehouse. Few of the fellows around me didn’t even know where we were headed, they kept playing this stupid game where they flap their pages at each other in order to try and beat the other into submission. It was a sport they learnt from the humans. Wrestling.

I kept looking around me, continually making sure I remain untouched by the dirty lot I was with. Being in a truck, there were always chances the others could fall onto you and ruffle your feathers up, a thought which always left me completely nauseated.

While I was thence ruminating, I heard a bunch of sniggers break out. Thought curiosity welled up within me like lava within a volcano, I refused to turn or otherwise try and find the cause for this outbreak of mirth.
Despite my best efforts, however, the lines of conversation wafted across easily enough for me to pick up- “Always had a giant stick up his binding, back at the factory too.” The speaker cleared his throat, and in what seemed like a distinctly familiar voice, said, “I come from a fine plantation of chestnut. The best. It is my birthright to become a novel. But boo hoo! Look at me! I am just fit enough for some idiot, who gets to google all over me.”

And out broke a riotous burst of laughter, this time clearly directed towards me. I felt my binding tighten as I heard them laugh. Now, picking fights with riff-raff wasn’t my thing, but I had to show them who was boss.

I turned and made my way through to them.
The big goon who was imitating me broke his big guffawing laughter off and shuffled towards me. He towered over me- a good two inches.
I opened my mouth to speak but strangely, I couldn’t find my voice.
“What do you want, jerk? Want to pick a fight? I’ll knock that damn chestnut out of you right about now!” His voice thundered out from his pages, even causing my cover to slightly lift off a bit. The abject silence that prevailed in the truck didn’t help either.
“It’s doodle, not Google, you moron.” Even as I said it, I flinched. How could I have hit back with such a damp squib of a comeback! My voice had come out all weak and broken, but nevertheless I could feel the fight building up inside.
But before I could even start sinking my claws in, the entire truck and every single possible variation and product of paper it contained, burst forth into thunderous laugher,
I got clapped on the back by the heavier books, leaving me slightly shaken and dazed. I pushed myself through the unruly crowd, extremely eager to have some time away from such an immature gathering.
The big goon who provoked me into what I now saw as an impulsive outburst, was the loudest of all, guffawing away to glory.

It was a lame comeback but a comeback nevertheless. At least I wasn’t acting like some uncouth muscle head who was just showing off some stupid ugly hardback.

Suddenly, the truck hit a bump and I rocketed into the air. I desperately tried to keep my papers and covers together but to no avail. I fell hard on my spine, covers apart and completely open. My pages were laid bare.
The other notebooks and books weren’t affected because they were all tightly stacked against each other.

I tried hard to close myself properly and get back to my earlier position but before I could move a page, the big goon moved over to me and said, “Need some help, bud?”
His cronies started gathering around me and the other books plonked their covers up out of interest.
“I’m fine, thanks.”, I warbled.

“No, you don’t seem fine at all to me. Boys, let’s give him a hand, shall we?”

Long story cut short, when we landed at the warehouse the next morning, I had a few loose pages and a slightly weaker binding.
I was dumped into a box labelled “DAMAGED PIECES” and thrown into a dark room somewhere. I tried to call out to the human who carried us there but I just couldn’t open my mouth, what with all those dirty torn books all over it.
I just waited there, stunned and bewildered by this cruel and completely undeserving twist of events.

I just waited there.