Ancient writings, Beastly encounters, Potshots

In the Plutonium Doghouse

Sixty thousand years ago, our dear ancestral cave-people snarled and hurled abuse and rocks and bones at their neighbouring cave-people, even as their respective supporters cheered and goaded them on while keeping themselves at a safe distance…

Today, Russia devastates Ukraine with missiles and other frightful weapons after being goaded beyond endurance by NATO and EU and USA, and Russia and the USA and NATO and EU snarl at one another even as the USA and NATO and EU cheer on and goad the Ukrainians to fight back and pour missiles and other frightful weapons into Ukraine while keeping themselves at a safe distance…

Everything changes. Nothing changes.

Thus it is in this dog-eats-dog world that we humans have in our wisdom created…because we love one another.

Cheered slightly by these thoughts, I inflict ‘pon thee, O long-suffering and precious Reader, a piece I wrote over 23 years ago – in fact, soon after India’s nuclear tests in 1998.

Disclaimer: Any resemblance in this article to any persons or nations on Earth, however slight, is entirely intentional.

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A mysterious defence document has come to light of all places, in the wrapping paper used by a peanut-vendor who operates his business near New Delhi’s India Gate. Inquiries reveal that the vendor purchased eighteen kilos of waste paper from Raksha Mantralaya early in May, and noticed this particular document only while wrapping five rupees’ worth of peanuts. “The masthead on the pages was different from the usual Defence Ministry stationery,” he explained, “so I thought it might be important, and called the authorities!”

Titled “In the Plutonium Doghouse”, the document is typed on the memo-pad of the Defence Ministry’s shadowy Department of Strategic Planning and Control (DSPC), and appears to be a sweeping account of global nuclear history. With Defence Ministry officials refusing to comment on it, the document is reproduced in its entirety below.

In the Plutonium Doghouse

Delhi, May-June 1998.

Once upon a time there was a kennel, in which lived dogs of assorted size, shape, faith and hue. Oldest among the dogs were Big Yellow and Big Brown. The two were neighbours, and like most senior citizens, pretty peaceful characters; in fact, Big Brown spent most of his time sleeping. Then came Big White, Big Red and a host of smaller dogs.

In the beginning things were just fine. Each dog had its very own space, with enough food supplies to last forever if managed well. But over the years some dogs got greedy and gobbled up their own supplies, and then they took to stealing other dogs’ food. Naturally, a stage came when they were all fighting like cats over the supplies that remained.

One day, Big White dug up an ancient bone from somewhere and discovered that by blowing on it he could make a fearful racket; enough to reduce all the other dogs to quivering, defenseless puppies! Naturally, he put on a lot of dog after that. He strutted about the kennel, brandishing his new pipe and helping himself liberally to the others’ provisions. But soon thereafter Big Red dug out a terrible bone-pipe of his own, and he was followed by two smaller white dogs; and barely had the echoes from their cacophonous pipes died down when Big Yellow nearly brought the roof down with a resounding trumpet-blast of his own.

Realizing that it was futile to aim their pipes at one another, the five dogs went into a huddle and came up with a brilliant idea: an exclusive pipe-wielder’s club, from which other dogs were debarred! For a while, then, the Plutonium Club (named after Pluto, the Almighty Celestial Dog) ruled the kennel; The five P-5 mongrels strutted about the kennel while the other dogs cowered in terror.

But Big Yellow was hungry for variety in his diet, and soon his crafty eyes turned towards the mountainous stores of Big Brown (who of course had slumbered while all this was happening).

Now, there was a little brown dog aptly called Li’l Brown who lived right next to Big Brown. Kennel folklore had it that once, very long ago, both Big Brown and Li’l Brown had belonged to the same family; but then a bitter quarrel had taken place over property, and Li’l Brown had thrown a tantrum and moved out to live by himself. Since then, Li’l Brown had developed a habit of filching food from Big Brown or nipping him while the old dog was asleep (which was almost always), and whenever the old dog protested Li’l Brown would roll over and yelp, “Help! He’s bullying me!” Baffled, Big Brown would go back to sleep, but soon Li’l Brown would be badgering him again, egged on by Big White who found it all very amusing.

Big White had other reasons too for befriending Li’l Brown. Right next to Li’l Brown lived a host of small dogs with vast supplies of delicious Afghan and Mughal food. Now, both Big White and Big Red were partial to Central Asian cuisine, but being much closer to these little dogs, Big Red had been hogging the lion’s share of these goodies.

So Big White made Li’l Brown his ally, promising him limitless supplies of hot dogs and cold fizzy drinks if only he harried Big Red and kept him away from the neighbourhood of the little dogs while he, Big White,instead carted off their provisions by tanker-loads and pipelines … oh, their oily pilafs were simply delicious, though the skewered meats did generate a lot of gas…

Well…such were the dog-eats-dog politics of the kennel.

But even while all this was happening, a day came when Big Yellow turned to Li’l Brown and growled, “Here’s a present for you… a little bone-pipe of your own! Now be a good fellow and wave it under Big Brown’s nose. It’ll distract him while I take a bite out of his Sikkimese pudding…I’ve been fancying it for years!”

But even as he spoke, a deafening roar shook the ticks off the kennel walls. Big Brown had sounded his very own bone-pipe; how he had dug it up while asleep, no one knew.

“Blast!” growled Big Yellow.

“Dog-gone it!” howled Big White.

As for poor Li’l Brown, he was inconsolable. “I can’t hound Big Brown any more, his bone-pipe’s bigger than mine,” he yelped and wailed. Finally Big White went over to him. “Aw, come on,” he rumbled soothingly, “tootle on that little bone-pipe of yours, chew on this nice piece of Afghan kebab, and you’ll feel better. As for Big Brown, just wait till the old duffer’s asleep and then take a nip out of his tail.”

Note from Special Directorate, Intelligence Bureau/DSPC, Raksha Mantralaya: Unfortunately the remainder of this secret document is untraceable at this point. Peanut vendors and their clients in Delhi are requested to keep an eye open, and to inform us at once in case any more pages are found.

Ancient writings, Musings, Remembering

Silica Politics

With the Delhi assembly elections having gone off peacefully and exit polls predicting the return of Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party, I see a glimmer of hope for India – that we might yet see the rise and growth of a national-level political party that actually works for ALL people, and does not survive by pitting religion against religion as the BJP and Congress do; caste against caste as the Samajwadis, RJD et al. do;  or generally everyone against everyone else as the CPI(M), CPI et al. do. 

A hope that leads me to wield the cerebral shovel and excavate the following article from the ancient sand-beds of memory: it was published in Indian Express over 20 years ago. 

Building sand castles

[Indian Express, 30 November 1998]

The counting of votes is on, and the first results are already trickling in. Across the nation psephologists pontificate, analysts arrive at bewilderingly diverse conclusions from identical data, and assorted academics, political observers and journalists join in severely criticizing the electorate for not behaving according to their predictions.

And, an ancient, battered lorry rolls up a dusty track leading to the dry river-bed, lurching with a snort of relief to a halt amidst huge banks of sand. Three men  stand in the empty hold of the lorry, shovels in hand. The driver backs the vehicle till it ploughs into one of the sand dunes; and then two of the men leap onto the hillock and proceed to scoop mounds of the grey-white material into the hold. The third man – he cannot be a day older than 16 – stands in the hold and spreads the fine sand as evenly as possible about the pitted wooden floor. The driver, meanwhile, twiddles with a knob on the dash-board, muttering imprecations, till a dreadful cacophony erupts from the dusty loudspeaker above his grizzled head. He has found the local radio station.

The three men toil away, sweat gleaming on their arms and bare torsos. Now the young man in the hold is practically level with his senior colleagues on the sand dune. Presently, he leaps off to join them in flinging the mica-flecked sand into the hold. A scrawny brown dog wanders up to the lorry, flops down in its  shade and falls asleep. On the radio, now the hourly news-bulletin cuts into the music. Electoral excitement is at fever-pitch; all eyes are upon an epic battle between two possible chief ministerial candidates: one a political novice with a clean reputation, the other a seasoned old bandicoot. The music resumes, the driver climbs out, collapses on the sand and dozes. The afternoon sun beats down upon the labourers’ gleaming bodies.

At length the job is done. The labourers pause at an unspoken signal, fling their shovels down, wipe their streaming brows and flop down on the sand next to the driver. Soon they must depart for the great construction lots on the western outskirts of the City; but there is still time to stretch one’s aching limbs awhile, perhaps even smoke a companionable beedi.

The flies drone, the sun sinks lower. The young labourer sits up and listens intently to the news broadcast. And then he turns to the driver. “So, Kaka, will we now have a new ruler?” he inquires. The driver removes the beedi from his mouth, hacks and spits at the sleeping dog but misses it by several inches. “It won’t make a difference to you, will it?” he remarks. The others chuckle, but the youngster is persistent.

“In our jhuggi,” he begins hesitantly, “they say things will soon change for the better. They say that we will all soon have pucca houses…”

Arre gadhe!” the driver exclaims exasperatedly. “Don’t you see that this is all a natak? Look”, he continues in a kindlier tone, “the fate of poor people is akin to that of the river: doomed to follow the same path forever, crushing the rocks into sand and sinking ever lower. And just as politicians come to us poor people for their votes, so too men come to the river to haul away the sand; they mix the sand with lime and cement and make buildings and bungalows so that the rich among them may live in comfort.”

He pauses, his rheumy eyes far away. “Yet in time the desert winds will blow, hot as a sigri, and the great walls and roofs of the rich will crack and fissure. And then the rains will beat upon their edifices, and this happens again and again, year after year, till slowly but surely the sands are washed away into the gutters and drains, to find their way eventually back to the river. And then again the minds of the rich will turn to the river, and upon a monsoon the river will breach its banks, and when it recedes there the sand will be again…”

Presently, the men board the lorry and it roars off in a cloud of dust. The dog gazes mournfully at the receding lorry, and then wanders off. A stray breeze brings the faint voice of the news-broadcaster, announcing that the seasoned old bandicoot has won.