Is life our self-driven journey towards the only inevitable process of death?
Another ordinary day. Blood was not running that hard throughout the body. Did not read the newspapers in the morning, as they would have been full of crap that I had already read yesterday through apps. Did not switch on the television. There were few messages and image files on Whatsapp. Someone who had blocked me for some unknown reason had unblocked me. I did not unblock that person. I was seeking vengeance. Deleted all the images forwarded by others even without looking at them. Afternoon was also cloudy and suffocating, except for occasional flashes of humid sun. The wet roads were full of stranded vehicles and there were few good-looking women around. I went to the library and took a few detective fiction. a journal and a management book. I wanted to read contemporary stories. A woman in a black T-shirt came to where I was browsing and left immediately. She was later seen checking her mobile while sitting near a desk. I had to go back to the library, as I forgot and left a book there. That was very unusual of me. The cab driver who drove me back home appeared stressed because of the traffic pile-up on the main roads. There was no traffic pile-up, I thought. Without changing the dress, I started reading another of the Inspector Rebus novels. After a few hours it started raining heavily and the light was so dim to continue reading. I slept for a while. I remembered the books that I had returned to the library without reading.
As the night vibrated with lost dreams and hidden desires, I saw something reddish drifting up in the sky.
It looked like a lonely lantern searching for someone in need of some light and solace.
The orange super moon was the only onlooker as the thing glided towards an unknown destination.
I closed the door as the cool night winds whispered that I may be intruding the private journey.
There were college kids on the road. Some of the them in pale-blue shirts and dark blue pants and others in casuals. They were walking aimlessly to their college.
Big, dry leaves were scattered all over the dusty road.If you take one of them in your hand, it might rupture. If you rewind that act of taking the dry leaf, holding it in your hand, the rupturing leaf may look like a breaking blood vessel.
Broken pieces from a pothole awaited the next vehicle to get dispersed. I usually push a few of them under my car to save them from being run over.
A woman was sweeping the road and whipping up all the quiet dust to the air. In between she pushed a dirty waste bin.
There was a dictionary that I used to look at every day as a kid and it had pictures of utensils, guns and machines. Only nouns had pictures.
The autorickshaw I took had to take a diversion as right in the middle of the road stood a lorry unloading concrete blocks. Somebody always constructed something here. The driver, an elderly man with a high, white beard, stopped the auto and awaited my orders, as if I were his master.
At every intersection, the driver turned his head, signalling that I issue the next order.
I was a navigation map sitting with a laptop bag and with two hands and two legs.
All of us have felt this problem with the route to take. Our route.
This is my experiment on climate fiction. The seeds were sown on a day of unusual rain Bengaluru.
The rain started a few minutes after they began dancing on a dull evening that they hoped would be normal. It was the only internal activity they did on certain days.
Mimi and Jeetha were jumping and swaying to that headbanger of a song in their lithe frames and tousled hair in their room at the west end of the apartment when it started raining. The world around suddenly became bleak and sad, like an unhappy mind, and the strong winds started lashing at their closed doors and windows, like an anxious and desperate guest, running away from an unknown crime. They saw occasional flashes or streaks of light outside, but it was not followed by any signs of thunder.
They had kept the windows closed from the morning because the Air Quality Board (ACQ) had not yet issued a public safety alert about the air quality index and whether the acidity levels in the rain were indeed dangerous. It was not safe out there and it was toxic as usual.
Between the song interludes, there was a hideous stillness, punctuated only by the sound of the rain falling hard on the dark and deserted street and the howling and the wild evening winds. The girls could see the furious pale-white spray lashing against their windows and they would always keep an eye on the force of that spray and its color.
Anything can happen, thought Mimi, wearing a loose, rugged skirt and an oversized T-shirt, an old one that she refused to discard. She had dozens of them and had a peculiar liking to old stuff. Gone were the days when she had stood with her face up to the rain, with her little arms wide open and screaming in what they called their little garden. The rain had a different smell and meaning them in their old house that lived only in their memories now.
Day-to-day life indeed was like a trap, a vortex of pollution, danger, crime and disease from which there seemed to be no escape.
In the distance, yellow-brown trees with jagged leaves were swaying wildly, as if they were also listening to their songs and wanted to escape from the toxic rain. Or the trees had a different set of songs that either nobody listened to or nobody really understood. There were other trees in between, some growing in all bizarre angles, like a child lost in a lonely dream, and some stunted ones that secreted toxins. Nobody plucked flowers from trees now. The hooded, thin figures who used to drink and whine every evening on the park opposite to their apartment were missing today. It seemed that they had a premonition and had disappeared just before the rains.
The sisters could play the songs for now and they were not sure for how long. The City Energy Board (CEB) used to switch off power to the entire city and suburban areas whenever the wind speed exceeded the normal in the day or night or when it rained. When the power across the city was cut off, they had to rely on whatever solar power capacity they were allotted to. With solar power, the air filters and Oxygen conditioners would run at 40% of the capacity. That meant masks for the rest of the day.
“Ok. Put a mild one now”, Mimi said dropping onto the sofa. Drops of sweat appeared on her forehead. It was time to slow down. The bio-sensors in the apartment would be monitoring their vital statistics and relaying the small data to their family physician’s mobile dashboard in London.
“Which one do you want? Shall I put the 80s pop stuff?. UK or US?” Jeetha asked her sister and flicked her eye to select a song from the virtual song list. She also checked the bandwidth consumed; that little dot on the left corner of her eye was flickering green. When it turned into a mix of yellow and green, they disconnected.
Mimi always liked the mid-tempo stuff with downtuned guitar sounds, whereas Jeetha liked faster stuff with a heavy guitar and keyboards sound. It was her age, Mimi used to say.
They started dancing again, but Mimi was not interested in going on like this. She was unable to concentrate on the songs and her attention started drifting. Something was not quite alright, she felt and wondered why that eerie feeling persisted. There was nothing to worry about in her office, the only remaining publishing house in the city where she worked as an editor. She did not tell Jeetha to stop, as her sister was unstoppable when dancing. Jeetha was a research student in the folk arts of the ancient past.
Mimi thought about how life had changed in the last decade. They had been in a city that refused to sleep, that grew beyond its ecological carrying capacity and when everyone realized where it was going, it was too late to pull the clock back. Greed, corruption, petty politics, mafia culture, land wars, and ecological mayhem all destroyed and degraded one of the most promising enclaves of the nation.
There was water rationing everywhere now, groundwater had become severely polluted with fluoride and nitrate with many areas reporting radioactive emissions; land subsidence was a regular occurrence. A large number were afflicted by respiratory and vector-borne diseases, bone fractures, severe hypertension and Arrhythmias, depression and maniacal syndromes. All this had claimed a victim: their father
In the east end room, he lay afflicted with an unknown syndrome in a semi-sleeper bed. He always had a fast pulse rate and no medical expert knows why it stayed that fast. His room temperature was always kept 5-7’c lesser than the ambient temperature in order to not raise his pulse rate. He rarely moved and was on a continuous fluid diet.
Mimi stopped dancing, waved her hand at Jeetha to mean that she was stopping and slowly went to her father’s room. He was in his usual track suit with all the sensors relaying real-time updates about his condition to Dr Ron. All the kids would be alerted if any of the pre-programmed indicators displayed any variation or anything unusual.
She remembered the last time they had gone out before tragedy struck the family. They were in hypermarket manned by robots and a couple of system engineers. On the entrance and exit stood armed guards. As Mimi moved a few feet away from her father, who was searching for his natural, green potato brand, he lunged forward suddenly and banged his head against the wooden rack filled with transgenic potatoes. She was checking the fibre-rich algal supplements just next to the vegetable rack. His father was lying down among the vegetable baskets and blood was gushing out of his forehead.
He remained for two weeks in the hospital. The cut on his forehead was not deep, but what perplexed the doctors were his pulse rate that varied a lot. Despite all the available tests, the cause remained elusive and the docs suggested a change of environment where there was natural and pure vegetation.
When the kids asked him what had happened, he just blinked his eyes and drew a blank face. Then he murmured, “It is a sign of things to come. One day, there will be a great shaking or rumbling…and everything will fall down in one whole swoop before you know what it was. There is a force lurking around us and it will take us all down…It will take all of us down. You must thank that force because that was the only way we could be saved”
Brother Dev said he had said it before on many occasions. The doctors thought it was the tranquilizers that was doing the talking. Others said somebody had poisoned him just before he retired from government service. Their family physician said he still felt traumatic about how he lost their mother. She also fell on the garden path, where they were walking, and for no reason. It was others who lifted her up; she had no injuries, but was lifeless when she landed in the hospital. She died of asphyxiation on a day when the oxygen levels were back to normal in the city after weeks of dusty winds and hourly weather changes and the City Council announced that people could drive with the windows open.
Assured that everything was alright in her father’s room, she stepped out to check what her brother was doing. .
In the next room, Dev, was glued on to the GEN-V hypernet screen installed on the little wall and was monitoring the weather maps, the humidity, and the air pressure and other environmental parameters, as he would call them. He worked as a remote system engineer and his work bay was everything: his bedroom, reading room, and library.
Everything paled into insignificance when survival was the key. He was an exercise freak, but he would just recline on the sofa when it rained or when the oxygen levels were low or when the ozone and sulphur dioxide levels were inching high to that dangerous level. He used to lay down like a dead body saying that it was his favourite posture.
Nobody went to the few gyms nowadays. There were Oxygen bars in upscale areas of the worned out city with a bevy of paramedical staff and doctors to attend to the very few who might develop metabolic, respiratory and cardiac distress during any form of mild activity.
Mimi passed a restless Jeetha clad in a faded gown and looked outside through the window, It was still raining heavily. A few hours back it was all blue and shining bright with milky white streaks of clouds across the sky and the few birds, who managed to survive, flitting across the stunted tree branches, cracking open the dry fruit pods that exploded like microscopic beads.
“I like the rain, but it has lost its innocence because of us,” Dev had said when they had their last vacation years back. They were in a cheap resort overlooking a shrinking and quiet lake and left it a few hours later as they were the only guests in that resort, long abandoned by the tourists. The lake had sustained a couple of villages during the brutal summers. Now,the oxygen levels were at a minimum to sustain any kind of flora and fauna. There were rumours that toxins secreted by weeds infesting the lake had created mutant fauna and flora in the lake.
Something fell down and a surprised Mimi glanced back. A green, water-filled bottle fell down from the desk. It was strange, Mimi thought. It just lied there as if nothing had happened. The Chinese Dragon on the corner table seemed to smile at her
She walked to the end of room and again drew the curtains. It was still raining, the same mysterious rain with the same force and rhythm and that dubious cause. The houses outside stood still with most of them silhouetted against the acquiring darkness, faded, unkempt, and corroded by the acidic rain.
A lone figure was walking round the bend of the road with a long, silver-coloured stick-like instrument. The figure was holding it like a weak weapon and was dipping it in the overflowing drains. May be someone from the City Council measuring the swell and relaying the data back to the Central Dome where they were mandated to do emergency measures to evacuate people from potential floods. After water-borne diseases, flash floods killed the most number of people during the last decade.
Mimi saw a streak of light in the sky. It was not lightning, she said to herself. What was it then? A warning? A message from outer space? There was no thunder after that and even when they were dancing they did not hear any thunder. She stared at the same spot and could only see dark clouds there. She went to the window on the other side of the room and stared at the sky. There was nothing.
This silence in the house was intriguing, Mimi thought. She looked back and the lights were on in the next room where she left a dancing Jeetha with her headsets. There was no alert on the LED screen. Everything was looking good, but she could not apprehend why she was not feeling all right. Dev used to say that he never watched news feeds when it rained, as it always increased his anxiety levels.
An alert from Dev said that there were reports of land subsidence in the old city, killing an unestimated number of people.
It was time to stop Jeetha, Mimi said to herself. She tried to walk towards her sister’s room and was unable to do. She thought she was standing still and then…
Minutes later when Mimi opened her eyes, Dev and Jeetha were standing close to the sofa on which they had placed their sister. .
“You passed out for some time. Luckily, you did not fall down and injure yourself because Jeetha held you up before you fell, “Dev said. Jeetha nodded.
“Don’t worry. You’re safe, “ Jeetha added.
“So, I am not dead yet,” Mimi mumbled. Jeetha chose not to reply.
“When did it happen?,” Mimi asked.
“I don’t know when exactly. The anxiety neurotrophic factor levels went very low and you collapsed,” Dev said. He had pinged Dr Ron, who was monitoring Mimi’s data for the day now.
“I thought I was joining my mother,” Mimi said staring at the empty ceiling. “It is like one dies in a universe to wake up in an alternative universe.”
“You’ve said this before. It is your favourite theory,” Jeetha said.
“Yeah. I have always wondered why we can’t remember that exact time when we started sleeping or for that matter when we collapse or die. That exact moment!”
Dev did not say anything and sat on the sofa and took Mimi’s hand onto his. “I have injected a small dose of BDNF and you’ll be alright in a couple of minutes. I am awaiting Dr Ron’s green signal.” Dev did not say that the delay in response from the doctor was a bit worrying. If something was critical, what could he do?
“I had a dream. It is like someone or some force has pushed me down an abyss or may be I am falling down fast surrounded by the sound of something rotating. As I fell, there was grey-white dust around me falling at the same pace as me. Was it volcanic ash? I don’t remember. Anyway, it looked like a never-ending journey. I did not feel tired. I don’t remember when and how that dream ended and whether I was happy or not..Usually I never miss the ending of dreams, and not the start.”
“Do you want a glass of water or juice? “Jeetha asked interrupting Mimi’s train of thought.
Jeetha stepped back to the corner and poured water from a bottle onto a glass on the table. As she was pouring, Dev got up from the sofa and walked towards where Jeetha was standing.
Both Dev and Jeetha were thinking about the same thing. It was the dream that Mimi just described.
They too had the same dream and it was incomplete!
“When is our turn?”Dev asked.
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The house was empty. but there was someone inside.
Our entry into that house was interesting. I could not remember through which door I went inside. It was the living room.
The room was well-lit and the angle presented was like a tilted camera. The room was empty.
We moved into the next room from a door at the center. Someone was standing frightened in the room’s corner. My grandmother said something and the shabby figure did not answer back.
The dream ended. I was left wondering what that figure was doing in that house. The house that I grew up.
“Time passed. But time flows in many streams. Like a river, an inner stream of time will flow rapidly at some places and sluggishly at others, or perhaps even stand hopelessly stagnant. Cosmic time is the same for everyone, but human time differs with each person. Time flows in the same way for all human beings; every human being flows through time in a different way.”
Yasunari Kawabata, Beauty and Sadness
Source: Vintage Books & Anchor Books