The Nemesis of Clay
She was sitting still, unaware of the war outside. All by herself and nothing to take. "After the havoc that the storm had created last week, the unexpected outbreak of war was a shock for everyone. But the media responded in a pathetic way, they went into denial. For a few days we have been receiving news only about the beautiful art installed in the galleries across the city and the new ground that our philosophers are discovering."
"The media is owned by those who are waging war. But as producing experience and consuming experience are two different things. You might be torturing your dog but you remember it only as training. Those who are waging war didn't want to know of the devastation caused. That is when they decided to turn inwards..."
She got up from the chair next to the window and went into the kitchen. The kitchen was done In marble-green tiles. One side of the kitchen was a glass window and at four in the afternoon, this side was facing the sun. The smallness of the kitchen and those tiles meant that the light that filled her eyes was soft, gently coloured and with a radiant glow.
She was hungry. This was an exceptional event, for the past several weeks hunger had not crossed her way. She had lived on left-overs and crumbs, unable to accept hunger at all. She put the pan on the stove, and peeled an onion to chop it. Sometimes she became ambiguous and unreachable to herself. "When they, the shiny happy people, turned inwards they realised that their consciousness is consistent. It is a block. There is no inside and no outside. With this realisation they searched for some other distraction."
With the onions chopped, she put a spoonful of butter onto the pan. "Distractions are available at a cost. The shiny happy people looked around and all that they could find was art and madness. They deployed all their television channels, newspaper and fringe media to the pursuance of art in all its shades. They didn't mess with madness as they didn't know what they can hope for."
She ate the omelette, took measured sips of cold milk and she let it pass. She went back to the television that talked unceasingly about the unwavering quality of artistic vision and the absolutely untarnished surface of beauty that it offered. The television presenter was naked, like aways. "The shiny happy people also realised that sex is the only drug that can be consumed purely sensorially. There are no side-effects. Addictions climax with releases and there is no left-over. Television programmes on art, aesthetics and other features of high culture presented by naked and flirtatious people have become the norm."
There was a knock on the door. More precisely it was a sound of something hitting the door. Something that was soft and round. Hero, her dog, had come back from his walk. The war-torn city was an exciting landscape for the dog. Dodging the bullets, eating the nuts from the pockets of the dead soldier's pockets and jumping over the ditches was the most enjoyable game ever. Hero got exercise as well as playful stimulation. "The war should never end."
Hero had started living in her house around a year back. It was after he started seeing nightmares of living life on the streets. He left the fat, bearded man he used to live with and followed E home. The nightmares stopped after he moved to her place and E gave him the name Hero. "Hero walked into my life rather heroically, as if he knew what he was doing and why."
E used to work in a mall, she referred people to bright vacation hotspots and earned a commission on ever successful pitch. She had to wear a business suit for the job. Even in the summer. "The office was air conditioned. And they expected us to spend our lives in the office."
The shiny happy people are fighting this war with shadow players. The enemy never reveals itself but the war continues for some reason. They claim that there are signs and these signs need to be read. "We are supposedly being led out of this act of aggression by the by the war that they are waging on our behalf."
But who is the enemy? Who kills the dead soldiers on the streets? "One day they realised that though they stand in front of the microphone, somebody else is mouthing words into it. On investigating the source of the ghost voice, they found their way back to themselves. They had to accept themselves as a bundle of contradictions, as a cohort of unpalatable tendencies. This acceptance never happened. They ended up confronting this source. A conflict was born."
"This war could be imagined like shooting a gun into a mirror. But don't. That will be too simple," E was sitting on the terrace, her feet dangling down. The war was largely terrestrial and the only place outside that was safe was the terrace. No one could go down to the street.
Her mother was planning to come for dinner and E had heated the leftovers from the lunch. It was not a social visit, but more an arrangement of convenience. "When we sit across and eat, my mother and I, we have nothing to say to each other. The television is always on and the naked actors and actresses keep gesticulating, masturbating and posing on screen. What is left to answer back is only numbness, a quiet admission of having nothing to say." This nothing is not the the absence of material, but rather an encounter with the shadow again. "To distract us away from the war on the streets, the shiny happy people have unknowingly produced a picture of the enemy inside our hearts."
Hero does not like E's mother. When she comes he goes and sulks in a corner. E does not try and understand the problem, she just eats emptily in the glare of the television and her mother does the same.
E used to have a lot of friends. But now she just has voices in her head. One such voice is M. M speaks up the most often and E actually waits for the moments. "M talks like a lost friend as well as a potential adversary. I do not understand how he manages that."
E and her mother did not speak a single word. E secretly did study her mother in ways that her gaze would remain hidden. She studied her mother's practiced finger movements as she put morsel after morsel of the khichdi into her mouth. She had moved away from her mother in a rather forceful manner. On a day three years back E had asked her mother to let her stray from the path. In those days, well before the war broke out, the television was innocent, entertaining and full of advertisements. It provided a lively backdrop to all dull homely conversations. "Reaching out to mother was always over and above the din of television. There was no notion of silence, media provided the enduring hiss of noise." Mother switched the television off and asked me to repeat my question.
"She never answered my question. She just looked away. For me it was important to ask her. For our bond with our parents is like a clot of blood: it has to be dissolved away, to clear the flow. Else it can become cancerous"
After wandering around here and there E moved back near her mother's home. They had meals together once in a while.
E's mother left after eating and E locked the door. M sprung up and took her by surprise.
"The days are longer now," M said. E did not respond. M sensed that E was maybe not in the mood. "I am back. I told you, that I'd come back, and here I am." E's face did not betray any emotion. "You are just a voice inside my head." "Just?" M asked. "How do you consider me any less real than you?"
E walked away and opened a window. The sound of explosions and gunshots going off filled the room. "Why do you want to hide?" M asked. E looked back at M but did not reply. She turned the television on and dropped down onto the couch. The television switched on to a programme which was elaborate and explicit in its content. Everything imaginable was happening on screen. Pornography would be the wrong word, because it seemed to be just reporting the weather.
When the shiny happy people mandated the television to be just about art and sex, what did they intend? They wanted to setup a leak in the system. A leak which allowed it to release the mania it held within. And what would be the format that mania releases through? Art and sex. Mania floated free in the air. Everyone was immersed in the infection.
With the mania of the shiny happy people reaching far and wide, there was no way to hold on to anything. Everyone and everything flowed away. It was like a flood, a deluge. E was holding on too. Holding on for dear life.
When she woke up she saw M standing at the window and gargling. His back was towards her so she could not look at his face. But he was very loud and that made E think that she had maybe been harsh with him the previous night. M gargled for a long time. E waited for him to turn around.
"The war is never going to be over. People on television will never wear clothes again," M said. E wanted to respond, she wanted to say that she really did not care and she did not desire to discuss world politics with M but she said nothing.
"One thing about being immersed in mania is that we can see everything for what it truly is," M said and started pacing the narrow strip of real estate near the window. "And what exactly is truth?" asked E.
E and M had been at odds for a very long time. Although for all practical purposes M was a voice inside E's head, E's experience of the voice was so potent that her mind compensated for the lack of a body to look at. She knew she was looking at a mental projection.
"Truth is the one thing that we cannot resist. It is a magnetic view of the world." M responded. "If it is so magnetic, why is it so difficult to access?" E asked.
The war had never scaled up and grown out of proportion, it did look like the shiny happy people were in no rush to win and end the war. They were not hurling any grenades, the tanks were nowhere to be seen. Only men on the street scramming for cover, bullets fired into the air and a few men engaged in a fist fight in all earnestness.
"We do not have all the answers but we do what we have to do," M said and turned away again. This was the key to understanding M's whole life, "We do what we have to do."
M threw some cushions up in the air, in a vain attempt to juggle them. They all fell flat on the ground and he glared at me, as I was supposed to fly and catch them just in time.
"Nothing was at play. There was nothing going on, nothing building up. Those days were idle and uneventful, you could open the window and hear all hell breaking loose but when you closed the window again you were left with the silence again. In this silence M spoke things which were up to me to make sense of."
Time had gone still, the shiny happy people had successfully hijacked the moment. "Before, we were waiting for something to happen and now we have made peace with the realisation that nothing will ever happen ever again. Narrative has collapsed and disappeared totally."
Children play in the corridors, every now and then when the front door is left open, the cricket balls drift into the homes. There is a clear separation of the inside and the outside and nature and even sunlight stood for some toxic pollutant.
Tiny blue flowers sometimes bloomed in the window-sills in the lobby, as a mutated offshoot of the two disparate worlds. When these blue flowers bloomed, the season changed for some time. The horizon was pulled in and the war was forgotten. The claustrophobia induced by the television became irrelevant.
E had seen the flowers once and she first thought that somebody is playing a trick. She thought that the shiny happy people want to capture even the possibility of hope, that they want to control even the possibility of escape.
When air cannot circulate anymore, pockets and bubbles develop. These pockets give shelter to the friction that gets captured in episodes of listening. This friction gives birth to new voices. "This is how M came into my life."
When M first spoke, E was making tea. She wasn't taken aback on hearing his voice. Even though she was hearing it for the first time, it seemed familiar to her. Like a known stranger.
"How many things that I have said in the past has M whispered into my ears from the inside?" E felt like she was living a stranger's life. Driving a bus in an alien landscape. When M spoke first, he said something very plain and ordinary. E didn't even remember the words now. It was some observation, about the patch of sun on her hand. The light fell on her hand filtered through a small hole in the curtain, the frayed edges of the hole resembled the keys of a piano. They also resembled many other things and E remembered thinking that the connection with the piano was rather arbitrary.
That day was at some ambiguous time in the past, the markers of date and time had slipped away in memory. In relation to everything else that was going on then, it was a few days after some soldiers had come knocking at her door to search her premises for rebel leaders. It was much before the shiny happy people realised that the other that they were confronting was hidden somewhere within themselves. "I was afraid that the soldiers will find M."
"M has a casual disregard for me, he comes and goes as he pleases. He speaks and holds his silence as he pleases. Sometimes he is very loud, sometimes I can barely feel his presence."
He sides with the enemy. The ongoing war pits the human against the voices, and he has very strong allegiances with his own kind. "He looks at me as an obstruction. Because I exist, he cannot inhabit the world fully. If I become weak, he will take over my mind."
The television is on again and they are doing a story about an artist who made a maze that has no escape. The maze has windows, it has light from a source that is constantly changing. The only way to escape the maze is to die. The artist has left some dogs in the maze and cameras are studying their movements. Will the dogs commit suicide?
This programme is presented by a person who seems to be having sex with a dog. At times she seems to be more interesting than the artist who is talking and showing video clips of her maze. The television has a note scrolling at the bottom that they offered the artist a lot of money to strip on television but she agreed only to take off her scarf.
How can you attack a voice? How can you harm it? Only by refusing to listen.
Every bullet the soldiers fire on the street is a refusal to listen.
M finds the TV distracting. I guess watching television is a very physical thing. Maybe parallel processing is only possible for people with bodies.
M sits with his back towards the TV. "He sits and glares at me and often interrupts my experience of the mania."
The shiny happy people were not always paranoid and manic, in the beginning they were accepting of the voices that unknowingly spoke into the microphone. But over time they could not deal with the lack of control and they turned inwards on the spree of self-destruction. "Bullets fired into the air can never quieten the din within."
The building that E lives in is ten stories high. Fifty families live in the building. Around thirty children. Some children play cricket in the lobby and some skate. To and fro, to and fro.
E's mother lives on the ground floor. E lives on the seventh floor.
M, "i am not a subset of you. You are my shelter, my refuge. Any relationship that we have has to be built."
"M might deny that we have any relationship at all, and he might say that he uses my body only as a shelter but for me he is someone significant. What would my empty days consist of if I just lived here by myself without projecting M into every corner of my dark mind?"
Painting visuals is an affliction for E, she does not know how to do that. She fumbles, forgets details and is generally not eager to do it. You might call her lazy and deprived, but that is what she was. Her projections of M were low-resolution.
The air smelled of impatience and anxiety in the day sometimes as the sentiment of the delusory war being performed on the street was infectious. It traveled up like the smell of the wasted gunpowder. Standing in the window, E & M felt a very strong urge to escape as they breathed in. But escape had been rendered impossible and difficult by the shiny happy people. Where would anyone go? There was no horizon. Instead of the horizon there was a cloud of smoke and impenetrable noise. Even to look so far away as the point where the earth met the sky, any potential escapee would need to emerge from the shroud of heaviness that they lived within.
The internal dialog of E and the internal-external dialog that E had with M, were signs that her world was stretched to its limits. In a life lived in isolation, what was the need to talk? Long after stories are exchanged, long after episodes are retold and perspectives are exchanged, are there still things left to talk about? Is philosophy dependent on narrative? If someone is returning home from a funeral and you go and and ask them why they are not happy, it is just not fair. People live in the aftermath of things that happens to them. "There is nothing to be done."
Because there is nothing to be done, there is no way for conversations to end. Conversations which have begun once, go on forever. After a point, when too many conversations are operating in parallel, some start fading away. Time and talk both accumulate in layers. As people grow older, they grow quieter. But they never stop talking. If nothing else, they just talk about things that they have talked before.
E lives with the constant fear that she will run out of rope in her pursuit of knowing herself. "If I stare at any surface for long enough, at a certain point I will know it in entirety. When I have stared at the surface of my mind forever, will I be able to break in?"
Because of this fear, E maintains a distance from M. "So, M thinks I am dry and disinterested. He thinks I am unavailable, dark and brooding."
M is driven by raw emotions and timeless wisdom. How are voices related to their hosts? "M seems uninvolved. He will not die with me. If he was dependent on me, he would not be able to think on his own."
And that is the reason for the war. If the shiny happy people thought that they could kill the voices by killing themselves, they might really have committed suicide.
When E dropped the glass on the floor, the sound of glass shattering announced the coming of X. X said,"Can I stay?"
She was relieved at the same time as she was taken aback. Relieved at the fragility of X's voice. And by the fact that X was a woman. And taken aback at her free fall into become a whole consisting of patched together fragments.
"Yes. I guess. But where are you?" E meant to ask if M was in the same place and if she had already met M. The day was hot, E was wearing only a light gown over herself. She didn't have any underwear on and she felt a bit shy being that unwrapped in front to X. She was meeting her for the first time. "Why have you spoken up only today?"
"I couldn't hold silence any more," said X softly.
The ambiguity of experience has to be experIenced. Things happen and after that we figure out what has happened. There is no way of knowing what will happen.
E seemed sedated on the surface, but her mind was concocting images for her consumption. At any given time, she saw two parallel visual tracks. One track showed her what was in front of her and the other track showed her what she wanted to see. The fictional track was solely composed of symbolic references. The fictional track lent itself to analysis.
And analysis yields everything. "When I think, I think about the material I receive for analysis," E shares. "The more the better." E trips on analysis. She enjoys the process of tearing apart what she holds in her vision to reveal another layer.
And then she starts projecting X.
The TV was reporting some big art opening. X stood and watched it. She was in awe. M refused to engage as usual and E slouched on the couch. The opening was a solo exhibition. The artist was showcasing characters. These were characters perceived by the artist. The artist had randomly waited at bus-stops around the world. There were other people there of course and these people were recognised by the artist as a specific kind of characters. Every subject is a perceived subject.
X looked fragile. She looked like she could collapse at any moment. She stood there without touching anything because she didn't want the random tremors that vitiate everything in the world to impact her in a peripheral way. If she could, she would stand in a way that she was actually suspended in the air. A few inches above the ground. She would be insulated from all the stray tremors then.
X's fragility was directly proportional to her fear. Her fear made her an easy target for M. M ignored her and X felt bruised. M glared at her and X felt bruised. They were so incompatible that there was almost nothing that M could do that did not hurt X. X started living like a victim of M's presence.
On the TV they were doing an interview with the artist who had modelled all the characters.
TV: "Who are all these people?"
Artist: "These are imprints on my retina. When I wander around in the world, I see people who are like bubbles floating free. These bubbles are like refusals to sync. These bubbles are like monuments to personal truth."
TV: "So, all the people we see in the exhibition are these monuments?"
TV: "We don't find them so monumental." The journalist asking questions was naked as usual. She was seated across the artist. With this statement she lifted one foot and put it on the artist's lap.
Artist: "Ah now I see your pussy. Your pussy is not monumental. I will not paint it." And he threw off her foot from his lap.
This interview was abruptly cut off and a new news item started looping on the screen. "Five thousand soldiers on the street committed suicide!"
The voices had apparently figured out a simple way of winning the war. They could float about freely without needing to follow any limits. Being a ghost with no body to bind them to any location, mind or history, the voices figured that they could enter the soldiers' minds and create mayhem. They entered the soldiers' heads and made them feel that they were ready to die. The soldiers' killed themselves.
The streets of the world were lying littered with the bodies of dead soldiers.
E was numb. M was happy. X was nervous.
The day ended with E switching the TV off and plonking down on the couch itself. Apparently asleep.
M stood tapping his feet.
E woke up in the middle of the night with a shriek. "I dreamed of a huge figure of M standing on the top of our building. and peeing down on the street. Peeing down on the corpses of the soldiers was a magical act. The act purified the corpses and set the voices free again. The free voices flew off into the sky, like strokes of fire."
On waking up, E wasn't feeling very good. She puked most of her dinner out. She felt light-headed and confused. She was feeling suffocated too. She opened the front door of her house to let some more air in. As soon as she did that, a couple of thousand cricket balls rolled into the room. These were balls of all the colours imaginable - red, yellow and blue. Each ball was spinning in its place at a slow pace.
The shiny happy people were soon under siege. They had no way of dealing with the massive number of suicides in the army. They knew that this was an infestation. They knew that the voices were spreading their wings across the lines, but there was nothing that they could do about it.
They couldn't control the voices, because they didn't even accept them. The programming on the TV intensified. Three programmes could be seen simultaneously. One layer over another, over another.
And this abstraction, this complex layered image told the people that the structures that were holding their world up were coming apart. Abstraction is called abstract because of the end experience. Endings are always abstract.
E was drugged with the abstract experience that she held in her head. The television had become a drug. It didn't effect the voices like it effected the bodies. X and M were pretty straight. E was drugged. This produced a scene at home which could no longer be seen in the fixed format of E's perspective and her projections. What her perspective was witnessing at this point was a landscape of colour, a field of ambiguity and a sensory multiplex. We gain nothing from accessing that. So leave E alone. But what about X? Can we attempt to access the perspective of X to understand what is happening inside E's flat?
"The air is too thick. If I slip, I am lost. But I can flip. I can protect my own, but I can also let the episodes stray from the course," were the words floating through X's head. That was the feed of the radio, the sound of the echo. There was no recording or delayed relay of recorded production.
"I am a stone, I am a puddle, I am a slightly shaded sparrow. I am afraid E has been captured by the expanded canvas of the multi-track television. She will never again be able to come alive and accrue fresh experience. She has stretched her capacity forever."
When the diameter of the tube that channels perceptual information from the sensorium to the brain broadens, it does not retract again. "I am a chair, there is a haze of doubt floating in the air and all the doubt settles down on me like dust." The radio of X continues transmission.
There is no avenue of hope for the mass of humanity attempting to retain its control on the world. The control has lapsed, now the broadened pipe of sensory impulses will keep the world on a precarious balance.
The shiny happy people have lost the war. The voices have taken over. The voices are attacking the fabric of life from the inside now. Every form of life is fragmented. Nothing is continuous and unbroken. And every facet of being that had a tyranny of control, every facet of being that pretended to be unipolar and flat has gone awry.
The balance has tipped, the hosts have been evicted and employed as zombies.
Back in E's house, M is standing tall. E has lost efficacy and X is meek.
The history of the world, written through the lumps of bio-matter has been shallow and soft. Now that the actors have changed, a new narrative will give shape to lives on this planet. A rudderless boat, a driverless car, a voiceless dialogue have set the world on a wavering course.