July 4, 2020

To See a World in a Grain of Sand

To see the world in a grain of sand

Came across this picture of sand particles under a microscope a few days back in a random stroll through the internet. Isn’t it beautiful. Like a hidden world.

Coincidentally, on the same day, was listening to this talk on Youtube by Swami Sarvapriyananda on the concepts of microcosm and macrocosm from an Advaita Vedanta point of view and somewhere in the talk he quoted from William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower 
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 
And Eternity in an hour

Have you ever looked at something very simple an ordinary; something you wouldn’t have noticed on most other days; and been struck by how beautiful it is. The rain blowing across the yellow halo of a lamp post on a dark stormy night; sunlight on a distant hill; an innocent looking baby seagull walking on the grass; a guy playing Pachelbel’s Cannon in D on the road. For a minute or two you feel as if you are dumbstruck. And you can feel a sort of tingling starting in your skull and moving down your spine. As if all your neurons are dancing together, doing Mexican waves like they do in the world cup after a goal.

It’s a momentary feeling. And then it’s gone. But you are left with the after taste for some time. A feeling of happy sadness. And of something else, not sure what to call it. I would have said love. But its sort of a directionless love, not directed from a “I” towards someone; or something. Just love for the world as it is, like you have stepped out of the whole thing for a moment and are watching it from outside and seeing that everyone is in it. Struggling together. Small and big. And you feel this sort of compassion towards it all, including yourself.

Its a momentary feeling. And the aftertaste soon fades away as your thoughts rush back in to fill the space. Your endless mental to do lists and the what’s for lunch todays and the Twitter headlines back to occupying prime spots in the mind. And you wonder afterwards, did I really feel something like that, or was it all just a figment of my imagination. Like being touched by a ghost.

My dream house

My dream house would be a little cottage. On a cliff. By the sea. Preferably far from other houses. I found the perfect spot. In a place called Rame Head in Cornwall.

Someone beat me to it though. By a couple of millenia. Apparently there used to be stone age fortress here; then celtic hermitages and then this chapel the shell of which still exists.

Imagine being surrounded by the sea on all sides. A steep narrow neck of land connecting over the cliffs connecting you to the rest of civilisation. Going to bed hearing the crashing of the waves on the rocks hundreds of feet below and waking up on a foggy morning when you feel like you are the only person on Earth.

I read somewhere that for ships leaving from Plymouth in olden days, Rame head was the last point of England sailors would see before they headed out to the unknown; and the first point of home when they came back, often after months at sea.

If I ever was a hermit, this would be my little cottage.

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare

Remembered a funny incident. There was this essay competition in a different school and the teachers wanted someone from our class to represent. They didn’t want to look biased and chose one of their favourite students so they decided to pick the top four or five (in terms of grades – yours truly amongst them) and ask them to write a paragraph interpreting the first two lines of the poem Leisure by W.H. Davies.

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare

None of us were familiar with the poem. And for some reason, other than me, all the other “top” students interpreted it as something along the lines of life is too short and important to waste time standing and staring (opposite of what I thought the lines were about).

I don’t really remember what happened afterwards, what the teachers said or how many of us finally went to the essay competition. And it wasn’t till many many years afterwards I came across the full poem and thought Ha, it was about standing and staring more often after all.

I guess this blog helps me stand and stare a bit.

May 17, 2020

Lockdown Haiku

April 10, 2020

Weight of Thoughts

Under the weight of thoughts you struggle
But then you realise
You can watch your thoughts, just like everything else
They are not you, just like everything else

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March 21, 2020

Contemplating Death

Its spring outside. Nature is coming alive. Suddenly we have beautiful sunny days. The little piece of the sea we can see from our balcony is blue not grey. The grey clouds have mysteriously vanished, the sky is a bright blue in the day, pink and red and orange in the evenings and usually cloudless at night so that you can see the stars once again.

Who thought this spring would turn out like this. Third week in a row working from home. Waking up in the morning and checking the score on the phone. How many dead where. Which country is on the top. Graphs like multi coloured hockey sticks, all heading upwards, most in dizzying angles. Everyone knows what exponential means now. No one knows what the world will look like a month from now, six months from now.

Some say we are lucky. This will be dress rehearsal. What if it was the real thing, a bird flu like pandemic with a sixty percent fatality rate which spread as much as this is doing. Then we would be well and truly screwed. Maybe this will make us more prepared.

But in the meanwhile, there will be thousands dead. I worry about my parents, they are getting hold. All international flights to India is stopped. I hope they are all right. I hope this doesn’t continue for too long, although I don’t see how it won’t – unless we magically find some drug which is highly effective. The vaccine (if there ever is one) will take time.

I guess I am lucky. Both me and my wife have our jobs. We are together. We have enough food at home. We have savings. My parents, even though they are five thousand miles away, are safe. We are, at most, facing minor inconveniences. A lot of peoples lives have already been devastated. Read a story in the newspaper the other day about a man who was dying, and his wife and three kids couldn’t be there at the hospital due to the risk of infection. They had to say goodbye on video while they took him off the ventilator.

It was my birthday last week. Nearing forty. How time flies. When you are young you very rarely think of death. Its too distant. Something which happens to other people. But one day you wake up and maybe you are halfway through life. And then very soon you will be fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty percent through, if you are lucky and nothing gets you before that. How will it feel to wake up and stare death in the face. Will you be afraid?

Maybe you will be more afraid of the consequences of dying then death itself. The thought of what will happen to the people close to you, those who love me so much when you are no longer there. Maybe you will also be afraid of the process of dying – whether it will be long and painful, whether life will slowly ebb away and make you suffer.

And what about death itself – the fact that one day you are there and the next day you won’t be and that will be the end of it (unless you believe in heaven or hell. Or reincarnation).

For me, I am afraid of the consequences and somewhat wary about the process. The third just gives me a mild feeling of sadness. Like when you finish a good book. You wish it had lasted a bit longer.

March 14, 2020

[Fiction] Infinite Loop

What happened here? It was a question more to himself than to the girl, who stood a few feet away. She was the first person he met since landing. She and her dog. The first living thing in three days. The dog seemed friendly. She didn’t. If anything, she seemed slightly irritated by his presence, and by the fact that her dog, in its excitement of making friends with this stranger, seemed to be completely ignoring her pleas to get back on heel and continue walking.

She looked like she was about fifteen or sixteen. Maya had been eighteen when Neel had left. They had had a fight when he had told her he was leaving for the Space Corps. She had stopped speaking to him, refused to meet him when he had gone to say goodbye, and not returned any of the calls he had made from his training base at Luna. At the end of six months he had stopped trying and had decided to volunteer for Deep Space instead of Solar as he had originally planned. And then he had been gone for fifteen years. Fifteen years of his time. A lot more on Earth because of the time debt.

He glanced one more at the girl from the corner of his eyes and decided she looked nothing like Maya. The height and features may be somewhat similar, but Maya had so much life in her. Whereas this girl had such a bored, sullen and uninterested look about her. Like she had seen what was there to see of the world in her sixteen years and decided that it was a somewhat distasteful place one had to somehow endure rather than enjoy.

What do you mean what happened?

Never mind. There was probably no point asking her. She would be much too young to have seen anything but the frozen waste anyway. He had heard rumours of the Fall but had never imagined it would have been so severe. If the Space Corps were good at one thing, it was controlling what information reached the frontline. Only indication he had had that something major might have gone wrong was the quizzical look and the You would probably be disappointed from the rehabilitation officer when he had requested the dropship. He had to spend a bit of a fortune for a personal pod which he could land near his village rather than go to one of the main ports in the public shuttles. After fifteen years, a few extra hours had somehow felt unbearable. Luckily they had managed to find him one, one of those early models, salvaged and refitted for hire.

The village had been in ruins. His house – or rather his parents house, all of his uncles houses, Maya’s house a few houses down the road – when you were a child in the village it was all your house, you probably spent more time in the houses of your cousins and relatives and neighbours than in your own house, flowing like water from one to the other, eating somewhere, sleeping somewhere else, playing somewhere else. All fused together now in one continuous block of broken walls, collapsed roofs and that greyish green vegetation which seemed to cover everything now, half moss, half grass. Maybe the only thing which survived in the cold.

He had tried looking for something, maybe a wall from his parents house he would recognise, maybe a shattered photo frame which once held the family photo, a piece of furniture. Something which would remind him. Maybe something from his childhood to take into his pocket and keep with him for the rest of his life. But it was as if someone had taken the village through a paper shredder. The little pieces which were left were too unrecognisable to piece together into anything meaningful.

Standing there amongst the ruins, he had tried to imagine how the last days would have felt like. He had just felt blank. And guilty. Guilty because he felt blank. And guilty as he had not been there to help. Not that anyone would have expected him to. They had always had his older brother for that. Rudro, the dependable one, the one everyone liked and respected. Even when they were kids, somehow Rudro used to become the unelected leader of their gang, no questions asked.

Rudro is my little fire, people will be drawn to his warmth. His grandmother would say, running her wrinkled fingers through Rudro’s neatly combed hair, messing them up a little and then straightening them again. She liked making predictions about people. But Neel she would say drawing him into her lap and planting a soft kiss on the top of his head, Neel would slip between your fingers and go, like water, and like the ocean he would have strength and depth but most people would only ever see the surface. See. See how he is running away from his poor old grandmother she would call out to whoever was in vicinity, as Neel would struggle to escape the little prison of his grandmothers affection, her sweet grandmotherly smell of spices and talcum powder and ghee lingering on him like a benevolent ghost.

He had never thought about joining Space Corps. But then, he had never thought he would lose Maya as well. She was the closest thing to a friend he had. You are like an onion Neel, layers and layers. I probably know more of your layers than anyone else but even I don’t know everything Neel. She had said once while they were lying on the grass, his head on her lap, the cool breeze of the summer evening making little waves in the grass all around them and making an occasional strand of her hair plant little kisses on his face, even as the fireflies in the tamarind tree started practising their daily lightshows.

Maybe it was his layers which had frightened her off. Maybe it was Rudro’s warmth which had drawn her near. He had seen them kissing, not too far from the spot he and Maya had spent countless hours sitting and watching the river, talking and sleeping, eating those tangy little wild berries which grew all over the place, and dreaming about the future. He had turned his bicycle around and pedalled as fast as he could. Had kept going, for hours, till the river trail ran out near the sea and fatigue overcame the strange burning he was feeling inside.

It’s there he had seen it for the first time. The dark, austere, almost forbidding walls of the Space Corps training school. The only indication of what lay inside was the the rather bland looking engravings on the wall near the gate. Space Corps Training School it stated simply. And then in a smaller font below, their cryptic and somewhat menacing recruitment slogan. Not many make it.

He had made it. It had taken blood and sweat and months and months of preparation. He had not told anyone he was preparing. You only get one shot at it and he had been afraid of failing, of hearing people trying to console him. …Space Corps is for a different type of people, even if you had made it you wouldn’t have liked it there you know……and after all no one from our village has ever made it. Or even tried…Now maybe if it was someone like Rudro then…

See, I knew my Neel would do great things. His grandmother, ninety, bed ridden but still sharp witted, still smelling of spices and talcum powder and ghee was the first person he had told, along with his parents. The silent pride in his parents eyes had made him feel for the first time in their lives he had done something for them. Rudro had hugged him and said I will miss you my little brother. He had wanted to say a lot of things. Look after mom and dad. Give Maya a happy life. In the end it had all seemed foolish and the choking feeling inside him had stopped him from saying anything meaningful.

He and Maya had grown somewhat distant ever since the day he had seen her with Rudro almost a year ago. Initially she had been her same old self with him. But he had never quite been able to become normal with her again. He had become closed and formal, like he was with most people. As the months had passed she had moved closer and closer to Rudro, caught up in his world, his friends, his dreams. Like a comet caught up in his gravitational field. Whatever Neel and Maya had had seemed more and more like a distant dream, like one of those childhood things which makes no sense as an adult.

He had initially not planned on telling Maya but she had heard from Rudro and had come to meet him. When will you be back Neel? she had asked. Why does it matter to you? It was as if his reply had hit her like a bullet. He had felt something exploding inside her. He had looked away when she had turned silently back and ran out of his room. He had never felt so much satisfaction from hurting someone before. The guilt had come later. By then it had been too late.

***

I am looking for someone. A friend. She used to live here….Neel had managed to say to the girl. And then he had collapsed.

The next few days (days, or was it weeks?) had been a blur to him. Light, darkness, space, time, dreams, nightmares, waking up, going back to sleep. He had been back in the killing fields of Ikarus sector, and the magnificent savannahs of c42s exoplanets. He had relived the unbearable throbbing headache of his countless cryogenic thaws, felt again the terror of watching someone being thrown out of the airlock for the first time and the save joy you get when you watch one of the torpedoes you fired making the tiny red dot of the enemy ship disappear from the tactical screen – the tiny red dot you know carried a few thousand living things.

He had cried out in his sleep at times and had felt someone hugging him and comforting him, someone’s hands gently stroking his hair. He had calmed down and gone back to sleep and dreamt of his childhood. The long lazy summer afternoons, running to the mango trees after a thunderstorm, flying kites in the warm winter sunshine, catching fish in the overflowing streams in the monsoon. And he had dreamt of his times with Maya, Maya the little kid who once punched him on his nose when he had stolen her favourite toy, the schoolfriend Maya always sitting on the desk next to him, sharing the lunch packed by their moms, sharing homework , the sixteen your old Maya, the first girl he really fell in love with. The only girl he ever really fully fell in love with.

Then one day he had finally woken up in a dimly lit room and had seen Maya sitting on the bed staring into his face. She had looked older, the first strands of grey had started invading her thick black hair. Her face was more mature now. A woman’s face not a girls face. A mother’s face. But her eyes were still the same, they had the same brightness, the same twinkle. It had taken her a moment or two to realise that he was finally awake and conscious and was looking at her and recognising her.

He was still too weak to talk but she had somehow sensed his question. They told me that they had found some Spacer. On the verge of death. Apparently mumbling my name in his delirium. I was pretty sure there is only one piece of space junk that would do that. I went to see you and asked them to bring you back here. And so here I have you now. She said, planting a little kiss on his forehead. He had wanted to talk but she had said he needed rest. He hadn’t protested. He had gone to sleep holding her hand in his. And had slept like a baby this time.

***

It had taken weeks for him to fully recover. And as he had grown better, he had started seeing less and less of Maya during the day. Like weeds slowly taking over your garden, the demands of her old life had started creeping back on her. She was a busy person now. Head of the local Survival Committee. The fact that they still called these things Survival Committees ten years after the Fall showed how much of a struggle it still was just to survive on this dying Earth. With very little central government left and the the Space Corp being a distant and somewhat disinterested benefactor pre-occupied with bigger problems elsewhere, the Survival Committees were all that stood between utter chaos and some semblance of normal human life. And now that Maya wasn’t worried any more of him dying on her, the needs of keeping her community alive had taken precedence.

The nights were still theirs though. She had moved him to her room when she had got him from the hospital. Not that there were many other options. The need to live underground since the Fall meant space was limited. Most of the young and single lived in dormitories. Couples got a room (if they were lucky, and had spent enough time on the waiting list). Maya still had the room she and Rudro had shared, one of the little luxuries of being the Committee head.

They talked a lot during those nights. Mostly about the first twenty years. The warm, beautiful spring of their lives. Relatively little about what happened after. Neel was afraid of asking Maya about the Fall and what happened after; about the family photographs which Maya dutifully dusted and cleaned every day after her bath and before she knelt down in front of the little altar she had in one corner of the room. He recognised the little Gods in the altar. They were the same ones his mom and grandma had in their house. At least most of them. His house Gods had been lucky, most of them had survived the Fall; unlike the rest of his family and almost eighty percent of humanity.

They had started making love. It wasn’t the hot passionate love making of their youth but slower, more affectionate, less of two bodies exploring each other and more of two bodies just coming home to something warm and familiar. She had started talking about what happened, bit by bit each night, as he held her in her arms and felt her warm tears slowly rolling down her cheeks onto his hands. It had been hard on her. It had been hard on everyone who had lived. In a way those who had died quickly had been lucky.

They had started going out together sometimes. Not that there were too many places to go out on the dreary surface. But still, it was a break, from the equally dreary underground. And they liked walking together, hand in hand. Sometimes going to the places from their past. Like the river bank where sitting under the tamarind tree they had spent countless happy afternoons. The river was gone, the site covered by the same greenish grey stuff which covered everything else. Maybe slightly thicker where the river was supposed to be. And trees didn’t exist on the Earth any more.

They both enjoyed these walks. The exercise and the chill outside seemed to improve Neel’s mood. And Maya liked listening to Neel’s stories of Space Corps, of all the world’s he had visited, the things he had seen. He generally left out all the violence and the gore and the pain and the frustration, she had been through enough already. The rest sounded like some grand and colorful cosmic adventure. Maya had never been off planet. She was supposed to go to Luna. She and Rudro and the kids. If they had planned the holiday a month earlier they would have been on the Luna and escaped the Fall. She particularly liked asking him about “all his Space girlfriends” as she liked saying and then pulling his leg about his “sexual adventures”.

He wanted to take her to Luna. There was a Space Corps base there, one of their large training centres in Solar since the one on Earth got destroyed. He was sure he could get a job there. And he had enough savings from fifteen years of continuous service for them to live fairly comfortably. It wouldn’t be a life of luxury but still a thousand times better than what they had here. If it was in his hand they would have left in a week. But she seemed to be reluctant. He didn’t understand why. There wasn’t anything here to stay for. Except her memories. Fifteen years ago Rudro had kept her from him. And now his memories were doing the same. But he didn’t want push her. Maybe she will change her mind. Someday. In the meanwhile, he would try to do his best here. To fit in.

He tried very hard to fit in. Maya helped him get a job in the Survival Committee. With his fifteen years of military skills and ten years of command experience it shouldn’t have been difficult. But it was the people. Everyone, especially the young, had the same air of somewhat hostile indifference which he had noticed in the girl on his first day. Maybe it was because they knew he was Space Corps. They somehow blamed him. It made working difficult. Except the scouting jobs which he could do alone. He liked those, even if it sometimes meant staying the nights out in the open, being away from Maya.

It was on one of these scouting jobs that he saw it. It was a somewhat longer job than usual, he had already walked for a day and a half and was about to camp for the second night when he saw it, a black bob jutting out of the snow which the setting sun had turned orange. From the distance most would have mistaken it for a somewhat strange looking boulder and probably not glanced at it twice. But to Neel’s trained eyes there was no mistaking a Space Corp dropship. He had decided to approach the wreck to investigate. Yes it was definitely a wreck, that much was clear even from some distance away. It looked as though the heat shield hadn’t completely held up during reentry. The whole thing was charred, the poor guy inside would have suffered horribly, slowly suffocating and getting cooked alive, a much worse fate than if the shield had failed completely, in which case the explosion would have killed anyone inside in milliseconds.

He had decided to go closer, maybe he could salvage something. That had been his first mistake. The ship had looked strangely familiar. A cloud of dread had started to envelope him like, telling him to go back. But he had no longer felt fully in control of himself. The composites around the hatch had melted in the heat and sealed it shut. It wouldn’t even budge. But the impact had knocked a hole in the bulkhead. Big enough for someone to squeeze through. Despite the cold, Neel had felt his palms sweating. The sky had turned from orange to pink to a deep red. It would have become totally dark in a few minutes. Neel had checked his pouch. He still had the torch. With heart pounding, he had pushed himself through the hole.

The torch had cut a narrow yellow beam in the pitch dark. Everything was as he had remembered it. The instrument panel, the location of the portholes, even the stupid mermaid figure on the food unit, now turned into a black stump of carbon. As the torch slipped from his hand and fell, Neel caught a glimpse of the pilot’s seat in the dying light. There was a familiar figure sitting in it, the heat had burnt away almost everythinf but the safety harness still held onto the skeleton.

Neel didn’t remember how he had managed to crawl out in the dark. There was something warm and sticky inside his clothes. He must have cut himself on something sharp as he had been struggling to get out. He felt there was no point in trying to go back to the camp. He had just wanted to lie down. It had started to snow. He had never realised the snow was so beautiful. As he started losing his sense, he had heard Maya. Please don’t go Neel. Don’t leave me again. He had tried to say something but no sound had come off his lips. The snow had kept falling peacefully.

***

What happened here? It was a question more to himself than to the girl, who stood a few feet away. She was the first person he met since landing. She and her dog. The first living thing in three days…

September 29, 2019

Melancholy

I am sad for the past few days. And I am enjoying the feeling. It’s a kind of comforting fog of sadness which envelopes everything, like in a hill station on a drizzly day, turning everything grey and damp and you feel like sitting inside all day. Watching the water drops form on your glass window. Wanting the day to never end.

This sadness is not about something. It just feels like its the most natural state of being. Like its the underlying canvass before you started painting things on it, covering it with the colours of your life. And sometimes a little something is all that it takes to wipe the colours off. The end of summer. An old song you have heard after ages. Or perhaps just the rain.

You are left holding the canvas. And you realize that this is what was always there and will always be there. From the first time as a kid you had the feeling of feeling something and the last time in your life you will ever feel something.

Came accross this Zen poem on the internet. I wish I could express myself so beautifully.
A heart subdued,
Yet poignant sadness
Is so deeply felt:
A snipe flies over the marsh
As autumn dusk descends

August 10, 2019

Leaving Again

I wrote this post about two years ago when I was leaving the last place I was living in. Funny how time passes so quickly. It’s time to move on again. From East Anglia to the South West. Essex to Devon.

As I sit here with the door of my balcony slightly open, sudden gusts of wet wind bringing in a few drops of rain which are wetting my feet, I know I will miss this house, as I did the last one. And all the ones before.

The little part of the Chelmer river just outside the balcony. The ducks – I’ve counted upto forty in summer, marching up and down the river. And the marsh hens – a lot more solitary than the ducks, peaceful, timid, you almost feel sorry for them, they have such a “nice guy finishes last” air about them.

The only time I had seen a marsh hen excited was when I saw a seagull carry away a baby marsh hen from in front of its mother. It was tiny. Like a little ball of black wool floating on the water. I was working on my desk when I heard this loud squeaking, almost like a cry of pain. The seagull was carrying the baby away with the mother trying to fly behind it. Marsh hens can’t really fly. The mother didn’t make it too far. It fell back into the water and then started swimming around like it always does – with little to and fro movement of its head. I wonder how long after their babies death to the mother marsh hens still remember them.

We were lucky to have seen two bird families in our bird house – a family of black tits in the first year and then a family of blue tits in the next year. The blue tits were taking so long to start their family that I joked to my wife that they were DINK (double income no kids) blue tits. But they did have a family at last. I was lucky to see one or two of the little ones flying out of our bird box.

There is a nice garden in our balcony. Its not really a garden – more lots of flowerpots. Red, pink, orange and yellow flowers at the moment. I must say I have no credit in the existence of this garden. My wife does most of it. I occasionally water the plants when she is not home – and more than occasionally forget to water them (and have to face her wrath afterwards).

There is this walking trail which passes behind the block of apartments we live in. Its called the Saffron Trail. It starts somewhere in the interior of Essex and leads all the way to the sea. We go for walks along it quite frequently. Its quite pretty – running beside the Chelmer river through some nice country side. If you go out early enough, you can walk for an hour along it without meeting anyone.

Of all the places I have lived in (and if I leave out the house I grew up in because that always has a special place in your heart), this house was probably the nicest. I am sure I will miss it and I am sure the place I will go to next will not be as nice.

But when I reflect on my post from two years back, I seem to be a lot less sad now. Maybe I have just got used to moving. Or maybe as I grow older, I have got more used to the impermanence of things.

July 7, 2019

Dragonfly

I don’t know how it came inside the flat. Maybe through the balcony door. We had kept it open because of the heat. The sun shining through all the glass turns the room into a little green house. Especially when the summer sun is out like it was yesterday.

There are a few potted plants on the balcony. And a few more just inside – the ones which need the the sun (which they get through the glass door) but can’t stand the cold of the night. Maybe it was browsing the flowers outside and then saw something green inside and just decided to come in.

When I saw it, it was trying to head out. Unsuccessfully. Through the wrong way. The glass windows must have looked like the open sky to it. A little helicopter, crashing against the glass again and again.

I should open the window. I remember thinking. But I was doing something on my laptop. Too lazy to get up. I’ll do it later. I thought

I found its little lifeless body on the window sill this morning. Its tail twisted into a strange triangle. I was about to vacuum it up but then decided against it. I picked it up using a little piece of paper and dropped it into one of the flowerpots outside.

June 2, 2019

[Fiction] Earthrise

It looked no different from any other day. Barely ten people.

The old lady was there in her usual seat. The one behind the driver. He had never seen her getting up. Or down. It was as if she was a part of the bus. A somewhat worn out mannequin someone had forgotten to take home.

Some of the other regulars were there as well. And then the usual set of two to three new faces. He never knew where these “new” people came from. Magically appearing for a day and then disappearing for ever. Maybe they tried the bus and didn’t like it and went back to the underground. Most people people preferred the underground. It was cleaner, safer and faster. Much much faster.

He had tried the bus too. One day. All those years ago. But unlike most, he had tried the bus and stayed.

He liked the feeling of flying, or hovering to be more accurate. Wheeled vehicles had never made much sense on the surface of Luna. Hover-busses had been quite popular on the early days of settlement, before the Authorities had started building the underground.

He also liked the fact that it took almost two hours to reach the habitat from the mines. That meant that by the time he reached his module he had just enough time left to eat, watch the news on the tele and go to sleep. No time to do anything else.

The routine was comforting. He didn’t want to have to think about what to do. The routine meant that he didn’t have to. It had been almost ten years now. Six days a week. Fifty two weeks in the year. He hadn’t taken a single holiday even though even at his meagre salary he had enough saved now to visit Earth, or even Mars (if he took one of the cheaper shuttles).

There was only once he had taken a break. About five years back. It was after one of the local journos had the bright idea of doing a feature on “Number 26 – Our Last Hoverbus”. The fact that it made to the third page showed how little anything of interest happened on the mining colonies.

Anyway, the article had started out by mentioning how the Authorities had in their immense benevolence had decided to continue running the bus (even though it was making losses) in memory of all those killed in the accident five years ago. Then it had included a three four line profile on each of the regulars. The last one, “man in the last seat”, was about him.

The story had created enough of a buzz for the bus to be crowded with curious people over the next couple of days (again showing how little anything of interest ever happened here). And after the first day, he had decided to take a week off, just to keep away from those crowds.

They had got the story wrong anyway. At least his part of it. Typical crappy journalism.

The man who still travels every day on the same bus his partner had been killed on. She had wanted to take the underground but he had convinced her to take the bus. Still unable to forget his guilt, he travels on the bus, alone, on the same seat everyday where one day five years ago they sat together.

That’s what they had said. It wasn’t correct. She hadn’t been his partner. He had just met her a few weeks back at the mines. It was true he had never met anyone like her before, or since. But they were not married or engaged or anything like that.

And it hadn’t been guilt. It had just been as if the world had moved on and he had got stuck  sat down.

And the report had been wrong about him asking her. It was she who had wanted to take the bus. After seeing the photo he had taken on the previous day (which had been his first day on the bus). She had wanted to see the Earthrise too.

 

 

 

 

June 1, 2019

[Fiction] Hero

As the blue dot on the ship window was steadily growing bigger, a strange anxiety was gripping him more and more. He should have been happy. Going home after all these years.

Home. He wondered if it would even exist now. The place as he remembered it. It had been eight years his time. But decades on Earth. He hoped it still existed, even if as broken down ruins. It was the only place he had ever really called home even though he had lived in more than two dozen different places. Yes, that house, and in a way, this ship. Maybe that’s why he was feeling anxious. The ship had been his home now for the last few years. And tomorrow, he will leave it for good.

He glanced around his little kingdom. Maybe they will allow him to keep it. Its not as if the ship took up much space. Yes, he felt quite sure they will allow him to keep it. He was a hero after all. The last hope of humanity. Returning at last. When anyone else would have failed. Anyone else would have gone mad. He did it. He had found what they had sent him to find. And he was returning now.

He wondered what sort of welcome he would get tomorrow. He hoped he didn’t have to meet too many people. Nobody he knew would be there to meet him anyway. It was just too many years for that.

They were still not replying to his transmissions. But he wasn’t worried. He hadn’t used the equipment for years now. Maybe it wasn’t working properly. He would have a look at it tomorrow when he was in orbit. He was feeling tired now. A good time to sleep as any. The last night in his bunk. It was worn out now, almost as if moulded to his shape. He could see the window from his bunk. The blue planet was still growing in size.

***

We can’t let him land. Who knows if he is still carrying the infection. Its too big a risk.

We can’t just kill him. What happens if the press finds out. I can forget re-election. Actually, if the press finds out I ordered the vaporisation of humanities greatest hero, I can forget my fucking political career.

No one will find out. The transmission is still too weak. I’m sure we are the only ones who have caught it. No one will find out if we act now. If we wait till tomorrow, it will be a whole different ball game.

Do what you have to do then. Just keep my name out of it. I can’t help feel a bit sorry for the poor chap. After all he went through for us, he couldn’t even get back home.

I’m sure he would understand if he knew. In fact I am sure he would even approve of it. That’s what heroes are for, aren’t they. To sacrifice for others. To die so that others can live and all that stuff. I’ll call you when its all over.

No don’t call. Not unless things go wrong. Just let me know in the morning. I need some sleep. Have a busy day tomorrow.

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