Monday, January 10, 2005

chapati sci fi

An eventful week just passed, and left no time to blog.
and now that there is some, however little, time on hand, i don't know what to write about.
Much interesting time spent with Brian Larkin.
A night in the life of Delhi Air Traffic Control. (soon up)
Three days of an eventful conference on contested commons, trespassing publics.(linked to in the last post) a kickass finale to that, an impassioned, thought provoking, cosmic connection making stand up comedy public lecture by Peter Linebaugh. (Monty Python and DD Kosambi would both have been proud, not to mention EP Thompson.)
And last night, a two and a half hour adaptation of Premchand's Rangbhoomi, on stage at NSD, which served as a fade out to the conference, being about the enclosure of common lands, and the resistance to that, in a nineteenth century Indian village.

however, apart from the commisioned atc story, there is nothing i feel i can comprehend enough to write about right now.
so im returning to some old faded stories - in the genre of alternative history.
something i started writing in 2001, three weeks after 9/11.
in this alternate history, too close for comfort, and hence abandoned, i imagine what the 150th anniversary of the sepoys entering delhi might be like.
the presumption of the alternate history was this. that instead of, as they did, being overconfident of a victory and hence calling elections early, the bjp government in power in 2004 knew that they were going to lose the elections, and declared a state of national emergency before the elections... from where we lead on to 11 May 2007, also the anniversary of India's nuclear tests... and a day which strikingly parallels with the events of Delhi, 1857.

sepoy, methinks you would have liked the novel if it had ever been completed... the first of the genre of chapati sci fi... unfortunately abandoned halfway, when the iraq war made all dystopic sci fi redundant.
meanwhile, the first two parts of the novel exist as word documents on a shared computer... and i'm glad that this particular alternate reality seems a very remote possibility noew, if only in this part of the world...


11 May 2007

No speed of wind or water rushing by
But you have speed far greater. You can climb
Back up a stream of radiance to the sky,
And back through history up the stream of time...


If only it could be that simple. The Red Fort passes on our left, three electrified wire mesh fences strung across blasted, barren rubble strewn earth protecting it from the passing traffic, represented by our solitary car. Uniformed soldiers stand behind sandbagged gun emplacements in the graffiti scarred marble pavilions where lovers of Mughal princesses were once boiled to death in heated bath water, scented with roses. Down the long black barrels of anti-aircraft guns they track us, their guns swiveling in the classic ‘pan’ of good camera technique. The only things preventing our car from becoming a classic exploding fireball photo-op is a white flag fluttering in the slipstream, and a PRESS sign painted in lurid red lipstick diagonally across the white roof.

The road is where the river used to be. Before the river went away, disgusted by the events of 1857, it used to flow down through the canyon formed between the Red Fort and the then island of Salimgarh down all along the length of what became the Ring Road all the way till Humayun’s Tomb and beyond. And so, Frost inspired metaphors. The river of history has changed its course here, and we are going upstream the ghost of a river. And Frost didn’t mention anything at all about the speed being that of a news corporation’s car.

All this means something I’m sure, but I don’t even want to think what it could be. It’s bad enough that the planes are back.

Helicopter gunships, actually. The bleached white, dirt streaked sky of burning May is abuzz with them. The racket of blades chopping air for locomotion, machines flying low over the battlements of the Fort, the fragile glass bubbles of the dragonfly Cheetahs, obsolete, but that’s never stopped the IAF from flying anything. Ponderous, tenacious bulldog, how the hell do they stay aloft Mil bureau Hunds, with death-spitting rocket pods attached to their stub-wings. The strange elongated, reptilian shapes of USAF Cobras and Apaches, their anti-glint canopies dead to the sun. Brief exciting thoughts of ‘Breaking News’ before I wonder which of them is really real.

None, of course. There are anti-aircraft guns in the Old City. A whole dozen of Pinaka multi-barreled SAM launchers. And, according to the Defense Ministry, about twenty Stingers. Nothing’s gonna fly over Shahjahanabad for a while yet, except the carrier pigeons. Things just haven’t been the same since they shot that Stealth over Kosovo.

Shit, I have to quit this job. The planes will turn to Baghdad my Kabul-ed fucking mind. Or vice versa. We’ve looped a long way round the walls since the Fort. To where the concrete pillars of the elevated railway nearly touch and totally dwarf the stone walls of Shahjahanabad. Where shell holes and rising smoke and the burnt carcasses of buses seem strewn at random over the grimy cement acreage of the Inter State Bus Terminal. Where Brits dynamited their way back into the city in 1857. Where more sandbags and more soldiers are packed into the ‘Tourist Camp’ and the leafy paths and shaded arcades of the Qudsia (or is it Maharana Pratap?) gardens, across road from the battlements again defended by guns after a hundred and fifty years.

My head vibrates as the ‘Newsflash’ buzz goes and I look at the world through black text across my eyes. ‘ BA Flight ___ Delhi-London shot down over Israel. Suspected terrorist aboard.’

Angel’s kiss this morning lingers. A brief, cool brushing of lips. At four thirty in the morning. At the airport where I’d gone to see her off.

The helicopters buzz overhead. Flak puffs into the sky.

XXX

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