Bangladesh is in the labyrinth of an autocratic rule. Some call it Bangladesh Krishak Sramik…..
( All characters and incidents are fictitious. Any resemblance to any one alive or dead is mere coincidence. The author cannot take responsibility for his vivid imagination.)
Lucifera walks as if he is swimming in the wind. An old-fashioned man always suited & booted, his Chaucerian English resounding Beowulf, Luci is fond of talking. But he is a tedious talker of the empty-vessel genre. Now you may ask who is Lucifera and why am I talking about him. Is he a character out of Dr Faustus?
Good question. Our Luci is a sleep-walker still haunted by the colonial century. A man, who missed the ride out on our time-machine. Hairstyle that reminds us of Joseph Conrad’s anti-heroes, and a fetish for African food, commonwealth women and blackberry. He boasts of his blackberry as Moses’ stick — a 24-hour-schizophrenia to rule his colony. Till the age of 50, Luci’s character was as good as that of Mr Bush: the only monogamic man in the world of Laura. Past 50 Luci tries to add some romanticism to his failing humours: he follows Gordon Brown’s hairdo, memorises toxic paras from Don Juan and forgets his lunch-hour if there is a young commonwealth girl sitting across him.
But don’t mistake. Luci is a self-made man, started from big zero and approaching an even bigger one. Fishing was always his favourite past-time, but now he doesn’t need to visit Scotland or North Sea resorts; colourful fish are easily catchable in his dry office room, his neo-colony, the daily blackberry. Check out Luci’s list of catch for the day.
Dialogue with Islam
A four foot eight girl, secular, forward-looking and an emancipated Muslim. Naina alias Nanny, wearing a tight white T-shirt with President Musharraf ambushed on the chest and hipster jeans for the rest. She is a bold campaigner of the war against terrorism, a great admirer of Musharraf because he played a major role in dismantling Taliban hangover in Pakistan.
Lucifera stares at this young star, spellbound and motionless — short height but what a long sight into politics.
“I have good news for you Nanny. You will get the job.”
Nanny waves her eyes from behind specs, not knowing how to thank this pre-old man.
“But how? I can’t write.”
“Leave that to me darling. You can think, that’s enough for us.”
“Luci, I know a lot about honour killing too.”
Nanny appears almost in tears, “Do you know how badly subjugated are they. Our male-dominated Muslim society treats them like slaves. An inch across the social borderline and the mullah’s spell out fatwa to kill them publicly by stoning.”
Nanny bursts out in tears. She wails and murmurs for Muslim women. Luci holds her hand, sympathises on her shoulder and promises: “Nanny, you are our symbol. You will break the silence. Blackberry will offer you a strong platform.”
Gandhi Ji Seeks Appointment
Luci hates when the phone rings in the middle of his absorbed discussions on honour killings or the war on terror. His secretary reminds him of Rakesh’s appointment.
“Tell him to wait.”
Rakesh, a senior journalist, has to wait for goddo. Busy with Nanny, Goddo was trying to make her laugh at old Readers’ Digest jokes. The door suddenly opens. Out comes Nanny looking like a happy bride with a smiling Goddo smiling beside her.
“Nanny, come to me anytime you like.”
With the same wave of his head Luci changes the geography of his jaws, swallowing his smile before turning to Rakesh.
“You have got only ten minutes.”
A tribute to the 60th year of Indian Independence, Rakesh is working on Gandhi Ji’s philosophy. Why not? After all, Rakesh boasts of an uncanny resemblance to the great leader: semi-bald-headed, round specs and the simplicity of proletariats.
“You have prepared a story on 1946,” asks Luci.
“That’s 1947, the year of Indian Independence.”
“I know, my grandfather was a British soldier stationed in Delhi at that time.”
“Will you take a look at what I have written?”
“I am busy right now. Don’t get so emotional about the half-naked leader. Make the article short and dry. Is that clear?”
Rakesh has no choice but to understand, as Tahmida, another commonwealth young girl, is already hanging by Luci’s door. Walking through Lucifera’s long corridor Rakesh has a smile of a son who never had a father, just like that of Gandhi Ji’s.
Nobel Laureate Prof. Yunus, the banker of the poor, thinks that poverty is Third World’s capital. Indeed, the poor look on Tahmida’s face, a lower middle-class helplessness enveloping her body, relay her capability of drawing the attention of the World Bank or IMF. Our own World Bank chief, Wolfowitz, read Lucifera, anxiously asks Tahmida, “What ails you, why do you look shaken and dazed.”
“I can’t do night-shift. I am ill. The doctor says I need an operation.”
Tahmida starts to cry, shaking and sobbing with the fear of the illness-monster. Luci doesn’t know how to cry but he gives it a try. “Don’t worry, have patience, have faith on me. Now give me a smile. The same dazzling smile you gave me on the piano evening.”
The compliment alone appeases Tahmida’s pain.
“Luci, there is a mobbing structure in my section. I was scolded by my section-chief for coming late to work. You know we got home late after that piano evening.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of that old hagger. Media scenario is changing fast and there’s no room for the oldies here. You are young, I will crown you darling. You are such a gem. If I could clone you, blackberry could topple the Tribune.
Poor eyes glittering like marbles, Tahmida laughs. The room shivers with the echoes of a running horse. Lucifera’s warm hug engulfs her in a closeness of a demi-god.
“My mentor, my Luci.”
On her way out Tahmida’s feels her forehead for the heaviness of the promised crown. It was a bird-twittering summer evening. She pinched an SOS SMS: “Will you not visit me at the hospital?”
Luci would have been a very good kindergarten teacher. His instincts to be just that haunt him to the extent that his monthly meetings with fellow journalists reflect a playgroup classroom. Holding court, he feels like none other than Larry King. Point of emphasis being the ‘king’ who owns a harem full of commonwealth probation girls.
Colonial bureaucracy has a parallel system of gradual promotion of clerks to officers, who are affectionately called ‘promotees’. Even non-commissioned soldiers, at times, get commission-brazed as second lieutenants at the twilight of their career. Lucifera’s heading the Blackberry is something similar to that. One fine morning when he unexpectedly finds himself sitting on the king’s chair his euphoric disbelief is a sight for all. God has sent him to this earth to run such a big circus. Why not? I came, I saw, I conquered.
So he enters the classroom like a hero of a mock epic. The biggest gimmick of Luci’s classroom is a power-point presentation. Showing off the tools of journalism, he stands in front of the big screen with the orgasmic smile of Bill Gates’ half-brother. Remember Dr Faustus who believed he was Mr Know All. Luci’s antique English, horde of age-old proverbs and stubborn attempts at proving his intellectual height leave a similar impression. For experienced journalists this classroom is a gas-chamber, whereas the on-probation commonwealth girls eagerly await the Q&A sessions to show their ability at asking stupid questions and put forward laughter-provoking suggestions. Luci’s world order is definitely incomplete without them.
Nanny over and again raises questions and concerns at women emancipation. Tahmida cannot frame questions but her shivering-horse laughter compensates for that. Rakesh is fond of discussions on post-modernism. Towards the end of the class Luci shows his blackberry.
“Write me an e-mail anytime. I’ll will be there for you.”
Confusing. Is he expecting an e-mail or a fe-mail.
The mail department is run by a pre-old woman, Naira. Of Luci’s age group, she wears dozens of pink butterfly clips on her dyed hair, puts on red foundation to hide the geometrical revenge of age and is politically fond of cooking for Luci. Hot, spicy South Asian food that is a regular concern for all those with delicate stomachs and minds. That’s not all. She is a photograph freak, likes the constant flashes standing next to the boss. She longs to become a journalist and so lobbies for her friend Iqbal’s promotion.
Naira, like those crooked typical mothers-in-law characters in Hindi soap opera’s, and Iqbal, carrying the legacy of those native Brutes-type collaborators who helped East India Company rulers, are both ideal for Luci. He likes to have a bunch of clowns to work as informers in different departments, so that he, Luci, can ensure a colony without fear of revolt.
Iqbal tries hard to win his master’s stone-cold soul; butters and repeats Luci’s proverbs like a parrot. Waiting for the master to phone him, Iqbal practices to talk to the invisible crown.
Luci supports another parasite, Gobi, a good-looking, good-for-nothing Indianized Casanova. Gobi’s aptitude for Indological fantasies is seriously recognized by Luci. Gobi follows him around like a shadow in red tie, roaming the office like a ping pong ball. His actual assignment remains unknown till date. A universal cigarette-seeker, especially from girls, Gobi claims to be a social democrat but, really, he stares at Asians the way a neo-conservative does. Luci doesn’t like unofficial social gatherings. So, from time to time, Gobi is assigned to keep an eye on coffee tables for intra-office dynamics.
This is not an era of alienation, but Luci believes otherwise. No one but the chosen few should have friends in the office. He walks alone, all alone, towards the cafeteria; in desperate times accompanied by Gobi, not a friend but a mere Charlie. Sometimes during lunch hour Gobi is sent for snap checking. To find out if anyone has brought spicy South Asian food to share with colleagues. Gobi tries to smell like a German Shepherd, food as well as any inner politics against his master. The tragic part of Gobi’s life is when he has to make do with a dry sausage with his nostrils still trickled by the alluring fragrance of hot Indian food.
Gobi ignites his own sense of importance by feeding Luci with imaginary conspiracy theories. He tries to cash on Luci’s sense of insecurity inherited from his ancestors regarding Indians. When Luci gets to learn from Gobi of the 1857 armed struggle of Indian soldiers against the East India Raj, he suffers many sleepless nights. Once during a cigarette-seeking attempt, Gobi came to know of some details of that struggle from Rakesh. Later, he collected a bollywood movie, Mangal Panday, to impress Luci with his knowledge of Indian history of independence.
Contract on the table
Atmosphere inside the Blackberry is reminiscent of Alex Haley’s Roots; the way black slaves were brought from Africa, the way they were treated, the life and humiliation of Kunta Kinte, desperate attempts to crush down Kunta’s black identity, in short, the saga of human existence. Those days of hatred and racial discrimination are legally over. But Luci’s colonial hangover refuses to wipe out the past. Hiring a South Asian journalist genetically prompts him to convert euros into rupees. For Luci, that’s the vantage point of human identity. For a brown South Asian the lowest of salary package should be enough, he believes. And why not? Think of Mr Bush: either you are with me or against me.
Remember when Gulliver visited Brobdignag and saw an uncouth huge woman, Diya. Now a days she works at the Blackberry as a section chief. A half-German, she knows everything except journalism. Another insecure woman resembling her master, Lucifera. Diya informs him about a girl in her section, Rodela Singh, who doesn’t show sufficient subordination. Rodela is a Rajput, so blind subordination is the last thing one should expect from her. Luci doesn’t want to miss the chance to fence with Rodela’s defences.
“Ms. Singh I have heard that you don’t cooperate with your colleagues.”
“That’s not true, Mr. Luci. I think I have optimum communication skills and I know my job well.”
“Don’t you think you sound over-confident.”
“Look Mr. Luci, I didn’t get any holidays in the last six months. I requested Ms. Diya to at least approve a few days as my mother is visiting. But she refused to do so.”
“You should know Ms. Singh that your contract is on my table and I may not extend it if the management is unhappy with your performance.”
Rodela cannot comprehend the type of performance Luci is expecting from her. Is it that of Nanny and Tahmida who perform in his crazy office room or on those tantalizing piano evenings to satisfy his mid-fifties masculine ego. Much as she wants, Rodela cannot tell Luci that she joined the Blackberry as a journalist, not an entertainer.
Kunta Kinte at home
Mrs. Luci is about to throw away her husband’s blackberry for she is suspicious of his receiving and sending fe-mails all the time. Weekends are especially bad as he is then supposed to clean the windows, mow the grass, remove snow from the porch and help with other household chores. This issue has been bothering Luci for quite sometime. One day while going through family photographs he sees one in which his grandparents are sitting on chairs with two maid servants at their feet. The photograph dated Nov 16, 1946 — Delhi. He jumps up and runs out half-naked like Archimedes and yelling ‘Eureka, Eureka.’
He calls up Tahmida to find out if she knows anyone who could be of domestic help; a post-modern coinage for maid servant. She tells him that her best friend Jarina is jobless and hoping to work as a journalist at the Blackberry. Luci tells Tahmida that Jarina can start her probation at his house under the direct supervision of Mrs. Luci and later in case of vacancy she can join the Blackberry.
Jarina arrives at Luci’s house one day for an interview. Mrs. Luci dislikes this thin, black Ethiopian-looking girl with large specs on her nose and headphones glued to her ears. Jarina’s heavily accented wrong English jars Mrs. Luci out of her senses. Catching the tail end of Jarina’s monotone chattering she realizes that this girl refuses to work on weekends because of her swimming and dance lessons. Mrs. Luci is not at all happy but she has to accept the fact that times have indeed changed. Finding colonial-style full-time helping hands can only remain a dream.
Jarina misses no chance to impress Luci with her accented wrong English, while Luci relishes this true offspring of colonial discourse. Luci has no idea of South Asian politics, so Jarina fills him in on issues that are actually non-issues. In a short time Luci’s living room turns into a fools’ paradise. Jarina’s chattering earns her a free-lance job at the Blackberry but on the condition that she continues to visit the Luci House thrice a week. Mrs. Luci requests her to drop her MP3 player at least when she is helping with household chores. With long-term prospects in mind Jarina has no choice but to accept this tough condition.
Jungle Game Theory
Lucifera suffers from acute paranoia; he feels threatened by experienced journalists in the house and annoyed at those who are not willing to be part of his puppetry. He plants Nanny, Diya and Tahmida in different sections as informers. To establish his uni-polar system he creates a cold and tense environment. Taking control of everything under his umbrella he diligently sits in front of the computer to prepare duty charts, a typical promotee psyche. His duty charts favour his favourites: the commonwealth girls. Depriving senior freelancers, Nanny is offered regular work and money. When confronted on this issue, Luci shrugs off the responsibility by claiming huge budget shortage.
“I am lying down overturned with tied arms and legs.”
But when it comes to paying nanny and Jarina his arms and legs are as free as those of a demi-god, with a Don Juan smile to top it off.
With senior journalists becoming a pain for Luci, Gobi suggests ethnic cleansing by fabricating charges against them. Diya is assigned to collect false charges of sexual harassment from the commonwealth girls. Girls who are not even worthy of any sexual destination.
Lucifera holds absolute power when it comes to recruiting puppets. According to the Luci doctrine everyone can do everything. Indeed, when a promotee can run a media house, then Nanny, Tahmida, Diya and Jarina, too, can claim to be journalists. So eliminate Rakesh, a journalist with passion, who occupies himself with intensive research for his articles and talks too much in meetings on content-improvement. Rakesh takes all the insults from Luci because of his faith on Gandhi Ji’s non-violent teachings. Even in an age of great dictators like Bush, Putin, Kim Yong Il, Mugabe or Lucifera, Rakesh waits for the dawn when truth shall rise like a phoenix from ashes.
Animal Farm – Part 2
We should pursue our readers the way a cat chases a mouse, Lucifera briefs his neo-journalists. But budget deficit is a constant hiccup.
“I am in a desperate situation, the way a cat chases its own tail,” bemoans Luci, but not for too long. He is confident of making a three-piece suit out of a cloth small enough for an underwear. From his lot of commonwealth girls he is sure of finding horses for the courses. After all, in his words, print media has gone antique and the future is on-line. Rakesh tries to tell him that as Blackberry targets third world countries not many readers have access to internet. Luci rejects this fact: “If we don’t go on-line our situation will soon be that of a cat among pigeons.
Budget shortage has forced Luci to suggest reprinting of good articles: “Give new shape to old articles, whitewash a crow and present it as a peacock.” All wonder if this is Luci’s basic theory in life too. Rolling his eyes, Luci acts like he is going to disclose Pentagon’s biggest secret. Let the cat out of the bag: “We have received the highest telephone bills this month. Please stop making personal calls.” The fact that his commonwealth girls top the list of those who keep the lines busy with long-distance tele-sex calls is conveniently ignored.
“I can take the horse to the water but can’t make it drink”. Iqbal repeats the animal proverb like a parrot and tries to apply it in support of Luci’s reprinting suggestion: “As Mr Luci says, less is more.” Little does Iqbal know that Luci plagiarized this theory from Melvin Mencher’s ‘Basic News Writing’.
The way Luci’s meetings are jinxed with childish theories of journalism and budget shortage, it seems that perhaps his would-be book will carry the title ‘Save Money Rape Journalism’.
This is not about Roman Polanski’s Pianist, but a 60-plus youthful German and former head of the Blackberry. An Indology expert, secular at heart, humane by nature and a very good pianist, it was Dr Mueller who encouraged Rakesh into the world of Blackberry. Rakesh remembers the days when the house was a Whiteberry. Integration, peace and tolerance were Dr Mueller’s strengths. In sharp contrast to Lucifera he was a great admirer of above-average journalists. He believed in freedom of expression and association. Censorship was the most disliked word in his dictionary.
Sitting alone at the coffee corner Rakesh cherishes the golden days gone by. Compared to Lucifera’s iron curtain Mueller’s was a regime of happiness. He was not a demi-god but a true human being who would take journalists out on tours to places like Lorelei where nature and vineyards are at their best. Those were trips with a beautiful mind.
In the name of gender balance Lucifera promotes unprofessional commonwealth entertainers and dislikes good female journalists who are indifferent to his advances. Dr Mueller, on the other hand, was a fatherly figure, equally affectionate to both men and women. From politics to horizontal range of music and art, Mueller could discuss on everything worth discussing. Rakesh could never impress him with his index knowledge but sometimes his discourse on Upanishads really caught Dr Mueller’s attention.
The happiest moments of life are often the shortest. When Dr Mueller decided to leave Blackberry, the dusk of freedom also decided to scroll into the dungeons of darkness. Luci’s take-over was a cruel sunset; one without a Battle of Plassey. Rakesh sits dejectedly like an orphan. Luci’s commonwealth girls are scared to share a table with him, as they have been instructed to stay away from those who refuse to show unconditional subordination. It’s tough on these weak-at-work girls. But they have to ensure contracts for themselves before they reach their menopause twilight.
While I write the last chapter of my long short story Lucifera is celebrating the anniversary of the Sub-continent’s independence in the colony of his Blackberry. An Indian island still ruled by Lord Clive. The irony of the evening is that Luci gets to cherish his own little colony where Naira cooks Indian food, Iqbal refills his wine glass, Nanny dances in his grasp, Tahmida ensures an environment filled with horse-laughter, Jarina cleans up after dinner, Gobi accompanies him like a psychophant-shadow and at least five interns playing music for the ball. These are the five puppets who have all been promised the same single available post. The perfect doctrine of cannibalism. A fight till death.
Those good journalists recruited by Dr Mueller stand in a corner. Luci keeps an eye on them. Diya’s eyes roll like surveillance cameras. I feel sorry for the likes of Rakesh and Rodela, caught up in Luci’s guantanamo. But that’s not all. Luci is also celebrating the departure of a colonizer from West India Company, who could lure the minds of both the good and the bad. August 9: the day Quit India Movement started is also the day Luci’s invisible colonizer left Blackberry. But there is a difference: that of the hungry beggar and the fasting monk.
The colonizer has departed but Luci still suffers from hallucinations. As if the Mask of Zorro cannot be removed. Dear Luci, look at me. I am the DJ now. Tonight you and your troupe will have to do mujra for me. Hold on. Stop. Let me ignite my cigarette. Don’t worry. It’s not your pyre. I will give you more time…