The Pun Chronicles #8 – The Schema of Emphysema

Sooraj walked into the apartment complex with his customary smile plastered across his face. This smile was not necessarily a reflection of his mood, but simply a necessity. He was a well-known figure in this area. Every person he encountered knew him, and in return, he knew them or someone closely related to them as well. This was what necessitated the smile. Acquaintances tend to expect you to be happy to see them, and take it personally if your expression is anything short of mirthful, even if they are not the cause of your mirthlessness.

Greeting all the passersbys by their first name, stopping every few steps to greet yet another acquaintance, it took him a while to get to the elevator, where he finally was allowed to gather his thoughts to himself again. He stepped off the elevator on the fourth floor, and approached the apartment at the end of the corridor and rang the bell.

A woman, with the miserable countenance common to those of the lower strata of society, opened the door and sighed. Sooraj stepped inside, bowing to the maid, and requesting to meet the master of the house.

“Hi, Ramma. Is Jake in?” he asked.

“Yes, Mister,” she spoke, her voice sounding muted, melancholic.

He entered Jake’s room, staring enviously at the bed. Sooraj’s own room had no such luxuries, merely a mattress. Jake lay prone across the very same bed, deeply in the throes of slumber, mouth slightly open, breathing lightly. To Sooraj’s ears, Jake’s breathing sounded a bit ragged, and his skin seemed a bit pale,  but he couldn’t be sure, since there was hardly any light in the room.

He walked back outside, looking for Ramma. He found her squatting near an empty vegetable crate, her shoulders silently shaking as she cried. Hearing Sooraj approach, she composed herself and turned to face him.

“Is Jake ill? He looks extremely weak,” Sooraj asked.

Ramma’s lower lip trembled as she spoke, “Yes, Mister. He has been getting worse every day.”

“Every day? How long has he been ill?”

“He has been ill for more than a fortnight now, Mister. Ever since Mr. Chandra came over.”

The alarm bells sounded for the first time within Sooraj’s head. Something was off here.

“What happened when Mr. Chandra was here?”

“Well, Mister, he came over three weeks ago. He refused to eat anything I cooked. They both stopped stocking up the vegetables. There is no rice, no flour, nothing for me to cook. Mr. Chandra ordered food for himself, but then would find the food not so much to his liking and give it to Jake. Every day the same routine. I saw it happen before my eyes, but they never listen to me.“

What was Chandra up to?

Sooraj knew Chandra well, having studied in the same class as Chandra’s father. He also knew the owner of the restaurant that Chandra was habituated to ordering from. Neither of these facts brought much comfort to his mind. In fact, it discomfited him no end. He had never considered Chandra to be of much consequence. In the areas that mattered, Chandra had always been a pawn.

But this situation seemed to be exactly the kind Chandra thrived in. He may have been only a pawn, but this was a pawnsy scheme.

Hesitating no longer, convinced that Jake had been poisoned, Sooraj pulled out his stash of homeopathic medicine. Feeling the vibes emanating from each of the bottles, he chose the one that exuded the purest vibes, and handed the bottle to Ramma, directing her towards Jake.

“Listen carefully, Ramma, you must feed Jake five of these tablets. Exactly five, no more and no less. That is imperative. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Mister.”

Approaching her Master’s bed, Ramma’s hands shook. The gravity of the situation, coming as it did at the tail end of a stressful fortnight, was taking its toll on her nerves. Tilting the bottle over Jake’s mouth, she counted as the pills fell in.


She stepped back, relieved at the completion of the task. Sooraj, too, breathed a sigh of relief.

Suddenly, Jake awoke.

“What the fuck…” were the words of erudition to first emanate from his mouth.

Sooraj and Ramma chuckled, but their joy was short-lived. Jake had bent over the side of his luxurious bed, and was now retching and puking violently. Rushing to his side, Ramma noticed blood all over the floor, and shrieked in horror. Looking around to Sooraj for guidance, she saw the room was empty. She ran through the house, searched every corner, but he had vanished without a trace.

All the while, the sound of Jake disgorging the contents of his intestine impelled her to act faster and more decisively.
Quickly grabbing her cell phone, she called up the resident doctor, trying, between hysterical bouts of crying, to explain what happened to him. The doctor did not understand much, but understood immediate attention was needed. Showing up at the apartment, minutes later, he rang the bell, and was greeted by Ramma, almost on the verge of lunacy by now.

“Hello, Ramma,” he said, trying to introduce some calm into the situation, “What seems to be the issue?”

Ramma set off on another convoluted attempt at bringing him up to speed, but the Doctor was unable to make head or tail of what she said.

“Ramma! I need you to calm down and explain to me what happened. The quicker you calm down, the faster I can help you.”

The wisdom of his words seemed to register belatedly in Ramma’s mind. She visibly calmed down and, taking a deep breath, gave a brief, but concise synopsis of the situation.

“Doctor, Jake ill, and Mister hide.”

Jonathan Swift – A Masterclass in Satire

Jonathan Swift, with A Modest Proposal, unleashes a scathing attack on the state of affairs in Ireland, at society’s inaction to improve the deplorable state and at the Government for what he perceived to be willful inaction.

Ireland was suffering, at this point, from a host of problems including overpopulation, unemployment, severe poverty, disease, and starvation. Swift saw this all too clearly, and his keen insight brought him only frustration as he recognized both the severity of the issues that faced society and their unwillingness to do anything about it.

Wielding his sharp, morbid satire to bring the farce into the limelight, Jonathan Swift plays the part of a good Samaritan trying to find a solution to the most pressing issues that plagued Ireland at his time. A Modest Proposal starts out seriously enough and transitions far too comfortably into its satirical tone. The transition is so seamless that the reader is left fidgeting at the introduction of Swift’s solutions because he is not entirely sure how much is spoken in jest.

Swift’s reasoning runs thus: Ireland, being a Christian country, frowned upon abortion or foeticide. A woman, once pregnant, was expected to go through with the pregnancy and rear the baby no matter what the consequences. This often led to women of the lower classes being encumbered with unwanted pregnancies and then slogging the rest of their lives to provide for a child who was surplus to their requirements or wishes. This had the knock-on effect of miring them even further in the depths of poverty, resulting in the child being brought up amongst squalor and meagreness.

Swift, using faultless logic, shows how there are no positive outcomes to this scenario. The mother’s adult life is consumed in trying to keep up with the additional expenses. The unwanted pregnancy, usually out of wedlock, results in ostracization of the family from society. The child, out of desperation or poverty, often turns to a life of crime. There are no winners. Moreover, all the while the populace stares on, disenchanted and unperturbed, as family after family is dragged into the mud.

But here, Swift steps in. Surely, says he, there is a better way of going about this. Surely a nation as enterprising as Ireland must not bow in subjection to a problem as small as this. Swift’s pride and patriotism shine through and cannot be concealed even by the heavy sarcasm that liberally coats the text. And so he sets the platform for his proposed solution.

A child was suckled for close to a year before it is weaned off the mother’s milk and fed solid food. The provision of solid food to a growing child is what proves to be the greatest drain on a parent’s finances. Swift reasons that it is at this point that the mothers need to make a change.

His “Modest Proposal” is that when the child has reached the age of one, he/she should be sold to the aristocracy as a delicacy to be consumed. A simple solution, the positive repercussions of which affect every segment of society.

The parent, being paid more for the child than its upbringing would have cost in a year’s time, would make a profit and avoid all the required expenses, hence alleviating their poverty to some extent. The measure will discourage abortions, which would be seen as a positive in a Christian society. And the aristocrats will have a new delicacy to fawn over. Swift suggests marketing the new dish to the upper classes as an exclusive experience that is reserved for only those residing on the uppermost rungs of the societal ladder. The aura that accompanies such exclusivity will result in the prices always being comfortably high so as to guarantee the parents of the child do not get the raw end of the deal. And, as Swift so succinctly puts it, the aristocrats have made a habit of feeding off the lifeblood of the masses in any case, and so a chance to literally feed on them will not be taken amiss.

And finally, as if we needed any more convincing, Swift brings to our notice the amount of attention, and as a result, the tourism, that will be attracted to Ireland by this practice. People all over the world will flock to Ireland to witness this never-seen-before industrialized consumption of infant meat. Swift even conjectures that this may be the beginning of a worldwide phenomenon, of which Irish pioneering thought would be the fountainhead.

This, then, was Swift’s modest proposal to solve Ireland’s various issues. It may be seen as a classic of the genre of satire, from one of its best ever writers. But more importantly, it is a reminder that bears much relevance even today. This book was Jonathan Swift’s way of telling us that if we continue turning a blind eye to societal evils, and let the status quo dig us deeper into our grave, then it is only through drastic and disturbing measures that we will be able to salvage anything as a species. The eating of the infants is a delicious use of symbolism by Swift, signifying the depraved world that we are leaving our children in. The world where dog-eat-dog is considered pragmatic and wise, and altruism holds no place in reality.

Reclaiming My Family Name

A few years ago, I sent my passport in for renewal. I filled in all the forms, checked and double-checked all the details, using my trained editors’ eyes to their fullest capacity. I can, with utmost confidence, claim to have submitted a perfect form. However, things like that rarely ever matter when it comes to dealing with the Government. Some underpaid, overworked employee somewhere managed to omit my surname from the new passport, and just like that, I was transformed. From Haji Mohammed Usman, I became Mohammed Usman. I could, as the reader will point out, have applied for a correction, but the red tape I had to navigate to get my passport at all had been such a dreadful ordeal, I decided my surname was the lesser sacrifice to make.

At that moment, it was a simple decision, borne out of laziness and a reluctance to deal with bureaucracy. However, as often happens with these things, the true significance of my actions (or lack of) came to me quite some time later. How was it, I wondered to myself, that an irritable, nitpicky guy like myself had no qualms giving up something that was so integral to my identity? How was I lounging nonchalantly in my bedroom, knowing full well that the incompetence of a nameless employee had robbed me of my familial name? Did it mean that I did not value my family? Did it mean I had already severed ties with them mentally, and this accident was only a happy coincidence?

On reflection, the case appeared to me to be the very opposite. It did not bother me to lose my surname on paper, because to me, a Haji was not a title, or a surname, or an identity, but a way of living. A way of being. A weltanschauung.

I was never one for identity labels. I never found the solace of communal harmony in being called a Muslim or a Kashmiri or an Indian or even a human being. I never tried to hide my origins, I am not ashamed of them in the least, but I never wore them as badges either. They were circumstances, not defining traits. My surname was another title, a label, one that mattered only as far as official records go. What mattered to me was how I felt, and no passport would change that. That was the reason behind my equanimity. It did not matter whether my name officially contained the word “Haji”. What mattered was that I felt like one. As a person, I live as Hajis live.

This train of thought naturally led me to consider what Haji-ness actually means in my book. I have tried to capture it as faithfully as I can. It is never easy to describe what is felt innately. And I have never felt anything more naturally and unconsciously than my own Haji-ness.

As a rule, our over-riding trait is stubbornness. As is usually the case, extremes of any trait usually cause as many problems as they bring benefits, and this case is no different. If a Haji is convinced that it is right that he try and get a boulder to the top of the mountain, then the eternal nature of the Sisyphean task is no longer an absurdity, but simply the logical outcome of his stubbornness. The image of Andy Dufresne chipping away at the prison wall for nineteen years is one a Haji will feel quite at home with, provided he have the conviction in the worth of the endeavor.

There are the usual cons to this behavior. A Haji can seem pig-headed, obdurate, obstinate and all the usual adjectives that apply. It is easier to convince a lioness to give up her cubs than to convince a Haji to concede a point. But this stubbornness does not exist as an anomaly, all by itself. It is carefully fostered, from the very beginning of our lives, in tandem with our other over-riding trait: Confidence.

When I think back to my earliest memories, it is clear to me that even then, as a bumbling, clumsy, forgetful, stupid little child, there were not too many feats that I considered to be beyond my capability. And this was not something I was born with, but something that permeated the very essence of the way I was brought up. And the living examples of my paternal grandfather, my father, and my sisters waltzing through achievement after achievement without a fuss only served to reinforce that self-belief. However, I do not use the term “self-belief” in the manner that it is commonly understood. The construct of my self-confidence has a bit of a military feel to it. Individually speaking, at core, I was and still am more prone to self-doubt than self-confidence. However, there is an external wall, a shield of confidence, not in myself, but in my breeding, so to speak.

In case that was not clear, allow me to elaborate. When faced with the prospect of a task I am not accustomed to, I face two thoughts, one internal and personal, and the second almost imposed upon me, as if by a disembodied superego.

My first and personal thought would be along the lines of, “I don’t think I can do this.”

And almost immediately, the external thought follows, “You’re a Haji, you’ll manage just fine.”

It is this confidence, often bordering on arrogance, that propels me daily to do things I would shrink from, had I been born to different parents. And this confidence extends to the entire clan. The expectation of excellence prevails whenever any member of my paternal side of the family is in the equation. It is almost an assumption.

Another offshoot of this confidence, one that has since been pointed out to me, is the need to strive for extremes. The application of this dictum is felt in the littlest things. If it is considered normal to eat half a pizza, a Haji will try to eat two or abstain completely (Hades forbid). If a task is assumed to take two days, a Haji will try to finish it in half, or not do it at all. If a man normally sleeps for eight hours, a Haji will sleep for either two, or sixteen. There is an aversion to the golden mean. It is always all or nothing. This is viewed sometimes as a need for attention, however, personally, it has more to do with a constant fight to find my limits. To push and push till I have reached the edge. One could almost call it a result of morbid curiosity.

And, naturally progressing from the above two traits, the third trait is pride. Every Haji has a supreme sense of self-worth, which allows them the ability to stare down the entire world if need be, without batting an eyelid. Our family is diverse; my immediate family is almost unbelievably so. No two people are even remotely alike, and yet there exists a mutual respect and confidence that each has the capability to forge their path with the customary Haji flamboyance. We may disagree on the very fundamentals of what we are as people, but I cannot recall a single instance where I felt afraid that a particular situation was too much for a member of my family to take.  That elementary fear of their basic survival somehow being threatened is completely absent. Even against the most incredible odds, I am always upheld by this feeling that they will pull through, and with style, at that.

Of the other traits, less pronounced and more prone to variations, Hajis tend to be reactionaries. Every generation, there is not just an evolution, but a right obliteration of the principles and values set forth by the previous generation. This makes for great drama, but also guarantees exceptional individualism. Because their stances tend to be reactionary, they are constantly challenged in their choices, and forced to justify it and defend it over and over again, which has no other effect than to steep it ever more firmly into their psyche. Ideological trench warfare is a constant battle. It has no victors, but both parties become hardened veterans in the art of justification.

The forming of judgements and opinions is a deeply rooted tradition, and one that has seen no decline in favor, despite public trends making it almost criminal to judge anyone on anything. A Haji will, with an absolutely clear conscience, judge people on any criteria whatsoever. They will later gladly admit they were wrong if they happened to be mistaken in any case, but this never deters them from making the original judgement. You’d be hard pressed to find a topic a Haji doesn’t have an opinion on.

And lastly, a trait shared by Hajis the world over is a sense of detached harmony with one another. There is a marked absence of emotional intimacy between Hajis. There is mutual respect, general affection and silent support, but none of the expressiveness of other, more emotionally evolved families. Our language of love is sarcasm, our encouragement takes the form of banter, and our constructive criticism can only be viewed as constructive by people whose skins are as thick as ours.
This often makes an outsider, or an initiate into our family, think that we are cold-hearted or emotionless. I, personally think it is just a difference in modes of expression. When you are reared with the inability to crumble, then superficial niceties do not need to be observed in expression of feelings anymore. Hajis can be, and usually are, scathing. But threaten one, and you have a formidable host staring you down.

Personally, when my exposure to the non-Haji world was limited, I never quite realized how much I valued it. Adulthood and separation from the family home brought to light the easy brilliance of Haji wit and its relative scarcity in others. I had often wondered where my need for a crowd that most would consider “brutal” came from. I wondered why I could never gel with the “nice” crowd. It took me a while to make the connection. In essence, I am a Haji looking for home away from home.

And so, though my passport may tell you otherwise, I reclaim for myself Haji-ness.

I am a Haji.


Do we not have a responsibility to be Hedonistic?

Consider carefully the state we exist in, or even the State we exist in. Compare it to literally any era in history. Pre-World War, there was nothing illogical, nor even immoral (if that is a thing) to aspire to expansion. I mean expansion in every sense of the word: monetary, geographical, ideological and biological.  We were, for the vast majority of our history, a species still coming to terms with this planet. And though, from the earliest recorded times, we had people who dedicated their lives to the study of the stars and the skies, we still hadn’t really delved the depths of the very ground we stood on. Even today, as unprecedented as our knowledge levels and levels of self-awareness are, the leading figures of any branch of knowledge are the first to emphasize the limitations of what we know. So, in that sense, it makes sense for us to strive for more, scientifically. Even today.

However, what of the other categories? No longer do we live in times when we could send brave souls into uncharted territory hoping to lay claim to some hidden paradise. No longer do we live in times when things were so indiscernible to us that our only recourse was to assign to an Omnipotent being a shifty personality and consign any enigmatic occurrences to his unfathomable whims. No longer do we live in times when we could excuse our excesses by pleading ignorance to their long term effects. A ruler, in the past , when faced with the prospect of a Kingdom that had used up all its resources, simply looked elsewhere. He sent an army or a fleet of explorers, and mined outside his borders for what he did not have within.

But those were times when the Earth held more resources than people. And when our methods of extracting these resources were not advanced enough to outpace their reproduction. Our inefficiency, in short, was what kept life sustainable. But, having fine-tuned our technological acumen as much as we have, coupled with the population explosion, we have long since overrun that boundary. And what’s worse, we have done so in a way that makes it extremely hard to slow down. We learnt how to use machines before we learnt about what the machines are capable of. And we based our entire existence upon it. Now, we are faced with a terrible choice, to give up these never-before-experienced levels of comfort, or to keep living the way we have, and to hell with the consequences.

As always, when faced with a hard choice, and given a chance to prove its mettle, we, as a species, let ourselves down. We took the easy way out. We have the classic Deniers who claim nothing at all is wrong with our lifestyle. We have the Industrialists who dare not accept reality, since reality tends to drop share prices, and then we have the majority, who may accept that we are doomed, but are either too lazy or simply do not care enough to do anything about it.

Can we realistically imagine a time in the near future, even the next century, when people agree to control their biological urges and deny themselves the joy of parenthood in order to be ecologically responsible? Can we imagine an entire industry unanimously slashing their profits in the interest of environmental safety? Can we imagine a time when a country, knowing its own military superiority, but faced with a lack of resources, does not invade or bully another country into providing that resource?

The answer, for the Optimists, may be a yes. I, personally, can never see that eventuality materializing. You could call it my Pessimism, for me it is simply a staggeringly improbable event.

And so, knowing we reproduce too fast, consume too much, are irresponsible, impulsive, juvenile and quite frankly dangerous for ourselves, what is left to the common-folk?

Here, a single outlet appears to me: Nihilistic Hedonism

When trapped in a system where a common person’s input is nullified by miles of red tape and subversive laws and bureaucratic manipulations that run so deep that no man may fully fathom it, man must be forgiven, nay, even expected to react with a certain disgust and a desire to alienate himself from it all. If there exists a problem that has no solution and promises to sap our lifeblood for as long as we live (for example, an abusive spouse), every psychologist worth their salt will recommend that you sever ties. Cut them from your life, you are better off without it. For every common man, the system and the State is that abusive spouse. Interfering, violating, dominating and oppressing you every chance it gets. So, following the mental health handbook, distancing is just fine.

Distancing oneself from the system, however, has further implications, one that now render the abusive spouse analogy insufficient. When you attempt to disavow participation or any form of engagement, even in idle discourse, with the system, you are signaling the destruction of your faith in a functioning community. You are saying you do not believe we are capable of sustaining ourselves, we cannot coexist long term and that the tracks we are on lead only to destruction. Until this is accepted, a person has not truly severed ties.

Accept this, however, and the rest follows quite simply. When one accepts that everything has gone to shit, then one’s inner conscience no longer impels him to invest in a better future. It would be the equivalent of pouring money into a company that you know is going to go bankrupt. Having lost all incentive to look ahead, one simply looks to enjoy it while it lasts. Nevil Shute’s On The Beach captures this form of thinking admirably. The only difference being, in the fictional work, the onset of the end of life is much more immediate, and so its effect on people is that much more exaggerated. But the essence remains the same. “We all return to dust in the end, so let us make merry while we are here.” A completely understandable extension of the feeling of futility.

Today, the only avenue of hope left to us is outer space, and that faint glimmer is swiftly being shut out by budget cuts and strong, misguided opposition. Within the confines of our planet, we have reached, overthrown and exceeded our limits. What little we are still creating is merely to distract us from the fact that we have begun to teeter. We have nothing more to offer as a species. Nothing that will really matter.

The way I see it, we have dug our graves, we have lay in it voluntarily, we have thrown away all the tools that could possibly allow us to dig ourselves out. And so, the one last thing we can aspire to is dignity. Not in the societal sense of virtuous and moral behavior, but simply being true to ourselves. If we are honest with ourselves, and we recognize the mire we are steeped in, and the fact that we are not getting out, then let us shed these pretenses and do what our minds are telling us to do. Let the world mock our weakness (for indulging is always viewed as a weakness), and let it not matter. Bring on Hedonism, the full package. If we are to die, let us not die in half measures. At the very least, as a species, let us spare the feat of extinction the botched nature of our other achievements. Let us go out with a bang, though there will be none to hear it.

And so, to return to the original question: Do we not have a responsibility to be Hedonistic?

Yes. We most certainly do.

Sophocles’ Antigone – An analysis

Sophocles’ Antigone, the play dealing with the Theban Post-Oedipus problems, highlights the conflicting viewpoints and philosophy of two women, Antigone and Ismene, set against each other through the trials of fate. As is the classic Greek way, neither stance is necessarily wrong. Both contain within themselves a logical thought process, they merely travel on different lines.

Sophocles’ Antigone begins with the news that Antigone and Ismene’s two brothers (Eteocles and Polynices)  have perished  while fighting each other in battle. Since Eteocles fought on the side of Thebes, and Polynices was the aggressor against his own city, on their deaths Eteocles was granted full burial rights while Polynices was deemed a traitor.

As per Greek law, a traitor’s body is to be left out to rot, to be consumed by dogs and crows, and the crime of burying a traitor against the order of the State is punishable by death.

Keeping in mind the recent turmoil the state has undergone with first Laertes, then Oedipus and now Eteocles and Polynices being disposed of due to a variety of reasons, Creon, who had taken over the throne in the meantime, thought it best to restore law and order by following the letter of the law blindly. Hence, Eteocles was buried with full honors and Polynices’ body was left unattended.

Until this point in Sophocles’ Antigone, the play had been pretty phallogocentric, but at this point Antigone and Ismene emerge from the peripheries to uncover the integral dilemma of the play.

Antigone has seen her father struggle to find a solution to Thebe’s plague, only to find that he himself was the cause. She has discovered that she was birthed from an incestuous marriage bed. She has borne the grief of her mother’s suicide and her father’s self-imposed exile. And lastly, she watched her own brothers hack each other to death. The last straw was Creon’s order that Polynices was not to be given his burial rights. Under Greek religion, that is as good as consigning him to an eternity in limbo, as the burial rites are essential to guarantee the safe passage of a soul into the Underworld.

Antigone, given the ordeals already suffered, decides that she will bear no further and puts her foot down. Her point is poignantly made. Earthly life, she reasons, is but a blip in existence, the afterlife is eternal. Therefore, a sacrifice on her part in this world is a small price to pay in order to purchase with it eternal peace for her brother’s soul. Here, the classic case of Religion vs State is brought out, where the futility of imposing a law upon a person who believes in an eternal afterlife is revealed through a dialogue between Antigone and Creon. Antigone has been perceived by many to be a feminist figure, combating at once the Law, her status as a woman in a patriarchal kingdom and the pleas of her family. She exudes strength, determination and conviction and, fully knowing her path leads to death, nevertheless resolves to do what she feels is right. Keeping in mind the status of women in Greek times, her character would be borderline scandalous and downright blasphemous in the eyes of the orthodoxy.

Ismene presents the perfect counterfoil to Antigone in the play. She has suffered through all that Antigone has, but she deals with it in a way that is more in keeping with the Greek ideal of what a woman should be. She accepts that Polynices has been dealt an unjust punishment, and she sympathizes with Antigone’s sentiments, however she does not see the benefit in compounding the familial woes by revolting against Creon’s judgement and being put to death. She is of the view that a woman’s place is to suffer in silence. She has no place in politics or law-making, and she is powerless to influence matters in a patriarchal society. She chooses the path of prudence and remains silent, though in her heart she bears the same regret about how things have turned out with her brother.

In a modern reading, the readers will view Antigone as the brave revolutionary figure, while Ismene will cop criticism as a cowardly figure who reinforces the subjugation of women.

However, there is another way of viewing this. Antigone’s path, though undoubtedly heroic, did not achieve much and led only to her death and compounded woes for her family and the kingdom at large. Ismene chose prudence and caution, and regardless of whether the motive was fear or otherwise, the fact remains that she survived and thus still had some influence, however minimal, on how things may turn out. A survivor has options before him/her, a martyr is already dead.

In this way, through the juxtaposition of Antigone and Ismene’s characters, Sophocles outlined two paths that can be taken at any given moral decision, with almost equal justification for both, as an almost eerie prediction of Jean Paul Sartre’s concept of radical freedom.

Which choice is the right one to make depends entirely on the kind of person you are and the values you hold dear. But Sophocles’ Antigone shows us that there is an Antigone and an Ismene in all of us and it is up to us to as to which path we choose to honor with our efforts.

Ayn Rand and the Abdication of Judgement

According to Ayn Rand (renowned Objectivist philosopher and author), the motto, “Judge not, that ye be not judged” amounts to nothing more and nothing less than an abdication of moral responsibility.

In Ayn Rand’s eyes, refraining from judgement is the same as watching an injustice being perpetrated before you and doing nothing to prevent or deter it. Some may say that their non-participation means that they may not be held accountable for the act. Ayn Rand would say that their inaction in trying to prevent the evil makes them accountable, and moreover, almost an accomplice. Because in refraining from preventing evil, you are encouraging it to flourish.

I aim to take this a step further than she did, and extend the responsibility of judgement not just to morals, but to art and to culture. As far as morals are concerned, a philosophy of moral judgement would require a standardized moral code that applied to all of humanity. Ayn Rand believed this moral code exists, I personally disagree with her in this aspect. The reasons have been described in detail in a previous post. You can read it here.

But the essence of what Ayn Rand is trying to say is still valid. When, as a reasoning human being, one gives up his ability to judge and defers the responsibility that comes along with it, then one gives the green signal to decadence and degradation. If every belief and every philosophy is held up to the sternest test of cynical judgement, the faulty parts and weak links will immediately crumble beneath the scrutiny. But if judgement is abdicated, then the faulty bits are allowed to stand, and whole palaces of thought are constructed upon those quivering and barely coherent foundations. The problem, if not nipped in the bud, grows to exponential proportions and is soon beyond the ability of any one man or community to solve.

In the world of modern man, one of the worst pestilences to have hit human thought (barring humanity itself) is the mental attitude of diplomacy. One lives in mortal fear of offending others and as a result, any form of judgement is labelled conservatism, narrow-mindedness, fundamentalism, radicalism, extremism etc. And the fear of being associated with any of these labels induces men to give up their power of reasoning and judging altogether. They find it easier to meekly nod their heads in an understanding manner while the belligerent masses traverse from idiocy to advanced idiocy, unchecked by the reasoning of sanity.

The effects of diplomacy-induced-degradation can be directly connected to Democratic thought. A democracy specializes in creating equality between unequals. All forms of thought are to be considered equal, and all are to be given respect, even if the thought does not warrant any.

The effects of this “Philosophy of non-judgement,” which in my opinion should more accurately be called the “Philosophy of non-thought,” can be summarized in one statement.

The Degradation of Art and Culture

This symptom has seen an unprecedented, explosive rate of growth in the past fifteen years. Art has given up the one thing it possessed: Sublimity.

When the judgement of the value of art has been proscribed, then art no longer has the incentive to aspire to a level of excellence. An artist will put in hours, days, months of work into a single creation because he believes his creation will be unique and will stand alone and be celebrated in posterity as the only one of its kind. But if you try to democratize artistic criticism, if you attempt to judge sublime art on the same level as commercial art, if they are both held to the same standard (i.e. public popularity), then you remove the imperative that compels artists to put in that effort of which sublimity is a result. A practical and less conscientious artist would rather create a steady strea, of substandard art, than create one truly great work. Commercial success becomes the sole benefit of art. Art becomes its own worst nightmare, it becomes utilitarian.

The results are everywhere; movies do not bother constructing coherent storylines and compensate for it with popular club music and bewilderingly developed graphics. Authors compromise on their quality so that they may optimize their quantity. And its justification is: This is what the people want, therefore this is what we shall provide.

Right there, that statement typifies what Ayn Rand refers to as the abdication of judgement. The speaker of that sentence has attempted to absolve himself of artistic responsibility by shifting the blame to the public. But the public is not the body that possesses the ability to create sublimity, that power resides with the artist alone. Therefore, the responsibility of action and of sublime creation also resides with the artist alone and may not be blamed on fickle demand.

The purpose of art is to elevate. Art is meant to be exclusive, not inclusive. And a society that discourages the passing of judgement on art can never experience the bracing fresh air that can only be breathed on the peaks of artistic excellence.

A culture that worries more about how something is said rather than what is said is a culture helplessly on the path to decay and eventual death. Truth is strangled so as to supplement superficial fraternity. Innovation is smothered lest it ruffle a few feathers. An easy example of the far reaching effects of the direction this thought takes, is the co-existence of Creationism and Darwinism in an educational system that is supposedly secular, even though Creationism has no factual or scientific merit. It exists in a secular, educational institute, solely to appease the feelings of those offended by Darwinism. The statement made there is that it is more important to avoid offending people than to educate our youth.

As Ayn Rand succinctly puts it: In any compromise between food and poison, it is only death that can win. In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit.

Friedrich Nietzsche and the Death of Morality



If there were a man, superior in intellect, superior in ability, superior in discernment, evaluation, devaluation, subtextual perception and a pure embodiment of power, what benefits will morality bring him?

This is the question that Friedrich Nietzsche brings to our attention repeatedly throughout his works.

This is the question with which Nietzsche destroyed morality.

Whether you agree with his view of life or not, this question brings into the spotlight in the most poignant manner the very essence of the crisis in moral integrity today.

Nietzsche’s view of nature was extremely aristocratic. Not the aristocracy of race or nobility, but the aristocracy of greatness. For him, the entire phenomenon of nature was geared solely to facilitate the existence of five or six truly great men (if even those many) in a generation. Truly great men, not the easy adjective which we would fain fling at any passing flash in the pan.

The peculiarity of genius is that it can take mankind in directions that no amount of coordinated and fraternal effort could achieve on its own. No mass of mediocre, or even highly talented minds put together can quite traverse that gap that exists between intelligence and genius. Only one mind can even fathom the idea, only one mind is capable of envisioning the path. Its execution may be left to the rest of man, but the power of its conceptualization lies with the genius alone.

Now conjecture the existence, if only hypothetically, of this great man within a civilized society with an established moral code. An education system trained to make a nation think alike, a religious ethic drilled into society from infancy to enforce and then reinforce one trait and one trait only, supreme above all others: Humility.

Consider now, what this worship of humility as a virtue and condemnation of hubris as a flaw will do to a mind that is, indeed above all others; a mind that can only function on planes and in dimensions not even visible, let alone accessible, to the average man. A mind that cannot afford to take on obligations and responsibilities lumped upon him by those below him. A mind that births ideas that cannot be encumbered by considerations of charity or sympathy.

Just as Niccolò Machiavelli demands that a ruler’s only responsibility be the welfare of the state, and that he may not be judged on a moral basis but only on the basis of his competence in maintaining the welfare of the state, Nietzsche demands a similar attitude towards the higher form of men.

Morals and morality were created to keep the raving minds of masses in check and channel their energies in a uniform manner. But one whose mind does not come of the same stock, must he be judged by the same standard? Must everything always be watered down to the lowest common denominator? Must humanity always gear itself to help the weakest at the cost of the strongest?

In most existing societies, the answer to the above questions are a resounding Yes. Nietzsche’s is a resounding No. The harmful effects of this sort of decadent morality, he would point out, is clearly demarcated in the chaos that follows every attempt at the introduction of democracy or socialism in a country. Both these forms of governments share one thing in common, the masses are handed the power of tyranny. The herd mentality plays dictator. Every decision, every policy, every reform would have to consider the lowest amongst us and set it to his levels. The best teachers are engaged in teaching the weakest students, the best students have to make do with the average professor. Public expenditure is lavished on sustaining those unable to sustain themselves. One may argue that this is what differentiates humans from animals, this ability to ignore the natural hierarchy and aid one and all as far as one finds himself capable of it.

Nietzsche’s point is that the system has been set in place by the lowest denominator, for the benefit of the lowest denominator. Individuals are crushed in the flood of downwards oriented societies, ideas are throttled before they can be fully developed, humanity, as a race, declines. He argues that a superior man should not have to adhere to a code agreed upon by lesser men. His means may be immoral, if there is any such thing as a unified moral code for mankind, but his end is justification in itself. If the man becomes an Overman, then he is, in Nietzsche’s words, beyond good and evil.

Thus morality, in this view, becomes a tool of oppression rather than a code of coexistence. It becomes the crab’s claws that stop the other crab from getting out. It is the yolk of decadence that the lesser men would wish us all to be mired in for eternity. This was Nietzsche’s astounding claim. And thus it is that Nietzsche destroyed morality.

I return to the original question.

If there were a man, superior in intellect, superior in ability, superior in discernment, evaluation, devaluation, subtextual perception and a pure embodiment of power, what benefits will morality bring him?

The answer is: None.



It’s a gem! cried he, ecstatic.
Oh, look at it, is it not wonderful?
He held it aloft to family, friends,
Eager to share his joy, his pride.
I found this gem, he proclaimed.
It was all me, don’t you see?
This is my life. Can you see it?
My life, gleaming and glinting,
Sparkling stardust. Inanimate, you call it?
Fools! What know ye of life?
Where are your gems, may I ask?
Does any possess the sheer majesty,
The clarity, the quality of mine?
I thought not.

Yes, they said, yes, it is a wonderful gem indeed.
But, remember when, in your younger days,
When your mind was naive and vain,
When you understood far less than you claimed,
When you set about taking a hammer
To your own treasure trove – – yes, I see
You do remember – – Well, there was that
Stupid thing you did, you see.
There is that, they all said. That is undeniable.
And so, said they, and so why should you
Hold this gem? Are you not the squanderer?
Are you not the man of pilf, the creator
Of refuse, of waste, of negative energy?
Are you, then, deserving of this gem?
Do you not do it a disservice, coveting it,
Caressing it with your bungling hands?
Give it up, gems are not for you, dearest.
We know what is in store for you,
It may sound rough, but it is true.

Confound you! he cried. Beasts and parasites all.
A man hath done wrong, has he no claim
To righting himself again? Are you so pure,
Then, that you bear no blemish on your
Evil, conniving countenances? Is not your
Covetousness a crime more severe, done,
As it is, out of malice, not ignorance?
Come ye one or all, come ye to seize it
From me, and I shall show thee the wrath
Of Achilles. Hector, at least, had honour.
What honour in your actions? Beasts, I say,
And parasites all. Do I not see amongst
Your pretty words, the forked tongue
Of Milton’s serpent? Blind do you think me?

Round they crept, vermin of the masses.
Clawing, creeping, ever closer, groping.
Clutched he to his chest his gem, weeping.
Who could he turn to? Lord, he cried,
Save me, not for me, for I have forsaken thee,
But for thy gem, thy most wondrous creation.
Save it, and in saving it, save me.
Fool, they cried, there is no penitence
For the wrongdoers. Penitence comes
At a dear price, a price you are not prepared
To pay, turn you then to the Lord? Bah!
That brooding moisture you feel about you,
That is the the disgorged spit of contempt.
The Lord hath forsaken thee, now forsake
Thee this gem, that we may rightfully honour
It by virtue of souls more worthy.

The first of the masses, the friends he held dear
Clasped at his ankles, flaying skin
And severing tendons, causing anguish,
But no anguish compared to the prospect,
Nay, the now tangible fear of losing the gem
To the greed of the world. The question,
Never uttered, never proclaimed, burned
Through the windows to their wretched souls
And showed him, in all worldly lucidity
Their inmost thoughts.

If we can’t have it, why should he?
Are we not worthy, gem, of thee?

Flailing, he was brought to the ground
By the remorseless advance of the host.
Still he clasped, in hope, still they lunged
At it, probing, wrenching.

At last, naught was left of him but sinews
And dried blood. And search as they might,
They found no gem, only clay and death.


You gave me life, you did not ask me if I wanted to live.
Having indoctrinated me with propaganda about
Why we exist, what we are supposed to accomplish,
How we are supposed to go about it, and a few other
Vague and half-baked theories, you set me loose into
The open world, far too unprepared, far too naïve.

You don’t send a child (for that is what I was, no matter
My age) you don’t send a child into the arms of a world
Chock full of predators, just lying in wait to exploit any
Sign of weakness, any form of ignorance. Moreover,
You certainly don’t do it by telling him wondrous and
Misguided lies, aimed at protecting his feeble mind,
But doing nothing whatsoever to prepare him for what
Awaits everyone unfortunate enough to live to adulthood.

What you did, is entrap my mind for 17 years, leave it weak,
Under-exposed, unaware. Is it any wonder, then, that having
Experienced reality and come to terms with it, the mind
Then turns back upon your teachings and gazes upon it
With the wrath of one betrayed? Does it shock you to know
That a child does not enjoy being lied to? You, who are to be
My moral center, my core structure around which I must base
My entire infrastructure of values, if I were to find YOU corrupt,
Do you really have the right to marvel at my immorality?

I did not yield, that is an argument that could be made for you.
Whatever you did wrong, you at least instilled in me an ego,
A pride, a self-assurance. Something that allowed me,
In the face of a mob, in the face of the entire world, even
In the face of truth itself, to stick out my chest and say,
“It is me that is right. If you disagree, you deserve contempt.”
That ego sustained me through the years of my real education,
The years I was bludgeoned by realities, striking down every
Belief and world-view that I held with the smugness of a half-wit.
That education still continues. But the ego allowed me to put forth
An un-cracked exterior, showing no signs of distress or incohesion,
Whilst inwardly, under the hood, I rectified what I could,
And justified the rest.

And so, despite being given no inkling of the battlefield, the war zone
That awaited me, despite being shown a picture of Eden, without
Ever being told that I was never to live in that Eden, that mythical Eden,
That minds as wondrously impious as yours must have thought up,
(Heaven and hell, I am sure, were dreamt up by a parent) I survived.
I found my own weapons, I saw others find theirs, and I realized
That everyone had their own war to fight, and no two weapons need be
The same. That taught me diversity, the fact that no person is good or bad,
No people are evil or benevolent, no government is competent
Or even trying to put up an appearance of being so.

Lie after lie was reduced to dust by my ongoing quest for knowledge.
If you must know what was the harbinger of the death knoll, let it be known,
It was books. The cream of 4 millennia of the best minds our species ever
Possessed combined to leave us what can only be described as manna,
A survival kit, an actual lens through which our view is not distorted,
But enhanced. That lens gave me perspective, it gave me knowledge,
It gave me power. Ego now had some real ground to stand upon,
And stand it did. It has never been as secure within me as it is now,
With years of reading behind it, allowing me to throw in the face
Of challengers impressive quotes and plagiarized weltanschauungs.

And so, I find myself surrounded by an arsenal of weapons, ones that
I may now consider myself highly proficient in handling, that allow
Me the comfort of instilling fear in people around me, a quality which,
No matter what anyone tells you, is something invaluable and to be coveted.
And so, looking back, I could bring myself to forgive you, perhaps, for the lies,
Seeing as they were what propelled me to become what I have become.
I could, and perhaps I already have. But the war had not yet been won.
Like the archers at Uhud, I celebrated too early, and I paid the price.

There was my fortress, impenetrable, unassailable, a perfect defense.
And then there was her. She came bearing no arms, no tactics,
No subterfuge. She came to me with a language that I did not understand.
She came with pure, unapologetic honesty. Like a breeze, or more so a gale,
Blowing in through the cracks, flailing about me, all grace and glory,
A storm of delight, and I reacted in the only way I could, in the only way
I had learnt, been forced to learn. I fought with my weapons and my Ego.

Have you ever taken a sword to the breeze? Have you ever experienced
That moment, that zenith of futility? Does it not make you feel a right fool?
What distinction can you make between Quixote and me? His enemy, if not
Animate, was at least corporeal. Mine was a wraith, a shade, a ghost.
I tried to injure it, I thought I had won, too. But it did not leave me.
It dared yet to cool my skin, to force me to feel the pleasure of contentment
That was not self-procured, that came from without, not within.

Do you see what I am getting at? Do you see why, having set out to write
An ode to a loved one, I nevertheless end up with a tirade against you?
It is because I am now faced with a choice, a choice so terrible, I would
Wish it upon no one. I am faced with a choice between that breeze
And my weapons. My arsenal, so dear to me, my sustenance, my pride,
Everything I have accomplished on my own for 25 years, I am to set
It aflame by my own hand. I cannot entrap the breeze within my walls,
No, even I am not that cruel. I must destroy the walls themselves.

And so, this is what I accuse you of. This failure to warn me, to prepare me.
This hesitancy or inability that led you to point me in the wrong direction.
That did not teach me that love and Ego cannot coexist, that did not tell me
That all the knowledge in the world would not help me understand how to
Make her smile, to stop her from crying. To tell me that my modus operandi,
Dominance through fear, which was my weapon of choice, would be the very
First weapon I had to surrender. You once made me raise a goat, befriend it,
And then forced me to take a knife to it. It would have been a better lesson
If you had told me what that goat signified. It would have prepared me
For today. It would have hardened me. Today, I am exposed, and oh, so weak.

But, weapon or no weapon, I will not yield. And I will not perpetuate the lies.
When it is my turn, I will try it the hard way, the way of truth. Let us see
If the minds of kids are as feeble as we make them out to be, and if they
Warrant the level of protection that you seem to think they do. I will test
Mine, I will not cushion them with lies, but slice into them with the scythe
Of reality. I do not know if mine is the right way. Somehow, my Ego does
Not reassure me here. But I know, as I watch the charred remains
Of my fortress, that my childrens’ fortresses will look very different from mine.

The Pun Chronicles #7 – The Plight of Khosrow


Ashkan’s tale:

Amongst the outer reaches of the Shiite province of Bakhtiari, Iran, there lived a boy who was to shatter every mold that was unfortunate enough to encounter him on its path. His name was Ashkan. A slender frame, always bedecked with the most tasteful of clothes, gave no indication of the strength, both mental and physical, that resided within the boy. His radiant face, with an aquiline nose and an impeccably trimmed beard, always held an expression of vague irritation. The sort of expression one wears when one is upset but cannot quite remember why.

Ashkan’s childhood and adolescence was a miasma of experiences out of which only two kinds of people emerge: The broken or the extraordinary. Ashkan was the latter.

Battling society, parental pressure and his own conscience, Ashkan decided to pursue a life of extreme, on-the-edge, creativity. Armed with his guitarrón, his fingers bled for music, weaving melodies that were not necessarily understood, but certainly appreciated by onlookers wherever he performed. Eventually, his talent gaining wider recognition every day, his street performances began to pull in more money than he had ever dared hope for, allowing him to devote more time to his craft undisturbed, and also to widen his geographical horizons. Previously, Ashkan had never been beyond the outer limits of his own province. The entire world outside of Bakhtiari was known to him only through the highly unrealiable medium of village gossip, and the mythological and fable-istic renditions of the world’s current events that filtered through to him via illiterate tongues. He was aware that his perspective on the world could only be described, at best, as skewed, and so he yearned to right that wrong the only way he could. By travelling.


Khosrow’s tale:

Khosrow was born into a wealthy and influential family in the most affluent part of Khuzestan. Never knowing what it meant to need something, Khosrow spent his entire life relentlessly hunting down and acquiring whatever pleased his fancy most. His wing of the house boasted the most eclectic memorabilia from unimaginably diverse fields of activities. His tales of how he acquired those items were almost as awe-inspiring as the items themselves. Now a grown man of 32, his interests had evolved from objectophilia into an interest in the uncommon man.

He had taken to travelling to the remotest corners of Iran, letting his gut guide him more than anything else, and searching for any form of extraordinariness. Once he found something that caught his exotic fancy, he would do whatever it took to add that person to his entourage. He would become their guide, their sponsor, their caretaker… Their God. He usually got his way pretty quickly. There are very few obstacles that money cannot overcome. And so it was that, walking along the streets of a godforsaken town in Eastern Iran, he encountered a melody that, even to his trained ears, sounded other-worldly.


Ashkan’s tale (contd):

The world was multifarious and infinite! How Ashkan wept when first he realized all that had been denied to him because of the small-minded fear-mongering by the elders of his village. But it was not too late. Ashkan, a veritable sponge, who once would walk almost doubled over in fear of human contact, now thrust his chest out forward, and walked with his eyes scouring the populace for a bright face or a welcoming smile. He found everywhere in people a willingness to share their experiences. And from their experiences, little droplets of wisdom would fall to the parched tongue that was his mind. He discovered an underground network of musicians that functioned as a loosely connected web, never intrusive, but always within reach. Tapping into this underbelly of craft, Ashkan honed, modified and polished his already formidable virtuosity with the guitarrón. Even amongst musicians, he was one of the few who was widely considered capable of going international; something very few dared to dream about. Along with his growing fame, Ashkan had to deal with his share of detractors too. They ranged from the self-anointed music critics to the conservative radicals that periodically vented their wrath on the perpetrators of whatever they decided was the corruption of Iranian morality at that given time. However, an artistic constitution is no stranger to struggle, and Ashkan took it all as a matter of course. To the critics, he presented his guitarrón, allowing his fingers to reduce their critiques to dust. To the radicals, he preferred not to give reply. Theirs was a world that he never hoped nor ever wished to inhabit. And he had, with some success, managed to avoid any open confrontations by sticking to side alleys and underground performances. It was, however, a battle that he knew would come someday. And that day, he needed to be ready.

On some days, when his performances hit new levels of brilliance, he would be approached by agents or other musicians for a collaboration. Sometimes these worked, more often than not, they didn’t. But after much sifting and excruciation, Ashkan found himself surrounded by a solid group of musicians, all of whom understood what he aimed for, and provided the perfect platform for him to get there. For the first time, he felt prepared.


Khosrow’s tale (contd):

It’s all coming together wonderfully well.

Khosrow inspected himself in the mirror with the same satisfied expression with which he looked upon all his possessions. His face bore all the marks of majesty. Perfectly oval, with thick eyebrows, and a beard of absolute magnificence. He wore traditional Iranian clothes, but with a panache that left few in any doubt as to his position in this world. He needed to look his best today.

Having heard Ashkan perform on the streets to a crowd that was far too small and far too illiterate to appreciate what was being served up to them, Khosrow resolved to create the perfect environment for his newest ward. Unbeknownst to Ashkan, Khosrow arranged for musicians all over Iran to “happen across” Ashkan performing in the streets, allowing Ashkan himself to choose from amongst them who he needed to form his own band and complement his music. Khosrow did not like to reveal himself too early. He worked from the shadows, revealing only partially to his wards the paths to success, and allowing them to believe the paths were of their own making. And then, when the time was right, he stepped forth from the shadows, all light and glory, and reveled in the gratitude of the artist.

Ashkan would be no different. His newly formed band, thanks to some shrewd marketing by Khosrow, had acquired something of a cult following amongst the locals, and word was spreading fast. Today, with a well-placed word or two from Khosrow, they had been invited to perform to a crowd of 2000 people; a crowd several times larger than any of them had ever encountered in their lives.
They even got special mention in the local newspapers. They were well and truly on their way to the big time.

Khosrow got to the venue early, carefully keeping out of the public eye. He watched Ashkan and his band set up the equipment and finetune the sound settings with an ease that was astounding in a group so inexperienced. He saw the expectations of the crowd render the very air electric. People lounged about, almost uneasily, not quite sure what they were about to experience, but salivating at its prospect nonetheless. Khosrow did not like to admit it, but he was nervous.

And then the performance began, and Khosrow wondered why he was ever worried at all. His grin widened steadily throughout the performance, reaching its zenith as the band ended their set to an ovation the likes of which are reserved for the ruler of the nation. This was the moment!

With a nod to the stage security, he walked around the barriers and strode up the steps to meet the band. Walking straight to Ashkan, he spread his arms, inviting him into an embrace. He felt a surge of emotion within himself, as he felt he was on the cusp of a life changing experience. And, in Ashkan’s eyes, he felt, he could see a hint of the same.


Ashkan’s tale (finale):

Ashkan’s felt giddy with delight. The past month had been a blur to him. Between the forming of the band, the seamless transition from a group of solo musicians into a well-drilled unit, and the bewildering invitation to a performance that he was sure he would not forget for the rest of his life, Ashkan felt like he was on a joyride with Willy Wonka, tasting the greatest pleasures in life, all of which had been concentrated into an extremely brief span of time. His life as a street musician, dependent on the generosity of the locals seemed a lifetime away. Today, two thousand people swung to the tune of his fingers.

But with the giddiness, there came also fear. Ashkan was not naïve. He knew it was not normal for everything to fall into place so easily. And since he had no reason to suspect a silent benefactor, he merely assumed that he was on an extraordinary run of luck, and that it was bound to end soon. It was the crash that he most dreaded, but it was also something he awaited with something akin to impatience. He wished it would come so that he may be done with it and see where he stood in its aftermath.

Today, however, giddiness prevailed. They had played a perfect set and the crowd had not stopped cheering throughout. All the world seemed at his feet. And just then, as his exhilaration hit its crescendo, he spotted a flurry of movement off stage, to the right. He saw a man, obviously one who held a position of power, walk through the security with not so much as a hand laid on him. He saw all his fellow band members separate to make way for the man to get to him. The man had a smile on his face, a wild smile, one belying undercurrents of tyranny and possibly insanity. His eyes shone with a fervor that only served to intensify the fear growing with Ashkan. All his insecurities and fears about performing in Tehran came flooding back. His fellow band members had assured him he had nothing to fear from the radicals, that they were not significant enough to warrant such attention. But now, seeing their demeanour, Ashkan understood that they were in on it from the beginning. This, then, was the reason everything had gone through without a hitch. It was a set up!

His dreams crushed, he stared into the eyes of the bearded fanatic. His Shiite upbringing in the slums of Bakhtiari had ingrained in him one undying principle. Fight!

And so, as Khosrow spread his arms, welcoming Ashkan to the embrace of brothers, Ashkan’s body tensed up. Using all his strength, Ashkan struck, hitting Khosrow under his right eye with astonishing force, knocking him to the floor, motionless. The crowd, all at once, became silent, and the looks of horror on his bandmates’ faces told Ashkan that his fairytale was over.

The Shiite had hit the fan.