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.

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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.

 

Claws

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.

Imperpetuity

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Displacement

There exists within my wretched soul
An absence, an emptiness, a hole,
A void, a lapse of existence, a blot,
Where Space exists, but Time does not;
Whence came this vacuum, what does it do?
It reminds me forevermore of you.

In the foreground, a blinding, searing pain,
The background, less vivid, but the same refrain;
The body, soon numbed, begins to cope,
The mind, unlearning, rears a new hope;
Hope withers, and with it, the soul does too,
And withering, thinks still only of you.

On the horizon I spot a flower in bloom,
No hope now, it is an omen of my doom;
I set off, head aloft, chest out, arms akimbo,
Despair in my heart, soul trapped in limbo;
No symbol of love ever holds true,
Unless, my love, it signifies you.

The flower sighs, bows to greet the breeze,
With characteristic, lilting ease;
Its fragrance intoxicates the air,
Its grace, like yours, beyond compare;
On its petal, a teasing droplet of dew,
And in that droplet, a glimpse of you.

Hope, long lost, now breathes again,
The stalk rejuvenated by the rain;
A bud peeks out, quivering, afraid
Of Fate’s willingness to use its spade
To kill any bud that dares to peek through
The soil, that it may live its life with you.

Speak Now, Or Forever Remain Silent

Part 1:

The sparsely staffed upper story of GM Towers that housed the diner that billed itself the best Konkani Restaurant in town was having a slow business day. The mostly unworked waiters lounged lazily at the corner tables, out of eye and earshot of the handful of customers who happened to be there. All eyes in the diner were turned towards the grainy, miniscule television that was mounted on an improvised stand near the ceiling of the restaurant. A politician, clad in the brightest orange, spread his arms in a gesture of magnificence, enthralling his junta with all the wiles and Machiavellian schemings that 40 years of politicking had taught him.

This hardly uncommon arrangement was rendered so by a seemingly innocuous rendezvous that took place on its premises on the Sunday of December 31st, 2017.

At one of the tables sat a man, aged around 40, gold chain shining forth from within an entanglement of chest hair, a massive paunch belying a life of lazy Hedonism. A handful of rice was held suspended in his hand, with the gravy running down his arm, unnoticed, as he stared at the TV screen.

Another table entertained a mother, child by her side, staring with glazed eyes at the screen, while the child shrieked for attention, striking her unresponsive arm with petulant pleas.

At the third sat a man, age 32, with head bowed. A green polo t-shirt, impeccably ironed, hid a body that had been assiduously chiselled at a gym. Size 5 converse shoes peeked out from within a pair of denims that looked like they had come fresh from the launderers. The unusual proliferation of creases between his eyebrows spoke of a man who has many reasons to frown, and not as many to smile. He stared down at his plate of prawn ghee roast, apparently taking no delight in it. A laptop bag, lying on the chair next to him, was a constant reminder that work beckoned, as soon as he was done with his lunch.

Across from him sat a woman, aged 23, whose face bore evidence of a sleepless night and much deliberation, and no small amount of determination. Ever since this couple had arrived, it was she who had dominated the conversation, with the man hardly getting a word in.

“…had just about all I can take,” she was saying, as his eyes unattentively followed the wisps of smoke emanating from his steaming lunch. “There are many things I admire about you, Auro, but partial admiration can only take you so far. I don’t feel the effort that needs to be put in to this relationship is coming from both of us.”

That last bit struck a nerve for Auro. He had never liked anyone questioning his work ethic. Frown resumed its rightful place, and he glanced up at his partner. As her lips continued to emit their discordant notes, his eyes strayed up to her ears, noticing for the first time how they were not unlike prawns, themselves. He looked down once again to reaffirm his notion and was pleased to see that he was not mistaken. Frown fidgeted, not so sure of its seat anymore.

Behind him, the speakers continued to act as the harbingers of Separatist propaganda. Auro found it mildly distracting.

“When was the last time you came home with a smile on your face, wanting to spend an enjoyable evening with me? When was the last time your face did not have that God-damned frown!” she exclaimed.

The speakers began to crackle, the politician’s voice cutting in and out intermittently.

“I really think you need to get some help. It isn’t healthy to be this angry all the time. Will you listen to me just this once and get some help?”

Auro had traversed elsewhere within his mind. He was travelling amongst physical representations of sound notes, repairing the ones that had been damaged or destroyed, adorning himself the sound carpenter.

“Are you even listening to me?” she shrieked.

Auro snapped out of his reverie. “I’m sorry, Mona, I didn’t catch that last part,” he said, looking up with the faintest traces of apologetic feeling softening his features.

Mona seethed, “You know what, I’ve had it. This is so typical of you. Here I am, trying to salvage something from our relationship, and you don’t even have the decency to hear me out. You never have. You have always been a terrible listener.”

“Don’t say that,” he said, voice trembling with emotion, “Please don’t say that.” Frown returned, triumphant, dominant.

“Well, I’m sorry, but it is true.”

“Mona, I understand you’re upset, but there is no need to be bitch.”

Her mouth fell open. “Wow, just wow. You know what? You can just fuck off, you Konkan bastard.”

Auro, ears reddening, began, “Are you insulting my mother tongue?”

But she had already left.

———————————————————————————————————————————–

Part 2:

Auro walked towards the Five-items-or-less counter at the supermarket with his 5 Kg jar of Serious Gainz protein shake. The cashier was running through customers at an impressive pace, but there were still a couple of people before him in the line. The guy immediately in front of him was broad shouldered and tall. He seemed especially so to Auro, whose deficiency in the height department had always been a source of great insecurity. The man in front of him seemed to encompass his whole field of vision. Auro suppressed a surge of anger, and switched queues. He now found himself at the last counter, closest to the exit.

The tinted sliding doors provided a reflective surface that few men who hit the gym as hard as Auro did would have been able to resist. He found himself flexing his arms with the 5 Kg jar in his hand, and admiring how well his muscles had developed over the past couple of years.

His eyes travelled upwards, noting the muscle mass build-up around his shoulders and the purple of his veins straining at the skin of his neck. His face was now hidden away beneath a full, lush beard, but his head was clean shaven. The lights of the supermarket reflected off the beads of perspiration that formed on it from time to time. The lines between his eyebrows had become significantly more entrenched. Frown flourished.

It suddenly struck him how much he had changed. How, somewhere along the way, he had lost the innocence of righteous anger, and how his evolution from that had not only changed who he was within, but had been corporealized and was now there for all to see.

“Good afternoon, sir, how may I help you today?” asked the cashier, an unpleasant looking woman well past her prime, smiling wearily at him.

“Oh, just the one item, thank you,” he said, setting the jar down on the counter.

“Gladly, sir. There is an offer on this item, sir. With every purchase of a Serious Gainz jar, you receive one set of Zebronics Multimedia Speakers absolutely free,” she said, with all the magnanimity of Alexander granting a life of continued Royal Luxury to Darius III’s family.

Frown twitched, agitated.

“That’s all right, I don’t want them,” he said, voice curiously subdued.

The cashier was taken aback. This was unprecedented behaviour. Perhaps he misunderstood.

“But, sir, it is completely free,” she repeated.

Auro remained silent, handing over the money, keeping his eyes averted. The cashier bagged the jar and the speakers and handed it over to Auro, who wordlessly walked out of the store.

On reaching the road, he immediately reached into the bag and, extricating the speakers, unceremoniously dumped them into the trash can that lay right outside the store. Then, as if afraid of lingering there, he walked off at a brisk pace.

A short metro trip later, he was home. Setting his new purchase on top of the cabinet, he walked across the hall and turned on his sound system. Immediately, the whole house was drowned in the dark melodies of doom metal, with Queen of All Time blaring from the network of speakers Auro had set up all over the house.

His eyes closed in silent ecstasy for a brief moment, as euphoria overwhelmed him, and he felt that familiar sensation in his groin.

Frown shuddered. Tonight was going to be a good night.

He switched on his computer, grabbing an apple from the fridge, feet moving rhythmically to the music. Logging on, he immediately opened multiple tabs, clicking on his neatly organized bookmarks in alphabetical order. Each bookmark pertained to a different forum for audiophiles. Long months of practice had taught him the areas he needed to concentrate on to get his daily fix, and the areas he needed to avoid, so as to avoid perverting the purity of his knowledge base.

He had developed a fearsome reputation in these circles, ruthlessly mowing down anyone who held misguided views on the characteristics of sound and its gadgetry. People all over the world knew to step out of his way and respectfully accept his opinion, whether out of simple fear, or out of deference to his near encyclopaedic knowledge of the subject matter. Gone were the days when simply good sound quality and reasonable pricing were enough to satisfy him. Now, he travelled only in exalted circles where the philosophy of sound overrode any quantifiable benchmark by which a particular device may be judged. Auro was the judge, and his intuition served as benchmark enough.

Scouring the various screens, he spotted an unwelcome intruder on an otherwise enlightened post. The intruder, styling himself “CranialDessert”, not realizing the majesty of the company he was in, had naively ventured to express a contrary opinion (with the best intentions no doubt) to that of Auro’s. What followed was to go down in audiophilia lore.

Chat Window 1:

CranialDessert: Well, I originally thought using human subjects to determine experimentally what “characteristics” of sound they found enjoyable and then to build these characteristics into loudspeakers was a pretty good idea. But now it just seems like another way of trying to force feed us linearity in every facet of our lives. #anarchy

Auro-al-Illusion: And what is wrong with linearity? It is the sole driving force of accurate reproduction. Go back to your Momma’s breast and do some fucking research, you Skull Candy bitch!

Chat Window 2:

FieryFoxtrot97: Ha! “Skull Candy bitch.” Nice one. :* :*

Auro-al-Illusion: Bitch-ass noobs trying to troll our threads! I bet his cries for attention couldn’t be any louder if he played them through a Backes & Muller BM 100.

FieryFoxtrot97: Ha-ha, yeah…

Auro-al-Illusion: I’m sick of people not even taking the effort to learn about something that they are talking about. I bet this sad excuse for a human being still equates price to quality of product.

FieryFoxtrot97: So, anyway, we on for tonight?

Auro-al-Illusion: Would you believe, they tried to foist a Zebronics piece of trash on me today. Some crap about it being free with my protein shake. I should have given that to CranialDessert, I bet he would jack off to those.

FieryFoxtrot97: …

Auro-al-Illusion: What? Oh, sorry, I didn’t see your message. Yeah, yeah, we’re on for tonight.

FieryFoxtrot97: Great, I’ll seeya at seven, then.

Auro-al-Illusion: Yeah. So do you think we should block him from our thread? I think I’m gonna have a word with the admin. I wrote to him last week as well, he never replies.

A couple of hours later, having destroyed any vestige of self-worth that CranialDessert may have salvaged within himself, Auro logged out and began to get ready for his date.

A special occasion warranted a special effort, and Auro did not pull any punches. A smart blue shirt with impeccably fashionable pants to match, a careful comb-through of his beard, and he was not at all disappointed with what he espied in the mirror. First impressions were key. Until now, his entire spectrum of interaction with FieryFoxtrot97 was online. He had never spoken to her in person. He did not even know how she looked.

What he saw was disappointing, but Auro was never picky when it came to looks. She stood at 5’3”,
with a largish build. Bordering on obese, if he was being honest. A shock of curly hair mercifully covered the majority of her face, and she had chosen an unpleasant shade of shock red lipstick to adorn her lips with. Her overall vibe was not quite revolting, merely pathetic.

But ever the picture of chivalry, Auro took no notice of any of that, and the twain proceeded to have a wonderful evening over wine and Coorgi pork. The lady, unused to a charm separated from superficiality, was swept off her feet by his passionate discourses, and pretty soon, with a seemingly natural progression, she found herself accompanying him to his house.

On entry, what struck her first and foremost was the neatness. The almost obsessively perfect arrangement of furniture, entertainment systems and miscellaneous paraphernalia. What struck her next was that this house was an utter and completely accurate representation of Auro’s personality. It reflected the personality of a man who knew what he was doing, who had his life and its direction sorted out. The kind of man who would wake up every morning with a purpose, and not take each day as it comes, but will life into submitting to his whims.

“Come, I’ll show you around,” he said, tenderly, sending her innards into convulsions of delight. She rose silently, taking his hand, giddy with pleasure. He led her through the hallway, down a narrow corridor. The corridor had four doors diverging from it, one on the left, two on the right and one right at the end.

Auro led her into the second door on the right, a room enveloped in the deepest shade of darkness. She shuddered in anticipation, waiting for what they both knew was to come.

CLICK.

A string of light bulbs turned on, illuminating to the awestruck lady what could only be described as a temple.

From the ceiling to the floor, there were speakers. Old school, mid-range, retro, storm-jammers, the best of every genre and age of speakers was represented there, and cross referenced with the current market price of that particular device.

Front and centre, she spotted a massive structure, shrouded reverentially in a protective blanket of the softest cotton. Despite the overwhelming multitude of similar structures around her, she found her eyes drawn to this item alone. This fact did not go unnoticed by Auro, who pressed home his advantage.

“Ah, this,” he said, his hand stroking the cotton suggestively. “This is, as they say in France, La Piece de Resistance.”

“You speak French too?” she gasped, breathily.

Frown, for the first time that evening, made an appearance, albeit not with its usual pronouncement.

A curious feeling of foreboding began to seep into Auro’s mind, a premonition of sorts. He looked at her for the first time with a new look in his eyes. He had offered to take her out for dinner on the vaguely optimistic hope that a fellow audiophile and him would have plenty to talk about and that he would find a companion to share his greatest passion with. But now, thinking back over the evening he had spent, he began to see multiple clues pointing to the fact that this was now no more than wishful thinking.

With an extravagant flourish, he pulled off the cotton blanket, displaying the pride of his collection in all its glory. He had made sure it was positioned just so that the lighting of the room did it justice and that it was acoustically in the optimum position in the room.

“So, tell me,” he began, working hard to keep his voice from trembling, “what do you think this… This structure… This work of art… This… This masterclass of audio technology, what do you think it has that other systems don’t?”

The lady, intent on Auro himself rather than what he was talking about, did not process the question entirely, nor did she gauge the apparent importance it held for Auro. What she did spot, however, was an option to flirt.

“Um, I dunno,” she said, “Maybe ‘cause it’s really, really big?”

Frown cast down its anchor. It wasn’t going anywhere for the rest of the night.

“I see,” said Auro, now visibly worked up. “Could I interest you in showing you something truly beautiful?”

A playful smile lit up the lady’s face as she said, in a sultry voice, “I’m all yours.”

Auro took her hand and led her back out into the corridor. Turning right, he led her into the last door at the end of the corridor.

He unlocked the door, and seemed to struggle with its weight when pulling it open. Beyond yawned a gaping chasm of the most absolute darkness.

“After you,” said Auro, showing her in.

She walked slowly, cautiously, feeling with her feet. Behind her she heard the heavy door thud shut and the click of multiple locks. A shiver ran through her.

“Well, this is… Unusual,” she ventured.

Her comment received no acknowledgement as Auro had seemingly busied himself with something else, of which the only evidence reaching her was the vague sound of shuffling in the darkness. She braced herself, expecting to feel his touch at any moment.

Suddenly, the lights flicked on. Initially blinded, her eyes took a few seconds to adjust. The room she stood in now was threadbare to say the least. There was one chair in the middle of the room. And three of the four walls were covered in drapes, even though there were no windows to this room. The floor contained no panelling, and the room came across more as a basement than anything else. It certainly was a far cry from the king-sized bed the lady had been imagining.

She gasped as she suddenly felt Auro’s hands wrap around her from behind.  Sliding his hands across her belly, they came to rest in the crevice between the bottom of her breasts and the first fold of fat from her belly.

“Are you ready?” he whispered, nudging her forwards towards the wall.

She was beginning to feel quite disconcerted, by now.

“Erm… Not really. I don’t quite like this room, can we go back outside, please?” she asked, her tonality taking on that childlike quality that every woman seems to have at their beck and call when required.

“Oh, but I haven’t showed you what we came here to see,” he said. He had manoeuvred her until she now stood within arm’s reach of the draping on one of the walls. “Pull it off,” he commanded.

“I really don…”

“Pull it off!” he hissed.

She flinched, and then yanked at the draping.

After two long seconds, in which her mind processed what it was being forced to, the silence of the night was rent apart by a blood curdling shriek.

She writhed and struggled, but Auro’s once sensual embrace was now an unbreakable grip, as he manhandled her into the chair. His forearms closed around her throat and he began applying pressure until it was no longer possible for her to scream, and eventually even to breathe. She blacked out.

————————————————————————————————————————

When she came to, she was still in the chair, but she had been stripped naked, and her hands and ankles were tied to it. She noticed, too, that the chair had been nailed down. The chair sat in such a position, that the person occupying it had the best seat to appreciate the collection that resided behind all three drapes.

Auro had left the lights on, and removed the drapes for her benefit, and so it was that she beheld the entire collection in all its wonder.

Adorning all three walls, labelled, tagged and arranged according to size, shape and colour were ears. Human ears. Starting from the left wall, where the smallest and frailest ears were displayed, some of them undoubtedly the ears of babies, the size increased all the way to the wall on the right, where the adult male ears were displayed.

Auro stood at the wall directly in front of her, having labelled and indexed an empty spot on the wall in front. He turned to face her, an expression of maniacal pleasure on his face, though not without Frown. He emitted a laugh, but not like anything she had heard before. It was not a normal laugh, not even an evil laugh. To her petrified ears, it sounded like a long exhale from an asthmatic, or the final expelling of breath from one who has not the strength to inhale anymore. It sounded like death.

Tapping the empty spot, he said, “This is where you belong, you pseudo-audiophiles. This is your rightful place. Before you, my dear, is a collection of all the most imperfect ears mankind has created. Not imperfect to look at, mind you. A true audiophile isn’t as superficial as that. No, no. Imperfect in their ability to detect the truly sublime sound from the merely good sound. You, who had all the equipmental knowledge gleaned from constantly scouring that forum, how could you allow your ears to degrade to the point where they can’t discern between volume and clarity? How, despite your excellent aural education, could you say something as ignorant as you did outside?”

“I WASN’T LISTENING TO YOU!!! I JUST SAID THAT TO FLIRT WITH YOU! WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU, YOU PSYCHO!! HELP ME! HELP!” she screamed.

Auro shook his head disapprovingly and, approaching her calmly, bludgeoned her with a right hook, shutting her up and cutting open her cheek. Her pleas for help were replaced by groans of pain.

“If you had paid attention, my love,” he said, “you would have noticed that this room has been soundproofed. You could scream till your sub-par ears are rendered even more useless, but nothing will come of it. I recommend, therefore, that you desist.”

As she sat, hunched over in her chair, Auro produced a backpack. From within he pulled out an iPod and a pair of headphones. The model number on the headphones read MX-50, an upgrade on the now obsolete MX-20’s.

Working slowly but surely, he chose the track he wished to play and set the headphones over her ears. They were tightly clamped and she found that shaking her head, however vigorously, would not dislodge it.

Turning up the volume to the maximum, Auro hit play. Immediately, a cacophony of sounds blared through the headphones, filling her head, drowning out any coherent thought.

She screamed and flailed, trying to escape, but the headphones stayed clamped. She felt like she was being subjected to a million nails being painstakingly drawn across a million blackboards, with all the collected wails of misery ever voiced by mankind added in for good measure. The sound made her skin crawl, and its sheer volume ensured that it reverberated within her.

Seconds melted into hours, and she had no idea how long she sat there, screaming, blacking out, coming to, screaming again. But, do what she might, the sound did not stop. In the midst of her travails, she had lost control of her bladder, and now sat drenched in her own urine and faeces, but found herself unable to even process that fact enough to be disgusted by it.

Her screams now blended into the wails and screeches emanating from her headphones, and everywhere she glimpsed ears, as if mounted to hear her scream. She passed out again.

She came to, conscious of a stinging pain in her neck. She opened her eyes to see Auro withdrawing a syringe filled with her blood.

“For filing, you understand,” he said, airily. He knew she could not hear him over the sounds playing into her ears, but he still kept a one sided conversation with her. He found that he enjoyed conversations most when he was the only one talking.

He returned with a knife. It looked sheer, was made completely of metal, and looked, even at first glance, to be immensely sharp.

Nonchalantly, and with no foreplay, he held her head in place by wrapping his arm round it, and held her right ear with his hand. His other hand brought the knife and began slicing through. Her agony touched new peaks and she positively shrieked in excruciation. The knife, thoroughly sharp, sliced through the ear with no trouble at all, and soon he had his latest specimen.

He held it up for close examination. His sensitive ears were inundated by her continued shrieks, distracting him. Frown fretted, agitated, and suddenly Auro swung the knife across her face with all the force he possessed. It struck her on the left cheek, slicing through her jaw, all the way to the other side of her face, until her lower jaw lay hanging by cartilage. The next swipe sliced open her throat, causing blood to cascade down her breasts, down to the foot of the chair, mingling with her refuse.

And at long last, he had his beloved silence.

————————————————————————————————–

Part 3:
Six months later:

Mona sat in a hotel room, munching on a piece of toast, flicking through the channels, when onscreen flashed the picture of a person she was all too familiar with. She watched in silent horror as the gruesome details of Auro’s deeds were explained over and over again with sadistic glee by journalists from every channel in the country.

“…police say the suspect has admitted to kidnapping, theft, assault, manslaughter, graverobbing, cannibalism and many other heinous crimes. The suspect also furnished details in support of his statement, lending further credence to his claim that he had no accomplices. However, the police admit that they have hit a snag in determining his motives. On being asked to state his motive, the police report states that the suspect emitted a loud, wheezy laugh, and simply said, ‘She can’t say I’m not a good listener. I listened all right.’ On being asked to elaborate, the suspect clamped up and refused to speak any further.”

The piece of toast was still suspended midway between the plate and Mona’s mouth; its holder had not moved for the past few minutes. Snippets of their last conversation flashed before her eyes. Those words that he had immortalized in criminal lore, those words were hers. She had cast them at him, carelessly, unthinkingly. She had set in motion, with a careless remark, events that would affect hundreds, maybe thousands of people.

She set her toast back down on the plate and switched off the TV. A headache began to assail her. She felt her head being invaded by an alien presence. She felt heavy, weighed down. She glanced into the mirror by her bed.

Frown stared back at her.
————————————————————————————————————————-

The Pun Chronicles #6 – Darryl’s Unfortunate Tryst with Fate

Darryl loved to think of himself as an innovator. The thrill of it came from the knowledge that innovation was the only really true form of uniqueness that still existed in this world. The only way to step out of the crowd, to experience the full glare of the spotlight before the next fashionable trend stole it away again. This was the Age of Lightning. Nothing lasted. Never had the phrase “30 seconds of fame” held more poignancy than it did today.

Darryl understood all of this perfectly well, but what was conspicuous by its absence from his train of thought was malice. He bore no ill will to this whimsical crowd, this fickle audience that he co-populated the Earth with. There was no resentment, no grumbling, no flicker of jealousy when his moment of inspiration, of sweat, blood and toil, was cast into the ocean of has-beens along with a billion others, as the masses moved on to something passing, superficial, un-sublime. He bore the fact with some grace that, to get a foothold of any kind, one must constantly innovate.

And so, innovation became life to Darryl. He could not take two steps down any road without coming up with an incredible, naïve and fantastical idea about how to radically change this or revolutionize that, and how the principles of the idea were simple, and the execution only required the power of will. When he was with company, they were usually sane enough to bring his flight of imagination back safely down to Earth.  But when he was alone, his imagination ran riot like an Australian bush fire, brushing aside the obstacles that reality puts in its path with all the disdain of a Dickensian Nobleman.

It was during one of these phantasmic reveries that he hit upon what he was certain would be the mother lode. His train of thought began from a judgement that he had silently passed on a friend of his. His friend, munching on a bar of Snickers, had grimaced and then unceremoniously dumped the rest of the candy bar, less than half eaten, into the nearest bin. On espying Darryl’s outraged expression, he shrugged and said, “Too sweet.”

Too sweet. How can that be a bad thing.

But Darryl had heard this same refrain many times before, and from many different people. It always boggled his mind to hear phrases like “Too much cheese,” “too much chocolate,” or “too much meat.” He could not understand what they meant when they said it was too much of a good thing. The idea, like Quantum Physics, lay outside the boundaries of his understanding.

Well, if I can’t fix it, I sure as hell can cater to it.

And so thinking, he stumbled upon his masterpiece. He resolved to create a candy bar that lost none of its original sweetness, but was tinged and accented by a contrasting flavour, so as to avoid offending the tongues of those who could not handle too much of a single flavour. Now that it had occurred to him, he marvelled that no one had thought of it before.

Never the type of guy who procrastinates, Darryl immediately set off to his little laboratory, armed with a carton of snickers bars and a whole arsenal of different flavours to test on them.

——————————————————————————————————————-

Many weeks passed without event. But we must not allow ourselves to be misled by this. ‘Twas but the temporary withdrawal of the ocean before the onset of the tsunami.

On that fateful day, Darryl resurfaced, triumphant, holding a box aloft in his arms a la Lion King.
His eyes strayed ne’er a moment from his path as he resolutely traipsed on toward the friend who had set this ball rolling.

His friend, having not heard from Darryl in weeks, neither in person, nor through digital media, looked on bemused as he spotted his quirky friend walking towards him, face aglow with the radiance of elation, holding a box of what appeared to be candy bars towards him.

“I’ve done it,” he exclaimed. Every syllable quivering with the weight of achievement.

“Done what?”

“Lime flavoured Snickers.”

“What?”

“Don’t question me, just give this a try first. We can talk later.”

So saying, he handed his friend the candy bar.

“You know, I have eaten Snickers bef…” his voice trailed off as Darryl impatiently held his hand up and gestured enthusiastically at the box.

“Shut up and eat up.”

And so he did. The first burst of flavour surprised him, it being nothing near what he had expected. And the shock of it caused him to choke on the morsel. An expression of doubt and dismay crept across Darryl’s face. But that quickly changed as his friend recovered and began to chew in earnest.

The obsession of parents with announcing every little achievement of their kids to the world at large, with no regard for whether that information was required or relevant in any way, is somewhat an indication of the thrill a creator feels at watching his creation flourish. Darryl partook of this thrill, albeit in a slightly less glamorous manner. He watched with glee as his friend stared at the candy bar in astonishment, as if close inspection would reveal the source of this new pleasure that had been bestowed upon him.

For the next two minutes, Darryl enjoyed the intermittent animalistic groans and sounds emanating from his friend. Finally, three candy bars later, his friend managed to gather his breath and speak.

“This is fucking good stuff, Darryl! I could eat this forever.”

“So, this isn’t… too sweet?” asked Darryl, in an almost menacing way.

“Heck naw, man. Oh, my God, this is… Oh, God,” he groaned, grabbing a fourth candy bar from the box.

Darryl gave a smile, which, to a close observer may have looked like a smile constructed more of condescension and patronizing emotion than genuine joy. It was the smile of the victor who was delighted with the fact that he won, but had not been given enough of a challenge to be able to respect his enemy.

“Hold on,” his friend cried at Darryl’s receding figure, “D’you got any more of those?”

Darryl walked on.

———————————————————————————————

The manager at Frosty Fares Supermarket sat on a plastic chair, fanning himself with insurance forms, staring out at the dusty street into which, it seemed to him, humanity itself was forbidden to wander. It was a Wednesday afternoon, and business was about as slow as it had ever been. His mind, however, was a million miles from his petty financial concerns. His thoughts flew along with the gulls, on a distant beach a long time ago. The lingering touch of that feminine hand was still to him as vivid as it had been all those years ago. It was his fondest memory. The last remaining memory of life when it had been worth living to him. He could almost feel the breeze, and taste the salty tinge of the sea. It tasted like lemons to him. Strange, he thought to himself, that in all these years, it was only today that he realized it had tasted like lemons. It had always been a vague, pleasant sensation for him, but today it was tangible and substantial.

“Good morning, sir, and a good day to you.”

Jeremy, the manager, shaken from his reminiscing, assumed his customary expression of perpetual suspicion and regarded the man standing before him.

“Well, whatchu gonna be wantin’ then?”

Darryl extended his treasure till the box lay right under Mr. Jeremy’s nose. A look of understanding crossed the elderly man’s face as he realized he had found the source of lemon scent.

“I wondered if I could promote my candy bars at your supermarket, sir. I will, of course be giving you a commission. They’re a new kind of candy bar, sir, and I’m sure they’re gonna be the next big thing.”

Jeremy, struggling to recover from the nostalgic effect of the scent, acquiesced before he had a chance to properly consider what it was that he was agreeing to. However, it did not seem a bad deal to him. After all, it would be nice to have some company around the shop.

And so, Darryl set up his stall just inside the main entrance to the supermarket, hands trembling nervously. His confidence had taken a severe blow this morning.  His efforts in creating the perfect candy bar had taken a toll on his performance at his real daytime job, and today he had been asked to vacate the premises, besides which he was behind on his rent.

He was aware that if he did not make it big with the candy sales, he was in fairly deep water. And he had also learnt the hard way that he was not a particularly good swimmer in deep waters.

The passage of the next few hours did nothing to ease his anxiety. A total of two people had crossed the threshold in the past three hours. One of them, diabetic, had scurried away with a squeal of petrification when Darryl had magnanimously offered her a free sample. The other had simply ignored him as if he were a Christmas tree decoration.

With half the day gone and not even a glimmer of an opportunity, Darryl began to fidget nervously, as sweat beads began to crystallize on his forehead. Every tick of the second hand sounded like the footstep of the Grand Inquisitor, approaching him to smear him with the filthy garb of a failure.

Cutting through the damning, self-indicting daydream came the floating, singing voice of a child. Darryl snapped out of it in a millisecond, training his eyes and ears towards the entrance. In walked a mother and daughter. The mother, about 30, seemed to emanate exhaustion. She seemed to have had the life sucked out of her and went about her task like an automaton, unseeing, unfeeling, out of force of habit. The child, on the other hand, seemed lively, sprightly, full of gumption and energy. It seemed obvious to Darryl that it was she that was the cause of her mother’s threadbare state of anatomy.

Darryl watched closely as the mother wearily, but systematically, worked through the list of items that she needed to purchase. She had barely finished scouring the first isle, when her child began to show the first signs of boredom. Soon enough, she abandoned her mother to the mundane existence of practicality, and set off on her private exploratory adventure.

That was when she spotted Darryl, a handsome man with a pleasant face, beckoning to her. She also detected a faint, but pleasant, scent from about his person. Being a child, this double sensory bait  was overwhelming for her, and she positively ran down to his stall.

Darryl, sensing his first sale, knelt to speak face to face with the child, but before he could say a word, she had run past him and snatched the box with his candy in it. Taking a moment to savour the scent, she exposed the chasm that was her oral orifice and consumed half the candy bar in her first bite.

Darryl watched closely as her eyes shut in delight. Her mouth worked slowly and leisurely and her entire body seemed to shake with pleasure.

“Djis Kvntvn pbnjts?” she asked Darryl, still shaking.

“Sorry?”

“Djis Kvntvn pbnjts?” she asked, louder, petulance now creeping into her voice. She looked strangely blue to Darryl, and the frothing at her mouth certainly did not make her any prettier to look at. Darryl shuddered at the predicament the weary lady must be in, being given a child as terrible as this by providence.

“I’m sorry, I can’t understand you,” Darryl pleaded, seeing his chance of making a sale slip away.

The child began to positively throw a fit. She lay on the ground, screaming, writhing, her mouth frothing, her body convulsing, thrashing about.

The din brought her mother flying out of the aisles.

“WHAT HAPPENED? WHAT’S WRONG?” she screamed.

“I… I don’t know. She seemed to be trying to say something, I cannot understand what she is saying.”

He looked up to see the mother had not been listening to him at all. She had a look of the most sickening horror plastered upon her face. Darryl followed her eyeline and his eyes hit upon his box of candy bars.

“D… D…. Does that contain p-p-p-peanuts?” the lady whispered.

The blood drained from Darryl’s face.

—————————————————————————————————————

Darryl walked along the bridge, morosely gazing out onto the river. Homeless, unemployed and hungry, he had lost all he had to lose in life.

But the fact that took stomaching, and that he had not yet been able to stomach, was the failure of his enterprise. The fact that the idiocy of one petulant girl had robbed him of his life’s calling, of fulfilling his role in society as that of an innovator extraordinaire. That he had been allowed his 30 seconds in the spotlight, but not for a feat of intellect, but for the corpse of a child, that was a particularly bitter pill to swallow. It was tougher for him to digest that than it had been for the girl to digest peanuts.

The news in the following weeks had been characteristically ruthless, killing off any chance Darryl had of starting his life over. The furore the child’s death had created had caused collateral damage as well, Mr. Jeremy being forced to shut down his beloved “Frosty Fares Supermarket” under severe pressure from activists.

Stepping over the railing of the bridge, Darryl gazed into the cold, grey expanse below him, and, taking a deep breath, he plunged.

——————————————————————————————————————–

Hours later, the screams of a few children alerted the neighbourhood to the fact that something was not quite right down by the riverbank. On investigation, two bodies were found, lying side by side.

Forensics later confirmed that the first body belonged to Mr. Darryl Johnson, aged 24. Time of death was approximated at 2 PM.

The second body was identified as Mr. Jeremy Sachs, aged 49. Time of death was approximated at 11 AM.

——————————————————————————————————————

This was the tale of lemony snickers and a series of unfortunate events.

The Pun Chronicles #5 – The Joys of Silent Jenny

Jenny Talbut sat, morose, in her room, facing the wall. Deaf and mute since birth, gazing at the blank, white wall was her way of shutting the world out, since she presented the only fully functional sensory organ with zero stimulation.

The world around her had degraded, Jenny thought. Or else it was her perspective that had refined itself to the point where she could see it. Everywhere, she was surrounded by false charity. People everywhere would feel sorry for her, but no one would befriend her. Because that would take a real effort. An effort no one was willing to take. One can’t post efforts on social media. Effort did not get likes.

And so, she sat with the sympathy of the world bestowed upon her, but the companionship of none.

But Jenny possessed one characteristic that no amount of seclusion could hamper, that no amount of superficiality could denigrate. Jenny had smarts. Forced to take an extra effort to experience the same things that others could experience effortlessly, Jenny’s brain had trained itself to be quicker, sharper and more resolute than most. She had grit, and an abundance of it at that.

This determination had given her the drive to clear her A levels and now, University awaited her.

University!

Just the thought of it sent thrills down Jenny’s spine. University would be the Eden that would morph all her malformities into likeable peculiarities. Universities, to Jenny’s mind, were a melting pot where all manner of queer and quirky people intermingled to create an intellectual miasma wherein everyone could be themselves and yet be no stranger than the rest.

There weren’t many universities that had the facilities to educate deaf-mute students in the field that Jenny had chosen. Careful research had whittled it down to two realistic options. However, as one of them required a significant investment in terms of relocation and tuition, all of Jenny’s hopes and dreams rested on one University and one alone.

She had written to them after months of concerted research and superhuman effort allowed her the confidence to send her essay in to apply for the scholarship. Now all that she longed for was confirmation. That email was to be her affirmatory glory. Her ticket to normalcy. Her mortar for the rebuilding of her confidence. Everything that she had worked for depended on that one mail. She had searched online for copies indicating the nature of the letter that is received by applicants that are accepted. From what she could find, the mail was an unassuming receipt, stating the tuition fee that the applicant was required to submit at the time of admission. Nothing more, nothing less.

Jenny Talbut’s mind leaped from fantasy to fantasy, from one in which she spearheaded the opening up of various avenues of employment to the deaf-mute, to another where she overcame her natural obstacles to nevertheless reach the upper echelons of her field of study. She did not dream small. Her imagination tolerated no boundaries.

Even as she dreamt of glorious victories, a letter dropped in through the slot in her door. The world stood still as Jenny recognized the insignia of the much sought after university. Holding her breath, she slit open the envelope and, pulling out the letter, glanced through the contents at the speed of light.

And what emotions ran through Jenny’s mind as she read the following text printed across the surface of the letter:

“Fee- mail: Jenny Tal.”

Mute Elation.