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Friday, May 21, 2010

Apocalypse Postponed

Haunted as the world is by the spectre of Jihadi terror and extremist threats, the act of one lone individual which nearly pushed the world to the brink of total and irreversible destruction went absolutely unnoticed. Thanks to the great statesmanship of the President of Banana Republic the Apocalypse was postponed. Musings brings out the first of a series of such Tales from the Banana Republic for its followers and friends.  Comments would be very welcome.

Mr. Ghotaskar's removal from his assignment-even though it had been a long time coming- unsettled him completely. A couple of days after he was made to quit, grave and worrying symptoms began to be noticed in his behaviour by his family members and his close friends.

He no longer flaunted the three inch wide sandalwood paste on his forehead. "What is the point in belonging to the highest Brahminical order, what use is all this Puja Path, paying obeisance to the 330 million gods, if they spurn you like this.” Mr. Ghotaskar was known to practice celibacy for the last several decades, simply because he couldn't find the time for any activity other than sitting in his office. He himself famously explained it once. “My career is a very jealous and possessive mistress, and it will not allow me to court any other.” He came to office as early as it was practicable, and left when the watchman threatened to lock him in and retire for the night with the keys. His efforts to keep his assignment from poaching colleagues occupied so much of his time that it left him with little time for his other familial obligations. The routine had got so intricately woven in his life cycle that his biological clock functioned accordingly. Even on Sundays and holidays he would visit the office on one pretext or the other because it kept him normal and balanced. His wife could take it no more and decamped with the gardener. When this news reached him he remained completely unmoved and he went about his business as usual. Denied access to that charmed office of his, for the first time he demanded to know where his wife was. It seems his family had read courage and stoicism in a gesture of pure indifference or incomprehension.

This discovery by Mr. Ghotaskar caused considerable consternation in the family. The confirmed celibate now boasted of his tremendous tumescence and showed interest in lewd stories and limericks. The embarrassment of his close friends and family grew with every passing day, until one day he was found to be shouting at some one, who was however not visible to others. His friends and family came out and tried to remonstrate with him, to calm him down but his anger showed no signs of abetting. If any thing he was beginning to get more and more aggressive. "Sir, you are a liar and a cheat" followed by some expletives and then he become incoherent. A few drops of froth were also noticed at the corner of his lips. His son got terribly alarmed and immediately called up his family doctor, "Uncle, Papa has certainly become unhinged. To think that he is standing up and shouting at his superior is a dangerously abnormal behavior. When he was alright he would always stand up with one hand raised in a gesture of salute, even when talking to them on the phone. In person he would prostrate himself to lick their boots. Whether hallucinating or not is not the issue, the fact that he is standing up to his superior provides the key to his abnormal behavior. We must no longer hesitate to put him under psychiatric care". So Mr. Ghotaskar was finally bundled out to a mental hospital-where they put him on sedatives for a while and did some counseling. The treating Doctor was of the opinion that he had just been touched in some corner of his head, and he just had to learn to accept the reality of his removal. The regular counseling would help him cope with it and he should be fine very soon.

Mr. Ghotaskar had risen steadily in his career braving all the hazards that his particular profession presented. The career of a government servant is a virtual battle field mined with backbiting, negative PR, character assassination etc but he negotiated it very deftly and arrived where he had longed to be all his life. At the very top! But strangely enough, he was not enjoying it any more: on the contrary, it was a big disappointment, an anti climax and a let down. He felt cabined, cribbed and confined. Of course all the privileges were his. Innumerable servants, several cars, parties, conferences, tours, ceremonials. To tell the truth, many more were added to the already long list and yet there was something vital missing. Mr. Ghotaskar like many other civil servants could not live by bread alone. He must have cash to go with it and cash was hard to come by because he was that much more in the limelight. Even then he could manage some but it was not in the prescribed dose to keep him healthy, wealthy, happy and wise.

It appears his friends and members of the family had failed to read the symptoms of the impending illness. Even when he had not been certified insane he complained that some one else kept marching by his side all the while. The afternoon shadow longer than himself often scared him and he viewed it as an attempt to cut him to size. He tried to drive away these negative thoughts by collecting a clutch of his cronies in a closed room where he would shout at the top of his voice "I am the master of the universe". This shot of adrenaline did bolster his sagging self confidence, but only momentarily, and he needed this fix more and more often. Otherwise he spent his days in fear and trembling. Or in less gloomier moments, he would just sit in his office all day long fondly touching the upholstery, gazing at the stationary, looking up the succession board where his name stood out in bolder print. He had already carved out a place for himself on the succession board. What he was now worried about was history-or precisely the dung heap of history, the ultimate destination of all those who achieved that position. From the thought of history to the onset of hysteria was just a few steps and a passing apprehension of being removed rendered him inoperative, inactive, and infirm. He became less and less productive.

The patience of the president of Banana Republic finally ran out and Mr. Ghotaskar was given the marching order. There was no particular provocation. Just that his inactivity and his paranoia had reached the tipping point. Mr. Ghotaskar was a congenital liar but he surpassed even himself that day-he strung together eleven separate lies during the course of one single statement and was not agile enough to eat his words instantly. It cost him his job and tragically enough, his sanity as well. So here he was, recuperating under the expert care of a renowned psychiatrist.

But it was not long before Mr. Ghotaskar came round. He started wearing his sandal paste as meticulously as ever. The rounds to the various temples etc increased and the time spent in spelling out his wish list also increased. He would often come back to the temples add a post script or heavily underline the important parts of his request that he made to gods. Never to take any chances he would mobilize at least two dozens other gods to a particular task and several others were sounded out and kept on hold, just in case. Finally one day, there was some stirring in the statue of Hanuman in the temple near the Central Bank and clearly, unmistakably, he asked Mr. Ghotaskar with a smile to state his wish. This Hanuman had always a slightly sullen and angry look about him, as if, he had been snapped on his incendiary mission to Lanka, and sculpted in that state. This was perhaps the reason why it was less frequented by supplicants, and believed to be even less likely to grant wishes. So Mr. Ghotaskar least expected anything to come out of this routine call. Moreover he was lost in a fantasy in which he imagined that he had acquired the powers to assume whatever shape he wanted to. He was enjoying the bounties of the lost office by assuming the identity of his successor. Long used to deceit and cunning, straight, and simple solutions never occurred to him. So on the spur of the moment, he demanded that he be given the powers to impersonate any one-human, animal or machine, he chose to. "So be it", said Lord Hanuman and then immediately froze in his sullen angry stance.

Mr. Ghotaskar made some dry runs to test the boon and was delighted at the results. No body even so much as suspected any foul play." Now was the time to get back at the manipulating bastard", he thought. "His name would be mud from tomorrow. If I am perceived to be bad he will be seen in a worse light henceforth”. He planned to set afoot a hundred mischiefs in the disguise of his successor, make up for deficiency in the targeted amount of cash and make merry in general while his successor would face the music. So Mr. Ghotaskar assumed the looks of his successor and occupied his seat in the office of his successor who was out on a secret undisclosed mission. But even before Mr. Ghotaskar could cause much mischief he was discovered. The successor of course was no saint, and he had his share of weaknesses but they were all etched on the human scale and in his short stint he had restored some sort of normalcy. Mr. Ghotaskar had been able to impersonate his successor only in terms of out ward appearance but so unique was he in his behaviour that even the divine weapon could not be of much help. It remained its own original self and immediately raised suspicion in the minds of the close retinue of the chief. The whispering campaign alerted the genuine incumbent who rushed back from his secret destination and challenged the imposter. Mr. Ghotaskar was discovered in no time and was branded on his left cheek with an indelible mark, under the orders of the government so that he could not deceive any one again.

Mr. Ghotaskar however did not give up. He sat down in a yogic posture of meditation and concentrated deeply to keep the negative thoughts away. Where did he go wrong? How and when did he stay off the trajectory success that he had plotted for himself? "Ah" no negative thoughts. Let me recall the happier years. Perhaps that will recharge my batteries, perhaps reveal to me the formula of my success so far.

Mr. Ghotaskar recalled that he had performed feats that defied even the laws of Euclidean geometry. His performance was always at an abysmally lower plane compared to the rewards. They were totally unaligned and yet no one in the entire bureaucracy had been able to figure out this mathematical fallacy, and hence his case was put in the category of unsolved management problems. Mr. Ghotaskar smiled to himself. He could feel the muscles in his entire body relax and a pleasant feeling of well being spread across him. Mentally, he counted his hoard of cash. It had crossed the ten figure mark, and he felt himself awash with a beatific feeling. But then unaccountably his prosperity reminded him of the poverty of the people of Republic and it gave him a shot stab of remorse. Was he seized of some subliminal guilt? However there was light at the end of this tunnel of confusion. "Shall I impersonate the President’s chief advisor? I shall engage him in important matters of state. Warn him of the unholy designs of the neighboring kingdom. Assess the relative strengths of the generals charged with defending the kingdom, compare our military might, then bring him round to the internal security scenario .From the defence, scenario to the internal security situation would be a very natural progression, and then may be casually he would let slip the topic of rehabilitating myself - Mr. Ghotaskar that is . The idea appealed to him and he devised the many opening gambits. But on second thoughts he abandoned the idea. The thought of war and financial management perhaps may not usher in the right frame of mind to elicit a favorable decision. It may indeed leave him a little insecure, perhaps anxious and worried. The more he cogitated, the less favourable a strategy it seemed to appear. Just then he had a eureka sensation. “I shall approach the President with some innovative programme for the poor; the President is very deeply committed to these programmes. The plight of the poor could be dwelt upon some length, till the milk of human kindness became operation flood. And then casually mention about the deep injustice committed to me, Mr. Ghotaskar, that is. May be the president will agree to rehabilitate me, Mr. Ghotaskar, that is, along with the innumerable poor. He chuckled at the idea, “The chief advisor pleading for the rehabilitation of poor Mr. Ghotaskar!” He immediately assumed the look of the chief advisor and stood before the mirror to ensure that every detail of his dress and demeanor was just right. But alas, the branding mark on his cheek stood there. He hurriedly checked up with the Lord Hanuman near the Central Bank but he said he that was helpless because this branding was inflicted after the boon was granted. Sorry, he said, retrospective remedies were not with in his powers. He couldn't do very much about it. Given this conditionality the boon had become infructuous as far as impersonation of human forms was concerned.

A deeply disappointed and demoralized Ghotaskar retired to his hideout intent on vengeance and a come back. Only if he could meet the president and remind him of his unflinching loyalty and years of entertainment that he had provided to him and his courtiers for free! Only if he could plead his case in person! In his human form he would never even be admitted in the presence of the president leave aside an appointment.

"He had two more life lines still", he thought", he could assume animal and machine shapes". At this stage we would do well to summarize the story of Mr. Ghotaskar’s long ordeal and the fortuitous circumstances that prevented him from making a personal representation to the President .He tried being a dog in the President’s house, but his dog in the manger attitude and his propensity to wag his tail surreptitiously to the arch opponent of the President also, earned him his dismissal. The disguise of a mole, he thought was ideal for him. He had in fact been one- for several political parties, all at a time, for many years and had never been discovered. His association with the president in this avatar was even shorter lived. Mr. Ghotaskar assumed his human shape very reluctantly but he looked more frustrated and angrier than ever .He was full of negative, destructive thoughts. He cursed Lord Hanuman day and night .He would sit in his garden and throw bricks, mud, weed, whatever came handy at all and sundry .His family members again got alarmed they suspected these to be the symptoms of another break down.

The counselor and the psychiatrist were both summoned. The psychiatrist suggested his removal to an asylum at once .In his view of things Mr. Ghotaskar was too far gown and was now in urgent need of shock therapy. But the counselor, a bald kindly gentleman, pleaded for a few days postponement of this drastic mode of treatment. He was confident that there was nothing wrong with Mr. Ghotaskar. He was just a little frustrated.

He gently took him by the arm and asked him to sit by his side.“Mr. Ghotaskar what is bothering you? You have such a wonderful record of service. You have graced all the key appointments, enjoyed every privilege and perk that your particular position allows you to. You went right up to the top. You have lived a full life, what is your regret”. Mr. Ghotaskar let lose his flurry of complaints. How he had been cheated by life, by his friends, by his protégé, by Lord Hanuman himself .He went on for hours together, endlessly repetitive, at times boastful, sometimes maudlin, sometimes threatening to be self destructive. The counselor listened to him with enormous patience, providing him just the right dose of reassurance. The session which had started around afternoon went right up to late in the evening. Mr. Ghotaskar was by now totally composed and in complete command of himself though just a little pensive “I must work upon him a little more”, thought the counselor. He knew Mr. Ghotaskar’s fondness for drinks, so he said, “How about a drink Mr. Ghotaskar”. Mr. Ghotaskar was instantly receptive, but at whose cost- that is the thought that was engaging his mind. The counselor knew Mr. Ghotaskar only too well. “There is some good Scotch lying in my car but I am afraid we will still need some soda”. Mr. Ghotaskar instantly made amends for his earlier indecision by quickly offering to provide the soda. After two refills Mr.Ghotaskar became a little philosophical holding forth on the eternal verities of life. “The idea of God itself is a delusion. One of the longest lasting delusions which has affected mankind through out the ages, trans culturally.” The counselor was trying to figure out which way this abstract observation was headed but Mr. Ghotaskar was immediately on ball. “Now look at me. Who could be more God fearing than I. Lord Hanuman gave me the boons alright, but how ineffective they proved to be. It could not achieve my purpose and yet through out the ages, we have all believed him to be omnipotent. He is supposed to have burnt Lanka single handedly, lifted mountains with people and plants, insects and animals on board. And yet he could not so much as haul this pretender out of my chair and evict him from my office.” The counselor listened to Mr. Ghotaskar with great patience, periodically filling his glass with generous amounts of whiskey. “I have tried every thing, I have even been a dog and a mole and yet! Even the boons given by Hanuman have failed me.“But you have still one boon left- you haven’t tried being a machine”.

Mr. Ghotaskar almost sprang from his seat. “Oh yes how I could have forgotten that. What shall I be--- a bulldozer, a road roller; an electric saw, what shall I be. I shall cut him into pieces, I shall bulldoze the pretender and then roll him to finely powdered dust, I will squash him to a pulp and then roll him into sausage.” “Just hold on. You are too confused. The idea behind assuming these different forms is only to achieve your objective-- you have to get back your job which belongs to you right fully, and is yours in perpetuity, is that right? “Well said doc”. “So what you need is the right ideas. Why not become a computer”. “Wow”, he jumped at the suggestion, “I’ll become a computer, the most powerful computer on this earth.”

He instantly sat cross legged and asked Lord Hanuman to grant him his wish. Lord Hanuman was looking a little bored even irritable. “Yes Ghotaskar, what it is it this time round”. “Oh God please make me a computer”. Lord Hanuman looked distinctly puzzled. This is the first time such a boon had been asked of him. And he himself was not too sure about the computers, whether it was good for humans to be computers. So he asked Mr. Ghotaskar to carefully consider the proposition. He also reminded him that many a demon, god and humans had come to grief by acquiring powers that they should not be having. But Mr. Ghotaskar was unmoved, computer he wanted to be and the Lord must grant him his wish. “Make me the most powerful computer on the earth.” So Lord Hanuman put him inside the central computer in North American Air Defence Command, PENTAGON. “I am the most powerful member of the tribe after all.” Drunk with his new found power he challenged all comers to various games of black jack, back gammon and chess and bet them all in no time. “But why have I become a computer in the first place. I must get back my assignment. How could being a computer help was even beyond his computing ability which was measured in several bytes.

Then the penny dropped for him .As the central computer at NORAD it was his responsibility to assess the threat perception of incoming nuclear missiles and launch a counter attack. Or if the need be to launch a preemptive strike. So he spoke to all his counter parts - computers- in London, Paris, Beijing, Kremlin, even Delhi, Pyongyang, Telaviv, Pretroria, and Islamabad. In league with them he staged a scenario that scared the day lights out of those charged with the responsibility of using these diabolical weapons. He simulated a cloud of nuclear missiles on the horizon, and warned the US president of an impeding attack by Moscow. “Mr. President we have precisely thirty minutes for a response but I am afraid that there has been a major malfunction in our control and command system so the hatch of the nuclear silos won't open.” His counterpart in Moscow threw its hands in despair that it found itself helpless against a preemptive strike by Beijing. Delhi, Islamabad, Pyongang London Paris, Telaviv were paralyzed with fear on being similarly duped. Hotlines rang ceaselessly between the various capitals with in those anguished few minutes, and in an informal impromptu world summit the like of which had never been seen before the statesmen asked each other to cease and desist. Having brought the world to the brink of a nervous break down the central computer announced that it had been invaded and taken over by a desperate civil servant. If his wishes were not granted then and there, he would actually precipitate the Armageddon. The world leaders led by the president of the US listened with great trepidation the demand. “Mr. Ghotaskar of the Banana Republic must be restored to his original assignment and an equivalent of a years pay and allowances be paid to him as reparation damages. Further to that the President of the republic must make a solemn undertaking that he shall be allowed to remain there till his superannuation and after that he should be provided a sine cure assignment befitting his status.” The world heaved a collective sigh of relief but where the hell was this Banana Republic?

The key advisors and strategists of the world leaders were busy locating the republic, the services of the Google fellows were requisitioned, Arabic, Swahili, Hindi, Spanish, French, Chinese, Creole and all the language experts put their collective experience together, but they could not locate the republic so that the entire world community could plead for the immediate fulfillment of Mr. Ghotaskar’s demand. Time was running out and many a world leader could be heard silently saying their prayers when the chief of the South Asia bureau of the CIA said I have heard the word Ghotala. Let  me see. And soon he was able to find out the exact location of the republic .The president of Banana Republic was immediately contacted and the planetary delegation pleaded for the demand to be acceded to at once. The president of the Republic had made a solemn declaration only a couple of days before that terrorist demands will not be met with, whatever the cost. But this was something out of this world. He dare not demure. The superpowers were already threatening to blow up should he not immediately announce, as asked for by Mr. Ghotaskar.The president immediately agreed but demanded to speak to the cyborg monster who had invaded the computer .He was curious - who could be this nut who would threaten to blow up the world for this puny assignment. The message was relayed to the president of Banana Republic live via the satellite which had been maneuvered over the republic just in case. Mr. Ghotaskar’s synthetic mechanical voice still retained that hallmark quality and the president immediately knew who it was. “ Oh it is that Ghotaskar in one of his nine lives. Let him come. He is welcome and all his demands have been accepted.”

The biggest crisis in the history of mankind had been averted but a small problem had still to be tackled at home. Mr. Ghotaskar’s successor had become hugely popular – not because he was in any way extraordinary but he had a tremendous advantage by comparison. Mr. Ghotaskar could not be rehabilitated without outraging the public opinion .Caught up between the planetary pressure and public opinion at home the president came up with an innovative solution. He had an exact replica of all the appurtenances and accessories of Mr.Ghotaskar’s office made in papier mache. Even the various attending staff were cast in a similar mould. Mr. Ghotaskar arrived with all the pomp and show attached to his office and made himself comfortable. He just did not seem to notice –or even if he did, he did not mind very much .Legend has it that he discharged with great distinction his virtual responsibilities. The president of Banana Republic went down in the annals of mankind as some one who thwarted the evil design to unmake in a few minutes the world that God took six days to make.