I haven’t read a lot of time travel science fiction in my life. So I can’t judge this book in the context of other sci-fi stories. But if this is what time travel books are supposed to be like, well done Elan Mastai! You’ve blown me away and won me as a reader for all your future work!
This book starts out as a time travel science fiction novel, but so very quickly, this gorgeously funny story with a narrator who’s just as confused as we readers are, becomes a strange look at everything else time travel is about – people, their emotions, their lives and arcs and how time travel affects them. The author wraps all of the stories he writes in a wry humor that had me laughing like a maniac on the bus, with amazed people looking at this loony who still reads hardbound books and laughs at them!
There are many layers of philosophy, anti-war, pro-peace rhetoric all set within the dialogue of the story for you to discover, with absolutely zero (well, two pages total) theoretical discussion. Every thought you’ve had about time travel, every plot point you can imagine while reading the story, every joke the author could fit in well, everything is in there.
This is a great read. It took me about three weeks of on-and-off reading and the story moves at a great pace, though it does get a little convoluted in the final chapters. But there too, is a gem – the author takes the universal concepts of time travel – it happens instantly, it can be reversed if done carefully, a second version of you can observe a third version of you in the background to fulfill some convoluted narrative – and twists and turns them to suit his excellent ideas.
Best of all is that this is a story about people. The narrator is so scientifically dense that he doesn’t bother to explain much about the technology he encounters. It’s a blast to see him blunder through life not knowing how doors works! But when it comes to people, oh, this is a deep story. It shows how amazingly, brilliantly, wholly selfish people are. If you’ve ever worshiped a ‘hero’, seeing them as a singular dimension of “all that is good”, this is the read to dispel your doubts!
I cannot describe how beautiful this book is. To do that would be, to take a phrase from the book, sort of like cracking a creme brulee. Just go read it. Borrow it from me if you want!
Notes on All Our Wrong Todays
Page 60, God this is a funny book! Every few pages, I’m grabbing my sides rocking with laughter! The people on the bus look at me like I’m crazy for laughing at a paper book.
Page 62, all this guy talks about is women!!! It’s like his entire life story is about one woman to the next! Damn!
Page 62, I’ve noticed something about modern futuristic sci-fi novels – they all tend to assume that somehow Chinese folks will be marrying Mexican folk a lot and the offspring will inevitably have a Chinese first and Spanish second name, or vice versa. I suppose that flows from the two largest non-white minorities that white writers focus on.
Page 66, this and the first line of the second chapter are the only two places where the narrator’s name is used till now. In chapter 2, because there, the author tries to be cheeky and uses the third person from the narrator’s perspective and immediately hates it and reverts back to first person, which is funny! This is what is so interesting to me about first person novels. The narrator has to be extremely descriptive about things and emotions and feelings, without which the novel starts to feel dull. In third person, there’s the escape from emotions and mainly a flow based on actions is easier to create.
Page 67, the narrator talks about a global time synced system, an NTP server at scale, but talks about it being synced to the microsecond. Is this an oversight? What about the nanosecond?
Page 73, here is the typical line from a man in the wrong, “I don’t think that justifies my subsequent actions. But it explains them.”
Page 76, the book talks about pregnancy and avoiding it and once again, even though all this marvelous technological advancement surrounds the narrator, the onus of making sure pregnancy is avoided lies with the woman, with what the author calls a ‘gametic suppressant’. Brilliant oversight. Of course, it’s a plot point. It’s just part of the story and crafted in a way to put the blame squarely on the unwitting narrator, but still.
Page 82, “the liar, the genius, the ghost.” What a line! Whey a way to describe, to summarize almost all genius!
Page 151, the narrator’s description of books and reading here is repeated from before. The way the narrator describes that his mother is the only one who reads paper books is also repeated.
Page 175, oh boy. The exact words the narrator has been hoping to hear his entire life.
Page 182, this chapter feels like an ode to a bookstore owner
Page 186, what a pretty line – “This is the morning after the night before.”
Page 186, there is a certain awkwardness in Penny’s language and lines. Almost as if the author wrote the character as such and fought with the editors about it. Let’s see, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this aspect of the character is important in some way.
Page 200, excellent ending to the chapter! Wonderful last line!
Page 203, spelling mistake. Should be imminently instead of immanently. I think. What does immanent mean? The internet seems to think ‘inherent’ or ‘remaining within’. I suppose that’s right. So, not a spelling mistake. A new word for me!
Page 208, just one perfect line and I burst out laughing in a crowded bus stand on a rainy day.
Page 214, heh. “small-d depressed”
Page 215, dawn often tends to smear across the sky, doesn’t it?
Page 223, “events in…a family…Extinction-level events”
What a wonderful way of looking at ‘issues’. Indeed, some families and relationships have major events that cause deep scars. One other book I’ve read this year also had similar ‘events’ – Before the Wind by Jim Lynch.
Page 224, “I don’t believe in the truth. I’m a scientist. I believe in questions and the best answer we have right now.”
That’s great writing. Such diametrically opposite statements!
Page 249, “even the unlovable parts you hadn’t shown him yet”
This is a very strong page. Read it all, but also this part alone. It’s so poignant because everyone has this feeling that they have dark parts that no one can love and even the ones who love them may never accept them. Ever. That is true human frailty.
Page 295, “Your brain is very good at managing cognitive dissonance. Arguably, it’s your brain’s main purpose.” ?
Page 319, this is not a sci-fi story about time travel. This is a love and loss story which happens to be wrapped in some convoluted sci-fi chapters. That’s beautiful!
Page 324, “This is how you discover who someone is. Not success. Not the result. The struggle.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about people and blogging and the social aspect of the open web. This line here shows why it’s so interesting to follow people’s blogs more than anything else – their social media profiles, their newsletters, their podcasts. Blogs are where people try and fail. Blogs are where people record their silliest mistakes and worst ideas. That journey is much more worth it than the result – a working product, or a service, or a life well lived.
Page 325, “That’s all success feels like. It’s not triumphant. It’s not glorious. It’s just a relief. You finally stopped failing.”
Page 357, “Its tough to get worked up about what might have been when all you know is what already is.”
Page 367, “It was like our collective imagination stopped revising the idea of what civilization could be, fixed a definitive model in place, and set to work making it happen.”
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately – why do we have corruption, why do people know morals but don’t follow morals. After all, stagnation in politics and ethics is another kind of immorality. I think the author sums it up very nicely – when there is a fixed idea of what the world is supposed to be like, there can only be a sort of catching up to it. People don’t work to improve what they have or what they’re aiming for. They just want to get there and then hold on, without wondering whether the goal post has or should be moved.
This paragraph and this chapter is about the ideology the book is based on, or at least, a part of it. And it works well – it points out an inherent flaw in our thinking – when we accuse ideologues of misdirection and corruption, we don’t understand that even those who believe they are on a progressive path are in fact ideologues who are leading the world to a fixed point. Perhaps we need to check all our thought leaders and make sure they are constantly revising the end goal they are striving towards instead of limiting their vision to something lesser.
I was born in a scientifically minded family. We used to have discussions based on logic and decisions based on fact. “Look at the facts!” my Mom used to tell me whenever I was being a wayward teenager. So, when we first heard the news, I sought out the facts. When I didn’t find any, I dismissed the news as noise. “Must be another version of the swine flu,” I remember thinking. Humans had taken the animal kingdom for granted for too long, and Nature had repaid in kind. First, things like the plague attacked humanity. Then, virii like HIV had their day in the Sun. When we got those under control, swine flu and other such infections invaded our food supply. Not that it mattered to me and my family. We were all vegetarians by choice. The only way this mad march of science and industry affected us was by GM foods. Of course, we had the choice to ignore those, since we were well-off and could afford to buy organic.
The first time I noticed this news in seriousness, it was when England went offline. The entire country had locked its doors and stopped talking to outsiders. No mail, no tweets, no radio signals of any kind. It bewildered people outside. The news talked about the ‘virus’ that had been ravaging animal and human populations in varying areas of the world. Speculation was rife that either the UK had decided that the threat outside was too much and they needed to protect themselves, or their own population was too far gone and they had sacrificed the remaining Brits to save the rest of the world from this calamity.
It still didn’t seem real, till the attacks started. Massive populations of infected people started attacking the uninfected. Violence erupted around the world almost simultaneously. It was as though the virus was building up an army before mobilizing it altogether. Gory images of cannibalistic crowds, attacking, murdering, killing, and most shocking of all, eating their victims filled the news. Gun sales shot through the roof. Doomsday preppers became mainstream. News broadcasts suddenly became the most watched shows around the world.
We saw the population dwindle. We saw chaos erupt. We saw our family die, our friends get devoured, our governments fall. The Internet was the only refuge, and it too sometimes flickered, because the virus was smart enough to understand how to rip through our communications lines. I say all this casually, but there’s no reason to not gloss over all that. It happened. We lived through it. That’s all there is to say about it.
We built up resources and went into hiding. We used natural and human-made defenses to ward off the zombies. We saw the worst of humanity play games with the survivors and do ghastly experiments on the undead. They saw them as nothing more than animals of the most violent nature, and they treated them as such. I didn’t care either way. I survived because I saw them as nothing more than carriers of death. When I saw a fast-moving one, I killed it. When I saw a slow-moving one, I used to kill it if it got too close. Then I stopped killing the slow ones if I was going away from it, or if it was too slow to catch up to me. I had to preserve ammo after all. The last few years, we’d been making our own ammo and metal was difficult to come by. There was no one mining, smelting, refining or even recycling. Metal workers were well-protected, as much as farmers, and their ‘lords’ charged heavily for access. They all eyed a free-agent like me with suspicion and many often didn’t let me into their holds.
So I traveled from place to place and found work, refuge, metal, and food how ever I could. Between holds was the most dangerous areas, especially when I traveled alone. This was one such day. The Sun was bright overhead and made any open movement impossible, as it would attract too much attention from the zombies. I was passing through a city that was almost all dead. It had two zones of humans at its ends, and passing goods between them was risky work that gave good pay. I had a backpack full of wares which people had paid me in food and metal to transport, but there was never any assurance of delivery. I moved from building to building till I hit a cross-street that was too wide to cross in the light. I decided to settle in till nightfall. I checked the perimeter, secured doors and marked escape routes. I noticed two zombies in the vicinity. One was immobile and the other was inching around. The rigid one was redead, a gaping hole in its head marking the place where someone had shot it up to destroy its brain. Dark puss was oozing out of the wound. It was a recent kill. The other one was its mate. It lingered close to the body. Why someone would spare it, I didn’t know. I looked at it for a while from the shadows and it didn’t register my presence. It just kept trying to move its buddy, like a bunch of wounded soldiers. Its movements were too slow to reach me in the next few hours, I decided. Going back in, I settled into a dark corner in a room with two exits, gun in hand. A single bullet in the chamber was both my defense and my insurance. I didn’t want to be empty-handed if attacked, and I didn’t want to kill someone in a fit of anger or fear.
I must have dozed off for longer than I wanted to. There was no sunlight outside. I flicked on a solar-powered flashlight and yawned. I had perhaps lost an hour or two, but it didn’t matter. There were only a few dangerous areas in the city according to my maps, and I knew I could cross them all in a matter of hours. As I lay there, lazily stretching, I felt a presence. I swung the light around at the first entrance. There was nothing there. Dreading what I’d see there, I swung it to the other side. The slowbie I’d seen outside was almost at my feet. I scrambled up and aimed my gun at it in frustration. I was about to shoot it when it looked right in my eyes. We knew they couldn’t see very well in the night. Their bodies, having degenerated to an extent, had night blindness of varying degrees. I didn’t know what this one could see. I moved my flashlight from left to right. It’s eyes didn’t follow. Perhaps it was completely blind and was here only by instinct or following noise. Snorers died quickly in the open lands. I didn’t want to waste the bullet, or make too much noise killing this thing. I had so far avoided ever killing one of these things at close quarters, using a knife or such tools. I’m no sadist and I was not interested in risking my life over some hand-work.
It stared at me oddly without moving an inch for the five minutes I stood there. Finally, I had to move on. I could have just walked out the other door, but an instinct told me to rekill this thing. I approached it, gun trained on the head. My flashlight beamed on the grey skull. As I settled on a good place to shoot it, it looked up. Was it smiling? It seemed to be looking at something beyond and smiling. I knew I had been had. I swung around the entire half arc it took me to turn back and face upwards. But before I knew what I would find, a creature jumped down from the ceiling and landed on my torso. It pushed me down and scattered the gun to the corner. Blinded by its rapid movements and struggle to overpower me, I tried hard to push it away. The torch was still in my hands, but it wasn’t much of a weapon. I couldn’t use it anyways, because the creature had me pinned down. I could feel its rapid cold breath close to me. It didn’t need the extra oxygen it was breathing, but some anatomical features were difficult for the zombies to let go of. So it struggled to bite me and I struggled to get free. The moment I found its hand moving away from my arm, to press my head down, I swung the torch at its head. The blow was soft, but startled it enough for me to throw it to the other side of the room and get up.
But this was no ordinary zombie. Instead of needing a moment to recover, it was rushing at me again. I tried to move to the side, but all I was able to do is get my face in the way of its flailing arm, which knocked hard against my head and threw me off-balance. It found this new tool rather effective, and pushed me down, then pressed my mouth hard with its arm. I was gasping for breath and this told it that I was losing the battle.
Now, I’m a logical person. I know what is and isn’t and what can be and can’t be done. I had never faced a zombie this fast. I had never seen them coordinate. I had never seen one scale the smooth walls of a room and somehow attach itself to the roof to lie in wait for a distracted human. I had also never felt, through my teeth, the dirty cloth worn by a zombie and the sinewy arm it covered. I felt the bone pressing down on my teeth, perhaps trying to shatter them. I did the most illogical thing I could think of, the only way that seemed out of this absurd situation I had gotten myself into. I opened my mouth ever so slightly and let the arm lodge itself into it. Then I bit. I didn’t know what would happen. Zombies don’t exactly feel pain at the limb level. Their brains do not receive signals from their nervous systems. I had seen countless zombies trudging along without an arm or a leg, or sometimes pretty much any limb, just crawling like vile slugs.
Yet, I bit in. I had hoped for an element of surprise, and then freeing myself and running away. Perhaps I had not hoped for that either. Perhaps it was my last stand. Perhaps I did not open my mouth consciously, but the arm forced it open with sheer pressure. But I found its arm in my mouth, sticking to my tongue and soaking my saliva, and I bit hard.
It yelped in pain and fell backwards. As it did, it yanked its arm away, but my bite was too strong and I ripped off part of its dead skin as it pulled away. The cloth and skin still in my mouth, I got up to see the thing writhing in pain on the floor. Even fire did not produce this effect on zombies. It was in excruciating pain. My flashlight naturally fell on it and I saw what could only be the most absurd thing I’ve seen in my entire life. The zombie turned back. It slowly went from blue, dead, and decaying, to reddish, alive, though barely, and very much in pain. It was shrieking, till he was not. He was a boy, of barely 16, badly nourished, holding his arm, the one I’d bitten away at. He looked around, dazed. He sat up, and I jumped back. In response, he jumped back in his seat. He was as afraid of me, as I was of him. But he was human. I knew this, because suddenly, the zombie on the other side of the room was not looking at me with a greedy hunger, but at the boy. It smelled the younger flesh, it recognized the wound filling the room with the scent of sweet blood. It slowly turned away from me and started its slow ambling towards its new goal. I shot it. One ringing bullet reverberated through the room and one clean hole appeared in its skull. It fell, redead.
The boy jumped up when I shot the zombie and rushed to the corner of the room. I beamed a light at his face. It had genuine fear on it. He was on the verge of crying, but he recovered, only to look at me and my gun, now trained at him. “What is going on?” he asked. I almost laughed. The last thing I expected to see in this desolate inner city was a re-alive human. When I didn’t answer, he looked around and noticed his arm. He winced when he saw the bite mark. At some point, I had spit his skin away. I pulled my backpack and took out a bandage. I wavered about what to do with the gun, then pushed it back into its holster and shone a light on the bandage and then tossed it towards him. He caught it mid-air, but fumbled it a little. When he’d caught it and applied it, I took some food out of pack and threw it at him. He tore at it hungrily. Zombies never eat human food, no matter how artificial and how processed. The only thing they eat is flesh. For a long time, scientists tried to explain it as some extreme form of cannibalism. But the closer they came to explaining it, the more violent their test subjects became, eventually killing off every scientist who was willing to study zombies. It was as if the zombies knew their secrets were being unraveled and wanted to prevent it. When he had eaten, I asked him where he was from, what he remembered last, and what he thought was going on. But all he drew was a blank. There was very little the boy understood. His slate had been wiped almost clean.
I didn’t know where to go from here. Had I discovered some amazing secret of how to destroy zombies? Or was this the worst fluke in the history of the earth? Before I could ask myself these questions, a light flickered in front of my eyes. It was as if it was a part of my eyesight itself. Words started appearing in front of me, hung in the air somehow. They shone brightly in the darkness of the room.
“You have discovered the secret.”
“This is the only way to destroy the zombies.”
“Now you will die.”
As soon as the last words disappeared, I heard a rumbling sound from outside. I ran to the door of the building and peeked. I saw what seemed like a horde of zombies marching down the street. They were pouring out from every building, every gutter, and every hole. They shone like dull ants in the pale light of the moon. But they were not the regular undead. They had a purpose. They marched in lockstep. They seemed to be looking for something. They seemed to be looking straight at me. I rushed back inside, half expecting the boy to have turned back into a zombie. I was relieved that he had not. I took out a spare gun and shoved it into his hand.
“You know how to use this?”
I didn’t wait for an answer. I pulled him by his good arm and rushed out the back. I knew the city’s layout. I had memorized every block before this expedition. We had to rush to the nearer hold. It was a good half mile away. That was the longest half mile of my life.
This story was inspired by the following Writing Prompt as well as some of my favorite recent writing –
At some point in my life, I told myself that zombie stories are silly and not worth reading/watching/writing. But this prompt was just sublime. It spurred me towards creativity like none other has. So I wrote it up. I hope you enjoyed it.
Update – the writing prompts page I follow has deleted all their prompts so you can’t see the prompt. I’ve forgotten the exact words, but it was along the lines of “you’re about to die at the hands of a zombie and as a last-ditch effort, you bite into it and it turns into a human” 😀
The other day, I was sitting and waiting for the bus, which was late as usual. It was an unusually warm day for that time of the year and there was no one sharing the bus stop with me. I had time on my hands and thus, the rare opportunity of noticing people passing by. I stared at everyone I could see, noticing their clothes and their mannerisms. I guessed at their convictions and imagined their stories. One such passerby – a man in his thirties, caught my eye. He had a balding head and ‘serious’ glasses, which placed him towards the latter part of the decade. He was wearing a checked reddish-brown shirt, as if he wanted to go for the hipster woodcutter look. At some point, he’d decided he’d overdone it and thus had not gone full-hipster. His boring jeans and the ID tag hanging from his neck made me place him as an IT professional. It is the bane of IT professionals to be dressed in such clothes, bordering on personal freedom and misplaced professionalism. My own blue jeans, green t-shirt, and ID tag mirrored him in dullness and unoriginality.
I first noticed him as he was crossing the street, maintaining his position in the middle of the zebra crossing. He’s cautious, I remember thinking. But he wasn’t rushing to get out of the road either. So he recognizes that he’s white, I also remember thinking. As he came near the end of the zebra crossing, he came to a bush, the kind you find in cities where local governments have a mandate to plant ‘greenery’ in every viable location they can find. It was dull, dying, dust colored, and definitely a catchall for pollution from the cars that drive on by.
I noticed that it was dull and dying, but I knew the reason for that too. The summers have been harsh and dry and we’re heading into fall. I cannot expect bushes to be green and flowering. But it irritated me nonetheless that the bush was a dead creature.
As I watched the redshirted man cross the bush, he reached close to it, bent down and picked something up from there. Did he really pick up a piece of trash from the sidewalk? Why would he do that? Was he a spy picking up a dead drop? I’ve been watching too many spy shows and movies, I told myself. Was it a message from a lover? No, certainly not. I was letting my imagination run too wild.
As he approached, I saw that the man had picked out what looked like a beer can, an empty “tall boy”, if you must know. It was black and emblazoned with some lettering and the image of a cold mountain. I watched him come to me, towards the bus stop that I alone occupied. He tossed the beer can playfully into the air and looked at it as if he had been the owner of it all along. Was he not worried of residual beer falling out? Perhaps it was an old beer can and he instinctively knew it to be dry.
But I get ahead of myself. As soon as I saw what he had picked out of the bushes, I asked myself a question – why? Why would someone take the effort of picking up garbage from the street? Was he a do-gooder who wanted to clean up his city? Was he concerned about the slow and painful degradation of the material of the can, polluting his airspace and the soil, destroying his city one tall boy at a time? Was it something he fancied and wanted to take home with himself? (I hoped it’s a firm no on that last one!)
What are, by the way, the ethics of removing garbage from the street? I have myself, on many occasions, picked up stray bits of paper, a can here or there, or discarded plastic straws, and dutifully deposited them to the bin. But have I known others to do so? Certainly not! My friends have chided me for it. I have heard the various diseases I could die of from other people’s garbage. I used to think that my small action made a difference to that one straw. But I’ve learnt that in the longer context, my actions do not matter at all.
Also, what are the economics of picking up said garbage? There would be a trash collector for the area. Does he go about checking every bush for waylaid beer cans? Are you stealing from his quota? What will he do when he comes around and sees that the bush is too clean? He’ll report that there is less garbage on this street. His superiors will decide to reduce the number of rounds he makes here. Trash will then accumulate for longer till the next time he comes around to pick it up. What of the IT professional himself? What if, god forbid, he does get some infection due to the beer can? Will his insurance give him any aid, when they find out he got ill because he picked up garbage from the street? Can he claim that the city is responsible in some way, because he was helping clean up the area he works in? They’ll ask him to prove that he’s a qualified trash collector and had the requisite equipment such as gloves and a trash grabber. Since I could see that he did not, why would the city come to his support when he falls ill?
What is, finally, the morality of picking up garbage and getting it off the streets? There is definitely some right in doing so. Every few years, in places like Gurgaon and Bangalore, in India, you’ll see some IT company donating semi-precious time, resources, and man-hours to cleaning up some extremely dirty road in the region and painting it in bright, boring shades of uniformity. NGOs often sponsor such events and with much ado. Is picking up this garbage on a per-beer-can basis an act of heroism? Is the balding man a hero in my eyes now? I cannot say that for certain, but I do have some newfound respect for him. I stopped doing this same thing due to peer pressure and societal mores. But this fellow marches on, solitary in his pursuit of cleaning up every beer can in every bush that comes in his path. He knows only one truth – it matters to this beer can that it gets to the recycling bin. The destiny of this one can is not to rot in some foul corner of the city. It must rot out there in the oceans, or head to Madras, where it can be safely dumped away from the prying eyes of bothered Americans. He is a hero in the way that heroes ought to be – unassuming, silent folk, soldiering on in their pursuits without regard for personal safety or peer pressure.
As he approached the bus station, this messiah of cleanliness stood with an aura around him. But there was confusion on his bright, beautiful face. I looked to where he looked and noticed what he noticed. Usually, bus stands have a trashcan or two accompanying them. But in this singular instance, this was not the case. Alas, there was no trash receptacle! Where would our hero deposit this beer can? How was he to complete his mission in leading another piece of discard to its destiny?
As he pondered on this dilemma, and I must confess, I did too, the bus arrived. Seeing this, he looked around and, noticing a USPS post box, tossed the can in there and got in line to board the bus.
This post was edited by my dear friend Sayan Das. His edits and suggestions made this piece of writing worth reading. You can follow Sayan on Instagram here. His exceptional writing is an inspiration to me every day. He loves London and butter chicken.
I read this book, over the course of a month and a half, starting on July 1st and finishing it on August 13th, 2016. I read it because of the Bechdel test. I wanted to know the background of that idea. Woolf, unaware of the webcomic she would inspire almost a century later, gave a couple of lectures which are transcribed and expanded upon in this book.
I did not read the foreword of the book, for forewords are for and by editors. People do not need to know how to decipher the hidden meaning between the lines in order to enjoy prose. I dived directly into Woolf’s thoughts on the subject and her winding arrival at the conclusions presented in the book. There are things I agree with and things I slightly disagree with. My notes will say as much.
These notes are presented here, more for me, than for you. I want a record of the things I read and the thoughts I… thought… while reading this book. I hope to come back to this page often and review and revise my thoughts and notes.
A Room of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf
“And thus by degrees was lit, halfway down the spine, which is the seat of the soul, not that hard electric light which we call brilliance, as it pops in and out upon our lips, but the more profound, subtle and subterranean glow, which is the rich yellow flame of rational intercourse.”
Woolf notes a very curious thing – that food is rarely ever mentioned by novelists. She believes that luncheons and dinners are not just for the witty things said, or the interactions the characters experience. So she challenges that norm by describing the food she had at a particular lunch and the effects it had on her. But she had an ulterior motive to it – she wanted to show the almost pedestrian food women’s colleges had in her time, so as to show that even something as important as lunch is rationed and poorer than it would be for a men’s college.
“Fiction must stick to facts, and the truer the facts the better the fiction.”
Oh, such a wonderful line, and so true. This book is technically marked as fiction (even though it is an essay and is thus non-fiction). Yet almost everything in it is fact, which makes it all the more wonderful. It reminds me of The Mezzanine, a book by Nicholson Baker, where he painstakingly describes a lunch break. That book too, is fiction, but it is almost entirely based on facts, which makes it a strange and wonderful read.
“All was dim, yet intense too, as if the scarf which the dusk had flung over the garden were torn asunder by star or sword.”
A lot of my notes are just about wonderful imagery.
“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”
Ah, another maxim.
(How to describe gossip)
“We burst out in scorn at the reprehensible poverty of our sex.”
That is the centrality of Woolf’s issue with the current state of affairs regarding women. They are indeed poor. Once the woman was pushed into the kitchen and the home, there was no need for them to have money of their own. Man became the provider of goods and money and that was where women lost so much power and control. It’s coming back, slowly.
“Why was one sex so prosperous and the other so poor?”
“London was like a workshop. London was like a machine.”
“… the aloe that flowers once in a hundred years would flower twice before I could set pen to paper.”
She’s talking about how long it would take her to read all the books written by men about women. Indeed, men are obsessed with writing about women, mainly to prove them wrong.
“les femmes sont extrêmes, elles sont meilleures ou pires que hommes”
translation – women are extreme, they are better or worse than men
Oddly, it is true. Hell hath no fury than a woman scorned. Yet, when women are better, they are infinitely better than men, as is proven often by the Indian school system.
“Had he been laughed at, to adopt the Freudian theory, in his cradle by a pretty girl?”
a fur of young lambs, with lustrous, closely curled wool, from Astrakhan.
“They had been written in the red light of emotion and not in the white light of truth.”
All those books written by men about women are worthless to a woman trying to study women because they are colored by the resentment those men have towards women.
On this page, Woolf feels angry towards the men psychoanalyzing and expounding on women. She feels that their constant categorizing of women as inferior is wrong and hurtful. So she rejects their theories outright and says that their books are worthless to her.
This should be our response to Western attacks on Indian religions and mythology. Ignore them and forge your own. If the framework to be followed has been defined by them, so be it. But instead of trying to explain their flaws, simply make your own assertions and let those stand the scrutiny of people. Add a new voice, instead of parroting their claims and then defending against them.
This page has a wonderful description of how Woolf sees the anger of men and we can see her anger rising in response to that anger. This is the face of feminism as we see it today. It is just anger, legitimate anger. But it is seen as anger. It is not seen as the just response that it is to the anger of men towards women. Why have men been angry with women for so long? Do they want no progress for women? Do they never want to see a woman have the morals of a man? Even that question puts women in the light of men and so, is wrongly put forth.
“The professors…were angry.”
“When I read what he wrote about women I thought, not of what he was saying, but of himself.”
This is the key to what Rajiv Malhotra does and he is criticized even for that. Why should he not psychoanalyze the psychoanalysts of Indian culture? What gives them the right to do so but doesn’t allow him to do the same?
“Yet he was angry. I knew that he was angry by this token.”
“Life is arduous, difficult, a perpetual struggle.”
“There is no end to the pathetic devices of the human imagination.”
“Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size.”
“…was not merely the cry if wounded vanity; it was a protest against some infringement of his power to believe in himself.”
That is what men are most afraid of when a woman stands up for herself – that they will be suppressed by the simple act of her trying to define herself.
“And how can we generate this imponderable quality, which is so invaluable, most quickly? By thinking that other people are inferior to oneself. By feeling that one has some innate superiority…over other people. “
This is the perfect example of how the British felt that they had the right to rule over the rest of the world. Frankly, raising this feeling in a people is very important for a country.
An unintended consequence of feminism may well be that boys will actually mature, instead of growing up to be manboys who are mollycoddled by their wives as much as they are by their mothers. From this passage, it would seem that Woolf is trying to show how feeble men really are. They are emotional wrecks just waiting to happen. Well, bring about a culture of equality and men will have to learn to fend for themselves emotionally, maybe even learn to share their feelings with other men.
“How is he to go on giving judgement, civilizing natives, making laws, writing books, dressing up and speechifying at banquets, unless he can see himself at breakfast and at dinner at least twice the size he really is?”
Man’s dominion over his home is as much a definition of himself as how he operates in public.
“Great bodies of people are never responsible for what they do. They are driven by instincts which are not within their control.”
That is a shame and a blessing. Fools like Trump can easily control them for their means and men like Gandhi can rouse them into rebellion for the greater good. Can not a body of people each think for themselves? Not often. Man is a social animal, true, but an animal nonetheless. Animals think in packs and often, one animal’s flaws take the entire pack down a path of destruction.
“Moreover, in a hundred years, women will have ceased to be the protected sex.
Anything may happen when womanhood has ceased to be a protected occupation.”
This is an interesting passage, for its predictions. Let’s see if they come true. Supposing this was written around 1927 (copyrighted 1929), the due date is 2027 and already, most of what Woolf writes about has been achieved by women.
“Imaginatively she is of the highest importance; practically she is completely insignificant. She pervades poetry from cover to cover; she is all but absent from history.”
Such a sad plight – being the centerpiece of a magnificent story, but flung to the side as soon as a man arrives on the scene.
This passage right here is what inspires me. It is not just the Elizabethian woman who faces this dire situation – that in which she does not record in her diary, or write poems and plays, or describe her house – it is also the everyman of almost every generation. My father and brother and mother and wife, none of them have a diary of their own. No means do they have of passing on any knowledge of their existence to our children. Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram are not going to be around forever and they do not suffice as records of our existence. We need more. We need to fall back on the traditional ways of recording our lives and we need to find new ways of telling our tales to our future generations. That is the only way that some time in the future someone, somewhere will have our names on their lips when they want to refer to our lives. That stranger is very important to me.
“Mary Russell Mitford”
What enmity did Woolf have to this woman?
“Cats do not go to heaven. Women cannot write the plays of Shakespeare.”
People sure have never liked cats!
“Who shall measure the heat and violence of the poet’s heart when caught and tangled in a woman’s body?”
Beautiful use of hyphens.
“Ce chien est à moi”
Translation – this dog is mine
Men wants to own everything, want their name on everything.
“The chief glory of a woman is not to be talked of – Pericles”
Why is it that being talked of is as negative thing a thing as any? Why must men assume that if a woman is famous, she must be famous for the wrong reasons? Why do men assume that women are always pure and worthy and need to be hidden behind curtains? I’m watching a TV show nowadays with the missus – Criminal Minds. The protagonists work for the FBI and go around catching serial killers, child abductors and rapists. Almost always, if the villain of the episode is a woman – which is rarely the case – a solid reason is given for the woman to turn to crime – a lost child, a rape, a vicious trauma. Men, however, seem to want to kill and rape and destroy for no good reason. They are supposedly of the mindset to want to do these things. That is a rather wrong thing to assume.
“Anonymity runs in their blood. The desire to be veiled still possesses them.”
“To write a work of genius is almost always a feat if
Ah, so true.
“The indifference of the world which…men of genius have found so hard to bear was in her case not indifference but hostility. “
A genius man faces indifference, a genius woman, hostility. Almost as if the public asks, “Why must this man be smarter than us?” and then, “How dare this woman be smarter than us?”
“And happily in this age of biography the two pictures often do complete each other, so that we are able to interpret the opinions of great men not only by what they say, but by what they do. “
Is Woolf suggesting that Mr. Oscar Browning is having an illegitimate affair with a boy?
That is the sad thing about bad things said by people about others – someone else down the line tends to use those words for their own purpose. Something I was reading recently, though I don’t remember the source – words are a weak source of information, because the person who writes them is not there to defend their meaning somewhere along the line. I think this was Socrates, critiquing writing as a means of knowledge transfer.
“Her mind must have been strained and her vitality lowered by the need of opposing this, of disproving that.”
This happens even to this day and age. Actresses in India are asked to defend themselves in strong roles, or asked to comment upon someone else’s criticism of their art. The answer, ‘I have no comment’ is not accepted and reporters hound them for a comment. Why should a woman have to defend a good role? Why should an actor have to defend any role? Why is the answer, ‘let my art speak for itself’, not enough?
“Unfortunately, it is precisely the men or women of genius who mind most what is said of them. Remember Keats. Remember the words he had cut on his tombstone.”
What did Keats have on his tombstone?
Answer – “Here lies One whose Name was writ in Water.”
“Florence Nightingale shrieked aloud in her agony. “
This page is an excellent example of how a writer can copy down an entire work of some other author and thus have it live on, both in the original and in this form, so that if for some reason the former may be destroyed, the latter can bear witness for future generations of this wonderful writing.
“The adulation of the toadies”
“Mrs. Behn was a middle class woman with all the plebeian virtues of humour, vitality and courage;”
“Money dignifies what is frivolous if unpaid for.”
If you get it for free, you don’t appreciate it enough. Money gives it a stature, a dignity.
“This, towards the end of the eighteenth century a change came about which, if I were rewriting history, I should describe more fully and think of greater importance than the Crusades or the Wars of the Roses. The middle class woman began to write.”
“Earn five hundred a year by your wits.”
This, more than anything, is Woolf’s appeal to women, according to my reading of this book – do not wait for someone to open that door for you. Go forth and push it yourself. Do not wait for an aunt to give you an inheritance. Earn that wage from your craft and you will suddenly have the freedom to be who you want to be.
“To Jane Austen there was something discreditable in writing Pride and Prejudice.”
“She will write of herself where she should write of her characters.”
Woolf says that Charlotte Bronte wrote too much of herself in Jane Eyre instead of writing more about the character. This would be because Charlotte’s frustration with her life and its limitations would drive her to ‘write in rage’. It is important for the author to divest completely of their frustrations and issues and start afresh with their characters, because those characters are completely different people from the author and must be treated as such. Good writing advice.
Excellent commentary about how we perceive novels as readers
“what holds them together in these rarest instances of survival (I was thinking of War and Peace) is something that one calls integrity, though it has nothing to do with paying one’s bills or behaving honorably in an emergency. What one means by integrity, in the case of the novelist, is the conviction that he gives one that this is the truth.”
“They wrote as women write, not as men write.”
“It was a flaw in the center that had rotted them. She had altered her values in deference to the opinion of others.”
“It is useless to go to the great men writers for help, however much one may go to them for pleasure. “
“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”
Universities are funny places. They had odd rules in
Woolf’s time, such as – women were not allowed into libraries without permission.
“Habit facilitates success”
Now there’s a good quote!
“Freedom and fullness of expression are of the essence of the art.”
“A book is not made of sentences laid end to end, but of sentences built into arcades and domes. “
“But these are difficult questions which lie in the
twilight of the future. I must leave them, if only because they stimulate me to wander from my subject into trackless forests where I shall be lost and, very likely, devoured by wild beasts.”
“There are Jane Harrison’s books on Greek archaeology; Vernon Lee’s books on aesthetics; Gertrude Bell’s books on Persia.”
“It seems to be her first book, but one must read it as if it were the last volume in a fairly long series… For books continue each other, in spite of our habit of judging them separately.”
“…because novels so often provide an anodyne and not an antidote, glide one into torpid slumbers instead of rousing one with a burning brand…”
Anodyne means painkiller.
“For while Jane Austen breaks from melody to melody as Mozart from song to song, to read this writing was like being out at sea in an open boat.”
Woolf is not kind to this woman author, and why should she be? If the expectation is to write with as much greatness as Austen, why should the average be tolerated?
We finally reach the discussion of the Bechdel test.
“This is not so true of the nineteenth-century novelists, of course. Woman becomes much more various and complicated there. Indeed it was the desire to write about women perhaps that led men by degrees to abandon the poetic drama which, with its violence, could make so little use of them, and to devise the novel as a more fitting receptacle.”
I’ve never read any reasoning for a particular form of writing, any history of how and why a form of writing arose. But it is an interesting subject. Why, after all, are all our books still not great poetry? What spurred the invention of so many other forms of writing? I’ve never thought of that!
“The poet was forced to be passionate or bitter, unless indeed he chose to “hate women,” which meant more often than not that he was unattractive to them.”
Some class A behavioral analysis here, a la Criminal Minds.
“”Highly developed”-“infinitely intricate”-such are undeniably terms of praise, and to praise one’s own sex is always suspect, often silly; moreover, in this case, how could one justify it? One could not go to the map and say Columbus discovered America and Columbus was a woman; or take an apple and remark, Newton discovcred the laws of gravitation and Newton was a woman; or look into the sky and say aeroplanes are flying overhead and aeroplanes were invented by women. There is no mark on the wall to measure the precise height of women. There are no yard measures, neatly divided into the fractions of an inch, that one can lay against the qualities of a good mother or the devotion of a daughter, or the fidelity of a sister, or the capacity of a housekeeper. “
That is no longer the case, thanks in part to Woolf. After all, women are leading in so many fields today.
“…and there would follow, even in the simplest talk, such a natural difference of opinion that the dried ideas in him would be fertilized anew; and the sight of her creating in a different medium from his own would so quicken his creative power that insensibly his sterile mind would begin to plot again, and he would find the phrase or the scene which was lacking when he put on his hat to visit her.”
A change of pace and a conversation with someone with different cares in the world can do wonders to refresh your mind.
“Ought not education to bring out and fortify the differences rather than the similarities? For we have too much likeness as it is, and if an explorer should come back and bring word of other sexes looking through the branches of other trees at other skies, nothing would be of greater service to humanity;”
Would Woolf be happy with the number of sexes we acknowledge today?
“It would be a thousand pities if women wrote like men, or lived like men, or looked like men, for if two sexes are quite inadequate, considering the vastness and variety of the world, how should we manage with one only?”
“For all the dinners cooked; the plates and cups washed; the children set to school and gone out into the world. Nothing remains of it all. All has vanished. No biography or history has a word to say about it. And the novels, without meaning to, inevitably lie.”
That is what is truly sad about human life. It passes by without any record.
“Be truthful, one would say, and the result is bound to be amazingly interesting. “
Some more amazing writing advice.
There is a thinking here that Woolf believed in – that there is a collective consciousness which somehow improves as generations go by. She proposes to give Mary Carmichael another hundred years and she may well be a poet. I believe Woolf was both right and wrong here. She was wrong in that there is no collective brain to women or men or anyone else. The works of today’s authors are littered with terrible art, just as it is littered with amazing gems. Just like that, I’m sure there is at least one of Plato’s contemporaries who we do not know the name of because he did not write as well, and thus was not worth mentioning.
So Woolf was wrong in thinking that women in latter centuries would just write better – genius is not an arithmetic progression.
However, she was right too. She was right because the same issues and worries which affected the moods and writings of women in her era are not the same in this era. Women of today know nothing of suffragette, for example. They are beyond that and that will reflect in their writing. At the same time, there is still a long way to go. So today’s women talk about new struggles and pay equality and other things which color their lenses.
“One has a profound, if irrational, instinct in favor of the theory that the Union of man and woman makes for the greatest satisfaction, the most complete happiness.
Coleridge perhaps meant this when he said that a great mind is androgynous.
He meant, perhaps, that the androgynous mind is resonant and porous; that it transmits emotion without impediment; that it is naturally creative, incandescent and undivided.”
“Is that a tree? No, it is a woman. But… She has not a bone in her body, I thought, watching Phoebe, for that was her name, coming across the beach. Then Alan got up and the shadow of Alan at once obliterated Phoebe. For Alan had views and Phoebe was quenched in the flood of his views. And then Alan, I thought, has passions; and here I page after page very fast, feeling the crisis was approaching, and so it was.”
Clearly, the male-only mind has a problem – that of writing only about oneself. The hallmark of good writing is the ability to think and describe more than just yourself.
“…but when one takes a sentence of Coleridge into the mind, it explodes and gives birth to all kinds of other ideas, and that is the only sort of writing of which one can say that it has the secret of perpetual life. “
“They lack suggestive power. And when a book lacks suggestive power, however hard it hits the surface of the mind it cannot penetrate within.”
The problem with writers who do not try to understand and use their other side is that half the readership cannot absorb the writing as it should be.
“All who have brought about a state of sex-consciousness are to blame, and it is they who drive me, when I want to stretch my faculties on a book, to seek it in that happy age, before Miss Davies and Miss Clough were born, when the writer used both sides of his mind equally. One must turn back to Shakespeare then, for Shakespeare was androgynous; and so was Keats and Sterne and Cowper and Lamb and Coleridge. Shelley perhaps was sexless. Milton and Ben Jonson had a dash too much of the male in them. So had Wordsworth and Tolstoi. In our time Proust was wholly androgynous, if not perhaps a little too much of a woman.”
“Even so, the very first sentence that I would write here, I said, crossing over to the writing-table and taking up the page headed Women and Fiction, is that it is fatal for any one who writes to think of their sex.It is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple; one must be woman-manly or man-womanly.”
“”This great book,” “this worthless book,” the same book is called by both names. Praise and blame alike mean nothing.
So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.”
the Greek goddess of fate who cuts the thread of life
“We may prate of democracy, but actually, a poor child in England has little more hope than had the son of an Athenian slave to be emancipated into the intellectual freedom of which great writings are born.”
“That Is it. Intellectual freedom depends upon material things. Poetry depends upon intellectual freedom. And women have always been poor, not for two hundred years merely, but from the beginning of time. Women have
had less intellectual freedom than the sons of Athenian slaves. Women, then, have not had a dog’s chance of writing poetry. That is why I have laid so much stress
on money and a room of one’s own.”
“There runs through these comments and discussions the conviction that good books are desirable and that good writers, even if they show every variety of human depravity, are still good human beings. “
“…every speech must end with a peroration. “
a flowery and highly rhetorical oration
(rhetoric) the concluding section of an oration; “he summarized his main points in his peroration”
“…the streets and squares and forests of the glove swarming with black and white and coffee-colored inhabitants…”
“… If we have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think; if we escape a little from the common sitting-room and see human beings not always in their relation to each other but in relation to reality…”
“…and that so to work, even in poverty and obscurity, is worth while.”
I spent the weekend listening to my brother complain about how the story in the game he’s playing nowadays, “Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor”, is not progressing fast enough. As it turns out, the problem was that he had to kill a lot of middle level orcs (uruks) in order to entice the next level of villains to come out of hiding. He proceeded to do that and voila, the story line moved quickly after that.
Life’s a lot like that. You start out green at any task and you have a lot of enthusiasm and beginner’s luck. That makes you happy and you expect the same level of progress to keep up. Turns out, there’s a lot of work between that first instance and getting to a decent level of expertise. All it takes is consistent hard work. It’s not the neat solution. It’s the only solution.
Since it’s NaNoWriMo, here’s a tip – when you’re doing something, anything actually, and you start out with a bang, don’t forget to put your head down and consistently kill the uruks.
So I saw World War Z a few days ago. It turned out to be a better story than I’d anticipated. I expected it to be either too soft or too macho, but it struck the right balance. After I finished the movie, I realized that there were some lessons in it for me, specifically, about writing fiction.
The story is about a war, a war against zombies. Quite simply, it’s a war that cannot be finished in one book, one film or even one lifetime. That reminds me, I have to compare this story to how Resident Evil handles war. Continue reading →
Fischer got up from his sleep, still a bit groggy from the party last night. He looked to the person sleeping next to him. His wife looked very beautiful and peaceful in her sleep. Not intending to wake her up, he slowly crept out of bed and went out of the room. Daylight was creeping into the valley. He went to the kitchen for a drink and then went to his study to re-check his appointments for the day. He didn’t really need to, lawyers generally have a good memory. Yet this seemed to be an irony. His first appointment was with a company called ReOrganiSys who were going to somehow re-organize his brain so that all his memories be stored correctly. Technology could do anything these days and this particular technology was a rage in corporate culture now. Every company lay great stress on there being at least one team member on each project whose brain had been ReOrganised, as they liked to call it because that person could easily afford to read all the relevant documentation, dating to even decades back and then recall everything in absolutely correct order because of the way memories were being stored in his brain. Fischer’s company had chosen him for this important task as he had been with the company the longest and had a great track record in the court room. Thus, his knowledge of the cases combined with his knack to win was the perfect combination for their company, which, of course, was payig for this costly process.
As he pondered over all this information, his wife woke up and came to him with some breakfast. He had been told to eat light food so that he would be comfortable and accordingly, she had prepared a simple meal of juice and toast. He quickly gobbled it up, unnecessarily fretting over the extremely safe procedure. The company had a hundred percent safety record on their proprietary technology, better even than some bungee jumping companies! He smiled at this thought and got ready for office and, of course, the small ‘operation’ before that. When he was ready, he kissed his wife good bye, promised to take her out for dinner at some nice place that night and headed out.
The office-cum-hospital of ReOrganiSys was about an hour away from the city, which meant that it would take Fischer an additional two hours just to get back from the hospital to his office, which was in the heart of the city. Nevertheless, he parked his sedan in their parking lot and went in for the meeting. The plush interiors comforted him, reassuring that this company had been built on countless successful operations. The receptionist greeted him cheerfully and asked him to sit for a while during which she would contact the doctor. Before a few minutes had elapsed, a middle aged man introduced himself to Fisher as his doctor.
“Hello Mr. Fischer, I’m Doctor Kahn, the head-surgeon and MD of this company and I’ll be doing your operation today.”
His voice exuded confidence and experience and Fischer was instantly comforted by it.
“Now, before we continue towards the operation theater, is there anything that you want to ask or talk about?”.
Fischer’s instant impulse came up with a feeble “Is this operation safe?”
The doctor chuckled politely, “A standard question, one I get asked too many times a day. Yes, the operation is very safe. It’s not that we going to affect your brain in some physical way, only reorganize the way the electrical impulses are stored within there. Anything else?”
“Well yes, actually,” Fischer knew that there was one bit of information which he had not found from anyone or anywhere on the Internet and was very vital to his personal space, “is there any was that you could organize my memories in such a way that certain memories get more importance than others? For example, my personal memories are more important to me than my professional ones.”
“There is no way that we can do that kind of thing. However, I hope you understand what our process does. We reorganize your mind in such a way that all your memories get equal preference. You see, the mind is a maze where everything is stored but very less retrieved. The mind often reacts to external stimuli or emotions, bringing out a specific memory in response to a question or a new memory. This sort or organization of data is quite cryptic and we can never know how to truly stimulate the brain to coax out certain information out of it. But after you are done with our process, your mind will have learned to react to any sort of query with the correct information. The memories will be stored so that even by thinking about your requirement, you’ll be able to get a reaction from the mind. So much so that as soon as you think of your wife, you’ll remember the day’s grocery list and all the grocery lists you’ll ever fulfilled or forgotten!” The doctor laughed at his own joke, but Fischer joined in too, knowing that this operation was going to be monumental for his life.
They soon had the operation theater ready for him. The doctor requested him to move to the location but Fischer had just one last query. “What if a person looses his memory during or after this operation? How do you solve that? Do you store his memory somewhere so that you can restore it in case it’s needed?”
The doctor opened with a retort, “Ah! Always thinking like a lawyer, aren’t we? No, we do not copy a person’s memory on to our hard drives, that’s impossible to do! We cannot in any way, take out or put in any memory. All we can do as a safety valve is to copy a person’s Alpha patterns so as to document how that brain functions. In case it ever came to the situation that we need to restore someone’s brain, all we can do is feed those same patterns to the mind and hope that the mind can re-establish it’s memories based on the way it used to work earlier.”
Fischer felt both relieved and anxious by this answer but knew that there was no way he could delay this operation any longer. Thus, we went ahead to the operation theater and was made to lie down and was fed some anesthesia. Soon, he was floating in his dreams and when he woke up about two hours later, the operation had already been done. Surprised at their efficiency and precision, he thanked the doctor for an amazing operation. The doctor, however, was more interested in ensuring that the operation was successful.
“What day was it on February 27th of 1999?”
Without even needing to think, almost as an impulse reaction, Fischer replied, “Saturday”. Surprised at his new-found mental power, Fischer answered a few more routine questions from the doctor and then played with his own memory, remembering, suddenly, every last detail of his first case, first kiss and even the reason for the tenth fight he had with his wife. Within fifteen minutes, he had been discharged by the doctor and was free to go to work. He thanked the doctor once again and headed out, playing with his mind by the time he reached office. He realized many times during that period that his mind was much sharper than it had ever been and that he could remember even the smallest of details which he did not realize that he had even noticed.
When he was about to reach the office, he stopped his mind games and decided to give his mind a rest, something recommended by the doctor to be done twice a day during the first five days of the operation. He silently drove to the center of the city where the multistory building which housed his office lay. He parked in the basement at the space where his name had been engraved by his company and got out, suddenly aware of the amazing clarity with which he could remember all the details of his drive to the office. A little amused, he entered the elevator and pressed the button to the forty sixth floor. As he exited, the sheer detail of his company’s office hit him hard, every detail etching itself on to his mind. But before he had time to absorb at this, a hundred hands clapped in unison, welcoming the company’s most loyal employee and the first ReOrganised member of the team. They had all gathered to meet him and his boss was at the front of the gathering. He cheered Fischer, shook hands with him and then called on to his coworkers.
“Today, we have amongst us, a new kind of power, a new tool given to us by science. Our very own Fischer, one of our best Lawyers in Criminal Law, has had his mind ReOrganised. Hopefully, it’ll work correctly now!” Everyone laughed. Fischer’s mind was working well alright and to test it, his boss now called on everyone to ask at least one question per person from Fischer. So, for the next half hour, Fischer was grilled by everyone in his office on some extremely silly questions. He answered all, from the day on a date twenty years ago to the names of all the Presidents, Vice Presidents and Governors there had ever been. Finally, when people got bored of the new office know-it-all, he was left alone to get some actual work done. He moved to his office, sat and rested for a while and then began work for the day. His most important task currently was a new case which was building up into a furore with the media and Fischer had been given a research team to save the ‘poor little starlet’ who had brutally murdered a well known businessman. It was clearly a case of prostitution but there was not enough precedent for such a case where a lady had been spared the noose. However, Fischer’s boss was intent on winning this case and so Fischer, one of their best, had been assigned to the task. Adding ReOrganiSys to the platter was simply the icing on the cake and his boss was confident that now Fischer could definitely pull it off. After perusing some files, Fischer called up his team to brainstorm about the case. They assembled in a conference room and began reading cases related even remotely to the situation at hand. Fischer spearheaded the data mining as he had a large list of cases already in his mind, most of which he had either read during his studies or attended during his long career. Unfortunately for his team, their lists overlapped and Fischer was quick to dismiss most of the cases they brought forth as he remembered some intricacy which made those cases different than this one. Besides, he noted in between, in most of those cases, the culprit was either male, or the best that had happened was that certain death was reduced to a life sentence, which was not exactly considered a victory according to the standards set by Fischer’s company. So, within a few hours, the team had exhausted most of the ideas they had come up with. Then they just resorted to a blind search through their archives, looking for keywords and situations which seemed to match. After what seemed to be a long hour of searching, someone hit upon a case which somehow seemed to apply to their situation. The wife of some rich business tycoon had gotten away with murder about fifteen years ago because her lawyer quoted a law more than fifty years old, calling it a crime of passion. The team agreed profusely on this verdict being the key to their case and Fischer read through it quickly. Not finding any loopholes, Fischer told his team to read the whole case and start writing their appeal so that he could quickly submit something to his boss and get his approval to move to the court. While they worked, Fischer got bored of the task and sauntered out of the office. As he was about to walk out, one of his co-workers called him and commented, “Hey, guess when this case finally got settled, December 31st of 2001, guess you can get just about anything if you’re rich enough!”
Fischer smiled, that guy was right. No one works on the last day of December unless there’s a large amount of money changing hands. With this thought in mind, he exited the building, hoping to get some fresh air before diving back into the hazy world of law. He felt tired and thus relieved when the cool wind hit him. He looked around. On one side, the large parking lot of his building stood waiting. On the other, the busy street moved on, uncaring for anyone, awaiting none. He took the street, heading out to the closest metro station. He took the next train to the downtown pier. The subway took an hour to get him to his destination, from where he walked a few minutes to arrive at the pier. he looked at the houses nearby, feeling a vague sense of belonging to the place. A red brick building caught his eye and he remembered that he lived there with his parents, who, old as they were, were waiting for him inside that house right then. But then he looked on to the park near that house, where he grew up and played as a kid. Near the edge of the park was a lone bench where he had spent some wonderful moments, long talks with his father, his first kiss, his first heartbreak. He went and sat down there, looking at the water splash at the pier and slow, lazy fishing boats float around, waiting for the sunset. Slowly, his mind was filled with thoughts and memories and he fell into a reverie, reminiscing the old days.
Quite a lot of time passed before he realized that it was getting late. Another thing which Fischer realized was that there was a stranger standing very close to him, talking on the phone. What seemed strangest was that she seemed to be looking directly at Fischer as she spoke. “Yes, I’ve found him. Was sitting near his old house. No I don’t know what he’s doing here. Of course I’m angry, but relieved to find him. He’s never done anything like this, even his car was left at the office. I wonder why… ” Her voice trailed off as she realized that Fischer was looking at her. She smiled and walked over to him and sat down next to him. Middle aged, rich yet humble, a BMW key and a costly looking phone in her hand, Fischer profiled her as soon as she placed herself next to him. But she seemed cute and he had no intention of driving her away, even though he felt the urge to be alone. She spoke softly, “Dear, what are you doing here?” A strange way to introduced oneself, thought Fischer. He was not sure why this rich lady was talking to him in the first place or what her story was. From what he had overheard her talk into the phone, it seemed like she was looking for her husband and may have found him, but not the situation he was in. Maybe her talking to him was a way of getting back at her husband. Whatever it may be, Fischer felt a strange connection to her and felt like talking. “I come here often, makes my head clear. The water, ” he pointed towards the boats and the sea, “keeps me calm.” “Well that’s wonderful, I never knew that! But don’t you think it’s getting a bit late and it’s time to come home?” Saying this, she kept her hand on his, trying to pull him towards herself. Suddenly, Fischer felt something strange about this setting and pulled his hand back. The lady flinched, unsure of how to react to his actions. She slowly spoke again, hoping to say something which would sooth him, “But honey, it’s quite late and I want you with me.” “Listen lady, I don’t know what you’re thinking but I’m not interested in coming with you. I have a house right here which is where I am going now.” Saying this, Fischer got up. The lady’s face suddenly changed, from confused to contorted. It seemed that she was silently weeping and this made Fischer stop. He kept his hand on her shoulder, trying to comfort her, unsure of what to say. She looked up at him with expectant eyes, but did not like what she saw. “Do you not love me any more? Is that why you are here, are you planning on leaving?”
Her question hit him like a jolt. For a second Fischer could not make head or tail of what was going on. But he knew that the lady was mistaken, perhaps deluded with emotions. “Listen lady, I don’t know what your story is, but you’ve mistaken me for someone else and frankly, I’ve never even seen you!” The woman stood up suddenly, a new found anger writ all over her face. “What the heck do you even mean? You mean you don’t recognize my face? You mean you have never even met me? You mean to say that you don’t remember you own wife, the person whom you’ve woken up next to since the past twelve years?!” She sounded exasperated and that confused Fischer. He did not know how to react. He looked at her face but did not recognize her even a bit. He had truly never seen this woman and he knew that for a fact! He spoke slowly now, hoping to drive the point home. “Listen lady, I really don’t know what you are talking about because, frankly, I’ve never been married ever! I really don’t know who you are but I’d appreciate if you left me alone. I’ve had a long day at the office and I just want to relax and spend New years eve with my parents at my home. So please, leave now.”
The woman looked at him, perplexed. He seemed to be pretty confident of what he was saying but she knew otherwise. “Fischer, honey, your parents are dead, they passed away five years ago in that very house.”
Anger boiled over Fischer’s face. How could this woman be speaking such rubbish about his family? Who was she anyways? But he was disturbed and not interested in this conversation any more, so he broke off from her and tried to walk away. But the lady followed and grabbed him from his jacket. This was the last straw, “that’s it lady, you’ve come far enough. Let’s get a few things clear, I don’t know who you are. I have never met you, my parents are alive and well and I am going to see them now and celebrate New Years with them, so if you’ll leave me now and not disturb me any more, I’ll not call the cops. Understood?”
Suddenly, almost as though it was a train, the facts hit her and she left Fisher’s jacket, looking at him, but thinking hard. She had looked at his appointment diary when they had told her that he was missing. She knew where he had been in the morning, she knew what he had done. But they had said that it was completely harmless. Unsure if her worst fear had taken shape, she asked him one last question, “What date is it today?”
Fischer replied, “December 31st of the year 2001, of course!”
Yet when she looked at herself in it, she was satisfied. It was a surprise for Him, though not bigger than the surprise which waited for him in his Credit Statement at the end of the month.
She opened the doors and went on towards the party. She wasn’t the center of attention but it was enough that he had seen her from afar. His eyes were glowing when he looked at her. When she finally got to him, he twirled her around and looked at the dress, impressed at her choice. It was a beautiful Emerald Green and Blue dress and her shoulder length hair and petite figure made the dress shine even more than it actually did. She happily showed off her dress to him and he approved of it with a smug look on his face. She shone because he was happy with the dress.
Soon they were separated, in their own little groups, chatting and socializing with friends. Every once in a while she would catch him glancing at her from the corner of his eye, enjoying the sight. After some time, the men went into a different room for drinks and the ladies sat down to enjoy dinner. Everyone complimented her on her dress and many women asked her about it, appalled at the price of the garment. She enjoyed this new attention, though it could never match how he had made her feel. After the dinner, everyone was enjoying dessert when someone came and told her that she was expected on the phone. In her rush to get up and get to the call, she pulled a napkin with herself and a cup of custard tilted and poured itself on her dress. The world froze. There was no phone call, no time, even space had lost it’s meaning for those few moments. There was only a sense of urgency. There was not even a sense of embarrassment as she slowly started crying right there in front of all those ladies. All that mattered was that the dress was ruined.
She rushed to the restroom and tried hard to clear the custard, but it was as adamant as winter in the Arctic. It stuck on, not willing to budge one inch for her sake. She tried and tried and she cried and cried but to no avail. Even her tears could not wipe out the custard now. The Stain remained.
As the party came to an end, the men returned from their seclusion. He looked for her in the crowd but could not see her. His worry eased just a bit when someone told about her getting a phone call. None of the ladies dared to mention about her dress. A few detached from the party and went home. He grew wary now. He wanted to see her, to ensure that she’s safe. Suddenly he saw her walk in from the far end of the room, only, this time her dress was frizzled and wet, a deep patch of water barely hiding a deep stain. He looked at her, worried. She looked at him, a scared look creasing her brows. She came up to him and tried to explain what had happened and how much she had tried to fix it. He listened to her as she explained and inspected the dress when she pointed to it. Then when she stopped and looked at him expectantly, waiting for a chide or a remark from him, her eyes watery with new tears welling up since he had a grim look on his face, he slowly smiled and said – “Don’t worry, it’s only a dress.”
Years later, she loved wearing that dress on every anniversary and loved telling anyone who asked, the story of the dress, the way he proposed to her the same night of the incident and how, after everything she tried, the Stain remained.