Pursuit Predators And Missing Airplanes

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I stumbled as I ran blindly in the dark. The night seemed eerily quiet all around me except for the noise I made as I ran. When I stopped for breath, the pounding in my chest and my rapid deep breaths of panic were all I could hear. I couldn’t perceive anything around me. As I ran ahead, all I could think of was to survive. And I needed to get back to my ship. I had to escape this hell.

I seemed to be in some kind of an overgrown jungle. Wet leaves, branches and fronds slapped me all over as I ran through them. I was thankful for my body suit but I was worried about my air filters. Through the foggy visor of my helmet, I peered down at my chest and saw that the air filter was choked with dirt. I brushed it awkwardly with my gloved finger and immediately felt the the cool rush of breathable air circulate inside my suit. I took a deep, satisfying breath and looked back at the dark jungle through which I had just run.

I could only see the dark silhouettes of the forest and the looming shadows of enormous trees, standing tall as a black shadow of ancient giants against the dark night sky. A few smattering of stars here and there twinkled down at me, as if amused at my plight. I leaned against the trunk of a huge tree and took a few more deep breaths, calming my nerves. My legs trembled less and less with each passing second and I could feel my heart rate slowing down. I didn’t hear the faint whizz of the metal spear but felt the dull thud as it embedded itself with a sickening impact into the tree trunk, barely an inch from my hand. I jumped back, and ran. The creature had been following me and hunting me for over three hours now and it was showing no signs of defeat. Each time I thought I had put sufficient distance between us I was proved wrong. It was always near, lurking around the corners, hiding in the shadows and shooting its high velocity metal spears with a makeshift bow.

I cursed this planet as I ran. We should never have stopped here to explore. It was all Kai’s fault. If only she had half a brain. Well, she was dead now, killed by one of those deadly metal spears that had flown out of nowhere and had lodged itself firmly in her throat. I shook my head and forced myself to stop thinking about Kai. I was alone on an alien planet that was intent on killing me. I had to make my way back to the ship. That was my only hope. I dodged the forest left and right, high and low, retraced my steps to throw the creature off my track, and finally found a tree trunk that I could climb. It  was high enough to hide me from being clearly visible. I thanked the darkness and climbed as high as I dared, hugged the branch and lay still, watching the forest floor beneath me. Every rustle of a leaf and every chirp of an insect seemed to reverberate in my ear. My senses were on hyper alert.

On the horizon, I could see faint snatches of light from various points, glowing over the tops of the trees. Far away in the distance, I thought I heard the whine and growl of machinery, but I couldn’t be sure. We were told this was a primitive planet. We were told that life was almost impossible here due to the heavy, toxic atmosphere and the crushing gravitational pull of the nearest star. We were told to explore without fear and that it would be routine. I’d love to see the faces of those Command Center fucks now.

We were scientists. I was a specialist in alternative energy studies and my sole purpose on this trip was to collect geothermal readings from various planets, analyze them and rate them according to the ease of harvesting. In other words, I was a lab rat. Not a fucking soldier. I didn’t know how to survive in these situations. These creatures were terrifying to say the least.

We first encountered the aliens four hours into our exploration. The landing was routine, without any incidents. Kai and I had strayed far from our ship, collecting samples and making small talk when the clearing in which we stood was doused in bright, harsh light that blinded us. The light seemed to emanate from the forest itself. I could see Kai panicking, screaming and I ran to her to calm her down. We heard the guttural sounds that almost seemed to be a type of vocal communication. We looked up to see three figures walking towards us, gesturing and speaking. All I could make out was the unnaturally long limbs and the row of white, jagged teeth on their heads. I felt Kai shuddering suddenly in my arms and when I looked down, I saw the metal spear sticking out of her. I felt her body go limp. The creatures had killed her without warning. Without provocation. I ran.

I felt an insurmountable anger boil inside me as I lay on the tree branch. Anger at myself, at those short-sighted Command Center nuts and anger at these vile, merciless aliens and their makeshift weapons. I wanted to destroy it all.

I stiffened as I heard the rustle of the leaves somewhere to my left. It was different from the usual rustle of the wind. This was unnatural. I lay very still and saw the leaves part and the creature step forward slowly. It seemed to be looking at the floor, trying to discern my footprints. This type of pursuit predators were the scariest – they never tired, they never gave up and they hunted you down from your footprints and the twigs your feet snapped while you ran. The creature held the makeshift weapon in one hand as it slowly moved on two feet looking this way and that, and passed beneath my tree. I could see the top of it’s head as it passed under me. I was tempted to jump down and fight it, but held myself. I didn’t know how many more of them were out there.

I looked around in the general direction of my intended escape. The ship was somewhere off to the right and from my vantage point here, I could faintly see the outline of the ship’s tail. It was close. Closer than I thought! I felt a renewed surge of hope in me. I made sure that the creature had gone before I descended as quietly as I could and started jogging towards the ship. My heart skipped a beat when I heard the loud guttural shout from behind me. I didn’t look back. I ran as fast as I could. I could hear two, three, four, countless creatures behind me, all shouting and crashing after me. Where did so many of them come from?

I felt a searing pain shoot through my arm and when I looked down, I almost fainted in fright. I saw a thin metallic spear stuck in my arm. It had pierced the palm of my hand clean through! I didn’t dare pull it out. The pain was excruciating. I felt loud bangs from behind and I felt the forest explode all around me. One moment there was a lean tree trunk and the next, a loud bang from behind and the tree trunk exploded in splinters that rained over me as I ran headlong into the forest. I prayed and prayed that I was going in the right direction.The noise behind me was deafening.

I ran through the pain in my hand. I could feel the numbness creeping up my arm from the point where the spear had pierced through. I felt faint but forced myself to keep running. Escape! That was the only thing on my mind.

After what seemed like an eternity and almost when I thought of giving up and surrendering to the aliens, I broke through the tree line and almost collided with my ship. I screamed out in ecstasy and agony and clambered around the hulking machine and into the open bay door at the back. I saw the aliens break through the tree line and stop as they saw the ship. Through the closing bay door, I saw them hesitate. They seemed to be awestruck at the sight of the ship. One of the aliens saw the bay door that was closing and caught sight of my face through the rapidly closing slit. The metal spear it fired  pinged harmlessly off the ship and I heard the satisfying bangs and the thuds of the door closing and the bolts driving home. 

I stumbled my way to the cockpit and hit the big red button on the dashboard. Everything would be automated now. The ship would take me home.

I slumped down on to the floor and looked at my hand. I could see the metal spear sticking out from both sides of my palm, firmly lodged. The ship trembled slightly as the fuel heated up and the ignition kicked in. I almost felt sorry for the alien creatures standing outside the ship. They would all be fried to nothingness in about ten seconds. It was a pity. I could have observed them and studied them, had it been under different circumstances. I thought I heard them scream as the ship fired on all cylinders and cooked them to a crisp and lifted off. I breathed a sigh of relief as it picked up speed. In about fifteen seconds, it would automatically open up the wormhole into our world and shoot into it. I could hardly wait to get home and get someone to pull this fucking spear out of my hand.

I stood up gingerly and saw out of the cockpit window at the fascinating landscape of the vast blue planet beneath me. An entire planet that had evolved to breathe the most corrosive gas in the universe – oxygen. I shuddered at the thought.

I saw the brilliant golden glow of the wormhole opening up in front of me. Just as the ship neared it, out of the corner of my eye, I saw some movement out on the horizon. The last thing I saw before being sucked into the wormhole was a huge metal cylinder hurtling through the air at a ferocious speed – almost like an aircraft – crashing into the ship at what seemed like a million miles per hour and the entirety of the fire and the debris being sucked into the wormhole. Drifting in the void of the wormhole, I saw the remains of the object that had collided with my ship. Hundreds and hundreds of those alien creatures floated away in the zero gravity of the wormhole, all dead. It couldn’t have been an aircraft, I thought to myself. This was supposed to be a primitive planet. Someone is going to have a lovely time trying to find this plane, I thought, smiling to myself as I blacked out, and hoped at the back of my mind that my arm and all my thirty-one fingers would be intact.

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The Maroon-Colored Claustrophobic Beauty

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Mansi's AltoMansi has always been a car-lover. She has never been in a situation where she has had to depend on anyone else for a ride. In this latest cup of chai on CATW, she remembers her Alto fondly.

I’ve been riding bikes a lot longer than I have been driving cars, and I have no qualms about hitching rides from friends or strangers. My bikes, over the years, have abandoned me at so many crucial moments that I think I almost expect a bike I’m on to break down and force me to push it.

I’ll write a longer cup of chai on my biking (mis)adventures. Until then, we’ll have to use our imagination.

Hate And Why We Love It

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I was reading a rather disturbing feature on Time about the attack on Nido Taniam in Delhi. It struck me that this, and other instances of hate that happen all over the world every day, are not surprising. We can’t pretend to be shocked, awed and disturbed, and cringe away from these acts of violence. As human beings, we are programmed to inflict pain on others. And we love it.

hate and violence

British Riots. Image Courtesy: BBC

My theory is quite simple: we are hateful creatures, forced to live together on the same piece of land and a bunch of makeshift rules and laws thrown in to govern our behavior. We forced ourselves into this corner. No one did this to us.

On our own, we are quite the pacifists. Well, most of us. But why is it that when we are put in a crowd of people, we bare our teeth, beat out chests and turn on each other? I think the answer lies deep within ourselves – our inherent fears. I’ll explain what this means.

I’ve been doing this very interesting social experiment for a few years now without anyone realizing it, and it’s proven to be quite the eye-opener. Whenever I am alone with someone (say Bob), in any situation, the conversation progresses like any other conversation between two people – about random things or something in particular. The minute a third person (say Dave) joins the fray, I use a variation of the following line: “Dave, hey! What’s up? Have you met Bob? He’s my friend and he’s uh.. um…”

I pretend to forget what Bob does for a living or what he’s good at, or what he has achieved, in an attempt to trivialize him. Bob immediately takes the cue, subconsciously, and rattles off his résumé to Dave – where he studied, what he graduated in, where he has worked, what he is currently working on, etc. This does not always happen, mind you. But when it does and you observe Bob’s body language, and he is the very epitome of defensiveness. His body is closed, arms folded, shoulders drooped, as though he is bracing for an attack.

The same thing also happens when I’m alone with Bob and I feign indifference to his achievements in life.

It’s our fear of rejection (or the fear of being dismissed as unimportant) that puts us in this situation. We all do it. I do it too. I have found myself talking about my career choices and my achievements (or lack thereof) to people for no fathomable reason except my fear of ridicule and rejection. I don’t want the other guy to think I’m weak. Or stupid. I beef up my arms and shoulders, brace myself and start telling him through my body language that I’m a (relatively) smart guy and can defend myself if need be.

This behavior tells us a few very important things about ourselves – we are all in a constant state of alertness, always on the lookout for a threat. This threat can be in any shape of form – physical, mental, emotional, financial, etc. We believe that everyone around us are a threat to our way of life. This is perhaps why we don’t do certain things like wear sunglasses when we’re inside a building – we fear that people are going to point at us and laugh, thus making us feel small, insignificant and vulnerable. This leaves us open for attack from a larger predator.

When the concept is applied on a global scale – to societies and nations as a whole, we realize that the equation does not change one bit. A billion paranoid people are constantly wary of a billion other paranoid people. Fear multiples in crowds and takes a life of it’s own, which leads to bad decisions and ultimately, a lot of people die. This is used as fuel to further our paranoia  - because it’s all right when we kill someone because we are doing it out of self-defense. But we fail to realize that the other person is killing for the same exact reason. We think he’s a monster, with no thought control and emotion.

The fact that we need this mutual hate and fear to survive and lead our lives is the biggest illusion that we have performed on ourselves. The idea that we need to lash out at a fellow human being in order to survive is ultimately going to make us as extinct as the Dodo. But not before we realize that it makes us just as dumb.

Daydreaming

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Day DreamingOne of the worst things that could happen to anyone in my position is this: the realization that your daydream will not be a reality. At least not immediately. You’re right up there among the stars, imagining how different your life will be and how you are going to spend the suitcase full of cash you just found on the sidewalk – a car each for yourself and your wife; maybe a new Harley for those exciting road trips on which, taking a car would be lame; a new house, perhaps two; a very strong and comprehensive health insurance plan for the entire family – yours and hers – to ensure that everyone who’s important is taken care of; and some extra leftover money invested in low yield bonds, savings, deposits and other such inane piggy-banks to ensure your financial independence. Of course, you’d first pay off your credit cards and loans and become debt-free.

You and your wife would then quit your respective jobs. You’d move in to one of your new houses, make it a home and give out the other one on rent for a decent family to ensure that you get paid monthly. You consider this income as your primary income which is earmarked for groceries, food and fuel. You then buy yourselves a pair of fancy smartphones that have the very latest features and you use these phones to tweet about how excited you are about what you’re planning to do next.

Once the tweet has been published, you pack your bags and you hit the road to being the longest journey of your life – a long road trip all over the country, on a quest to visit each and every state, drive on every road, experience all that the beautiful country has to offer. You’d spend almost a year on the road and you return to your new house (which is still new because you haven’t lived in it yet) and you spend a few months domesticating yourselves. You do the occasional trip on the Harley to a few places here and there that may have escaped your radar during the year-long road trip.

After about a year of the domestic life, your wife starts getting restless and insists that you do something out of the ordinary. She wants that excitement of living out of her backpack again. She wants to drive into the sunset and sit on the hood of your big SUV, looking out at the setting sun and smoke a cigarette and drink a Diet Coke, while you stand next to her with your beer can in hand, lean over to you just as the last rays turn the sky red and kiss you softly on the lips. She urges you to do something about this urge.

You walk over to the window overlooking the beautifully landscaped garden in front and you think about what to do. You wake up the next day and decide to sell off your other house. You contact your lawyer and find out that the rate of the house has nearly doubled in the two years since you bought it. You make the deal with the first buyer you find and a week later, you’re richer by an insane amount of cold, hard cash, sitting pretty in your bank account. You spend a weekend researching the best way to spend a whole year backpacking in Europe. You make the arrangements, book your tickets and your hotels, and you go out on Sunday evening to the mall and buy brand new backpacks and new travel accessories for yourself and your wife, and come back home in time for dinner. When your wife asks you where you were, you deflect the question innocently and move the conversation over to mundane things like the weather.

The next morning, you ride your Harley over to the bank and realize that you have far more money left over than you initially imagined. You then convert a lot of the money into Euros, a lot of the money into Dollars and a lot of the money into travelers’ checks. You also instruct the bank to issue you a Visa travel card, into which you pre-load a lot of money.

You then go back home and tell your wife that you have something important to show her. She is confused, obviously. But curious. When you reveal your master plan and the preparations you’ve made so far, she is fantastically overjoyed and you get the best sex of your life for being the best husband ever.

You realize that you’re in a public place and you have a hard-on. You quickly clear your mind, pull down the visor of your helmet, start your bike just as the light turns green, and continue the ride to your office.

Autoscopy 2014

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Bandipur at Night

When we decided to make the road trip to Masinagudi, little did we realize that things could go this bad. In the time it takes to say the word “honeymoon,” things went from fantastic to horrible. Rani and I didn’t know each other when we got married last week. The first time we saw each other ten days ago at her parents’ place, we thought we were too young, too stupid, too immature – two completely different people thrown into the fray and told to live together and love each other, till death do us apart. And we weren’t brave enough to do anything about it. In whatever little time we spent alone, we tried our best to get to know each other as quickly as we could – I told her my hopes, dreams and ambitions and she was good enough not to laugh in my face. She told me that her passion were wildlife and Maddur vadas.

Well, as fate had it, we would experience both very soon.

The wedding itself was a very forgettable affair for me. She didn’t tell me, but I think she hated it too. There were too many people, too little space and the food was too bland. In the peak of summer, it’s never a good idea to cram too many people in a small space and not feed them well. But, it got done with, and the parents were satisfied that their duties had been completed. They were clear of their obligations and their only job now was to wait with bated breath and annoying interjections for my wife to push out a kid or two or three.

Being a mediocre, middle-class white-collar pencil-pusher, I did not have the means or the luxury to afford a fantastic honeymoon at an exotic location. I could afford no honeymoon and I told Rani this the day before we got married. I could sense the sadness in her voice as she told me that it was all right and that we could go sometime later, after saving up a bit of money. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that with my current income, the concept of ‘savings’ was as alien to me as color to a blind man.

A couple of days later though, a friend of mine told us that he was a member of a time-sharing holiday scheme and that he wanted to gift us a weekend getaway to Masinagudi. As a man whose best friend for long had been thrift, I jumped at this offer, told him how grateful I was (I was. I truly was!), and decided to surprise Rani.

I was still in the initial phases of the relationship – a phase where a lot of time and mental effort is spent in trying to surprise your partner with gifts of love and affection.

I didn’t tell her where we were going until we reached the bus station and boarded a bus to Bandipur. She was ecstatic with joy and hugged me so tightly that I thought I’d implode. I could see that she was happy. Though she’s a tough nut, I did see a few tears.

The bus covered the 250-odd kilometer trip in under six hours and I was thankful when it ended. Our only stop on the way had been at Maddur, where we had stuffed ourselves with the crunchy pieces of heaven known all over the World as Maddur vadas. My legs were cramped and my bladder was full and bursting when I relieved myself by the side of the road at Bandipur, oblivious to the odd stares. I thought to myself how lucky we had been to be given this break. I didn’t realize how badly I needed to get away from it all until I’d gotten away.

We hired a taxi from the station and started the 20-kilometer trip through the jungle to reach our resort. It was an expensive ride but we had no other option, given that the forest department would close down the roads at 6 in the evening.

The drive was breathtaking. The undulating roads and the clear blue skies danced a mesmerizing dance with the trees that lined our way. A herd of spotted deer waved us by and a group of monkeys looked on in curious disbelief as we drove. Soon, we crossed into the Tamil Nadu side of the forest and the jungle became thicker and thicker around us the deeper we went.

We were having a fantastic time. Rani snuggled up to me as the evening progressively grew darker and colder. With about five more kilometers to go, I thought nothing could dampen our spirits. That’s when I heard the dull, sickening thud that signaled disaster.

It’s a misconception that tires burst with a great big bang. They actually give out with a thud, and if the driver is experienced enough, he/she can manage the momentary loss of steering control. Our driver wasn’t and the little taxi lurched menacingly to the left before he over-corrected and sent us flying to the right, where our joyride came to a screeching halt as the car dove into a ditch, nose-first and stayed there. The sudden change in directions and the inertial forces acting on us as we impacted threw us forward, the front seat-back smacking the both of us in our faces with an inhuman amount of energy. Rani’s nose cracked under the impact, sending little bits of cartilage and bone gushing out with blood. My upper lip split and my two front teeth ripped themselves out of their oral prisons and flew into the air, and joined the million shards of glass and stone and metal hurtling about. The driver’s head arrested the momentum of his body against the steering wheel, and I think he didn’t have the time to let his whole life flash before his eyes before he died. The whole thing took less than 3 seconds.

As the sun went down and the night officially threw her cloak of darkness over us, we were too stunned and too much in pain to move or react.

It took me about ten minutes to get my bearings right and to realize that were quite vulnerable out there. I looked around at my wife, who was slumped in her seat. From the faint light of the remains of the dashboard, I could see that she was breathing, which was a relief.

I opened the door of the car, which yielded surprisingly easily, and stumbled out to the forest floor. I could hear the sounds of a million crickets singing around me, the occasional whistle of a bird going to sleep, the rustling of the dry leaves, which I prayed was due to the wind, and the occasional bursts of deafening silence. I was afraid. I was shaking uncontrollably with nervous energy and adrenaline pushed me to my feet. I hobbled over to the road and tried to spot any oncoming headlights. At the back of my mind was the knowledge that the forest gates closed at 6 in the evening but I kept ignoring it. Surely someone would realize that a car that had entered the forest hadn’t exited. Surely someone heard the sickening crash. All I could see was an ocean of deepening darkness on either side, punctuated by the ominous red glow of the car’s taillights.

I stood there for a long time, in the red glow, trying to figure out my next move, while my head reeled and my body cried out in pain in a thousand places. When I heard that agonizing cry of pain, despair and sorrow – a cry that would haunt me for eternity – I turned and ran to the other side, to my wife. I feared the worst. I reached her side and was about to open the door or smash the window if need be when I saw what had made her cry out.

I guess my teeth weren’t the only things that had dislodged when I hit my face. I almost lost my balance.  My legs felt weak and I held back a gag when I saw Rani, my wife of ten days, cradling her husband’s crushed head in her lap.

I really shouldn’t have done this trip.

Image Courtesy: http://docohobigfinish.blogspot.in/