Published: Thursday, April 18, 2013



  Illustration: Mahin Ahmed

There is a purple area between coherence and the babbling gibberish of a functional man. That purple area was where this train was heading and you could assume that that’s where the travellers were going, for they all had a purple emblem emblazoned on their foreheads. Sometimes, the colour would change and the shift, on rare occasions, caught the eye of the passengers as their comrades’ foreheads danced to a different tune for an infinitesimal amount of time. But it was always passed off as an illusion with a decided nonchalance that could only have come from spending their entire lives on this train, sitting in their designated seats, peering out of the window for that elusive shade of purple.

Often the axles would grind to a halt and the incessant whistling would die down as the train stopped at junctures unknown. And the travellers would disembark to stretch their legs and make small talk with the locals in pastures where giant butterflies gracefully fluttered over them. With each stroke of their wings, music would fill the air and the stink of hopeless frustration would begin to permeate. At many such junctures, some travellers opted to stay behind, blending in with the dark second-grade furniture and the hypnotic music of the butterflies. And as the train pulled away, the remaining travellers would peer over the sun-kissed window panels and see nothing but deluded men huddled around a red rock. Scathing peals of laughter always ensued as they left the holy in the harem of their gods, drowning in an ocean of lascivious impotence. And they would think then ‘We’re better than them. We haven’t given up yet. We’re almost there.’ But where?

The train’s journey had taken the travellers around in circles and straight and backwards, too; a never-ending stretch of asphalt tied neatly into a dreadful knot. Like that one last lock of tangled hair that’s near impossible to straighten out. So they carried on with their all-expenses paid trip through the spectrum where the only colour they hoped to see was the only one they could identify. Nothing else mattered. And so it was that on the 7th day, as God rested, the train clanked to a halt and the travellers stepped out hoping to be greeted with sensuous purple. Instead, the aberration that infected their eyes right then had no name. But it evoked the strangest sort of repulsion in them, one tinged with burning desire. And scathingly, they called it Green.

And there, in the heart of this newfoundland, there were no butterflies with musical wings or second-rate furniture camouflaged with the nothingness that was everything. Instead, the travellers encountered 8-foot tall boxes, matte black, which spoke. And the voice whispered the sweetest nothings into their ears. “Welcome to Konsumerland,” it chimed, “All that you’ve been looking for is right here, just a dollar away.” The group put their branded heads together and decided, unanimously, that they would explore this place for a bit before getting back on the train. They needed a distraction and this could be it.

As the first men walked across the valley, their futile efforts at meaning impregnated the soil with the first seeds of jealousy. And from there, demons unfurled, dark and seductive, calling them out in a haze of sinful concupiscence. Finally, life could be measured. And they measured it, out there in the glistening moonlight, as the wind caressed their burgeoning waists and deepening pockets for one last time before dying down. They measured it with cursory glances at the slender dew-drops that rolled off reluctant leaves as the first light broke through into perdition, beauty disintegrating hearts couldn’t fathom. They measured it by walking past the swirling rat guts streaming down into the sewage with empty beer bottles as conscious feet hurried into the latest shop offering a 30% discount.

Damned civilisations grew up around the travellers as they fed on each other’s hunger and emptied their wallets. The voice was still there, urging them on to continue, “Remember, everything has a price tag.”

It pointed them towards the latest technology and egged them on towards paradoxical development as trees transformed into putrid hovels and silence was hanged for trivial disquiet. The travellers still had the bitter taste of commercial-grade coffee in their mouth as the voice mentioned, as an afterthought, that it was time for the train to depart.

They could hear the warning bells now, resonating all around the empty corridors of power, cluttered with empty threats and nuclear toys. And they all trembled then, with fearful excitement, as the pristine station, untouched by the filth of consumerism, cried out for the travellers to return. As the first of the men started to make his way back to the train, he stopped short and looked all around him and then down at the piss-stained asphalt. He was trapped there, just like the others by charred roots that may have belonged to a tree that had long since died. They stood there as the train pulled away, rebuffed by its occupants, and went off at a languid pace towards the colour purple. The travellers looked at each other and noticed that the emblems on their foreheads were gone. They shook their heads for the fraction of a second before carrying on with their important lives. “Good thing it’s gone,” they told themselves. “I have so much to buy. So much more to buy.” And every time they would confidently believe that the answer was just around the bend, in that new corner shop that had the most amazing ‘two-for-one’ sales. Well, maybe the next bend, then.