The Queen of Digitalia
Aasha mehreen amin
The first thing Queen Shaksina did when she came to the throne was declare that her kingdom was a kingdom of Change built upon the Digital Dream. What exactly such a dream entailed nobody quite knew. For that matter, even now nobody knows. Did it mean robots for domestic workers and hologram friends? Did it mean virtual schools and bursts of amazing scientific invention? Hold on to your horses, we are still in the 2000s not the 3000s. When a cheeky scribe asked Her Majesty what exactly Digital Bongoland meant she demurely remarked: "Well... I'm on facebook for instance..." Nothing could have pleased the young ones, the newly arrived humanoids - the X generation, more. They were after all devout followers of the religion called Facebook. Only losers and very poor people were not in this most popular cult where your life is everybody's business.
Queen Shaksina has pointed out the extent to which people use the internet -a digital parallel kingdom that virtually exists. Young people, in other words the ones who really matter, cannot live a day wihout having some sort of rendezvous with the Net, chatting, sharing every sneeze, cough and guffaw of their existence with all and sundry, spreading gossip about the ones they wish to squash like insects. They also use this Net to look up all sorts of vital information such as how long does it take for a pimple to become the size of a button and when it should be popped. All this encompasses the first step towards digitalising this God forsaken place.
Many of Queen Shaksina's subjects, however, just don't get it. They cry: 'What's the point of going digital when the roads and highways are becoming redundant pits of mud and gravel through which even the three-wheeled carriages cannot ply let alone the humungous Killer Trucks and Buses. How can we be digital when even the dilapidated trains do not have enough capacity to accommodate the extra number of frenzied travellers or when even the antiquated boats cannot float in the canals and rivers because they have become non-functional as naughty knaves have blocked, encroached upon them or dumped their garbage into them?'
“We are going to do everything virtually” says a spokesperson of the royal (Alarmingly Loyal) clan. “After some time we won't even need roads, railways or rivers. Everything will be done online – even political bickering and street agitations.”
Speaking of which it is obvious that the only 'change' that Queen Shaksina has kept talking about really alludes to the change in who rules the kingdom, hence change in the face of the portraits hanging in the royal court walls, on the currency and in the names of practically every standing structure. Name changing has become such a vigorous and frequent practice by ruling clans of this land that masons have come up with a clever solution: two-faced signboards and plaques having the names given by the Alarmingly Loyals on one side and the Bothersome Neurotic Preachers on the other.
While names of buildings may have been touched by the wonderful wand of change some things will forever remain the same. Queen Shaksina's pathological hatred for her arch rival former Queen Dolly Bee has remained as resolute and pure as ever. She just cannot get over the suspicion that Dolly Bee's minister of Security and son connived together to murder her in cold blood. Shaksina's bitterness was all too apparent when she started accusing Dolly of treason (when Dolly rather imprudently said she would tear up and throw away the kingdom's constitution if the courts amended it) and of heresy (for cutting four birthday cakes on the anniversary of Shaksina's father's brutal murder). She has blasted Dolly for stubbornly refusing to attend the Congregation of Elders while at the same time ordering her sons to the dungeon. As far as life-long ailments go, Shaksina's allergic reaction to anything that reeks of Dolly, is just legendary.
Coming back to more pleasant topics, there may be something to the Digital Dream that Queen Shaksina keeps hoping will provoke a Pied Piper kind of response from her subjects. Her reign after all, promises to bring in the 3G spell on those magical cellular boxes. Yes her subjects are reeling at the out of reach prices of essentials, the lack of power, water and gas. But at least they will be able to see the people they are talking to on these devices, thanks to the 3G spell. Some citadels of learning (otherwise called 'schools') have also started teaching their apprentices through projectors and digital screens. True, it may be a great challenge to actually get to those schools because of the broken, muddy roads but they can always use stilts to experience this little bit of 'digital learning'.
Critics of Queen Shaksina point out that overall nothing has really changed. Shaksina's Knights in Black and their minions have turned the kingdom upside down, extorting money from the poor and helpless, going on killing sprees and vandalising the centres of learning, assaulting some of the druids on the way.
The medieval custom of torture chambers, deaths in dungeons and flogging damsels for imagined lapses in chastity, have also remained intact.
Despite these drawbacks, Queen Shaksina, forever the optimist, has not given up on her Digital Dream and has suggested making everything – courts, rulings, punishment including the guillotine, virtual.
Shadows of the Pomegranates
Sweating profusely in her sleep, Queen Dolly Bee has woken up in the middle of the night. It's the same nightmare that has repeated itself for the 21st time. She has consulted many a doctor, but they have not been able to fend off the blighted Judge Miah from her sleep. Oh, how painful it has been to see his shrivelled face, a pair of his yellow molars that turn and twist into a cunning smile! She wishes if she can contact Barbar, his Wazir-e-watan. Even though all the 26 air-coolers she has retrieved from the house in Shaheed M Ainul Road are in full blast, she has been sweating like imprisoned Barbar in the Lal Killah. Oh, her house! Oh, how thoroughly she misses it! She never tried swimming in that plush pool that her son Prince Trek made, but after she had been evicted from that house, she has always felt like taking a dip. Now, with the dawn approaching fast, where will she go and douse the flame of anger and shame that is burning in her soul for the last five years?
The Uddin Brothers were better, she tells herself as she gets up from bed and walks to the window. The moon is as soft and silky tonight as her newly bought cream-coloured French Chiffon, she stares at it blankly and to her surprise it starts to morph into Judge Miah's face. Her caretaker Khondokar Khelowar Hossain took her to a psychiatrist once, an elderly fellow who gave Khelowar counselling after the Uddin Brothers loosened his pyjama and poor Khelowar became a joke overnight. The doc told her to think of her dead husband, King Komol and their lives together. As the moon, blissfully on her throne, is turning fast into Judge Miah with a couple of pomegranates in hand, she thinks hard of Shaheed King Komol, and she realises that the trick is not working. She cries out, "Komol! Komol! Where have you left me with these two idiots?" (She has meant Princes Trek and Coco Chanel).
Idiots they are, but they are her sons after all, the last two lights of her bongsho, the famous Komol Clan. They may be corrupt (in fact, they have been legendary in that field, she recalls with motherly pride), gifted with a criminal mind, but they are her sons. Complaints against them have been lodged with the Council of Elders, and she must do something about it. Big issues are plaguing the kingdom nowadays: the Kingdom's guards in black mufti are killing innocent people, people are dying in the highways, prices of essentials are skyrocketing and ordinary people might have to take bagsful of money to buy a pomegranate. Oh, now, why pomegranate? She hates the fruit. When she gets back the kursi, she promises herself twice, she will ban pomegranate from the kingdom, once and for all.
She switches the TV on; she wishes she could watch BDTV News now. Whatever the regime is called, whoever is on the throne, it has always worked–the BDTV News has always been able to put her to sleep. But, there is no news at these wee hours; they are running a film. It is about tyranny and the corrupting power of unchecked ambition. A lady goads her husband to commit murder so that he becomes king. He eventually succeeds. Dolly Bee is bored. She doesn't feel like watching the ending. She switches the TV off, and reclines on the bolsters. "My sons come first. My house after that," she mumbles as sleep overpowers her, "If prices are going up, people can have pomegranates." Her eyelids become heavy, and the room, like Aladdin's magic carpet, starts to float heavenwards. She doesn't open her eyes; she senses Judge Miah's presence. He starts to sing, and she becomes a child again, dozing off, listening to his lullaby:
"Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble."
Lord Faux Pas Does it Again
The Royal Counsel of Trade and Commerce Lord Faux Pas Cain, has got himself into a hot, sticky soup. As if it wasn't bad enough that his kingdom was going through an inflation of the most vicious kind with food prices shooting up to hellish levels.
Lord Faux Pas has now helped fan the fire of public discontent first by promising so earnestly that prices of food would in no way go up during the holy month of fasting. Then after realising that even green chillies had become an expensive delicacy for the masses he made the mistake of asking his subjects to 'eat less'. The local scrolls (called the Media) have had a field day quoting the Royal Counsel making such an insensitive remark at a time when most subjects were already suffering the pangs of hunger, not because they were fasting but because they just could not afford the required number of Kilo Joules anymore. Lord Faux Pas made things worse by trying to provide a warped rationale for his statement. If people ate less, said Lord Faux Pas, then traders would be obliged to lower the prices to match the dip in demand. Exactly how much they would have to cut down their daily diet to experience this benefit, the honourable Counsel did not say. But he did mention that another reason why it made sense to eat less was that this way people would be consuming a smaller amount of poison that is commonly used in this kingdom by horrible goblins, to make food seem fresh. Unfortunately the majority of the subjects, with the exception of anorexics and hunger strikers, did not appreciate this logic. As far as they were concerned what the Royal Counsel for Trade and Commerce said, amounted to the same devilish solution to mass hunger allegedly declared by Queen Marie Antoinnette: Let them eat cake.
– AASHA MEHREEN AMIN
Lady Gobi – Poker Face
Lady Gobi (named after a famous Asian desert, not some boring vegetable, silly) who leads the Ministry of Safety and Security has come into the spotlight for reasons of her own. She is known for her equanimity and thick-skinned temperament no matter how unsafe the kingdom has become. The Rabid Knights in Black and Queen's guards she is in charge of have unleashed a reign of terror on the masses. They happily resort to looting, plundering, robbing people of their money and gold, picking up young lads only to torture and kill them or extorting huge sacks of gold from their families. Sometimes these royal guards just hand over their victims to the bloodthirsty lynch mob dying for some gory entertainment. One would think that such a grim state of affairs would leave Madam Gobi at least a little shaken. But not her; this gentlewoman is indeed a tough nut to crack. Nothing fazes her, not even reports of the most gruesome crime in her land becoming public knowledge. She has managed to keep a poker face in all circumstances, uttering the famous refrain: “The law and order situation in this land is under control, the individuals killed in a battle with the knights were ruffians and hard-core criminals.” While the people of the land clutch their hearts in trepidation, Lady Gobi sits serenely in her chair. She is already writing a sure shot bestseller –Grime and Punishment – How to Catch a Griminal.
– AASHA MEHREEN AMIN
Hitting the Road
General Knowledge had always puzzled The Right Honourable Babul Hossain, a member of Her Majesty's Most Honourable Royal Council (Chai Na Ministry; Communications Wing). He remembers sitting for his entrance exam twice for he confused Ibne Sina, the famous Arab physician with Norwegian playwright Ibsen. A teacher's gentle slap on his overgrown neck had corrected him at that time, and now that the teacher is long dead (and most probably turning and tossing in his grave seeing his prodigal student's chequered life) and he is disturbed with the most befuddling problem of his life, Babul wonders who will come up with the flag of rescue.
They want him to resign. He understands it alright, but he has signed a lot of papers, how many more re-signs will happy his critiques? He can even sign in different ways, are they telling him to change the way he signs? The improbable, the imponderable has also crossed his mind: Do they want him to leave the ministry? No, it can't be so. If he leaves Chai Naa ministry now, who's going to fix the roads that he has so fondly left to rot? He, solving the greatest puzzle of his life, takes up the day's paper and starts to draw a moustache on his cartoon the newspaper has run. He starts to scribble, signing in different ways. Round and round he signs and at the end it resembles more and more some secret Chinese letter.
He feels relieved after he is done, and gets into his car and starts to sing, "Aamar gorur garitey bou shajiey…dhukkur, dhukkur, dhukkur." (Oh sweetheart, hop on my oxcart in a bride's garment… dhukkur dhukkur dhukkur.) People are noticing, and the road is potholed, his dhukkur is changing into hukkur. The roads are in a bad shape, there is no doubt about it. But what can he do when he's not given the money he needs. The roads need much less, but does he not have a family too? Roads are not humans, they don't have families; they don't need to buy luxury apartments, they don't have children to raise; he has.
But the good thing is more money is in the pipeline. He fishes into his pocket and brings out his calculator. He always carries one. He suddenly feels happy. Only from the Momenshahi highway he can pocket a few millions, after distributing it among his ministry-men enough will be left to pump into his business. The driver takes a sharp turn; the car shakes like a branch of a mango tree on a stormy night. It has been drizzling. The road ahead is all but mud and stagnant water. His car cruises like a ship. It starts to shake violently. "Dhukkur, dhukkur," he claps and says, "Why do people have to ride a bus on this road? Or a car? An oxcart is much better. It doesn't even need any fuel. It saves money."
It has sounded quite moronic; he understands it a few minutes later. The rain and the stagnant water, knee-deep at places, have made a poet of him. He tries to form a line: "I will make the roads as smooth as your face." He realises it's not working. The person he has in mind has a few marks on her face, from chickenpox she had contracted in childhood. He ponders and thinks deep. And then it happens, the car swivels and hits a pothole, as deep as the minister's neck, and turns upside down.
The minister goes blank for a few minutes. The story turns a little murky after this. According to one eyewitness, after regaining consciousness, he has said, "What am I?" (Not "Who am I?") Another person claims that he has come back to his senses after seeing an oxcart plying on another road nearby. According to yet another eye witness account, the beleaguered minister has been taken to the nearby restaurant which at that time was playing the song "Aamar gorur garitey bou shajiey…dhukkur, dhukkur, dhukkur", hearing which the minister has said, "What am I?"
The minister is well now. Sometimes while giving speeches he cries out loud "Dhukkur, dhukkur, dhukkur", but besides this slight eccentricity, he has remained the same old person who has hit the road a week ago. And the roads? They still resemble the face of the minister's beloved.
– AHMEDE HUSSAIN
(R) thedailystar.net 2011