Friday, July 26, 2013

Can I Call This My Quarter-Life Crisis?

It's been a while since I put something up here. So let's try something different.

Usually, I have an idea. Or inspiration strikes.

This is neither.

This is one of those moments when you write down the hard truths that you hide from yourself everyday. The ones you don't talk about. The ones you don't think about. The ones that you don't tell people about because you think they might judge you.

But they're there all right. I feel them clawing at the back of my head, waiting for me to look at them. Because once I see them, I can't ignore them anymore. Unless I find some other way of distracting myself. Like Douglas Adams' SEP fields, they simply become Somebody Else's Problem.

That's why this has to be a list. That's why this has to be shorn of all ornamentation. I'm trying to surprise myself into saying something I normally wouldn't.

1. No one cares about my hard truths

This is one of the hardest to face up to. Yet once I do, it makes everything else a lot easier.

Nothing on this list is a "hard truth", as such. 

People starve. That's a hard truth. Eventually, all trace of our existence will be wiped out and humanity may as well never have existed. That's hard too. An ideal government is probably a pipe dream. Pretty hard.

My problems are not hard truths. Not by a long shot. I'm not even sure if they're true or not. And even though I find them hard to accept, to most other people, they will mean nothing. 

I tried to dodge this. The fact that I'm sharing this on a blog instead of writing it down on a torn sheet from my notebook is one way of doing that (as is using 'you' repeatedly to try to engage you, the readers, and win your empathy). But then, not a lot of people read my blog. That's a hard truth for me, but not for you. 

I will share this and some people will read it. Infinitely many more will not. For every person I reach, I am ignored by millions. And the people I reach will invariably be friends who will say nice things without meaning them, although, to their credit, they may believe they do. 

What's more, the very desire I have to reach more than this small circle is monstrously presumptuous. I have nothing to say that no one hasn't said before. If I do, such things are specific to my life alone, and hence will interest no one other than myself and, again, my well-meaning friends, let alone the bulk of humanity. Yet, I expect to capture something essential, something universal, something human that everyone can identify with. 

I'm bound to fail. 

If I succeed, I'm bound to repeat what others have already said. The world is simply too old for originality. There are only refreshing permutations of oft-expressed ideas.

How do I know that? I don't. It sounded deep, it sounded meaningful, but it's utter horseshit, let's face it. I'm no scholar, I'm no philosopher, I'm nothing. I barely know how to survive on my own. What do I know of anyone other than myself? How can I claim to understand human nature if all I've been exposed to is my own nature, which I still don't understand? Oh sure, I've observed other people, but do I know what they think? What they feel? What they dream? Not a lot of people talk about that kind of stuff openly because they're scared of revealing too much about themselves, scared of seeming weak, unintelligent, whiny.

No. That paragraph contradicted itself. I don't know for sure that that's why people don't bare their insecurities on a regular basis. All I know is that that's why I don't do it. Or, rather, why I don't like to do it. For some inexplicable reason, I find myself doing it with increasing frequency. 

I've never asked another human being how and why they manage to hide the maelstrom of doubts, fears and critical voices in their heads because I don't know if they have them too and I'm afraid that if I ask them, I'll only reveal something small and painful and ugly about myself that no one will want to know and everyone will be repelled by.

That's the way to do it. 'I'. Not 'them'. Not 'us'. Not 'you'. Sentences using the first person are the only way to really face up to your, no, my demons; not by projecting them onto everyone else by using other pronouns.

My demons. How melodramatic. I don't have demons. I have tiny niggling doubts which burrow into my brain and stay there for me, in my idiocy, to pick at even though they're inextricably lodged into the lining of my skull. Or maybe my foolishness lies in assuming that such is the case. If I have a problem, I should solve it, not complain. Examine it, yes, but then use what I learn from it to get rid of it.

What have I learnt? I'll turn twenty this year. I've been a burden on this earth for two decades and I've learnt nothing but trivia and half-knowledge. 

Wait, who am I to claim to know important things? But then, everyone else seems so sure, so confident, so well-read, so eloquent about the world, its problems, its histories, its rules, its genesis, and what do I know? 

No, I'm not a burden on this earth. This earth is massive. It's teeming with life. It's crammed with the decaying bodies of the dead. My 49 kilos of human flesh, matter, quarks, however you choose to look at it, are not going to weigh the earth down significantly, whether my body's propped upright and walking, talking and breathing or whether it's laid down flat and covered with dirt.

So no, I'm not a burden. Consequently, there is not going to be any noticeable lightening when my weight disappears. My place will simply have been occupied by another; it probably already has been.

I have no problems. Other people have problems. Other people deal with their problems and they become better people because of it. I have neuroses that I refuse to deal with and that's all.

Am I incapable of doing so? Or am I capable but unwilling? Honestly, I don't know which one is more pathetic. But can anything be pathetic in an apathetic world?

No, that's exaggerating things. 'Apathetic' is such a negative word. The world is not apathetic. Lots of people care about lots of things. Some people even care about me. But I can't understand why. There are lots of people just like me, better than me, funnier than me, smarter than me, why me? 

I don't know.

And until I do, I can't believe that they really care about my "hard truths". Not because I think they're bad people but because I think they're better people with better things to do than pity me.

I don't want people to pity me. But I don't want them to ignore me either. I want them to respect me, look up to me, love me, miss me, need me. And that sounds so...pathetic. So clingy. 

The worst part is that some people say they already do respect me, look up to me, love me, miss me, need me (although not necessarily the same people say all of these things). And I don't understand why. And if I've already got what I wanted...why am I still here? And is this all there is to being looked up to, respected, loved, missed, needed?

The thing is, I want to be able to accept myself. But I'm unable to. Because the hard truth isn't that no one cares about my hard truths. It's that even I don't care about them.

I'm just confused by them. I'm just scared, yes, I said it, scared by them, daunted by them. And yet I know how insignificant they are and that only makes me feel worse about fearing them.

I've tried not caring. I've tried caring a lot. I've even tried hating, which, in a sense, is destructively, violently caring about something.

But I still can't get past the hard truths. I can't even express them properly. Look, I can't even move past number one on my list. 

Why did I write this? What do I want it to achieve? Who do I want to read this? What do I want them to do about it once they've read this?

I wrote this because I'm scared that I'm forgetting how to write. I'm scared about being left behind. I'm scared about getting even dumber than I already am. I'm scared about wasting my life. I'm scared that no one will never know what I think about even though I don't know why that should matter, even though I don't know what incentive other people will have to want to know what I think. 

Nonetheless, I'm scared about what other people will think when they read this. I'm scared that no one will care. I'm scared some people will care but be unable to help me. I'm scared that the only way I can understand what's wrong and what I can do to fix it is if someone else, someone I know, love and trust implicitly, who knows everything there is to know about me and who can do anything, comes and explains it to me.

I'm scared that, in the absence of a deity that I can believe in without a skeptical mind, the only person who fits that description is myself. I'm scared because I don't know, love or trust myself. And I don't think I can do much. 

That's the fucking problem. 

I need to solve the problem in order to solve the problem. 

Now that's a hard truth. 




I don't know.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Foul-Weather Friends

For as long as I can remember I've been taught the little importance that can and should be given to fair-weather friends: friends who are always with you when times are good but desert you the moment you’re in trouble. The implication, of course, is that all other friends are perfectly fine. In other words, if F is the set of friends you have and W are all your fair-weather friends, you would be better off leaving that set out and hanging out with all your (F-W) friends instead.

If only things were that simple. Fair-weather friends may deserve to be shunned but foul-weather friends aren't much better.

What is a foul-weather friend? A friend who’s with you only when times are rough.

Why that sounds like the perfect friend, you might say. After all, who doesn't need friends when they’re in deep shit? And it’s true. Life is full of crises, the big ones like the death of a family member and the little ones like when you've lost your car keys. In either case, it’s always best to have a friend by your side while you deal with whatever life chooses to hurl at you.

But that’s not the reason people make friends. If that’s all you want in a friend, you’re better off taking out an insurance policy. Does exactly the same thing but a little more reliable and much more helpful in real times of need.

No, people make friends so that they have someone to talk to and have fun with. Important as it is to have a friend in need (who, most of the time at least, actually is a friend indeed), it’s just as important to have a friend in those times when you want to enjoy life, when for just an hour or two you want to forget about the fact that you’re financially dependent on your parents, hence robbing you of any kind of independence, financial or otherwise, that the fact that they raised you automatically exempts them from any blame should you happen to be dissatisfied with life and that any expression of the same on your part is, of course, willful, immature, irresponsible behavior that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that you've been spoiled rotten.

It’s important to have a friend to laugh at the stupid things with because God knows you've been made to feel stupid and inadequate so many times that you’re convinced you constitute that little bit of floating scum in the gene pool that natural selection is designed to scoop out before it has the chance to spread.

It helps to have a friend you can objectify women with because, after all, it really doesn't matter how you treat them seeing as you’re branded a misogynistic chauvinist pig the moment you’re born and any attempt to prove that such a branding is unwarranted through acts of courtesy and kindness are gladly accepted and easily forgotten. Then, just when an easy smile convinces you that perhaps you've met someone you can have a nice quiet conversation with, the same smile tells you quite sweetly that you mean nothing to it. You can’t object, of course, the smile is so kind and understanding and full of pity.

Not that pity without action is worth a damn thing. No, those people who say they pity you and then ignore you for the next six months because they, of course, have more important things to do with people who are more interesting than you and then ask you in an accusatory tone why you've been ignoring them all this while rendering you speechless at the injustice of it all, those people are just another species of the foul-weather friend.

A word now on why the foul-weather friend is just as abhorrent as the fair-weather variety. A foul-weather friend is a friend in times of need. Only in times of need. All those times I've told you about, they’re never around for those times. Or perhaps they are there but not because you called them. No, they’re there because they called you, they made the plans, they call the shots, you’re the guest. Because much as people try to deny it, there is a hierarchy, even in friendships.

But those times when you want to hang out, they’re too busy. And you can’t blame them for it. After all, they have other friends. Ones who are a lot more fun to hang out with. Who don’t need to check and double-check with their parents before they can make it for whatever outing they've been invited to and want to go for. Who don’t need to borrow cash and feel humiliated while asking for it. In fact, ‘borrow’ isn't even the right word. That money’s a gift and don’t you forget it. And it won’t be forgotten, no not by a long shot. Even if the guilt of having it in your pocket doesn't eat at you, rest assured, it will be brought up again in the future. Repeatedly. Disapprovingly. Not that you can say anything about it, of course. That would just be ungrateful.

Friends who have cars that they can drive to people’s houses. Friends who don’t need to study because their parents force them to, holding them up to a yardstick their elder siblings have made but not for this purpose, surely, or because they honestly worry about the future, lying awake at night wondering what they could possibly do for a living, what they don’t suck at, what they’d be happy doing, what would pay well.

Friends who can stay late. Friends who can laugh in their parents’ faces because they haven’t been made to feel acutely exactly how much they owe them, even if it wasn't done consciously.  

Friends who smoke. Friends who drink. Friends who steal. Friends who break some law or the other sheerly for the thrill of it. Friends who can silence that little part of their brains which tells them what could go wrong, what could get them in trouble, what could kill them.

Those are the friends foul-weather friends like to surround themselves with. The ones they keep in touch with all their lives. The ones they call over to their houses and in whose houses they seem to spend half their lives. The ones they make up little nicknames for. And you can’t blame them if they have those friends and you don’t. After all, that’s your problem and your fault.  

God help you if you’re not one of those friends. Because then you risk being reduced to an accessory. Oh, you’re tolerated but that’s about as far as it goes. Sure, there are vehement proclamations of undying friendship but they’re usually drowned out by all those times you've been kept waiting by the phone for three hours for a call that, when it finally comes, is only to tell you there’s been a change in plans and you can meet up with the gang later if you want to. You can’t though, of course, the venue’s been changed and you’re not quite sure what you’d do in a group which clearly has been doing perfectly fine without you for the last three hours, thus making you painfully aware of what Amitav Ghosh once called the ‘inequality of needs’.

And of course, true to their name, foul-weather friends will help you out when you’re in trouble. But after all you've come to know about them, you wonder if it’s out of any real concern for your well-being or simply another ego-trip, a way to feel superior by lending a hand or some advice to the oddball.

Oh yeah, that’s what you are. Didn't you get the memo? The one who’s privately mocked for being such a pussy. The one who always needs to be talked into doing fun stuff. The one who always seems to be busy. The one who won’t shut up when he isn't. You know, the guy everyone likes but only in small doses.

And of course, just like with your parents or with girls who very sweetly reveal to you that you’re less attractive than that sweaty guy with half a brain and an iPhone who thinks Shah Rukh Khan is quite possibly the world’s most versatile actor, you can’t really complain. After all, they've always helped you out when you've needed it. So where do you get off complaining?

If it’s really that big a problem then it’s undoubtedly your fault. Unless the same problem affects them in which case it is, again, your fault. Either way, you better have an appetite for humble pie.

And it is your fault really. You’re the one who’s spineless. You’re the pussy.

If things haven’t been working out for you, it means your strategy is wrong. Being yourself won’t get you friends, pretense will. If you have a problem with that, that’s your fault.

If you have trouble attracting people, you’re not treating them right. You have to trick them into liking you. If you think that’s demeaning their intelligence, you’re wrong. People have to be deceived. Either that or you need to show dominance like some goddamn silver-back gorilla. Because women don’t have more than half a brain to judge people with. Not that you can ever accuse them of it. No. And not that you can apply the same logic to them. No. That would be stupid. And that would be your fault.

Don’t complain either. That would be sulking. Or being melodramatic. Or being whiny. Or thinking life is like the movies. Grow up. If you haven’t, that’s your fault.

So now that you know what they look like, can you figure out if you have any foul-weather friends? Or if you’re one yourself? It shouldn't be too hard to work out. Sooner or later, you learn how to recognize them. How to spot the warning signs.

The first ones are friends who mock you for being polite. If you've ever said please or thank you or apologized to a friend without being forced to do so, if you've ever consulted them before doing anything that involves them in any way, if you've ever asked for their permission before using their stuff and had them laugh in your face for it, that’s a warning sign.

“Friends don’t do that.”

It’s true. But if you can’t force that kind of comfort either. You need to let it grow. And laughter’s no fertilizer.

Because that reveals a certain something about people. On some level, people are going to take you for granted. They’re going to assume you’ll always be free, that you’ll go along with everything they say. And if you don’t, they’re going to assume it’s because you’re a bad friend. Or if it’s because you need to listen obediently to your parents sometimes and not your friends, you’re weak. Contemptible. Laughable.

And then the next thing you know, you’re the afterthought. The guy who’s invited minutes before the party begins. The guy who isn't missed when someone’s forgotten to invite him. The guy who sits at home all day and reads because no one calls.

The good thing is, you can learn to live with the knowledge that you’ll always be that guy. No matter what you try, you’ll never be the kind of friend they’ll hang out with. Not without compromising on a lot of your principles.

So learn to be that guy. Learn to block yourself off from people. Learn to find pleasure in work rather than human company. Learn to enjoy your own company. Or, if you loathe yourself too much for that, learn to distract yourself. Work out. Watch a movie alone. Start a blog that no one reads. Basically, keep yourself occupied.

And then, one day, you’ll find that because you secluded yourself, you’re the best in your field. And that’s when people will start flocking to you. Most of them will be fair-weather friends, but it’ll be a nice change of scene after all the foul-weather ones. Cultivate them. Or don’t. Shun them, openly show your contempt for them, treat them like dirt. People love that. Especially girls.

You’ll find life is a lot more fun when you’re convinced it’s meaningless. You’ll find people a lot more likable when you hate every single one of them. And you’ll find you have a lot more time to work on something big, something people will remember you by, something that’ll ensure you’re never forgotten. Most people have kids for the same reason. But then you’re that little bit of floating scum in the gene pool that natural selection is designed to scoop out before it has the chance to spread. So that option isn't really open to you.

Never mind. You probably wouldn't be able to respect anyone for marrying you anyway. And God knows you’d hate your kids. Probably screw them up worse than your parents screwed you up, well-meaning as they were.

No, better to die a bastard surrounded by people who loathed you but are forced to say nice things about you because of the void you leave in the world after you’re gone. Either that, or reconcile yourself to a futile unhappy existence unpunctuated by the occasional satisfaction derived from hurting the people around you.

Especially the foul-weather friends.

In conclusion, we live in a cruel, superficial society, quick to judge and quick to punish.

About time you got with the programme.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Vale of Premchand

This is something I wrote for some people who are very dear to me. If you don't get it, that's only natural. I only hope the story's enough to keep you interested. 

In the land of Sophia, there exist many kingdoms. Each kingdom is beautiful and terrible in its own way and no one has travelled to them all. However, in the thick books in the dusty libraries, you will find mention of one kingdom in particular.
In that kingdom, there lived many mighty kings and queens, princes and princesses aplenty, courtiers, pages and many more people besides. That kingdom had a very interesting distinction, for in that kingdom, everyone was either a scholar or a warrior. Many were both. None were neither.
It so happened that one winter’s night, the moon loomed over this kingdom of scholars and warriors larger than it had ever appeared in centuries. The Warlock King gazed up at the sky; the reflection of the moon danced in his lantern-like eyes as he smiled a sharp-toothed smile.
The time had come to venture forth in search of the Vale of Premchand.
And so all the warriors and scholars filled their bags with food and drink, saddled their horses and other vehicles, hugged their loved ones and set off into the deep dark dusty desert that surrounded the kingdom.
The winds blew, the sand dunes shifted, every morning saw a new world form before their very eyes. And yet doggedly the group marched on.
Here the records include a list of those who sallied forth on that sacred pilgrimage which, for the purposes of the reader’s edification, has been reproduced here.
These then are the names that have reached us over the generations, living on in the time-pressed leaves of a sleeping chronicle:

At the head of the company strode forth the Warlock King with his steadfast gaze and fearsome grin. Master of arts both sacred and profane, his foes trembled when they stood before him. Yet only his fellow travelers knew that his fierce exterior hid a tender heart. ‘Twas he who had led the scholars and warriors into the deserts to fend off the dread snakes and scorpions and biting winds, ‘twas he who insisted on facing the same dangers as anyone else and ‘twas he who had trained the younger ones to stand their ground and slash and parry and delve deep in the words of those who went before them. He turned back often, always with an encouraging word or a bawdy joke to rouse the spirits of the company. And though none saw her, all knew of the Invisible Queen who rode by his side on his swift, coal-black tiger with flaming red eyes and blood red stripes.
With him came the High Priest, consort to the High Priestess. A learned man, his looks belied his experience. A firm jaw that aroused awe in the hearts of even the most cynical and eyes that sparkled and laughed graced the High Priest’s face. None dared to laugh at him for he was well-respected for his wisdom and for the massive time-worn sabre that he wore at his side as he rode upon his mighty elephant mount. Like the Warlock King, he was as fierce a warrior as he was learned as a scholar. When the company made camp, all came to him with their ailments. He healed wounds, cooled feverish brows and checked vomiting with an ease born of practice and for this, the High Priest was loved by all.
But the High Priest was incomplete without the High Priestess, she of the bright eyes and calming smile. She too had devoted her life to the study of magic tomes and had emerged an enchantress of note. But if her wits were sharp, so too was the poniard she wore by her side, ready to strike at all who stood in her way. She rode upon a massive swan blessed with the knowledge to distinguish between milk and water. Everyone in the kingdom would bow as she passed and mutter her name with reverence. It was said that what the High Priest could not heal, the High Priestess could and what she knew little about, the Priest knew much. Thus, the two travelled together, a perfect whole in two vessels.
A roar shatters the still air: the Knight approaches astride his sandy lion. His shaggy brows knit themselves together and a haughty smile plays across his lips. The hair on his face (that seems to have been hewn from a block of soft wood) bristles like the mane of the fierce jungle cat on which he rides. Yet the Knight was not feared but loved for he drew his sword not to maim but to aid. His face was known in all the kingdom and all those who had suffered injustice, all who had been crushed by the cruel wheel of fate cried out to him for solace. And for every cry he heard, the Knight applied his energy threefold: to right the wrong, to comfort the oppressed and to make them smile again. Children would mill around him because they thought of him as one of their own: the greatest compliment a child can give. But it was as a scholar of repute that the Knight was most well-known. For a strong hand may inspire some but a strong mind inspires all.
Then came the Druid upon his giraffe. A curious man with a manic gleam in his eyes, he had puzzled many a mind in his time. Dressed in a flowing robe and bearing a stubbly beard, the Druid seemed to see the world in colours unknown to mere mortals like you and me. Well-versed in the arts of war, he carried explosives and strange chemicals that blinded his foes or rendered them unconscious. The staff that he carried was not just for show; when swung hard enough, it caused immense damage. Yet off the battlefield, the Druid was a pleasant man with a quiet dignity about him. He had taken many an apprentice under his wing and was always quick with a joke. There were those who laughed at his giraffe, but only the truly wise knew that he was the only man in the world to have tamed and ridden that wondrous beast. How? No one knew save the Druid and when asked, he preferred to chortle into his beard than answer.
Hark! There comes the Traveller Queen! While none have dared to sail across all the seas or ford all the rivers or climb all the mountains or plumb the depths of every cave in the land of Sophia, if there was one who had come close it was her. Her brow bore the mark of all the wondrous sights she had seen and many crowded round to hear tell of her journeys in distant lands. A Queen of good cheer, she carried always in her heart a song which moved men to tears and yet reminded them of their childhoods, of the times when they had had not a care in the world. Her song reminded them of an older world, a world cherished then lost. But what tears sprung to the listener’s eyes would be hastily brushed away by the Traveller Queen’s boisterous laugh that brought a smile to every face and another laugh to every tongue. Those tongues also longed to savour the many treats and delicacies she had collected on her travels and which she carried in the saddlebags on the noble reindeer on which she rode. She carried strange sweets and fragrant breads, colourful fruits and vegetables and plenty more besides, not for herself but for those who had not been as fortunate as her, for those who had not seen what she had seen, heard what she had heard, eaten what she had eaten. But not a shred of meat would ever be found in her saddlebags.
And then there was... but what is this! The page crumbles away beneath my fingers! This book is too old and has been opened far too often. I see only fragments of this page. After much searching I managed to find mention of another Queen who rode to Premchand, the Mystery Queen. She is said to have been of a strong disposition, willing to stand by friends in battle even when all others had abandoned them. Her tongue was sharp and so was the tip of her spear. Because of her calm exterior there were those who misunderstood her but never did they underestimate her — at least, not for very long! As for her mount, I found mention of a warm but massive bear, but the text in which this was mentioned may have been wrong.
These then were the kings and queens who made their way to the Vale of Premchand, all those years ago. They were followed by the princes and princesses of the kingdom, who, through a strange twist of fate, were forever placed apart from the kings and queens. While the kings and queens were immortal, for some reason, this longevity had been denied to the princes and princesses through no fault of their own. Thus, while the high monarchy would endure forever, the princes and princesses would one day have to move on. In this respect, they resembled those who tramped on foot behind them, the courtiers and the pages.

The texts now talk of the princes and princesses, all of whom rode on splendid steeds:
Let us begin with the Amazon and the Sylph, sister princesses on this long and arduous quest. The Amazon was a warrior princess, shielded by impenetrable armour. Taller than most men and blessed with terrifying strength, challengers quaked before her might and savage beauty. She carried a scimitar still stained with the blood of the countless foes she had slain along the way. Her hair she kept tied up with the gleaming ivory bone of a murdered man. When left loose, however, her ebony locks softened her ferocity somewhat and made fools of men. Upon her breastplate, she bore the insignia of the moon.
The Sylph, her sister, was the greatest scholar amongst all the princes and princesses. She saw what others missed, heard what others didn’t and said what others found astounding. A kind and compassionate soul, she knew of every injury perpetrated in the kingdom and felt the pain of every wounded soul. She was the voice of the voiceless – a clarion-call that cut through the babble of a cruel and uncaring world. Her mind was matched only by her beauty and her grace. Her eyes were large and liquid. Those who stared into them for too long felt themselves lost and when she smiled, they felt as if some distant ray of sunshine had penetrated the deepest recesses of their hearts, where even they feared to go. High above her head, the Sylph’s pennant fluttered in the wind: a beating heart pierced through by a quill dripping violet ink.
Close behind her came the Mystic Prince. Dressed in flowing exotic robes, his eyes seemed to peer into the inner workings of a distant universe. A mysterious man who had shut himself up in a cave from his childhood, cut off from civilization from the time of his birth, the Mystic Prince saw the world as few others did, aided perhaps by his many herbs and powders which he carried from weird and far flung kingdoms. No man knew his true name; all anyone knew was that he carried with him a yellow scroll on which was inked the figure of a penguin. Look! He passes his hands through his hair and grits his teeth — a sure sign that he is about to attack! There flashes his dagger, hidden in the folds of his clothing, flashing out faster than the speed of sound, ripping through fabric, flesh and bone as if they were butter. The Mystic Prince leaves in his wake a battlefield soaked in blood. But he walks away with a beatific smile that comforts some and horrifies others.
The Marble Princess too graces the company. Her hair falls to her shoulders, her eyes pierce people’s souls. Forever impassive, forever composed, she is like a statue carved by the most skilled of sculptors. Hence her name: the Marble Princess. Her flute-like voice soothes the ear and lulls one into a state of false security. Ware the cutlass she hides behind her back! It cuts deep and it fells many. The heralds fashioned a crest for this princess: a scarlet rose with iron thorns.
These are not all the ranks of princes and princesses that dwelt in the kingdom of which we speak, but these are the only ones who made their way towards the Vale of Premchand, the rest being left behind to protect the citadel in the others’ absence.
There was one more who rode with the other royalty but who was, in name if not in nature, merely a courtier. Yet his experience and learning had earned him the right to ride a steed with the likes of the ones of whom we have spoken. A stranger from a different kingdom who had made his home in this one, enchanted by this magical land, already the bards sang of his exploits. A goddess waits and pines for him, some said. A war was won by him, said others. He is Time, he is everywhere, the sun and the moon are mere parts of him, said the childish. He shows great promise, said the wise. The Great Ruler rode along, not bearing any crest but calling out a battle-cry: “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika!”

We could here describe all the courtiers and pages who went with the royalty to the Vale of Premchand, but to do so would be a tedious task. Yet, unimportant they were not, for it was their sweat and blood and tears that tarred the roads that led to Premchand, in part, at least, if not in whole. Yet even amongst them if we were to look, we would find new faces, shining with promise and vigour, just waiting to emerge. The Minstrel King, the Gladiator-Scholar, the Haughty Queen, the Mistress of Shadows, the Ambassador, the Faery Queen, the Ancient King, the Rough-Edged Rogue, the Far-Sighted King, the Storm Rider, all these were there in the crowd just waiting to be named by their deeds that were yet to be done. Perhaps more texts speak of their deeds, perhaps one day their story too shall be told. 

But we can talk of one of the courtiers in detail, not because of any great merit in him but because the chronicler of the worm-eaten tome I consult seems to have had an affinity with him for he is given much space in these aged pages. He was the court jester.
A peculiar, gangly sort of person, more child than man. He had whiskers like a catfish and seemed fragile beyond words. Sometimes light and dancing, sometimes oafish and clumsy, he travelled with the company with one objective: to make people laugh. Never mind that humour was in no way a rare commodity in these parts; the jester would not rest until everyone was clutching their sides. Was it for this purpose that he was dressed in strange motley: like an onion with each layer a different colour? Who knew why he did anything he did? Perhaps he just felt cold. In fact, that would seem to be the case, for this jester was also a Fool: sometimes he would make people laugh with his behavior but he would not understand why. He didn’t always try to tickle, but everyone always laughed. This left him very bewildered which was not a new state of existence for him. He had been born simple and his despairing parents had abandoned him on the streets to raise himself where he had been found by the kings and queens and princes and princesses who found him good sport and gave him a place in their retinue: a place the Fool was only too glad to fill.
The Fool didn’t always amuse with his jokes; sometimes they only enraged those who heard them. But his buffoonery never ceased to draw a laugh from even the surliest face. Nowhere was this more abundantly clear than in the way in which he behaved around the queens and princesses.

While growing up, the Fool had had no interaction with girls of his own age; in fact, truth be told, he had been slightly afraid of them. Now however, surrounded as he was by beautiful, powerful, intelligent women of whom he had no prior experience, he found himself strangely drawn towards them. Consequently, he would run from one to another begging for a kind word or a scrap of affection like a dog without an owner. He fell in and out of love often and easily because it was new and strange to him. But while he was in it, he may as well have been trapped in the dread coils of the python.
Amongst the royalty, he was most enchanted by the sister princesses, the Amazon and the Sylph. He was almost mad enough to feel the same way of the High Priestess but checked himself because he held her and the High Priest in such high esteem. He loved them, feared them and, most crucially, respected them.
First he tried to approach the Sylph. But the horse upon which she sat was so big and frightening that the second it snorted he turned around and took to his heels. As he ran, he tripped over his own heels and was sent rolling in the dust. A hearty laugh reached his ears. He looked up to see the Amazon looking down at him with some amusement. Her hair was let down and gathered like a dark cloud about her shoulders. Enamoured by her beauty, the Fool tumbled in the dust once more. Once again, a snort of laughter was forced from the Amazon’s breast. Delighted, the Fool proceeded to debase himself in the dust until, bored by this repetitive display, the Amazon rode away. The Fool tried in vain to chase after her but found that he could not keep up. Looking down at his legs, he noticed for the first time that they were short and stubby and suddenly he felt ashamed. He flopped down in the dust and buried his face in his hands. When he opened his eyes, he saw the Sylph looking down at him curiously. He struggled to get to his feet, but fell back. Pity moved the Sylph to reach out a hand to help him up. The minute he touched her hand, the Fool forgot all about the Amazon and stared deep into the lake-like eyes of the Sylph and was lost. He tumbled in the dust, but the Sylph frowned, so he stopped. He stood there for a while with the Sylph comforting him and then she too started moving away. He followed mutely behind her until she noticed him. This drew from her a laugh. Transfixed by the way this laugh transformed her face, the Fool stared at her again until she laughed all the harder. The Fool was silent and confused, but he forced a smile to his face and walked away. One eye, however, he kept fixed upon the pennant of the Sylph.
Poor Fool! To him, these sisters were as exotic and magical as a dragon and a phoenix. To choose between them was impossible for, either way, one was to gain something unique and holy and one was also to lose the same. So he always chased after the one that seemed the more attainable. Alas! How was he to know that dragons and phoenixes can be caught only in fairy tales?

After a long and tortuous journey, the party finally reached the Vale of Premchand, an enchanted oasis in the middle of the desert filled with cooling trees and gentle birds, still lakes and fragrant blossoms. They were guided to their destination by the Old Ones: spirits of kings and queens of ages past who pointed towards the Vale of Premchand and led the travelers by the hand. Tired after their journey and at their destination at last, the kings and queens and princes and princesses and courtiers and pages all abandoned all rank and title to gambol together in the tall green grass. Exhausted by their revels, they fell down where they stood and slept their first uninterrupted sleep, not plagued by nightmares but blessed with dreams no less magical than the elven haunt in which they found themselves.
They stayed in the Vale of Premchand for four days. On the last night, desirous of entertainment, they built a roaring fire from the fallen twigs and branches that they found in the forest and invited the Fool to partake in their games. They plied him with drink, but the Fool, who could sometimes be cunning, poured the liquor down his sleeve and merely pretended that it addled his brains. To be fair, his brains were always at least a little addled.
Then, convinced that he was not his usual self, they begged him to entertain them. The Fool complied. First, he bowed to the Sylph, which drew a roar of laughter from all those assembled. Then, he launched into the tale of his birth and childhood, a tale which absolutely failed to hold the interest of his audience. Sensing this, the Fool changed tack and told a different story, a prophecy, in fact, for remember that, although he was a Fool, he was a scholar and a warrior just like the rest of them.

After the Fool has finished his story, his prophecy, call it what you will, the sun will rise over the Vale of Premchand for the last time. The travelers will rouse themselves and rub the sleep from their eyes, saddle their mounts and leave with many a backwards glance at the shady glen they leave behind. The minute they reach the edges of the desert, the Warlock King will look back at the princes and princesses following him and realize that they have become kings and queens in their own right. He will look to his left and right at his fellow kings and queens and they will all nod and turn their mounts in the opposite direction, away from the citadel. They will venture out into the unknown, seeking that which the Old Ones have found because now, it is their turn to be the Old Ones.
The friends they leave behind will weep for a day and then, comforting and consoling each other and themselves, will select new roles. There will be a new general, a new King (or perhaps she will be a Queen) to lead them all back to the kingdom that they left. And once they return, they will reign for years and years and years and for a while there will be peace. But once again, the time will come when the massive moon shall rise and the new Queen (or King) shall gaze up at the sky and decide that it is time again to make towards the Vale of Premchand.
And once again the journey will be made and once again the celebrations will gladden their hearts and once again it will be time to leave. Except this time, when the new kings and queens make their way in pursuit of their predecessors, those who are now the courtiers and pages shall turn around and what will they see?
They will see a sea of people, larger than ever before. But no faces will be seen in this crowd. Everyone will seem to be the same, no more scholars, no more warriors. The courtiers and pages will try to get to know them but they will be doomed to fail. They will bemoan the state of affairs but they will be the only ones, for all across Sophia the cry will be heard that democracy has come to the kingdom at last. And perhaps that will be true, but it will not change the fact that all the old ways will fade away and there will never again be kings and queens and princes and princesses like the Warlock King, the High Priest, the High Priestess, the Knight, the Druid, the Traveller Queen, the Mystery Queen, the Amazon, the Sylph, the Mystic Prince, the Marble Princess or the Great Ruler. But they will remember their exploits and pilgrimages and talk about them for as long as they live and, much as it will sadden them, it will also comfort them. They will feel proud to know that they were the last to have lived in such glorious times.
But the Vale of Premchand will be lost forever.

These are the words of the Fool.