Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Fallujah

Some days ago I faced an interesting, and somewhat distressing, realisation.

I was looking for media – movies, novels, graphic novels, anything at all – from the Iraqi perspective. And I found nothing. Zero. Nothing at all.

The invasion of Iraq must rank as the single greatest war crime of the entire post-Second World War era. It was an incredibly cynical, evil aggression by the Imperialist States of Amerikastan and its vassals on a totally defenceless and blameless country on the other side of the world. It was worse than Vietnam or Korea, which at least had the excuse of “great power politics”. Iraq was simply Amerikastani bullying, an attempt to prove might was right, and the first step to rolling across all of Asia, which was to become a source of raw materials and labour for, and a captive market for the products of, the Amerikastani Empire.

Only, of course, it did not turn out that way.

It did not turn out that way because of one thing, and that was the ordinary Iraqi human, and his bloody-minded determination not to give up.

If there is one person I could call the Human of the 21st Century, it is the ordinary Iraqi resistance fighter. With his government overthrown, his country occupied and in ruins, barely armed, hardly trained, with little or no leadership, faced with the most overarmed, overhyped, destructive military the world has ever seen, knowing that he faced nothing but torture or death, he fought the Amerikastani Empire to a standstill, and then forced it into defeat. But for him, after Iraq, Iran would have been invaded, and then the triumphant Amerikastani Empire would have marched on Syria. And then North Korea would have been the next country to be attacked, before Pyongyang could acquire the nuclear arsenal that it now has to protect itself. And once those had been colonised, China and Russia would have been boxed in, and Amerikastan would have been in a position to demand they surrender or be annihilated.

Armed with light mortars, RPG 7 rocket launchers, and AK series rifles dating back to the Iran Iraq war, with cheap improvised landmines and booby traps, hunted by planes and drones overhead, threatened by traitors and collaborators in his own cities, faced with the possibility that his wife or sweetheart, mother or children, would be arrested, maimed, raped, or murdered by sadistic occupation troops, he fought on. His blood and courage against their steel and electronics and concrete walls, their money and propaganda services.

The Amerikastani invader had it all planned out. Iraq was to be colonised. It was to be demilitarised, its army reduced to a light border protection force. Its economy was to be handed over to Wall Street. Even its black-white-red-green flag was to be replaced with one in blue and white, deliberately designed to be similar to that of the illegitimate zionazi pseudostate in Occupied Palestine. The invader was to permanently garrison Iraq, its tanks crushing millennia-old temples to dust under their tracks, its occupation troops guaranteed immunity from Iraqi law no matter what crimes they might commit. And all this was to be paid for by the Iraqis themselves.

It seemed hardly an equal match.

It was not an equal match. In one of the most remarkable feats of arms ever, in the teeth of ridicule about being a “dead ender” or a “terrorist”, or, most ironically, an “anti-Iraq force”, he won.

And I wanted his story.

I did not find it.

Oh, I found films. I found reviews of novels. I found graphic novels aplenty. There was only one problem with all of them.

Not one of them was from the Iraqi perspective. All, without exception, existed to hammer home one single, endlessly repeated message:

Iraq was an American Tragedy. The Iraqis, such as there were any, existed only for one single purpose: to serve as the background for the American Hero/ine’s life. If they had any kind of major role (as in the graphic novel Sheriff Of Babylon), they were on the “good” side – collaborators and stooges of the Amerikastani occupation. Any Iraqi who fought that occupation was obviously evil. There was no reason to ask why they were evil – they so obviously were that there was no need to prove it.

Obviously, this was the polar opposite of what I was looking for. This was a cultural as well as a literal imperialism, which denied the victimised the right to their own tragedy.

It was at that point that I was given a link to David Rovic’s song Fallujah. One listen and I was in love with it for life.

Here it is, and before you go further, you should listen to it.




As I said, I fell in love with this song. One listen and I knew immediately that this was what I’d been looking for, and that I had to provide visual images to go with it.

My first idea was to draw cartoons to go with the song, but that was not enough. A few seconds’ more thought and I knew what I had to do.

I would paint scenes from the song. And all at once I knew exactly what I would paint, and how.

Before I post the paintings themselves, let me explain something about my self-imposed rules for painting, which are totally different from my rules for cartooning.

In my cartoons, I draw first in pencil, with reference photos, keeping in mind such things as perspective and a semi-realistic style. I use pencil, rubber, then ink, rulers, and finally software to correct, enhance, colour, and anything else I can think of. In paintings, I do nothing like that.

My rules for painting are as follows:

First: Go for mood, not realism. Mood and emotion are what I’m looking for, not the angle of a building or the relative size of a hand.

Second: Do not use any kind of pencil outline or other aid. Paint directly on whatever you are using (in this case, paper) with whatever medium you choose (in my case these days, acrylics). Your only instrument is the brush. Any corrections you need to make will be achieved by painting over, not by erasure or digital manipulation.

Third: The only kind of software manipulation permissible is to crop out ragged margins of paper. That is all.

Yes, these rules make things a lot more difficult, but they also impose a discipline that prevents me from wandering off into frivolities like irrelevant background buildings or the details of vehicles, foot positions, and so on, which is something I spend a lot of time on in cartoons. I stick to my main point, which is transmitting emotions. Whether I am painting a nude or a war scene makes no difference.

Also, it’s a good excuse, because I am not really a very good painter. I find painting intellectually satisfying, emotionally relaxing, and validating my creative instincts, but I am not going to fool myself: I am a pretty bad painter.

At this point that does not matter at all.

So, before we get to the actual paintings, they are all painted on plain white children’s art paper with acrylic paint. Instruments used: cotton swabs and paintbrushes. Copyright B Purkayastha 2018, naturally.

Before each image, I will write the portion of the lyrics of David Rovics’ Fallujah they represent (the images are not necessarily from Fallujah; the first two are of Baghdad).

All I wanted were good things
Land and liberty
And all the sorts of things we learned
At the university



I'm not a fan of dictatorships
I'd rather say live and let live
But for those who would threaten my family
There's nothing I won't give



When you break down the doors of my neighbours
When you say that might makes right
When you say you're looking for terrorists
In their bedroom late at night



When you torture my brother at gunpoint
On his head a canvas sack
All I can say to you, soldier
Is you'd best watch your back



When you come with your tanks on our city streets
And you say these streets are yours
When you say you'll rebuild us with bombers
And oil tankers on our shores



When you have gunned down my child in Fallujah
You needn't wonder why
I look at you through the blades of your 'copter and say...





... It's a good day to die.



I will fight for my country
I'll defend this land
I will stare at the whites of your soldiers' eyes

With this Kalashnikov in my hand
With this Kalashnikov in my hand.




All thanks are, of course, owed to David Rovics, not me.

This is what I wrote elsewhere:


“We’ll kill you if you raise your head,” these foreign ‘liberators’ said
“We’ll raise a firestorm if you dare strike a spark.
The smoke that’s carried on the breeze from the Tigris to the Euphrates

Will signal the final destruction of the cities of Iraq.”

And resistance was their answer.



It's as simple as that.

Monday, 8 January 2018

Cyclops


Every night she waited in the cave, waiting for the Cyclops to come and get her.

She could hear him stamping around the outside of the cave, making the floor shake with his footsteps, the walls vibrating with his weight. She could smell him, too, the mixture of anger and alcohol and frustration and despair. She had a name for that smell.

She called it gunpowder. It only needed a spark to explode.

Her cave was small and dark and lonely, and every day it grew smaller and lonelier and darker still. The smaller it was, the safer it was, she thought. There was always a chance that the Cyclops would not notice it.

Though, of course, he would. Each night, she knew that this was the night he would.

Every night the Cyclops stamped around, making things creak and jostle, and then he would make his way heavily over to the bed, and she waited, knowing that on his way to the bed he would turn aside and come to her, that he would come and get her tonight. Then he would strip her, first of her clothes, then of her skin, and then of her flesh and bone, all while she screamed, knowing what was happening to her, but nobody else would hear. Every night she knew that tonight it would happen. Surely it would happen tonight.

But he never did.

And that was the worst torture. Because, of course, she knew she deserved whatever was going to happen to her. She deserved it, because he had told her, over and over, that she deserved it. He would not do this to her unless she deserved it, and therefore of course she deserved it.

And every night that he did not punish her merely increased the guilt she bore, and, therefore, the measure of her punishment.

Crouching in her corner of the cave, she trembles, waiting. Tonight he did not come. Tomorrow, surely, he will come. Her heart measures her fear with every beat.

Tomorrow night, tonight. But she is afraid that he never will. That this is her punishment.

And, sometimes, worst of all, she wonders if he is real.

She wants to beg him to come.


Copyright B Purkayastha 2018


[Image edited from Source]

Monday, 1 January 2018

Hooked

Neeraj comes back from work hungry and irritated, kicks off his shoes and slumps down in front of the computer, ignoring his wife’s questions, ignoring her tales of what happened during the day and what the children did at school.

“Is something wrong?” She fusses around him, like a buzzing dragonfly, brightly coloured and vapid as the insect, and he doesn’t even look at her.

“The usual,” he snarls eventually. “I’m supposed to do everything at work. If it goes all right, then it’s all their credit. If something goes wrong, then I’m to blame.”

“Yes,” Brinda, his wife, says. “You work too hard and they don’t give you the appreciation.” She’s said it so many times over the years that it’s become a soothing incantation. She brings him tea, sweet and very milky, the way he likes it. “Isn’t your game on tonight?” she asks as he sips at the pale brown fluid.

He perks up at the mention of the game. He’d been looking forward to it all week, but the day at the office had driven it from his mind. “Right. You were saying about the boys?”

“No, it’s fine, they’re at their tuitions.” She and the boys know well enough to stay out of his way on a game night. “They asked if they can watch the game on television.”

“Yes, why not.” Neeraj suddenly feels good, even without the neuroweb stimulation. “We’re going to win big. We’ll slaughter them. Why shouldn’t the boys watch.” He walks over to the cupboard inset into the wall and gets the neuroweb headset. “Next year, hopefully I’ll get the promotion and then we can web all of you.”

He’d been saying this for years as well, and had already got two promotions, but the money was always used for something else, holidays and a larger television, and of course the payments for the flat. Even so, Brinda never failed to go slightly white at the thought of being webbed. He knew she was terrified at the thought, and grinned with pleasure.

“Well?” he demanded, holding up the black hooded helmet of the neuroweb headset, with its dangling wires, its opaque visor and the two rolls of material like doughnuts over the ears. “Wouldn’t you like that?”

“Yes, yes,” she says, her head bobbing like a doll’s. “But do the boys first, they’ve been asking for it for ever so long.”

“Hmm.” He grins again. “All right, we’ll see. Shouldn’t you be getting dinner? I want to eat before the game starts.”

With a sigh of relief, she disappears towards the kitchen. Neeraj turns to the computer, attaching the neuroweb headset to the grey and white plastic cube that fits on the CPU. It’s Chinese, and it’s unpatriotic to buy Chinese, but everyone does that because the Chinese ones are the best, fastest and cheapest on the market. Only nobody admits it.

The headset lights up, green and red dots coming on over the temples, and he slips it on to check the connections, the little metal tabs in the inner lining connecting to the micro-electrodes implanted in his skull. Unconsciously, he begins to hum.

There’s still some time to wait, so he goes online and trolls liberals, threatening them with rape and death and telling them they’d all better go to Pakistan. Sitting back with a happy sigh, he hums some more.

He feels great. He feels alive. It’s the best feeling in the world.

***************************************************

Satwant Singh runs in to bowl, his boots pounding the grass, the floodlights hot on his face. The ball is sweat-slick in his hand, seated between his fingers gripping the seam. The batsman, in the South African green and yellow, is peripheral to his attention. His attention is fixed on where he intends to pitch it, on line with the leg stump, the ball intended to swing towards the off. With luck he can induce a snick to the wicket keeper.

His left arm goes up, he comes down on his right boot, his right arm swinging, and the ball streaks away over the pitch towards the batsman. He pitches it where he wanted, and the ball swings, but not enough. The batsman doesn’t go for the shot, just blocks it, and the ball drops to the pitch. Satwant bends to pick it up on his follow-through. Dot ball, no runs scored, a little victory in itself. The crowd roars.

Neeraj sighs happily, feeling the sweat trickle down Satwant’s back as he goes back to the start of his run up. Satwant flexes his shoulders, and Neeraj feels the muscles bulging under his skin, feels the hot night air in his lungs, the knowledge that he’s a hero. Neeraj drinks it all down like wine.

The over ends, and Neeraj waits to see if the bowler will be changed. Sekhar has already bowled five overs on the trot without a single wicket, and Neeraj wants to be sure before switching to his neuroweb channel. Briefly, he becomes the wicket keeper instead, and his hands suddenly become heavy with the two pairs of gloves, and his legs with the wicket keeping pads. He feels himself walk up to the stumps, take up his stance. It’s Sekhar again, and Neeraj knows the commentary will criticise persisting with him. Still, he changes over once more.

An advert floats up in the corner of his vision, a fish with rippling fins, painted in all the colours of the rainbow and then some. A fabric company? Who cares, it’s just an irritant. and people who have paid for neuroweb implants shouldn’t have to be subject to this kind of thing. Neeraj blinks, shakes his head, and the fish is gone.

Sekhar is very tall, with a loose-swinging gait, much taller than Neeraj, and the great height is a little disorienting. When he follows through his head twists round in a way that makes his long hair flap in his face, and that is why Neeraj even misses the moment at which his first ball sneaks between the batsman’s bat and right pad and clips the leg-side bail.

Pandemonium. Teammates piled on Sekhar, someone’s throat – Sekhar’s or Neeraj’s own? – hoarse with screaming. There will be fortunes made in the bookies’ illegal rackets at this moment, but right now there’s the grass under Sekhar’s knees, the hugs of his teammates, and the joy of knowing that the same commentators who were condemning him a moment ago will be praising him now. What is a bet with a bookie worth, compared to this?

Later. Neeraj does not know how much later. India is batting now, and the match is headed for the kind of tense finish that make people scream with tension and clench their fists over their mouths. Neeraj has shifted many times by now, back and forth, between Indian players of course. The entire Indian team is neurowebbed, that is a condition of their contract with the cricket control board, so he can choose whoever he wants to be. Once or twice he has had a vague impulse to switch to a South African player’s web, just for a moment, but he can’t. The South African team has refused neurowebbing, and threatened to cancel all cricket ties if the Indian cricket control board insists. Neeraj can’t understand this. Don’t the South Africans – and the Australians, and the English, the New Zealanders, and the remnants of the West Indies – want their players to connect to their fans directly? Don’t they understand how popular they would be?

But now, right now, it’s the last over, three balls to go, seven runs to get, two wickets left. Not impossible, not at all, but two balls earlier there had been seven runs to get, also, and three wickets left. He’s Satwant again, along with twenty million others, with the wicket keeper, Jahangir, at the other end. The bat is heavy and solid in his hands as the South African fast bowler, a tiny figure in the distance, starts on his bowling run.

And here comes the ball. It’s just short, rising to mid-chest level, and he swings at it, pivoting on his leg, feels the satisfying crack of the wood of the bat striking the ball, and the white orb streaks away as Jahangir races down the pitch towards him, screaming for a run. Satwant runs, Neeraj runs with him, the far crease coming up, he slides his bat forward enough to touch the crease, and the ball is still rolling away, two fielders after it as Jahangir is running back for another. They cross, they’re across, and the fielders are just cutting off the ball short of the boundary. The crowd is on its feet shrieking, and Satwant feels their exultation, and he turns and goes back for the third run, yelling at Jahangir to move, move, go for it now.

He doesn’t see what happens, but the sudden silence of the crowd tells him what he needs to know. Jahangir is on his face by the far crease, picking himself up, and the South African wicket keeper isn’t even bothering to celebrate.

One ball to go, five runs to get, and he’s at the far end while Sekhar, the worst batsman on the team and hence tail end Charlie, will just lose the match for everyone. Neeraj doesn’t even bother to switch. The bitter anger in his mouth might be either Satwant’s or his own.

***************************************************

The next day in the office he’s furious. “It was that bloody Muslim,” he rages. “That Jahangir. He deliberately got run out so that we’d lose. Never trust a Muslim. We should never have taken one on the team.”

“That’s not fair,” Dhruv says mildly. He’s short, young, fair, and the newest one in the office. Neeraj has heard the women refer to him as “cute”. He hates Dhruv. “He took three catches,” Dhruv says. “And it wasn’t he who called for that last run, it was Satwant. It was a suicidal run anyway. And Jahangir did dive as hard as he could for the crease.”

Neeraj has seen the television replays, so he can’t deny this. But it’s still intolerable to be countered by this arrant pipsqueak. “I’ll bet he was being Jahangir on the neuroweb,” he mutters, after Dhruv has gone. “He’s a closet Muslim-lover, mark my words.”

Amitava, the nearest thing to a friend he has in the office, slaps his back. “Cheer up. Didn’t you get the latest bit of news?”

“What news?”

“They’re neurowebbing soldiers. It’s still experimental, but it’s supposed to be made available to the general public from today. It’ll increase patriotism.”

It’s impossible to tell if Amitava is being ironic, and it doesn’t matter anyway. Neeraj is seized by the idea. “Is that so? Really? Which channel?”

“All you have to do is go on the web, and you’ll be told,” Amitava says. He glances pointedly at his watch. Amitava is notionally Neeraj’s supervisor, and is supposed to make sure the team’s work gets done. “Why don’t you check it out this evening? We have work to do.”

Before evening, Neeraj has already got confirmation from at least three other people. All of them are excited. “See,” Girish says over lunch. Girish is fat and greasy and smells of sweat, but he’s supposed to be a marketing genius. “See, I always wanted to join up, but my parents wouldn’t even let me enlist in the NCC. And the libtards jeer when I support the army and want to know how many years I served. We need to show them.”

“It should be compulsory for everyone to watch,” Satish puts in. “Anyone who’s on the neuroweb who doesn’t watch is a traitor.”

There’s a general consensus on this. “At least in this office,” Neeraj says. “Every single damned person had better watch, or else.”

“Right. We’re all neurowebbed, aren’t we? Is there anyone who isn’t webbed?”

“These days,” Neeraj says, “anyone who doesn’t get webbed the moment he can afford it can only be a traitor, or something worse.” He glances at Dhruv, who’s on the other side of the room – not too much, just enough to make the point.

“You know my cousin is a major in the army?” Satish says. He leans forward conspiratorially, and whispers, though who he’s trying to keep his words from is a mystery. “He says the army intelligence is investigating a lot of lefties. You’d be amazed, he says, how many are in the pay of China. No evidence, of course, but the signs are all there.”

“Well, we’ll know now,” Neeraj replies. “We don’t need evidence, when the facts are clear in front of our eyes.”

***************************************************

Neeraj crouches with the soldier behind a tree, listening to the crack of bullets smacking into the trunk. The sound of firing ahead rises, and he tenses as something flutters in his peripheral vision. But it’s only a twig, severed by a bullet, falling.

The soldier’s name is Prashant, and he’s a lieutenant. He’s the only one of the unit who’s webbed, so Neeraj can’t switch to another view, though he’d have liked to. He’s been stuck behind this tree for several minutes now.

Prashant is young, not long since he was commissioned, and excited. This is his first operation. If he can eliminate the militants in the village, he’ll get noticed, and he badly wants to get noticed. After all, the nation is watching on neuroweb, is with him at this moment, and what he does will be felt by them all. He turns, checking over his shoulder at the troops of the platoon, and Neeraj turns with him. The soldiers are spreading out, as ordered, to surround the building ahead to ensure that nobody inside gets away.

Up ahead there’s the house, built on a steep slope, thick stone walls surmounted by wood. It’s not going to be easy for the soldiers to surround the place without being fired on from the upper windows and the roof, and Prashant hesitates a moment, wondering whether to call for backup and reinforcement, before he decides that this would take too much time and let the terrorists escape. Neeraj cheers aloud as the young officer signals the troops on his right flank forward. This is better than a movie. This is life, instead of sitting in an office.

Then there is heavy firing from the right, so quick and heavy that individual shots merge into a continuous burst of noise, and there are suddenly no longer any bullets striking the trees in front of Prashant. He acts on the impulse of the moment, throwing himself forward as he screams out an order for a frontal charge.

Neeraj sees out of Prashant’s eyes the house, jerking and bouncing as he runs towards it, the AK in his hands shuddering as he squeezes off a burst, the blood roaring in his veins as he runs. Neeraj cheers, screaming full-voiced, and he’s at the wall, Prashant is right under the wall, fumbling in his pouch for a grenade. And suddenly there’s someone jumping out from behind the corner. The glimpse of a pale Kashmiri face, a hooked nose and black beard, a raised gun, and something strikes Prashant, like a hard punch in the chest. He falls over backward, the sky and trees reeling over him. There’s a metallic taste in his mouth, and every

thing

goes

black.


***************************************************

The men are crouched on a cracked concrete floor, heads together. One of them hands out crudely made pistols. “Don’t use these unless you have to,” he whispers. “Those are our real weapons.”

Everyone glances at the petrol bombs lined up against the wall. It’s a narrow room, and the bombs are almost within reach. They’re simply Molotov cocktails, beer bottles with rags stuffed into the necks.

“Got it?” the leader whispers. His name is Rajesh. “We go in, hit the bastards, throw bombs on their houses. If they come out, use the iron rods and swords. Guns only if any of them have anything to shoot at us with.”

“Right,” the others whisper. The iron rods and swords are piled against the far wall. “What about the police?” one says.

“The police? The police won’t bother us. The Muslims have to be taught a lesson they won’t forget, and the police are on our side.”

They nod, rise and pick up their weapons. Neeraj, at his neuroweb headset, rises with them. His throat and chest are filled with the exultation of vengeance. For the death of Prashant, for the loss of the cricket match, for the daily troubles in the office. For his stupid wife and for the money he can never save.

Neeraj has never felt so alive before.

Tonight, someone will pay.



Copyright B Purkayastha 2018