May 9, 2017

Fiction by Sunil Sharma: "Burn the Library"

Mumbai-based, Sunil Sharma is a widely-published Indian critic, poet, literary interviewer, editor, translator, essayist, freelance journalist and fiction writer. He has already published 14 books: four collections of poetry, two of short fiction, one novel, one a critical study of the novel and co-edited six anthologies on prose, poetry and criticism. His six short stories and the novel Minotaur were earlier prescribed for the undergraduate classes under the Post-colonial Studies, Clayton University, Georgia, USA. He is a recipient of the UK-based Destiny Poets’ inaugural Poet of the Year award---2012. Another milestone is that his poems were published in the prestigious UN project: Happiness: The Delight-Tree: An Anthology of Contemporary International Poetry, in the year 2015.

Sunil edits the English section of the monthly bilingual journal Setu published from Pittsburgh, USA:
 http://www.setumag.com/p/setu-home.html

For more details, please visit the blog:
http://www.drsunilsharma.blogspot.in/





Burn the library
---Sunil Sharma
In the year 2071, the world being fully automatic and robotic, the most developed nation---rebranded Version XX LX as per the  compliance with the stringent norms of the tech manual called T-M Galaxy for such nations--- was concerned with the detection of a new threat---a viral app called Advanced Homer (AH) with a lethal aim: Altering consciousness about culture!
Culture---creativity---reality! If reality sucks, change it. Praxis.
The disruptive app was promoting, among other things, fine writing, Oops!, high-grade content among the highly-regulated and regimented consumers obsessed with high-tech gadgets and their latest versions in a market glutted with such products that became redundant swiftly and were then dumped for the newer brands, in an endless chase of series; with virtual reality; endemic cyber navigation as against real-time interaction. Porn; food- porn, selfies and self-pictures were the most common habits.
Fine writing can perform transformative tasks easily, AH claimed.
That was too much. Too sudden.
The AH had appeared stealthily and become a grave threat to the TS ( Total System) in few hours by posing a challenge to the fundamental assumptions that governed a disparate country of Cyborgs and few lesser-evolved species.
The TS was the oligarchy controlling the TN Empire across the globe. The TS through mass and social media, manipulated the thought patterns, and finally, cognition process, of the zombies called citizens of what the AH preferred to dub as the Republic of New Barbarians (RNB).
The TS was real worried.
Catch the AH!
That was the command by the High Priest (HP), voice cold, metallic, gravelly mixed together in a terrible bass. HP was the brain of the TS and ruthless. Few guys could make to that position during trials---and survive for few months. Those who did were anointed as the HP by the clique within the clique of the TS and given absolute power with a rider: Beware of the Golden Bough!
Human, device or idea--- anything radical was suspect in the eyes of the HP. Hence, the decree. It meant: Eliminate the source of trouble.
It was not easy---catching the elusive AH.
The creator/innovator was invisible to the cops and the top surveillance machines. But its message was not: Writing is Imagination! Imagination---reality. Both change each other dynamically.
That was incendiary incitement; an open rebellion: change, dynamic interface, this call for action.
Kill the imagination!
That was the second command by the HP to the military and other law-enforcing bodies eager for suppressing any mutiny.
But how?
How to catch a shadow?
The Council met one afternoon, in emergency, pondered the problem but could not find the right solution to neutralize the enemy within.
Then the strategic planner---a young PhD from the best Ivy-league University; a typical  bespectacled and hairy nerd buried in computer manuals and statistics and dry logic---said, in a surprisingly clear and simple sentence: Destroy the Library!
What!!!
The gasp was universal and audible among the humanoids dressed up in chic casuals like the post-industrial, technocrat-entrepreneur-controller class, looking innocuous and every day, despite being an elite force; sitting erect, eyes alert, mouths grim, in the controlled environs of the glass office smelling of powerful antiseptic lotion and body- perfume, amid tall potted palms and coconut trees, while the background screen produced an wide-angle view of tranquil ocean and ducts emitted an imitation of ocean- breeze that cooled the interiors of the most safe building, post-modern; futuristic; a warren of many offices, bunkers and towers, evoking deliberately a sense of dystopia among the viewers.
---When the Library of Alexandria could be destroyed in the ancient world, why not the same sacking and burning can be replicated in the new millennium?
Hmm. Everybody agreed with the logic of the strategic planner, an overpaid guy whom many hated for his cold analytical skills and razor-sharp brain and infinite memory that mimicked the computer memory.
No storage of tablets in that vast behemoth of a mega structure. No imagination! No threat.
Burn down the library!
That was the chorus. The final verdict by the Wise of the State.
The HP was pleased. He signed the executive orders.
The state militia did that---by putting the grand old building spread over seven floors on fire in the dead of night. It burned down nearby museum and other buildings in a hungry fire and was controlled after five days. The Council blamed the fringe group, the Arsonists, for this shameful act targeting the very source of data, facts and information. Knowledge was taboo. Only information was used because officially it was decreed that world consists of cold statics, data, binaries and logarithms only. Rest was fiction. Only info, mere series of numbers, claims, formulas, codes and programmes---a maze that was created by and for specialists only---the army of the high-skilled workers performing special tasks.
But the fire could not kill the AH. S/he/it remained both invisible and invincible!
A real threat now---with tweets; posts and infiltration messaging modes developed by the counter-espionage agencies, probably available to EH as well.
Was EH a hacker?
A Cyber-Age Guru (C-A-G)?
Or, an old philosopher, a rare species, now totally extinct?
Or, most dreadfully to the System, a mutation of all the three?
A new avatar of a highly intelligent species exiled earlier by the TS from their republic?
Burn, burn. You can destroy places, tablets but not creative imagination, a minority of creatives; the dissidents, the subversives!
That was the vintage AH! Post-arson.
The Council took up the challenge. Their hegemony was being defied by an anonymous being.
Kill individual imagination. Burn all the books. Each home library.
That is how the Great Cleansing was launched. The squads visited sterile homes and destroyed tablets, smart phones, e-readers and screens. They destroyed technologies of public communications but the messages kept on popping up---in most unexpected places.
Once, during the public celebrations of the Founding Day of the Version XX LX, the country was flooded with a mysterious message on their computers:
RNB: To detox, embrace humanism and re-discover life and beauty. Or, die as morons.
The message continued to flash till it got noticed by the counter-espionage division and removed by jamming and shut-down of the servers for a day.
The damage was done.
The HP was furious.
Find and eliminate the threat within 24 hours!
The cyber cops announced awards for the evasive AH. All clues led to false starts and cul-de-sacs. The cops even arrested a toddler! Shame-faced, they had to release the bawling baby in few seconds to its nervous parents.
The AH was a step ahead---like a typical serial killer or a stalker.
Then the next message got delivered to the chief of the cops:
Avant-garde, in-itself, a reward! Certain things resist monetization. WR (Writing of Resistance), one of them. WR will ultimately prevail---and dismantle the apparatus.
The chief was hopping mad.
---This guy-device is challenging all our sacred values. Go find it.
They consulted the strategic planner.
---OK. Incorporate such writing. Radical of a generation becomes cliché for the next generation. WR is to be normalized by our writers.
That gave some relief to the monitoring agencies. Incorporate the chic; make it banal!
The mass-produced messages credited to AH were bought online and soon, sure enough, became ineffective due to their ubiquity. Passé.
The chief breathed easy. Even the HP relaxed. The Golden Bough! Threat had loomed and passed over.
They were wrong.


II
A new message arrived soon on the public- square giant screens:
No alternative to humanism! Wake up, you philistines. You are dead.
The HP was furious. He commanded: Make the philistine sexy.
The ad agency of the state started doing that. They made ads extolling the virtue of consumption. They made it as the public mission: Buy, use and discard. Buy, use and discard.
Food industry caught on to the hint. Then TV was hired. Content was produced on channels that talked of food porn only.
New Philistine! Are you the New Philistine (NP)?
The ads asked. And answered: If you care for food, self-image, partying and vacationing abroad, with family and friends, you are the NP. Yes. A caring and nurturing guy or gal. Thinking of you and your family.
They splashed ads and made such couples sexy: Anorexic couples with two kids splashing in the sea or swinging on hammocks or driving down on a mountain road and eating, drinking and shopping.
One ad showed entire family in extreme ecstasy before objects---vehicles, phones, gadgets and clothes. It is nirvana! Claimed the multi-frame ad shot in soft light in multiple locales.
Consumerism unchecked. New religion.
The markets were encouraged to give discounts and more liberal EMIs.
Life, short. Enjoy. That was the official policy.
The citizens enjoyed the extended happy hours everywhere. They loved spending.
And forgot to read and write serious stuff.
Age of the New Philistine was here to stay.
The NPs forgot the AH in their daily cycles of pure consumption. Only spending gave them a high.
And violence and voyeurism.
The video games, films, fiction, TV and pop culture showed violence, cruelty, hatred, revenge, dystopia, subjugation of women, murder of elderly and sick, isolation and madness, as normal traits. In fact, virtues to be cultivated. These were used as soft drug to dull the brains of the hyperactive denizens of the country heading towards an ideal centre of excellence that needed no more humans---except a minority of technocrats---for running it. Auto- pilot was the buzz word.
The frenzied activities diverted the popular attention and revived the credo: the world is a jungle; each on their own for survival.
Things were slowly back to normal. The authorities were lulled into complacence.
Everybody breathed easy. Threat was over.
So it seemed, until…
After a long silence, came this chilling message:
Beware RNB: You are being duped. Come out of your mental haze and find out the real joys of living. Discover humanism.
It jolted the Council and the HP. The latter formed a super- elite band of trekkers to hunt down the guy-device and smash the thing. The commandos went after the job methodically. More chips were inserted into their controlled brains by the surgery department. They could do things others failed to do on the basis of their enhanced capacities. They mimicked super computers with a difference---they were part human.
After doing research and observing the trail of the messages and thought patterns---for example, earlier messages were terse and one- liners using abbreviations and dashes, replaced by longer texts---they could locate the signals to a remote cabin in the deep woods on a mountain almost unreachable. They were air- lifted and dropped five kilometers away from the cabin on a moonless night. They slipped in easily, blending with darkness and stormed the derelict cabin---only to find an old veteran mumbling like an idiot there. The super elite felt like fools. They were about to abort the Op Troy, when the commander saw a glowing screen in the back of the log room of the cabin. It was blinking. As they approached the tablet, laser guns drawn, the message popped up, illuminating the room with a strong blue light:
Welcome!
You can destroy libraries but not the library stored in mind. You can destroy machines and androids but not the idea. Ideas have a unique capacity to travel. Mind-to-mind travel across time and space. These are viruses that can never be conquered by any state. Humanism is one such eternal idea. It has got a material form now. Force can never wipe it out or delete. It restores autonomy, agency and critical intelligence and liberates you from the thrall of the rulers. Ignore this idea at your peril.
By the time you finish it reading, the idea of humanism would have travelled---infected? –--globally and pollinated a tiny corner of the chips implanted by the RNB into the brains of the drugged folks; it travels through an advanced system of counter communications developed by the Underground---no, we are not hackers. We are hard-core visionaries trying to re-claim lost heritage for co-humans---as software called TT or Telepathic Transportation. It uses low frequencies and higher version of Near Field Communication for entering the chips and altering thresholds of cognition and heightening levels of total recall. The germ of humanism will sprout fast and smash your totalitarian system of machine-beings controlling the RNB.
We are the future---the counter culture of Homeric brigade, a minority now but expected to become mainstream. Fine writing---and WR---is ways of modifying reality---and ultimate revolution gained via praxis, a blend of humanistic values and actions. Not greed and amnesia being practiced in the RNB by the media and ruling elites.
Good bye, custodians of this oppressive regime!
You will not be able to catch the virus. It will generate, re-generate, re-formulate, re-configure, be re-born in new shapes and will continue to resonate with coming gens.
Wake up!
Find out authenticity. Life. Real life beyond the wired universe.
Think---alternatively. Subdue the dominant of technology. It is not our master anyway.
Go human.
Re-think culture.
Bye, bye!
The tablet self-destructs in seconds---now.
It did.


And as predicted, the chips exploded into a new revelation for the dazed populace. The entire nation woke up on a Sunday morning to new reality. There were protests. Sporadic. Then long and planned marches. Then mass protests in various spots, finally converging on the main nerve centre---the Great Pyramid housing the command structure. The Council met in emergency. The HP ordered army to tackle the increasing riots. The strategic planner devised ways of incinerating the libraries embedded in minds--- storehouses of finest knowledge through the cultural DNA of centuries---but failed due to malfunction of the software or machines.
The virus of humanism had spread wide as predicted by the AH.
They thought of other programmes.
But no measure seemed to be working in the changed context of the mass awakening. The state felt engulfed by angry subjects.
Dormant volcanoes erupt!
The intelligence inputs from ground Zero were disturbing. The HP had never ever bargained for this kind of situation, crisis. The multitudes kept on multiplying
The protests snowballed. Nothing seemed to stop their tidal flow. No barricades powerful enough. No gates strong enough for the unleashed rage.
Scary!
The golden bough!
The HP, in panic, ordered more oppressive steps. The fires caused by burning of libraries spread and swiftly reached the doors of the Council, being guarded by the militia loyal to the apparatus.
It was most ironic.
The confrontation was long and very severe. Force vs. people. Nobody wanted to blink first. Tanks rolled in from every corner. Helicopters hovered above the massed humanity in the public square. Riot police joined in. Cameras recorded every movement of the hysteric crowds---an unknown phenomenon so far. Machine gunners were tensed with sweet anticipation. Video games were playing out in real time and location for the addicts. The thrill of the gunners was reaching orgasmic point. Blood and mayhem---now going to be soon, actual; targets, fellow countrymen women and children, for their high-caliber bullets and weapons. The troopers too wanted a piece of action. Their cold facial nerves twitched; hands trembled. The massed protestors were also ready---like the counter-force seen in the violent games. Bloodbath excited everybody as the virtual was becoming real. The hyenas were baying for blood, not ketchup.
The Council was in long session. Debating methods of containment. Tech had failed it miserably. Androids were finding back lost reflexes and voices. As the confrontation lingered, the Council felt trapped and besieged by the crying mobs.
Wolves.
The Jungle had arrived in the slick city in a frightening avatar.
Outside, fire bombs were being hurled by the angry denizens at the statues and outer parameters of security. Tragedy was going to happen at any minute.
Situation was awfully volatile.
The HP ordered fresh battalions. Army divisions started marching on the capital---a bleak and treeless place full of vertical columns of houses and offices guided by high-tech system.
People, on the other side of the divide, also began pouring in from the interiors, aided by the social media prompts. TV channels covered the gargantuan eruption as a grand spectacle, as a form of the Roman-era entertainment, public tournament for global viewers desperate for latest sensations.
One frame captured the hostile environment in a vivid manner: Riot police using batons on a group of youngsters, near a gutted police- van; a young female hitting back with her hands, clawing the shield and the uniform of an impassive cop in full gear, while background was bathed in leaping orange flames.

The impasse has continued till this moment of writing…
© Sunil Sharma



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