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December Yarns

Monday, 25th December 2023

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Robot

Future Soul Mate Writers, A.D. 2110

By Tom Ball

I, Roger, said to Liz, “I prefer your company to everyone else.” She said, “I like you too, very much.” I told her, “We are certainly soul mates!” She said, “Our Supercomputer DNA match placed us as 1 in a billion match, there’s probably no better lovers possible for us.” And I said, “In some cases opposites attract, but we are totally compatible and have all the same interests. Like we both enjoy traveling in the Solar System and we both like neo-baseball and we like drinking scotch and smoking cigars. And we like to study history, especially modern history. And we both have the philosophy of throwing a dart at a 3-D map of the Solar System, while blindfolded and that is where we’ll go to next. Also, we both like eating the best stem cell meats and GM vegetables and GM fruit. Indeed, we enjoy every luxury and like traveling by luxury air car.” She said, “Don’t forget to add in that we like gambling on sports and have almost broken even. Also, we are both sci-fi authors and have had mixed results with publishing, but we are both determined to succeed. And we like playing trivia games and chess. And we like deep sea fishing.”

 

I told her, “Yes above all we are writers of the future. I like your book about a World of cyborgs. Are you really sure our descendants will be cyborgs?” She replied, “I think it is probable. And I liked your book about a future ruled by freaks. There are more and more of them. Multi-sexuals and sea dwelling freaks and freaks hiding in our modern World and the World seems to be becoming a freak show.” And I said, “I like your novel about future spies who will watch everyone with face recognition and send wayward souls to rehab.” She said, “It is bound to happen. Everyone will fear the spies and be careful not to disturb or upset the secret agents…”

 

And she opined, “I didn’t really like your book about future madness. I am sure that the spies will ensure everyone remains relatively sane.” I said, “But we live in a World of no meaning. All life is mad. Like people with glazed eyes or flowers blooming in the sun.” And I added, “Everyone will be insane, I’m sure. This is one thing we don’t agree on. Perhaps both realities will be true.”

 

But we both agreed that my book about deep Space, the nearby Barnard’s System, featuring an android crew which could be turned off for the voyage and human colonists were aboard, was a winner. The colonists were pioneering stock, and all were multi-talented and built-up infrastructure and space for fifty thousand people on a balmy, Earth-like Planet. The theory for the colony was to make a world for the cleverest people. All with IQ of 180 or more. Geniuses essentially. But many on Earth said it was a huge brain drain for them and essentially made for two classes of citizens: ordinary people and clever geniuses in Space. But the other deep Space colonies had their own requirements. For example, the Centauri System was made up of predominantly kind and nice people. And Sirius Star System featured mostly hermits, who paid big bucks to be left alone. And Ross System had only people who were the most imaginative. And Tau Ceti had AI colonies of androids and holograms and things were run by Supercomputers.

 

All these Systems were fictional. Space beyond the Solar System had not yet been colonized. But it was quite a plausible future. Liz opined, “That she would like to go to a World of imagination,” and I said, “I feel the same.”

 

And Liz had a new book out about a woman of the future who was a defence lawyer who defended radical thinkers in court. The spies hated radicals and said they were the biggest danger in modern times. And the spies accused them of treason. But this lawyer got most of her clients off on charges. But she felt really bad when one of her clients was found guilty. I told her spies these days have a lot of power. They can use MRT (Mind Reading Technology) and hypnosis and neo lie detectors. And rumor has it that indeed the spies hate radicals. Like thinkers and popular rock musicians, and say they are all too powerful.”

 

And my latest book was called “Denizens of the Universal Empire.” It was about a future woman who ruled all Earth and Space, but her reign was cruel, and many thought it was unfair. And everyone had to kiss her ass. Her court was full of ass-kissing courtiers and courtesans. But her secret service kept her in power. And Liz said, “It’s very possible that the future will be controlled by one or more tyrants. And perhaps the future will be a nightmare for virtually all thinking humans.”

 

And I asked her, “About your next book? She said, “I’m contemplating writing about a future gigolo who is based on one of my lovers. In the book this famous lover loves most of the powerful women in the World. And gets rich, and uses the money to help poor gigolos, giving them a superior education and introduces them to women of power. And he builds a colony in Space, featuring fountains and spas and pools and android butlers.”

 

And she asked me, “What do you have planned?” I told her, “I have two projects on the go. One is about a future Dystopia in which, slave-owning masters and their numerous slaves are the system of the day.” She said, “We are all slaves to our own desires.” She told me, “Android love dolls will make the best slaves if that’s how the World goes.”

 

And I said, “My other project I’m thinking about is to write about a future in which everyone is a writer in a colony of 1000. It will be my magnum opus and feature some fresh, new ideas and new World humans. It will be very challenging to write, I think.”

 

She said, “The more I talk to you, the more I love you.” I replied, “The feeling is mutual.”

Monday, 15th December 2023

Image by Egor Myznik
Envelope

Letters & Letter Boxes

By Haimanti Dutta Ray

I belong to that generation of people to whom writing and receiving letters (not e-mails) is precious and addictive. These may belong to various categories – friendly ones, letters of invitation, and last but not the least, love letters. It may be worthwhile to state here that I never ever received a love letter. It was my duty or a task to check the wooden letter box every day. These letter boxes have become relics of the past, memories of a bygone era, that make our eyes water. It was usually in the mid-afternoon hours that the post man, clutching his kitty of letters, did his rounds. I still remember how eagerly I awaited his footfall.

 

Handwritten letters are those timepieces which fade away with age. But we wrote letters by the dozen, every week – to friends, relatives, film idols – the addressees were sundry. Good letters were like a treasure trove of emotions, feelings and déjà vu. In this age of emails and WhatsApp chats, the past, faded glory of letter writing is hard to fathom. The letters, after completion, were neatly folded and put into envelopes, addressed and stamped. Often the handwritten addressee names revealed the identity of the writer as well.

 

When we were school students – many moons ago –the art of letter writing was part of our syllabus in English grammar and composition. We were instructed to write a proper introduction, followed by the body of the letter, followed again by a cohesive conclusion. Just as receiving letters was a joy in itself, letter-writing was a leisurely pastime, which many – including myself – enjoyed. And…. It was the very first step towards creative self-expression.

 

I consider myself fortunate that I have two letters written by none other than the auteur director Satyajit Ray himself – as replies to my own. I have preserved them as one does some type of family heirloom. Even the stamps used were unique. One was ‘Care For The Girl Child’ and the other ‘75 Years Of Indian Cinema’. I was studying in high school at that time. I remember I had also gone to pay my last respects to Ray when he died.

 

E mails can hardly – if ever – replace the art of hand written letters. Those who had this habit – good or bad – may empathize with my feelings here. The joy of sending and receiving letters are emotions that have been wiped away by technological marvels. Today auction houses are selling old letter boxes as relics of the past. What else can one say about letters? If one were to look into the future through an optical prism, one would perhaps find that there is no place for ‘yesterdays’ anymore.

Monday, 11th December 2023

Image by Matheus Ferrero
Bells

For Whom does the dead ringer toll ?

By Doug Jacquier

It was Hamish who first noticed it. We were sitting in the back room of the abandoned offices that were our temporary home when he said, ‘You know, we could be brothers.’ I was a little offended, given I’d maintained some level of decency in my attire and appearance in my fall from grace and Hamish looked and smelled like what he was, a homeless man. As if reading my thoughts, he said, ‘I mean build, height, age. You’ve even got the same colour eyes. I believe if you grew a beard, you’d be a dead ringer for me.’ I nodded, to be sociable.

That night, I lay on the fake leather former reception sofa that had become my bed and for the umpteenth time replayed my descent. Heartily sick of my dead-end job and permanently behind on the mortgage and the bills and no hope of being able to live on the pitiful amount of superannuation I’d accumulated, I fancied myself as a day trader with a nose for the market. My first couple of tentative forays reaped some modest rewards and I was hooked.

But what I really needed was a decent stake to invest to make the big wins that I needed to get out of my current financial nightmare. The house was in my name, so I was able to arrange a second mortgage without my wife knowing, the first of many deceptions to come that I imagined (or at least fantasised) would be forgiven when the money started rolling in. The rest is a familiar story of bad calls, the bank foreclosing, my wife leaving me, losing my job to someone half my age and not being able to afford rent and drinking more and more heavily. And thus, my homeless life began.

I met Hamish at the food van where I had eventually allowed hunger to over-ride shame. I was still enough of a snob to not want to converse with the regular customers. An educated voice came from a man at the other end of the bench where I sat to eat my sandwich and drink my soup. ‘The first time’s the worst.’ Initially, I turned away to hide my welling tears of self-pity but eventually turned back to the voice. ‘My name is Hamish’, he said. Later, as we walked the streets, he said ‘Where are you planning to sleep tonight?’ I told him about a spot I’d found under the grandstand at a local sportsground. ‘Time to move upmarket’ he said. And here we were.

Our sleeping quarters were at the back of one of the businesses that had closed to make way for the new freeway. The footings for the massive overpass were already being poured and we knew it would only be days until the bulldozers moved in. At night, we’d drink whatever we could afford and talk about books, films, and music as though were still part of a civilised world.

Little by little, Hamish drip-fed me his story. No living family, never married, became a university lecturer, started drinking during the day and chatting up his female students in his later years, dismissal, and then the money eventually ran out. He would tell me these things without any overt emotion or drama.

One grey, sleeting rain day, when Hamish lay semi-comatose, seemingly from the after-effects of cheap sherry, he handed me his wallet and asked me to go to the ATM and withdraw some cash for him. ‘My card and a piece of paper with my PIN on it are in there. I know, I know, but my memory isn’t what it used to be.’

The next day, when I tried to rouse Hamish, it was apparent that he was dead. I sat there for a long time, wondering what to do next. If I rang an ambulance to come and take him way, the police would inevitably be involved, and I’d be evicted earlier than I was ready for, but I couldn’t just leave him there. It was then that Hamish’s comment about us being dead ringers floated into my head and a plan quickly formed.

Pocketing his wallet and his passport, I waited until dark, took a wheelbarrow from the worksite, dumped Hamish’s body and my own ID into the gaping hole that tons of concrete would be poured into very soon and covered it with enough dirt so as to look undisturbed.

Thus, I began my new life as Hamish, suitably bearded, and soon discovered that far from being impoverished, he had a substantial amount of savings. Clearly, he had chosen the homeless life for reasons other than money.

With my new-found funds, I was able to buy some decent clothes and afford the rent on a small but tasteful studio apartment in a decent part of town. I’d even begun to consider finding a job. And for the first time for a long time, I was able to afford to eat out at restaurants.

At a local Italian trattoria one night, as I went to the counter to pay, a young woman leapt up from one of the tables, ran to me and started hugging me and sobbing ‘Oh, Dad, we thought you were dead. Where have you been?’

The only thought I could muster was ‘I’m sorry, Miss, but who are you?’

The young woman looked like her face been slapped and she said, ‘Dad. It’s me, your daughter Janie. Surely, I haven’t changed that much in the last five years.’

 

My mind was feverishly searching for a next move. Do I play along and play desperate catch-up using clues that she fed me? The bottom line was that I had to get away from her as soon as possible so I could have time to think about this situation seriously.

Making my face as vacant as possible I said ‘I don’t know …. there was an accident … my head …’ and began to stroke it gingerly. ‘What sort of accident, Dad? What happened?’ she pleaded. I stared intently at her and said, ‘Who am I?’ Incredulous, she said ‘Charles Adamson, of course. You’re a stockbroker. You’re married to Angela, my mother. And you suddenly disappeared.’

Bingo. He had some names now and he could start to do some research.

‘I’m terribly sorry, Lainie, I …’ ‘It’s Janie’. ‘Yes of course. I’m sorry, I need the men’s room. Can you wait here a moment?’ The first semblance of a smile from Janie. ‘Of course, I can, Dad.’ While she was distracted talking to the owner, I diverted through the kitchen and scuttled out the back door.

The next day I went to the library to search on their free computers and, sure enough, Angela and Janie were real, and Charles Adamson had been a stockbroker, a very successful one. Or at least until his Ponzi scheme collapsed and he’d disappeared without trace, leaving an angry pack of creditors and regulatory authorities behind him.

It dawned on me rapidly that Charles had found his new persona of ‘Hamish’ the same way I did, namely from the pockets of another dead homeless man. He had all the ID he needed to create a savings account, and, with his financial skills, he was easily able to gradually transfer funds into the account from his ‘investments’. What he had planned to do with those funds remained a mystery.

More concerning was that now Charles Adamson had been ‘found’ by his daughter in a café, alive and well, a lot of very angry people would again begin pursuing him with a vengeance and his (and my) face would get blanket coverage in mainstream and social media.

The beard would have to go but with ubiquitous security cameras and the sophistication of facial recognition software, it would only be a matter of time before ‘Charles’ was caught.

Then, in a moment of clarity, I thought, so what? I was now Hamish for all intents and purposes and my DNA and fingerprints wouldn’t match those of Charles, so they’d have to let me go as an obvious case of mistaken identity.

I smiled, poured myself a glass of single malt and started planning for a relatively comfortable future.

And then Hamish’s body was found. The real Hamish. His remains had been dug up by a building contractor on a new development site and he had been identified by dental records. The Forensic Pathologist soon established that Hamish had been brutally murdered around five years earlier. So, the Police asked themselves, who was the ‘Hamish McGill’ who seemed to be in possession of a substantial bank account in the same city?

As they began their enquiries, I boarded my flight to Ecuador.’

After I’d settled into my seat, I thought ‘Hang on. Charles wouldn’t physically harm a fly. He must have found a dead body, just like me. So, who did kill Hamish?’

I thought about just long enough for the flight attendant to arrive with the champagne.

Monday, 4th December 2023

Image by abhijeet gourav
Moustache

Moustaches

By Lily Swarn

“Hitler ruined that moustache for everybody. It's an interesting moustache and now nobody can wear it ''. Yes, he sure did. Ever since that first 'Milk moustache’, that we got as toddlers as we gulped down our glasses of milk, obediently to the count of ten.It was an  exciting sight to spy a creamy, ivory coloured line on top of our lips. We felt like little gentlemen. Moustaches did not seem that much of a big deal as one grew up in a Sikh household. There was always the surprise element though .

In the earliest days, a well pomaded and groomed moustache was supposed to be twirled up into a fine curl, making the owner look rather stylishly menacing! The full bodied whisker like moustache was endearing, as it generally belonged to one’s genial grandfather. The practice of putting up one’s hand, to roll the moustache , to show dare devilry and courage was common. If a lesser mortal tried to show one down, then the prestige of the moustache was at stake. The English have a proverb that says a man without a moustache is like a cup of tea without sugar!

Among the thirteen major types of moustaches , mostly acquiring their name and fame after some luminary, are the Chevron, the Dali, the English, the Fu Manchu, The Handle bar, the Horse shoe, look like what they take after. The Imperial is fascinating. You must check out the image. It has a beard flying high along with it. The Lampshade and the Painters brush look common enough. The Pencil, the Toothbrush  and the Pyramid keep coming back in new avatars. The Walrus, of course takes the cake. If one was to take a trip in the deserts of Rajasthan one would never stop gaping in awestruck wonder at the royal look of the 'Rajputi shaan o shaukat'. (pride and style of the Rajput community).

It really is not strange that facial hair are synonymous with masculinity and bravado.Hirsute men are back in fashion, -splashed across billboards as models and movie stars.  “Jethh mere diyaan aidiyaan muchhaan., do do  guttaan karda”.

(My brother in law has such long moustaches that he can make two braids out of them.)

I would swear by a real man any time, hairy or not, When it comes to “Dhanno teri izzat ka sawaal hai” then a “muchhmunda”, (one with a shaven mustache, jokingly) might do too. The naughty Punjabi folk songs reverbrate “Laung teriyaan muchhaan vich gummeya, main saari raat toldi rahi”. (My nose stud got lost in your moustaches . I spent the whole night hunting for it)

I know that a lot of the lush ,shiny moustaches of holy men are a result of their wiping, their ghee (clarified butter) soaked hands, after eating a generous helping of “Karrah parshad”, (holy food made out of whole wheat flour, sugar and clarified butter) on their beard and moustaches.

About the Writer

Lily Swarn won the Reuel International Prize for Poetry 2016 and was recognised by the World Union of Poetsas Global Poet of Peace and Universal Love. World Institute Of Peace conferred the title of Global Icon of Peace on her in Nigeria. Lily has been awarded the Virtuoso Award by Philosophique Poetica. She has penned several books and her poetry & prose have been featured in many prestigious literary magazines.

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